Armenians in Turkish History Course Books: From the Ottoman Empire Until Today

The 10th grade secondary education book from the history course books studied in education institutions in Turkey in 2014-1015 has been taken as a base for this study. It is striking that the Armenian problem is given more place in this book covering the period from the Ottomans to today. The reason for this is that the Armenian problem and the 1915 events took place in this period.

In the part titled “From Chiefdom to State” where Armenians are mentioned in the 10th grade Turkish history course books, it is emphasized that Armenians were not happy with the Byzantine rule (10th Grade, 2014, p. 7). In the part titled “The Condition of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire,” it is narrated that Armenians were one of the oldest communities living in Anatolia and they were rescued from the Byzantine suppression by Osman Bey in the establishment period of the Ottoman Empire (10th Grade, 2014, p. 66-67).

It is emphasized in Turkish history course books that Turks and Armenians had mutual interactions in social, religious, political, and cultural areas in this period and there were no problems between the two. Therefore, it is seen that the information given related to Turkish-Armenian relations in the rising period of the Ottomans has a positive and objective point of view in general.

In the part about the collapsing period of the Ottomans on the other hand, it is stated that the Allied Forces were influential on Armenians and that the crash between the two communities emerged at this very point:

“…Even though the politics of the Allied Forces on the Christian elements in the collapsing period of the Ottoman Empire were influential, especially on Armenians, Greeks, Nestorians, Maronites, Chaldeans, and Melkits, they were not quite influential on the Ancient Assyrians”

(10th Grade, 2014, p. 67-68).

In a part titled “The Influence of 18th Century Reforms on Ottoman Society and Culture,” the role of Armenians in the implementation of the reform movements in the Ottoman Empire was pointed out and the fact that Western culture came through Armenians was presented with an objective observation:

“The relations developed with Europe especially in political and military fields in the 18th century started to influence Ottoman society. The Western culture spread among Ottoman governors through the embassies mutually opened and the advisors brought from Europe. Students sent to Europe, and Greek and Armenian families, who had trading relations with Europe, brought the Western culture to Ottoman society”

(10th Grade, 2014, p. 152).

It is seen that the parts about the First World War present a clashing point in Turkish course books just like Armenian course books. The unreal attitudes of Armenians are presented among the information under the title the “First World War Years.”

“The attacks of Greek groups on Turks were projected as the attacks of Turks on Greeks in the European public opinion. Greeks also published exaggerated population statistics just liked Armenians”

(10th Grade, 2014, p. 168).

In the parts of the books after this and especially in the narrations of the First World War period, the descriptions such as “Armenian guerrilla groups,” “Armenians who killed Turks,” and “Armenians who helped Russians” are more often used, rather than the positive influence of the two communities on each other. Thus, the themes putting forward the culture of co-existence of the two communities and their neighbourhood relations became history.

“In the midnight of 7 November 1877, Ottoman citizen Armenian guerrilla groups from the local people went to the Aziziye Bastion of Erzurum and killed the Turkish soldiers protecting the bastion. The Russian soldiers following did not meet any resistance and easily captured the bastion

(10th Grade, 2014, p. 185).”

In the part titled “1877-1878 Ottoman-Russian War (’93 War)” in the Turkish history course books, it is pointed out that Armenians allied with Russians for the first time in this war, they were provoked by Russians, they rioted, they caused Turks to be pressed between two fires, and that the Armenian problem for the first time appeared in an international document with the San Stefano Treaty signed after this war. 1 million Muslim Turks escaping from Armenian suppression in Caucasia had to migrate to Anatolia after this treaty (10th Grade, 2014, p. 186). It is possible to say in this framework that the ’93 War made a clashing point in terms of Armenians in Turkish history course books and negative descriptions about Armenians were included in the passages narrating this war. The fact that some Armenians’ cooperation with the Russians during the 1828-1829 War and the Crimean War was not included in the course book is seen as a humane attitude not to deepen the history of hostility and betrayal.

