Turkish-Armenian Relations in the Ottoman Society: The Case of Maraş

Some of the Ottoman subjects were non-Muslims. According to Islamic law, the non-Muslims who live in a Muslim country have the status of “dhimmi.” According to this, non-Muslims have religious freedom and freedom of conscience, they are not forced to convert, they open their own places of worship, and the Islamic state keeps their lives and property secure. In return for this protection, non-Muslims paid a poll tax and tribute tax and they had to comply with the provisions of the Islamic state (Akyılmaz, 2003, p. 171). The criterion of religion and denomination was taken as a basis in classifying the people in the Ottoman State and people that belonged to various races, religions, and denominations were taken into consideration as Muslims, Christians, and Jews without paying attention to their ethnic roots (Bozkurt, 1996, s. 11). That is, they were classified as “millets,” which were semi-autonomous religious and cultural communities (Georgeon, 2006, p. 2).

The legal status of the non-Muslims was determined by laws and the state deemed it important to apply these laws. These laws were applied in the resolution of the disputes that arose between the non-Muslims and the Muslims. The path that was followed to solve the tension that was experienced between the people of Bursa and the Jewish community and the resolution that was reached clarifies this issue. According to a verdict that is in the Ottoman court records of Bursa dated 1573, Tall Hamza, who lived in Hajj Ivaz Pasha Khan, reported that a Jew named Yacoub, son of Musa, who lived in the room next to the mosque, started a fight at every prayer time and prevented the prayer of Muslims and complained about him to the head judge of Bursa.   As a result, the judge ordered Yacoub, son of Musa, to be evicted from the room (BŞS, A-100/117, 25a). The fact that a similar situation is seen in a muhimme record (a record of fermans and Diwan decisions) for the year 1573 shows that that was not a unique incident and that there was disagreement between the Jews and Muslims in Bursa. According to this, the stores of the Jews who had lived in Uzun Çarşı for ten, twenty, and even forty years were taken from them on the grounds that they were “next to the mosque” and the Jews complained about this situation to the Royal Council (Diwan-ı Humayun). In the verdict that was sent from the Royal Council to the head judge of Bursa, it was stated that confiscating the stores of the Jews unlawfully was against the law and an order was given for the stores in question to be returned to the Jews (BOA. MD, 24, number 10; Günay, 2005, p. 46).

With the declaration of the Imperial Edict of Gulhane in 1839, all the Ottoman subjects were accepted to be equal before the law (Sonyel, 1994, s. 345), but the legal status of the non-Muslims changed with the Imperial Edict of Reforms, which was declared in 1856. With the declaraiton of this imperial edict, fundamental changes took place in the structure of the Ottoman society. According to this, changes occurred in the legal, administrative, and religious status of the Armenians. These innovations, which were put into practice all over the country, affected the social structure of Maraş, where the Muslims and Armenians lived together. Local administrations were rearranged with the provincial regulations that were issued in 1864 and 1871. According to the Provincial Regulation that entered into force in 1864, the country was divided into administrative sections as follows: provinces, sanjaks, counties, and villages. At each level of the civil administration, councils of administration in which there were elected Muslims and non-Muslims were present were created. The communities (millets) were to be represented equally at the Provincial General Assembly (Jorga, 2005, pp. 444-445). Administrative units named “Provincial Administration Council,” “Shire Administration Council” and “County Administration Council” were created in provinces, shires (liva), and counties respectively. The organs of the shires, which were the lower level of the province in the provincial administration, that discussed the legal, financial, public works, educational, agricultural, and commercial affairs of the shires and made decisions on them were the Shire Administration Councils (Ortaylı, 2000, p. 64).

The head of the Shire Administration Councils was the deputy governor to undertake the authority and duties of the governor. Apart from this, the judge of the county, which was the center of the shire, the director of accounting, the director of official correspondence, the mufti, and the spiritual heads of the non-Muslims communities were the natural members of the council. Two Muslims and two non-Muslims were the other members of the council. The Shire Administration Council could not interfere in legal issues and legal cases. The members of the Administration Council constituted the election council named “Majlis-i Tafriq” (Elective Council) (Davison, 1997, pp. 154-155). These general arrangements were put into practice in Maraş as well. In 1867, six members, which were composed of Hajj Vartan and Hajj Serkis from among the Armenians together with four Muslim members, were elected for the membership of the Shire Administration Council (SVH, 1867, pp.57-58). The Municipal Council, which was established in 1869, was composed of three Muslims and three Armenians (SVH, 1869, pp. 62-64). In 1871, the number of elected members of the Shire Administration Council was changed to three Muslims and one Armenian. At the Municipal Councils, the Armenians had a majority with four members as opposed to two Muslims (SVH, 1871, pp. 55-57).   In 1876, two of the five members of the Municipal Council of the Shire Administration Council were Armenians (SVH, 1876, pp. 67-91). With the declaration of the 2nd Consitutional Period in 1876, the non-Muslims of the Ottoman State continued to be represented strongly in both the central and provincial bureaucracy and at the palace, which was the center of the government (Keyder, 2005, pp.32-33).

