When Armenians realized that their terrorist activities in Eastern Anatolia did not create enough influence, they decided to do protests in Istanbul.
The first of these protests was the event of a bust of the Armenian Patriarchate and Church in Kumkapı on 28 July 1890. The act was arranged by the Hunchakian organization. A declaration would be read during the service in the Patriarchate Church and the organization leader, Cangülyan, would bring Patriarch Aşıkyan to the Palace to present their demands to the Sultan. The preparations were completed. On 28 July, organization members and militants brought from various provinces gathered in the church next to the patriarchate. After a while Patriarch Aşıkyan also came to the church to conduct the service. As a security officer who closely saw the events pointed out in his report, while the Patriarch was speaking a shot was taken in the church and a big chaos happened all of a sudden. In the meantime, an organization member was trying to read a declaration text prepared beforehand. The guards of the Patriarch drew their guns and took Aşıkyan to the Patriarchate. However, organization members attacked the Patriarchate and started to open fire. The patriarchate was destroyed to a large extent at the end of the attack. The protestors were trying to put Aşıkyan in a cart by force and bring him to the Palace. In the meanwhile, the protestors started to shout, “Live long Armenian nation, live long Armenia.” When the news was heard, security forces surrounded the cart. When the protestors reacted with shooting, an armed fight happened. Two protestors died. A total of 17 soldiers were wounded, 7 of which were serious. Many of the organization members were captured.
As a result of the trial, Artin Cangülyan from Van was sentenced to death as he was found the leader of the protest. Artin Vateryan from Sivas, Nezaret from Sivas and Greek Nikola were sentenced to confinement in a fortress for 15 years. Along with these, Karabet from Erzincan, Hacik from Kumkapı, halberdier Avadis, Baron from Kütahya, and Yuvan from the Kayseri Greeks were sentenced to imprisonment for five years.
When the penalties were presented to the Sultan for approval, Abdulhamid II turned the death penalty into life imprisonment and approved the other penalties. The Sultan stated in his decision that the penalty of encouraging some of the citizens to rebel against the state and attempting to divide the country was naturally a death sentence, and that he forgave this penalty for once only. Besides, the Sultan gave a strict order that such attempts would not be tolerated from then onwards.
After the event of Kumkapı resulted in failure, Armenians continued their attempts of riots in various provinces of Anatolia. In the meantime, Mateos Izmirliyan had come to the position of patriarchate. The new patriarch was cooperating with Armenian organizations and supporting their activities. He was getting in communication with both Western statesmen and journalists and telling them that “they would fight to be able to achieve their objectives by applying all methods and it was not important that some innocent people were harmed in the meantime.”
In light of this thought, the Sublime Porte protest was planned. Armenians would collectively walk to the Sublime Porte which was the center of the government and they would give a letter explaining their demands to the government. In this letter, the Ottoman government was accused of suppressing Armenians, and also they were demanding that the attacks which they claimed to be done to them by Kurds and Turkish soldiers in the Eastern provinces were to be stopped. Armenians were also expecting that the British navy would come to Istanbul to support them in these protests.
When the Gendarme Minister Nazım Pasha learnt about this protest to be carried out by Hunchakian organization, he prepared a report and warned the government. Nazım Pasha had stated that the attitude of the Patriarchate towards Armenian organizations had changed after Izmirliyan came to the position, the Patriarch dismissed the Patriarchate officers who were loyal to the state with some excuses and replaced them with militants, and that while there were no office for communicating with the foreigners until then, such an office was founded. The Gendarme Minister also drew attention to the provoking role of mainly Britain, Russia, and France on Armenians and stated that there could soon be a big terrorist activity in Istanbul as a result of all of these events. According to the Minister, Armenians who were getting prepared to collectively march to the Sublime Porte were planning to break out a mutual fight by reacting against the precautions to be taken by the security forces. They were even thinking that Muslim people would also be involved in the event and the fight would grow and spread in this way. If these plans worked, they would be able to a give a message to Western countries that the Ottoman Empire massacred Armenians in its capital. Gendarme Minister stated that it must be paid attention not to shed blood when the police and gendarme were sent against the protestors in such a situation.
Everything took place as the Armenians had planned. Organization members firstly presented a declaration to the ambassadors of six big states and stated that they would make a calm protest for the purpose of making reforms for Armenians and severe results would come about if these activities were prevented by the police and gendarme, and that all responsibility would belong to the government. On 30 September 1895 3-4 thousand Armenians gathered in front of the Patriarchate in Kumkapı. There were women and children brought from provinces such as Bitlis, Muş, and Van among these. The groups sang marches and started to walk from Kumkapı towards the Sublime Porte by shouting the slogan “Live long Armenia.” There were often shootings on the way and they were attacking the surroundings with knives and guns. There were also people joining the group. The number of marchers in front of the Sublime Porte had reached to 5000. Thanks to the precautions, their attack on the Sublime Porte was prevented. Their activities to provoke the Muslims didn’t give any result as well. Most of the Armenians disjointed took shelter in the churches. When the security was ensured all of them went back to their places.
