Chapter IV


Amiras, individually and collectively, wielded such great power that they dominated the national life of the Armenian millet during the entire period under consideration in this study. Their connections with Ottoman officialdom and positions within the government, on the one hand, and their economic wealth and financial means, on the other, formed the sources of this power. We have already examined their role in the Ottoman central administration and economy. Now we turn our attention to their role in the Armenian millet. It would not be an exaggeration to state that from 1770 [1] to 1840 they were all-powerful.

The center of all aspects of Armenian life was the patriarchate, located in Istanbul. Control of this institution meant mastery over the entire millet within the boundaries of the empire. Therefore, amiras strove, and generally succeeded in bringing this central national institution under their dominance. The most efficient and immediate way to reach this goal was the use of their economic power, which manifested itself in many areas of activity.

  One of the uses of this economic weapon was in charities. In the spirit of the times, amiras donated large amounts for philanthropic and charitable purposes. For instance, in 1829 Harutiun Amira Bezdjian gave 100, 000 kuruş (piastres) for distribution to the poor. A few years later, in 1832, a special fund was set up through Bezdjian’s efforts, [2] in order to institutionalize assistance to the needy and destitute. The fund was administered by a thirty-six member body, called Tnangats Matakararutiun, “Assistance to the Homeless. This committee or council was comprised of six “classes” or categories, each of which was headed by one or two prominent amiras and included well-known artisans. Each guild contributed a determined amount to this body through its representatives. The committee dispensed money to the poor, the orphans, helpless old people, the mentally retarded, and even contributed to the dowry of poor brides. In addition, it allocated financial aid to schools in need, and helped alleviate the financial burden of the patriarchate. Naturally, even as they were helping the poor on an individual basis, or collectively through the administrative committee, amiras were enhancing their image in the millet as benefactors and philanthropists.


As part of their philanthropic activities, amiras built several hospitals. As early as 1743, a hospital was constructed at Narli Kapu. In 1794, Mgrditch Amira Miridjanian contributed a large sum for the repair of this hospital. During the same year he paid for the construction of a hospital in Pera. [3] The outstanding institution of this kind was (and remains) the large Surb Prkitch Azgayin Hivandanots (St. Savior National Hospital) which is still used by the Armenian community of Istanbul. This hospital, too, was built thanks to Harutiun Amira Bezdjian’s initiative and financial generosity. Its construction started in 1832 and took two years to complete. Built on a large parcel of land, over 4, 000 cubit, it cost more than 4, 000 purses, a sum equivalent to 20, 000 Ottoman gold coins, or 460, 000 francs (at 1887 currency rates). [4] This large hospital included not only the buildings devoted to medical use, but also an orphanage, a home for the aged and a section for the mentally ill.

Bezdjian Amira, who enjoyed the respect and admiration of all, managed to mobilize all the other amiras in the financing of the hospital. Among them, to mention just one instance, Baghdasar Amira Tcheraz donated 60, 000 kuruş while his daughter contributed another 30, 000 kuruş. [5] The architects of the building were Garabed Amira Balian and his brother-in-law Hovhannes Amira Serverian, while the general supervisor was Mikayel Amira Pishmishian. Hagop Çelebi Diuzian represented Bezdjian so far as the specifications of the project were concerned. Bezdjian himself died before the project was completed.

The hospital was supervised by various amiras. The first to manage the institution was Bezdjian’s trusted friend Pishmishian Amira who bought parcels of land adjacent to the hospital thus enlarging it. More importantly, he obtained permission to manufacture candles in the hospital for the Armenian churches, monasteries and convents, an activity that had been a monopoly of the Muslim evkaf ministry until then. The proceeds from the sale of candles were to benefit the hospital. [6] The institution flourished during the supervision of Boghos Amira Dadian who, not only further enlarged the hospital, but transferred to it the allocation of meat and bread the Sultan had granted to his family; furthermore, he donated between 50 and 60, 000 kuruş annually. [7]

In addition to charities and philanthropy, most amiras were active in the field of education. The first Armenian secular school was opened at Kum Kapu, in 1790, thanks to the financial contribution of the enlightened amira, Mgrditch Amira Miridjanian. This school served as a model; soon many others were established in various parts of Istanbul. Miridjanian founded two additional schools himself, one at Langa and the other at Balat, two districts with heavy Armenian populations. In recognition for his educational and cultural endeavors Patriarch Zakaria officially bestowed upon him the attribute “Shnorhali, meaning “full of grace; he was later to be known as Shnorhk Mgrditch Amira. [8]

Many amiras followed Shnorhk Amira’s example; yet no one built more schools and donated more money than Harutiun Amira Bezdjian. In 1820, Harutiun Amira financed the construction of a professional school of embroidery (in Turkish dival or düval and suzen) for girls at Kum Kapu; [9] this was the first school of its kind. Almost all the ecclesiastical vestments for the Armenian clergy were prepared at this school. In 1826 the school founded by Shnorhk Amira at Kum Kapu was burnt down; Bezdjian financed its reconstruction in 1830. It was renamed after Bezdjian. In 1832 Bezdjian paid for the opening of a school at Eyyup. During the same year, thanks to his financial largesse, a school was built at Kanli Kilise. This school was sponsored by the esnaf, guild, of mehanacis or tavern keepers, who provided its annual budgets. The opening of two other schools was also financed by Bezdjian: a school for boys, called Boghosian after his father, and another for girls, Varvarian, so named after his mother. To guarantee income for the yearly budgets of these two schools Bezdjian amira donated 250, 000 kuruş as an inviolable endowment with the proviso that its proceeds would be used only by the school. Furthermore, in collaboration with Djanig Amira Papazian (or Simonian), Bezdjian financed in 1830 the construction of two schools for girls (Sts. Hripsimiants and Sts. Gayianiants), and two schools for boys (St. Etjmiadzin and St. Lusavoritch) in the Kernavulo and Skordella sections of Pera. Moreover, two water fountains were built near each school, and the expense of their construction was shared by Bezdjian Amira and Garabed Amira Balian. [10]

The individual who founded the greatest number of schools after Bezdjian was Hovhannes Amira Dadian. In 1844, he established a school named Ardzruni at Makri Köy (or Bakir Köy) for the Armenian inhabitants of that locality almost all of whom worked at the nearby canon works. [11] In 1847, he founded a school for boys and another for girls at Narli Kapu. In 1851, he paid for the construction of a school named Dadian, after his family, at Azadli. The annual expenses of this school as well as the others were either financed by him or a member of his family. To defray the budgetary expenditures of the Dadian school at Azadli he willed two houses and a store to the institution. In addition to these, many schools were established in the villages and towns in close proximity to Istanbul as well as a school at Izmit thanks to Hovhannes Amira’s financial contributions. [12]

Among amiras who emulated Bezdjian, the most striking figure is Mgrditch Amira Djezayirlian who, with some assistance from Harutiun Amira Nevruzian, established the St. Nersisian school for boys and girls at Hasköy, in 1836. Later, he founded the Nersisian Society to lend moral and financial support to the school, which was perhaps the largest educational institution of the time, with a total enrollment of 600 pupils. It is worth mentioning that this school, unlike the others, had a mixed student body. When the school faced financial difficulties, Djezayirlian came to its rescue by contributing 10, 000 kuruş monthly until this progressive school was closed in 1843 as a consequence of conservative opposition to its liberal curriculum. Many Armenians objected to coeducational schools on principle, while the more ignorant members of the populace ccnsidered science as magic and satanic learning. [13]

Unlike his fellow amiras who were content to contribute to schools and churches, Djezayirlian paid for the education of a number of promising and bright young Armenians in European universities. Many of these western-educated young men reached high positions in the government and became leaders of the millet. Suffice it to mention here that one of these university graduates, sponsored by Djezayirlian Amira, Krikor Aghaton (1823-1868), became the first Armenian to be appointed vezir by the Sultan, when in 1848 he was named Minister for Public Works. [14] Had not sudden misfortune struck him down to the level of poverty, this enlightened amira could have contributed much more to the educational field. Later writers gave him the attribute usumnaser, “supporter of education. [15]

Most other amiras made a contribution to schools in one way or another. Hovhannes Çelebi Diuzian, at Bezdjian’s suggestion, established two schools, one at Galata and another at Kartal, two districts in Istanbul. It was thanks to such widespread support for education by amiras that a school was erected next to each church in Istanbul during the days of Patriarch Hovhannes Tchamasherdjian (1802-1813). [16] According to Archag Alboyadjian’s usually reliable estimates, there were twenty-four Armenian elementary schools in Istanbul by 1847. During the next decade this number increased by eighteen more, reaching a total of forty-two, including two colleges and two high schools. The total enrollment of these schools was 5, 531, while the number of teachers was 197. [17] A number of amiras not only provided the initial funds for the construction of these schools, but endowed them with revenue-producing properties or interest-bearing large liquid capital to pay for the operating expenses, as is demonstrated by the instances already cited.

There were also those who, after the construction of a school and their support of its operational expenses for a year or two, would relinquish their financial sponsorship to others. Thus, the school at Langa was supported by the guild of jewelers, the one at Top Kapu was sponsored by the guild of muslin manufacturers (tülbendci in Turkish), the one at Yeni Mahalle in Samatya district was financed by the guilds of merchants who did business with Europe (in Turkish Avrupa tüccari) and by the merchants of tobacco (in Turkish tütünci and tömbekci). [18]

  Finally the amiras’ attention was not restricted to the capital. As already mentioned, Hovhannes Amira Dadian made large contributions to schools outside of Istanbul. In 1858 Boghos Amira Dadian and Garabed Amira Balian donated the sum of 180, 000 kuruş for the construction of a boarding school in Jerusalem, adjacent to St. James convent.

The most historic step in the educational endeavors of amiras was their decision to support the opening of a college, known as the Djemaran, in 1836. As we shall see later in this chapter, this school was to become an object of dispute and strife in the Armenian community of Istanbul, culminating in the adoption of a constitution for the millet.

In addition to education, many amiras demonstrated great interest in the advancement of culture. Shnorhk Amira Miridjanian, the founder of the first secular school, set up a new printing establishment adjacent to St. Mary church at Kum Kapu. More than half a dozen religious books were published by the presses of this printing shop under the supervision of a notable scholar of the time, Madteos Dpir. [19] Another printing establishment was founded by Apraham Terziants Amira at Hasan Pasha Khan where during its two years of existence (from 1824 to 1826) some ten books, mostly of religious nature, were published. The colophons of these books reveal the generosity of this amira who paid for the printing expenses of all the books, until death put an end to his publishing zeal. [20] Moreover, the books were freely distributed in the provinces for the enlightenment of the people there. [21] A number of other amiras sponsored the publication of books. Bezdjian paid for the publication of a scholarly work entitled Parskahay Bargirk, “Persian-Armenian Dictionary, by Badueli Kevork. [22] These books published or sponsored by amiras were of religious, didactic or pedagogic nature.

The exception was Hovhannes Amira Dadian. No amira had been so keenly interested and so dedicated to the publication of books designed for the education of the common people. Dadian Amira made major contributions to the twin Mekhitarist institutions in Venice and in Vienna. Being an ardent student of Armenian history, he commissioned the Mekhitarist scholar cleric Hovsep Katerdjian to write a three-volume “Universal History, the first two volumes of which were published in Vienna, in 1849 and 1852. (The third volume, dealing with the modern period, was never written, for unknown reasons) [23]. Upon his recommendation, several copies of an atlas in Armenian were prepared by the Mekhitarist scholar Arsen Aydenian, each copy costing over five hundred gold francs. He also commissioned the versatile and talented Mekhitarist cleric Ghevont Alishan, a great geographer, to write a two-volume geography, which was published in Venice in 1853. The history and geography books were intended for the use of Armenian students and laymen. Hovhannes Amira donated many valuable books to various schools, including the seminary at Armash.

