Those ‘Cringing’ Armenians

Keghart.com Team Editorial, 16 June 2010
 
Following Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in the late 18th century, Europeans representing various nations, trades, disciplines, and sects elbowed their way to the Middle East. Diplomats, traders, archaeologists, authors, journalists, artists, explorers, adventurers, and missionaries seemed to be fascinated by the “Orient,” then ruled by the Ottoman Empire. During their sojourn in Ottoman Turkey, these Europeans inevitably came across Armenians—from Constantinople to Cilicia to Erzurum. And they often wrote about the Armenians they met.
 

Keghart.com Team Editorial, 16 June 2010
 
Following Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in the late 18th century, Europeans representing various nations, trades, disciplines, and sects elbowed their way to the Middle East. Diplomats, traders, archaeologists, authors, journalists, artists, explorers, adventurers, and missionaries seemed to be fascinated by the “Orient,” then ruled by the Ottoman Empire. During their sojourn in Ottoman Turkey, these Europeans inevitably came across Armenians—from Constantinople to Cilicia to Erzurum. And they often wrote about the Armenians they met.
 


Armenian Family, names unknown, Aintab, Ottoman Empire c 1905
[A project SAVE photo courtesy of Geoge Keverian, Boston MA]

 
Some of what they said about Armenians was positive (hard-working, better educated than Turks); other comments were uncomplimentary (wily, haggling merchants). However, a word that again and again comes up in their description of Armenians is ‘cringing’. Referring to Armenians, British travelers Georgina Mackenzie and Adelina Paulina Irby said,  “…the hereditary cringing of the rayah,” while in ‘The Times’ of London, British diplomat Valentine Chirol wrote of “the beaten Oriental is abject.”
 
Describing the Armenians of Constantinople, William Goodell  wrote, “Four centuries of torture, of oppression, and of suspense have stamped its [sic] impress upon an entire community… constant fear, constant agony, constant humiliation have so crushed out every trace of manhood, that they are still cringing, fawning, and abject race.”
 
Noel Buxton and Rev. Harold Buxton in the “Travels & Politics in Armenia” (Times Literary Supplement, 1914) said that the ‘cringing’ descriptive was most frequently reserved for Armenians and Jews, both in Imperial Russia and in the Ottoman Empire. The famous English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, writing about his travels in the Levant in 1846, depicted an Armenian in Rhodes as ‘cringing and wheedling.”
 
In 1910, Captain A.F. Townsend (“A Military Consult in Turkey: The Experience & Impression of a British Representative in Asia Minor”) remarked, “If a European were to strike an impertinent Moslem, he would be paid back in kind, but an Armenian would become cringing; his spirit is broken by centuries of oppression.”
 
Jean Victor Bates (“Our Allies & Enemies in the Near East”) wrote about what he called ‘poor, cringing, unmanly Armenians even after the terrible tragedy that befell the community in 1915, perhaps representing a peculiar orientalist version of the tendency to blame victims for whatever happens to them.”
 
Historian Cathie Carmichael, in her recent and exhaustive “Genocide Before the Holocaust” (Yale University Press), says that for Ottoman Armenians fear was a way of life. One survival strategy for ethnic minorities, says Carmichael, was “fatalism and increased piety (a phenomenon which was happening among Jews, Muslims and Armenians, subjected to frequent missionary work at a time when they were most vulnerable.”
 
Missionary Helen Davenport Gibbons recalled (“Red Rugs of Tarsus; A Woman’s Record of the Armenian Massacre of 1909, 1917”) that the fear and fatalism of “Armenians was very vivid. When we first came to Cilicia and went to church up in the Tarsus Mountain summer place, I remember how queer these people [Armenians] looked to me. They belong to another world I was an outsider. I had difficulty in understanding some traits of their characters. I was hasty in my judgment of them—hasty through ignorance. I was impatient with their constant fear of ‘what might happen anytime’ to Christians under Moslem rule.
 
Carmichael points out that another strong mechanism of coping [by Armenians] was denial. “…they may be developed a ‘pogrom mentality’ expecting violence and waiting for it to pass like a storm.” For example, Dorothea Chambers Blais (“Missionary Daughter”) recalled in Cilicia in 1909 that an Armenian mother “had been through massacres before, she knew one must treat it as an episode and not a final tragedy.”
 
Describing the 1896 massacres of Armenians in Constantinople, Chalmers Roberts (“A Mother of Martyrs,” Atlantic Monthly, 1899) wrote, “One came to expect that venerable Ulemas and ascetic young Softas, on their way from the mosque to mosque, would kick the mangled bodies, which blocked their paths, and curse them for dogs of Armenian traitors. The pools of blood in the streets in some places actually dripping and trickling downhill came in time, after you had stepped over and around a hundred of them, to remind you of some early visit to a slaughter house.”
 
Talking about the long bondage of Armenians and Greeks, Margaret Lavinia Anderson (“Down in Turkey, Far Away”) argued that the discourse ‘essentialized’ the Christian in the Near East, who was thus “the born victim, whose cries for help we have become tired of hearing.”
 
While the litany of the Western narratives about Ottoman Armenian life—the permanent anxiety, insecurity and dread– is certainly a worthwhile addition to our knowledge of Ottoman Armenian history, we would like to pose here a single question to the government in Ankara: “How can you continue to insist that such a powerless, harassed, fatalist, over-taxed, impoverished, and abject minority could have been a fifth column threatening to dismantle the Ottoman Empire?”   
 
