In the first years of the Ottoman Empire, Armenians were scattered as small princedoms and emirates. They were living as subjects of Iran, Byzantine Empire, Georgian and Seldjukian States and the other small emirates located generally in Cukurova, Eastern Anatolia and Caucasus regions.
The first relations of Armenians with Ottomans started in the western region of Anatolia, where Armenians were a small minority. After Bursa was made the capital city of the state by Osman Ghazi (Sultan Osman I) in 1324, most of the Armenians in Kutahya and the Armenian spiritual chieftain were transferred to this city.
Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, on his own initiative transferred Hovakim, the Armenian spiritual leader in Bursa, to Istanbul after he conquered Istanbul in 1453. In 1461, he had Armenian Patriarchate established as well as the Byzantine Greek Patriarchate, and he ensured Armenians to be controlled by this Patriarch. Following Sultan Selim's (Selim I) conquest of South Caucasia and Eastern Anatolia in 1514-1516, Armenians in this region were also included in the same congregation and were connected to Istanbul Patriarch.
Armenians, who received the attention of the Ottoman Empire, an attention, which they had never received in their history from any other state or any other ruler, became sincerely fond of the Ottoman State and the Turkish nation. Because of this reason, in a short time great numbers of Armenians immigrated to Istanbul from various places, and formed a big community. Thus, they became one of the world's most prosperous communities.
In a period of three hundred and fifty years from Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror to Sultan Mahmut II, religious and social affairs of Christians, as well as the Armenians, were certainly not interfered with. Many schools, printing-houses and libraries were established with the help of Armenian bankers (then called Amira), merchants and civil officials. In addition, many Armenian young men were sent to European universities and schools to be educated in various fields and learn art. Nevertheless, Armenians living under Russian rule were not given these rights at that period.
Armenian Patriarch Nerses stated, in his letter, to the Citizenship Assembly Council in 1876 that "If by any chance the Armenian nation has been preserved as a nation and if it is preserving its beliefs, its church, language, history and cultural values, all these are due to the protection, help and benevolence shown by the Turkish government to the Armenian nation. Fate bounds Armenians to Turks. Because of this, Armenians can not remain indifferent during wars and hardships facing the state. On the contrary, they are obliged to help the state as they have always done. The Armenian who loves his homeland and who will help the state, will receive the best service of his own nation."
As it is seen in the statement above, the Armenian Patriarch says that the Armenians under Turkish rule have preserved their identities and he thanks for the rights offered by the Ottoman State.
The Ottoman State announced the reforms to be made in Gulhane Decree but non-Muslims were not pleased with these new rights given. Non-Muslims were obliged to do military service and they could also charged with official duty or attend civil and military schools. As a result of this, Armenians had the government ratify the Armenian Nation Regulations, which came into force in 1863 and consisted of 99 articles.
Armenians were always treated first class citizens as the other non-Muslims were. They did not do military service, furthermore, they gained important positions in society and became rich especially by obtaining key points in commercial life.
Armenians' fidelity towards the Ottoman State, their adaptation of Turkish customs and even their speaking Turkish well ensured Armenians to be appointed to high and responsible positions of the state. With regard to this fact, in the 16th century, there were statesmen who were promoted to the post of vizier like Mehmet Pasha of Armenian origin. In the 18th century, there were palace jewelers and later Ministers of Mint from the Duzyan family of Divrik and palace doctors from Sasyan family. In the 19th century, there were Ministers of Mint from Bezciyan family and Ministers of Powder-mill from Dadyan family. Also, there were Armenian foreign affairs officials and ministers in the 19th century and Abdulhamid period and so on. In addition, many Armenians worked as counselors to Ottoman statesmen.
The Armenian community always lived in a tolerant and free environment, like all the other minorities and non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire. They were not a community which was exposed to a massacre as claimed but a community who held important positions and practiced important professions in every level of state administration.
Perhaps the most striking statements about Ottoman-Armenian relations were submitted in person by the Armenian community in Turkey. Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II used the expressions below in his speech in the reception in Hilton Hotel on May 22, 1999:
"We are at the brink of the third millenium. We are preparing to celebrate the beginning of a new period in the History of Humanity. I think that this is a great chance for all of us. The chance of designating our future with the dreams of unity of cultures and nations...
Respect to human life and individual rights and freedoms, and a world lawful and far away from all types of violence are common aspirations for all of us.
This milestone in front of us is offering not only a unique opportunity but also a difficult test. The second millenium, which we are preparing to leave behind, is full of tragic events.
However, among the ones we left behind there are also many events which we will always remember with respect and celebrate with pleasure in the coming milleniums.
