The Role Of The Church

The regulation called "Niz'mn'me-i Millet-i Ermeniy'n" (Regulation of the Armenian Nation), which reinforced the situation of the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire on 29 March 1863, and which granted some additional privileges and autonomy concerning their self-governance, became effective. According to the Islahat Ferm'ni (Firman of the Reforms) this regulation, which included some new provisions, that were additional to the present rights, was a reward that was granted to the Armenians, who were considered as the most loyal citizens of the state. The Armenian Patriarchate Assemblies prepared this regulation taking the consent of the Ottoman Government. With this regulation, immense privileges were granted to the Armenians.

This can be expressed as "a State in a state; governance in governance." In a way, with this regulation, the Armenians wanted to eliminate the aristocratic dominance of the Armenian nobles. In this period, the Gregorian Armenians lived in 26 Episcopal branches under the administration of their patriarch in Istanbul; and the Catholic Armenians, whose majority was in the cities, constituted 13 Episcopal branches under the administration of a Patriarch . Kagik Ozanyan, the Armenian writer, expressed that this regulation incites the revolutionary spirit among the Armenians and "The Armenian Question" was put on the agenda .


After the declaration of "Regulation of the Armenian Nation" in 1863 the Patriarchs started to work in the national and political environments. This regulation was considered as a step for autonomy. They hoped that if the European intervention expanded because of the Lebanon incidents, this intervention would be very beneficial for them. The revolts (1780-1862) that were started for an independent Armenia in the Ottoman Empire, did not became succesful .

The idea of creating an autonomous state in the Ottoman Empire belongs to Migirdiç Hirimyan (1869-1873). Migirdich Hirimyan, born in 1820 in Van, became Vartabed  to the Akdamar Church in 1854, at the age of 34; thus, he became the member of the church. He started to publish the newspapers: The "Eagle of Van", aiming at Armenian independence, was printed in the printing house he established in the Varak Monastery in Van; and "Eagle of Mus" was printed in the St. Garabed Monastery in 1863 in Mus. Hirimyan, who attracted attention through his sermons, was elected as the Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul in 1869 . His election as the Patriarch resulted in an increase in the national Armenian interests. As soon as he started to work he began his new job on these two principles:

a. To examine the "Regulation of the Armenian Nation" again and have it modified according to the demands and the needs of the provinces,

b. To attract the attention of the Armenians in Istanbul, the Assembly and the Government to Armenia.

The bankers, moneychangers and the officials did not approve and opposed these ideas of Hirimyan, whose aim was to pull Armenians into dangerous adventures. They believed that their future was united with Turkey. Consequently, Hirimyan could not obtain his objective as a Patriarch, and he had to resign in August 1873.

His predecessor Patriarch Nerses Varjabedyan (1874-1884) pursued the idea of Hirimyan. In 1876, Abdulhamid II ascended the throne and the First Constitutional Regime was declared. During the Istanbul Conference (12 December 1876- 20 January 1877), which was held to settle the Bulgarian issue, Nerses Varjabedyan submitted a report prepared by the ex-Patriarch Hirimyan to the British Ambassador Henry Elliot concerning the so-called pressures on the Ottoman Armenians. However, because it was not on the agenda of the conference, his initiative was successful .

Reports and the applications of complaints by the Patriarchate which started in the Hirimyan era increased after the problems of Christians in Thrace. If we examine the reports of violence given by the Patriarchate to the Sublime Porte and the European countries, it is easy to notice that most of them were nothing but common police incidents. On one hand, the Patriarchate was exaggerating the most common incidents and informing the government about them, on the other hand, the Patriarchate transformed these incidents into serious political issues; and started to inform the European countries about them.

Before 1877-1878 Ottoman-Russian War there were two alternatives for the Armenians:

a. To remain loyal to the Ottoman State and the Turkish people,

b. To follow the steps of the other Christian communities in the Empire and to provide the intervention of the European states.

