Armenians in Ottoman Printing

Although the story of printing in the Ottoman State has been written in various parts, it has not been put forward as a whole yet. However, this story has very attractive and currently unknown pages. The most attractive pages of this story are the practices of our Armenian citizens, who attract attention especially with what they did in our printing, in this new professional field.

The Introduction of Printing to the Ottoman State

The introduction of the printing press within the Ottoman borders (Beydilli, 2003, pp.105-110) took place a little later than its becoming widespread in Europe and the state did not object to the apparatus itself specifically. It is obvious that the events that are presented as opposition should be interpreted more comprehensively.

In short, it was permitted to enter inside the borders before the passing of half a century after its invention and it started to be used by Jews for the first time in 1494 (Galanti, 1947, p.100). Then the Armenian Printing Press was opened in 1567 (Gerçek, 1939, pp.28-29) and the Greek Printing Press was opened in 1627 (Moschopoulos, 1931, p.30) in Istanbul. There is also information that Psalter was printed by the Maronite monks in Lebanon starting in 1610. Wahid Gdoura showed comprehensively that there was printing activity in Syria that accelerated after 1706 (Dupont, 1985, pp.60-62).

In 1727, Turks entered the field of printing with the establishment of the Muteferrika Printing House and therefore, in a sense, all the subjects of the state started to be active in this field.

The Armenian Element in the Field of Printing

The works of Apkar of Tokat, who was the first name of Armenians printing in Istanbul, which started in 1567, produced the first results of this new art, and the first five books that were printed in Istanbul emerged (Kevorkian, 1999, p.174). Twenty years after that, Yovhannes Ankivrac, who moved his printing press from Rome and Venice to Istanbul, could not engage in printing activities due to very special political and technical conditions (Kevorkian, 1999, p.174). However Armenians gained an increasingly important position in Ottoman printing after this.

Armenians in our Printing Until the Abdulaziz Period

The name that is mentioned as the second of the Armenian printing house owners a hundred and ten years after Apkar was Eremya Çelebi Kömürcüyan (1635-1695), who was a history and geography scholar and who opened his printing house in 1677. This printing house, which was active in the years 1677-1678, did not last long and it could only print two books (Teotig, 2012, p.74). However, this beginning established the foundations of the new profession of printing with increasing speed and no breaks and started its development.

The third name of printing was found to be Kirkor of Merzifon. He started the work with the printing tools and letters that were left from Eremya Çelebi Kömürcüyan; he learned printing by trial and through perseverance, and managed to publish his first book in 1698 (Teotig, 2012, pp.74-76). In the 17th century, there were about 80 thousand Armenians in Istanbul, and the city had become a center of Armenian publishing and printing (Kevorkian, pp.176-179). The reason why the Armenian printing houses of Haçadur, who was from among the Sulmanastır priests at the beginning of this century, were closed, was because they were printing books that were Catholic propaganda. This caused an interruption in printing, but it did not stop its development. According to what was said, during the reign of Sultan Mustafa II (1695-1703) in the months July and August in the year 1701, “in two locations in Galata, Istanbul and in Valide Han, some plotting people published stuff using the new method, spread this among the Armenian community after changing and making additions to the books and therefore caused the emergence of revolution and separation through conspiracy and malice.” An order was sent to the Deputy Grandi Vizier (July 1701) so that those who had the audacity to do this would be caught. The person who caused this, who was priest Haçadur, was caught, but he escaped. After this, the mother of the Sultan and the Grand Vizier ordered the Deputy Grand Vizier for public houses to be searched to find such publishers of books, and their printing apparatuses to be burned and their business licences to be cancelled (Altınay, 1930, pp.32-33).

Armenian printing houses continued to increase in number throughout the 18th century. According to what was said, four printing houses were established in Istanbul in 1696 and 1701 spontaneously, and then these printing houses published a number of books, which were far from insignificant (Kevorkian, 1989, pp.21-29). Giambatta Toderini, who came to Istanbul in 1787, said, “The printing houses of the Jews and Armenians are also open today and they continue to publish books” and he did not indicate the existence of any problems in their working (Toderini, p. 244). A book that was published in Armenian in 1912 for the first time provides comprehensive information about the establishment and owners of the Armenian printing houses  (Teotig, The History of Armenian Printing, pp.76-172).   In this book, there is information on the printing houses that were established up to the year 1912 and it also includes information that is not found in Turkish sources. In addition, in-depth information was given on the Armenian printing houses in Izmir.

