The Armenians In Turkey

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Ethnic Origin of the Azarians and Arevian/Hagopians

The Azarian and Arivian/Hagopian families were ethnic Armenians who originally came from what is now Central Anatolia in modern Turkey. Several records indicate that Abraham and Lucy were born in Anatolia.

A Brief History of the Armenian People

Early History

The Armenians as a cultural entity arrived in eastern Anatolia around 700 B.C. The Armenian king, Tigran the Great, established an empire in the first century B.C. that encompassed most of Asia Minor. The Romans conquered this empire in 66 B.C. Subsequently, for the rest of the period of the Roman Empire, the Armenian kings were vassals of Rome who acted as buffers between the Roman Empire and Persian Empire. In the fourth century A.D. Armenia was the first nation to embrace Christianity as its official state religion. The Armenian Church is designated as Apostolic, because two of Christ's apostles, Thaddeus and Bartholomew, were the founders of the Christian Church in Armenia and converted much of the Armenian population to Christianity in the first century.

The Turkish Empire

From the second century until the sixteenth century waves of nomadic and warlike Turkish speaking tribes moved westward from their homeland in Central Asia into Eastern Europe and Asia Minor. The Armenian kingdom again acted as a buffer, this time between the Byzantine Empire and the Turks. In the eleventh century the Seljuk Turks conquered most of Asia Minor including the Armenian highlands. They were followed in the 13th century by the Mongols and finally in the 15th century by the Ottoman Turks. During the centuries of invasion, these Turkish groups were converted to Islam as they came in contact with the Arabs. The Ottoman Turkish Empire reached its zenith during the reign of a Moslem Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1522). Until the discovery of sea routes, the Ottoman Empire controlled the overland Silk Road to China and became extremely powerful and wealthy. Near the end of the 16th century the empire had started into a slow and steady decline. By the 18th century it was still quite powerful, but much weakened. In the early part of the 1800's the Russian Empire took advantage of the weakness by annexing parts of both the crumbling Ottoman and Persian Empires, thereby obtaining what is now the modern state of the former Soviet Armenia. By the 19th century the industrial revolution in Europe had turned the Ottoman Empire into a supplier of cheap raw materials and a consumer of European manufactured goods. Large scale borrowing with high interest rates caused the state to become bankrupt in 1875 and the Empire started falling apart in earnest.

The Armenians Under the Turkish Empire

The Empire, poorly administered for centuries, had oppressed both its Muslim and Christian subjects. However, the Christians were in a worse position with little or no rights. Eighteenth and nineteenth century European ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality encouraged the Armenian population to make demands of greater freedom to the Ottoman government. These demands were countered by harsher oppression. Finally in 1895 a tax dispute let to the massacres in eastern Turkey of about a hundred thousand Armenian by the Turks. This was followed by a major "resettlement " effort by the Turkish government, starting in 1909 and lasting through 1915. During World War I, the state, using the excuse that the Armenians were a threat to national security, rounded up most of the Armenian population in the towns and villages in Anatolia, including woman and children, and marched them into the deserts of Syria, Mesopotamia and Arabia. Many were beaten, bayoneted, raped, and exterminated in other horrible ways. Many simply died of heat exhaustion, thirst and starvation. An estimated 1.5 million people, about three-quarters of the Armenian population of Turkey died. Five hundred thousand Armenians survived these marches. To this day the Turkish government has refused to acknowledge or apologize for this genocide. Since 1920, at least officially, no Armenians live in Eastern Turkey. The Armenians who survived the marches and many who had lived in Constantinople (and had been exempt from deportation) emigrated from Turkey. The largest numbers went to France and the United States. Lesser numbers emigrated to Argentina, Canada, and Australia. There is still a small ethnic Armenian colony in Istanbul.

The Armenians in Constantinople

The Roman Emperor Constantine officially founded Constantinople in 326. However, its roots go back to the 7th century B.C. The Roman Emperor, Septimus Severus, captured the Greek settlement of Byzantium that existed on this site in AD 196. Ancient Greco-Roman and Eastern-Orthodox-Christian cultures combined to make it the center of Christianity during what is known as the Dark and Middle Ages. Constantinople had a population of nearly one million people in the 9th century. As the center of the Byzantine Empire it was one of the richest and most important cities in the world. Crusaders from "Christian " Europe sacked the city in 1203. Ottoman Turks captured the city in 1453. The name of Constantinople was changed to Istanbul in 1923 after the advent of the Turkish Republic.

There were about 1,200,00 people in Constantinople before 1915:

  • 560,000 Muslims
  • 385,000 Greeks
  • 118,000 Armenians
  • 44,800 Jews

There were more Armenians in Constantinople at that time than in any other city in the world. By the mid 19th century the Armenian community in Constantinople was the larges, richest and most influential in the empire.

The largest segment of the Armenian population in Constantinople lived in the southeast on the coast of the Sea of Mamara, near the Armenian patriarchs. Wealthier Armenian lived in the European Quarter of Pera, which included the sub districts of Galata and Taksim. Most of the earlier Armenian settlers in Constantinople were tradesmen, artisans, common and laborer. Most of the "Hamals" (porters) on the docks were Armenian.

Constantinople is divided into two three sections, one on the Asian side of the Bosporus, the other two on the European side.