Patriarch Nerses sent a letter to the British Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lord Salisbury on 13 April 1878. The letter is as follows:

"It is no longer possible for the Armenians and the Turks to live together. Only a Christian administration can provide the equality, justice and the freedom of conscience. A Christian administration should replace the Muslim administration. Armenia (Eastern Anatolia) and Kilikya , are the regions, where the Christian administration should be founded... The Turkish Armenians want this... That is, a Christian administration is demanded in Turkish Armenia, as in Lebanon."

The Patriarch visited the British Ambassador to Istanbul, Layard on 17 March 1878 and told him that: "A year ago we did not have any problems with the Ottoman administration. However the Russian victory has changed the situation now. We want an independent Armenia in the East. If you can not help us, we will apply to the Russians." When the ambassador asked him what he meant by "Armenia", the Patriarch said, "Van, Sivas, Diyarbakir and Cilicia". The ambassador said "Yes; but you do have not the majority in these places." The Patriarch replied "We know this. Yet Russia is gaining lands now. The balance of powers between Russia and the Ottoman Empire changed. We have to take our future into account."  Thus, he explained the objective of the Armenians.

Upon the peace request of the Ottomans, 1877-1878 Ottoman- Russian War ended on 31 January 1878 through the armistice concluded in Edirne , the terms of the peace agreement were settled in Ayastefanos (Yesilköy). During the peace negotiations in Ayastefanos (Yesilköy), Nerses Varjabedyan, in person and the Armenian notables negotiated with the Grand Duke Nikola, the head of the Russian delegation, the brother of the Tsar and they maneged to add an article concerning the Armenians. On 3 March 1878, the Ottoman State and Russia signed the Ayastefanos Agreement, which included heavy provisions. By stating the word "Armenia" in the 16th article of the agreement, the Ottoman State was forced to accept the presence of a state. However this agreement was not put into force. When Patriarch Varjabedyan heard that the Ayastefanos Agreement would be modified in Berlin, he started to initiate the activities among the states that would participate in the congress. Within the context of this objective, the Archbishop of Besiktas Horen Nar Bey went to Russia (St. Petersburg) and was received by Tsar Alexander II. Horen Nar Bey requested him to continue protecting the Ottoman Armenians and to defend their struggle in the Berlin Congress. A delegation under the chairmanship of the ex- Patriarch Hirimyan visited the capitals of Europe (Rome, Vienna, Paris, London) and started to propagate in order to gain the politicians consent for the Armenian Struggle (Hai Tahd). The delegation had a project comprising of 7 articles, which stated the Armenian demands for the purpose of establishing Armenia in Turkey .

In addition to those activities, patriarch Nerses Varjabedyan sent a letter to the president of the Manchester Armenian Committee, Karekin Papazyan , stating that they were grateful to Russia and thanks to Britain, they gained the hope and goals, which was to attain material and moral prosperity. He also visited the British Ambassador, Layard, in Istanbul on June 30. He reported that they had given the project to the congress and he requested that the British should support this project.

Additionally, Patriarch Nerses sent the falsified statistical figures of the church concerning the Armenian population in the big states.

As a result, this artificial problem, the 16th article of the Ayastefanos Agreement, was accepted as the 61st article of the Ayastefanos Agreement without many modifications on July 13, 1878. In this way, the Armenian question was established as the "Issue of Reforms", that would be implemented in the Ottoman State under the supervision of the big states.

Nuryaz Çeraz participated in the Berlin Congress with ex-patriarch Hirimyan as an interpreter-secretary and published a brochure in 1879, which says that for the Armenians there was no need to sink into despair because of the results obtained in the Berlin Congress. Nuryaz Çeraz addressed them as follows :

"The Berlin Congress laid down the foundations of the national structure (The Armenian State)...Europe gave us arms; we have to use them before they rust...We acquired a gold mine through the Berlin Congress. It is our duty to run it and mine the gold"

As it is seen in the brochure, the Armenians were proposing the armed action and it was also stated that the European countries were supporting them.