Some amiras initiated and organized cultural societies as a vehicle to support education and to raise the level of common people. Djezayirlian’s Nersisian Society has already been mentioned. The first amira to establish such a society was Hovhannes Çelebi Diuzian who, in 1812, founded the Arsharuniats Society. The goal of this society was to enhance the propagation of Armenian culture. The society’s existence was short, from 1812 to 1820, yet during this period it helped in the publication of two periodicals, Eghanak Biuzantean, “Byzantine Season” (1803-1820), and Ditak Biuzantean, “Byzantine Observer” (1812-1816), both published by the Mekhitarists. [24] Hovhannes’s son, Hagop Çelebi, financed the publication of the journal Evropa, “Europe, by the Mekhitarists of Vienna. Hovhannes Amira Dadian lent financial support to the Siuneats Society of Izmir (or Smyrna), established there in 1841. The society’s aim was to help Armenian schools of the city by providing not only financial assistance but also educational materials, such as maps, laboratory utensils and instruments, etc. The Dadians bought fifteen subscriptions, each at 50 kuruş per annum; more importantly, Hovhannes Amira donated to the society expensive mathematical instruments, worth over fifteen thousand kuruş, to be distributed to schools. [25]

In general, one may discern in the motives of amiras, aside from pride and self-glorification, a concerted effort to educate the common people, especially the young generation. Their intention was to increase the literacy of the Armenian people, both in order to assist them to acquire Western technical skills and professions, and to encourage the spread of Armenian culture and literature. The educational drive, spearheaded by such enlightened figures as Shnorhk Amira Miridjanian, Harutiun Amira Bezdjian, Hovhannes Amira Dadian, and most progressive of them all, Mgrditch Amira Djezayirlian, aimed at eradicating centuries of ignorance and illiteracy, as well as bringing some measure of economic well-being.

The increased literacy and numeracy, which the relatively early creation of these schools made possible among the Armenian population of Istanbul (and Izmir), played a major role in improving the economic position of Armenians. No single example illustrates this so well as that provided by Mgrditch Amira Djezayirlian, who, upon being appointed gümrük emini or “chief of customs, began a systematic policy of placing Armenians in clerical and other bureaucratic positions in the customs services. One source estimates the number of employees placed by Djezayirlian at 20, 000. [26] It would, I believe, be a mistake to attribute such an action to mere chauvinism. Djezayirlian was working in the 1830s and 1840s, at a time when efforts headed by other Armenians were striving to bring about some measure of westernization in the Ottoman Empire–in its industries and its bureaucracies. As more recent experience with the westernization of the developing countries has shown, one of the chief obstacles to the rapid achievement of such an objective is the absence of trained personnel. In the Ottoman Empire, the amiras’ generosity in endowing schools was responsible in large measure for the early training of many ordinary Armenians in the basic skills of industrial civilization. There were, of course, Turks who had such training, but they constituted a relatively tiny proportion of the Turkish population, and doubtlessly preferred the army and sections of the higher bureaucracy. In situations such as those provided by the customs bureaucracy, the bilingual and multilingual Armenians offered their familiarity with commerce as an added qualification for the job.

While contribution to the educational and cultural fields was a rather recent development, construction and repair of churches were old and traditional practices of the rich since the disappearance of the medieval nakharar dynasties. In keeping with the centuries-old custom, amiras devoted themselves to religious charities; the building of a new church or the reconstruction of an old convent represented the best expressions of religiosity, charity and faithfulness to the church. Many an amira sponsored the erection of a church, and a number of them, like the Dadians, the Balians, and especially Bezdjian, built several. Bezdjian alone financed the construction or repair of a dozen churches; [27] the Balians were the architects as well as the donors of a number of churches. [28]

Many new churches were built through the generosity of single amiras. To cite but a few: Misak Amira Misakian financed the building of two churches, one at Boyaci köy, near Rumeli Hisar (1840) and another, through a bequest in his will, at Emirgün (1857); [29] Harutiun Amira Noradungian defrayed the cost of the reconstruction of the church at Kadi köy (1814); [30] Garabed and Kevork Karakehya Eramian brothers paid for the construction of a church at Böyükdere (1848); [31] Garabed Amira Aznavurian sponsored the building of a new church at Narli Kapu (1807). [32] According to one source sixteen churches were either built or repaired during the short span of time between 1831 and 1839. [33]

The cost of these constructions and repairs was extremely high. Actual figures are not available, but contemporary sources continuously repeat that the construction of one or another church cost great sums. We have already mentioned the case of the reconstruction of the patriarchate and its adjoining three churches which cost three million kuruş, although to be sure this was an exceptional case. A more representative one is that of St. Mary’s church at Ortaköy. In 1824 Bezdjian Amira donated 100, 000 kuruş to the church to repay its debts, most probably incurred as a result of some repairs.

As important as funding the construction of a church was, the procurement of the official ferman or authorization needed to undertake the work. One had to be prepared “for great financial sacrifices” and demonstrate “exceptional skills to wrest the necessary ferman. [34] In general, acquiring a ferman for the construction or repair of a church would take years and large amounts of money, and yet such permissions were indispensable because the Ottoman government was particularly unwilling to permit the building of new churches. Thanks to their access to the Palace and to Ottoman officialdom, amiras were able to get the fermans relatively faster than the norm. Contemporary accounts continuously refer to the amira who had managed to obtain the ferman for the repair or erection of a church. For example, Davrijetsi mentions that Hoca Ruhitjan obtained a ferman for the repair of churches and monasteries ruined or damaged by the earthquake of 1648 in Van. [35] As to the cost, sources are either tactfully silent or give no specific details.

As the Armenian population of Istanbul increased, the need for new places of worship became acute. Until the mid-nineteenth century the church was more than a house of God; it was the center of all community life. In the early periods, new churches were usually built on the sites of old ones. In the 1800s new churches were erected in new quarters and districts with Armenian populations. This expansion mostly occurred during Mahmud II’s reign, partly as a result of his tolerance towards the non-Muslim millets, especially the Armenians, and partly thanks to the amiras’ persevering efforts. Amiras recognized the impact that the erection or repair of a church would have on their coreligionists. A few of them might have contributed out of piousness and religious belief, but most tried to enhance their prestige and influence in the millet.

At least two amiras, Bezdjian and Dadian, seem to have had a finer sense of noblesse oblige and a finer diplomatic sense. They made contributions to the other millets besides their own. Bezdjian contributed a large sum to the construction of a church at Galata for the Armenian Catholic millet, in 1831, [36] and to another at Yeni Kapu for the Greek millet, [37] while Hovhannes Amira Dadian donated money for the building of two churches for Greeks, one at Zeytinburnu and the other at Azadli. [38] Patronizing other millets, they seem to have been acting neither from ecumenical nor philanthropic concerns. Their acts were intended first to raise their prestige beyond the limits of their own millet, and secondly, to help develop better relations between the Armenian millet, of which they were the leaders, and the other two millets. [39]

At the time, churches were under the authority of mütevellis, “executors of the will. According to the sharia, the Islamic law, when a property or institution was built or bequeathed for religious or charitable purposes (in Islamic terminology, made vakf or vakif), it was to be managed by or entrusted to a mütevelli, charged with carrying out the donor’s stipulations. Under Ottoman rule, churches, as religious institutions, were vakfs and, therefore, were supposed to have their mütevellis. Without delving into the legal ramifications and nuances of this system suffice it to mention that the mütevellis of Armenian churches were appointed for life by the Patriarch and sanctioned officially by the government. The Patriarch was the chief mütevelli of all millet institutions and properties which fell under vakf rules. [40]

As a general rule, the Patriarch would appoint an amira mütevelli for a specific church, choosing him from a list of candidates submitted to him by the council of amiras. The mütevelli, in his turn, appointed his deputy, vekil, whose term of office was limited to three years and who was accountable to him. The mütevelli also appointed a body comprised of four to twelve members, called ekeghetspan, literally “guardian of the church, whose main function was to look after the affairs of the church, in a supervisory capacity. The tenure of this body was also three years. The appointments of the mütevelli, who would make his selection from a list of candidates submitted by his vekil, were confirmed by a Patriarchal bull.

Although the report submitted by the ekeghetspans was to be approved by the Patriarch, the mütevelli was the ultimate authority in his church. The vekil, the ekeghetspans and other officials of the church were all accountable to him. The mütevelli’s accountability to the Patriarch was more of a formality than a regulation of some consequence, since he was appointed for life, unless he committed a major fraud; in such a case the Patriarch would remove him from office with the concurrence of the amira council. Many an amira-müteveilli abused his authority and misused the office entrusted to him to benefit financially. Popular discontent and protest, however, could not force his removal.

Armenian writers have frequently mentioned the office of mütevelli, but none has focused any attention on it, except for one student of the topic who has pointed out the arbitrary and capricious nature of the authority vested in the office holder:

whenever the mütevelli was a man of great influence, which happened quite frequently, there was no limit to his rule or caprice. He would run the church and the institutions connected with it with his own men; nobody dared ask an accounting from him. As the properties of the church were [recorded] in the name of the mütevelli, he was practically free from any responsibility; it is easy to see how, under the mütevelli system, abuses were committed and covered up. [41]

In addition to possible financial “rewards, the office of mütevelli served as a power base for many amiras. Control over a church was translated, in practical terms, into great influence, if not rule, over a segment of the community. The combination of economic power and connections within the government turned the mütevelli-amira into an unchallengeable leader. The church, if one is allowed to use a medieval term, was the fief of the mütavelli-amira. Only in 1847 was a first attempt made to reform the system, and the Armenian constitution of 1860 eventually abrogated the system in a special article relating to the Economic Council. [42]

As was stated earlier in this chapter, Armenian national life evolved around the Patriarchate. The institution was a creation of the Ottoman state. The Patriarch was both the spiritual and civic leader of the entire Armenian population of the empire. As milletbaşi, head of the millet, the Patriarch ranked equal to a pasha. His investiture came directly from the sultan through the issuance of an imperial ferman. The Patriarch was personally responsible for the administration of his millet. As a corollary to this responsibility, he enjoyed complete jurisdiction over the Armenian millet, that is over its religious, charitable and educational institutions. Within the patriarchal premises, he had his own court and prison, where he could try all cases except those involving “public security and crime. The Patriarch wielded such power that

a note from him to the Porte was quite sufficient ... to procure the banishment of any individual, whether an ecclesiastic or layman, the mere word of the Patriarch being taken as sufficient to establish the guilt of the accused. [43]

Because of this power over their lives, people dreaded the Patriarch, as an eyewitness vividly put it:

In those days the name of the patriarch caused terror in the capital, when the bailiff came to an Armenian and said ‘the vekil Holy Father would like to see you, the man was so petrified that his saliva dried in his mouth. Then the bailiff pulled the man by a big chain around his neck through the streets like a bull-dog and took him to the Patriarchate. No one dared to interfere. At the Patriarchate the vekil, with whom no one could joke, told the man to lie down on his stomach, and personally delivered twenty-five to thirty lashes on his back. [44]

Finally, the Patriarch, as milletbaşi, was granted many privileges, such as the right to own properties, to be exempt from taxation, along with the fifteen members of his staff, and to appoint tax collectors for the collection of state taxes from members of his millet, since he was personally responsible for the payment of his millet’s tax which amounted to one hundred thousand akçe.

