The Massacres of Armenians by the Greeks and the Sivas Disaster

Armenians, who accepted Christianity starting from the 3rd century, changed the name of Saint Grigor, who is recored as Grégoire in the Western sources and who introduced them to this religion, into Lusavorich (the illuminator), and they named their denomination as “Lusavorichagan.” Armenians have faced pressures from the Catholics and Orthodox Greeks throughout history to change their denomination. On the other hand, the areas where Armenians lived, being the location of Eastern and Western forces, prevented them from organizing politically, and Armenians someties sided with the Sassanians and sometimes sided with the Byzantines due to cluelessness and indecisiveness. Nevertheless, Armenians lived without peace for a long time because of political domination, religious attacks, and heavy taxes. Due to the effects of all of these, Armenians needed a political ally and decided to reach an agreement with the Muslims, who had become a new power in the region. This preference of the Armenians was the reason why Byzantium hated them.

The Byzantine Period Exiles and Massacres of the Armenians

Byzantium, which killed the Armenians and looted their lands during the campaigns it organized to the East previously, attempted to to split up the Armenian-Arab alliance, which had been established in 653. Emperor Constance II sent an envoy to the Armenians and asked them to keep away from the Arabs. However, the Armenians claimed that they suffered from various tortures from the Greeks up to that time, and stated that they would not separate from the alliance. As a result of this, Constance marched on the Armenians with an army of 100 thousand in the year 654. He deported 800 Armenian families up to North Africa. The Byzantine soldiers were about to commit a big massacre, but they had to return to Istanbul after coming across the resistance of the Islamic army. Byzantium, which organized another campaign against the Armenians during the time of Emperor Justinianus (785-695), destroyed everything and killed thousands of Arabs and Armenians.

The Greeks provoked the Armenians against the Arabs during the Abbasid times, managed to separate the Armenians from them, and made them emigrate to Anatolia. However, the Armenians could not achieve the order and stability that they longed for here either and they were occasionally sentenced to exile. Constantinus IV sent the Armenians in Anatolia to Siciliy in 794 (İpek, 2003: 31-35). The exiles and massacres of the Greeks towards the Armenians continued in the following periods as well. For example, those Armenians who opposed Byzantium, which wanted to seize this area after the death of Ani King Hovhannes-Simpat at the beginning of 1040, were massacred once again.

Before this incident, Byzantium sent an army to conquer Ani several times, but he was not successful. In accordance with the plan of a prince named Sarkis, who was one of the opponents of Gagik II who was the king, and who collaborated with Byzantium, Gagik was called to Istanbul and asked to return Ani. When Gagik refused to do that, he was exiled to Kinaliada (Proti Island) and chained. When Prince Sarkis Ani surrendered Ani to the Byzantine army, thousands of Armenians who were reported by him were slaughtered (Dabağyan, 2007: 95-96).

The Greeks, who came to Anatolia in ancient ages, settled on the coasts of the Mediterranean and Black Sea and then dispersed into the internal areas and Cappadocia after they became a privileged element in the Roman Empire. The privileges of the Greeks continued in the Byzantine period and they maintained this position in the 10th century. After the state was strengthened, it deployed mercenaries in Sivas in order to keep Anatolia under control. The mercenaries, which consisted of elements such as Kumans, Uz, Bulgarians, and Armenians, settled in Sivas, which was among the military subjects of Byzantium, together with their families.

The Armenians settled in Sivas in large numbers half a century before the conquest of Malazgirt by the Turks. When the Turkish raiders, who were commanded by Chagri Bey, started to be seen in the east of Anatolia starting in 1018, the Armenian Prince Senekerim Hovhannes, who was the Armenian prince in Vaspuragan (Van), left his lands to Basileios in 1021 and settled in Sivas and its vicinity together with his 14 thousand people, because he became afraid of the Turkish raids which were increasing over time and because he thought his throne was in danger due to the strengthening of Emperor Basileios. Senekerim established an administration that was vassal to Byzantium (Demir, 2005: 99-100).

