The Settlement of Armenians in the Ottoman Period

Istanbul, which was built between the years 325-330, has always been an important center for the Armenians because it was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. When the Armenian Catholicos of the period, i.e. the head bishop Surp Sahag, who came to Istanbul to obtain ratification from the Empire at the beginning of the years of the Eastern Roman Empire, together with Surp Mesrob and his students, they stayed at the Agomidian Monastery. The group studied theology and philosophy in the capital, they succeeded in their purpose for coming to the city, and they managed to develop an alphabet that was suitable for the sound system of the Armenian in the years 404-405. That is, the Armenian alpahabet that is also used today was developed in Istanbul and it was taken to Armenia from there (Grousset, 2005, s.166-169)

Since the geography in which the Armenians lived was between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Sasani Empire, the Armenians were affected the most by the wars and conflicts between the two states. Especially in the fifth century a large Armenian population, most important of which were the aristocrats, moved to Istanbul during the long war that was aged between the Armenians and Sassanians in the fifth century (Grousset, 2005, p. 185 ?vd.). The Eastern Roman Empire welcomed these new immigrants in a nice manner because the existence of Goths and Jews in the army had been ended and there was an attempt to fill the void that was left with the Armenians (Mango, 2008, s. 33). The migrations that continued in the fifth and sixth centuries reached such a stage that by the year 572, it was possible to speak of a crowded and organized Armenian community in Istanbul (Pamukciyan, 2002, p.1).

According to what Assyrian Mikhael wrote in his Vekayiname, the Armenians, who were able to organize as a separate community in Istanbul, had a church named Armenion within the city. This church was administered by the notable Armenian civilians of the city and they were headed by a priest. However, Emperor Alxios I (1081-1118), who got angry because the Armenians collaborated with the Turks, who were attacking the imperial territories, had this church destroyed and had all of the sacred properties of the Armenians burned in the squares of the city (Assyrian Mikhael). After this date, the Armenians could not have a church in Istanbul again when it was under Byzantine rule. However, they were able to establish a church and episcopate in Galata, which was under the Genoese rule (Tuğlacı, 1984, p.194).

When Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror conquered Istanbul, the city, which had not erased the traces of the Latin invasion period, had turned into ruins completely under the seige. The population of Istanbul is estimated to be between thirty thousand and fifty thousand when the Ottomans conquered it. Sultan Mehmed, who was determined to return the city to its former majesty, started a big movement for building development. New shopping centers were built in the city center and the city walls were fortified (İnalcık, 54). In addition, Subashi (Municipal official) Suleiman Bey was appointed to increase the population of the city and families were brought to the city from Anatolia – at first on a voluntary basis and then in compulsory manner- and there were also Armenians among those who came to the city (Aşıkpaşazade, 157).

Thanks to this, it became possible to create an Armenian community in Istanbul in a short amount of time. There were Armenians also among those families who were brought to the city by force. Nerses, who was an Armenian merchant from Amasya, accused Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in his poem that he wrote in 1480 of starting storms among people by dragging his people and the Christians from place to place and he stated that he was brought to Istanbul against his will (Mansel, 15). The population of Istanbul in 1478 reached 14,803 households including the ones who came voluntarily and those who were brought by force, and 817 of those households were Armenian (İnalcık, 54). Since a large movement for building development was experienced in Istanbul in the Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror period, having mostly architects, foremen, and workers among those who were broght to the city was emphasized. While those who were tradesmen, merchants, and professionals among those who came to the city were settled in the city, others were settled in the villages around the city and artists, carpenters, ship builders, architects, and foremen were directly commissioned to work for the Sultan (İnalcık, 2000, p. 54; Karaca, 2008, p. 28).

