Context &
 & Atrocities
& Demands 
Oppression and Atrocities

Brutal insults

Residents in Constantinople and throughout the empire in the early years of the century had been accustomed to hear the most opprobrious epithets used to them by Turks of every grade. Under the ifluence of Abdul Medjid and the Hatti Humayoun this diminished greatly, and as a consequence the social relations grew more and more friendly. During the five years previous to 1894., however, a marked change was noticed everywhere throughout the empire. There was far more of brutality in the treatment of individuals ; there was an increasing lack of regard for the customs of the Christians. The governor of Nicomedia, only sixty miles from Constantinople, ordered a leading Christian merchant of that place to open his shop for business on Sunday. On his refusal to do that which his religion forbade, this same officer publicly and abominably reviled the religion that taught him such a thing. He then struck the merchant in the face and tried by fierce threats to compel him to "obey the orders of an officer of the Sultan." In the province of Erzrum some soldiers came to a village on Sunday and demanded sacks to carry grain. They were requested to wait until the close of the service when the sacks would be furnished. They however entered the church, bawled out to the preacher to stop the service, and even drew their swords upon the men who sought to quiet this interruption. An officer of a Christian community in another city had occasion to go to police headquarters for a document. He was met with a torrent of unspeakably vile abuse of himself and the most.sacred things of his religion. There ,were a large number of officers and privates of the police present, but not one remonstrated. In no case was there any possibility of redress, although twenty years before, punishment would have been accorded promptly to the offending officers.

Treatment of Christions

With regard to the general treatment of the Christian peasants in the districts of Eastern Turkey, it is impossible to give anything like an adequate conception of the situation. Not merely were the villagers subject to open robbery by the Kurds, but to the scarcely less ruinous extortion carried on by the lower government officials. The outrages carried on by Kurds under their new semi-military organization, had given occasion to petition after petition to the Central Government. No attention, however, was paid to them, and in 1893 orders were sent from Constantinople forbidding the transmission of any more petitions against these regiments. But it was not merely the Kurds that the people had to fear. Reference has already been made to the Circassians that were brought in in such numbers from the Caucasus. They had spread themselves over Western Asia Minor, and while at first less bold became, during the five years under special survey, so arrogant that no Christian farmer could hope to hold his property if it pleased the eye of one of these men. A general survey of the whole situation leaves the inevitable impression of a plan officially adopted to wage an indirect war upon the whole Christian population by crushing them, reducing them to poverty, and to clear them off from the face of the land in order to replace them by a Moslem population.

Kurdish exactions

That this plan was a general one against all non-Moslems is evidenced by the fact that the oppression and the injustice was by no means confined to the Armenian villages and towns. The Greek villages suffered only in a secondary measure, while the Christian population of Mesopotamia suffered fully as much. In "The Independent" of New York, in the issue of January 17th, 1895, was published a long statement as to the exactions made upon the various villages by the Kurdish chiefs and also by the government officials. The following is an illustration of the latter. During the summer of 1894 the government demanded back taxes from a certain village to a large amount, which according to the villagers had no foundation in justice. They had already been impoverished and had no means of paying the tax. Under very heavy pressure from the government, however, they raised a part of the sum by mortaaging their fields and future crops, leaving a balance which they absolutely could not pay. Driven to desperation by the soldiers; who insisted upon collecting the taxes, they entirely deserted their villaae and fled to the mountains. After some months the government endeavored to induce them to return, and promised redress for their wrongs. When however they did return, still increased pressure was brought to bear upon them to secure money. In a number of villages the people were literally bought as slaves. In some cases the food supply, beds, household utensils, farmers' implements were seized by the collectors in lieu of taxes. These collectors then made false returns of taxes received, and when the new officials came, using the incomplete reports of their predecessors they again collected the taxes, entailing much suffering.

A new edict - Rights to worship

In still further proof of the statement that the situation was the result of a general plan for the suppressing of the Christians, attention should be called to a series of facts with regard to aggressions upon specific religious liberty. Before 1856, an imperial firman (permit) had been required for all Christian churches, and worship in any others than those indorsed by the Imperial Government was absolutely forbidden. After that date the Hatti Humayoun recognized the right of all people to worship as they saw fit; and while the construction of churches was especially referred for authorization by imperial firman, the right to read the Testament, as worship was called, in private dwellings was fully acknowledged.

From that time until 1891, this liberty was enjoyed throughout the country. - When it became a question of the erection of a large church to be consecrated for divine service; the imperial permit was always secured. But there were many cases in smaller villages and towns, and even in cities, where the community was not large enough to warrant an expensive building, where the people gathered in a room in a private house. This served for service on Sunday and sometimes on week days; also for private schools, and meantime was in many instances a dwelling place for the family of the preacher or teacher. It was not until 1891  that the Sublime Porte questioned for the first time officially the right of Christians to conduct worship in this way in private houses. In the following year an edict was issued which took advantage of the fact that in certain cases worship was conducted in the same room as private schools, arid basing its claim upon the recognized Iaw that schools were under general imperial supervision, decreed the suppression of worship in schools not formally authorized and found to be without permits after a stipulated time. When objection was made to this, the reply was tha't this was a technical measure, bringing existing places of worship under regular forms, and promising that permits would be issued promptly on application. As a matter of fact several permits were thus issued. But two years later a new move was made in this same direction and a number of places of Protestant worship throughout Asiatic Turkey were suppressed, under the claim that no worship at all could be carried on in any building that had not received specific authorization by imperial firman. The situation was explained by a provincial official as follows : " Every place where a Christian says his prayers is reckoned as a church, and a church cannot exist without an imperial firman." The result of this was that there were numerous cases all over the country, not merely in the interior, but in Constantinople and in Syria, where the Protestants were prohibited from worship.

