Thursday 18 January 2018 Last Update: 11:10 PM

Turkish Understanding of Government According to Armenian Sources

Published: 12-31-2017

Prof. Dr. Mehmet Ersan

There is a common opinion in the Western world that Turks, who came to Anatolia starting from the first half of the 11th century and adopted it as their homeland, followed a cruel and intolerant politics towards the Christians in the region.

This approach occasionally went beyond being an opinion and turned into heavy accusations and a historical judgment including the accusation that Christians in Anatolia were exposed to tyrannous barbarity and exiled from the lands of their ancestors (Vryonis, 1971: 54 vd.: Iskenderian, 1915: 29 vd.). The scale needed to understand the relations between Turks and Armenian, who were two communities which lived side by side in the same geography for long years, should be “history” where the two communities performed their existence. The witness for the fact that the judgement in question doesn’t reflect reality is recordings of the pieces written by the non-Muslims of the era, especially Armenian authors, that Turks did not carry out suppression or prosecution on non-Muslims because they did not hold the same belief as them.

The condition of Armenians before Seljuk rule can be examined in two chronological periods, interlocking from time to time. The first of these is the Byzantine Empire period and the second is the period when the Abbasids had the dominion in the region. Armenians comprehended these two periods before the Seljuk era when Turkish political existence in the Middle East became more apparent; while they were living a more free religious and social life in return for paying their annual taxes under Abbasid rule not involving much in their internal affairs, Armenians were exposed to versatile social and political suppressions by the Byzantines. It is seen that Byzantines harshly damaged the Armenian existence in the region with this politics, and legally and virtually annexed the region to its government by occupying it. The Crusaders, who took action with the motto of “saving” Eastern Christianity in 1096, also disappointed the expectations of Armenians (Ersan, 2007: 57, 60, 62-63). When dealing with the Turkish-Armenian relations starting from the Seljuk period, these points especially should be taken into consideration. Another issue to be paid attention to is the necessity to assess the relations between the Seljuk and Armenians under the Seljuk rule differently from the relations between the Seljuk and Cilicia Armenian Kingdom, which was a political entity in the Cilician Plain.

There are significant recordings revealing the attitude of Seljuk rule towards the Christian community and the Turkish-Armenian relations in the works of medieval Armenian authors such as Arisdages (of Lasdiverd), Mateos (of Urfa), Samuel (of Ani), Vardan (Vartabet), Simpat, Vahram (of Urfa) and Kiragos (of Gence) who studied the conquest of Anatolia by the Turks, Seljuk Sultans and their activities.

The relations of the Seljuk with Armenians started in the first half of the 11th century. Armenian authors, in the parts where they tell of the wars both during the conquest of Anatolia and the later periods, often use adjectives such as “cruel,” “bloodthirsty,” etc. for Turks and expressions like “blood flowed everywhere like a flood,” “people were slaughtered,” and “everywhere became a sea of blood” when Turks won, and expressions such as “our swords were satisfied with Turkish blood” when Turks were defeated (Aristakés, 1973: 36, 57-63, 75, 79, 107; Mateos, 1987: 110, 115, 116, 118).

These expressions are words reflecting the war scenery and are used to describe the war. The relations between Turks and Armenians in the first period of the Seljuks, which can be defined as “the period of mutually knowing each other” indisputably gained an increasing speed in later periods due to the concentration of Seljuk politics in this geography.

The ruling years of Melikshah (1072-1092), who sat on the throne of the Great Seljuk after Alparslan (1064-1072), became a period of exact peace and tranquillity for Armenians. Armenian who gained a free living space in terms of religion and social life under the Seljuk dominion went to the Sultan in Isfahan under the leadership of Bishop of Ani Barsegh and took an order from him that Armenian Cathogicos would be represented by a single position and all churches and monasteries and the clergy here were would be exempt from taxes. The commands in the ordinance of the Sultan immediately started to be implemented (Mateos, 1987: 176, 179). As it is seen, Armenian who tried to exist under the religious and political suppression of Byzantines for centuries finally obtained their desired protectors, the Seljuks. As it is understood from the command of sultan Melikshah, Armenians were among the subjects of Seljuk rule. They continued their social existence as subjects to the Seljuks and conveyed their social and religious expectations to the Seljuk Sultan.

Armenian sources used almost the same expression about Melikshah and united on the opinion that he was a sultan who was just, peace-loving, compassionate to Christians, who gained the love of everybody and considered the people of the lands he conquered as his children. Also, while Samuel of Ani was saying about Melikshah that “he loved our nation so much that he asked for our prayers and approvals” (Samuel, 1876: 451, 455), Mateos stated that he brought peace and public order to Armenia throughout his rule (Mateos, 1987: 146, 171, 178).

Similarly, the information about Ismail, the son of Yakuti who was a member of the Seljuk dynasty and the governor of Azerbaijan in the Melikshah period, in Armenian sources presents the approach the Armenian community and the Seljuk government have for each other. In the period of Ismail, who is emphasized to be “a governor beautifying monasteries, protecting the priests and improving the country,” everybody came to own properties and Armenians maintained a peaceful life (Vardan, 1937: 184, Mateos, 1987: 179, 181-182).

