The Presentation of the Turkish-Armenian Relations in the History Textbooks of Armenia

Overview of the Medieval Age

Since the meeting of the Armenians with the Turks for the first time in the history textbooks is as a result of wars similar to the Turks meeting the Europeans and the other communities, the first paragraphs regarding these meetings generally have a negative narrative. In this negative narrative, mostly negative images such as “invader, brutal, barbarian, destroyer, and cruel” are used for the Turks.[1]

In the Turkish history textbooks, the first relations of the Turks with the Armenians in the process until the Ottoman Empire took place in the Seljuk period. It is also possible to talk about some sources that indicate that the Armenians may have met the Turks before that and that there may have been diplomatic ties between the Huns and the Armenians. Apart from this, it can be said that the Armenians had contact with the Kipchaks and the Turks who were in the Abbasid armies that invaded Armenia. However, the first continuous relations with the Turks took place during the Seljuk period. The first contact between the Seljuks and the Armenians occurred during a reconnaisance campaign that the Seljuk ruler Chagri Bey organized in Eastern Anatolia between the years 1015-1020 (Yıldırım, 2007, pp.11-12).[2]

Ermenistan İlk Öğretim 7. Sınıf Ders Kitabı

Armenian 7th Grade Text Book

It is possible to say that the narration of the process until the establishment of the Ottoman Empire in the Armenian and Turkish history textbooks are parallel to each other in general.[3] As a matter of fact, it is seen that the first title regarding the first contacts of the Turks and Armenians in this period in the textbooks is “The Invasion of the Seljuk Turks” ( – Selçuk-Turkeri Arşavanknerı) (7. Sınıf, 2009, p.125). Under this heading, expressions that stated that the ancestors of the Seljuk Turks lived in the north of China and Central Asia, that they were a nomadic society, and that they made a living through animal husbandry. Again in the continuation of the same paragraph it is noted that some of the Seljuk Turks approached the border of Armenia by conquering Iran starting at the beginning of the eleventh century (7. Sınıf, 2009, p.125).

As it is understood from the heading “The Invasion of the Seljuk Turks,” it is seen that the word “invader” is used for the Turks in this chapter.

In the continuation of the same page on the Turkish-Armenian relations, this time the Turks are identified with the sudden raids that they carried out: “In 1047 the Seljuk Turks carried out a raid on Armenia for the first time with an army of 20,000.” (7. Sınıf, 2009, p.125.). In the rest of the paragraph, the word “invasion” is used instead of the word “raid” in the sentence “this invasion reached the regions Vaspurakan and Basen” (7. Sınıf, 2009, p.125).[4]

When we look generally at the texts in the chapter where the Turkish-Armenian relations in the Seljuk period are addressed in the history textbooks, we see that negative images such as “invader, raider, enemy, and destroyer” are used (7. Sınıf, 2009, p.125).

Another important stereotype that is used in the chapters where there are narrations on the Turkish-Armenian relations in the period until the Ottoman Empire is the Armenians being victims. The narrative in the history textbooks holds responsible not only the “invader” Turks, but also the Byzantium Empire, which did not help at all against the invasion of the Turks, for the Armenians being victims. It is seen that many examples of this double victimhood in question can be found in the seventh grade history textbooks (7. Sınıf, 2009, p.125).

It is possible to say that in addition to the image of the Turk in the Seljuk period, the image of Byzantium is also painted in a negative light and presented as the “other” in the Armenian history textbooks. For example, the people of Byzantium are described with words such as “hiding, coward, incompatible, and defeated” in the seventh grade history textbook (7. Sınıf, 2009, p.125).

It is seen that in the chapter on the Seljuk-Armenian relations are addressed, images of heroism have a prominent place in addition to the stereotype of victimhood. It is understood that in this section it is emphasized that the Armenians resisted “the enormous Turkish pressure” and that they had superior attributes compared to the Turks in terms of subjects such as their courage, pride, and physical characteristics (7. Sınıf, 2009, p.125).

Another chapter related to the Seljuk period in the Armenian history textbooks is titled “The Invasion of Armenia” (Հայաստանի – Hayastani Nvacumı). When we look at the expressions that are used in this section, we get the impression that in addition to the negative image of the Turks, Byzantium is accused or criticized of having facilitated the seizing of the area by the Seljuks (7. Sınıf, 2009, p.126.).