Patriarch Nerses Varjebedyan believed that the problem should be worked out by means of revolution and rebellion and he founded the "Reforms Commission" in the Patriarchate. Towards the mid 1879, the Commission sent a circular to the Episcopacies and invited the Armenians to the rebellion with one statement. This circular also included what the Armenian religious people in the provinces were supposed to do .

Meanwhile, the Archbishop Mateos Izmirliyan, the Deputy Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul, dealt with sending letters to the episcopacies. When these letters are examined, it is easy to see that the Patriarchate was unfaithful and the aim of the action pursued was to demolish the government to provide foreign intervention, eventually to obtain autonomy .

The Governor of Sivas province, Hakki Pasha attracted attention to the below mentioned issues in his article, published in 1881 and 1882, when the activities of the Patriarchate against the state were reported to the Ministry of Interior :

1. The Patriarchate started sending circulars which mention revolution and rebellion preparations, to the bishops.

2. The Patriarchate fired or killed some of the sensible old bishops, who did not obey the rules of the Patriarchate and who were of the opinion that it was in vain for the Armenians to revolt and rebel and that the Armenian people would experience harm. Young and revolutionist bishops and priests replaced them.

3. The Patriarchate was involved in the censure, which was the duty of the state, through sending secret circulars to the European states, in order to show that they had the majority in the "Six Provinces".

4. The Patriarchate propagated against the Turks and in favour of the Armenians in the European press, by collecting taxes using different names such as Famine Relief for the Armenians, payment of debts of Kudüs-ü ªerif and so forth. It tried to pretend to demonstrate the ordinary crimes as if they were the Armenian genocide. In short, it started a campaign based on the distorted incidents, fiction and slander.

5. The Patriarchate has hundreds of thousands liras (gold), which it collected from the Armenians under the pretence of "relief". The armed gangs, which disseminated from Russia to Eastern Anatolia, with the help of local guards and using some of this money started to terrorise.

6. The priests demolished the respect for the rules of the government and obedience through posioning the minds of the Armenian people even the little children in the Armenian schools.

7. The Patriarchate is providing financial assistance to the committees it had helped to establish. It is useful to mention that the committees are under the administration of the Patriarchate.

After the death of Nerses Varjabedyan in 1884, the Bishop of Erzurum, Haratyun Vehabedyan (1885-1888) was elected as Patriarch in 1885. Vehabedyan disapproved the policy pursued by Migirdiç Hirimyan and Nerses Varjabedyan and he believed that it was useless to hope for help from Europe for the reformation of the condition of Turkish Armenians.

During the age of Haratyun Vehabedyan, who was the Patriarch for three years, the Armenian rebellion committees were expanded and opened branches in Europe and in America. The Armenian Revolutionist Parties adopted the Armenian nationalism ideal along with the church, in other words, the ideal revolutionary movement demanding autonomy. "Armenagan", the first Armenian political party was founded in 1885 in Van. It was organised according to the model of its pioneers in Europe and had its own publication organ . In 1887, the Armenians founded their first Marxist party in Geneva. Later on they acquired the name "Hinçak Revolutionist Party" in 1890(20).

The Archbishop of Izmir Monastery, Horen Asikyan (1888-1894) replaced Haratyun Vehabedyan. During this period, the ordinary crimes in the provinces were exaggerated by the bishops and were reshaped and reflected to Europe as the "Turkish oppression and torture"(!).Their intervention was requested.

However, the Armenian committee members attempted to assassinate of Patriarch Horen Asikyan believing that he was not active enough for their cause. The Patriarch was only wounded and he resigned .

After Horen Asikyan, the Ex-Patriarch to Egypt, Mateos Izmirliyan was elected as the Armenian Patriarch to Istanbul (1894-1896). This boosted the morels of the Hinchaks. He employed officials and members, from the committees. Izmirliyan did not only disseminate the idea of revolution and rebellion but he also severely criticised the services provided by the government and he sent reports to the British Embassy and to the newspapers in London .