8 comments
  1. And this is why it is very
    And this is why it is very difficult for the Turks and Azeris to come into terms with the fact that those gyavour Armenians, that they have trampled on for centuries, have started biting back all of a sudden. This is something which they are not used to and need time to grasp…

    1. ….this is why….

      Just like Arshak said….we started to bite back. When I lived in Turkey many decades ago the common adjective given to Jews was  " KORKAK" meaning  COWARD….

      It was always KORKAK YAHUDI this, KORKAK YAHUDI that…Coward Jew…….Yeah…..How coward are they now? I am trying to draw a parallel. I thik, but I hope not, we can bite anybody in our region except the Turks and Iranans. With one we have a very good relation, a lifeline….with the other………well time will tell.

  2. Mark Twain was impressed by Armenians during his visit
    Armenians in Smyrna By Mark Twain

     

    A portion of the city is pretty exclusively Turkish; the Jews have a quarter to themselves; the Franks another quarter; so, also, with the Armenians.  The Armenians, of course, are Christians.  Their houses are large, clean, airy, handsomely paved with black and white squares of marble, and in the centre of many of them is a square court, which has in it a luxuriant flower-garden and a sparkling fountain; the doors of all the rooms open on this.  A very wide hall leads to the street door, and in this the women sit, the most of the day.  In the cool of the evening they dress up in their best raiment and show themselves at the door.

    They are all comely of countenance, and exceedingly neat and cleanly; they look as if they were just out of a band-box.  Some of the young ladies–many of them, I may say–are even very beautiful; they average a shade better than American girls–which treasonable words I pray may be forgiven me.  They are very sociable, and will smile back when a stranger smiles at them, bow back when he bows, and talk back if he speaks to them.  No introduction is required.  An hour’s chat at the door with a pretty girl one never saw before, is easily obtained, and is very pleasant.  I have tried it.  I could not talk anything but English, and the girl knew nothing but Greek, or Armenian, or some such barbarous tongue, but we got along very well.  I find that in cases like these, the fact that you can not comprehend each other isn’t much of a drawback.

     
    1. Those ‘Cringing’ Armenians

      It was great to read the complimentary words of Mark Twain. He was a hard-to-please traveller, who was generally unimpressed by Europe and had many nasty words even about the Holy Land. I think the editorial did say that some Western writers were positive about the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire.

      Something important that’s not included in the editorial is one of the reasons some European writers were not positive about Ottoman Armenians. The Europeans toured the Ottoman Empire looking for the exotic Orient, for the "other", for adventure, for colorful characters on horseback/camel. They also enjoyed the temporary superman status that their citizenship and money granted them in the Middle East. When they met Armenians who were not dark, not Moslem (didn’t look like the other), and sometimes were urban, urbane, fairly well educated and not necessarily servile, Europeans resented the "uppity" Armenian. How dare the Armenian think he is the equal of a European? Yes, indeed. These Europeans also mocked our "backward" and impoverished clergy, and our "heretical", "pagan" Christianity.

  3. O Significado Da Última Frase

    O Assunto do Foi ch UM editorialMIM n oque. Lembrei-me de pais Como my e parentes e Toda uma comunidade Armênia de São Paulo, Sobreviventes do Genocídio pareciam aceitar, fatalisticamente, uma tragédia Que Sobre eles se abatera. Isso me intrigou semper. Vejo, agora, era assim Que Já QUANDO submetidos Às injustiças cometidas Pelo Império otomano, ivendo v ali.. E, realmente, ComoPoDE se atrever uma Turquia, procurar Justificar se, soluço o Argumento de Que OS armènios Perigo UM constituiam e Uma ameaça Para o Império otomano? Se eles já dominados Estavam e espezinhados, sem qualquer reação Forças parágrafo Ação UO? Eis Como se revela uma Capacidade de menitir, MARCA REGISTRADA da Turquia!      
  4. Cringing Armenians

    We often think of the 1895 to 1920 time frame when it comes to the Ottoman Empire.  These were the worst of times.  That does not mean Armenians had it easy up until then.  We focus so much on the Genocide we forget how oppresive life was during the entire Ottoman reign.

    Sure, we had Armenians that were useful to the Sultans.  These "house slaves" had some skill that was valued by the ruling class.  But, for the majority of the people, I imagine life was pretty difficult.  It is good for us all to read these third party perspectives.

    I have a four CD set of Minority Composers of Ottoman Music that includes Armenians, Greeks, Jews, and Gypsies.  In the liner notes, the Ottoman Empire was referred to as "the empire of tolerance."  I read that, sat back and simply said "OK…"  I showed this to a prominent Armenian Historian, the author of several books, he looked and was actually stunned for a few moments before simply chuckling.

    We need such historical testimonies to combat the constant spin.

  5. Still cringing
    And they are still cringing. 

    This June the Istanbul Armenian patriarchate cancelled its once-a-year visit to their church in Kayseri (intended to mark the feast day of St Gregory’s emergence from his pit of imprisonment – one of the most important holy days in the Armenian Church) because, in a completely different part of Turkey, a Catholic priest had been murdered by his driver, and despite the fact that within hours of the crime being committed the perpetrator was known and that it was clearly an "ordinary crime" without any religious implications.

     

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