The war years, when the conditions become exceptional, are experienced in a feature negatively affecting all fields, especially social and economic issues. One of the results of war on the social structure is the fragmentation of families and especially children becoming victims in terms of negative health, eating and accommodation conditions, and emotional state. It is seen that one of the most important problems of a state, like the Ottoman Empire on whose lands many wars took place and which had to deal with migrations often happening due to the land losses, is homeless children or women.
The reality of war and immigration caused the Empire to create foundations for the widowed, orphans, and the needy and European and American missionaries also opened orphanages for especially Armenians after the Edicts of Tanzimat and Reformation. Non-Muslim orphans were accommodated in the buildings constructed next to the churches by their own communities or in orphanages created by repairing the old monasteries (Babacan, 2007, p. 275-283).
With the Dispatchment and Settlement Law, the practice of not dispatching orphaned children and widowed women and settlement of these in orphanages and the villages in their own region started (Armenians in Ottoman Documents, 1995, p. 11). Those women and children whose patriarchs were soldiers or who did not have anybody to take care of them and were subjected to deportations were needed to be settled in the places near the station when they reached the railway stations (Beyoğlu, 2001, p. 190, DH.ŞFR, 58/124).
Submitting those who had parents among the Armenian widowed and orphans to their parents, giving those who didn’t have parents to their religious authorities, but in case these were not possible, taking these under the protection of the government were among the decisions asked to be implemented (DH. ŞFR, 54/163, DH. ŞFR, 54/150, DH. ŞFR, 68/95_1). The needed funds were met by the Internal Affairs Ministry or from the War budget (DH. KMS, 36/4_1).
One of the methods practiced in this period was to give Armenian girls and children to well off Muslim families or to entrust them to the villagers by supporting their expenses in case such families were not found, and it is seen that this was one of the most controversial topics after the signing of the armistice. The Internal Affairs Ministry declared on 21 October 1918 that all people who were displaced from their places and dispatched to other places with a military decision due to the war conditions were allowed to go back to their hometowns (Karakaya, 2005, p. 54; DH. ŞFR; 64/162). Over 62 committees created by the Allied Forces and distributed to Anatolia started to research the claims that there were a hundred thousand Armenian women and children and all women who subsequently married Muslims through their free will were called and asked if they gave their consent or not (Gürün, 1985, p. 241-242).
As the method of taking Armenian children under the protection of Muslim families ended with the period of armistice, they started to be submitted to their own communities. It was decided that such people would be submitted to their own communities with a protocol regardless of their consent or approval, they would be submitted to official institutions in the places where there was no community organizations, and if they were also not available or their community didn’t accept them, they continued to be protected by the government (DH. ŞFR, 96/210; DH. ŞFR, 94/182). As people above the age of 20 had the right to freely choose their religions, if there were any who had chosen Islam and wanted to convert back to their original religions, it was informed that these people would be submitted to their communities with their consent, and those who were decisive about the religion they had chosen would not get any intervention from the government (DH. ŞFR, 97/247).
After these decisions, the Armenian Patriarchate appointed an officer named Çakıryan and Çakıryan and the Ottoman authorities started work on the light of the documents. However, the fact that Çakıryan, who said that his purpose was to compensate the losses in the war stated in the documents through Islamic population, avoided submitting the book given to him about the records of orphans in Women Employment Society Charity Institution and created the danger of forgery of showing Muslim children as Armenians. For this reason, to be able to determine the children whose nationality is not known, an institution called Neutralhouse was established; however, though children who did not reach puberty and did not reach their maturity were supposed to be admitted here, Muslims who did not have any document other than an assumption were also brought (DH. ŞFR, 96/248; DH. KMS, 52-2/79-6).
As Stanford Shaw puts it, “The cruellest of these behaviours was to bring Christian missionaries to the administration of big orphanages. These people claimed that thousands of Turkish children who lost their relatives during the war were Christians and unless the opposite was proven, they made a rule that they were Armenian or Greek. On the other hand, it was very difficult to prove this in a country where all records were destroyed and families were ruined” (Shaw, 2000, p.394).
Though a committee of three American, Turkish, and Armenian women was created until the determination of the identities of children, children were picked from Muslim families by force without informing the Ottoman police and the initiatives carried out with the excuse of finding or protecting the orphans created large problems (DH. KMS, 52-2/79-1).
For this reason, among the fundamental problems of the armistice period there were primarily the issue of the accurate determination of Armenian and Muslim orphans and the attempt of building occupations in mostly Istanbul to construct orphanages for the purpose of placing Armenian orphans through the Seizure Commission.
Some of the places occupied to be made orphanages by the Seizure Commission during the period of armistice can be listed as follows. The British wanted to occupy the Halil Rıfat Pasha Mansion and two mansions claimed to belong to Enver Pasha in Nişantaşı. It was revealed that Enver Pasha only resided in the mansion claimed to be owned by Enver Pasha and it was seen that both the mansions were resided in by their owners (DH. KMS, 50-1/16).
Another building asked to be used as a storage and transit shed, but used as an orphanage later on, is the Kuleli Military High School. When Halil Rüştü Bey, the principal, was asked to empty the building in 24 hours, students, teachers and military officers carried the stuff to the mosque courtyard. The emptied building was given to the British committee in exchange of a receipt. The Kuleli Military High School which was emptied to be used as storage and transit shed was made an Armenian Orphanage with the permission of the British, and Armenian migrants passing through Istanbul started to stay here (Konyalı, 1997, p. 326-327).
