Armenians in the Turkish History Books: Until the Establishment of the Ottoman Empire

The Armenians are mentioned for the first time in the history textbooks in Turkey in the chapter where the subjects in the 10th-13th centuries are addressed. In this chapter, where the topic of the Great Seljuks is addressed, the expression “the Armenian forces” is used for the Armenians (9. Sınıf (9th grade), 2014, p.146). In the Armenian history textbooks, the first meeting of the Armenians with the Turks is called a misfortune and negative adjectives such as “invader, brutal, barbarian, destroying, and cruel” are used (7. Sınıf (7th grade), 2009; 125).

In the Turkish history textbooks, it is indicated that the Armenians were in Anatolia before the conquest of the region by the Turks and it is pointed out that there were Armenian princedoms there. It is possible to see that no negative image or stereotype is used as can be seen in the paragraphy below:

“Before the conquest by Turks, Anatolia had turned into ruins due to the Sassanian-Byzantium wars that continued for years. These wars lasted for a long time and caused the population in the region to be reduced, people migrated for safety reasons and gathered in the cities. In the 11th century, people such as the Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians lived in Anatolia. The authority of the Byzantium in Anatolia weakened in time, Armenian and Georgian princedoms were established in the east of Anatolia. This messy political situation was very convenient for the Oguz Turks, who were looking for a homeland for themselves. The Turks took advantage of these convenient conditions and they started to establish states in various regions of Anatolia after the Malazgirt War

(9. Sınıf, 2014; 166-167).

Another chapter in which the Armenians are mentioned in the Turkish history books is under the heading “Danishmends.” Here the information on wars between the Turks and Armenians are given as follows by using quite objective definitions: “Muhammed, who was the son of Emir Gazi who succeeded him after his death, had wars with the Armenians, the Byzantium Empire and the Crusaders.” (9. Sınıf, 2014; 167).

The place of the Armenians in the social and commercial life is presented with an impartial observation in the chapter titled “The Period of Advancement of the Turkish Seljuk State:” “Sivas developed rapidly during the reign of Alāeddin Keykubad. According to the famous traveler Marco Polo, merchants and artists from all people and religions, except for the Turkmens, settled in the city. There were also people from various nations such as the Armenians and Greeks in the city. These people worked in trade and artisanship like the Muslims who lived in the city, they wove carpets and silk fabrics. Tradesmen organzations and tasawwuf communities were influential on the social and economic development of the city.” (9. Sınıf, 2014; 177). However, the same periods are presented with the heading “The Invasion of the Seljuk Turks” in the Armenian history textbooks. Although the Turks are called “invader” in the Armeinan history textbooks, the Turkish history textbooks do not use any negative expressions for the Armenians (7. Sınıf, 2009, p.125).

No negative expression or concept can be seen when the war that was waged against the Armenians is referred to briefly in the chapter titled “Ghiyaseddin Kayhusraw Period:” “Ghiyasaddin Kayhusraw became the ruler after the death of Kilic Arslan II. Ghiyasaddin Kayhusraw failed in the struggle against his brother Ruknaddin Suleiman Shah and he was forced to leave the throne (1196). Ruknaddin Suleiman Shah II tried to establish the Turkish unity once again. He fought with the Armenians, he seized Erzurum and ended the rule of the Saltuks (1202).” (9 Sınıf, 201; 178).

No othering term is used when talking about imposing tax on the Armenians in the chapter on the Izzaddin Kaykavus period in the Turkish history textbooks: “Izzaddin Kaykavus succeeded Ghiyasaddin Kayhusraw after the latter’s death. He supressed his brothers’ rebellion. He conquered Sinop in 1214, he imposed tax on the Trebizond Emperor and the Armenians in Cukurova.” (9 Sınıf, 2014; 179).

As seen in the following section in the chapter titled “Culture and Civilization” in the textbook, no expressions that are othering or offensive to the ethnic group in question are used: “The civil service jobs that were established before in the Turkish-Islamic states were continued in the same manner. The areas called “Uj (frontier)” at the borders of the Byzantium Empire and the Armenians were ruled by beys.” (9 Sınıf, 2014; 181)

It is possible to say that even positive descriptions are used in the sections on the Armenians in some chapters in the Turkish history textbooks. From that aspect, it is emphasized in the chapter titled “Konya In the Seljuk Period” that the Armenians were among the local peoples of the region, that the Turkish society saved the Armenians from the pressure from Byzantium, and that the Armenians had significant development in the social sphere (9 Sınıf, 2014; 182).

“Turkish-Armenian relations: When the Turks arrived in Anatolia, they met the Assyrian, Greek, and Armenian people. They were tolerant of these communities who were under the Turkish rule. The Armenians, who were under the Seljuk rule, organized church meetings under the leadership of the Armenian bishops in Kayseri, Malatya, Sivas, and Niksar and they received help from the sultans from time-to-time. The Armenians also took up positions in the Seljuk State administration. For example, an Armenian named Hayton was appointed as the head of the Sinop navy. The Armenians, whose population in Anatolia in the Seljuk period was not known definitely, worked in trade and various art branches in the towns and villages. The Armenians, who were under the Seljuk rule, escaped the pressure from Byzantium, lived their religious life freely, and displayed important developments in the political and economic areas.”

(9 Sınıf 2014; 183).

The beginning of the Mongol rule over the Armenians is indicated in the 9th grade textbook without any negative description:

“After the Kosedagh defeat, the Turkish Seljuk State signed a peace agreement on the condition that it would pay annual taxes to the Mongols. Therefore, the Turkish Seljuk came under Mongol rule officially. The Cukurova Armenians and Trebizond Empire, which were linked to the Seljuk State, came to be linked to the Mongols.”

(9 Sınıf, 2014; 192).

In conclusion, when we look generally at the history textbooks that are taught in Turkey in the 2014-2015 academic year, it is possible to say that positive and objective images and stereotypes are used compared to the history textbooks in Armenia. Especially in contrast to the hateful and discriminating discourses that are used in the chapters addressing the 1915 Incidents in the Armenian history textbooks, it is seen that more objective descriptions such as “the Armenian forces, the Armenian peoples” are used in the Turkish history textbooks. The Armenians are presented as a people that contributed to the Turks and the society in the social, economic, and artistic spheres, that preferred to live under the Turkish rule compared to the other communities, and that took refuge in the Turkish state in order to escape the pressure from Byzantium (9 Sınıf 2014; 183). While the stereotype of victimhood and heroism images are emphasized in the definition of the pre-Ottoman period Armenians in the Armenian history textbooks (7. Sınıf, 2009, p.125), it is seen clearly that such stereotypes are not used in the Turkish history textbooks.

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