Another clashing point in terms of the Armenian problem is pointed out in the part titled “Berlin Congress and Aftermath.” The fact that the Armenian problem was included in the Berlin Treaty after the San Stefano Treaty caused all world public opinion to intervene in the issue and therefore, the right for European countries to intervene in Turkish-Armenian relations was born and consequently, it shows that a new period started in the Armenian problem (10th Grade, 2014, p. 187).

The “Armenian problem” is widely included in Turkish books, like Armenian course books. No matter how they differentiate in terms of subject and content, the fact that the issue is handled under a special title is one of the similar attitudes of the history course books of the two countries. It is stated in this part titled “The Emergence of the Armenian Problem” that “Turks and Armenians had lived side-by-side since the establishment of the Ottoman Empire, Armenians were rescued from Byzantine suppression during the reign of Orhan Bey, Mehmet the Conqueror established the Armenian Patriarchate after the conquest of Istanbul, and guaranteed them of worshipping freely.” Also, the facts that Armenians were brought to important positions in the Ottoman Empire, some of them were even ministers and ambassadors, and Armenians living in metropolises got rich through trading, artistry and banking are narrated without prejudices. One of the most important points to be emphasized on in this part is the Armenian population issue. It has been put forward that “Armenians lived as distributed to Ottoman lands and Armenian population even in the Eastern Anatolia and Cilicia where they are claimed to be most populous couldn’t reach even 20% of the total population.”

On the other hand, the exact opposite of this is seen in the perspective of the Armenian course books on the population issue. It is claimed that the Armenian population held the majority:

“The party decisions taken by Young Turks in Salonika in 1910-1911 were accepted in their secret meetings. These decisions included Turkification of non-Turkish Muslims living in Empire lands and the extermination of Christians. The Armenian population living in Western Armenia and places of Armenian majority in Asia Minor was one of the first victims of these horrible politics”

(8th Grade, 2007, p. 162).

In the part titled “The Events Broken Out by Armenians,” the activities of the Armenians against the Turks and the government are included. It is possible to classify these in general as such: the continuous intervention of Britain, France, Russia, and Austria in the Ottoman Empire because of the Armenians, the activities of Armenian organizations to attract more attention from European counties, killing Turkish soldiers, arranging attacks, massacring Muslims and not giving taxes to the state, the riots in Kayseri, Yozgat, Çorum, Zeytun and Marash, and also the book mentions the occupation of the Ottoman Bank and the assassination attempt on Sultan Abdulhamid II (10th Grade, 2014, p. 188-189).

It is also mentioned that Armenians broke out baseless news and attempted to direct the European public opinion against Turks, and for this reason, European countries increased their pressures on the Ottoman Empire by depending on Article 61 of the Berlin Treaty. The real purpose of Armenians was to separate from the Ottoman Empire There were armories and shelters of Armenian guerrilla groups in minority schools (10th Grade, 2014, p. 188-189). It is stated at various points that minority schools “made severe damages to the Ottoman Empire” (10th Grade, 2014, p. 201). It is claimed that the Armenian students taking education in foreign schools became conscious of political affairs and served for the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire (10th Grade, 2014, p. 201).

The emphasis on the situation of Armenians during the Frist World War is clear: “Armenians regarded the fact that the Ottoman Empire took part in the war as an advantage and Russia made the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia rebel” (10th Grade, 2014, p. 210).

When it is about the 1915 Events, there is detailed information about the Armenian deportations, what the Dispatchment and Settlement Law was, why such a decision was taken, and the characteristics of this decision (10th Grade, 2014, p. 212-213). It is stated that Armenians were armed by Russians, Armenians massacred Turks, and Armenian organizations encouraged Armenian communities for uprising in the process to the Dispatchment and Settlement Law (10th Grade, 2014, p. 210-213).

