Armenians in the Imperial Mint

The Ottoman Empire looked like a large mosaic where many ethnic and religious groups lived together. Armenians had a special place in the Empire’s people who were members of various religions, sects and ethnic origins. They had gained this status thanks to their high capacity in certain areas such as trading, artistry, architecture and art. The main fields in which Armenians were active were sectors of finance and jewellery. In the center of these two sectors, there was Darphane-i Amire (The Imperial Mint). For this reason, Armenians had a significant dominion in the mint. There are some evaluations regarding the place of Armenians in the mint in literature. However, the most significant deficit of these is that they did not use the documents produced by the Ottoman financial organization and mint. In this paper, the results of a new research done based on the documents in the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives will be presented to the reader. As the existence of Armenians in the mint got stronger in the 18th and 19th centuries, these two centuries will be focused on.

With the reforms at the end of the 17th century, the mint was reformed; its organization, staff structure, technology and the standards of the money coined were rearranged. Obtaining a modern technology, which is called the mechanical coinage method, provided a faster and higher quality of money coining (Sahillioğlu, 1999, p. 83-103). The fact that the mint administration was given to the professional bureaucrats provided the works to be carried out in a more regular way and the accounts and records to be kept more accurately. These bureaucrats were experienced people who worked in all levels of the Ottoman administration system. The most important characteristic of these was that they were Muslim and spoke Turkish. However, their number was quite restricted among the staff. The majority of the mint workers were made up of non-Muslims.

The mint personnel were categorized into three groups: administrators, traders and workers. In the administrator class which consisted of only Muslims, there were chiefs, officers and controlling staff such as the supervisor, sahibiayar (vice-supervisor), kefçe nazırı (atelier controller), scribes, controllers, arayıcı (inspectors) and calligraphers/engravers. The non-Muslim staff  who worked under the control of the administrators and carried out all technical stages of the coining of money were divided into two groups. There were people who supplied precious mines for coining and were called the trader class in the first group. These were constituted of the officers such as the ifrazcıbaşı (the chief-excreter), the chief-smelter and the mint sarrafs. The ones in the second group, called workers, were made up of masters and workers who were moulders, stokers, smelters, blowers, wheelers, wooders, flatteners, joiners, die-stampers, repairmen and counters.

Despite their influential roles in the mint administration, Muslims had restricted roles in the coining of money and their numbers were limited. Non-Muslims, who had the large majority, were responsible for all technical jobs concerning the coining of money. The number of non-Muslim personnel was 1,300 at the beginning of the 19th century. A significant part of this populated master, technical and worker mass were Armenians. The year 1762 was a milestone for Armenians in gaining power at the mint. The duty of the ifrazcıbaşı, which was under the control of Jews before and responsible for the supply of the mine that the mint needed, was given to the Armenian Düzoğlu family at that date. This change made already existing Armenian effectiveness in the mint come to the top. The number and effectiveness of Armenians among the personnel rapidly increased. As the mint gained the status of the reserve treasury in the same year, the workload of the mint supervisor highly increased. Money coining work gradually became a responsibility of the ifrazcıbaşı. This situation became more apparent at the beginning of the 19th century. However, even though this was the actual situation, the chief of the mint was still the mint supervisor (Bölükbaşı, 2013, p. 23-68).

The declaration of the Edict of Tanzimat in 1839 dislocated everything in the Ottoman bureaucracy. As the new conditions of the edict allowed non-Muslims to be administrators, non-Muslim Armenians were able to be the administrator of the mint. In 1850, the ifrazcıbaşı was transformed into the Meskûkât-ı Şâhâne Müdürlüğü (Imperial Coin Directorate) and was attached to the Ministry of Finance. The mint started to be called the Meskûkât-ı Şâhâne Müdürlüğü in official letters. The position of the directorate was held by the Düzoğlus after this year. Therefore, Armenians who played the greatest role in money coining works and who held the numerical majority in the staff, were also able to hold the administration proximately.