As in the case of secular matters, the Patriarch exercised total control over the clergy. He was empowered by church custom to appoint and to remove clerics from office, and by the sultan’s ferman to exile and to imprison clerics at all the levels of ecclesiastical hierarchy, from the deacon to the highest ranking bishop. Furthermore, the katholikoi of Sis (Cilicia) and Aghtamar were subordinate to him in administrative matters, even though they ranked higher in the church hierarchy. For a short period in the late sixteenth century, during Ottoman rule over the Caucasus, even the katholikos of All Armenians at Etjmiadzin depended on the Patriarch’s intercession with the Ottoman government for administrative appointments. [45]

Among his jurisdictional protocols, the Patriarch was vested with the authority to grant permission for the construction and repair of churches, monasteries, convents, schools and printing establishments. In fact, he had absolute control over the religious and secular education of his millet, including publications. Nothing could be published without the Patriarch’s written approval. As a student of the subject put it very aptly, “until the middle of the nineteenth century the Armenian patriarchate was, for all practical purposes, a strict censorship office for all types of publications. [46]

Successive patriarchs applied themselves and successfully centralized in the patriarchate all the affairs of the Armenians living in the empire. As the boundaries of the Ottoman state stretched, new communities came under patriarchal authority. The Ottomans did not oppose this growth and centralization of patriarchal jurisdiction and power, which paralleled their own conquests. Consequently, as Armenian-inhabited areas of Persia, from Van to the Caucasus, were seized by the Ottomans in the wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Patriarch’s power became enormous. The Ottomans helped and encouraged this increase in patriarchal power since this rendered the governance of the millet much easier and simpler. They need have dealings with only one monolithic institution and its representative, the Patriarch. Throughout this period contention and struggle around the patriarchate dominate Armenian national life, as the amiras strove and were eventually able to bring this powerful institution under their sway.

From the time of its founding, the laity had participated in the administration of the Armenian church, especially in the election of ecclesiastical office holders, from the parish priest to the katholikos. During the early period of Ottoman rule hocas and çelebis played an important role in the administrative affairs of the church. The first serious instance of intervention by the laity in patriarchal affairs occurred in 1649, when a group of Armenian notables, led by Hoca Ruhitjan of Van, took control of the Patriarchate and lay vicars managed the office for eleven months. [47] A short time later, the Patriarchate once again came under the control of lay vicars, for about two years, between 1655 and 1657. A committee comprised of twenty-four members, with Hoca Ruhitjan as its leader, transacted the affairs of the Patriarchate. [48] This experience was repeated about forty years later, when for four years, from 1689 to 1692, lay, or married priest vicars administered the Patriarchate. [49]

The growth and consolidation of the power of the Patriarchate did not hamper the hocas, çelebis and especially the amiras, except in exceptional circumstances when a strong-willed Patriarch who had personal contacts with the Ottoman bureaucracy was elected. Normally, the amiras were in closer touch with the Porte than the Patriarch, by virtue of their business dealings and personal connections. They could pressure the Patriarch directly or through the Ottoman government. As a result, a strong patriarchate, especially when led by a weak-willed Patriarch, simply meant that the Armenian millet would be ruled de facto by the amiras then in favor at Court.

This pattern of intervention and control over the patriarchate continued until the adoption of a constitution in 1860. It was not sheer hyperbole, then, for the most influential among the amiras to be called azgaped, "leader of the nation. " Under his leadership, a council of amiras, composed of the prominent members of the class, would elect and depose the Patriarch. [50] Through the Patriarch they would appoint prelates for the various dioceses of the empire. This council "decided every question of any importance pertaining to the civil or ecclesiastical affairs of the Armenian nation. " [51]

A graphic illustration of the power of an Armenian notable is provided by Hagop Aga Hovhannesian who, in 1752, removed one Patriarch and installed another one, in a totally arbitrary fashion. [52] Another such instance is the removal of Patriarch Krikor Basmadjian (1764-1773), who antagonized Kasbar Amira Muradian, Azgaped of the period, and was eventually removed by him and his supporters. [53]

The Patriarchs tried to check the power of amiras. An early attempt at curbing the power of the few wealthy hocas and çelebis was the general assembly convened by Patriarch Golod in 1725. The meeting was called for the election of a new katholikos of Etjmiadzin. In addition to the wealthy notables of the millet, Golod intentionally invited representatives of various esnafs, “guilds, on the one hand, to give the assembly a national character, and, on the other, to institutionalize the election of high clerics in similar assemblies. It is true that the delegates to the assembly were appointed by the Patriarch, and not elected, nevertheless, the meeting represented a wider participation and a more democratic method of election than the self-appointed council of amiras, or hocas and çelebis.

The attempt did not prove futile: similar assemblies were called intermittently, whenever urgent and important matters called for national debate and resolution. Despite such attempts, however, amiras kept both the initiative and the control over patriarchal elections and the administration of the institution. On 26 April 1800, a meeting was held at Vezir Han, in Hovuian Amira’s business place, attended by amiras and representatives of esnafs. The meeting, initiated by the leading amiras, elected Daniel Surmaretsi (1799-1800) katholikos of Etjmiadzin and nominated three candidates for the patriarchal throne. Two days later a general assembly, with over four hundred participants, sanctioned the election of the katholikos and elected the amiras’ preferred candidate Patriarch for Istanbul. [54]

As the events following these elections showed, the amiras’ control over the Patriarchate and the millet was not absolute. Due to the presence of strong contenders for the two positions and to the meddling of the Russian ambassador at Istanbul, new elections were held and different candidates were elected katholikos and Patriarch, respectively. Amira leadership was to be tested time and again, several factors combining to undermine it. First, the perennial rivalries among clerical figures who aspired to the patriarchal chair offered the amiras an opportunity to gain firm control but fragmented the group: the more clerical candidates needed the help of amiras, the more indebted they were to their backers, who had demonstrated their power by helping to install them and could threaten to do the reverse.

Secondly, amiras did not form a united front and a cohesive unit, unless faced with outside challengers. They were divided, as we shall see, by personal, dynastic and group rivalries. It must be said in the amiras’ favor that when faced with such a challenge, they worked together far more effectively than Armenian clerics, who might be thought to represent a coherent interest group. Ironically, the spirit of anarchic free-enterprise was stronger among clerics than the Armenian banker princes. Naked ambition blinded the former to their institutional interests more often than the latter.

Thirdly, new movements and forces, which the amiras attempted to stifle and contain, were developing and gaining strength within the millet. One of these developments was the centuries-old Catholic propaganda, which resumed its campaign around the turn of the eighteenth century with new vigor and militancy, thanks to the diplomatic and financial support of such Catholic Western powers as France and Austria. At first, the Armenian Apostolic church fought the Catholic missionaries with some success, the Ottoman government lending its own support to the Armenian church which it considered native. When these efforts failed to eradicate Catholic influence among Armenians, the church turned to an attempt to win over its “schismatic” members.

At this time the Catholics were divided into two major camps: the Collegians, named after the College for the Propaganda of the Faith, insisted on the supremacy of the Pope and denied validity to the sacraments of the Armenian church, and the other Catholics and the Mekhitarists, named after their first Abbot, Mekhitar, founder of the Uniate Benedictine congregation, who were faithfully keeping many of the traditions of the Mother Church including the Armenian language. The latter were favorably disposed towards unity.

The first such attempt at unity with Catholic Armenians was made on 3 July 1810. At the meeting convened by Patriarch Hovhannes Tchamasherdjian (1802-1813), Armenian Catholics submitted a list of conditions which the representatives of the Mother Church found unacceptable. [55] In a second effort at reconciliation, Patriarch Boghos Krikorian (1815-1823) called a special conference on 23 October 1817. Although Catholic Armenian representatives, including the Mekhitarists, favored unity with the Apostolic church, the pontifical vicar and the Collegian Catholics adamantly opposed it. The latter were successful in preventing the continuation of the ongoing talks and aborting conciliatory gestures. [56] As in the first instance, in this second one too, amiras were instrumental in bringing the two sides together. They took part in the preliminary discussions as well as in the formal meetings. Twelve amiras participated in the second conference of unity.

The third such attempt at unity was ordered by the Ottoman government. Proponents of this new attempt were such major amiras as Harutiun Bezdjian, Krikor Balian, Djanig Papazian, Hovhannes Erganian, Harutiun Noradungian and Garabed Aznavurian. After three months of negotiations and discussion, a declaration of faith called hraver siro, “call to love, was formulated as a compromise between the Apostolic and Catholic doctrines (2 April 1820). Hardly had some initial steps been taken in implementing this decision when the Collegians intervened once more, and through devious means and provocative declarations, aroused the populace and disrupted the rapprochement between the two sides. The government had to use force to restore order and peace in the community. As a result many Armenians were arrested, a few were hanged, among them eighty-year-old Krikor Amira Sakaian, while others were sent into exile, including Harutiun Amira Bezdjian and Garabed Amira Aznavurian (September 1820). [57]

The involvement of amiras in these negotiations for unity and discussions was prompted as much by their position as leaders of the millet, as by pursuit of governmental policy. During the first two attempts they acted on their own, in defense of what they considered the best interests of the church and nation, but they were cognizant of the tacit approval of their actions by the government. In the aftermath of the third instance, if some of the amiras were exiled and even one of them was hanged while another converted to Islam to save his life, the punishments were not meted out as a consequence of the government’s disapproval of their policy of unity, but as a result of the upheaval and disturbances by the populace.

The most potent challenge to amira leadership came from the esnafs. The concept, structure and function of the esnaf is beyond the scope of this study. Suffice it to mention that, according to one source, the Armenian craftsmen and merchants of the capital were organized into 65 esnafs about the end of the eighteenth century. [58] As we have noted, the esnafs participated, to a limited extent, in the administration of the millet affairs. They took part in the general assembly of 1725. But their participation was more a temporary and symbolic victory than a real and abiding one. In general, they rubber stamped the decisions made and the policies charted by the amiras.

This passive and acquiescent attitude changed when the esnafs began to share in the financial burden of the national institutions. At the General Assembly of 20 November 1831 leaders of various esnafs pledged in writing to financially support schools assigned to their sponsorship. As a result of this pledge, the guild of merchants (tüccar) supported the school at Top Kapu, that of jewelers financed the school at Langa, while the esnaf of tavern-keepers (meyhanaci) provided financial assistance for the school at Kanli Kilise. [59] Amiras, however, would not relinquish any power to the esnafs of their own volition. Thus, the Advisory Board, elected by the General Assembly convened on 19 March 1834 and in which representatives of the esnafs participated, was composed solely of amiras.

It was the combination of internal dissension and external pressure that brought changes in the political structure of the millet administration. The Hatt-i Serif of Gülhane of 1839 provided great impetus for change by its advocacy of reforms within Ottoman society, in general, and non-Muslim millets, in particular. As an application of the judicial equality of Muslims and non-Muslims in the courts, enunciated in the imperial edict, Sultan Abdülmecid established the Meclis-i Ahkam-i Adliye, “the Supreme Council of Judicial Ordinances, which formulated a new penal code for all Ottoman subjects. [60] The introduction of such reforms as guarantees for security of life, honor and property, and equality before the law, did not affect amiras’ status directly. In the first Judicial Council, set up by the patriarch in 1840 following the Ottoman example, there were four amiras along with four married priests, with no esnaf representation. [61]

The abolition of iltizam tax-farming, one of the reform measures contained in the Hatt-i Şerif, did however, undermine the amiras’ dominance over the millet. Not because it allegedly ruined the amiras economically, as one modern student has claimed; [62] no instances of financial loss of great magnitude have been recorded in contemporary sources; furthermore, the iltizam was reinstituted two years later (11 March 1842); but because of its economic consequences on the Patriarchate and the millet. As a result of this abolition, the Sultan directed the Patriarch, through the imperial irade, “rescript, of 1 March 1840, to collect state taxes from all the Armenians under his jurisdiction and remit them to the imperial treasury. At the same time, religious institutions and properties which had been hitherto tax exempt were now taxed. The Patriarch, Hagopos Seropian (1839-1840), whose traditional prerogatives and privileges were greatly diminished by the reforms, faced with the refusal of sarrai-amiras to cooperate with the Patriarchate in the collection of taxes and to extend to it financial help, on 7 March 1840, appointed a special committee to administer the complicated finances of the Patriarchate.

