The town of Palu built on the slopes of Mount St. Mesrob (source: Victor Pietschmann, Durch kurdische Berge und armenische Städte, Wien, 1940)

Palu - Community rule

The most important position in Palu’s Armenian community structure is held by the prelate of the area. His seat is the Kaghtsrahayats Holy Mother of God Monastery located near Havav. Although Palu is a small diocese, the fact that it is a separate one in a small area can be said to testify to the great Armenian population that has lived here in past centuries. After 1895, by the decision of the Patriarchate in Istanbul, Chenkoush and Arghni-Maden have been added to the diocese. Even in those times the prelate’s seat has still been at Palu. The reorganisation of the diocese has been made for economic reasons. Thus after the 1895 massacres and destruction, the diocese of Palu cannot maintain its diocesan expenditure through its own means. The answer has been to extend it by including other areas in it.[1]

In reality an Armenian priest called to be a prelate in the Ottoman Empire can be considered to be a powerful person. He has received the Sultan’s berat which adds weight to his position, especially in the provincial environment. ‘The prelacy berat is the prelate’s crosier granted by the sultan, but he must be worthy of it’ writes Rev Harutiun.[2] Thanks to his position the prelate has a voice in local administrative work, is a member of various local government committees and can often meet with local authorities, judges and other high officials. The prelate can also, due to his powerful position, liaise with the influential beys in his diocese. All this gives special significance to the prelate’s position to such an extent that he, a clergyman, can personally intercede in various local problems and in this way be the key to solving them.

Rev Harutiun points out, however, that the situation is totally different on the ground and Armenian prelates are not trained, generally speaking, for such positions. It is obvious that, to fulfil such a role well, it is imperative that these responsible clergymen have the capability of dealing with questions of language, law and diplomacy. For example, they must be well versed in Turkish, know how to read and write Ottoman script and be very proficient in Ottoman law. In other words what is required of them is not only religious training nor just the talent of writing in Armenian. But clergymen with all these aptitudes are very rare. This is shown in Rev Harutiun’s descriptions of Palu.[3] In actual fact the clergyman called to the position of prelate in Palu always remains shut up in the Holy Mother of God monastery or the town of Palu and generally remains ignorant of the realities of village life and the spheres of influence that exist in them.

Rev Harutiun ascribes the indifference of successive prelates also to the gradual loss of monastery-owned lands. The prelacy has owned vineyards and fields in various places in the district. But over a period of time these have been left untended, while the fields have been gradually taken over by local beys.[4] The monk Rev Karekin Servantsiantz describes the Palu prelacy located near the village of Havav, when he visited it in the 1870s, in doleful colours: ‘The interior of the monastery was completely derelict, soiled and in confusion. There were four dogs, four Kurds, two women acting as housekeepers, five cows, one donkey and a horse and one lame abbot, Rev Manvel.’[5]  Among the sources of the prelacy’s income is the bdghi or church tax, given by every Armenian peasant to the church. This is given as if it was a gift, when the villager presents the prelacy with a goat, sheep, grain, money and so on.

The prelates of the Palu diocese from 1775 are shown below. All are celibate priests or bishops, unless otherwise stated:

  • 1775-1802Bishop Krikor
    1835-1839Rev Kevork of Ödemish
    1840-Rev Harutiun
    1841-Rev Bedros
    1843-Rev Manvel (locum tenens)
    1844-1859Rev Vosgan
    1859-Rev Manvel of Istanbul
    1860-1863Rev Mgrdich Dikranian ‘The miracle worker’
    1863-Rev Sarkis Vartabedian
    1868Rev Zakaria (alternate)
    1868Rev Sarkis Vartabedian (locum tenens)
    1869-1873Rev Bedros Pakraduni
    1873-1875Rev Sarkis Vartabedian (locum tenens)
    1876Rev Boghos (a married priest, alternate)
    1877Rev Boghos Natanian (locum tenens)
    1880Rev Partoghomeos Baghdjian (locum tenens)
    1883-1887Rev Sarkis Vartabedian (alternate)
    1887-1889Rev Teodoros Divriglian (locum tenens)
    1890Rev Hovhannes Pznuni
    1892Rev Krikor Nigoghosian (a married priest)
    1893-1894Rev Sarkis Vartabedian
    1897Rev Nigoghos Harutiunian
    1898Rev Yeznig Kalpakdjian
    1901-1902Rev Nigoghos Frangiulian
    1902Rev Suren Deroyian (a married priest, alternate)
    1902Rev Aghan Hamamdjian-Ardzruni
    (elected, but  never took office)
    1903Rev Khosrov Behrigian (elected, but never took office)
    1903-1905Rev Goriun Yessayian (locum tenens)
    1905-1906Rev Suren Deroyian (a married priest, alternate)
    1906Rev Yeremia Khachadurian (locum tenens)
    1907-1910Rev Suren Deroyian (a married priest, alternate)
    1911-1915Bishop Yeznig Kalpakdjian (locum tenens)[6]

Rev Mgrdich Dikranian (1815-1872) was born in Diyarbekir in 1815. He was appointed prelate of Arghn in 1841 and was given the title ‘Prelate of Kurdistan’, in view of the fact that his see was mainly inhabited by Kurds. He published, in 1848, a Gospel printed in Kurdish using the Armenian alphabet, as well as a Kurdish-Armenian ABC primer.[7] It has been recorded that he established a primitive printing press in the monastery in Palu district and produced a newspaper titled ‘Arevag’. He also laid the basis for a school in 1862.

