Armenians and Eçmiyazın Cathogicos

Eçmiyazin Cathogicos, considered in a way the “papacy” and the oldest clerical center of the Armenian Gregorian Church, came under the rule of the Ottomans with the conquest of Revan in 1583. Most probably, cathogicoses were appointed by Ottoman sultans from this date onward. This situation continued to exist even after Eçmiyazin was left to Iran by the Ottomans.

Although Eçmiyazin Cathogicos was left outside of Ottoman borders, all Armenians subject to Eçmiyazin were not Ottoman citizens and Eçmiyazin was under the rule of Iran and Azeri Revan Khanate until the Russian occupation in 1828, the chair of the most respected Cathogicos of Armenians were appointed and displaced by Ottoman sultans. That is to say, Eçmiyazin Cathogicos was subject to Ottoman rule until 1828.

Before the Russion occupation, the appointment of the cathogicos would take place with the Eçmiyazin Monastery informing its opinion, the suggestion of Armenian authorities under the leadership of Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul and the confirmation of the sultan. Ottomans kept Eçmiyazin Cathogicos, which some of their citizens were also subject to, under their rule; but left them completely free in their religious activities. They did not intervene in their internal affairs by even appointing an officer for daily work. The appointment of Eçmiyazin cathogicoses by Ottoman sultans for more than two centuries is an expression of the loyalty to the sultan by even the Armenians subject to Eçmiyazin outside the borders of Ottoman lands. This means that Armenians spiritually recognized the Ottoman authority even if they were not within the political borders.

Russians, who knew that the best way to reach Armenians in Iran was to rule the Gregorian Church, tried to get the individuals who support Russia appointed to the Eçmiyazin Cathogicos. For the first time in 1802, a Russian supporter priest, as a result of the direct intervention of Russian Czar, was appointed to Eçmiyazin Cathogicos, considered to be the most influential position by Armenians. At this point, the Ottoman government which didn’t want to fall in conflict with Russians accepted this demand of the czar. Thus, Russians obtained the chance of permeating into Armenians through Eçmiyazin Cathogicos. Russia, while planning to settle in the region, started to determine its addressees in the cathogicos by getting its supporters appointed to Eçmiyazin Cathogicos.

A new period started in Eçmiyazin Cathogicos after Revan including Eçmiyazin was left to Russians with the Treaty of Turkmenchay signed in 1828 at the end of the war between Russia and Iran. Russians recognized the only position authorized to appoint and displace Eçmiyazin cathogicoses to be Russian Czar with a new regulation in 1836.

Russia was not satisfied with only having the surveillance of the cathogicos, they undertook the complete control of the cathogicos. It was considered an important center for South Caucasia policies. Now, all decisions and activities of the Cathogicos or Synod were regarded invalid without the approval from the Russian officer in the Cathogicos.

Ararat Magazine, 1914

Ararat Magazine, 1914

Russians, who gave a new form to and took the complete control of Eçmiyazin Cathogicos, attempted to dominate the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate and all Armenians within Ottoman borders by using the spiritual authority of this chair. In return, the Ottoman Empire attempted to make Sis Cathogicos, overshadowed for many years, the new spiritual center of Ottoman Armenians by officially terminating, with the help of some Armenians, the spiritual authority of Eçmiyazin over Ottoman Armenians. However, paralleling the fact that Ottoman Empire weakened, international power balances changed and Russia became a stronger center of attraction; the domination of Eçmiyazin Cathogicos under Russian control and of Russia over Ottoman Armenians gradually increased.

The reaction to Eçmiyazin Cathogicos in the Mahmud II period for being on the side of Russians in the Ottoman-Russian War, was lessened in Tanzimat Period though distrust continued to exist.

Russians were inclined to primarily cooperate with other Christian elements in the region along with the Georgians in their policies to settle in South Caucasia and spread through Iran and Anatolia. One of the means for Russia, which annexed Tbilisi by abolishing the Tbilisi Khanate in 1801, in policies for spreading through both North Azerbaijan and Anatolia was Armenians. Russians used the Eçmiyazin Monastery as a base camp in their wars with Azeri Revan Khanate and Iran. Eçmiyazin functioned as both a preparation center for war and a shelter when needed for the Russians. Because of such functions of the monastery, Iranians and the Azeri chose Eçmiyazin as one of the first targets for attacking Russians.

Many of Eçmiyazin Cathogicoses and clergies subject to them contributed to the success of the Russian army by guiding Russians, motivating the soldiers in the most critical times, ensuring Armenian support to the Russian army, gathering intelligence and directly participating in the war for the sake of Christianity in both the Russian-Iran and Ottoman-Russian wars.