This Committee of Twenty-Four, as it came to be known, was composed of two technocrat-amiras and twenty-two representatives of the various esnafs. In addition to the administration of the patriarchal finances, it had to manage all the national institutions, including the schools. It was chaired by a guild representative, Hetum Meriemkulian. [63] For the first time in the history of the Armenian millet, the esnafs’ representatives were members of an executive body with decision-making power; furthermore, they also formed the absolute majority of the committee.

Several factors had contributed to this radical development: the reforms announced in the Hatt-i Şerif, the rise in the economic power of the esnafs in the millet, the diminution of patriarchal privileges, and the temporary split in amira ranks caused by conflicts between the extremely conservative sarrafs and the relatively “liberal” technocrat amiras. This conflict focused above all on developments in Armenian education.

The immediate and apparent cause for the wedge driven between the amiras was the question of the Armenian College, founded in 1838 at Üsküdar. This institution of higher learning, called the Djemaran (“college, “lyceum” or “academy”), was the brainchild of two imperial architects, Garabed Amira Balian and Hovhannes Amira Serverian, the latter of whom was appointed mütevelli of the college. As the Greeks, Latins and Protestants already had their high schools, the need for a similar educational institution for the Armenian Apostolic millet had been voiced repeatedly in the decade preceding the foundation of the College. On 26 August 1836 Patriarch Stepannos Aghavni Zakarian (1831-1839) called a meeting which resolved to open the school with an initial contribution of 200, 000 kuruş for its construction, and an annual subsidy of 120, 000 kuruş from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Twenty amiras, mostly sarrafs, made a pledge that each of them would pay the tuition of a needy student. Students from well-to-do families were to be charged 3, 000 kuruş. [64] The project was supported by the clerics, including the Patriarch, the amiras and the esnafs, and the college was officially inaugurated on 9 December 1838.

Once the school was opened, however, old rivalries and conflicts emerged, and soon became so serious that they divided the amira class into two camps: the sarrafs and their partisans, who formed the much larger bloc, and the technocrats or professionals which included the Balians, the Dadians, Serverian and their adherents. The division was clearly drawn along professional lines, and involved much more than curricular issues.

The split was not devoid of political overtones and principles. The sarrafs represented the more conservative and traditionalist segment of the class, while the technocrats, at least at this juncture, demonstrated some “liberal” tendencies. The antagonisms which emerged in the course of the conflict over the Djemaran quickly grew to involve issues not directly related to education. Ultimately, the struggle was waged for control of the Patriarchate and, indirectly, for the right to lead the Armenian millet. Personal and group jealousies within the amira ruling class found in the Djemaran affair a convenient battleground, a testing-place for their strength. For example, the conservative sarraf-amiras, who had begun by supporting the school, [65] convinced the representative of the Jerusalem Patriarchate in Istanbul to stop payment of the annual subsidy; this threw the college into financial difficulties, and the technocrat-amiras failed to come to its rescue. [66] Thus the whole weight of the financial burden of the institution was thrown on the shoulders of the esnafs. The Patriarch tried to induce the amiras to help, but to no avail. Then the Patriarch, who was a fervent supporter of the college and hoped to set a good example, donated 6, 000 kuruş as tuition for two students. Only the esnafs responded. On 6 April 1841, they formed an association with over 300 members, all artisans and small merchants, called Miakam Enkerutiun (“United Association”), to collect donations to support the school. [67] But these and other measures, such as a tax of five kuruş on travel documents, were not sufficient to sustain the institution, which was demonstrating a high academic standard and enjoying considerable popularity, as evidenced by the following contemporary account:

Four Armenian scholars (i. e. students) from the Scutari College, who were so anxious, a few months since, to come to our [Protestant] school, have recently gone to them (Armenians), have been received gratis and are about to enter. Some wealthy Armenian families of the first standing, who had determined to send their scholars to our school are now sending them to theirs, simply because the arrangements and the imposing array of teachers are so much more respectable that they prefer paying 3, 000 piastres annually for each scholar than to paying 1, 000 here. [68]

Despite the school’s reputation and the popular support it received, the Committee of Twenty-Four found itself unable to raise the necessary funds for the institutions under its jurisdiction, which included the college, and reluctantly resigned. The Patriarch again attempted to bring the amiras and the sarrafs together, but the former adamantly refused. The Patriarch then resigned. His predecessor, Stepannos Aghavni, was reinstated to the patriarchal chair. The new Patriarch was the clear choice of the sarraf-amiras, and his first action was to invite a committee of amiras to look after the finances of the millet.

The dissolution of the Committee of Twenty-Four had aroused popular resentment, and there was a demonstration demanding its return. At first, the government acceded to the popular demand and the committee was reinstituted on 1 July 1841. A month later, however, on 14 August 1841, the order was recalled. This time, a much larger popular demonstration was organized. The government immediately undertook an investigation of the demonstration and its leaders were sent into exile (16 September 1841). On 3 October of the same year the college was closed by the government which charged it with being the center and cause of all the turmoil in the millet. [69]

In view of the leverage of amiras within the government, commentators have assumed that these decisions were instigated by the sarraf-amiras [70]. This assumption is supported by the account of a non-Armenian contemporary, made on 11 October 1842:

The bankers who now rule have closed the College at Scutari, and discharged the teachers. This institution has been in operation [for] about three years and has cost the Armenian community a very large sum of money, and it is said it will never be again opened. [71]

The unrest in the millet continued. On 18 November 1841, a month after the closing of the college, demonstrators presented a petition to the Grand Vezir Rifat Pasha, in which opposition to amira rule was expressed in no uncertain terms: “after the promulgation of the Hatt-i Şerif of Gülhane, we can no longer be the slaves of the amiras. [72]

To restore order in the community, the government intervened again; a Committee of Twenty-Seven esnaf representatives was now given full responsibility over millet affairs. The amiras and the Patriarch pledged, in writing, not to meddle [73]. Once more, however, the esnafs were unable to meet the financial needs of the millet, and after a year of existence the committee resigned (18 November 1842). The amiras, triumphant, came back to power, but instead of working as a committee as in the previous years, they divided the finances of the millet into three areas, each headed by an amira:

a) the Patriarchate, the responsibility of Harutiun Amira Erganian;

b) the National Hospital, with Misak Amira Misakian as its financial director;

c) Assistance to Orphans and the Poor, entrusted to Boghos Amira Ashnanian.

The intention behind this division of responsibilities was less to institute a more efficient system in the financial administration of the millet than to restore the personalized style of governance, the traditional method of amiras.

The victory of the amiras did not provide unambiguous proof of their power, however. It demonstrated the power of a tiny elite, its ability to employ its financial strength and court-connections to doom to failure the projects or institutions of others, such as the esnafs, who were its contenders for the leadership of the millet. Yet, if the once all-powerful amiras still retained what was, in effect, veto power in 1842, they could no longer manage the affairs of the millet without the support of the esnafs. Not even the temporary reinstitution of the iltizam tax-farming system was sufficient to restore their previous total dominance, though it doubtless increased the amiras’ wealth once again.

By 1842, Erganian Amira had concentrated more power in his person than any other amira, as the chairman of the National Assembly, director of finances at the Patriarchate and as the head of the two divisions of the Anadolu ve Rumeli Kumpanyasi, the sarraf organization. He took the initiative in bringing the esnafs and the amiras together, and was also instrumental in the election of a popular candidate, Madteos Tchukhadjian, to the patriarchal office on 17 July 1844. The new Patriarch, hoping to take advantage of the unique opportunity, organized a Mixed Council, composed of sixteen amiras and fourteen esnafs. This new Council assumed total responsibility for the administration of the Patriarchate.

In consenting to participate in the Mixed Council, the amiras, especially the sarrafs, had made a major concession, by expressing their willingness to share power with the esnafs. Until then they had consistently refused to cooperate and work with the esnafs in decision-making bodies for any length of time. The esnafs, who had attempted to administer the millet by themselves and had failed, willingly accepted the compromise measure. The result of this acceptance was communal peace in the millet, and the Ottoman government agreed to reopen the Armenian College on 1 October 1846, as an indication of its approval of the new administration.

While a relatively cooperative and harmonious relationship prevailed between the amiras and the esnafs, the former now clashed with the Patriarch, who reserved for himself the right to administer “spiritual matters, [that is] to investigate, regulate, punish, ordain and select prelates. [74] He resisted the demands of the amiras for changes among the prelates, demands which they made in order to reassert their power of patronage. It had been traditional for a preeminent amira or group of amiras to demonstrate personal standing and to reward the loyalty of supportive clerics by having them appointed to the various bishoprics about which the Prelate had final say within the millet system. The Patriarch’s assertion of his right to ordain and select the members of the higher ranks of clergy was entirely legal, but remained, nevertheless, a direct challenge to the huge influence which the amiras had traditionally exercised. They complained to Grand Vezir Mustafa Resid Pasha, who heeded the advice of his assistant, Hagop Grdjigian. Grdjigian, who had served the Pasha in various diplomatic capacities when the latter was ambassador in Paris, Vienna and London, was now the Grand Vezir’s secretary and advisor. [75] An imperial edict, issued on 7 May 1847, directed the Patriarch to proceed with the election of two separate and independent councils, one for the administration of secular affairs of the millet, the other for spiritual-religious matters. [76] This edict, attributed to Grdjigian, proved a turning point in the history of Western Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. It did more than separate ecclesiastical and secular matters; it instituted two governing bodies through election, rather than appointment, as had been the custom previously.

This edict instructed the General Assembly, in which the clergy, amiras and esnafs participated, to elect a Spiritual Council, consisting of fourteen clerical members, all from Istanbul, and a Supreme Civil Council, comprised of twenty lay members. The Supreme Civil Council, which included nine amiras and ten esnaf representatives, elected Hagop Grdjigian its logothete (also called loghofet or löfet), a kind of executive director, who acted both as its chairman and executive secretary. [77] Amira membership on the Council was composed of five sarrafs and four technocrats: two architects and two barutçubaşi. The Supreme Civil Council was empowered with jurisdiction over secular education, finances and justice, while the Spiritual Council dealt with religious education, dogma and the ordination of clergy. This system continued until the adoption of a constitution in 1860. General assemblies were held biennially, each time electing the two councils. But the mechanism of this new system did not work smoothly; irregularities were committed because of the absence of clearly stated rules and regulations. The jurisdictions of the various bodies and their relationship were not clearly spelled out.

The establishment of the two councils had diluted and curtailed “to a considerable degree, the Patriarch’s authority and the amiras’ power and influence. [78] But in practical terms, Patriarch Madteos acted on his own, arousing amiras’ opposition. Eventually he was forced to resign. This time, however, the order of resignation was presented to the Patriarch by Hagop Grdjigian, the logothete of the Supreme Civil Council. Thus some degree of legitimacy was introduced and a precedent was set.

On the other hand, amiras acted independently of the other members of the Civil Council. They appointed the members of the three committees: educational, economic and judicial, and dismissed them at will. This left them a power base from which they immediately tried to extend their authority even over the Spiritual Council. This is made clear in Krikor Odian’s letter, dated 15 February 1855, addressed to Khatchadur Bardizbanian in Paris (both were members of the Educational Committee):

Recently, Garabed Amira Balian and Hovhannes Amira Dadian illegally appointed three bishops to the Spiritual Council and empowered the Council with authority to administer the education and printing of the millet. [79]

Despite all this, the trend indicating a decline in the power of amiras was already noticeable. On the one hand the number of amiras on the Civil Council was declining, from nine in 1847 to five in 1853 and only two in 1855, on the other, esnaf representation was getting stronger, from ten members on the Civil Council in 1847 to fourteen in 1855, not counting the intellectuals who were their allies.

