The Transition of the 1895 Trabzon Events to the Court and the Interpretations of the Statements of the Armenian Rebels in Court Records in Terms of Social Psychology

Armenians who stayed under Turkish dominion for more than eight centuries with the entrance of Turks into Anatolia started to rebel against the Ottoman Empire dating from the second half of 19th century. Armenians, who took the impacts of the nationalism movement in the Balkans as an example for themselves, made their inclinations towards separating from the Ottoman Empire clear by allying with the Russians during the 1877-1878 Ottoman-Russian War. With the Berlin and San Stefano Treaties signed at the end of this war, the “Armenian problem” came to the international sphere for the first time.

After this date, imperialist powers such as Britain and Russia, who aimed at destroying the Ottoman Empire, started to use the Armenian card against the Turkish nation. The rebellions broke out in Eastern Anatolia provinces such as Van, Erzurum, and Bitlis by Armenian organizations such as Dashnaksutyun and Hunchakian, which were established at the end of the 1880s, became common with time and reached to the capital Istanbul in 1890 and Trabzon in 1895. The Istanbul Kumkapı events in 1890 were a rebel movement planned to draw the attention of the European public opinion. The purpose here was to draw European powers into the problem with the propaganda that “Turks are massacring Christians!” which Christian communities in the Balkans used in their fights to gain their independence. Therefore, the Christian community in the east of the Ottoman Empire would be saved and Armenians would have an independent state, which they could never obtain in history. The rebellions, which broke out by the Armenians continuously due to these intensions, resulted in the stretch of the problem into the 20th century.

In this study, we will look at the process of the events happening in Trabzon in 1895 being taken to the court and interpret the statements in the court in terms of social psychology.

Short Summary of the Event[1]

According to censuses carried out without any concern of religion and ethnicity and annuals prepared, an Armenian population of 7% lived in the Ottoman Empire at the end of 19th century. This rate was less and around 4% in the Trabzon Province which was one of the biggest and the most important Anatolian provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

While the rate in general of the province was like this, there is detailed information about the Armenian population in Trabzon in a document dated 18 October 1893. In the telegraph sent to the Internal Affairs Ministry by the Governor, Kadri Bey, it was stated that there were 22,681 Armenians, including men and women, in the Trabzon province and 6,000 of these lived in the city of Trabzon, 18,174 lived in the Canik province, and 1,494 lived in the Gümüşhane province; and the total of the Armenian population was 42,349.

Although they are very less in numbers, the Armenians of Trabzon adjusted to the terrorist movements started in the general areas of the country, and the branches of organizations such as Hunchakian and Dashnaksutyun started activities of provoking the masses in 1895. The fact that Trabzon was a city with a port made it possible for the city to get migrations from other provinces of the Ottoman Empire, foreign countries, and especially Russia. This characteristic caught the attention of terrorist organizations. The opportunities of transportation and communication brought by the capitulations had a significant function in constituting the infrastructure of the psychological atmosphere of the activities by Armenian terrorist groups. The terrorist organizations using these opportunities brought illegal publications to the city, and at the same time, leaders coming to the city from time-to-time made agitational activities towards the Armenian communities. The facts that there was an effective terrorist organization in Trabzon starting from the beginning of 1890s, that there was an Armenian named Marmaryan in this organization, and that this person worked in the Austrian Consulate in Trabzon are in support of the conclusion above. As a result of the activities by the Trabzon Governorship and Gendarme Ministry, the Armenian Terrorist Organization active in Trabzon was revealed.

The Armenian organization members who were revealed were tried in the Court of Appeals and the organization leader was punished with the death penalty; 4 members were punished with life sentence; 22 people were punished with imprisonment for 15 years; and some people were also punished with various other penalties.

These precautions could not prevent Armenian terrorist organizations spreading and becoming popular in Trabzon. In 1895, Armenian events started to take place in Trabzon as well as in other Ottoman cities. The members of Armenian organizations initiated sensational activities and assassinations. The strategy carried out by them was aimed at both the community and outside. The strategy aimed at the community was to scare people who did not support the organization and even to discourage them by assassinations (Karacakaya, 2006: 15-16) and the purpose here was to create the element of human for the independence in the future by ensuring the union inside the community and eliminating the loyalty to the state. The locomotive here would be the clergy and teachers. The assassinations outside the community were against important statesmen and the purpose here was both to encourage the members of the organizations and to initiate the propaganda by drawing the attention of foreign public opinion to the event. [2] The most important purpose here was to draw Christian European public opinion to the problem by using the repetition that “Turks are killing Christians” for the precautions taken by Ottoman security forces before the disturbed public order and to make the Ottoman Empire use juridical power by preparing the infrastructure for foreign intervention. This process was actually being operated for activating the protectors of the problem staged in international sphere with Article 61 of the Berlin Treaty, dated 1878.

The Armenian uprising, taking place in Trabzon in October of 1895, was an event of this type.

