The national system in the Ottoman Empire is based not on ethnic but religious foundations (İlter, 1995, p.30; Ercan, 2000, p.146). However, with the pressure and provocations of the Western states, the national system started to be understood within ethnic nationalism in the 19th century. Armenians started to be organized as the Gregorian nation within the national system from the 15th century onwards (İlter, 1995, p.31). The missionary activities and protective policy of the colonialist states on the Gregorian Armenians caused the community of the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate to be divided into three. Mahmut II recognized the Armenian Catholics as a community in 1830. The Spiritual Assembly, consisting of 14 clergy members, and the High Assembly, of 20 people, half of which consisted of Armenian nobles, and the other half of which consisted of handicraftsmen, were created (Uras, 1987, p.159). The Protestant nation was recognized in 1850 on the other hand (Kılıç, 2000, p.72; Uras, 1987, p.153-155). The patriarchate aimed at uniting the Armenian community, divided into three with the influence of the nationalist movements on the rise, around a cause once again. With the 1863 Regulation, the Armenian community went beyond being a community and became a pressure group within the state (Kılıç, 2000, p.73; Saray, 2005, p.36).
Having been Turkified and adopted Turkish as their language, Armenians were called The Loyal Nation at the beginning of the 19th century. Non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire started to progress on the way of becoming an independent state starting from the beginning of the 19th century. Capitulations also had a pushing role in this (Küçük, 2006, p.396). The word millet (nation) in the Edict of Gülhane was used in the meaning of the whole of the Empire’s people (İnalcık, 2006, p.97). This point can be understood from people of Islam and other nations in the Edict of Gülhane. Christian communities started the efforts for becoming a separate nation after the Edict of Gülhane. Armenians gained as many rights as Turks and even more with the Edict of Gülhane. When members from the people also began to join the church assemblies, nationalization and secularization came to start together (Küçük, 2006, p.401). The Edict of Reform which is qualified to expand the Edict of Gülhane, on the other hand, enabled non-Muslims to present members in provincial and municipal assemblies and to propose members to the Assembly of Justice and it also enabled the participation of representatives from the people along with the clergies in assemblies to be created by non-Muslims (Küçük, 2006, p. 399). The edict became the beginning of constitutional developments for non-Muslim subjects to be a nation and the document of their demands for national independence (Küçük, 2006, p.399). With the Edict of Reform, the existing tradition of non-Muslims joining in government offices became legalized. Ottoman Christians and foreigners were given official authorization. Activities of Armenians in economic life and high-ranking government offices increased (Şahin, 1988, p. 167). Armenians were appointed as governors and ambassadors, and even ministers (İlter, 1995, p. 32).
We observe that the idea of Ottomanship was tried to be established to replace the nation system in the years following the Edict of Reform. This movement that intellectuals such as Namık Kemal, Ziya Pasha, and Ali Suavi led played a significant role in the creation of the 1876 Constitution, which is an important step towards the realization of the Ottomanship ideal. In Article 8 of the constitution, Ottoman was described as: all of the people existing within Ottoman Empire are described as Ottoman no matter what religion and sect they are from. Ottomanship proposed the opportunity that all Ottomans are represented in assemblies through election. This can also be called an equality of law under the name of Ottomanship (İnalcık, 2006, p. 31). Abdulhamit II chose to follow an Islamist policy instead of Ottomanship after the Constitutional Monarchy which lasted for 2 years. Even though the Union and Progress Party, which came to the power after 1908, on the other hand, followed the Ottomanship policy at first, it departed from this path in the later years and followed a policy which can be called Turkism (İnalcık, 2006, p.32).
The Regulation of the Armenian Nation was prepared by clergies of the Armenian community and was approved by the Patriarch on 24 May 1860. The Sublime Porte, the Ottoman government, presented the regulation to the approval of the Sultan in 1862. The Sultan approved the regulation on 29 March 1862 (Uras, 1987, p. 159). The Sublime Porte declared that the regulation was put into force with a decree sent to the Patriarch on 29 March 1862 (Bebiroğlu, 2003, p. 76).
The regulation is made up of 99 articles (Düstur, Birinci Tertip, C. 2, p. 938-961). Articles 1-7 are reserved for the principles and method of the election of Istanbul Armenian Patriarch. Articles 8-12 regulated the duties of the Patriarch; articles 13-16 regulated the Patriarch office; articles 7-23 regulated the Patriarch of Jerusalem; articles 24-35 regulated the Spiritual Assembly; articles 36-43 regulated the Corporal Assembly; articles 44-51 regulated the commissions established by the Corporal Assembly; articles 52-56 regulated the issue of District and Church administrations; articles 57-71 regulated the creation of the General Assembly, the conditions on the selection of its members, its organization and duties; articles 72-84 regulated how to vote; articles 85-89 regulated the structure of assemblies and commissions and their operational methods; articles 90-93 regulated the principles of the aid to the needy members of the nation; articles 94-98 regulated the issue of spiritual leadership; and articles 99 and the last article regulated what kind of a path the Spiritual and Corporal Assemblies would follow when a new structure is needed the future years. It was indicated that the necessary changes would be decided in the commission created by the Spiritual and Corporal Assemblies and would be put into force with the permission of Sublime Porte and the approval of the Sultan after having been approved in the General Assembly.
The Regulation of the Armenian Nation can be evaluated as a favor of the government in compliance with the 1856 Edict of Reform and with the influence of the image of loyal nation which Armenians exhibited until then. This regulation, which is 13 years before the first Constitution of the Ottoman Empire and is called Armenian Constitution by Armenians, allowed Armenian to gain significant privileges. No matter how the approval of the Sultan was needed for the issues such as the appointment of the Patriarch and the approval of the regulation, Armenians were exercising their issues on their own in fields such as education, health, foundations, tax, and partly justice along with religious affairs through their commissions to be selected according to this regulation. The regulation, in general, gave birth to the outcome that the power shared by the Patriarch and the nobles before was spread across the Armenian community and Armenian community came to the position of being able to take the decisions related to them on their own.
It would not be wrong to say that the regulation, which was created by the advantageous atmosphere that the 1856 Edict brought along, triggered the idea of autonomy in Armenians. Even though the Ottoman Empire did a gratification to Armenians called the loyal nation with this regulation, Armenian associations and revolutionary committees were founded by benefitting from the privileged environment granted by the regulation especially in the period after 1878. There is no doubt that the regulation had a significant role in the creation of the Armenian problem.
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This study was presented at the 2nd International Social Studies Symposium (EUSAS-2) on 22-24 May 2008 arranged by Erciyes University and Nevşehir University and then was published under the title The Approach of Ottoman Empire to Armenians Within the Context of ‘The Regulation of Armenian Nation’ Dated 1864 in the second book (p. 167-203) of the bulletin published with the name Armenians from Tolerance to Separation by Metin Hülagü and his friends in 2009.