The rebellions, which took place in the period of Mateos Izmirliyan, started to expand rapidly to almost all the provinces . Thanks to the dexterity of Abdulhamid II, these rebellions were suppressed in a very short time. Izmirliyan resigned and went to Jerusalem. When he came back to Istanbul he was elected as Patriarch for the second time (1908-1909).


Following the proclamation of the Constitutional Regime on 23-24 July 1908, the Patriarchate became accomplice a full of the committees. Thus, the Armenian Church acquired its role in terror after the proclamation of the Constitutional Regime.

The report No 602 on 3 December 1910 sent by the Russian Consul to Bitlis to the Russian Embassy to Istanbul , was clearly showed the relationship between the church and the Tasnak members.

Following the "Incident of 31 March" in 1909, in Istanbul temporarily there was no government and this provided the opportunity, which the Armenians sought. With the encouragement of Armenian Archbishop to Adana, Museg, the Armenian rebellion took place on 14 April 1909, with the aim of obtaining the intervention of the European countries through attracting their attention to this and establishing the Armenian State in Adana, Maras, Mersin and Iskenderun with the assistance of the Hinchaks . During 13 days, approximately 20.000 Turks and Armenians died in Adana incidents. And the Bishop Museg escaped to Alexandria in the second day of the revolt.

In the same period, on 29 May 1909, the Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul, Mateos Izmirliyan, left to Istanbul to replace the Catholicos Post, Eçmiyazin, Migirdiç Hirimyan, who died on October 1907. Yegice Turhan replaced Mateos Izmirliyan (1909-1911) as the Patriarch . After this, Hovannes Arsaruni was elected for the Post of Patriarch (1912-1913).


The activities of the Armenian Patriarchate to divide the country, necessitated the modification of the rights, that were stated in the "Regulation of the Armenian Nation", granted by the Patriarchate and the State in 1863. With the "Regulation of Armenian Cathogicos and Patriarchate", which became effective on 10 August 1916, the two separate posts like Cathogicos, which is spiritual and superior, and Patriarchate, which is semi spiritual, semi political and administrative, were put together and the single post, Cathogicos - Patriarchate Post emerged. The two Cathogicoses (Sis and Akdamar) in the Ottoman State and the two Patriarchates (Istanbul and Jerusalem) were abolished. The only post, Katogigos-Patriarchate replaced them. Its location was not Istanbul, the political center of the state; but the religious centre of Christianity, Jerusalem. The changes were materialized in the assemblies of the Patriarchate. The General Assembly (Millî Meclis-i Umumî) comprised of 140 members was abrogated and the Religious Assembly (Meclis-i Ruhani) comprised of 12 persons and the Joint Assembly replaced it. The Ottoman State aimed at disconnecting the relation between the Cathogicos of Echmiyazin and Russia. Therefore, the Ottoman State tried to free the Ottoman Armenians from moral protection of Russia.

The Ottoman Empire was defeated in the World War I and the Entente Powers occupied its lands according to the provisions in the Armistice of Mondros, which was signed between the Entente Powers and the Ottoman Empire on 30 October 1918. Now, the time has come for the liberation of the country and the establishment of a new state, The Republic of Turkey.


The Armistice of Mondros was an important step for the Armenians to establish Armenia. Zaven Efendi, the Armenian Patriarch, came to Istanbul on 6 December 1918 in accordance with the Regulations in 1918 . He established an organisation to found the independent Armenia . He collected aids like guns, bullets and money, tried to find the necessary equipment and got considerable assistance from the Greek Patriarchate .

Bogos Nubar Pasha made an application to the Entente Powers on 30 November 1918, using the title of "the representative of Turkish Armenians" and he requested from the Entente Powers and the League of Nations to take Armenia under their protection . In the mean time, on 12 February 1919, the Patriarch Zaven Efendi went to Istanbul, Paris and then to London for the realisation of the same issue. First, he met Bogos Nubar Pasha and he enlightened him concerning issues; next Lord Cecil, Lord Curzon and his deputy Lord Harding. He also negotiated with French Chambon and the Greek Prime Minister Venizelos . He visited the British King George V to express the gratitude of the Armenians . While he was coming back from London to Paris he met with the French President and the Prime Minister and he came back with feelings of contentment and hope .