Among the reasons for terrorist organizations choosing the Ottoman Bank as the target, the fact that there were many foreigners working in this institution was the primary one. In this way, the foreign countries would be drawn into the issue. Along with this reason, due to the reasons that the bank was available to be occupied, it was thought that the big damages in terms of money and stuff would be brought about by exploding the building, and that they believed that they could make their voices be heard everywhere through this occupation, the organizations decided on this action. Actually, the action would not remain only as a bank attack but the organization’s militants taking action simultaneously would also attack the Sublime Porte, the Armenian Patriarchate, the Voyvoda and Galatasaray police stations, and the Aya Tiryada Greek Church. Also there would be unrest in various places of the city.
Many months before taking action, the preparations for the attack were started with meetings in European countries. The weapons and bombs to be used in the action were gathered and weapons and bombs were placed in the bank after the employees of Armenian origin in the bank were acquired. Armenians named Varto, Mar, and Boris, who were the leaders of the action, were brought to Russia. Karekin Pastırmacıyan, coming from Athens, also joined them. Other militants were chosen from workers and porters.
The terrorist organizations took action at 6.30 on 26 August 1896. The militants chosen initiated armed and bomb attacks in various neighbourhoods of Istanbul and at the same time, they had also started armed and bomb attacks at the Ottoman Bank and its surrounding places in Galata. In this chaotic atmosphere, many militants given the duty of occupying the bank entered the bank with their weapons. The employees first thought that it was a robbery. The militants told them that they should not get scared.
They had killed three soldiers when entering the bank. They started to bomb and shoot from the inside of the building after starting the occupation. When this uproar was started in the bank, various neighbourhoods of Istanbul turned into chaos areas all of a sudden. The events spread to Kadıköy. Organization members not only bombed the soldiers trying to take precautions, but also did armed attacks on people to broaden the actions. 26 August became a day of terror for Istanbul. There were many people who died from the Muslim population. Armenian militants distributed to neighbourhoods attacked randomly at soldiers, policemen, gendarme, and Muslim civilians.
Armenians broke into Jewish houses in Kasımpaşa and Hasköy to be able to spread the riot and killed many Jews and wounded many people. Although the unrest got intensified when the Muslim people also attacked in return for the bombs and bullets thrown at them, the security forces controlled the situation after a short while.
The occupation of the Ottoman Bank was on-going. The occupiers continuously dropped bombs outside. As one of these militants expresses, “the bombs were giving surprising results. They were not immediately killing the person they touched, but dismembering their hands and making them suffer from intense pain and torture. Big bombs were making cannon sounds and spreading fear and terror around. The soldiers killed or wounded outside were being removed and replaced by new soldiers.”
The number of militants fighting inside had fallen to 17. Three of those involved in the occupation were killed and 6 of them were wounded. The hostages were trembling in fear. Tiryakyan and Armen Garo from the terrorists entered the room of the bank director and said that they had some demands. They had the demands of the administration of Eastern provinces by a European high commissary, the selection of security forces from the local people and their giving their commandership to a European officer, the reform of justice in accordance with European system, and the release of Armenian prisoners and those who engaged in the last attack. Unless these were realized, they were threatening to blow up the bank.
While the occupation was on-going, foreign ambassadors came to the Palace throughout the day and tried to protect Armenians as much as they could. Consequently, the general director of the bank, Edgard Vincent, and the Russian Embassy Chief Translator Maksimov undertook the role of mediation. They got instructions from the Sultan on the issue of solving the problem. The problem was solved as it was decided that the occupiers would not get punishment and they would be made to leave Istanbul on a boat. Organization members who were not able to achieve their goals were not happy about this situation. However, they understood that they would be destroyed if they stayed in the bank. 17 militants, and Edgard Vincent with them, passed through two lines of soldiers with bayonets and went to Marseille on a ship owned by France. Therefore, like many Armenian events, Armenian terrorists managed to be rescued thanks to the protection of foreign states.
In the days after the events were calmed down, many sticks of dynamite, guns, and weapons were found in the investigations done in Armenian churches, houses, and shops. It is understood that 120 soldiers were killed during these events. The number of Armenians who died was 172. The number of Muslim civilians who lost their lives was also quite a lot.