The decline of amiras can be noted in many other phenomena as well, beginning with the decline of their cherished honorific. The title bey, part of the official Ottoman nomenclature, was already replacing amira. For cxample, Hovhannes Amira Dadian was also called Hovhannes Bey; so was his brother Boghos and others. At the same time, the new generation was not keeping the title; instead, they were mostly called bey and aga, and sometimes even çelebi, as was the case with the two sons of Azanavur Amira Aznavurian, named Mikayel Çelebi and Capriel Çelebi. [80] The sons of the Dadian amiras too were named bey, as for example Arakel-Sisag Bey. [81]

A more substantive mark of their decline was the gradual disappearance of the profession of sarraf. As stated earlier (see Chapter III), the Ottoman state started to raise loans from European banking institutions after the conclusion of the Crimean war, a practice which effectively put an end to the profession. Undercut in their essential economic power-base, the sons of the sarraf-amiras, naturally, could not choose to continue in a profession that was dying out rapidly. The blow was not only economic, but also political. The sarrafs did not all become bankrupt, from one day to the next. Many saved what they could and became members of the prosperous upper-class of the Armenian millet, using honorifics such as those mentioned above. But the politically privileged position which they had held in the millet had been the direct result of their daily contact with pashas, bureaucrats of the court and other members of the Ottoman ruling class. With the loss of that contact, derived from the change in the structure of Ottoman bureaucracy, in part at the behest of European financiers and diplomats, begun with the reforms of 1839 and accelerated after those of 1856, their status could not but decline, since changes in that structure diminished the amiras’ access to the ruling elite. Furthermore, they precipitated “constitutional” reforms in the government of the millet, reforms which culminated in the Armenian Constitution of 1860, of which more will be said later in this chapter.

The case of technocrat-amiras was quite different. The Dadians continued to hold the position of barutçubaşi, as the Balians that of mimarbaşi. They held these positions until the reign of Sultan Abdülhamit II (1876-1908) who, by deliberate policy, removed them from their posts. Arakel-Sisag Dadian was the last barutçubaşi. [ NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: The original typist appears to have omitted a transitional paragraph that must have led to the discussion of the intellectuals in what follows ] who was eased out of (sic) Krikor Odian, son of a wealthy family of some renown, Serovpe Vitchenian, better known as Dr. Servitchen, Nahabed Rusinian, Garabed Iutiudjian, Stepan Osgan, and many others of humble origin. [82] Bereft of a specific political ideology, they were imbued with democratic ideals and liberal principles, and almost all engaged in the struggle for control of millet councils.

During the decade between 1840 and 1850 more than sixty young men had received their education in French universities and had returned to their birthplace. In the French capital they had not only familiarized themselves with European liberal and progressive ideologies, but had observed with keen interest the workings of the democratic political system. A number of them had witnessed the Revolution of 1848; one of them (Stepan Osgan) had even participated in it. [83] Greatly concerned with the conditions of the Armenian nation, they could not fail to take note of the flaws and irregularities prevalent in the administration of the millet. They resented the arbitrary and capricious ways of amiras, and joined forces with the esnafs.

Early in the 1850s, still amiras continued to rule on their own, as was their custom, neglecting the legal machinery of the Supreme Civil Council despite the existence of the Armenian opposition to the hegemony of the amiras, just at that time when external developments such as the Crimean war and the invasion of Western capital challenged the economic power and relevance of the amiras within the Ottoman system. In the face of these pressures the amiras failed to survive as a ruling class.

In addition to the explicitly rebellious young intellectuals, there developed in Istanbul a far larger class of Armenian young men educated in Europe, most of whom did not become writers. The great majority of these young men were sons and relatives of amiras and other wealthy families. There were also those who came from poor families but whose education had been financed by a few enlightened amiras who realized that they would need well-educated clerks, technicians and administrative assistants. During the early part of the nineteenth century, most of these young men studied in Italian universities, specifically in Rome, Padua and Pisa. Italy was geographically closer to Istanbul than the rest of Western Europe, and the Mekhitarist Congregation, based in Venice but active in the Ottoman capital, made Italy a familiar place and a reasonable first-stop for those seeking education in Europe. After the late 1840s, however, students’ preferences shifted to French universities.

Among these European-educated intellectuals was Nigoghos Balian, Garabed Amira Balian’s son, one of the most prominent amiras in the decade of the 1850s. The ranks of the intellectuals also included well-known figures in 1877. [84]

The decline of the amiras and the increase in the strength of the more numerous and less autocratic esnafs was accompanied by yet another important phenomenon: the rise of a new generation of young Armenian intellectuals. [85] In the context of the power-struggle within the Armenian millet, it is ironic that the success of the amiras’ educational enterprise was a contributing factor in the later decline of their power within the millet. The literate Armenians trained in various Istanbul schools, but above all the young intellectuals whom the amiras enabled to study in Europe, were not willing to be grateful and tolerant of the control of their millet by a conservative elite. It was this generation of young intellectuals [86] that fueled much of this council. [87] As a result, the need for written regulations, defining the functions, duties, jurisdictions and method of election of the Patriarch, the two councils and the three committees was strongly felt. Hagop Grdjigian brought the matter to the Supreme Civil Council’s attention, first in 1853 and again in the following year, but the amiras were united in rejecting his proposal.

By this time, many students had already returned from Europe. Eager to bring their contribution to the millet, they were appointed members of an Educational Committee, created by the Civil Council on 22 October 1853, whose task was to supervise, encourage and spread education among Armenians. The committee, modelled on the Académie Française, as was the Ottoman Encümen-i Danis, was composed of fourteen members, all young intellectuals and specialists. One of the committee’s first acts was to liberalize the publication policy of the Patriarchate. Moreover, committee members strongly supported the vernacular as the literary language of Armenians. Such support challenged the clergy’s monopoly on most education, a monopoly supported by their control over the teaching of grabar or classical Armenian. In 1851, Krikor Odian, one of the ardent advocates of the language reform, had published a pamphlet entitled Aratjarkutiun Ashkharhabar Lezun Kanonavorelu ev Hasarakats Lezu Enelu Vray (“Proposal to Regulate the Armenian Vernacular and to Make it the Common Language”), arguing that grabar had become obsolete and could not serve as the language of contemporary Armenians. [88] Two years later, another member of the Education Committee, Nahabed Rusinian, a physician by profession but a self-taught linguist, published a grammar book of modern Armenian, in collaboration with Timoteos Tngerian, Nigoghos Balian and Krikor Odian. The book, entitled Ughghakhosutiun Ardi Hay Lezuin (“The Correct Speaking of Modern Armenian”), was authorized for publication by the committee. [89] In the bitter controversy which ensued upon the publication of this book, the advocates of language reform, who called themselves lusavoreal (“enlightened ones”), were pitted against the conservative and traditionalist elements, opposed to the vernacular, who were labeled khavareal (“obscurantists”). Before the investigation committee, appointed to revise the book, had time to complete its task, a patriarchal order was issued prohibiting the use of the book in the schools. [90] Dispirited and discouraged, the Education Committee effectively ceased to exist.

The language reform continued, however, in a different field, that of journalism which was less responsive to regulations from above. By 1840 Arshaloys Araratean (“Araratian Dawn”), founded in Izmir by the Paris-educated intellectual Ghugas Baghdasarian, was using the vernacular. In Istanbul, Garabed Iutiudjian, considered the forefather of Armenian journalism, encouraged the development of the vernacular and its purification in the pages of the newspaper Masis, which he edited for more than three decades. Furthermore, he helped to propagate in it Western progressive ideas and liberal principles.

The cultural and educational revival among the Armenians throughout the empire was greatly stimulated by Catholic and Protestant missionaries. They established schools, translated the Bible into the Western Armenian vernacular as well as Armeno-Turkish (Turkish written in Armenian letters), published books and helped many young men get their higher education in Europe and the United States. [91] These young intellectuals espoused the cause of written Regulations (“kanonagrutiun” in Armenian), for the administration of the millet. Together with the esnafs, they were able to bring the matter before the National Assembly, convened on 30 June 1855. This assembly elected a sahmanadrakan handsnajoghov (“constitutional committee”) whose sole task was the formulation of an Azgayin Kanonagrutiun (“National Regulation”). The committee enjoyed the total cooperation and strong support of the new logothete, Krikor Margosian, who had replaced Hagop Grdjigian. In the Supreme Civil Council Garabed Amira Balian, one of the two amiras on the council (the other being Hovhannes Amira Dadian) led the opposition to the draft presented by the committee, which he considered too liberal. In the Spiritual Council, Patueli Deroyents, who served as the secretary of this council, similarly opposed the acceptance of this draft of the Regulations. Garabed Amira had now assumed the leadership of amira opposition, and apparently wielded such great power that the acceptance of the draft was “construed as an attempt at emancipation from the dominance of Garabed Amira and his conservative followers. [92] In his letter, a member of the Education Committee, K. Bardizban, informed his brother that Garabed Amira Balian now had his man Ali Bey in power and that “nobody can oppose or contradict him. [93]

At this juncture two new developments precipitated the course of events: first, the promulgation by Sultan Abdül-Mecid of the Hatt-i Hümayun on 18 February 1856, an unexpected support for the constitutionalists; the second was the resignation of Patriarch Hagopos, a popular figure who favored the liberals. These two events accelerated the resolution of the conflict by intensifying it. On 18 November 1856 a National Assembly was convened; since the Patriarch had already resigned, Küçük Said Bey presided at the meeting in order to preserve order. [94] The assembly reelected the popular Patriarch, and elected a new Supreme Civil Council. [95] It also elected a new Constitutional Committee to examine the draft submitted by the previous committee to the Civil Council. The new committee worked hard, meticulously studying each article.

As in 1725, when a large general assembly had been called by Patriarch Golot, a similar large National Assembly was convoked on 22 March 1857 by Patriarch Hagopos to discuss and approve the revised version of the Regulation. The Patriarch invited over three hundred delegates, representing the clergy and all the segments of Armenian society in the capital, to take part in the deliberations and the formulation of a final resolution. [96] After lengthy discussions, during which each article was scrutinized and some changes were made, the Assembly approved the draft of the Regulation presented. All the participants signed the document “with joy, contentment and blessing. [97]

The Regulations, which had received the unanimous support of the National Assembly, were submitted to the Sublime Porte for official ratification. The sanction, however, was being delayed; finally, the Porte announced that it was refusing to ratify the Regulations, stating that it could not tolerate the existence of “a state within the state. [98] But this was not the real reason for the rejection; the Porte was well informed of the drafting of the Regulations from the beginning, and had not chosen to interfere. In fact, it had given its tacit approval by dispatching one of its officials to preside over a general assembly called to discuss the topic of Regulation. The constitutionalists knew that the rejection by the government was only the official and apparent cause, and that true opposition came from the amiras. Balian, Dadian, Eramian, Serverian and others considered the Regulations “too liberal” for their taste, even though basically they were not averse to the idea of written rules for the conduct of millet affairs. [99]

It was obvious that the amiras had pulled some strings and had used their influence within Ottoman official circles to prevent ratification of the Regulations. For the moment, amiras prevailed and defeated the forces of liberalism. They were proving that they were still strong enough to impose their views and will over the millet leadership. But this was a temporary and ephemeral victory; in essence, they had lost control over the millet, for they had to resort to direct governmental intervention to impose themselves.