Another topic in which there are images regarding the Seljuk Turks are present in the Armenian history textbooks is the 1071 Malazgirt Battle. While the Malazgirt Battle, which took place between the Great Seljuk Ruler Alparslan and the Byzantium Emperor Roman Diogenes IV (Turan, 1969, p.197), was shaped with the stereotype of heroism and victory in Turkish history, this battle is described with negative images such as “tragedy, loss, defeat, destruction, and being conquered” in Armenian history (7. Sınıf, 2009, p.126).

There are not many negative images regarding the Turks in the narratives on the Early Eras in the Armenian history textbooks. One can see that this situation is different in the narratives related to the Turkish-Armenian relations in the Seljuk period and that the term “invader” is directly used for the Turks and that negative images become more notable:

“…The Armenian agriculture experienced serious problems due to the invasion of the Seljuk Turks. Especially some cities had a lot of difficulty. A drop in transit trade and labor areas was experienced. The Armenian princes and the free people were deprived of their own lands. The Armenian cavalry units got lost in foreign countries in time. A significant portion of the Armenians emigrated from the country due to the continuous struggles and economic fall. The Armenians started to disperse or they emigrated to the neighboring countries, especially inside the Byzantium, towards Little Armenia, Cilicia and Cappadocia…”

(7. Sınıf, 2009, p.126).

In addition to the negative images in the historical narratives related to the Seljuk-Armenian relations, it is also seen that the word “disaster” is used for the meeting of the Armenians with the Turks in this period. It is mentioned that the clerics of the Armenian society had to leave the country as a result of the wars that were waged with the Seljuks, that the economy of the country was negatively affected by this situaiton, that the population of the country scattered, and hence the Armenians were rendered victims:

“…In the 11th century the disasaters that affected the Armenians also had tragic consequences for the throne of the Catholicosate. The Armenian patriarchs, who had been pushed into an insecure situation politically, were wandering continuously and they did not have permanent residences. Therefore, the spiritual head of the Armenian Church lived in various cities of the Asia Minor, away from his homeland, until he settled in Cilicia…”

(7. Sınıf, 2009, p.126).

Another subject heading under which extensive information on the Turks until the Ottoman Empire is given in the history textbooks is “The Appearance of the Mongols in Armenia” (մոնղոլնե – Monğolneri Haytnvelı Hayastanum). The Monghols are mentioned as follows in this section where the period between 1206-1294 is addressed:

“…The Monghol tribes, which were also known as the Tatars, lived in the large prairies of Siberia and China since very old times. At the beginning of the 13th century the nomadic tribes were united under a single state by Genghis Khan. The Monghol tribes under his leadership attacked and they seized large pieces of land in a short time. They were invading the neighboring countries, exterminating the population and destroying everything. The historians were remembering terror and fear regarding the evil of the Monghols…”

(7. Sınıf, 2009, p.133).

It is seen that the Monghol period is covered more extensively than the Seljuks in the history textbooks. It is emphasized that the Armenian fought against the Monghols in addition to descriptions stating that the Monghols damaged and looted Armenia. In this struggle, which started in 1249, it is noted that the Georgians collaborated with the Armenians and this struggle lasted until 1259. In this chapter also terms such as “enemy, foreigner, looter, destroyer, and plunderer” are used for the Monghols (7. Sınıf, 2009, pp.135, 136, 137).

In conclusion, it is emphasized in the 7th grade Armenian history textbook that the Armenians, who had lived under the rule of the Romans, Byzantium and Arabs, had some struggles against the Seljuks after the Seljuks came to the region in the process until the Ottoman Empire period. It is seen that in the textbooks, the image of the Turk in the Seljuk period is negative, which is different from the narrations of the Early Era, and that this contributes to the stereotype of victimhood rather than the stereotype of Armenian heroism.

Overview of the Ottoman Centuries

When we look at the reflections of the Ottoman-Armenian relations in the classical period within the textbooks, it is seen that the Armenians name the rebellions they carried out against the Ottoman administration “liberation wars.”[5] It is possible to say that the Crete War in the middle of the seventeenth century is attributed a special importance among these. In the section that has the title “the Peoples Who Were Turkish Citizens in the Liberation Struggle” ”(Կ – Kretei paterazmı yev Turk’ahpatak Joğovrdneri azatagrakan payk’ari aşkhujatsumı) in the eighth grade history textbook, it is clearly shown that the Armenians collaborated with the other states against the Ottoman Administration. Within this framework, it is emphasized that firstly the war that started between the Ottoman Empire and Venice raised the hopes of the Armenian community (8. Sınıf, 2007, p.7). According to this, the Armenians tried to ensure that the Ottoman Empire would be defeated by supporting the Venetians. In the history textbooks it is stated that the Armenians wrote letters to the Pope and Venice indicating that they were ready to fight against the Ottoman administration (8.Sınıf, 2007, p.7).

