Context &
 & Atrocities
& Demands 
Oppression and Atrocities

Censorship of the press

In the same line with this was the action of the government with regard to censorship of the press and of books, whether those printed in the cou ntry or imported from abroad. Immediately following 1856, there was considerable freedom of action in this particular. While there was a general supervision of everything that was either printed or imported into the empire, there was manifest an inclination to trust to the honor of reputable publishers and importers. Occasionally there was transgression, but as a rule by private individuals. The large societies or printing houses invariably sought to accord absolutely to the law, even where they found it extremely irksome. With the advent of the present Sultan, however, a change became manifest. Constantly increasing restrictions were placed. Law after law regulating the sale and publishing of books was issued, each more stringent than its predecessor. No book was allowed to be printed without carrying on its title page the permit of the Sureau of Censors, and no book was allowed to be imported without the stamp of the censors. Considerable negotiation in this regard resulted in a plan, which while irksome was not really injurious, and it was thought that everything would move rightly.

Incresed restrictions - Severe punishment - False statements

Soon, however, it became evident that still more restrictions were to be enforced. The existing law was interpreted in the most absurd ways. As an illustration; a colporteur started out from the city of Erzrum to carry his books through the villages. He was stopped at the gate of the city by the police. He showed his traveling passport and stated that all his books had the permit of the official board of censors. The officer would accept nothing and insisted upon his going to the government house. There his books were placed in a room and he was told to come after a few days. He came but there was no reply; there had been no time to examine the case. He came again, and at last by persistence secured the examination by the proper officer. This examination showed conclusively that everything was according to law, and the colporteur was permitted to go. He started again to the gate of the city, and found a new officer on duty. He was again arrested and sent back to the government house. Again there was a delay, until the same officer's attention could be secured. This thing happened several times and several weeks passed before the man could go on his way. Instances innumerable of this kind could be given from all over the country.

The last law gave a list of subjects on which all publications were absolutely prohibited, so broad that any official might if he chose, exclude from this province all Christian literature. Any censor in the capital or in the interior provinces might reject a book if a single sentence in it appeared of doubtful meaning, and severe penalties upon the importation, sale, distribution or even transportation of any book which had not received the censors' approval, were applied not merely to dealers but to private owners. The result of this was that again and again individuals were severely punished for having in their possession technically unauthorized books ; that is, such as had been published before the existence of these later laws. The effect of this is seen in the fact that throughout the interior provinces of the empire it has been of Iate almost impossible to find any books at all, and the children of fairly educated parents are growing up in ignorance.

But the animus of the law was seen not only in its application to the interior provinces, but to the private libraries of foreigners, and to the local press in the border cities. In few countries has there been a greater newspaper development than in certain parts of Turkey. In Constantinople, there are a large number of daily papers in every language, Turkish, Armenian, Greek, French, English, Italian, Spanish, JudaeoSpanish (for the larae number of Spanish Jews), Bulgarian, Arabic and others. Over every one of these papers there was exercised the most rigid censorship ; not rnerely local news, but foreign news was subjected to the most careful examination, and any item of any kind, that did not cneet with the approval of the officers, was remorselessly stricken out. More than that, every paper was compelled under penalty of iustant suppression, to publish every item that the government saw fit to issue to it. The effect of this is seen in the statements in connection with the massacres. No statement of any kind with regard to these massacres was allowed, until they became so notorious that it was simply impossible to absolutely prevent them. Then the government issued offi- cial statements so utterly false, that not even the Turks themselves would believe them. The followina paragraphs, froln the paper referred to above, illustrate very fully the nature of many of these restrictions:

"The censorship of foreign religious and literary works is so stringent as to deprive the Christians in Turkey of the ordinary means of keeping in touch with the advancement of knowledge among their co-reliaionists abroad. Such classics of English literature, for instance, as Shakespeare, Byron, Milton, Scott, are refused authorization. So with the higher literature of any language. No standard History, no Encyclopedia, no treatise on metaphysics of any extended character, no full and extended theology or commentary on the Bible, can pass the censorship for introduction into the interior of Turkey. And if any minister or teacher, anxious to fill well his place, ventures to smuggle such books through or to possess the rudiments of a library, he is certain sooner or later to fall under the notice of the paid spy, and then rnust submit to the condemnation for the crime which the authorities choose to consider to be " incited " by the history or theological work concerned. The effect of the refusal to admit the standard works of Christendom, in keeping teachers of Christian schools in Turkey down to the level of the primary school need not be enlarged upon.