The role of Armenian clergy leaders in the Armenians riots are also mentioned in the course books. As for this, the defenders and the church carried out massacres together. The Akdamar Clergy School took an active role in the Van massacre. Turks had to migrate to escape the Armenian cruelty in some regions and they were massacred by Armenians groups on the way during this migration. The Ottoman Empire had to take some decisions when Armenians massacred everyone regardless of children, women or elders:

“The Ottoman Internal Affairs Ministry declared the closing down of the Armenian organization centres, capturing their documents and the arrest of organization leaders to the governmental units by publishing a notice on 24 April 1915. This notice is as follows in today’s Turkish: “As it is decided by the government that the branches of Hunchakian, Dashnaksutyun and similar organizations both in the capital and in other provinces are immediately closed down, their documents are captured in a ways not to ever lose them, individuals known as devotees by the government from the chairs and leaders of these organizations and significant and dangerous Armenians are immediately arrested, those seen dangerous to continue living in the places they are in are gathered to appropriate places and not let to escape, searching for arms is started in the necessary places and requirements are immediately given to the Military Court; co-operation with civil officers in this issue and the immediate supply of all kinds of help asked by them are kindly requested.” After this notice, 2345 people who were promoters of Hunchakian and Dashnaksutyun Armenian organizations were arrested in Istanbul. The issue of “24 April” commemorated as the “anniversary of the genocide” by Armenian and brought to the assemblies of United States of America every year refers to the day when this notice was published”

(10th Grade, 2014, p. 211).

The existence of Armenians’ idea to establish an independent Armenia and their aid expectations from Western countries for this purpose are two points which are often repeated in Turkish history course books. However, it is stated that this problem was legally solved with the Gyumri and Lausanne treaties (10th Grade, 2014, p. 213-214).

It is pointed out in the part titled “Armenian Claims and ASALA” that Armenians were given the status of minority with the Lausanne Treaty, but this was not regarded sufficient by Armenians and the events gained a new dimension with the dream of a “Great Armenia.” It is stated that Turkey accepted the 1914 contract of the United Nations General Assembly and confuted the legal claims about the genocide claims. Also, it is emphasized why the 1915 events aren’t compatible with the genocide definition of the UN (10th Grade, 2014, p. 214-215). The demands of the Armenians which are “Introduction, Recognition, Compensation, and Land” are put forward in the same part. It is stated that Armenians try to get their claims accepted in the world public opinion through terrorism, they demand compensation from Turkey, and they target to get lands from Turkey in order to consequently realize their dream of “Great Armenia.” It is pointed out that ASALA was founded for this purpose and it was a terrorist organization. The armed attacks of ASALA terrorists on Turkish embassies and consulates are emphasized and the list of people who died in these protests is presented (10th Grade, 2014, p. 214- 215).

The current developments such as the cooperation of Armenian terrorist organizations with the PKK, the Armenian Republic making its claims about Turkey a state policy, the fact that the national targets registered in the Armenia Independence Declaration are included in the basic principles of the constitution, and that Mount Ararat is put in the state emblem of Armenia according to the same constitution are also studied in the same part of the book. Besides, it is also pointed out that Armenians are reflecting themselves on the world public opinion as a society exposed to suppression and injustice, they made initiations for the recognition of the genocide and to get the genocide recognized in many countries, and even they started to give the genocide claims as a course in some of European countries (10th Grade, 2014, p. 215-216).

The negative definitions and detections about Armenians in the course book can be listed as follows:

“Who establish guerrilla groups, terrorist, who give exaggerated population statistics, who are provoked by the Westerners, who kill Turkish soldiers and people, who cooperate with Russians, who greatly damage the Ottoman Empire, Who are provoked by the Allied Forces and Russians, who rebel, who cause Turks to get stuck between two fires, who caused 1 million Muslim Turks to migrate from Caucasia to Anatolia, who cause Armenian problem to be taken to the agenda of world public opinion, who gave the right of intervening in Turkish-Armenian relations to European countries, who are provoked, who are organized by Russians, who are influenced by the French Revolution, who establish organizations against the Ottoman Empire, who try to establish a state in Eastern Anatolia, who are used by Russians, the British, and the French, who break out events to attract more attention from European countries, who don’t give taxes to the state, who arrange an assassination attempt on the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, who spread baseless news in European public opinion and attempt to direct the public opinion as against Turks, who have armouries and shelters of Armenian guerrilla groups in minority schools, who are armed by Russians, who have the demands of “Introduction, Recognition, Compensation, and Land”, who try to get the Armenian claims accepted in world public opinion through terrorism, who carry out armed protests against Turkish embassies and consulates, who cooperate with the PKK, who reflect themselves as a community exposed to suppression and injustice in the world public opinion, who get the genocide accepted in many countries by carrying out initiations for the recognition of the genocide, etc.”

