The First Terror Activity of the Armenians in Istanbul: The 1890 Kumkapi Incident

As it is well-known, the emergence of the Armenian Question in Ottoman diplomacy took place as a result of the articles that the Biritish Empire and Russia imposed for reforms to be made in favor of the Armenians who lived in the Ottoman State under the name of “Anatolian Reforms” (Karaca, 1993) in the agreements that were signed after the 1877-1878 Ottoman-Russian War (War of 93) (Karal, 1983, s. 126; Küçük, 1986, p. 1.). However, this situation showed that the issue became a diplmatic topic and was turned into an international dimension. The Armenian Question, which was included in 16th article of the Ayastefanos Agreement and the 61st article of the Berlin Agreement, which was signed after the congress that was held in Berlin instead of the Ayastefanos Agreement, which had been abolished with the intervention of the British Empire, was in fact a subject whose roots were buried in much earlier times. The Ottoman State failed to end the problems among the various ethnic elements that lived in Eastern Anatolia until that time and the declining state was forced to admit that this topic was not only an internal issue because of the latest defeat it suffered vis-à-vis Russia. In addition, as it was indicated in the text, although reforms were made in favor of the Armenians, the expression that the Armenians would be protected from the attacks of the Kurds and Circassians meant that it was admitted that the attacks by the Kurds and Circassians against the Armenians could not be prevented and the state failed to establish authority in the region (Güllü, 2013, pp. 64-73.).

The tensions that started to increase in the eastern provinces after these dates became more serious after the estabilshment of the Hinchak Committee in 1887 and the Tashnak Committee in 1890. The activities that disturbed security in the region intensified in time. The activities of the Kurdish tribes, as well as the activities of the Armenian committees, continued as some of the main elements that disturbed security. The Ottoman central administration failed to take serious measures against the Kurdish tribes in the region and it saw the Armenian committees as small groups of terror that tried to carry out activities in Eastern Anatolia. However, the Kumkapi incident, which was experienced in 1890, when this chaos was experienced, showed that the Armenian committees achieved such power that they could cause incidents even in Istanbul and that they were supported by the Armenian people to a great extent. As a result of this, attempts were made to take measures against the activities of the Armenian committees in the capital, as well and efforts were made to stop the various attacks, which were increasing in the ongoing process.

In 1889, two important incidents that were experienced in the eastern provinces were the “Kurd Musa Beg Incident” and then the arrest of some Armenians after some disturbances that were experienced in Erzurum led to the reactions of the Armenians in the country in general. Protests that were organized by the committees in many regions were experienced and chaos ensued in relation to these. Similarly, various protests were held in Istanbul and Armenians who came from Eastern Anatolia to Istanbul pressured the Armenian leaders, starting with the Armenian Patriarchate, in the capital for their complaints to be conveyed to the Sultan. At that time, Hoten Ashikyan was the Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul. Ashikyan Effendi was a cleric whose relations with the Ottoman administration –and especially with the Sultan Abdulhamid II- were good and he openly opposed the activities of the Armenian committees. Therefore, he was not a cleric which the Armenian committees, who were getting organized in the country in general, approved. In addition, the Armenian committee members thought that the Istanbul Armenians did not support them enough and they saw Patriarch Ashikyan as the responsible party for this. The Hinchak committee, which wanted to warn Patriarch Ashikyan and to show the seriousness of the Armenian Question to the officials of the Ottoman State, carried out an action at the Kumkapi Armenian Patriarchate Church on 27 July 1890. The command of this action, which is known as the “Kumkapi Incident,” was in the hands of three Hinchak Committee members, namely Artin Jangulyan of Van and Mihran Damadyan, and Hamparsum Boyajiyan of Hachin, who used the pseudo-name Murad.