It is also mentioned in the textbooks that the struggle that the Armenians carried out against the Ottoman Empire together with the European allies was supported by the Armenian bourgeoisie and the assurances that the Armenians gave to their allies are included (8. Sınıf, 2007, p.7).

It is known that not only the Armenian people, politicians, and merchants, but also the clerics played an important role in the activities that were carried out against the Ottoman Empire. This subject has been covered in the textbooks extensively and it has been indicated that the clerics tried to spread this struggle to a large area (8. Sınıf, 2007, p.8).

Another important point in the relations of the Western states with the Ottoman Empire was the image that the Armenians tried to create. As a matter of fact, it has been clearly stated in the textbooks that the Armenians tried to convince the Western states to act against the Empire by creating a negative image about the Ottoman Empire (8. Sınıf, 2007, p.8). The information given in the textbooks that a serious cooperation was pursued between the Armenians and the Western states as a result of this struggle is remarkable (8. Sınıf, 2007, p.8).

Another stuggle that the Armenians had against the Ottoman administration is given in the chapter titled “The Expansion of the Movement in Artsakh” (Շա – Şarjman Tzavalumı Artsakhum) in the history textbooks related to the classical period. This struggle, which was experienced in the eighteenth century over Nagorno Karabagh, is mentioned as “the most permanent and most organized resistance” in Armenian history (11. Sınıf, 2010, p.12).

The Artsakh struggle is also important in terms of the Armenians asking for help from countries such as Iran and Russia and in terms of the support they received regarding this being perceived. As a matter of fact, the raising of the hopes of Armenians as a result of third countries becoming a party in the struggles that the Armenians had with the Turks is a theme that is covered often (11. Sınıf, 2010, p.13).

Another important war that was waged against the Ottoman administration in the classical period of Armenian history was the siege of the Halidzor Castle. It is seen in the textbooks that this subject is covered more extensively than the others. The siege of the Halidzro Castle is also significant because it demonstrates the support of Iran to the Armenians in terms of giving weapons (11. Sınıf, 2010, pp.14-15). The commands that were directed at the soldiers by the Armenian commanders of the castle during the siege of the Halidzor Castle are remarkable. According to this, it is seen that the Armenian commanders named Mkhitar and Ter-Avetis used the word “ajal” [i.e. the time of death according to fate in Turkish] for the Turks in their addressing of their soldiers (11. Sınıf, 2010, pp.14-15).

It was mentioned before that the Armenians asked for assistance from third countries in their struggle against the Ottoman/Turkish armies and that most of the time they received this assistance. This subject is repeated in the eleventh grade textbooks as well (11. Sınıf, 2010, p.16).

It can be said on the basis of the narrations that are presented in relation to the classical period in the Armenian history textbooks that there was historical cooperation between the people of Iran and Armenia against the Turks. It can be clearly seen in the history textbooks that it was emphasized that there was cooperation between the two societies even though they had different religions (11. Sınıf, 2010, p.16). It has been emphasized in the textbooks that the support that the Armenians provided for Iran and other states ensured that successful results were achieved. For example, it is noted that Iran seized dominance in the Southern Caucasus thanks to the support provided to the Iranian army (11. Sınıf, 2010, p.17).

Another state (in addition to Iran and Russia) from which assistance was requested in the struggle against Turkey was Georgia. The attempt to make an alliance with Georgia against the Ottomans in the middle of the eighteenth century and the efforts of Hovsep Emin, who was the most important statesman and diplomat of the Armenians who lived in this period, to realize this alliance have been mentioned (11. Sınıf, 2010, p.19).

The narrations in the history textbooks start to be shaped by the amiras this time. Bournoutian (2005, p.190) says that the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate achieved stability in the eighteenth century compared to the previous times, that this stability was not a coincidence, that it was realized after the wealthy and prosperous class of the Istanbul Armenians, who were known as the “Amiras,” emerged. According to the author, the Amiras became stronger by providing loans to the high ranking managers of the Ottoman administration and some wealthy Amiras even lent money to the Sultan himself and thereby gained great influence in the palace.