The first serious attempt at adopting a constitution had thus proved abortive. The constitutionalists had failed to carry their mission to its successful conclusion. But the setback was temporary, for immediately after the government’s announcement of its decision, the constitutionalists, who now included the young intellectuals, and the liberal elements of the clergy and the esnafs, embarked upon the drafting of a new Regulation acceptable to the conservative camp. Dr. Servitchen, Dr. Rusinian, Nigoghos Balian, Krikor Odian and their friends on the Education Committee as well as Krikor Margosian, the logothete, began to work in earnest on a new draft. [100] By then several members of this intelligentzia had found employment with high Ottoman officials, notably the various grand vezirs and foreign ministers, each of whom had his own Armenian adviser. The physicians Servitchen and Rusinian served Ali Pasha and Fuad Pasha respectively, not only in their professional capacity but also as advisers and assistants. Others, such as Harutiun Dadian, Krikor Margosian (the logothete), Sahag Abro, Stepan Arzumanian and Minas Minasian worked at the Foreign Ministry, holding prominent positions. Still others worked for high officials: Hagop Grdjigian has already been mentioned as the interpreter, legal counselor and adviser for Mustafa Reşid Pasha; Hovsep Vartanian (later Vartan Pasha) served Kapudan “admiral” Damad Mehmet Ali Pasha, Hamamdjian and Simon Serferian worked for Ali Pasha, Sahag Abro rendered similar services to Fuad Pasha, Harutiun Dadian (later Artin Pasha) served Mahmud Nedim Pasha, Vahan Efendi was employed by Cevdet Pasha, while Hovhannes Nourian worked for Ingiliz Said Pasha. Krikor Efendi Odian served as the counselor, adviser and confidant of Grand Vezir Midhat Pasha and later took part in the drafting of the Ottoman Constitution of 1878. [101]

These young intellectuals, whether physicians, interpreters, legal and foreign affairs experts, had supplanted the amiras in high governmental offices, and, in the process, gained not only access to Ottoman officialdom but in prestige and influence as well. And like the amiras, they made use of their influence within the government in promoting their ideas and plans for the reorganization of the system of governance of the Armenian millet.

The National Assembly, convened around the end of November, 1858, elected Dr. Servitchen as a member of the new Supreme Civil Council. Three months later, in February 1859, the Assembly appointed a new Drafting Committee. This Committee worked diligently and submitted its draft of the Regulation to the Assembly on 18 December 1859. During the second reading of the draft, amiras and their conservative supporters made several objections and an Investigation Committee was appointed to examine and compare this draft with the version of 1857. This Investigation Committee, comprised of four clerics and fourteen lay members, including four amiras, represented mainly the conservatives. It worked very closely with the Drafting Committee, and completed its task on 20 May 1860. The new version of the Regulation was unanimously approved by the National Assembly of 24 May 1860. The new draft represented a compromise between the liberal principles of the constitutionalists and the conservative views of the traditionalists. The document, that Dr. Nahabed Rusinian named “Armenian National Constitution, was signed by the clergy, the amiras, the esnafs and the intellectuals. [102]

The word constitution, in Armenian sahmanadrutiun, had a more European ring and connotation than kanonagrutiun (“Regulation”), and that pleased its liberal supporters. As Ormanian, the ecclesiastical scholar of the topic, noted in his usual penetrating manner that a constitution had the implication for contemporary liberals of “confining the authority of the monarchy within [set] boundaries. [103] On the other hand, contemporary conservatives regarded the adoption of the word constitution with great apprehension and fear. They were concerned about the possibility that the word might raise false hopes among the Armenians, and that it might result in a “regrettable deception. Moreover, they feared that the government might get suspicious of the Armenian millet. [104] Such concerns and worries were symptomatic of the mentality prevailing among conservative elements. The common people, on their part, were impatient to see the implementation of the constitution; a delegation presented a petition to the Assembly demanding the prompt execution of the new system according to the provisions of the Constitution. The two councils were then dissolved and replaced with a Political and a Religious Council, as stipulated in the new legal document.

The ratification of the constitution by the government was again delayed, because of the difficulties which arose around the election of a new Patriarch of Jerusalem. Opponents of the constitutional system took advantage of the procedural problems to attack it by magnifying some apparent flaws as one of many inherent weaknesses of the legal instrument. The delay of the ratification created popular discontent, which erupted in a tumultuous demonstration on 1 August 1862. Finally, after the examination of the legal instrument by two commissions, one on behalf of the government and the other for the Assembly, the Porte granted the imperial ratification on 17 March 1863. Six days later, the National Assembly was officially informed of the ratification. The events which follow belong to the history of the constitutional period of the millet.

Amiras played an important role in the establishment of the constitutional system. They were the original advocates of the separation of secular and spiritual powers. To defend and enhance their position and privileges in the political structure of the millet, they curbed the authority of the Patriarch by creating two independent councils. They thought that by restricting the Patriarch to the religious spiritual field, they could exercise their authority unchallenged. Unwittingly, they were curbing their own power, [105] for they were institutionalizing secular authority and regulating the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate. This act in itself was not only a mark but also an admission of the weakening of their influence within the power structure of the millet.

In the amiras’ perception, the Civil Council had a wider jurisdiction than its religious counterpart. In 1847, their sole purpose in setting up the two councils was to diminish the authority and control of the Patriarch. They hardly realized that they had led the millet not because of any authority legally vested in them but because of the Patriarch’s unlimited power and their control of him. In other words, so long as they could exercise their strong influence over the occupant of the patriarchal office and retained their position in the Ottoman ruling elite, they were masters of the millet.

The amiras had not allowed any role to the esnafs other than that of a silent and servile minor partner. Conditions changed, and the new situation warranted a modification in their attitude, but they continued to demonstrate a haughty inflexibility and misplaced authoritarianism. Thus, they antagonized the esnafs by refusing them even the appearance of shared power. More potent than the esnafs were the young intellectuals who became the spokesmen of the esnafs and articulated their desires. They challenged the amiras’ capricious and dictatorial way of governing millet affairs, at first discretely but later openly.

Some historians find a clear division among the amiras; the sarrafs and their supporters in one camp, the professionals and their partisans in another. Such a division was, first of all, only temporary, and secondly, more apparent than real. As stated earlier, Balian, Dadian and Serverian supported the College more out of antagonism to the sarraf-amiras than as a demonstration of deeply ingrained conviction in the benefit of the institution to the millet. As a matter of fact, while “most of the amiras [were] adherents of old principles, the Dadians, the Balians and the Serverians, antagonistic to the new policy, were trying to destroy an institution which [people] thought was founded by them. [106] In other words, the technocrat-amiras were as conservative as the sarrafs. When they realized that their status in the millet was in jeopardy, they shifted gear and abandoned their support for the College.

Amira ranks were replete with personal and family rivalries. The antagonism between Djanig Amira Papazian and Misak Amira Misakian, on one side, and Mikayel Amira Pishmishian, on the other, was so intense that its repercussions were disturbing the peace in the millet. Harutiun Amira Bezdjian intervened to reconcile the two sides. [107] Relations between the Dadians and Diuzians were not friendly, either. Unlike the conflict between Djanig Amira and Mikayel Amira, which was public knowledge, the rivalry between the two families was silent and hidden yet as intense. In a letter to a Mekhitarist priest in Paris, the abbot of the religious brotherhood advised the former to avoid any mention of the Diuzians to Hovhannes Amira Dadian, who was going to visit the French capital. [108] Garabed Amira Balian, the imperial architect, was “the implacable enemy” of Mgrditch Amira Djezayirlian, the sarraf of the Grand Vezir Mustafa Reşid Pasha. [109] These animosities and rivalries naturally had their repercussions in the millet affairs. At least in the Dadian-Diuzian rivalry the conflict had reached beyond the millet, affecting their professions, as well, although Hagop Diuzian’s interest in the field of industry was of short duration and limited to one venture (see Chapter III). [110]

It would, however, be misleading to emphasize only the discords and problems among amiras, for, in general, they supported each other, sometimes openly, and at other times tacitly. Cooperation and support were, more often than not, a consequence of family ties and kinship. As we have noted earlier (in Chapter II), many amiras had developed family relationships through marriage, baptism and in other ways as well. Amiras likewise cooperated in business. Thus, in 1839, several sarraf-amiras entered into a joint venture and bought a merchant ship from England, which they used in the trade on the Black Sea. Reportedly they made many similar business ventures. [111]

Whether they collaborated with or competed against each other, the amiras remained the leaders of the millet until the early 1850s. Their leadership was extolled by contemporary and many late nineteenth-century Armenian writers more for their financial generosity to charitable, cultural, educational and religious institutions than for the goals they tried to attain and the policies they pursued. These philanthropic activities, of course, were laudable and deserve proper recognition. Even harsh critics admit the amiras’ salutary and beneficial role in these fields. [112] But amiras were making these generous contributions less out of genuine desire and conviction to the benefits of charities than out of a desire to consolidate their position within the millet. [113] Evidence of their priorities can rarely be found in Armenian contemporary sources, but the writings of Armenian Protestant missionaries, who viewed the internal affairs of the Armenian millet with a more critical eye, contain much revealing information.

Thus, in 1836, by imperial order, thousands of Armenian youngsters, “from eight to fifteen years of age, [114] were collected from “Karin [Erzurum] and Sebastia [Sivas], and other parts of Anatolia, to work in Constantinople at the iplikhane [spinning mill], the imperial shipyard, the factory manufacturing sails, and at [the foundry] forging hot iron; it was ordered that they be given only clothing and bread, and no salary. [115] According to contemporary American missionaries stationed in Istanbul, some of these youngsters converted to Islam to avoid suffering and separation from their parents. The missionaries, in their collective letter, complained that

there is no one who dares present such a case as that of those Armenian boys to the government. The bankers [sarraf-amiras] dare not do it themselves, lest they should no longer remain bankers; and they object to the priest’s [i. e. the Patriarch] doing it himself; or sending in any of these numerous complaints and petitions which have come to him from the interior, lest the blame should fall on themselves. And thus national religious interests become sacrificed to [the] monied interest of the nation; and the people suffer. [116]

The Armenian historian who first reported this same incident was a former secretary of the Patriarchate and was, therefore, well informed. He stated that the number of Armenian youth brought to Istanbul the first time was five thousand. [117] Then he lamented: “no one among our leaders was able to remove this troublesome danger from our nation; we ask for the Lord’s assistance to them and to us. [118] Even as late as 1871, this Armenian writer dared not openly criticize the amiras, but was satisfied to repeat a pious imploration. The American missionaries, on the other hand, do blame the “bankers” for not intervening and protesting against the measures ordered. In this incident one may observe not only the amiras’ silence, but also their ability to silence the Patriarch. In their eyes, the security of their economic interests far outweighed the communal gains that any attempted intervention might produce. [119] This was typical of the amiras’ leadership of the Armenian millet. As the historian Varantian put it, “[the amiras were] humble servants when with the Turkish grandees, and arrogant and commanding [while] in their own milieu. [120] In fact, the Patriarch and his subordinate bishops were nothing but “tools” in amiras’ hands. [121]

Whatever abuses the amiras may have committed, they functioned as defenders of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Patriarchate and of the status quo of the millet, which was threatened by the efforts of Catholic priests and Protestant missionaries, who began to gain converts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Conversion was a political issue within the Ottoman Empire: the French (and to a lesser degree the Austrian) ambassadors championed the Catholic cause, the British diplomats defended Protestantism, while the Armenian national church had no foreign power to support it. However, the Ottoman policy was to stabilize the millet system by supporting the Patriarchate, and the amiras were the cutting edge of this policy. Their own values and interests within the millet were in perfect accord with Ottoman policy, and this coincidence made the amiras formidable opponents. Even the powerful French ambassador in Istanbul feared their enmity, as reported in his letter to the Foreign Minister concerning his efforts to advance the cause of Catholicism: ... éviter ... le double inconvénient d’attirer gratuitement sur moi seul l'inimité fort redoutable des sarafs arméniens et de tous les turcs influents qu’ils ont sus gagner à leur cause... [122] Clearly, the sarraf-amiras must have enjoyed the full support of Ottoman governing circles in their opposition to Catholic and Protestant inroads.

Amiras believed that the survival of the Armenian nation depended on the continued existence and strength of the church. They defended the church whenever the institution came under attack. Several times, when the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem was on the verge of losing its centuries-old rights on various places in the Holy City, amiras came to its rescue. Although the Patriarchate in Jerusalem was equal to its counterpart in Istanbul in the Armenian church hierarchy, the latter enjoyed both moral and political-administrative superiority. Yet, any attack on the Patriarchate of Jerusalem would hurt the Armenian church in general, and the central institution of the millet in Istanbul, in particular.