These are also included in Turkish course books about Armenians:

“Armenians were provoked,” “They were organized by the Russians,” “they were influenced by the French Revolution,” “they rebelled,” “they got organized against the Ottoman Empire,” “they rioted,” “they cooperated with the Russian army,” “they established organizations against the Ottoman Empire,” “they tried to establish a state in Eastern Anatolia,” “they presented fake population documents on the international platform,” “they were used by the Russians, British, and French,” etc.

There are also definitions and descriptions which emphasize the Turkish-Armenian cultural relations and put forward the positive characteristics of Armenians in the book. Some are these are listed below:

Armenians are one of the most ancient communities living in Anatolia; they were rescued from Byzantine suppression; they were allowed to live freely in Ottoman lands; Armenian clergy leaders were officially recognized by the Ottoman Empire and their religious organizations were allowed; Armenians regarded Turks as a saver; Mehmet the Conqueror allowed the foundation of the Gregorian Armenian Patriarchate for Armenians to arrange their religious work; Armenians had the opportunity of arranging their education, religious, foundational and family issues in accordance with their traditions; these vast rights played a great role in the development of Armenians community; many Armenians migrated to Istanbul during the reign of the Conqueror; during the reign of Yavuz Sultan Selim, the Jerusalem Armenian Patriarchate also came under Ottoman rule with the conquest of Syria and Egypt in 1516; the Armenian community was given new privileges with the new edicts during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent; around 600,000 Armenians lived in Ottoman lands in the 16th century; the Ottoman Empire allowed the establishment of the Catholic Armenian Patriarchate in 1831; as a result of tolerance and freedom, the nation who merged with Turks was Armenians; Armenians spoke Turkish and performed even their prayers in Turkish; they were involved in all kinds of government offices after the Edict of Reformation; there were 33 deputies, 22 ministers, 29 generals, 7 ambassadors, 1 consul, 17 professors, and 41 high ranking officers from Armenians in the Ottoman administration; Mahmud II allowed Armenians to wear tughra on their kalpaks; the Civil List administration was given to Armenians during the reign of Abdulmecit; Armenians were effective in banking, architecture, trading, medicine, and theatre thanks to the privileges given to them; they continued their cultural developments without any obstacles; Western culture came to Ottoman lands through the Armenian community, etc.

As it is seen, when the narrations about Armenians in Turkish history course books are viewed in general, it is possible to say they have certain similar and different aspects with the Armenian history course books. Within this aspect, it is seen that Turkish and Armenian communities are narrated in a positive way in the ancient age narrations in the history course books of both the countries. However, it is seen that a serious clash is experienced in the parts about the First World War and the 1915 events in the history course books of the countries and certain negative evaluations and judgments are prominent in the discourses of both Armenian and Turkish history course books with this clash. In this context, no matter how the discourses in the Turkish history course books have a softer expressions in comparison to the Armenian history course books, it is possible to say that the revision of the history course books of both the countries is vital.

Bibliography

Turan, V., İ. Genç, M. Çelik, C. Genç ve Ş. Türedi, (2014), Ortaöğretim Tarih 10, Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı Yayınları, Ankara.

Պ2007. [P. Çobanyan, V. Barkhudaryan, A. Khar’atyan, E. Kostandyan, R’. Gasparyan, D. Muradyan, R’. Sahakyan, A. Hakobyan, HayotsPatmutyun: 8-rd DasaranDasagirk’, Yerevan, Makmilan, 2007 (P. Çobanyan, V. Barkhudaryan,. Khar’atyan, E. Kostandyan, R’. Gasparyan, D. Muradyan, R’. Sahakyan, A. Hakobyan, Armenian History: Secondary School 8th Grade Course Book, Yerevan, Makmilan, 2007)].

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