The Catholicosate of Cilicia was abolished by the Ottoman administration in 1916. A telegram by the Minister of the Interior to Cemal Pasha, Commander of the Fourth Army and member of the leading Ittihat ve Terraki triumvirate, demonstrates the Young Turks’ machinations pertaining to the religious affairs of the Armenians’. This telegram, which to my knowledge, has never been published, is translated and appended.
From 1514 until the nineteenth century, the western part of Armenia (“Turkish Armenia”) was part of the Ottoman Empire. Until the nineteenth century, the eastern part was under the domination of Persia. After the Russo-Persian War of 1828-9, Russia annexed the northern part of Persian Armenia, which included the Patriarchal city of Etchmiadzen.
The seat of Etchmiadzen has never been part of the Ottoman Empire, while three other important Armenian religious centres, the Catholicosates of Cilicia and Aghtamar and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem came under their dominion. The Jerusalem Patriarchate was established in 1311. The Ottomans also established an Armenian Patriarchate in Constantinople, in 1461, as the official ecclesiastical head of all the Armenian Churches under the Ottoman domination. The first Patriarch, Hoakim, was brought from Bursa where he was a bishop.<1>
Cilicia, which formed part of the Lesser Armenia, had a permanent Catholicosate since 1293. When the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzen returned to its original seat, the Catholicosate of Cilicia became a new see. A third Catholicosate was located in Aghtamar in the Province of Van since 1113, and in the Ottoman Empire its jurisdiction extended to the provinces of Van and Bitlis.
The See of the Catholicosate of Cilicia comprised Adana, Hacin, Payas, Aleppo, Maras, Zeytun, Antioch, Yozgat, Gurun and Cyprus.
The four Armenian religious centres were merged when the Ottomans adopted the Armenians Catholicosate and Patriarchate Regulation on 10 August 1916. Henceforth the Patriarchates of Jerusalem and Constantinople and the Catholicosates of Cilicia and Aghtamar were abolished and the seat of the new office was designated as Jerusalem, with its jurisdiction extending to all the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire.
The Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia was not an Ottoman institution and as such the Ottoman administration had no right to abolish. Even Talat Pasha who asked Cemal Pasha “to take care of it” admits this in the appended document. The intention was clearly to sever ties between Russian and Ottoman Armenians. This intention was also articulated in the Regulation itself. <2>
Cemal Pasha ordered the Catholicos Sahak II to assume the title Catholicos-Patriarch and head the new institution the Ottoman Administration concocted. Sahak’s eventual reluctance is foreshadowed in the telegram appended.
As the Armenian deportations were taken place, the Armenian element in Asia Minor was fast disappearing. In the 1909 massacres of Adana 30,000 Armenians were killed. The Armenians of Sis, where the Catholicosate was located, were ordered to be deported by the Ministry of Interior on 17 June 1915, as attested by the ciphered telegram sent to the Province of Adana.<3>
After the war, the Patriarchates of Jerusalem and Constantinople and the Catholicosate of Cilicia were reinstituted, however, the Catholicosate of Aghtamar does no longer exist. The Catholicosate of Cilicia is now located in Antellias, Lebanon.
<1> V.Artinian, The Armenian Constitutional System in the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul, n.d., p.11.
<2> BOA, DUIT, Nu. 67/1-2 quoted in S Buyukkarci, 1863 Nizamnamesi Isiginda “Ermeni Meselesi”, Micro, Ankara, 2002.
<3> BOA, DH.SFR, nr 54/51
<4> Another name for the Sublime Port; the central office of the Imperial Government of the Ottoman Empire.
<5> The dates in the original documents are given in the Rumi calendar, a financial year calendar
used in the Ottoman bureaucracy in its later period. This is an alternative Islamic calendar,
which also starts in the year 584 but it is a composite. The dates here have been converted to
the Julian/Gregorian calendar.