During Ottoman rule over Palestine, Latins and Greeks tried to dislodge Armenians whenever the time was thought opportune to take such steps. For example, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem faced such a danger in 1758; Bedros Amira Aleksanian and Ghazaros Amira Movesesian, both bazirgâns of the Grand Vezir, effectively intervened and removed the imminent disaster. [123] The last and most ominous of such attempts was the one which started in 1806 and dragged on for seven years until 1813. The Greek church in Jerusalem produced a document, issued by the governor in Damascus, allegedly confirming their possession of many places held by the Armenian church. After lengthy and costly court battles, the rights of the Armenian Patriarchate were officially reestablished over these places. Amiras were united in their defense of the national church; even the Armenian Catholic notables, such as the Diuzians, joined in the struggle. [124] This act alone would have convinced the common people of the fact that amiras were true protectors of the national church, who, when circumstances required it, would put into the service of the church all their economic resources and their leverage or influence within the government. This leverage was used time and again either to abrogate or modify decrees harmful to the church. To illustrate the point, one incident will be cited: the Vezir of the evkaf demanded that Armenian charitable institutions be brought under his authority. Bezdjian Amira took the matter directly to the Sultan who, convinced of the inconveniences and discontent the order would create, issued a decree in effect ordering the maintenance of the status quo, keeping the Patriarch as the general mütevelli for all Armenian evkaf institutions and properties. [125] Amiras defended the clerics, especially the high clergy, whenever this was possible. In 1819, Krikor Çelebi Diuzian, ironically just a few months before his hanging, intervened on behalf of Katholikos Giragos of Sis (Cilicia), imprisoned as a result of a false accusation, and saved his life. [126]

It goes without saying that the amiras’ outlook and perception of political realities were conservative. Protection of the national church was in complete harmony with their conservative view of the millet. The church itself was a conservative institution, concerned with the maintenance of law and order in the millet in order to safeguard its own rights and privileges. More importantly, the amiras’ posture towards the Patriarchate was in accord with Ottoman policy, as was pointed out earlier. Any understanding and assessment of their political ideas, concepts and policies should be based upon their actions and utterances outside the realm of the church.

What were the amiras’ political perceptions and orientation? Contemporary sources have transmitted very little about this. Most writings on this particular subject come from later periods and writers. Amiras’ political creed was best formulated by a writer in a speech made in 1879, on the anniversary of the National Hospital: ... Bezdjian Amira taught us, not by words but by deed, how to worship our religion, respect the authorities and love our nation. [127] In Ottoman society, where religion was the single most important mark of identification, amiras strove for the strengthening of religious consciousness among Armenians. “Respect [for] the authorities” was not mere rhetoric; a whole mentality and a clear pattern of conduct were condensed in them. In remaining faithful to their creed, amiras earned for the Armenians the attribute millet-i sadika, the loyal millet, by the Turkish government and people. [128] Later critics chided the amiras for their loyalty to the Ottoman state and conservatism. As one scholar put it, “when the Turk said ‘faithful people, all knew that it was a name proper to the Armenian nation. The amiras kept that name attached to the Armenian people until they disappeared as a class. [129] Many later writers were critical of amiras, as well as of the upper bourgeoisie in general, for the “indifference towards the most essential and pressing concerns of the nation, which are weighing heavily on our mournful history, as an indelible and unpardonable stain. [130] These criticisms are misplaced, for they reflect the attitude of later periods, when social and political norms and criteria were different.

Among later writers Soviet Armenian historians have been especially vehement in condemning the pro-Ottoman political orientation of the amiras, and have juxtaposed it to the more fruitful pro-Russian political stand of the well-known Lazarian dynasty of St. Petersburg. This family, ennobled by the Russian tsar for its economic contribution to Russia, resembled the amira families in contributing financially and otherwise to the cultural revival of Eastern Armenians. The Lazarians built churches and schools, and were involved in the overthrow of Persian rule over Eastern Armenia, and in the establishment of Russian sovereignty over the country. Members of the family are invariably presented as “liberators” of Eastern Armenia, and their Russian orientation is hailed. It is in this context that Soviet Armenian scholars deplore the amiras’ less productive Ottoman orientation. Zurabian points out that “the Armenian people living in Western Armenia and Turkey and Russian orientation at a time when the most important segment of the amira bourgeoisie had a Turkish orientation. [131] This is essentially an accurate presentation so far as the amira political stand is concerned. (It is true that the Armenians living near the Russian border had pro-Russian sentiment, but such tendencies were very weak if not totally absent in cities in Western Anatolia, especially in Istanbul and Izmir, which both had large Armenian populations. )

The issue here is not the political orientation per se, but its implied comparison with the Lazarians’ “liberational” stand. Were the two groups pursuing different policies? One need only remember that the Lazarians were proponents of Russian state policy, which at the time pursued expansionist goals. Russian policy was to expand as far south as possible, and since the Armenians were eager to get rid of the oppressive and archaic Persian rule over Eastern Armenia, this fit well into Russian political plans and imperialist ambitions. In other words, the Lazarians were at the same time helping the Russian state realize its expansion in the south of the Caucasus, on the Armenian plateau, and assisting to “liberate” part of the Armenian homeland from the Persian yoke. The political orientation of the Lazarians was as conservative as that of the amiras, in that both groups supported state policy. Ottomans were already ruling over Western Armenia, and had no expansionist plans further east; consequently, the amiras had only to support the status quo. In this context, the Lazarians’ and the amiras’ orientations were essentially the same: to lend support to official state policy.

What most Armenian writers fail to note is the lack of the amiras’ interest in the Armenian population in the provinces. There are only rare instances when an amira builds a church or a school in a provincial town. And even these instances are geographically limited to Akn, whence came the majority of amira families. In other words, the range of the amiras’ cultural, educational and philanthropic activities was confined to Istanbul. And by implication, the horizon of their political vision was also limited to that same region.

Amiras were not political leaders in as much as the term connotes the defense of general and broad based “national interests. On the one hand, they were too parochial to demonstrate real concern for the Armenian people living throughout the large empire, and especially in the Armenian provinces. On the other, they were too much part of the Ottoman ruling elite to risk the pursuance of any “policy” beneficial to the Armenian nation in general.

Their political legacy was a conservative mentality, characterized by extreme caution and blind loyalty to authority. This legacy, which survived them and remained ingrained in Armenian conservative circles, is best expressed in the words of one of their illustrious descendants, Harutiun Dadian, known also as Artin Pasha: “I am convinced that a weak nation such as ours living in such dangerous surroundings should serve the state faithfully and avoid any rebellious movements, so that it does not subject itself to terrible calamities. Is not a cautious nationalism also nationalism?” [132]

Thus, while in educational, cultural, social and economic fields the amiras provided leadership, in the political sphere they refrained from taking any steps which would, in one way or another, endanger their interests and status. They refused to accept any change in the political structure of the millet for they perceived it as a threat to their own class interest as well as to the nation. They did not evolve with the society which they had led and aspired to continue to lead. Any reform measures to which they acquiesced and reluctantly accepted were imposed upon them by forces from within and without the millet, in that order.

Yet, without their educational, cultural and philanthropic drives the Armenian nation could not have progressed as quickly as it did. Thus, in the final analysis, amiras laid the foundations of the renaissance of the Armenian people in the constitutional period.

[1]          Until 1764 the patriarchal office was occupied by a strong-willed man, Hagop Balian who, during his long tenure (1741-1749 and 1752-1764) was his own man.

[2]          Reportedly Bezdjian was emulating the Jewish millet which had established a “Danger and Accident Treasury” to help the poor and needy. P. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, pp. 38-39.

[3]          Torkomian, Eremia Tchelepii, 2: 202.

[4]          P. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, p. 17.

[5]          A. Ketchian, Akn, p. 207.

[6]          P. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, pp. 65-72

[7]          Ibid., pp. 81-86.

[8]          Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, p. 89; Torkomian, Eremia Tchelepii, 1: 240.

[9]          Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, p. 118.

[10]       Zartarian, Hishatakaran, 2nd ed. (Cairo, 1933-1939), 7: 23; Torkomian, Eremia Tchelepii, 1: 240, 310, 2: 422; Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, pp. 126-127, 135; Garabed Iutiudjian, “Mankutean Hishatakner” [“Memories of Childhood”], Masis (Constantinople), 6 March 1873, p. 133.

[11]       This school was later named Dadian; a junior high school, it had 449 pupils in 1963. See Boghosian, Dadian Gerdastane, pp. 87-88.

[12]       Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, p. 168; Boghosian, Dadian Gerdstane, pp. 86-90; Alboyadjian, Les Dadian, pp. 56-65.

[13]       Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, p. 136; Torkomian, Eremia Tchelepii, 2: 450; G. Hnaser, “Niuter K. Polsoy Ashkharhabari Patmutean Hamar” [“Materials for the History of the Vernacular of Constantinople”], Anahid (Paris), 3rd yr., nos. 3-4 (Sept. -Dec. 1931): 143-145.

[14]       Zartarian, Hishatakaran, 3: 55.

[15]       Hnaser, “Niuter Ashkharbari, p. 143.

[16]       Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, pp. 107-108.

[17]       Alboyadjian, “Sahmanadrutiune, pp. 388-389.

[18]       Ibid., p. 157.

[19]       Torkomian, Yeremia Tchelepii, 1: 242.

[20]       Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, p. 128.

[21]       Hratcheay Adjarian, “Hayots Dere Osmanean Kaystrutean Metj” [“The Role of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire”], Banber Erevani Hamalsarani (Erevan), 1967, p. 157.

[22]       Endardsak Oratsoyts, 1900, p. 142.

[23]       Alboyadjian, Les Dadian, p. 68; Boghosian, Dadian Gerdastane, p. 98.

[24]       Karekin Levonian, Hayots Parberakan Mamule, 1794-1934 [The Periodicals of the Armenians, 1794-1934) (Erevan, 1934), p. XIX; Karnig Stepanian, Urvagidz Arevmtahay Tatroni Patmutyan [A Sketch of the History of Western Armenian Theater], 2 vols. (Erevan, 1962-1967), 1: 25.

[25]       Arshaloys Araratean (Smyrna), 1841, nos. 38 and 59.

[26]       Hnaser, “Niuter Askharhabari, p. 145.

[27]       Zartarian, Hishatakaran, 2: 17, 23; Torkomian, Eremya Tchelepii, 1: 271, 2: 473-474, 544; Stepan Papazian, Kensagrutiun Harutiun Bezdjiani,   pp. 25-35; Toros Azadian, Hariurameay Hopelean Bezdjian Mayr Varjarani, pp. 18-23.

[28]       Torkomian, Eremia Tchelepii, 2: 658.

[29]       Ibid., pp. 699, 702.

[30]       Ibid., 3: 171.

[31]       Ibid., 2: 708.

[32]       Azadian, Akn I, p. 50.

[33]       Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, 133

[34]       Siruni, Polis, 1: 417.

[35]       Davrijetsi, Patmutiun, pp. 352 and 493.

[36]       A. Berberian, Patmutiun, p. 256.

[37]       Zartarian, Hishatakaran, 7: 23.

[38]       Boghosian, Dadian Gerdastane, pp. 85-90.

[39]       It is worth noting the case of Pilibos Amira Arpiarian and his son Kasbar Amira, who built “a magnificent mosque, the Ulu Cami, at Gaban, near Akn, “to avoid the jealousy of the [local] Turkish people. A. Ketchian, Akn, p. 226.

[40]       F. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, pp. 42-46; Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, pp. 154-155. Ormanian cites as synonymous to mütevelli, a Turkish word of Arabic origin, the Armenian words varitch, “director, and ishkhanaped, “chief ruler; Azgapatum, 2: 3372.

[41]       P. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, p. 46.

[42]       Ibid. Modern historians have also failed to focus on the office of mütevelli.

[43]       H. G. O. Dwight, Christianity in Turkey (London, 1854), p. 84.

[44]       Iutiudjian, “Hishatakner, p. 163.