In 1900, the Catholic delegates came to be included among the permanent members of the Administration Council. The elected members were Kigork, Kirkor, and Melkon Effendis (SVH, 1900, p. 333). Since the population of the Armenian community in Maraş was larger than the Catholics and Protestants, one of the Christian members at the shire and county administration councils was selected from among the Armenians based on the decision of the Council of State (Günay, 2007, p. 111). However, the Armenian communities were making an effort to have more say in the administration by showing their population more than it actually was. The Latins who lived in Maraş in 1910 made a complaint with a petition they submitted to the Population Administration saying that the Catholics of Maraş were counting the Latins among the Catholics in order to show their population more than it actually was and they requested the Latin population to be registered separately (DH. SN. M., 22/68).

The Situation of the Christians in Maraş

The Armenian society in Maraş was composed of three communities, namely the Armenian (Gregorian), the Catholics, and the Protestants. Armenians did not live in five of the 38 neighborhoods in Maraş in 1869. There were houses and work places that belonged to Armenians in the remaining 33 neighborhoods. Apostolic Armenians, who were called “Armenians,” from among the Armenian communities had the majority compared to the Catholic and Protestant Armenians (Y. A. RES., 37/37). The Armenian society lived with their fellow Armenians who believed in different denominations in the same neighborhoods, just as they lived in the same neighborhoods with Muslims. This is an indication of how much they lived together among themselves and with Muslims and how they got on well (Günay, 2007, p. 113).

Muslims and Armenians, whatever their denominations, lived side-by-side in social life. Their worshipping freely was under the guarantee of the state. In 1850, the ringing of bells at the Surb Sarkis Church in Kuyucak neighborhood in order to announce the prayer time caused the Muslim people to complain, but the office of the Grand Vizier decided that the ringing of the bell at the church was not to be prevented (A. MKT. UM, 54/71). Muslims could hire Armenians as counsel in lawsuits and Armenians could also hire Muslims as counsel in lawsuits. Artin Effendi was appointed as a counsel for the defense of a foundation of the Divanli Mosque at the court. One of the indicators of Armenians and Muslims getting on well was the names that were used. Armenians used such as Shukru, Feride, Zekiye, Shahin, which are Muslim names. Having different religions was not influential in the relationships of exchange between the two communities. The fact that there were tenant-landlord relationships between the two sides must be a result of mutual good will. Armenians and Muslims were affected by each other in daily life as well. This impact was in very different areas from the relations between men and women to raising children. Armenian and Turkish cuisines have affected each other a lot. Armenian dishes were cooked using meat, some fruits and vegetables. This method, which is also seen in the Iranian cuisine, exists in the Turkish cuisine as well. The gender segregation among the Armenians was very similar to the one seen among the Muslims. Armenian women dressed similarly to Muslims in many places, but whether they covered their faces or not depended on the region (Günay, 2007, pp. 118-122). In general, one could not speak of women and men being together in each section of the Ottoman society. Lady Montague, who came to the Ottoman country in the 17th century, said that Armenians were jealous of their wives even more than the Turkish men were jealous of theirs, and added that she had never seen the Armenian woman, who was her neighbor (Lady Montaqu, t.y., p. 159). Armenians did the dividing up of inheritance just like the Muslims. Daughters were married off by giving them a dowry and the remaining sons were expected to cultivate the lands and orchards, and to continue the jobs of their fathers in some way. Therefore, girls received half the share of their brothers from inheritance. There are examples of this in the court registeries of Maraş (Akben, 1996, p. 269).

The Ottoman State collected the tax that the Armenians had to pay through the Patriarchate. The Patriarch had the sole authority in appointing their own tax collectors and he could confiscate the properties of those who did not comply with its orders (Artinian, 2004, p. 28). The state punished the culprits when complaints were received about the Armenian tax collectors collecting excessive taxes from the people (İ.MVL, 421/18470). After the 1850s, the Catholic and Protestant denominations spread rapidly among the Armenians. Although this subject was the most important issue of the Armenian society, it could not be resolved. The Armenians who lived in Anatolia accused the missionaries of confusing them with regards to religion and dividing the Armenian community (Burnaby, 2005, pp.99-100). Despite these reactions, sectarian changes in the Maraş Armenian community could not be prevented. Sometimes interesting situations emerged such that there were individuals belonging to three different denominations within the same family (Günay, 2007, p. 127).

The Maraş economy was based on animal farming and industry. This provided the basis for the city to have a lively commercial life. Armenians were very influential in trade in Maraş. The Armeinan in the city had a major role in trade and professions such as goldsmith, and they also worked in various service sectors such as agriculture, health, construction, dressmaking, milling, and masonry (Günay, 2007, p. 145).

There are incidents in Maraş which show that very strong relations had been established between the Armenians and Muslims. Coppersmith Master Ali became unable to work at his job after the Armenians left Maraş in 1921 because Artin, who was an Armenian master, taught him the details of the profession but did not show him how to melt the copper. Master Ali sent a message to Master Artin, who was in Aleppo, and asked him if he could teach him how to melt copper. Then Master Artin remembered how Master Ali and his family provided safety for them by hiding them at their houses during the war. So he wanted to pay back his duty of loyalty. He hosted Master Ali at his home in Aleppo secretly and he taught him the information related to the profession of coppersmith that was missing. Master Ali returned to Maraş and thanks to him, the profession of coppersmith became available again in the city (Günay, 2012, p. 277).


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