Fire was opened by two Armenian guerrillas on former Van Governor Bahri Pasha, who was staying in Trabzon as a guest, the Commander of Trabzon Aged Soldiers Battalion Ahmed Hamdi Pasha, the Iranian Consul in Trabzon Rahmi Han, the General Director of Telegraph and Post Hacı Ömer Efendi, and the Alaybey of the Province Suleyman Bey while they were passing from the street called Uzun Sokak in the evening of 20 September Wednesday (2 October 1895). Bahri Pasha was injured on his thigh and Hamdi Pasha was injured on his leg in this attempt of assassination. While the two Armenians who attacked them were arrested, some of those who supported and got involved in the event managed to escape and disappear. Two days after this event, a few Muslims who had seen the event came across Haçik, the son of the barber Stephan who was searched by the police, and verbally attacked him in Ayavasil Neighbourhood. In response, the suspect opened fire on Muslims and a Muslim called Rahmi Efendi, who went down to the street after hearing the gunshots, was killed.

That the events came one after another led to the people being emotionally moved and pouring onto streets. When these events, taking place in the city, were reflected to the villages as “Armenians attacked the government building and killed the governor,” Muslims started to come to the city in masses. Security forces and leaders of the society took the necessary precautions and calmed the people down. However, the fact that the suspect of the murder was still not arrested, that the Armenians inclined towards a psychological reaction by not opening their shops, and the carelessness of the religious leader of the Armenian community Vice Bishop Mesrob and other leaders highly increased the tensions in the relations between the communities. The fact that these events were being related to the similar events taking place in Istanbul was another factor in the increase in the social tensions.

The increasing tensions in society, Armenians being armed and their rejection to open their shops, and the fact that Armenians living in villages went to the cities and started to gather together were all indicators of an uprising movement. During the activities of calming down the Muslim people in the city by the Governor and Mayor on Tueseday, September 26th, there were gunshots heard from the eastern side of the square at around five-thirty. Armenians, being encouraged, started to open fire on the police and the people. The fact that a few Muslims were injured and that two of them died, led to anger in the Muslims and Greeks and a mutual fight intensified and the fights were only able to be taken under control at around 9 o’clock.

It was understood with the investigation on the following day that there were 182 Armenians dead, 18 Armenians injured and 11 Muslims dead, 25 Muslims injured.

After the events settled down, Armenians locked inside the houses, inns and shops were removed from the places they were hiding in and were placed in military and administrative buildings and their needs were met. After the public order was ensured, those having a criminal record and being suspects were taken to Martial Court and the remaining went back to their homes. Foreigners who took refuge in consulates were also taken to their homes. There were precautions taken during the events to prevent the consulates, schools, religious buildings, and the houses of foreigners from being attacked.

After the security was ensured and the public order was resettled, the investigations started to find out how and by whom the event was started. The fact that a few Armenian defenders came out of the Austrian ferry coming from Istanbul in the morning of Tuesday, the day the event started, and the effects of the letters distributed from the post the ferry brought were triggering factors of the event. The way the events developed shows that it was an organized act. The fact that Armenians living in villages came to the city on the day of the event and that fire was opened at the same time from a few different points confirms this conclusion.

After the event in Trabzon, some incidents also took place in Gümüşhane. The events in Gümüşhane were also soothed in a short time, Armenians locked in the churches with their arms were removed and sent to their homes, and their properties looted were returned.

Martial law was proclaimed as a result of the events which took place in Trabzon and the capital was informed about the situation after the necessary preparations were made. Within the framework of instructions coming from Istanbul, the priority was given to compensation for those who suffered loss and the trial of the criminals. This information in the scientific study, published in April 2007 by the Trabzon Municipality and based on documents from the archive about this process, demonstrates the organizational and sociological dimension of the event (Bilgin et al., 2007: 31-32):

“After a priest arrested for the Trabzon event stated that those who provoked the events were Carpenter Manuk and Teacher Kirkor, various weapons, tools used to produce cartridge, two pieces of big stamps on the name of Trabzon Armenian Fesad Committee, many forbidden newspapers, a document prepared by the committee for Merzifon and cipher keys of secret discussions between Erzincan and Trabzon were found in the investigation done in Manuk’s house.

The ciphered letters found in Manuk Tatosyan’s house are proof of how Armenians managed communications before the uprising and within what kind of a plan they carried out the uprisings in Anatolia. In a majority of these letters, there was information about money support and intelligence services, if the newspapers reached or not, the need for arms, cartridge and powder, paying attention to using ciphers and nick-names in letters, the conditions of Armenians in prison and learning how to produce dynamite.

Many Armenians giving statements in the court about the events created by the Armenians in Trabzon stated that there was no doubt that Artin Şahrikyan was the provocateur and promoter of the events”

(Bilgin et al., 2007: 31).

