The First Non-Muslim Minister of the Ottoman State: Krikor Agathon Efendi (1823-1968)

Aghaton Krikor, who was born in Hasköy, where the Armenian population was dense, in 1823, came from a family which earned a living from agriculture. He completed his basic education at Nersesyan School in Hasköy. He was sent to Paris for higher education through the help of Amira Migirdic Jazairliyan (Dadyan, 2011:157-265). He started studying at the Grignon Agriculture School under the prptection of Agop Gircikyan, who was a translator and consultant at the Paris Embassy. Aghaton Effendi, who came from a family who worked in agriculture, graduated in 1843 with a good degree after a three year education here. Mustafa Rashid Pasha, who was the ambassador in Paris at the time he graduated, introduced Aghaton Efffendi to the French King Louis Philip as an important person who was promising in the field of agriculture and complimented him. Aghaton Effendi firstly traveled to the important farms in France where he studied, then he went to Belgium and England and visited various farms and silkworm centers. He returned to the country in 1847. During his education, Aghaton Effendi developed himself to a significant extent by learning Turkish, Italian, and French apart from his interest in mathematics and agriculture (Seropyan, I, 2008: 85-86).

Apart from his interest in mathematics and agriculture, Aghaton Effendi developed himself quite a lot by learning Turkish, Italian and French (Seropyan, I, 2008: 85-86).

Krikor Aghatan started working as a translator at the school which opened with the name “Ziraat Talimhanesi” (Agriculture Training School) at the Ayamama farm at the beginning of 1847 next to the American expert, Davis. After a while, he was appointed as a teacher as suggested by Mustafa Rashid Pasha. During his job at the school, Aghaton attempted to fill the gap in this area by preparing a textbook in French. It is known that Aghaton previously published a work on silkworm production together with Kevork Istimarajiyan in 1846. Aghaton Effendi, who contributed to the agricultural life of the empire with his publications, made efforts for the training school to acquire a modern appearance. However, in addition to the discussions reagrding the physical lack of the facilities of the school, there were claims that this was an institution that was only good for paying high salaries to Armenians. So Aghaton Effendi resigned from his job (Ergin, 1940: 568).

After this experience, Aghaton Effendi devoted himself to scientific work and published articles in the newspaper Journal de Constantinople and in various journals and newspapers of France, which was a model country in agricultural training, on the topics of agriculture and trade. In addition, he wrote a book named The Agricultural Economy in Turkey, but he failed to publish this and the drafts of it were lost (Pamukchiyan, 2003: 9).

Aghaton, acting as a pioneer, increased the position and prestige in the community, strengthened its bond with the Ottoman administration and ensured its return to bureaucracy after a while. After a five year break, his first official job was as a member of the Trade Assembly (1856). In addition to this, he was elected to the Zoning Council, which was created as a branch of the Council of Public Works. He was sent to a fair that was organized in Turin, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia, by the Ottoman government because of his knowledge in the field of agriculture. He participated in this industrial fair, which was organized in May 1858, with the silk and cocoons that were grown in various places in the Empire (Akpınar, 2013:337). Aghaton was awarded with the Saints Maurice and Lazarus Award by the government of Sardinia for his efforts and services. In 1859, he was elected as a reporting member to the Turin Academy of Agriculture for his work in growing silkworm. Aghaton Effendi was appointed as a member to the Majlis-i Ali Hazain (Assembly of the Treasury), which was established under Mehmed Rushdu Pasha as its head in 1860 (Ahmed Lütfi Efendi, 1989: 167). This assembly, which was established to replace the Islahat-ı Maliye Commission (Commission for the Reform of Finance), which was formed a short while ago, had undertaken to reform and inspect all of the work pertaining to the state treasury.

Aghaton Effendi worked in the work commissions of two fairs, which were organized during his job at the Assembly of Treasury. Firstly, he was assigned to work in the purchasing commission, which was formed for a fair to be organized in London. The interest for the fair was more than what was expected and Ottoman products which included mines and stone products, musical instruments, clothes and furniture from various sectors were displayed in twenty-five pavilions. The Ottoman products earned 83 medals and 44 honorable mentions and they represented the country successfully (Satıcı, 1991: 37). Aghaton Effendi was given a position in the organizing committee of the first local exhibition to be opened in Istanbul because of the experience and success he had had in putting together exhibitions. In Spring 1863, the General Ottoman Exhibition, which was opened by Sultan Abdulaziz at the Blue Mosque Square was very popular thanks to the quality and inxpensiveness of the products that were displayed.

