19th century sources
website of Jelle Verheij, historian
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Erzurum in 1846: Armenians protest against American missionaries (Report by British Consul in Erzurum James Brant)
Original text and transscription
Since converting Moslems to Christianity was strictly forbidden in the Ottoman Empire, foreign missionaries of various denominations concentrated on winning over the native Christians to their churches. The local churches and their adherents were generally strongly supposed to this foreign activity.
This report by the British Consul in Erzurum, James Brant, describes an anti-missionary riot by Armenians in 1846. An angry mob breaks into the house of one of the American missionaries, destroys the furniture, beat the inmates, and beat and drag way an Armenian priest who happened to visit the missionary. Interesting snap shot of the situation in Erzurum in a relatively unknown and poorly researched period.
Original document in the UK National Archives, London
Erzeroom, July 8th, 1846
It is with pain that I have to report to Your Excellency the details of a disturbance which took place yesterday, when the Armenian mob broke into and plundered the house of Dr.Smith, an American medical gentleman, who is engaged also in Missionary labours - I will relate to Your Excellency the facts, as they passed under my own observation:
About mid-day, I was told that a crowd of low Armenians had proceeded towards Dr.Smith’s house, but with what design was not known, either to my informant or to myself. I sent my vacass to see what was the matter, and
whether Dr. Smith required protection. While I remained alone in the street at the back door of my house, an excited and numerous mob came hurrying along towards the Armenian Church, dragging in in the midst of them a person who, I was informed, was an Armenian priest they had taken from Dr. Smith’s house. I immediately proceeded thither, and found my Cavass before the door which was closed, the inmates refuging to open it, I knocked and on being recognized gained admittance. The servants were in a state of great alarm, and I found an Armenian, Dr. Smith’s interpreter, bleeding from a wound in the head and complaining much of the severe blows he had received. A few windows were broken and some furniture upset, but no
considerable damage done. I was informed that the mob, on arriving before the house, knocked at the door, which being being opened, they rushed in and carried off the Armenian priest with much violence and abuse. Dr. Smith was happily absent from hime on professional visits. I caused the Pasha to be informed of what had happened, and then went home.
About an hour afterward, I was informed that the mob had returned to Dr. Smith’s, had forcibly broken into the house, and had completely strippen it. A few minutes later my Dragoman returned from the Serai, he had come down with the Kiagah Bey, who dispered the mob, and after having placed a guard before the house, proceeded to the
residence of the Armenian Bishop. I then again visited the house, and found that the door had been forced with a sledge hammer, every pane of glass was broken, the furniture destroyed, the drawers, cades [?] and trunks, opened and emptied of their contents, while the street was completely covered with the fragments of the books which had been torn to pieces. Some of the servants and inmates had been beaten severely, but some had managed to conceal themselves. They told me, that shortly after I had left, the mob returned and committed these excesses, after vainly searching for Dr. Smith, who luckily having heard of the affair, remained quietly at the house of a friend where he happened to be visiting.
Having thus personally satisfied myself as to the exact nature and extent of the outrage, I went home and sent my Dragoman to inform the Pasha that I was coming to visit him. On reaching the Serai, I found his Excellency well acquainted with all that had passed. I had brought with me an Armenian who was in Dr. Smith’s house during the whole riot, and gave the names of some of the leaders of the mob. I requested the Pasha to have them arrested and brought immediately to the Serai. He sent at once, and about ten men were brought, but not the most notorious who had concealed themselves. The Kiayah Bey came from the Bishop’s and reported what he had learned there. I asked that the priest, who had been taken from Dr. Smith’s, should be
brought to the Serai. The Kiayah Bey made some excuses, apparently with the intention of preventing this, but I persisted in my request, and the Pasha ordered him to bring the priest. Meanwhile I represented to His Excellency the gross outrage which had been committed in breaking into an European house, a thing which no authority in the Empire could do without violating our most sacred rights, as he well knew, and I demanded the exemplary punishment of the guilty parties, and the reparation of all the damages incurred. The Pasha readily promised what I requested. More than an hour passed without the appearance of the priest, and the Pasha said he thought he was perhaps
too ill to be brought. At length, however, he came, but in so weak a state from alarm and the severe beating he had received that he was unable to give any clear account of the occurrences.
I begged that he might be allowed to come to my house to be taken care off, but the Pasha thought he had better go to his own home, promising to be answerable for his safety, and sending two cavazes to protect him. The men captured were put into prison, to await a further examination when the ringleaders were seized; and with the repeated assurance of the Pasha that full satisfaction should be given, I departed, having remained at the Serai upwards of two hours.
After I had left, the
Pasha rode through the city, he passed by Dr. Smith’s house, which he surveyed extensively, went down to the Armenian Bishop’s residence, and called him out, insisting on the whole of the guilty parties being sent to the Serai the next morning, in default, threatening to punish the Bishop himself. I heard that while the Pasha was conversing with the Bishop, the mob assembled round he Church doors, cried out that they would not tolerate Protestant Missionaries, and if these were not sent away, they all would become Mohametans.
I received a visit the evening from two of the heads of the Armenian Community; they promised that all the authors of the outrage should be found and delivered up, protested that they
were ignorant and innocent of the whole, but admitted that it was - probably the mob had been excited by persons of influence in the nation.
In the course of the afternoon, I sent my vacass to escort Dr. Smith from his friend’s home to the Consulate, and then accompanied him myself to his own house, the door of which was repaired; two Cavasses had been ordered by the Pasha to remain there during the night. At dinner time my Cavass again brought Dr Smith to the Consulate, from where a few hours he returned home.
Thus terminated the day of the 7th. I have to remark, with regard to this events, that
the evangelical party declare that the Bishop and the Ayans were cognizant of all that was to happen, and even instigated the whole. The Bishop and the chief Armenians deny this accusation, and say that the mob committed the excesses in a moment of excitement.
The matter took the Pasha completely by surprise, and the whole was achieved before His Excellency heard of any disturbance. As soon, however, he became aware of it, he took prompt measures to prevent further mischief, and, without the least hesitation, promised the
most ample satisfaction, so that, this far, I have inly to speak in favor of His Excellency’s conduct in the affair.
I hear such various and opposite asccounts of the conduct and motives of persons, that I am quite perplexed to get at the real origin and authors of this disturbance, and it will take much time and patient investigation to arrive at the truth. When all the active agents are secured, the secret instigation may possibly be discovered, and, until then, I cannot say anything more precise. However, it is not unknown to Your Excellency, that
a great excitement has long existed in respect to American Missionaries. They are continually gaining converts, and I am not without apprehension that their success may at some future time, render both the evangelical Armenians as well as the Missionaries themselves, the victims of fanatical excitement. To prevent any such catastrophe, I conceive it indispensable that a most exemplary punishment be inflicted on the authors of the present violence, that License be given by Imperial Firman to the Missionaries to instruct the Armenians and liberty to them to secede from their Church. Without something of
this nature, the continuance of the Missionaries in this city will be the cause of continual disturbance, the consequence of which can scarce be foreseen.
It will be obvious to Your Excellency that the very serious outrage must be accounted for in the most public and exemplary manner and, I think, by being immediate, the reparation will have an effect which would be greatly weakened by delay. The punishment of the authors, however severe, and the payment of the loss incurred, would be, in my opinion, a very inadequate reparation for the extreme culpability of the action’ but, if the instigators
cannot be discovered, I am at a loss what further to ask.
I entreat Your Excellency’s immediate instructions on this point, and also precise ones for my guidance in future, awaiting which with anxiety
I have the honor to be
with great respect
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