Prohibited words

The censorship of books published within the empire is still more rigorous, no longer professing to confine itself to politics or to polemics in religion, but taking hold of and mutilating books designed for the religious instruction and encouragement of Christians. It is conceivable that here Mohammedan censors might defend their right to prohibit, as they do, the publication in Turkish, where Moslems might see them, of the noble works which have been the inspiration and the comfort of Christians in all ages. But it is not conceivable that justification can be found in the case of interference with the publication of such books, printed, not in Arabic Ietters that Moslems use, but in the Christian alphabets which no Mohammedan can read. Yet the Christian, anxious to aid his fellow-Christians to lead noble and useful lives, may not publish articles in his own religious newspapers, which contain, for instance, the quotation of texts of Scripture. These are commonly prohibited either on the plea that the texts are not suitable for the common people, or because they contain words which are forbidden, and cannot be altered by the publisher because they are the words of the Bible. For instance, a text which alludes to rising from the dead may not be used because the verb "to rise" in some other context might mean something else. Any passage from the Bible is prohibited which contains any of the following words: Persecution, courage, liberty, strength, rights, union, equality, star (in astronomy one has to use the word "luminary" instead), king, palace, arms, bloodshed, tyranny, hero, etc., etc. In fact these words are prohibited in religious articles in any context whatever. A Christian religious newspaper may not place before its readers a hymn or other poetry, and from the hymn books used in Christian worship many of the grand old hymns of the Church have been expunged, and the suppression sustained after appeal to the highest authority of the Porte. A Christian writer addressing Christians who know only Turkish, in the Turkish language, is constantly forbidden to use words of purely religious signification which are the words used in the Bible and the only ones known to the people to express a given idea, because the idea is held by the censor to belong to Mohammedanism alone. Of such are "the guiding grace of God; " forbidden, because Moslems do not admit ' that Christians can have this grace. "Good news," the literal translation used in the Bible of the Greek word "Evangelion" commonly rendered in English as the Gospel. The use of this word is prohibited, because Moslems do not admit that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is "good news." "Apostle" (resoul) is a word found in everyday Turkish law in its sense of messenger. It is prohibited in the Christian newspaper press, because it implies that the Apostles of Jesus Christ were sent of God, which Moslems deny. The same prohibition, for Mohammedan religious reasons, lies upon the use, in Christian religious books or religious newspapers, of references to our Saviour as "the Saviour of the world" or to his shedding his blood for the cleansing from sin.

Virtues prohibited

But aside from these interferences, the censors refuse to allow certain subjects of religious discourse to be presented to Christians. Thus the virtues of manliness, of moral courage, or resignation under affiiction, of hope in God under adversity, are all subjects concerning which Christian religious books may not speak to Christians. The same is true of exhortations to benevolence, of practical suggestions to Christians as to means of copying Jesus Christ in doing good to others, of suggestions of Christian evangelistic work among the ignorant and degraded of the Christian communities, and of reference to Christian missions and their operations in other parts of the world.