In the history textbooks of Armenia, the coexistence of the Ottomans and Armenians is generally disregarded and it is noted how the Armenians supported the rivals of the Ottoman Empire in the region where today’s Armenia exists. In this sense, an attempt is made to convey the message that the theme of weakening of the Ottoman Empire is significant for the Armenian liberation struggle (8. Sınıf, 2007, p.7).

It can be said that in the history textbooks generally there is a perception that the European countries were always ready to be next to Armenia for the liberation of Armenia and against the Ottoman Empire (8. Sınıf, 2007, s.7). As it is known, when the Armenian Question is addressed, it is usually linked to the emergence of the Eastern Question and it is indicated that the issue became bigger and turned into an international one after the Western states intervened in the subject (Uras, s.174-175, 180-196, Şimşir, 2005, pp.47-59). At this point, it can be said that there are important clues as to how the Armenians got the Western states involved in this issue. It is emphasized in the textbooks that the Armenian society sought its salvation in the Western states and that this expectation was not justified most of the time. For example, it is stated that the Armenian politicians attempted to get the European countries involved in their struggle against the Ottoman Empire (11. Sınıf, 2010, p.6).

It is seen that in the history textbooks Armenian authors address not only the wars, peace, and negotiations of the Turks with the Armenians, but also their relations with other countries as well. It is seen that Iran is first among these countries in terms of its geographical location and its relations with Armenia. In the eleventh grade history textbook, the satisfaction that Iran had because of the weakening of the Ottoman Empire is expressed in the chapter titled “Invasion of the Turkish Soldiers” (Թու – Turkakan Zorkeri Nerkhujumı) (11. Sınıf, 2010, p.10).

It can be said that there is not much of a difference between the images of the Turk/Ottoman prior to the nineteenth century and the images of the Turk/Ottoman in the nineteenth century. Within this framework, it is seen that the image of the Turk in the paragraphs related to the Turkish-Armenian relations in the classical period of the Ottoman Empire in the eleventh grade history textbook is used together with adjectives such as “invader, occupier, raiding, and aggressive” (11. Sınıf, 2010, p.12).

It is seen that in the Armenian history textbooks, in contrast to the images used for the Turkish soldiers, the images of “warrior” and “hero” are used prominently for Armenian soldiers and that this heroism is appreciated by the third countries, which are included in the struggle agains the Turks (11. Sınıf, 2010, p.12).

It is seen that in the Armenian history textbooks, the images that are used for the Armenians in the wars waged against the Turks generally have a content that is directly opposite to that of the one used for the Turks. Within this framework, the word հե (herosakan), i.e. “heroism,” which is used for the struggle that was experienced even in the title of the subject in the chapter titled “the Heroic Defense of Yerivan” (Ե – Yerevani Herosakan Paştpanutyunı), can be given as an example. The image of heroism is given in more detail in this chapter and the word “enemy” is used directly for the Turks and the Turkish army this time (11. Sınıf, 2010, p.12).

In conclusion, when we look at the classical period in the Armenian history textbooks, the Armenian “heroism” stereotype is prominent most of the time. Images such as “enemy, invader, plunderer, laying siege, dominating, occupier, oppressive, aggressive, murderer, imposers of blockade, dictator, unsuccessful despite a numerical advantage, having disproportional power, obstructor, despot, rapist, and tyrant” are used in the descriptions of the Turks/Ottomans in this period. On the other hand, images such as “hero, determined, extremely strong, religious, powerful despite a numerical disadvantage, having endurance, ones that cannot be supressed with weapons, freedom-loving, and using arms to protect their rights and lands” etc. are used for the Armenians. In general it is possible to say based on the words that have been mentioned, that there is a negative and vicitimizing image of the Turk/Ottoman, and a victim and positive Armenian image in the textbooks related to this period.


[1] Among the sources where the Turkish-Armenian relations in the Medieval Era are addressed, A. E. Redgate’s book The Armenians and Razmik Panossian’s book titled The Armenians: From Kings and Priests to Merchants and Commissars are notable studies. Redgate’s study, which addresses the Armenian history in a comprehensive manner starting from the ethnic origin of the Armenians until today, offers detailed information on the religious and political structures of the Armenians in the Medieval Age (1998, pp.228-230). He notes that everything changed for the Armenians after the Turks came to the area where they lived. He indicates to the Europeanness of the Armenians despite their geographical positions in the Ancient Age and Medieval Age and their intense relaitons with Eastern societies such as the Assyrians, Urartus, Persians, Arabs, and Turks. He notes that this is directly related not only to their being included in the Indo-Euroean system ethnically and linguistically, but also because of theri contributions to the Western civilization and Christianity.