Turkish Seljuk Sultans who ruled in Anatolian lands naturally had a more intense relation with Armenians. The fact that Kilicarslan I (1093-1107), who ruled during the years of the first Crusade, did not have any negative approach against his Christian subjects although he had to lose the capital of the state and struggle against the Christian Western world can be clearly observed in the expressions of Mateos that “Sultan Kilicarslan died in the war. Christians mourned for him immensely; because he was a very good and gentle person in all aspects” (Mateos, 1987: 231).

The letters between Sultan Mesut I (1116-1155) and Armenian Baron Toros II are interesting as they reflect the relationship between Turkish Seljuks and Armenians who managed to constitute a political entity in Cilician Plain region at the beginning of the 12th century. Mesut I, who went to war in the Cilician Plain with the encouragement of the Byzantine emperor, sent message to the Armenian Baron before the attack and informed the reason for his action by saying “I did not come to destroy your land. Obey us, return the lands you took from the Greeks, we will remain friends to you.” The response of Toros II to this offer was “We obey you who are a sultan with the consent of the heart. You never envied our advancement and development and destroyed our lands. However, when we come to the matter of us giving our lands to the Romans, we can never accept this” (Mateos Grigor Zeyli, 1987: 307-308; Simpat, 56).

It is seen that the relations between the two parties were also good in the period of Kilicarslan II (1155-1192) who came to the throne after Mesut I. Grigor and Simbat confirm this situation through their words that Kilicarslan II “was a good friend of Toros II. He also reinforced his friendship with Toros II”(Mateos Grigor Zeyli, 1987: 317-318; Simpat, 57). Also, Kilicarslan II had to intervene when the brother of Toros II, Stefan, attacked Marash, which was under Seljuk rule, massacred the Christian people of the city and seized their properties and the people who stayed alive left their homes and lands. The Seljuk sultan who came to Marash and took control of the city again made sure that the Christian people escaping the city returned to their home.

Similarly, when Kilicarslan II heard that the governor he appointed to Behisni did not accord to his order of “treating Christians with compassion” and Christian people of the city had to leave the city due to the suppression of the governor, he intervened. On the issue, Grigor says that “the land attained public order again with the intervention of the sultan, thanks to the gentleness of the sultan, the people returned to their houses one after another and the emptied city regained its liveliness” (Mateos Grigor Zeyli, 1987: 317-318).

While Alaeddin Keykubad I (1220-1237), who made the Turkish Seljuks live their brightest period, was returning from his victory against Jelaleddin Harezmshah in 1230, Muslim scholars and sheikhs and Christian priests went to greet him in Kayseri. According to the information given by the Armenian source Genceli Kiragos, Christians who were not able to join the greeting of Muslims, gathered on a hill and Keykubad seeing these, went to them and they entered the city together (Genceli Kiragos, 1928: 148).

The fact that Armenians who were living under the dominion of Turkish Seljuks who were defeated by the Mongols in Kösedağ did not engage in any political attempt by taking advantage of the conflicts which appeared in the period after the war is most probably a result of the state’s approach to the non-Muslim subjects.

Consequently, all these recordings show that when it is looked at the starting phase of the Turkish-Armenian relations, it is seen that Armenian social existence in Anatolian geography was “reconstructed” on the freedom supported by the political approach of the Seljuks. There is such a difference between the Armenians living as a victim of totalitarian Orthodox power in Anatolia and Armenians having a world of their own in the Seljuk era. Armenians who lived under the threat of being exposed to destruction of assimilation in and also started to gradually dissolve as a community of political identity in Byzantine period had the opportunity of getting rid of their old problems during the period of Seljuk dominion. Also, when the behaviour of the Byzantines or the Crusaders, who were from the same religion, towards Armenians and the attitude of Turks towards Armenians are compared, it should be stated that the Turkish dominion in Anatolia was a chance for them, and they made sure that they maintained their existence.


Aristakès de Lastivert 1973, Récitdes Malheurs de la Nation Arménienne, trans. Marius Canard-Haïg Berberian, Bruxelles.

Ersan, Mehmet (2007), Selçuklular Zamanında Anadolu’da Ermeniler, yer?

Iskenderian, Ter-Gregorian (1915), Die Kreuzfahrer und ihre Beziehungen zu den armenischen Nachbarfürstenbis zum Untergange der Grafschaft Edessa, Weida in Th.

Kiragos, Genceli (1928), “Ermeni Müverrihlerine Nazaran Moğollar”, trans. Ed. Dulaurier, Türkiyat Mecmuası, II, Istanbul.

Mateos, Urfalı (1987), Vekayinâme (952-1136) ve Papaz Grigor’un Zeyli (1131-1162), trans. Hrant D. Andreasyan, Ankara.

Samuel d’ Ani, Tables 1876, Chonologiques, French trans. M. F. Brosset, St. Petersburg.

Simbat (ty), Vekayinâme (951-1334), trans. Hrant D. Andreasyan, (non-pressed copy in TTK).

Vahram, Urfalı (ty), Kilikya Kralları Tarihi, trans. Hrant D. Andreasyan, (non-pressed copy in TTK).

Vardan, Müverrih Vartabet (1937), “Türk Fütühatı Tarihi (889-1269)”, TSD, I/2, trans. Hrant D. Andreasyan, Istanbul.

Vryonis, Speros (1971), The Decline of Medieva lHellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century, Berkeley.