Beyoghle, Taksim, and Galata, the places of births as listed in the records connected to Abram Azarian and related people are sections of Constantinople on the European side of the Bosporus. They were (and still are) the most European areas of the city. Taksim and Galata are technically sub-sections of Beyoghle. At the time of the birth of the children of Abraham and Lucy Azarian, Beyoghle was the section where the European style hotels were located, the western powers had their embassies, and where the non-Turkish minorities lived.

By the late 17th century the Armenians were the major merchants, bankers, and moneylenders. In the mid 1800s Armenians were the chief architects in the city and designed buildings for the sultan.

The upper classes of Armenians were conservative and highly europeanized. Western dress and furnishings were adopted by the upper class Catholic Armenians in the 1830s and soon spread to the rest of the Armenian community.

Armenians who were already settled in the community tended to look down on the recent arrivals from Anatolia.

Before WW I most of the streets in Constantinople had no street names and most houses had no numbers.

The Armenian Rite Catholics were recognized as a distinct "mallet" in 1834.


Chain Migration

The Azarian family immigrated in a pattern know as chain migration. This is a migration pattern connecting a network of people who know one another, either as intimate family, extended family or neighbors. Chain migration is an old pattern that continues today. Under this system of migration (or immigration) one or more people relocate. Others connected to them in some way arrive in a series of small groups over a period of time. Usually the first to migrate are young single men. They are the most likely to have the least material needs and the most likely to be able to find work in the new area or country. After they settle, they help bring over other family members or neighbors. Some young men go back to the home county to find a bride or arrange with family members to find a bride for them.

In addition to their own immediate families, the Azarian family clearly had ties to people in the Armenian communitly in both Sivas and New York. At the very least, it appears that an arrangement was made for Harry Semerjian to marry Virginia Azarian. Although the family of Abraham Azarian was in Constantinople from circa 1895 and Harry Semerjian had been in New York since 1911, the family may have known Harry or his mother, Anna, from Sivas. In addition, there is a baptism in the Istanbul records that might connect the Azarians to Harry Semerjian. Betsis Gougoujian was the godfather for Anna Semerjian, the daughter of Haroutian Semerjian, in 1913, in the church of Surp Savour. Surp Savour was the church were the majority of the Azarian children were baptized. The Gougoujians were associated with the Azarians, in that Stephan Gougoujian was a godparent for one of Abraham Azarian's children and Elizabeth Gougoujian was the wife of Batist Arivian, a person closely connected to the Azarians. Was Haroutian Semerjian in Istanbul related to Artin (Harry) Semerjian in New York who married Virginia Azarian?.

Azarian family history says that Christine was one of the earliest family members to immigrate to the United States. I have not been able to find her immigration record. The first family member whose record I have found was Mike who arrived in New York in February 1920. Catherine, her husband, Toros, and their son, George immigrated in March 1920. Catherine and her husband and child were, however, probably more connected to the Parnagian family migration than the Azarian family migration. Abraham and Virginia arrived in October 1920. Lucy and the three youngest children, Anna, Mary, and Alice arrived in May 1921.

Ellis Island

All immigrants, including the Azarians, who came into the port of New York between 1892 and 1924 went through Ellis Island. Ellis Island processed about three fourths of the immigrants who came into the United States during that time period.

After a ship entered New York Harbor, immigration inspectors and United States health officers boarded the ship. All steerage passengers (which included the Azarian family) were transfer from the ship by ferry to the island. Passengers debarked with their luggage and were tagged with a card that included the page and line number corresponding to how their names appeared on the ship's manifest. On the main floor of the main building passengers were advised to check their luggage before going through the inspection process. They could keep their bags with them if they wanted, but it was easier to go through the inspection without dragging one's possessions. Next they walked single file up the grand staircase, which enabled health inspectors to do a quick check for lameness and other physical problems that would appear while moving. On the second floor was the registry room where US health officials examined the immigrants. Immigrants were checked for contagious eye diseases and about fifty other ailments and conditions. Health officials marked the outer garment of anyone with a health problem with a letter in chalk: an E for eye problem, an H for heart, a B for lameness, etc. About 20% would receive chalk marks and be held for closer examination. After the physical exam passengers lined up for the legal inspection conducted by the immigration inspectors. Immigration inspectors, assisted by interpreters when necessary, questioned each immigrant to confirm the information that had been declared before sailing as it was listed on the ship manifest. The questioning lasted two or three minutes and 80% of the immigrants had no problem with it. If there was some problem, the immigrant was sent before a special inquiry board.

The Federal Immigration Act of 1917 required that every immigrant over the age of 14 could read. The test consisted of reading a passage from the Holy Scriptures from the given passenger's culture and language. Most immigrants found ways of passing the test even if the could barely read. Once these examinations were finished the immigrant was free to leave. However, unaccompanied single women and their children were not allowed to enter the US by themselves and had to wait until a male relative came to fetch them.

One of the big myths about Ellis Island is that immigration officials changed people's names as they went through the process. This is absolutely not true. No one's name was changed at immigration. The process simply did not allow for it. Information on names was provided before the immigrant left Europe. The immigration official did not even have to be able to say the name; all he had to do was check the spelling on the card with the spelling on the manifest. Many immigrants changed their own names after their arrival in an effort to appear more American or because the found that people in America had too much trouble with the pronunciation of the "Foreign" name.

Abraham Azarian, born Sivas, Turkey, circa 1865
Other related pages
Images of the Armenian Catholic Churches in Constantinople
Old and New Pictures of Istanbul

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Copyright by Maggie Land Blanck - Page created 2004 - Latest update, March 2012