One week before the anniversary of the Ottoman Bank bust, Armenian terrorists made simultaneous attacks on three buildings in the Ottoman capital on 18 August 1897. While one of these partly succeeded, two of them could not go beyond the phase of attempt. While one caretaker died as a result of the attack on the Sublime Porte, six people were wounded. The terrorist entering the Ottoman Bank was made ineffective when he was about to fire the squib. When the terrorist who wanted to bomb the Galatasaray police station got into a panic and couldn’t achieve the action, he was arrested after a long chase. The pleasing side of the action was that street fights were not given a chance and the public order was not disturbed. While the attacks were condemned by the new patriarch Ormanyan, who was in cooperation with the government and the Armenian community, they were also condemned by European countries (Kuzucu, 2014, p. 1570-1574).
Before the protests of Armenian organizations in Istanbul, the Ottoman government generally had a calm attitude. The government which knew that Armenians tried to make Europeans intervene in the Ottoman Empire with these actions had taken careful actions not to be deceived by this. Besides, the events were presented only by the official newspaper with the titles of announcement so that the public opinion was not moved by excitement and Turkish-Armenian hostility in the capital was not encouraged.
The Armenian Patriarchate defined those arranging the protest as members of mischievous organization and stated that they vehemently condemned the actions in a declaration published in relation to the Kumkapı events. During the events of the Sublime Porte and the Ottoman Bank, on the other hand, Patriarch Izmirliyan was himself a promoter. Therefore, the events were vehemently condemned with the declarations published by the Patriarchate Governorship. Also, the sentiments of loyalty to the Sultan and the Ottoman government were especially emphasized.
The Ottoman government was in touch with foreign ambassadors during the events and found it necessary to give them information about the real nature of the events. In this way, the attention of the western public opinion was also directed to Armenian events. Especially European journalists wanted to follow the events closely as Armenians had broken out riots in various parts of Anatolia in the same period. The desire of foreign journalists to follow the events was not found strange by the Ottoman government. As it is understood from an archive document on this issue, no harm was seen in European journalists going to Anatolia and following the events there. These points were stated in the document: “the thing that newspaper reporters would see and hear the most in Erzurum province nowadays is Armenians’ offenses and attempts of revolution. For this reason, there is no harm in allowing them to go to Eastern provinces.”
Another archive document mentioned some striking facts about the Eastern Anatolia events. Armenians wearing Kurdish clothes attacked people in the Van province and were arrested after they killed two soldiers from the security forces sent against them. When the issue was projected to Istanbul, the Sultan indicated that these events should be known by everyone. On this account, the photographs of Armenian attackers were taken when they were in Kurdish clothes and their trials took place especially after the foreign consuls were invited to the court.
One of the most striking reactions about the Armenian events came from France. The newspaper Liberal, which was published in Paris, was holding Britain responsible for the events in Istanbul and accusing the British of encouraging Armenians to rebel and then leaving them in the lurch. Other French newspapers also made similar comments. The Liberal newspaper wrote these to summarize: “Due to the events taking place in Istanbul nowadays, many Armenians have been arrested. Armenians will think what a bad mistake they did by putting their trust in the words of the British in the prisons. There is not even a single doubt that the British government caused the big events in Istanbul. It is always the British government, which provoked Armenians through Bible societies for three years, provided arms and instructions for Armenians and sent embassy scribes to the place of event to get information about how much the instructions were being performed. It was also promised to eliminate the doubts of Armenians that the British navy would come to their help by passing through the straits. Unfortunately, poor Armenian workers sacrificed their lives by trusting the words of a queen and a prime minister. The British navy, on the other hand, did not move even one inch. Helpless workers and concierges worked well. Armenians sacrificed their lives in vain. They won’t be able to attain the Armenian princedom, which Britain wants to be established on the Russian border. But the honour of fighting for the sake of the British queen! Will it be enough for Armenians? The noble British ambassador in Istanbul, Sir Philip, is digesting his food in peace right now. He properly closed the doors of the embassy so that the cries of Armenians deceived by the British games don’t disturb his digestion. Our advice to Armenians: Don’t believe in every word told to you. The British never help anybody for the sake of helping. Britain made Armenians rebel against the Ottomans for their own interests. Then they didn’t come to their aid, although they had said to do so. If the Ottoman Empire was like Portugal or Venezuela, all of the British navy would go there. However, the old Ottoman lion has the power of lifting his claw no matter how he is weakened. The British tiger had to step back before this claw. Britain is a treacherous country. We have known this for a very long time in France. Armenians should also not forget it.”
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Kuzucu, Kemalettin (2014), “Ermeni Terörünün İstanbul’daki Son Hamlesi: 1897 Olayları ve Düşündürdükleri”, Yeni Türkiye Ermeni Meselesi Özel Sayısı, Vol. 61, September-December 2014, p. 1564-1586.