[2] Panossian (2006, pp.60-61) asserts that the Seljuks invaded Ani in 1064 and they invaded in 1065 twenty years after the Byzantium Empire seized Armenia and therefore, he argues that the first regular meeting between the Turks and Armenians happened through invasion.

[3] Another study that includes information on the Turkish-Armenian relations in the late Medieval period is Dickran Kouymjian’s study titled Armenia from the Fall of the Cilician Kingdom (1375) to the Forced Emigration under Shah Abbas (1604) .   Kouynjian (2004, p.2) notes that the fate of Armenia depended on the Seljuks, Turkmens, Ottomans, Safewids or Azeris, or in other words, the Turkish “invaders” who came from Central Asia from the tenth century until the second half of the twentieth century. According to Kouynjian, Armenians could not live in peace until the thirteenth century even though they did not participate in any war.

[4] The Basen region, which is referrred to within the framework of the Turkish-Armenian relations in the Seljuk period, was the name given to the largest part of the Ararat state in the past. Basen region is divided into two parts of the Upper and Lower Basen. The Uppper Basen constituted a border with the territories of Kars, and it extended into Erzurum on the west and also it was indicated to be the most fertile territory of Armenia (Uras, 1987, pp.19-20, Attar, 2007, p.297). Vaspurakan covers the second biggest territory after Ararat where the Armenians settled. Vaspurakan, which was indicated to be the biggest region of “Greater Armenia,” was a state that also covered a large part of the area surrounding Lake Van (Uras, 1987, pp.19-20, Attar, 2007, p.298).

[5] The conquest of Istanbul and then the establishment of an Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul and leaving the administration of the Ottoman Armenians to the religious administration of this Patriarchate led to the emergence of a problem of authority between Echmiadzin, which was the traditional center of the Armeinan Catholicosate, and the Istanbul Patriarchate. Bournoutian (2005, p.187) notes that Echmiadzin was outside of the border of the Ottoman Empire, in the neighboring enemy territory until the first quarter of the sixteenth century, and therefore, Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror recognized the Istanbul Patriarchate as the leader of the Armenians of this city and its vicinity. Since Iran was tolerant of the Armenian clerics within its borders, the Ottoman sultans that succeeded Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror were afraid of the influence of Echmiadzin, which was within the borders of the Safevid Empire, on the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, they had a significant part of the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia brought to Istanbul after the conquests they had in that region and they made them affiliated with the Istanbul Patriarchate (Bournoutian, 2005, p.187).

The Ottoman administration tried to ensure the loyalty of the Armenians to the empire on the one hand and it aimed at minimizing the influence of Echmiadzin on the other. Therefore, they had episcopates that were independent from Echmiadzin and Istanbul established in those regions that were newly conquered and where there was a dense population of Armenians, such as Erzurum, towards the middle of the sixteenth century. Bournoutian (2005, pp.187-188), states that for this reason, the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate did not have authority over all the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire at the beginning. In this period, the Ottoman Armenians accepted the religious authority of various churches. Until the end of the eighteenth century, the Sis Catholicosate had authority over the Cilicia Armenians, Akhtamar Church had authoirty over the Armenians in Van and its vicinity, and the Jerusalem Patriarchate had authority over the Armenians in the Arab territories.


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Պ (P. Çobanyan, V. Barkhudaryan, A. Khar’atyan, E. Kostandyan, R’. Gasparyan, D. Muradyan, R’. Sahakyan, A. Hakobyan, Hayots Patmutyun: 8-rd Dasaran Dasagirk’, Yerevan, Makmilan, 2007 – P. Çobanyan, V. Barkhudaryan, A. Khar’atyan, E. Kostandyan, R’. Gasparyan, D. Muradyan, R’. Sahakyan, A. Hakobyan, Ermeni Tarihi: Ortaöğretim 8.Sınıf Ders Kitabı, Erivan, Makmilan Yayınevi, 2007).

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Redgate, Anne Elizabeth, The Armenians, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers, 1998.

Kouymjian, Dickran, “Armenia from the Fall of the Cilician Kingdom (1375) to the Forced Emigration under Shah Abbas (1604)”, The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, (Der.) Richard Hovannisian, New York, St. Martin Press, 1997, Cilt 2, s.1-57.

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