[45]       Ormanian, Azgapatum, 2: 2286.

[46]       Vartan Artinian, “A Study of the Historical Development of the Armenian Constitutional System in the Ottoman Empire, 1839-1863” (Ph. D. dissertation, Brandeis University, 1969), p. 14.

[47]       Ormanian, Azgapatum, 2: 2472; Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, p. 23.

[48]       Ormanian, Azgapatum, 2: 2513, 2518; Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, p. 27.

[49]       Ormanian, Azgapatum, 2: 2641, 2654; Tchamtchian, Patmutiun Hayots, 3: 721.

[50]       P. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, p. 91.

[51]       Dwight, Christianity, p. 66.

[52]       Hagop Aga was on a pilgrimage in Jerusalem when the Patriarch of the Holy City, Hagop Nalian, expressed his wish to return to the patriarchal office at Constantinople; the aga obliged. On his return to the capital, Hagop Aga removed the Patriarch and installed Nalian. (Nalian served two terms; 1741-1749 and 1752-1764). Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, p. 70; Ormanian, Azgapatum, 2: 2979.

[53]       Papken Giuleserian, Hishatakaran Basmadjian Krikor Patriarki [Memoir of Patriarch Krikor Basmadjian] (Paris, 1908), p. 114, 136; Ormanian, Azgapatum, 2: 3085-3091.

[54]       Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, p. 99; Ormanian, Azgapatum, 2: 3255.

[55]       Ormanian, Azgapatum, 3: 3396-3399; A. Berberian, Patmutiun, p. 449.

[56]       A. Berberian, Patmutiun, pp. 82-83; Ormanian, A zgapatum, 3: 3442-3447.

[57]       A. Berberian, Patmutiun, pp. 108-135; Ormanian, Azgapatum, 3: 3457-3471.

       In the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish war of 1828-1829 and the signing of the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829, the Catholics were granted the status of a separate millet on 6 January 1830.

[58]       Divan Hayots Patmutean [Archives of Armenian History]. vol. 10 (Tiflis, 1912), p. 338.

[59]       Iutiudjian, “Hishatakner, p. 148.

[60]       Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey, 2nd ed. (London, 1969), p. 108.

[61]       Alboyadjian, “Sahmanadrutiune, p. 146.

[62]       Artinian, “Historical Development, p. 51.

[63]       Alboyadjian, “Sahmanadrutiune, pp. 188-189.

[64]       P. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, pp. 73-74; Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, p. 137.

[65]       The sarraf-amira s strongly resented the fact that the Djemaran was established through the initiative of the technocrat- amira s, specifically the two imperial architects Garabed Amira Balian and Hovhannes Amira Serverian. In their eyes the college was a showpiece hurting their pride as a group.

[66]       Ormanian, Azgapatum, 3: 3723.

[67]       A. Sarukhan, Haykakan Khndirn ev Azgayin Sahmanadrutiune Tiurkiayum, 1860-1910 [The Armenian Question and the National Constitution in Turkey, 1860-1910] (Tiflis, 1912), pp. 6-7.

[68]       ABCFM, no. 114. Report of the Annual Meeting of 1842.

[69]       Ormanian, Azgapatum, 3: 3729-3732; Alboyadjian, “Sahmanadrutiune, pp. 197-198.

[70]       Artinian, “Historical Development, p. 55.

[71]       ABCFM, Mission to the Armenians, vol. 2, Journal of H. G. O. Dwight.

[72]       Alboyadjian, “Sahmanadrutiune, p. 197; Ormanian, Azgapatum, 3: 3733.

[73]       A. Berberian, Patmutiun, p. 274.

[74]       Ibid., p. 318.

[75]       Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, p. 163

[76]       A. Berberian, Patmutiun, p. 319; P. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, p. 12.

[77]       Ormanian, Azgapatum, 3: 3814; P. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, p. 93.

[78]       Artinian, “Historical Development, p. 74.

[79]       Torkomian, “Nahabed Rusinian, Handes Amsoreay (Vienna), April 1902, p. 140.

[80]       Azadian, Akn II, p. 99.

[81]       Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, p. 157.

[82]       Most of these men gained prominence, in addition to their role in the constitutional movement, as writers, journalists, authors.

[83]       Masis, 25 June 1859.

[84]       Boghosian, Dadian Gerdastane, p. 127.

[85]       Artinian calls these intellectuals Young Armenians “because of the similarities of their objectives and methods with those of the Young Ottomans. See his “Historical Development, p. 58.

[86]       A striking case among these intellectuals is Nigoghayos Zoraian (1821-1859). Born in Istanbul, this youthful intellectual worked as a clerk for an Armenian commercial firm in Manchester in 1843-1844. Zoraian returned to Istanbul with strong convictions about social and economic justice. Despite his views, Hovhannes Amira Dadian engaged him as an able linguist to act as his translator during trips to Europe. As a result, Zoraian went to Paris and was there in 1847-1848, in time to see the uprisings of 1848. Returning to Istanbul, he began to write on social issues and on the need for literacy in the fledgling press of the time. It is a tribute to Djezayirlian Amira’s tolerance that the latter employed him as his secretary from 1851 to 1853, during which time Zoraian published, among other essays, “Harstutean Djamban” (“The Road to Riches”), which is a statement of liberal and radical tenets. Minas Teoleolian, Dar me Grakanutiun [A Century of Literature], 2 vols. (1933), 1: 108-112.

[87]       A good illustration of the arbitrary way of solving matters by the amiras is provided in the removal of Patriarch Madteos Tchukhadjian. The latter displeased the amira s with his haughty attitude and stubborn conduct. He incurred the enmity of several prominent amira s, such as Djanig amira Papazian and Misak Amira Misakian. He did not attend the funeral of Djanig Amira 's sister; he refused to relinquish to Misak Amira a parcel of land adjacent to the church at Pera as compensation for the expenses the latter had incurred in constructing a fountain and making renovations for the school of the church. These two amira s convinced others to join them in demanding the resignation of the too independent Patriarch, who refused to resign. He managed to find supporters among other amira s, especially Mgrditch Amira Djezayirlian, and thus keep his position. A few months later, however, it was Djezayirlian who demanded the Patriarch’s resignation, for the latter had refused to reveal the source of a major donation (reportedly made by Boghos Odian, as an anonymous donor). Djezayirlian asked the intercession of the Grand Vezir Mustafa Resid Pasha, whose sarraf he was, on the ground that as a member of the Supreme Civil Council it was his right to be informed of all the transactions of the Patriarchate. Eventually the Patriarch was forced to resign.

       A. Berberian, Patmutiun, pp. 359-365; Ormanian, Azgapatum, 3: 3878.

[88]       Arshalooys Araratean, 1892, no. 413, pp. 2-3.

[89]       As a matter of fact, the book bears no name of author, but “everybody knew that Rusinian was its author. Torkomian, “Rusinian, p. 100.

[90]       Asadur, Polsoy Hayere, p. 176-177; Artinian, “Historical Development, pp. 69-71.

[91]       For a detailed analysis see James Etmekjian, The French Influence on the Western Armenian Renaissance, 1843-1915 (New York, 1964); Gorun Shrikian, “Armenians under the Ottoman Empire and the American Mission s influence on Their Intellectual and Social Renaissance” (Ph. D. dissertation, Concordia Seminary in Exile, 1977); Dwight, Christianity.

[92]       Artinian, “Historical Development, p. 78.

[93]       Torkomian, “Rusinian” (May 1902), p. 142.

[94]       In such instances the azgapet (“chief of the nation”) amira would run the meeting; now, however, such a procedure was not acceptable to the esnaf s as well as the clergy.

[95]       First Alboyadjian (“Sahmanadrutiune, p. 361), and then Artinian (“Historical Development, p. 80) claim that in this Supreme Civil Council “for the first time, the amira s were absent. The sources cited by the latter do not lend support to such a claim (Ormanian, Azgapatum, col. 2707, which is more proper to cite as 3: 4018-4020, and P. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, pp. 94-95). Boghos Ashnanian was an amira, although Alboyadjian cites him as aga in his list of the council members on p. 319.

[96]       Masis, 28 March 1857, no. 270.

[97]       P. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, p. 95.

[98]       Ibid.

[99]       Ormanian, Azgapatum, 3: 4016. The accusation was not openly voiced by the contemporaries, but later writers and students of the topic, such as Alboyadjian, overwhelmingly share in Ormanian s opinion, who is an excellent source for this period.

[100]    Torkomian, “Rusinian” (July 1902), p. 207.

[101]    Adjarian, “Hayots, p. 159; Roderic H. Davison, Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 1856-1876 (Princeton, N. J., 1963), p. 134; Alboyadjian, “Sahmanadrutiune, pp. 350-351.

[102]    Ormanian, Azgapatum, 3: 4017-4019.

[103]    Ibid.

[104]    P. Ketchian, Patmutium Hivantanotsin, p. 138.

[105]    The councils “put an end to the amira -class administration of the national-religious affairs [of the millet]. Hovhannisian, Nalpandiane, 1: 345.

[106]    Ormanian, Azgapatum, 3: 3723.

[107]    P. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, p. 73; A. Ketchian, Akn, p. 181.

[108]    Archives, Correspondence, Abbot to Fr. Hovhannes Surgudjian, 3 July 1847, Mekhitarist Convent, Venice, Italy

[109]    Hnaser, “Niuter Ashkharhabari, p. 140.

[110]    Very little has unfortunately been written about these conflicts and rivalries, nor can much be added. The paucity of personal letters and other documents render any investigation almost futile.

[111]    Mrmerian, Masnakan Patmutiun, p. 144.

[112]    Varantian, Haykakan, 1: 235.

[113]   Ghazarian, Arevmtahayeri, p. 400.

[114]    ABCFM, Mission to the Armenians, vol. 1, no. 114, 7 January 1839.

[115]    A. Berberian, Patmutiun, p. 261.

[116]    ABCFM, Armenians, vol. 1, no. 114, 7 January 1839.

[117]    A. Berberian, Patmutiun, p. 491.

[118]    Ibid., p. 261.

[119]    P. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, p. 84, claims that Hovhannes Bey Dadian informed Mahmud II of the sufferings caused by the forced collection of Armenian youngsters “and asked the Sultan to abrogate the order. The Sultan was not only surprised but angry... With his well-known love for justice, he ordered the cessation of these misdeeds. Ketchian does not mention the source of his information nor the year the alleged conversation had taken place. Such a good deed would hardly have escaped the attention of Berberian, an earlier and well-informed historian. Furthermore, had the order been rescinded, the missionaries writing the year of Mahmud s death would have heard of the abrogation and witnessed its execution. Ketchian s version of the incident is reported by Alboyadjian ( Les Dadian, p. 79), while Berberian s information is reproduced by Ormanian ( Azgapatum, 3: 371; -3714) as authentic and true.

[120]    Varantian, Haykakan, 1: 234.

[121]    Hovhannisian, Nalbandiane, 1: 351.

[122]    Archives des Affaires Etrangères, Paris, Correspondence Diplomatique, Turquie, vol. 284 (October-December 1841), p. 14.

[123]    Giuleserian, Hishatakaran Basmadjian, p. 53.

[124]    Ormanian, Azgapatum, 2: 3375-3376; 3: 3385-3395.

[125]    P. Ketchian, Patmutium Hivandanotsin, p. 44.

[126]    A. Berberian, Patmutiun, p. 100.

[127]    P. Ketchian, Patmutiun Hivandanotsin, p. 9.

[128]    Lewis, Emergence, p. 356.

[129]    Leo, Khotjayakan Kapitale, p. 255.

[130]    Varantian, Haykakan, 2: 85.

[131]    S. Sh. Zurabian, Hay Tntesagitakan Mtki Zargatsman Urvagdzer [Sketches of the Development of the Armenian Economic Mind] (Erevan, 1959), p. 69.

[132]    A. Ketchian, Akn, p. 145.