Armenians in Printing in the Abdulaziz Period

It must be said that printing developed quite a lot in Istanbul in the Sultan Abdulaziz and Abdulhamid periods. In any case, it is obvious that the printing press was not seen as a dangerous appratus in the Ottoman era. However, it is certain that it did not become a need for the people. Printing only became a need firstly for the state in the reform movement of Selim III in the Ottoman State and the intensity of this need increased especially with the forcing of the bureaucracy and the Ministry of Education.

It should be noted that printing presses were seen as a necesary tool for the Ministry of Education in the Sultan Aziz period and the free importing of printing presses and materials was not forbidden so that book production could be developed. However, it is true and natural that it was deemed necessary to keep printing within certain political and legal boundaries. In this sense, the legislation on printing also developed as printing developed. In a sense, it can be said that a fast period started in the development of printing in the Abdulaziz period. As a matter of fact, when we reach the Abdulaziz period, it was now accepted without a doubt, that the printing press was a necessity from an official point of view.

For the licenses to open a printing press given to the Armenians from among the Ottoman subjects, firstly a co-signer was required of them by the Ministry of Education and then the Directorate General of Security Affairs was informed of this situation and a request was made for the Directorate General of Security Affair to do a background check to see if that person was reliable or not.   In this respect, it must be taken into consideration that the documents that were sent from the inventory books of the Directorate General of Security Affairs were the official documents that were written by the Ministry of Education.

A matter that has to be expressed is that a newspaper or magazine could not be published based on a license given to open a printing house without obtaining another permit (BOA- Ministry of Education Inventory Books, No. 1070, item 189).

There are many records in the Directorate General of Security Inventory Books of the Ottoman Archive regarding the petitions of citizens of Armenian origin who wanted to open a printing house in the 19th century and the proceedings related to issuing them licenses.

Armenians in Printing in the Period of Abdulhamid II

The geography of printing in Istanbul in this period is a remarkable state of affairs. This geography is almost extinct today. The center of printing was Babıali, that is, the avenue that was later named Ankara Avenue. In fact, Babıali was mentioned as the world of booksellers and journalists until recently (Stauss, 1993, pp.5-17). Before the Abdulhamid period, printing and selling jobs of the press were carried out in places such as Simkeşhane in Bayazid, Sümbüllü Han and Valde Han in Çakmakçılar Slope and again Valde Han in Eminönü and Vezir Han in Çemberlitaş (Freely, 2014, pp.73-86).

Newspapers were sold at the coffee house of Tömbekici Celil Aga of Iran next to the Çemberlitaş Public Bath, the coffee house of Tömbekici Hasan Aga across Candymaker Hacıbekir, and the Sarafim Coffee House in Okçularbaşı; and all the newspapers and their collections used to be present especially in these coffee houses. According to narration, Tömbekici Hasan Aga used to take the Tercüman-ı Ahval newspaper, which was published in the building next door, and he used to sell it secretly. In these early times, there weren’t many distributors and the existing distributors used to be beaten fanatics who had sticks, knives and clubs.