However, the Armenians could not have peace in the Senekerim period or after his death until the conquest of Sivas by the Turks. When Senekerim died in 1029, he was succeeded by his son David from among his four sons. When David died, his brothers Atom and Abusahl started to rule the kingdom jointly. Byzantium kept the Armenian princes in Sivas under constant surveillance through its spies, and they paid spies high amounts of money to inform on the princes. In fact, one of the spies lied to Emperor Michael IV and convinced him that Atom and Abusahl were rebelling against him. The emperor evaluated the reports and sent 15 thousand soldiers to bring the princes to Istanbul. Shapuh, who was one of the experienced officers of Senekerim and who was in Sivas at that time, suggested to the princes to rebel and to force the Byzantines out of Sivas. However, the brothers did not act emotionally like the old commander and went to Istanbul without engaging in any conflict. They cried in front of the emperor and confirmed their loyalty to him. When the emperor realized that the rumours of a rebellion were baseless, he sent the princes back to Sivas and had the slanderer executed (Grousset, 2005: 577-578). Senekerim’s children took revenge by killing the Greeks when they felt that the control had shortcomings even though there was a tight control by the spies. When the Seljuk rulers conquered Ani in 1064, Gagik, who was the king of Kars, left the city and all of its property to Byzantium and went to Cappadocia together with all the Armenians under his command. Atom and Abusahl transferred the administration to Gagik to a great extent and recognized him as the Armenian prince.

Although the region was under the control of the Turkmens in those times, the Turks were not permanent in Sivas before the Malazgirt War. In other words, the Byzantine military power continued its existence in Sivas. Nevertheless, the Byzantine emperors continued to keep the Armenians under pressure. Emperor Constantinus Ducas X (1059-1067) wanted to bring Atom and Abusahl to Istanbul in the last years of his reign and to get them baptized according to the Orthodox traditions. However, the brothers sent a message to Gagik, and Gagik convinced the emperor in Istanbul regarding the principles of the Armenian denomination, so the baptism did not take place (Mateos, 2000: 128-130).

When Emperor Romanos Diogenes IV came to Sivas in March of 1071 while going on the Malazgirt campaign in order to eliminate the Seljuks and to cleanse Anatolia from the Turks, Atom and Abusahl met him with a crowded entourage and expressed their respect towards him. However, they came across an unexpected reaction from the emperor because of the complaints by the Greeks in the city. The Greeks claimed that the Armenians attacked them, looted their churches and committed worse acts than the Turks in the war in which they were defeated by the Turkish Bey in Elbasan. Diogenes believed the slander and after he defeated the Seljuk army, he sent the Armenians in the region into exile, threatened to eliminate the Lusavorichagan denomination, and swore to do this. He also ordered his soldiers to loot the city. The Byzantine soldiers attacked the city mercilessly, started to loot extensively and plunder the city, and promised not to leave a single Armenian alive around Sivas by taking an oath in front of the local Greeks. Emperor Diogenes could only be consoled thanks to the Roman dignitaries and notables who warned him not to believe the lies of the Greeks. Nevertheless, he banished Atom and Abusahl from the city and made them fall out of favor. Many Armenians were slaughtered during the looting and Sivas was immersed in mourning. The monastery priests found out about the disaster, damned the emperor by praying that he would be unable to return from the road he went on, and to be devastated like the oppressor Julien (Mateos, 2000: 141). However, Diogenes could never fulfill his oath because he was completely defeated by the Turks in Malazgirt. On the other hand, the Armenian commanders and soldiers who fought against the Turks in the Byzantium army still hated the emperor. In fact, the first ones to leave the battle field were the Armenians. The researcheres who studied the Malazgirt defeat thought the reason for the Turks to seize Sivas in the Cappadocia region and many cities and to go as far as the Marmara shores was the wrong strategies of Byzantium and the Sivas disaster. They claimed that the Muslims had an opportunity when the Armenian king and soldiers, who had acted as an important trench against the Turkish advance, were removed from here by Byzantium (Tezcan, 2006: 134).