As we celebrate today...
The foundation of Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate is an unique event in the history of world.
Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror's converting the Armenian episcopalism in Western Anatolia into Istanbul Patriarchate with a firman in 1461, eight years after he conquered Istanbul, is a clear example of his and Ottoman Empire's future vision and tolerance they showed to all religions.
In history, it has never been seen neither before Mehmed nor after him that a ruler who is a disciple of a certain religion establish a spiritual presidency for the disciples of an another religion.
If we consider present tensions in the world and especially the wars in our neighbors in the eve of a new millenium, I suppose we can comprehend better the value of this event, which occurred 538 years ago and the importance of tolerance between religions and cultures.
With pleasure and gratitude, we commemorate Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror who offered a new life for the Armenian community within the borders of the Empire according to their own customs and practice, the statesmen who served the country following Mehmed's steps, and our 83 patriarchs, beginning with the first Istanbul Armenian Patriarch appointed in 1461, Hovagim of Bursa, all of whom served this position faithfully.
We, Turkish Armenians, as being the most crowded Christian community living in Turkey celebrate 75th year of our country with enthusiasm, we sincerely believe in the bright future of Republic of Turkey and we have great expectations for future."
Agop Gircikyan First ambassador of Ottoman Empire (Paris) counselor of Reshid Pasha. Chargé d'affaires of Ottoman Empire's Embassy for Paris (1834 -) Krikor Agaton Ottoman Post-Telephone-Telegraph General Manager (1864) Employee in Foreign Affairs Ministry (1848 - 1850)
Sahak Abro General Secretary of Foreign Affairs Ministry (1850 - ) Sebuh Laz Secretary in Minas-Paris Turkish Embassy (1863) Krikor Odyan Foreign Affairs Judgement Manager (1870) Serkis Efendi Confidential Secretary in Foreign Affairs (1870 - 1871) Ovakim K. Reisyan Court Chairman of Vize Town in Istanbul (1879)/ Preparatory Artin Dadyan Pasha Foreign Affairs Undersecretary (1880 Diran Aleksan Bey Turkish Ambassador for Belgium (1862) Post Telephone Telegraph Inspector Yetvart Zohrab Efendi Ambassador for London (1838 - 1839) Hirant Duz Beg Mesine (Italy) Ambassador (1900 - 1907) Hovsep Misakyan Efendi Ambassador in La Haye (1900 - 1907) Sarkis Balyan Turkish Consulate in Montenegro and Italy (1900 - ) Azaryan Manuk Efendi Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Kapriyel Noradunkyan Minister of Foreign Affairs in Gazi Ahmet Muhtar Pasha's Cabinet (1912) Agop Kazazyan Pasha Minister of Finance / Minister of Treasure of Property Mikael Portukal Pasha Ministry of Finance Counselor (1886- General Director of Ziraat Bank/ Minister of Civil List(1891) Sakiz Ohannes Pasha General Secretary of Foreign Affairs Ministry (1871) Minister of Treasure of Property (1897) Garabet Artin Davut Pasha Ambassador for Vienna (1856 - 1857)/ Governor of Lebanon (1861) Minister of Post Telephone Telegraph and Public Works Ministries (1868) Krikor Sinapyan Minister of Public Works Krikor Agaton Post Telephone Telegraph General Manager (1864) Jorj Serpos Efendi Turkey Telegraphs General Secretary (1868) Osgan Mardikyan Minister of Post Telephone Telegraph Ministry (1913) Tomas Terziyan Lecturers in School of Civil Servants Nisan Gugasyan Lecturers in School of Civil Servants Tavit Ciraciyan Lecturers in School of Civil Servants Krikor Zohrab Members of Istanbul in Parliament Bedros Hallaciyan Members of Istanbul in Parliament
REFERENCES: 1)Türk Devleti Hizmetinde Ermeniler (1453 - 1953), Rahip Komidos Çarkciyan, Istanbul, 1953 2)British Documents on Ottoman Armenians (4 volumes), 1983, 1989, 1990, Türk Tarih Kurumu 3) Osmanli Idaresinde Ermeniler, Nejat Göyünç, 1983 4)Tarih Boyunca Türklerin Ermeni Toplumu ile Iliskileri Sempozyumu.Atatürk Üniversitesi.1985 5)Türk Tarihinde Ermeniler (Tebligler ve Panel Konusmalari). 9 Eylül Üniversitesi.1985 6)Osmanli Ermenileri. Bilal Simsir.1986 7)Osmanli Arsivleri ve Ermeni Sorunu,Türkkaya Ataöv, 1989