As for the bookstores, they used to have their locations at the Sahaflar (second-hand booksellers area) on the Bedesten Hill in Bayazid, where there were only very old books, and in the row of shops at the Kaşıkçılar Gate. Tan Yurdu, in Babıali, was the building of the printing house which Mihran opened in 1881 and the Sabah Newspaper. There was Alem Printing House on the Eski Zabtiye Avenue that goes over to the New Post Office. It moved from here to the top of the slope where there was a coffee house and then it moved to its building at the tomb of Sultan Mahmud. A little further away from that, there were the printing houses of the Islamic and Military Library of Tüccarzade Ibrahim Hilmi, Tercüman-ı Hakikat Printing House, which Ahmed Midhat established under the name Kırkambar and then left to his brother Mehmet Cevdet three doors down on Ebusuud Street, and Ahter and Mahmud Bey printing houses (Resimli Ay Printing House). There was the Mektep Library of karabet at the location of the Kannat Library on the main street. There was the Ikdam Printing House and administrative office of Ahmet Cevdet in the Reşit Efendi Han (business center) on Babıali Avenue. Then there were the printing house of Kaspar and the small, cell-like shop of Kanaatçi Ilyas (Bayar). Again on the same Street, there was the Malumat Printing House of Baba Tahir in Orhan Bey Han (the owner of this property, which is now Vakit Yurdu, is Orhan Bey, who is from among the grandchildren of Sikkezen başı Yusuf Pasha). Further up, there was the bookseller Parsih (the shop where there was Afitab), there was the bookseller Arakel a little further away (Tozlıyan- which is Maarif Library now) and there was the Asır Printing House and the Library of Kirkor on the corner. Garbis (Fikri), who was the owner of the Gayret Library and a bookseller, had worked as an apprentice in this shop. Later on, he had been managing the bookstores Bahriye at the Adalar (Islands) Pier, Izmir book hall across the Iştaybruh beer shop and then the bookstore Marifet, which he bought from Agop, and the bookstore that he bought from herbalist Yorgaki, for the last forty years. He was very popular with the Fecriati literary group. He used to attend most of the meetings of Fecriati Group in the villas they rented around the Çifesaraylar land plot. The printing houses and administrative offices of the daily Saadet newspaper of Nufi Efendi and the Jareeda al-Hawadith newspaper of earlier times were in the Tomruk apartments on the Fatma Sultan Street, which turned left from the avenue and reached the Şengül Hammam (public bath) (Alus, 1943, p.3).

At the Abdulhamid II period, the exempting of printing machines and tools from import taxes in the first development phase of printing was a main principle and customs officials were often reminded of this: (Mevadd-ı Mühimme-ı Rüsumiyeyi Mutazammın Gümrük Memurlarına Yazılan Muharrerât-ı Umumiye, (ty), v.3, p. 516). In this way, later on, orders were written to the customs at the border crossings and these are very important in terms of demonstrating the protection of printing.

In this matter, an effort was made to eliminate even the smallest hesitation and new orders were sent to the customs at the border crossings. The customs tax exemption that was provided to the printing houses was abolished after printing and the manufactıre of printing tools and apparatus developed to a certain extent and this situation was clearly circulated to the customs offices at the border crossings. However, it should not be disregarded and forgotten that the support given to those who work in the printing business, that is the donations and grants, continued.

In this respect, another matter that has to be taken into consideration is that the donations and grants given to the owners of printing presses consituted a great sum. Even a minimal survey of this period has not been done and of course, it is assessed in the light of the political prohibitions of Sultan Abdulhamid and with very wrong logic. It is not possible to understand and interpret the abundance of the Ottoman documents showing that grants were made to not only Turkish printing house owners, but also to those printing house owners from other ethnic elements, and the abundance of the excessive mistakes made in this matter. First of all, there are many records regarding the permission given for printing at the time of Abdulhamid II (For example: BOA-DH. MKT, Nezaret Genel Kalemleri Defterleri, No. 201, p.143) (13 Jamazia al-awwal 1305).

Karabet Effendi Servet-i Fünun No 1024

Karabet Effendi Servet-i Fünun No 1024

During the inspections of printing houses that were done in accordance with the Nizam-name-i Cedid (Jareeda-i Mahakim, No. 429 (13 Jamazia al-awwal 1305), printing houses were identified again and their licenses were started to be renewed, and so the general landscape of printing was identified and it emerged. After that, valuable and more detailed information regarding printing business entered the archive. In these new findings (tespit), the residence addresses, nationalities, the address of the printing house, how and in what language it could print books and the date of establishment were identified. Thanks to this licence renewal, the documentation of the printing houses in Istanbul was carried out, valuable information was uncovered and in a sense, a large picture of the printing business, at least for Istanbul, was taken. After this, printing house owners started to submit petitions one-by-one and to request the renewal of their licenses. Among those who applied first were Mihran Papazyan, Karabet Büberyan, Agop Matyosyan, Artin Asadoryan, Alaksandr Ruztemız Maridis, Eksenefon Teodoridis and Ohannes Jivelekyan (5 April 1895) (BOA-DH.MKT, File No. 359, case No. 20).

The names of a total of 98 printing houses were given in the last Yearbook (Salname) (1326 Hijri, pp.1054-1058), which was published before the declaration of the 2nd Constitutional Monarchy. These printing houses belonged to Turks primarily and also to other ethnic elements. From among these, 36 belonged to Armenian citizens, as it is understood from their names, and the other 62 printing houses belonged to the rest of the population other than Armenians. The names, locations, publishers and opening dates of the printing houses were written in yearbooks in order and in detail.