After the foundation of the Turkish Republic and the Lausanne Conference, there was no Armenian Question. The Armenian Church in Turkey opposed the initiatives of the Armenian Diaspora that would put Turkey into difficulty let alone pose problems. The Armenian Patriarch continued to react against the so-called Armenian genocide.

Therefore Dikran Kevorkan, the Chief of the Armenian Church in Kandilli said the following in the TV program, called Ceviz Kabugu on 7 October 2000 concerning the newly started propaganda within 6 months:

"The genocide and relocation (Tehcir) (the act of moving someone from somewhere) mean different things. The intrigues of the imperialists, the Armenian leaders with apolitical visions (media, churches, and the religious people) caused all these incidents. The Patriarch is the spiritual leader. It is a mistake to ask him about his political views. What could have they done the imperialist powers if had not supported ASALA and PKK?"

The idea of Kevorkan about the "assimilation" was as follows:

"Turkey is the only country, where the Armenians can preserve their identity freely and strongly. The Armenians, in the Diaspora abroad, change their names before they start their struggles, because in those countries an assimilation policy. The Armenians in the Diaspora against Turkey, know very well that in some of the churches in America the sacrifice ceremonies are fulfilled in English. The Armenians are forgetting their own language. When you say this, you are criticised. Therefore, we, the Armenian citizens of the Republic of Turkey, are expressing our grief. Why? Because it is unfair to act towards the Kuvay-i Milliye (Power of Nation), commanded by Ataturk. All these are the intrigues of the outsiders, including PKK, ASALA, and this decree. Those are the ruse of the outsiders. We, the citizens in Turkey, are of the opinion that this is unfair. If the Armenians are wise they should not let themselves be used as a tool."