Aghaton Effendi was appointed by Fuad Pasha as a member of the commisson that was established under the name “Tediye-i Kawaim Idaresi” (Debt Payment Administration) in July 1862. The commission, which was established with Edhem Pasha as the head, was formed to resolve the banknote crisis that was being experienced in the money market. The commission worked more than a month-and-a-half and then was awarded by the Ottoman government for its successes (Ahmed Lütfi Efendi, 1989: 74). The British monarchy also awarded Aghaton a golden watch for his service regarding the debt issue (Akpınar, 2013: 341).

Aghaton Effendi was appointed as a member of the Supreme Court of Public Accounts, which was established with great expectations as a result of the financial reforms of Fuad Pasha (1863). This office was formed to have authority in supervising the institutions that received financial resources from the treasury and produced revenue for the treasury and in making the budget. It would receive suggestions from various departments, assess them and then submit them to the relevant persons and authorities for approval.

Aghaton Effendi was appointed as the Director of Telegram in 1864 after his job at the Treasury. Having a good knowledge of French was effective in this appointment. Aghaton Effendi was the second person who held this post the longest, after Billurzade Mehmed Effendi, and he carried out important work. In April 1865, he participated in the telegram congress work, which was hosted by France, and ensured that the Ottoman State became a member in the International Telegram Union as a result of his work there (Tanrıkut, 1984: 711). After his return from Paris, city post offices were established during the time period when Kadri Bey was a minister and the right to run them was given to Lianos Effendi of Yanya (Yazıcı, 1991: 342). Aghaton Effendi ended tariff differences in October 1866. Aghaton Effendi worked with great enthusiasm and he was appointed as the Minister of Post soon after. He was the first non-Muslim who was appointed to this position, albeit as a deputy.

In 1866, Aghaton Effendi was given second degree Krone De Fer Award by the Austria-Hungary emperor for the efforts he made in the organization and increase of telegram services between the Austria-Hungary Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Also an agreement was signed with the Russian Empire the same year on the running of the telegram services and then Aghaton Effendi was granted a second degree St. Stanislav Award. During the time when Ali Pasha was the Grand Vizier, post services were rearranged and competition was started with the foreign post companies.

Aghaton Effendi went to Paris for a second time in 1867 for the International Post-Telegram Congress. At the congress some practices regarding telegram services were put on the agenda and some changes were realized with new decisions. Napoleon III gave him the Legion d’Honneur Award thanks to his work at this congress. Aghaton Effendi, who stayed in Paris for a long time and who worked to improve the telegram services, was awarded with 5000 kurush by Sultan Abdulaziz. When he was in Paris, he was appointed as the Minister of Public Works in March 1868 and he reached the peak of his career. With this appointment, Aghaton Effendi became the first bureaucrat who was appointed as a minister from among the non-Muslims. Grand Vizier Ali Pasha, who deemed the employment of non-Muslims necessary in terms of social integration, sent a message both to the non-Muslim subjects and the Western countries by appointing Aghaton Effendi as a minister. In this sense, Aghaton Effendi became a symbol of this process. However, Aghaton Effendi could not work as a minister in practice because of his health. Aghaton Effendi’s health situation became worse, he continued to stay in Paris for treatment, but he died two months later in 1868 (Tuğlacı, 2004: 294). His body was buried in the Hasköy Armenian Cemetery after a funeral that was conducted when he was brought to Istanbul.

Aghaton Effendi made efforts to improve the educational and cultural levels of the Armenian community. He wrote various articles in the Hayasdan (Armenia) newspaper, of which the first issue was published in Armenian on 6 February 1850. He was one of the founders of the association named Araradyan Ingerutyan (Ararat Association), which was established in Paris in 1847 in order to engage in scientific, cultural, and educational work (Yarman, 2010: 291-296). Aghaton Effendi was also interested in artistic activities and he published the music journal named KnarHaygagan (Armenian Lyre) together with the musicians named Dikran Çuhacıyan and Kapriyel Yeranyan. Also he established a music association named Knar under the leadership of Çuhacıyan in order to engage in artistic and educational work by gathering art and music lovers. Aghaton Effendi tried to contribute to his community in every way, was aware of the socio-economic issues as well, and he became head of the Armenian Charity Association that was establisehd on 27 November 1860 (Seropyan, 2008: 86).

Aghaton Effendi also participated in the work to form their own by-laws for the Armenian community. He took part in the commissions that were established in 1862. He contributed to the by-law that was accepted in 1863.

Krikor Aghaton was one of the bureaucrats who grew up in the period in which innovative movements accelerated in the empire and the structure of the society started to fragment after the communities became more open to external influence. He made efforts for the Armenian community to benefit from the Tanzimat and Islahat reforms, which concerned non-Muslim communities more closely. While doing this, he contacted people who shaped the community such as bureaucrats, merchants and clerics, and he acted with the principle of unity of the empire. He contributed to the changing of the face of the community and its opening to the outside world by participating in the social and legal work. This situation is in a way a manifestation of the thought of Ottomanism.

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