According to this list, the owners of 36.73% of the printing houses in Istanbul were Ottoman citizens of Armenian origin, which means a very significant weight. In this respect, it is a phenomenon that has to be emphasized. In the 1914 census, the populaiton of Istanbul was 909,978 and the Armenian population was 84,093. According to this, there was a printing house for 2,336 Armenians. In the rest of the population, there were 62 printing houses for 825,885 people and one printing house for 13,321 people (Uras, 1959, p.143).

The Contributions of Armenians to Turkish Printing Business

It is obvious that the subjects of Armenian origin had a great contribution to the Turkish printing business. The comments to be made on this can be listed as follows:

  1. Armenians entered the field of printing in 1567 for the first time. It started to spread and develop with Apkar Tıbir, who learned this craft in Rome and was known as Apkar of Sivas, or more correctly, Apkar of Tokat, even though it was interrupted from time-to- We should immediately mention that the state was not against this technique, but against the use of it as a tool for denominational competition.
  2. The opening of printing houses that belonged to Armenian citizens started to increase, especially in the Abdulaziz period in the 19th century, and it continued with the same pace during the reign of Abdulhamid II. A remarkable matter in this respect is that no attitude was shown against those Armenians who wanted to open a printing house, despite the Armenian revolts and especially the Armenian incident in Istanbul on 30 September 1895. It should be emphasized that during the Abdulahmid II period, when one said,‘printing house owner,’ one thought of Armenians. The things written by Ahmet Ihsan (Tokgöz), who knew Armenians and the members of the publishing profession well, provide a remarkable picure (Ihsan, 1931, Second Volume, p. 112): “As I wrote, even the fields of journalism and publishing –like everything else- were in the hands of non-Turks. The owners of the daily newspapers were Çirçil, Filip, Mihran and Nikolaidi. Magazines were published by Karabets, Gaspars and Ohanneses.”
  3. One must not disregard the fact that Armenians had a great contribution to the development of our printing sector (Tuğlacı, 1991, pp.48-56). Especially in this type of foundry craft, the great contributions of printing house owners such as Mühendisyan Printing House are obvious. Works of craftsmen such as Haçik Kevorkyan, who continued his precious work in type foundry during the Republican period (1856-7 July 1932), were also registered by the Publishers Association (Almanak-1933, pp.198-199).
  4. The question of why Armenian printing business had a pioneering development may come to mind. First of all, the reason for that is this ethnic group was one of the groups that benefited most from the peace in Anatolia and the economic and social developments and also they had a tradition of hand crafts and skills that were very favorable to the printing business. Especially their skills in the goldsmith business must have resulted in them adopting the printing business easily. R.H. Clark mentions this explicitly (Çark, 1953, p.248).

The contributions of the Ottoman State to the Armenian culture through the Turkish printing business

  1. It must be noted that those Armenians who were owners of printing houses within the printing business here took the biggest share of the Turkish printing revenues. It can be said that our Armenian citizens took the lion’s share of the expanding printing business.
  2. This printing business had a great share and contribution in the development of Armenian culture and literature through the books, journals and newspapers that they published in Turkish with Armenian letters, especially in earlier times and gradually in Armenian language later on. There is no doubt that this is a great proof and result of the contributions made by the Ottoman State to the printing business and to Armenian printing business in this respect, the toleration they showed and even the support they provided.
  3. On the other hand, there has not been much opportunity to benefit from this great wealth of literature up to now because of the difference of letters and the alphabet, even though this was a great contribution to the Turkish language and literatüre. Although books, journals and newspapers were published, there were insignificant numbers in Turkish using Armenian letters (“Türkîy al-i’barah Armaniy al-huruf”). It is necessary to research ways of benefiting from this wealth and this can even be called a necessity.
  4. Another fact indicated by the Armenian printing business is that it should be seen as a great witness of the acceptance this ethnic group had by the Ottoman State and society that cannot be rejected. This simple fact is clear for all to see.

In conclusion, researching of the printing house owners of Armenian origin, the publishing and all of the texts that were printed in Turkish with Armenian letters in the Turkish printing business seems to be a new direction, way and need for our historiography. This is also a duty for us vis-à-vis our former subjects and it is a prescription so as not to be stuck in an incidental era of history.


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