One case deserves special note. For many years the Protestant community in Stamboul, or the city proper of Constantinople, had worshipped in a private house under the general permit accorded in 1856. That building became unsafe through age and a new one was desired. Petition after petition was made, and every conceivable pretext, and many that seemed absolutely inconceivable, was brought forward to prevent their securing the right to worship. Similar instances occurred in Sidon, in Syria, others in the provinces of Trebizond, Harput, Angora and Adana. In the city of Ordu, not far from Trebizond, where there was a large Protestant community, effort after effort was made to secure a building, and one was at last obtained after repeated applications. Objections, however, were made by local Greek priests, and the Turkish Government took advantage of this and stopped the worship. It thus became notorious that the government would tal:e advantage of every pretext of whatever kind, whether of hostility on the part of local magnates or of what they considered general welfare, to check so far as possible the spread of Christian worship. Of course the regularly authorized churches were not disturbed, whether belonging to Armenians, Greeks, Jacobites or Protestants.

Suppressing schools - Heavy penalties.

What is perhaps a still more marked instance of this is found in the action with regards to schools. According to the Hatti Humanyoun the various communities were authorized to open schools and in the circular that attended the promulgationof the edict it was said:

"In regard to schools created and erected by the communities, the most absolute liberty is left to them by the Imperial Govenment, which never intervenes save to prevent in cases of necessity the confiding of the direction of the direction of these schools to persons whose principles are notoriously hostile to the authority of the Imperial Government or contrary to public order."
For twenty-eight years this liberty was fully enjoied by the varrious Christian communities. The result was the springing up of a system of education over the whole country that changed in many respects the character of the varrious communities. The dominant cause for this is set forth in another chapter, that on mission work, and need not be explained here further than to say that the impulse was given by the American and English missionaries, but was cordially followed out by Armenian, Greek, Maronite, Bulgarian and other Christian communities, and had its effect even upon Moslems themselves. In Syria in 1882, and throughout the empire in 1884 the government suddenly commenced to suppress Christian schools on the ground of lack of conformity to the school law of 1867. This was news to all. But on examination it was found that in an obscure paragraph preceded and followed by matter relating solely to the organization of a governmental system, there was a single clause touching what are known as private schools. According to this these are permitted on condition that the course of study, the books used, and the diplomas of the teachers be submitted for the approval of the local authorities. For fifteen years this had been held in abeyance, and was absolutely unknown until some thirty schools were closed in Syria for disobedience of it. Then followed a series of negotiations, which resulted in a declaration by the Minister of Public Instruction that existing Christian schools would not be molested if they submitted to control in the three points mentioned. Throughout the country there was general submission to this control, but on application for permits, the statement was uniformly made that they could be given to none but new schools.

This again blocked the way. Three years later a large number were closed for lack of permits. Then followed renewed negotiations; and a vizerial order was issued in 1889, confirming the declaration of the Minister of Public Instruction. Again three years later the edict referred to was issued, ordering the closing of all schools and places of worship which did not obtain formal permits within a specified time, though it was left to the will of the officials to issue or refuse the permits. The situation was then somewhat alleviated, but the next year a new difficulty arose. The local authorities clairned that the permits required were not those of the Department of Public Instruction but an imperial firman, and in 1894, the Sublime Porte declared that no school of any kind could exist without an imperial firman. Stringent orders were issued laying heavy penalties upon officials who neglected to close schools without permits. Teachers were forbidden to allow addresses to be made to scholars or to have essays read by scholars at public festivals without first submitting both to the censorship. No private house occupied by an authorized Christian school was to be repaired except by special order from Constantinople; houses or building lots could not be purchased by English, American or French subjects without a bond promising that the buildings should be razed to the ground if worship or schools were at any time established in them.

The inevitable result of this was to fill the provincial authorities with the idea that the Ottoman Government was hostile to Christian educational institutions.

. Another illustration was the requirement by a decree issued in this same year that all Christian schools were to give considerable instruction in the Turkish lanauage. Such an edict inevitably closed the schools in Damascus, in Mesopotamia and in certain portions of Asia Minor, where neither teachers nor scholars knew that language. About the same time there came to liaht the influence of a law issued in 1892, organizing an Imperial Civil Service school, which forbade the employment in government bureaus of any one graduating from other than government schools. Thus again a blow was struck at the higher education in Christian schools throughout the country. 

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