The most important factor drawing attention in the example of Artin Şahrikyan here is the leadership dimension of the event. When it is needed to drag the mass into something and make them decide for acts that will require them to sacrifice their lives to defend a barricade, quick and speedy infusions should be made for the impact. To be able to achieve this, the mass should be prepared for the event beforehand, and the person who wants to drag them should have superiority (Le Bon, 2001: 86). We see that the necessities for this thesis of mass psychology theorists are perfectly met by Artin Şahrikyan in the example of the 1895 Trabzon Events.

The Process of the Trial

To prevent the 1895 Trabzon Armenian Events, the Tacit Administration was declared and it was decided to set up a Martial Court to try the criminals after finding them within the framework of instructions coming from Istanbul. For the chair of the newly founded court, Mirliva Salih Pasha, who was in Rize, was chosen.

During the trials, it was confessed by many Armenians that the provocateur and prompter of the events was Artin Şahrikyan and his friends (Bilgin et al., 2007: 31). One of those who were arrested for the events created by the Armenians in Trabzon and who gave a statement in the court was Arabyan Hacı Mardiros Efendi. There were remarkable statements by Arabyan Hacı Mardiros Efendi in the court: he was informed that the members of the Trabzon Armenian Committee came to his house in Zefanos at around one o’clock in August; two people, one of which was tall and the other was of medium height and black bearded, were sent by the Armenian Revolutionist Community; they gave a letter in red writing stamped by the Armenian Revolutionist Community; it was asked in the letter that 600 Ottoman liras should be given for the revolutionist community; they went to the house of Gayzak and from there, they protected themselves after this event; they did not go out, and when they finally went to the city, an Armenian whose face was covered, again asked for 600 liras; the 600 liras demanded were asked to be given in a new letter sent after the money was not given, and if they did not give the money, they would be killed. After this letter, Arabyan Hacı Mardiros Efendi informed the British Consulate about the situation and did not inform the government authorities. Similarly, many Armenians could not complain about the pressures of the Armenian defenders to the government as they feared. Also, Armenians, scared of the threats by Armenian defenders, avoided speaking about the things they knew about the events (Çulcu, 1990: 61).

When the records of the court are examined, another factor drawing attention is that the Armenians arrested generally behaved as if they did not know anything about what had happened. However, it is seen that they confessed everything once their crimes were proven or they were imprisoned.

At the end of the trials carried out concerning the 1895 Trabzon Armenian Events, Priest Vahan, Koçyan, Armanak, Haçik, and Misak, who were proven guilty as charged, were condemned with the death penalty; it was decided that Setrak and Mertad were to be punished by hard labour for 15 and 10 years, respectively. Along with these, many soldiers and civil officers were punished with various penalties for the reason that they were engaged in the events.


28 people from the Armenians who were involved in the 1895 Trabzon events were tried in a Martial Court according to Article 58 of the Royal Civil Punishment Code; 5 people were sentenced with the death penalty; 2 people were sentenced to hard labour for 10 and 15 years; 5 people were released; and the remaining 16 folders were decided to be retuned due to missing information. However, the death penalties were not implemented. Due to the request from the Trabzon province and the concerns that such events could happen again between the two communities, Prime Minister Kamil Pasha demanded the death penalties of these people to be removed in a letter he wrote to the Sultan on 25 November 1895; and then these penalties were removed by the Sultan.

We see that the Armenians involved in the Trabzon events were led by clergy and teachers. These two elements, effective in directing the community, were also the most important locomotives of nationalism in the independence fight against the Ottoman Empire.

It was one of the most striking factors that people involved in the uprising applied to the method of violence inside the community to be able to move the Armenian community as a whole. Punishing those who do not follow the orders of the secret committee members was used as an organizational method based on fear in increasing organizational power, weakening the citizenship loyalties of the Armenians to the Ottoman Empire, and even in terminating them if needed.

The fact that the suspects used the method of “no” by giving short answers in their statements in the court for the claims against them calls to mind that they must have been passed through a preparation process by the organization members before the event. It can be said that the hope that diplomatic missions of foreign countries would pressure the Ottoman central government and get the penalties removed was influential in showing the determination in not accepting the claims. The fact that the Armenians who were involved in secret activities to disturb the public order were forgiven before, increased the courage of Armenians who attended the 1895 Trabzon Uprising.

It is another striking situation that some of the Armenians involved in the uprising brought to the foreground the sectional conflicts within the community to confuse the court and they tried to save themselves by especially emphasising on Protestantism and hiding behind the argument that they were excluded from the community.

It is understood from the court records that Armenians involved in the uprising were encouraged by foreign countries which had dreams on the Ottoman Empire, and they initiated provocative activities in order to increase the pressure on the government in this respect. Therefore, it can be said that Armenians had the hope of obtaining political results through foreign support.



[1] Hüseyin Nazım Paşa, 2003: 160-169; Halaçoğlu, 2005; Çiçek, 2000; Şahin, 2006: 123-140; Halaçoğlu, 2003: 28-46; Keskin, 2007: 597-610; Bilgin et al., 2007: 24-32.

[2] See Koloğlu, 1996: 131-145 for the methods of propaganda operated by Armenians through terror.


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