After the victory, the Turkish raids moved towards the west of Malazgirt. Although the Armenian princes Atom and Abusahl continued their activities in the region for a while, they moved to the south, near Develi because they had difficiulty in resisting the Turks. The Greeks, who had always opposed the existence of an Armenian kingdom in Cappadocia, took advantage of this weakness of the princes and killed Gagik in 1080, and then killed Atom and Abusahl a year later. The city was left without a leader and it was annexed into the Byzantium state by Emperor Nikephoros III. Therefore, the Armenian administration in Sivas, which had started in 1021, ended after lasting sixty years. These years were also the period in which Sivas was conquered by the Seljuk state definitively. The Armenians were isolated and their population was reduced to a great extent due to the Byzantine emperor killing them on the basis of the slanders of the Greeks and the Byzantine emperor remaining silent when the princes were killed. Those Armenians who survived took refuge in the just and peaceful administration of the Turks, who were the new political actor in the region. This rapprochement had a facilitating role in the conquest of the region by the Turks.

The disagreements between the Armenians and the Greeks, which was generally fuelled by the difference in denomination, also continued during the Ottoman administration. Another one of these took place in 1849. The Greeks wanted to bury one of their co-religionists in the cemetery in the church yard and they were attacked by a group of Armenians. The group said “you don’t have a cemetery here,” destroyed the graves, removed the corpses, and tried to capture the cemetery. As a result of the investigation that Sivas governor Abbas Pasha had conducted, it appeared that the Armenians carried out this raid as a result of an instruction they recevied from their bishop. As a result, a verdict was given stating that the attack was unethical (BOA, BEO, A. MKT, 226/11). The cemetery crisis reappeared in 1880. When the Greeks, who had obtained permission from the government to repair their church in the middle of the cemetery, trespassed into the cemeterey from the church boundary, the Armenians applied to the governor’s office and requested the prevention of this. Goevrnor Ismail Hakki Pasha referred the case to the judiciary and stopped the construction. The incident developed in its official course and no clashes took place, but some newspapers announced this differently. The Stamboul newspaper, which did not refrain from publishing reports against the government and the Muslims when the Armenian interests were in question even though it generally published reports that were in harmony with the Ottoman government, wrote that conflict erupted between the Armenians and Greeks in Sivas because of a cemetery and that the Greeks took over the cemetery by force despite the Armenian resistance. The provincial newpaper of Sivas denied the news saying, “there was no base level action and protest between the two nations. Neither the Greeks attacked the cemetery by force, nor the Armenians started to resist them actually” and it emphasized that publishing such reports could not disturb the friendship among the people (Sivas, No. 43, 9 Safer 1298).

The secret of a mentality which deemed Armenians deserving of many evil acts including massacres starting to defend the rights of the same community in the 1880 period is hidden in the sensitivity of the process.


Dabağyan, Levon Panos (2007), Emperyalistler Kıskacında Ermeni Tehciri, İstanbul.

Demir, Mustafa (2005), Türkiye Selçukluları ve Beylikler Devrinde Sivas Şehri, Adapazarı.

Grousset, René (2005), Başlangıcından 1071’e Ermenilerin Tarihi, çev. S. Dolanoğlu, İstanbul.

İpek, Ali (2003), “Ermenilere Rum Mezalimi”, Dünden Bugüne Türk-Ermeni İlişkileri, ed. İ. Bal-M. Çufalı, Ankara, s. 31-38.

Tezcan, Mehmet (2006), “XI. Yy Başlarında Ermenilerin Doğu Roma Tarafından Bölgeye Göçürülmesi ve Selçuklu Fethi Döneminde Sivas”, Selçuklular Döneminde Sivas Sempozyum Bildirileri, Sivas, s. 121-140.

Urfalı Mateos Vekayi-Nâmesi (952-1136) ve Papaz Grigor’un Zeyli (1136-1162), (2000), çev. H. D. Andreasyan, Ankara.

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