Ottoman Armenians in the Second Half of the 18th Century and Some Important Names

The increasing impact of Westerners in politics and trade improved the positions of the non-Muslim communities including the Armenians, the Muslim elements started not to be involved in international trade, and especially the role of the Armenians began to be more visible. A sort of bond formed between the foreigners and the non-Muslim subjects. The Armenians, who were Ottoman citizens and intermediaries in trade, also sought to be protected by a big Western power in order to benefit from both positions. Although the Ottoman State appeared to be a good and rich market, thanks to the big area it covered and the large population it had, it also seemed to be a raw materials warehouse because of its economy, which was based on agriculture. The non-Muslim subjects in the state however, became the natural allies of the representatives of international trade, which were seeking new partnerships. European trade companies, which expanded their presence in the Ottoman trade starting in the 17th century and which expanded with subsidies, turned to Armenians as natural intermediaries and therefore, increased their role in trade.   Starting at the end of the 17th century, Fener Greeks and Izmir and Istanbul Armenians increasingly replaced the converts and Levantines who used to work at the embassies as translators. As a result, they rose to a dominant position.

In addition, the clerics of places like Syria and Lebanon, and rich Armenian families preferred Italian and French universities such that it became a tradition. Therefore, they became familiar with the new Western methods and they became sought after staff members of embassies (Lewis, 1998: pp.63-448).   Furthermore, they also obtained certificates that provided them with commercial privileges. Although these certificates were given to grant some exemptions to foreign merchants at the beginning, they started to be given to local non-Muslim and especially Armenian merchants in time and they were even sold (Inalcik, 2000: pp.246-252). The certificates, which provided monopoly in trade with Europe in addition to legal, commercial and financial privileges, were given with certain conditions and fees. Thanks to these, the Ottoman government gave its non-Muslims the possibility of competition with the merchants who were under the protection of foreigners.   Thus, a privileged class known as the European Merchants emerged (Bağış, 1983). This class was mostly comprised of Armenians because they were more reliable than the Greeks and more educated than the Jews, and the Armenians played important roles both in the commercial and industrial developments (Gibb&Bowen, 1957, s.233vd). Although the Armenians were allowed to work as translators in this period, the transfer of the certificates through sales was tried to be prevented. It was thought that this situation would harm the Ottoman economy and therefore, studies were conducted to identify those who had certificates (Refik, 1988: pp.227-228).

Hagop Jamjiyan can be given as an example of the important consulate translators in the 18th century. Hagop, who was educated by the Latin missionaries in Istanbul, started to work as the translator of the Swedish embassy in 1725. Hagop made translations from various languages into Armenian. In addition, he translated two works of Newton (1642-1721) on physics and philosophy from French for the Patriarch Nalyan and dedicated them to Nalyan (Pamukciyan, 2002: pp.64-67). In addition, he obtained some certificates from the Jamjiyan family and he dealt with silkworm seed and grain trade.

The number of people who had certificates at embassies increased rapidly after Baghdasar and Serkis Saatci, who worked at the French embassy, towards the middle of the 18th century.   Among the other names one can mention Kozmas Komurcuyan, who was one of the Spanish translators; Bedros Baronyan, who was the head translator of Siciliy; and Muradjan Tosunyan, who was the embassy translator in Izmir. In addition, Hosveb Amira, who was an important merchant in the 1750s, acquired a monopoly in importing clocks from England and in their distribution. Moreover, another family that had a monopoly was the Noradunkyan family, which met the bread requirement of the army (Göçek,1999, s.558).

In the Ottoman times, some professions were known as the profession of a family for generations especially among the non-Muslims and they remained as monopolies under their control. The Ziljiyan family, who is a bell maker and still active, is a typical example of this. The Armenians who invented a new embroidered print in the 18th cnetury established a small manufacturing plant in Kuzguncuk. Since Foreman Serkis of Kayseri established the manufacturing plant, this print was called the Foreman Serkis Print. The Foreman Serkis manufacturing plant was in business for a long time (İncicyan, 1976: p.19). The reigon became an important center of weaving; especially, Uskudar chatmas (velvet with floral patterns) were evry popular. In addition, the fabrics named “Selimi-Selimiye” from among the fabrics that were woven here became very famous all around the world (Gürsu, 2002: p.369).  It is known that the Armenians had a significant position in the tradesman group called crepe twisters. Armenians formed a strong lobby group. They wanted to form some new groups without the consent of the guild butler (the lonja kethuda). For example, eight Armenian masters organized in order to protect each other and they became an organization that opposed the butler. They pressured butler Mustafa and started to engage in activities such as opening a store without his consent, providing foreman and apprentice qualifications (Kal’a-Tabakoğlu, 1997, p. 220).

Especially Rafael Manas attracts attention among these names. It is accepted that he was a member of the Manas lineage, which was from among the biggest families of Istanbul after the Balyan, Dadyan, Düzyan, and Tıngıryan families. Rafael Manas, who had served in the singer position in churches, worked as a painter at the palace in the Mahmud I, Osman III, and Mustafa III periods. The painting in which he painted Selim III together with his father Mustafa III was used in many albums. Many Ottoman statesmen including palace painters, artists and diplomats came from the Manas family until the 20th century (İncicyan, 1976, p.102); (Yarman, 2001, p.62).

Another important name was Patriarch Krikor Basmajiyan. His surname is mentioned as Asdvadzaduryan in the old sources. He was born in Samatya in 1715 and he died in Trieste in 1791. He was the Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul between the years 1764-1773. Basmajiyan is known for his chronology named Hishadagran. In most of this work, some events that were experienced in Istanbul in that period were narrated.

One of the important names was Hovhannesyan. He was born in Balat in 1740 and he died there in 7 March 1805. One of his two works is Ottoman History in Armenian and the other one is Vibakrutyun Gosdantbubolso (History of Istanbul). We can also mention Mikayel Jamjiyan, d’Ohnsson (Muratcan Tosunyan), and Incicyan as significant people. Jamjiyan wrote a work named The History of Armenians. He also talked about he conquest of Istanbul in his work. D’Ohnsson (Muratcan Tosunyan), who was the son-in-law of Kuleliyan, who was the goldsmith of Ragip Pasha, conducted many good quality studies. Apart from these names, one must also mention the names of the members of the Tibir family, who established a printing house in Istanbul and who were engaged with translation activities: Baghdasar Tibir, physician and author Garabed, Physician Arzuman, who was the son of Physician Asadur of Samatya, Tibir Gaseryan, and teacher Kevork Gaseryan.

Finally, İncicyan was one of the Venice Mikhitarist priests. He was born in Istanbul in 1758 and he died in Venice in 1833. He wrote three books on Istanbul and its history. From these books, the first one was Amaranots Puzantyan (The Summer Place of the Byzantium), the second one was The History of Istanbul, which was published in Venice, and the third one was Tarabadum (The History of the Century), which was published in 8 volumes. There was a chapter on the history of Istanbul in four of the volumes.


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