Among the Armenians working at the mint, the Düzoğlu family and Kazaz Artin had a special place. Mihail, who was the ancestor of the Düzoğlu family, had held the ifrazcıbaşı position in 1762. After a successful service, which lasted for 21 years, his son Hovannes was assigned to that work in 1783. The 1787-1792 War with the Russians led to great troubles in the Ottoman Empire. For financing the war, debasement was applied, which meant that the Ottoman piastre lost value. This increased the workload of the mint and therefore, of Düzoğlu Hovannes. However, that debasement greatly contributed to the financing of the war. Düzoğlu Kirkor was assigned to the position of Düzoğlu Hovannes, in 1812. Seven years after Kirkor had started his service, the Düzoğlu family went through a large crisis: ifrazcıbaşı Kirkor and his brother Sarkis were executed with the mint supervisor of the time, Abdurrahman Feyzi Bey, due to the corruption determined in the mint accounts. Although this event is tragic, it can be seen as an ordinary situation when the political culture of the time is considered. The fact that the mint supervisor was also killed and another Armenian family was brought to the position of the Düzoğlus clearly demonstrates that the event did not have any religious or ethnic dimension.

The person coming to the position of the Düzoğlus was the renowned Kazaz Artin, who had close relations with the family. Even though Kazaz Artin, who became ifrazcıbaşı on 4 December 1819, was dismissed on 9 October 1820 and replaced by Bilezikçioğlu Boğos, he was forgiven on 26 December 1821 and was retaken to the mint as a sarraf of the Sultan’s privy purse and imperial foundations. After a short period, when Bilezikçioğlu Boğos was displaced from his position, Kazaz Artin was again appointed as the ifrazcıbaşı in addition to his sarraf tasks. In this way, Kazaz Artin came back to the mint as more empowered and authorized. The period during which Kazaz Artin was in service was also a period when the Ottoman Empire had great economic problems. His activities made significant contributions to the maintaining the coinage of the mint and the solution of the economic problems.

After Kazaz Artin, Düzoğlu Hoca Agop came to the position of ifrazcıbaşı. The sarrafs positions of the Sultan’s privy purse and imperial foundations, which were primarily given to Kazaz Artin’s brother-in-law Kevork and the scribe Sarkis, were also left to Düzoğlu Hoca Agop after a while. Therefore, Hoca Agop obtained great power and authority. After a service of 14 years, he left his position to his nephew Mihran. Düzoğlu Mihran, who had got chemistry education in France, applied some of the new methods at the mint that he had learnt before. Two years after he had started the service, an important development took place in the mint and the ifrazcıbaşı began to be called as the Meskukat Müdürü (Director of Mint) as of 3 March 1850. Düzoğlu Mihran continued his service until 1880 and thus, the career of the Düzoğlu family in the mint came to 118 years. After 1880, no Armenian director held the position at the mint. However, Armenians continued to hold other high-ranking positions at the mint (Bölükbaşı, 2010, p. 52-62; Niyazi Asım, 1327, p. 257; Devlet Salnamesi, 1305, p. 217).

Another important position held by Armenians at the mint was the mint sarraf. Istefan, Bedros, Hoca Garabed, Manyasar and Kirkor were some of the significant people who held the position of mint sarraf in the 18th and 19th centuries (Bölükbaşı, 2010, p. 52-62).

Armenians did not only held the numerical dominance at the mint during the 18th and 19th centuries, but they also came to high-level positions. The fact that the Düzoğlu family undertook the position of the ifrazcıbaşı in 1762 was a turning point. However, despite all of these, the first-level chief of the mint until 1850 was a Muslim administrator. Armenians could get into the position of directorate only after this date.

The main reason for the employment of Armenians at the mint is the pragmatic attitude of the Ottoman Empire. If any social groups have an ability in a certain field, this sector could be left to the monopoly of this group. As Armenians were very talented in fields such as jewelry and moneylending, they were allowed to freely be active in these fields. In this way, the highest productivity and benefits were obtained and co-operation between the various groups of the society was being established. This should also be the main reason why Armenians were so heavily employed at the mint. On the other hand, while some restrictions by the religion of Islam limited the activities of Muslims in some fields, they opened the way for non-Muslims in these fields. Another aspect of the issue is that thanks to the policies implemented by the state, different ethnic and religious groups in Ottoman society were able to live together in peace, tranquillity and co-operation.

Bibliography

Bölükbaşı, Ömerül Faruk (2013), XVIII. Yüzyılın İkinci Yarısında Darbhâne-i Âmire, İstanbul.

Niyazi Asım (1327), Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Darbhane-i Milli Müdiri Tarafından 1336 Sene-i Maliyyesi Darbiyat ve Muâmelatı Hakkında Maliye Nezâret-i Celilesine Takdim Olunan Rapor, İstanbul.

Sahillioğlu, Halil (1999), Studies on Ottoman Economic and Social History, İstanbul.

Sâlnâme-i Devlet-i Aliyye-i Osmaniyye, 43th times, year 1305.

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