Artin Jangulyan, who went up to the section where the clerics performed the religious service when the service was being performed at the church, started to read loudly the declaration that was written on the paper in his hand, which had also been distributed to the congregation that came to the church before the service. At the end of the declaration, in which the Patriarch was told, “you are not good enough in doing your job,” Ashikyan Effendi was asked to go to the government with them and ensure the conveying of their demands. As the incident started, Patriarch Ashikyan left the church and went to his room in the patriarchate building.       Jangulyan drew his gun when the Head Priest Sukyas Effendi held his arm and tried to pull him from there, he fired a few shots inside the church, but Sukyas Efendi managed to take his gun from him. Then Jangulyan went to the patriarchate building together with his friends, detroyed the Ottoman tughra (Sultan’s signature) that was hung on the wall and raided Ashikyan Effendi’s room. Jangulyan shouted the following to Ashikyan Effendi in his room:

“Now you will get in front of us and take us to the Yildiz Palace. Otherwise, we will kill you, we will die as well. I will also kill Priest Sukyas Effendi, who took the revolver from my hand.”

and tried to get him out of his room. The committee members scared the Patriarch and managed to take him out of the building. Then they tried to make him get in a car through force, but the Patriarch managed to escape after an intervention by the soldiers and the police. After the incident started, some of the priests of the patriarchate informed the government officials immediately and tried to prevent the incident from becoming more serious. The military units and police force that came, in addition to the police force that intervened first, ensured that the disorder was stopped in a short amount of time (Uras, 1976, pp. 463-464.).

During the incident, seven soldiers were injured and there were many injured and two dead among the committee members. The only person who was killed from the security forces was an Armenian policeman named Karabet. In the memorandum of the Office of the Chief of Staff related to the trial, it was stated that two Armeinans who were not involved in the incident were killed because of the shooting of the protestors. A total of twenty-five Armenians were arrested in relation to this incident. Ashikyan Effendi wanted the accused to be punished severely. The Patriarch was concerned that the committee members would continue their attacks against the patriarchate and they would succeed in a similar attack that would be committed in the future and that he would be killed. Then the security measures at the patriarchate and in the area around it were increased (Güllü, 2013, pp. 117-132.).

Despite all of this, this protest was successful in the eyes of the Hinchak Committee. In the view of the committee, which managed to scare the Patriarch and to attract the attention of the foreign public opinion because of the incident, “the Kumkapi Incident had a unique place in the history of the Armenian Revolution.” Immediately after the incident, the commitee narrated the incident that was experienced at the patriarchate in a declaration entitled “15 July” (Dasnıhink Hulis) (the attack was on 15 July according to the Julian Calendar), claimed that this was a beginning, and that more powerful incidents would be experienced in the future.

Kumkapı Olayı sonrası Hınçak Komitesi tarafından Ermeni ahaliye hitaben yayınlanan ve olay sırasında yaşananlarla komitenin hedeflerinin anlatıldığı “Dasnıhink Hulis (15 Temmuz)” başlıklı bildiri.

Decleration entitled “Dasnıhink Hulis (15 July), which was issued by the Hinchak Committee addressing the Armenian community and which talked about the incidents that were experienced and the objectives of the committee.

The Kumkapi Incident became a breaking point both for the Armenian committee members and for the Ottoman State. The committees achieved a serious degree of courage- as mentioned by the Hinchak Committee- and they started to find support from among the Armenian people in Istanbul as well. The Ottoman State realized that the committee members, which it had viewed to be small gangs, had strengthened so much that they were able to organize action in the middle of the capital. After that, serious measures were taken against the Armenian Question all over the country and the measures intensified in the capital Istanbul.

As the Kumkapi Incident showed, the attacks of the committees in the capital targeted the Armenian leaders who did not support them and the patriarchate was the first among them. Together with the patriarchate leaders, many Armenian priests, lawyers, etc. were subjected to the attacks of the committees in this period. On the other hand, what was experienced gave the signals of more serious dangers to be experienced in the ongoing process. The supporters of the committees increased with the declarations they constantly distributed and the actions they committed. Their attacking of the institutions of the state and the Muslim people in the future was expected. In the ongoing process, incidents continued and increased in intensity. The clashes between the Muslim people and the Armenians damaged the feelings of trust between the two communities vis-à-vis each other. Distrust between the Muslims and Armenians increased every day and those Armenians who did not support the committee activities could not have an impact that could imrove the process and they were silenced due to the attacks which were aimed at them (Güllü, 2014, pp. 821-825.).




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