Ministers molested

Besides all this, Protestant ministers are molested in their services when they preach upon these normal themes of their religion. The Protestant pastor of Yuzgat was expelled from the place for no other offence. The Protestant pastor at Sungurlu was compelled to leave that town for preaching on the resurrection from the dead. The Protestant pastor from Gemerek is undergoing imprisonment in the fortress of St. Jean d'Acre for no other offence, to judge from the evidence produced at his trial. The Protestant pastor at Chakmak, near Cesarea, has just been thrown into prison; and those who know his Iaw-abiding and sterling character, assure us that his efforts to lead his flock into closer adherence to Bible Christianity are his only crime. Protestant pastors everywhere declare that they are compelled, in choosing texts from the Bible, and in framing their exhortations upon them, to hesitate, and paraphrase, and weigh words, through fear that if they speak of the consolations of Christianity, they will be charged with encouraging discontent; if they urge resistance to sin, they will be condemned for suggesting resistance to the Turkish Government; or if they speak of the demand of Christianity for pure and noble character, they will be charged with inciting men to unlawful aspirations. On complaint being made of such restrictions upon the legitimate instruction of Christians, officials in high position have answered that while provincial governors are constantly sending extracts from the Bible to prove the necessity of suppressing that book, Christians should be grateful for the privilege of being allowed to have the Bible, instead of complaining at being restricted in making or publishing comments upon it. Yet when there has been removed from the instruction of Christians all reference to the requirements of Christianity for practical benevolent living and to its abundance of assurances of the Divine aid in adversity and of the rewards of resignation, and to the proofs of its power which are found in the experiences of the Church universal in different parts of the world, much has been done to prevent Christians from knowing the worth or experiencing the effects of their own religion in their own hearts."

Questions of restriction

It might be said that this whole question of restriction of worship, schools and the press, is looked at from the distinctively Turkish staudpoint, and the claim made that the government legitimately sought to protect the Moslems from being infected with Christian ideas. The answer to this is found in the fact that the restrictions did not by any means apply merely to publications in the Arabic character, such as is used by all Moslems, but to publications which no Moslem ever could or would read, in the Armenian or Greek characters, or even in foreign languages. In the same line is the fact that attacks upon Christianity were freely allowed by the Turl;ish Government, while replies from Christians were distinctly forbidden. These Moslem attacks were full of the most scurrilous statements and contemptuous epithets, and were so maliciously false as to almost overshoot their mark. Still the authors of these works were decorated by the Sultan himself, and every effort was made to give to them the widest possible circulation. So, also, in the Turkish newspapers, attacks after attacks were made upon the Christian subjects of the Sultan, to which absolutely no reply was allowed. The paper closes with the following summary:-

Review of the case

"To review the case, we find an increasing stringency in Turkey directed against Christian education, an increasing tendency to hinder Christian worship, an increasing hostility to the use of books by the Christians of Turkey, which result in actually crippling the intellectual powers of men who would carry their culture along the lines of the best thought of Christendom. We find an increasing vigilance to prevent Christians from exercising the injunctions of their religion in practical benevolence and beneficence among their own people. And in these later years we find this tendency reaching a climax of intensity in the rough hands laid upon the exposition of the Christian faith in a way to prevent Christians from learning the full value of their religion and to prevent the Christian religion from producing its full fruit among its followers. In answer to inquiry as to the meaning of this rapid trend of different lines of policy converging to one point, we are told that the trouble is that Christianity tends to make men grow into a better manhood. This statement is made in various forms of paraphrase by officials of all grades from Bagdad to the Bosporus, and in answer to all objections, to the closing of schools, to the suppression of worship, to the restrictions put upon the use of books, to the elision of words and subjects from manuscripts in the press, and to the silencing of Christian ministers. To this declaration we make answer that the deliberate purpose of the founder of Christianity and of the religion which He taught is the purpose to take the debased and ignorant, and to make them men, self controlled, honest and useful; that the purpose to elevate rnan is not a disloyal or seditious purpose; and that any farreaching scheme to restrain Christianity from accomplishing its full fruit in purifying and quickening the lives of its followers, is war upon the Christian religion itself."


The Armenian Massacres of 1894-1897 
A Bibliography - Continue >
An excerpt from the book
"Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities"
By Rev. Edwin M. Bliss.
Updated 30 May, 2000 ..
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