TURCO-ARMENIAN RELATIONS

 

Throughout history, hundreds, thousands...millions of people lived on these lands. At times, their existence was marked by battles, and at others, peace reigned over them. The Armenians too, were among the inhabitants of these lands. They were ruled by the Persians, the Macedonians, the Seleucids, the Romans, Partians, Byzantines and Arabs...were constantly exiled from one region to the other, and were accorded third-class citizenship until the Turks gained sovereignty over Anatolia, in 1071. After this date, fighting gradually diminished and Byzantine persecution left its place to the just, tolerant, humanitarian and unifying beliefs and traditions of the Seljuks.

The years of peace and calm enjoyed by Armenians under the hegemony of the Seljuks reached a climax under the rule of the Ottomans...a period that can be defined as the 'Golden Age'... Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, who put an end to Byzantine rule, allowed the foundation of the Armenian Patriarchate, an unprecedented move for the Armenians to whom he granted freedom of conscience and faith. The transformation of the Armenian Episcopate in Western Anatolia to the Istanbul Patriarchate, following a decree he issued in 1461, is clear evidence of the vision and tolerance displayed by Mehmed and of the subsequent Ottoman Sultans toward other faiths.

As a matter of fact, the present day Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II was according due rights to those who in turn had taken a similar stand toward the Armenians throughout their 'Golden Age' by saying: " We can duely grasp the significance of tolerance between different religions and cultures, as well as the value of this incident dating back to 538 years, by taking into account the tensions witnessed throughout the world on the threshold of a new millennium, the ongoing wars beyond our borders in particular."

Following the reign of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, Turco-Armenian relations continued excellently until the end of the 19th century. In fact, Armenians were by far, the greatest beneficiaries of the opportunities offered by the Ottoman Empire to all industrious, efficient, honest and productive subjects of the non-muslim communities. Being exempted from the military service and to a great extent from taxation, the Armenians had the opportunity to make headway in trade, agriculture, craftsmanship and administration, and by reason of their loyalty to the Empire, as well as their ability to intermingle with other subjects, they had duely attained the title of 'loyal people'.