The first big convoy of Armenians who were brought to the city by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror were the Armenians of Bursa, who came to the city under the leadership of the Bursa head bishop in 1461. So the Armenian Episcopate, which had been in Bursa since the time of Orhan Gazi, moved to Istanbul as well. This was so important that many researchers, among whom Chamchiyan was a pioneer, deemed this migration in 1461 as the establishment of the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate (Çamiçyan, 1776, s. 500). Among the first Armenians who came to the city were clerics, artists, architects, tradesmen, merchants, farmers, and workers. These people were mainly settled in houses and rooms in the following neighborhoods: Samatya, Kumkapı, Narlıkapı, Beyoğlu, Gedikpaşa, and Galata. Since the Armenians were mainly settled in six neighborhoods when they were first brought to Istanbul, they were called the “Six Communities” in the city until the middle of the 1800s. This expression was used not only among the people, but also in the official documents (Tuğlacı, 1984, s. 5; Pamukciyan, 2002, s. 4).

The second large-scale collective migration of the Armenians into the city during the Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror period took place in 1475 after the conquest of Crimea. The Genoese who were brought from Kaffa and who were mostly working in trade and the Armenians were settled mostly in two neighborhoods: Galata and Karagumruk. Therefore, the already high Armenian population in Galata increased and the Armenians were able to have a neighborhood for themselves apart from the mixed neighborhoods. The Galata Armenians, who constituted the wealthiest and most cultured group, also used Turkish names of Tatar origin such as Orhan, Tanrıvermish, Eyne Bey, Shadi Bey, Shirin Hatun and Melek Hatun, in addition to Armenian names, because they were from Crimea originally (Kuban, 2004, s. 217).

The second neighborhood in which the Armenians from Kaffa were settled was Karagumruk. The neighborhood started to be called “Kaffali” (i.e. from Kaffa) because mostly the Genoese and Armenians who were brought from Kaffa were settled here and it still has this name today. The two abandoned Greek churches in the area were given to be controlled by the Dominican priests who came from Kaffa. The first of these churches was named Santa Maria (Odalar Masjid) and the second one was named Saint Nicola (Kaffali Mosque). Therefore, all the church records were kept in Latin and Armenian and these books are preserved at the Saint Paul Dominican Church archives in Galata today. Later on, the right to use Saint Nicola was taken from the Armenians and the community was allocated an abandoned Greek church in Balat instead. This church is currently used by the Armenian community under the name Surp Hreshdagabed (Frazee, 16; İncicyan, 38).

The neighborhood in which the Armenian population in the city was most dense was Samatya. Most of the Armenians who were brought to the city in 1461 were brought here, and after 1470 and the conquest of Karaman, the Armenians in Anatolia were brought to Istanbul, and settled in this neighborhood. Therefore, the Armenian population in this neighborhood is generally from Anatolia. Until 1478, the Armenian population in Konya, Karaman, Aksaray, and Eregli continued to be brought to Istanbul and settled in Samatya. In addition, the Peribletoptos Monastery in Samatya, which was one of the most magnificent and sacred places of worship in the city, was allocated for the use of the Armenians and this sanctuary was the venue for the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate until 1641. As a matter of fact, this sanctuary is still being used by the Armenian community under the name Surp Kevork (Kuban, 2004, s. 188; Eremya Çelebi, 3).

The forced relocation of the Armenians to Istanbul continued also during the reigns of the sultans that came to power after Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. During the Iran campaign of Sultan Yavuz Selim in 1514, many Armenian families around Tabriz, Erzurum, Kemah, Muş, Sivas, and Erzincan were forced to relocate to Istanbul. In addition, many Armenian families around Ankara, Sivas, Tokat, Bayburt, and Adana were also forced to relocate to Istanbul in the same period and they were settled in various neighborhoods. Sultan Yavuz Selim had 200 Armenian trademen families brought from Tabriz to Istanbul during the Iran campaigns and he had 500 Armenian tradesmen families from Cairo brought to Istanbul and he used them in various services (İnalcık, 200, p. 67).

Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent also had Armenians brought to Istanbul in the campaigns he organized in the east and he had them settled. However, the most notable ones of the Armeinan families who were brought during the reign of the Sultan Suleiman were the goldsmiths who were brought from Eghin. These Armenian aristocrats, who traced their lienage to the Vaspuragan Armenian Kingdom because they were from Eghin and who considered themselves a remnant of that kingdom, were settled in Haskoy. These people, who took over the administration of the Armenian community in Istanbul in a short amount of time and who raised to the position of the civilan leaders of the community, maintained the administration of the community in their hands until the middle of the 1800s because they established close relations with the Ottoman palace. During the reign of Sultan Murad III many artists, farmers, workers, foremen, and architects of Armeinan origin were brought to Istanbul from Tabriz, Georgia, and Nakhchivan and they were employed by the palace and they worked in the building development activities in Istanbul (İnalcık, 2000, s. 69; Pamukciyan, 5).

The rise of the Armenian population in the city rapidly and its reaching a high number took place as a result of the Jalali rebellions, which occurred at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The rebellious movements, which took place between the years 1596-1610, started a migration movement, which was named as “The Big Escape” in Anatolia. Peoples came from not only Anatolia, but also from the different corners of the empire such as Thrace, Crimea, and Syria and there were also Armenian families among those who fled. Especially the Armenians in the Caucasus fled to Istanbul in large convoys. The Ottoman administration did not want to accept them at first, but they had to accept them after the eruption of the rebellion movements in 1612. According to what was recorded by the Simeon of Poland in his Travel Book, while there was a small Armenian population in Istanbul before, this population reached forty thousand households with those who fled the Jalali rebellions (İnalcık, 2000, s. 69; Pamukciyan, 5).

The Armenians were generally settled in the neighborhoods around the city gates. For example, Armenian gypsies called Posha used to live in Topkapi. Most of these Poshas, who generally made a living as sieve masters, converted to Islam during the reign of Ahmed III and the rest assimilated within the Armenian people (Kömürcüyan, 23). Another neighborhood in which the Armenians had a population density was Yenikapi. Before the Imperial Edict of Gulhane, the size, architectural plans and exterior fronts of the houses of non-Muslims were subject to certain rules and restrictions. Nevertheless, the neighborhood in which the Armenians were most free was Yenikapi, because this area used to be a bay before and there used to be a marble tower which was left from the Byzantine period in the middle of the sea. The stones and rubbles that emerged during the construction of the Laleli Mosque were poured into the sea, this bay was filled and this new area that was gained was sold to the non-Muslims. Generally Armenians lived here together with a small number of Greeks (İncicyan, 1976, p. 4 vd.)

Beyoğlu'nda Ermeni Mezarlığı

Armenian Cemetary in Beyoğlu

When we look outside the city walls, the Armenians generally had a population density in the Haskoy, Kasimpasha, Beyoglu, and Galata neighborhoods. In addition, the neighborhood in which they lived generally indicated the profession in which they worked. For example, Haskoy Armenians were generally goldsmiths, Beyoglu Armenians were millers or bakers, Galata Armenians were merhcants, and Kasimpasha Armenians were mostly dock workers or sailors. Furthermore, especially wealthy Armenians started to live in the villages at the Bosphorus as summer houses and places of entertainment starting in the eighteenth century. On the other side of the Bosphorus, there was generally a dense population of Armenians in the neighborhoods of Beykoz and Uskudar. Especially Uskudar was an important center in which a close-knit community life was lived together with deep-rooted institutions such as churches, monasteries, schools, and clerical schools, which had continued their existence since the sixteenth century (Dadyan, 71 vd.).

After the Big Beyoglu Fire in 1870, the Armenians who had lived around Beyoglu and Galata started to spread mostly to the Pangalti and Kurtuluş areas and this is one of the neighborhoods in which the community is mostly concentrated today. Today the Armenian community in Istanbul is estimated to be between fifty thousand and sixty thousand, and most of this population lives in neighborhoods that are linked with the counties of Şişli, Bakirkoy, Kadikoy, and Adalar (Prince Islands).



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