It is seen that the relations with Eçmiyazin Cathogicos started to recover in the Tanzimat Period and that mentioning of the Eçmiyazin Cathogicoses in services held by the churches subject to Istanbul Patriarchate was decided to take place. These relations developed further with the selection of former Istanbul Patriarch Metyus as the cathogicos. In the 1860s, the Ottoman Empire maintained good relations with Eçmiyazin, while on the other hand, it tried to increase the influence of Sis Cathogicos. Also, when preparing the Armenian Nation Regulations in 1863, the Ottoman government accepted the fact that one of the duties of the Istanbul Patriarchate was to be loyal to practices and religious traditions of the Eçmiyazin church. However, they decided that Sis Cathogicos would be directly in touch with the Supreme Porte while showing that they didn’t have full trust in the cathogicos under Russian control by rejecting the offer of Eçmiyazin Cathogicos for appointing an agent.
Just as the Ottoman government financially helped Eçmiyazin Cathogicos, the cathogicoses were also easily able to have communication with the Ottoman government. The relations with the Cathogicos were so good that Eçmiyazin Cathogicos prevented the attempt of Russians to provoke Ottoman Armenians to rebel through the churches subject to Eçmiyazin Cathogicos during the 1877-1878 Ottoman-Russian War. The demand by the Russian Czar for an initiation of Cathogicos to make the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate give privileges to Armenians in East Anatolia as similar to those given to Bulgarians was rejected by Eçmiyazin. Eçmiyazin Cathogigos, at that time, held the opinion that Armenians would not get help from Russians and objected being used as a political tool. Furthermore, Cathogicos Macar I, who died in 1891, ordered Armenians not to trust Russia at all and to stay loyal to the Ottoman Empire and requested the Ottoman state to treat Armenians justly.
The relations with the Cathogicos were disrupted when Krimyan unwanted by the Ottoman government, was chosen after Macar I and the big powers pressured the Ottoman Empire to make reforms. With Krimyan chosen cathogicos, in Russia, Britain and Armenian domains in Russia there was a strong public opinion that reforms in favor of Armenians within Ottoman borders were needed. However, more significant than this, Eçmiyazin Cathogigos which was the most important spiritual center of Armenians had become a “revolution” center. Here, armed groups started to be prepared to start a war in support of Armenians living in East Anatolia, money was gathered for their arms and all kinds of help was supplied to the guerrillas. In many of the Armenian incidents which took place in Anatolia, there were always found an Eçmiyazin link and Armenian clergies made extra efforts to make Krimyan act.
Krimyan, who tried to make the Istanbul Gregorian Patriarchate act on the same path with himself by using his leadership, not only was not able to be successful in this until 1894 but also came to a point where he was not mentioned in religious rituals. However, when Meteus Izmirliyan was appointed to the Istanbul Patriarchate in 1894, his spiritual leadership was restored and his name started to be mentioned in the rituals of churches. All of these together played a significant role in getting the Ottoman Empire convinced in doing reforms in favor of Armenians in East Anatolia.

Izmirlian Effendi

Izmirlian Effendi

Krimyan, who tried to make the Istanbul Gregorian Patriarchate act on the same path with himself by using his leadership, not only was not able to be successful in this until 1894 but also came to a point where he was not mentioned in religious rituals. However, when Meteus Izmirliyan was appointed to the Istanbul Patriarchate in 1894, his spiritual leadership was restored and his name started to be mentioned in the rituals of churches. All of these together played a significant role in getting the Ottoman Empire convinced in doing reforms in favor of Armenians in East Anatolia.

Krimyan, who took actions in support of Russians and against Ottomans in a way going beyond his clergy position, would be shocked by an unexpected stab from Russians. Russians started to change the language of Armenian schools within their borders into Russian and they ordered to change even the language of the rituals in the church into the Russian language. Krimyan, troubled upon these practices never done by Turks, attempted to move the cathogicos center to Istanbul and offered this to the Ottoman authorities. However, the Ottoman government did not accept this.

V. Kevork, who came to the position in Eçmiyazin Cathogicos in 1912, asked for help from Czar Nikolay II by clearly stating that the emancipation of Armenians would be possible by an Armenian state founded under Russian protection after separation from the Ottoman Empire. When the First World War started Nikolay II responded to this demand and asked Armenians to arm themselves and unite with their “Slavic brothers” under Czar’s command to be able to get rid of the Ottoman “cruelty” of five centuries and declared with a written statement that they would gain their freedom in this way. As a result of these activities, Armenians in the Van region rioted in support of Russians as soon as the war started. This attitude of Armenians who fought against the Ottoman army by uniting with the Russians brought consequences like Armenians’ deportation and placements to different parts of the country. During this deportation, which did not target all Armenians, many Armenians participated in the war in the Ottoman army and continued their services to the state.

As the Ottoman Empire had to get Armenians migrated to southern lands to be able to prevent the Armenian riots from spreading into inner parts of Anatolia, the obligation to end the spiritual leadership of Eçmiyazin Cathogicos, which took the side of the Russians, which forced Armenians to act against Ottomans and which had a political significance for the majority of Ottoman Armenians, also emerged. The establishment of Ottoman United Cathogicos, in place of Eçmiyazin Cathogicos, took place with “Armenian Cathogicos and Patriarchate Regulations” coming into force on 10 August 1916. Thanks to this, Cathogicos-Patriarchate centered in Jerusalem, all Ottoman Armenians were spiritually connected to one single center. The General Assembly in characteristics of a parliament in a way to represent all Armenians in the Tanzimat Period was also terminated. Therefore, the organization of Armenians was intended to be of a community rather than a nation. For this new cathogicos-patriarchate position, Sahak Efendi, who held the position of Sis Cathogicos, was appointed.

This regulation, which implemented the highest religious position for Armenian citizens to be within the borders of Ottoman Empire for the first time, could be practiced only for two years. During the preparations for Britain’s systematic dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, which was defeated in the war, Britain as the protector of Armenians, demanded for Eçmiyazin Cathogicos to be active again and therefore it was moved back to the same status as before the war. During First World War, Armenians fought side-by-side, not only with the Russians, but also with the British and the French against the Ottomans. Britain, settling into Caucasia as the winner of the war after Mondros Armistice Agreement in 1918, started activities in support of Armenians and gave the Kars region to the Armenian Republic by taking it from the Turks. In this process, Eçmiyazin Cathogicos, who acted together with Britain and the representative they appointed, had been personally active in putting down the lands planned to be given to Armenians in the articles in the Treaty of Sevres. In this way, Kars, Van, Erzurum and Trabzon regions were planned to be given to Armenians. However, this was not able to be realized due to the Independence War under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Pasha and the international discussion over these lands was ended with the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.


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