In 1922, it was discussed that the buildings of the Kuleli Military School in Kuleli and Beylerbeyi, which did not meet the need, were given back to their students. It was already promised that other buildings connected to each other were given to Armenian orphans for seven years and held exempt of taxes. However, it was not allowed to occupy the old and new hospitals attached to the Kuleli School for Armenian orphans (MV, 223/155). The complete discharge of the building was possible only after the Great Offensive.
The turnover of the land between Kağıthane Street and the Armenian Graveyard in Şişli to construct an Armenian orphanage was discussed and this was authorized through the decision of the Ottoman Council of Ministers (MV, 254/14, DUİT, 14/3).
Another building occupied by the British to make an Armenian orphanage in was situated in Ortaköy Taşmerdiven. The building occupied without giving any time and emptied out by an Armenian Patriarchate officer and the British police belonged to a widowed woman. As it is understood from the application of the landlady, while this house was emptied out to be made a dorm, the family who didn’t have anywhere to go was left in the street. Though the examination about this building, whose rent was not paid, was done, any result to stop the victimhood of the landlady was not gained and the house was used as an Armenian orphanage (Atnur, 2005, p. 204-205).
Another building thought to be occupied to be made an Armenian orphanage was in Hasköy. However, after the investigation about this building, it was seen that the building was in ruins and it was informed that it would be given to the Armenian orphans through the Patriarchate after the repair (DH. UMVM, 160/1-2).
Similarly, some empty and some resided in buildings in Şişli Büyükdere Street, Pangaltı, and Ihlamur Street were also occupied (DH. UMVM, 158/61-4), and it was seen that a waterside residence of 25 rooms was used by Papazyan in Arnavutköy and Değirmenciyan’s waterside residence of 15 rooms in Akıntı Ness were also evaluated as appropriate for orphanages (DH. Special Commission, D1/337). Doctor Arif Bey’s house in Moda was also occupied to be made an Armenian orphanage as the Kadıköy central public service informed (DH. İUM, 20-22/14-67). Along with Istanbul, it is also seen that some buildings were also occupied by the British in other cities such as Ankara. According to correspondences which took place with the corps commander in Ankara, the British asked the disposition of one of the unsettled barracks to find accommodations for an Armenian cortege of orphans going to Ankara. Similarly, it is seen that the Agriculture School was asked to be made an orphanage (DH. KMS, 502/45).
Two and half years after the armistice and after Istanbul was out of the situation of mobilization, the insistence of the British and the French on continuing the partly or complete occupation of personal houses or apartments caused the misery and poverty of the people. As the provision that “one or two rooms of private properties can be temporarily occupied by military forces in war times” was illegal and not valid, initiatives started for the evacuation and return of the occupied buildings. It was also thought to give one copy of the lists involving the properties under occupation to the deputies going to the peace conference (DH. İUM, 4/3, 7/47; MV, 221/160; MV 218/5; DH. MB. HPS. M 39/20).
The way to end all of these practices was opened with the victory of the Independence War. While the issue of minorities was being mutually discussed in the Lausanne Peace Treaty, the claims that Muslim and Christian children were forced to change religion were again raised. Turkey drew attention to the foreign intervention and its influence on minorities in these discussions and stated that all kinds of claims were sufficiently researched with the commissions and that the conference should be interested in the future rather than the past (Uras, 1988, p. 23; Meray, 2001, p. 183-184).
Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi.
Dahiliye Nezareti Şifre Kalemi Evrakı (DH.ŞFR).
Meclis-i Vükela Mazbataları, (MV).
Dahiliye Nezareti, Mebani-i Emiriye ve Hapishaneler Müdüriyeti Müteferrik Belgeleri (DH.MB.HPS.M).
Dahiliye Nezareti Umur-ı Mahalliye-i Vilayat Müdüdiyeti Belgeleri, (DH.UMVM).
Dahiliye Nezareti Kalem-i Mahsus Müdüriyeti, (DH.KMS).
Dahiliye Nezareti İdare-i Umumiye Belgeleri, (DH.İUM).
Books and Articles
Armenians in Ottoman Documents (1915-1920), Ankara, 1995.
Atnur, İbrahim Ethem (2005), Türkiye’de Ermeni Kadınları ve Çocukları Meselesi, Ankara.
Babacan, Hasan (2007), “Ermeni Dul ve Yetimleri ile Osmanlı Devleti’nin Bunlara Karşı Takip Ettiği Politikalar”, Hoşgörü Toplumunda Ermeniler, Book II, Erciyes University I. Uluslararası Sosyal Araştırmalar Sempozyumu, Erciyes.
Baran, Tülay Alim (2007), “İngiliz İşgal Politikası İçinde Ermeni Faktörü, Mütareke Dönemine Ait İki Uygulama, -Ermeni Mahkumların Salıverilmesi ve Yetimhane İçin Bina İşgalleri”, II. Uluslararası Türk-Ermeni İlişkileri Sempozyumu, Erzurum.
Beyoğlu, Süleyman (2001), “1915 Tehciri Hakkında Bazı Değerlendirmeler”, Ermeni Meselesi Üzerine Araştırmalar, Istanbul.
Gürün, Kamuran (1985), Ermeni Dosyası, Ankara.
Karacakaya, Recep (2005), Ermeni Meselesi, Istanbul.
Konyalı, İbrahim Hakkı (1977), Abideleri ve Kitabeleriyle Üsküdar Tarihi, book II, Istanbul.
Meray, Seha L (2001), Lozan Barış Konferansı, Tutanaklar-Belgeler, book II, Istanbul.
Shaw, Stanford ve Ezel, Kural (2000), Osmanlı İmparatorluğu ve Modern Türkiye, Book II, Istanbul.
Uras, Esat (1988), The Armenians in History and The Armenian Question, Istanbul.