REFERENCES: 1. Ilber Ortayli, Tanzimattan Cumhuriyete Yerel Yönetim Gelenegi, Istanbul 1985, pp. 73 2. Esat Uras,a.g.e.,pp.412 3. See Erdal Ilter, Ermeni Mes'elesinin Perspektifi ve Zeytun Isyanlari (1780-1880), Ankara 1988, pp.97-115 4. The spiritual ranks of the Armenian Church are as follows: Katogigos, Patriarch, Bishop, Vartabed, Priest. 5. Esat Uras, a.g.e., pp. 417; Louse Nalbandian, a.g.e., pp.53; Kamuran Gürün, a.g.e., pp. 62,74- 6. The word, Armenian means the Eastern Anatolia. However the word Armenia is accepted as the geographical term, not as an ethnic term, in the geographical scientific milieus. As from the XIII. Century, the name Armenia, which means "High/ Upwards/ Mountainous Region", did not occur by chance and until the second half of XIX. Century the region (Eastern Anatolia) was called "Turcoman Country". For more information see H. Kemal Türközü, Türmen Ülkesi (Dogu Anadolu) Adi Emperyalizmin Etkileri, Ankara 1985, pp. 1-12; Kamuran Gürün, a.g.e., pp. 1-9; Mehlika Aktok Kasgarli, a.g.e., pp.329; Tuncer Baykara, Anadolu'nun Tarihî Cografyasina Giris, Anadolu'nun Idarî Taksimati, 1, Ankara 1988, pp.24-25, 7. Esat Uras, a.g.e., pp.417; Salahi Ramsdan Sonyal, The Ottoman Armenians,pp.41 8. Kilikya is a region between Taurus Mountains, Amanos Mountains and the Mediterranean. In the administrative context, Adana province was called Kilikya in the Ottoman Empire. The borders of Kilikya has changed sometimes. 9. F.O. 424/70, No. 134/I zikr., Bilal N. ªimsir, British Documents On Ottoman Armenians 1856-1880), Vol. I, Ankara 19R2, pp.173. Document No. 69 10. Kamuran Gürün, a.g.e., pp. 99. 11. Nihat Erim, Devletlerarasi Hukuk ve Siyasi Tarih Metinleri: Osmanli Imparatorlugu Andlasmalari, Vol.1, Ankara 1953, pp.381-385. 12. For the whole of the project, see Esat Uras, a.g.e., pp.459-485; Enver Ziya Karal. A.g.e., Vol. VIII, pp.132; L' Angleterre et les Armeniens (18391904), pp.19-22. 13. For the text of the letter, see Esat Uras, a.g.e., pp.485-486. 14. Kamuran Gürün, a.g.e., pp.104. 15. Turkey No.4(1880). No.118/I. Zikr., Bilal N. ªimsir, a.g.e., pp.602-606, Document No.309.. 16. Mehmed Hocacioglu, Tarihte Ermeni Mezalimi ve Ermeniler, Istanbul 1976, pp.181-182. 17. For the essence of the letter, see Aspirations et Agissement Revolutionaires des Comites Armeniens..., pp.308-310. 18. Mehmet Hocaoglu, a.g.e., pp.182-185. 19. Louise Nalbandian, a.g.e., pp.90. 20. Louise Nalbandian, a.g.e., pp104-117. 21. Esat Uras, a.g.e., pp.724-725. For the threatening letter to Horen Asikyan, sent by the Hinçak Committee see Aspirations et Agissement Revolutionaires des Comites Armeniens..., pp.310-311 22. Hüseyin Nazim Pasa. Ermeni Olaylari Tarihi, I. Ankara 1994, pp.66. 23. For the chronological order of the rebellions see Kamuran Gürün, a.g.e., pp.139-159. 24. Esat Uras,a.g.e.,pp.833; Salahi Ramsdan Sonyel, a.g.e., pp.281. 25. Aspirations et Agissement Revolutionaires des Comites Armeniens..., pp.95-103. 26. For more information on 1909 Armenian incidents see Cemal Pasa Hatirat (1913-1922), Istanbul 1922, pp.249-256; Esat Uras a.g.e., pp.810-829; Mehmet Asaf, 1909 Adana Ermeni Olaylari ve Anilarim, yay. haz., Ismet Parmaksizoglu, Ankara 1982; Salahi R. Sonyal, "The Turco-Armenian Adana Incidents in the Light of Secret British Documents (July, 1908- December-, 1909), "Belleten, Number:20 i (Aralik 197), pp.1291-1338. 27. Jacques de Morgan, a.g.e.,pp. 369: Raymond H. Kevorkan-Paul B. Paboudjian, Les Armeniens dans L'Empire Ottoman, Paris 1992, pp.29. 28. Jacques de Morgan. A.g.e., pp.369. 29. BOA, DUIT, No. 67/1-I; for the French version of the Regulation see, Hrant Vartabed, L'Empire Ottoman et L'Independence de L'Eglise Armenienne, Publications de Dadjar, No. 2, Constantinople 1917, pp.80-94. 30. Zaven Efendi, who worked as bishop in Erzurum between 1898-1906, in 1910 in Van and between 1919-1913 in Diyarbakir, was elected the Armenian Patriarch to Istanbul. However because of his negative activities he was sent to Baghdad. Following the Mondros Armistice he came back to Istanbul. For more information see Christopher J. Walker, a.g.e., pp.426-427; and see Zeki Sarihan, Kurtulus Savasi Günlügü, I, Ankara 1993, pp.136-137. 31. M.Kemal Atatürk, Nutuk, I, 1919-1920, Istanbul 1967, pp.2; Selahattin Tansel, Mondros' tan Mudanya' ya Kadar, I, Anakara 1973, pp.106 32. Ergünöz Akçora, "Milli Mücadele Yillarinda Kurulmus Faydali ve Zararli Cemiyetler," TDTD, Number: 4 (April 1987), pp.20. 33. For the reference text of Bogos Nubar Pasha see Esat Uras, a.g.e., pp. 923-924. 34. Esat Uras, a.g.e.,pp. 943-944. 35. Esat Uras, a.g.e., pp.943-944 36. Esat Uras, a.g.e., pp.943-947