Rev Boghos Natanian stands out in this list of prelates. It was during his period in office that the antagonism between him and another celibate priest, Rev Sarkis Vartabedian (from Yeghek village in the Kharpert region) began. Behind this prelate, who was born in Van, has stood the ordinary people of the town, while the competing cleric has been backed by the Armenian notables, the wealthy and the chorbadjis. Natanian’s successor, Rev Baghdjian has also left traces of his good works in Palu. It is during his time in office that the existing antagonism has decreased. Rev Baghdjian has managed to bring together the antagonists and reconcile them, then put church and educational matters in order.[8]

The example of Rev Nerses Pznuni is also interesting. He has been a member of the order of monks of Varak Monastery. Before he was called to take up office in Palu, he has been a teacher in the school in Nbshi village in the district, having the reputation of a man of selfless and diligent character. In other words he could be considered to be a good candidate for the position of prelate. But he has not been trained for such a position and doesn’t even know Turkish. These faults meant that he hasn’t succeeded in creating continuous relationships with the local authorities, something that in the end is the reason for his resignation.[9]

Rev Krikor Nigoghosian (a married priest) is in many ways like Pznuni. He is from the town of Palu and knows local conditions very well. Unlike Pznuni, he knows Turkish and how to deal with the local authorities extremely well. He is the person who has been the prelate’s alternate for a short time.

The death of Rev Suren Deroyian (a married priest) is especially remembered; he became the prelate’s alternate in 1902. He is from Palu’s Havav village, has received his education in Istanbul and has then returned to his home province as a teacher. He is very well versed in local customs and speaks Turkish fluently.[10]

An Armenian Catholic community doesn’t exist in Palu. There is a small Protestant community that is grouped together in the town and just before the First World War consisted of about 40 families. Although only a small community, the Protestants are the best-organised one with their school and prayer meeting hall.[11] There are Protestants also living in Uzunoba village in the western part of the district.[12]

As we’ve already seen, the prelates of Palu, apart from a few exceptions, don’t have great influence over socio-economic structures in the district. By virtue of their office they could have been able to intercede with the appropriate bodies in defence of their community’s interests, but prelates have succeeded one another without the situation in Palu changing. The reality becomes even more complex if we take note of the fact that the district’s influential beys occasionally have Armenian notables who work with them and with whom they split mutual profits and thus can be considered to be partners in this general work of oppressing the Armenians.[13] This kind of Palu Armenian is called ishkhan (prince or ruler) or chorbadji and is his quarter’s influential personality. According to Rev Natanian’s testimony, in other words in 1878, these same chorbadjis have divided the four Armenian quarters of the town into zones of influence. Antagonism and enmity have been established between the inhabitants of these quarters to such an extent that when the parish (married) priest of one quarter dies, that quarter’s believers will not approach the neighbouring quarter’s priest for services or attend its church. This kind of situation, according to Natanian, is in the chorbadjis interests and they each utilise this local opposition to secure their individual presence and influence in the quarters they rule. The chorbadjis living in Palu in 1878 are the brothers Ghougas and Sarkis Tseteyian and Donabed Arpadjian. The chorbadjis are generally sarrafs (bankers) and usurers, who are often involved with the beys’ financial affairs. They also lend money to their compatriots at high interest rates, especially to those Armenians who are emigrating. The Armenian villager will also approach either his bey or one of the town’s chorbadjis for a loan.[14] In the role of community ruler, each of these personalities enjoys the various beys’ or government officials’ alliance. Thus every form of internal resistance against their rule may be crushed through the beys’ intervention. It is these same chorbadjis who are the Armenians’ representatives to the local government; they also play an influential role in Palu in the appointment of a new prelate.[15] One of the influential Armenians who lived in the second half of the 19th century was the teacher Hagop who lived in Sakrat village and taught in the local school. The source of this personality’s influence was not his teaching talent, but his knowledge of Turkish and Ottoman law. Thanks to these aptitudes he became the advisor to not only the whole village but also to the most powerful bey in Palu – Ibrahim. People would visit him in his village from other villages in the Palu region to get his opinion on points of law on various matters. He died in 1897 and was buried in his village.[16]

It is obvious that in the case of the villages the influence of the local melik (elder) has great importance. To all intents and purposes he is the village headman. In Havav’s local history we can see that in different times the Armenians who acted as meliks had a basic role in the efforts to reduce the increase in the power of the beys and the pressures they have imposed. Much later, at the end of the 19th century, we can see that the title mukhtar (muhtar) is more widely used in place of that of melik. From 1897 to 1915the position of moukhtar in this village is held by the following:

  • Garabed Hampartsumian
    Bedros Mkhsi Mesrobian
    Nshan Tkhtkhian
    Hadji Mardiros Kasbarian
    Nigoghos Arzumanian
    Mghsi Hagop Leylegian
    Djinoghli Sarkis (Djendian)
    Sarkis Titigian
    Asadur Djelalian
    Vahan Papazian
    Andon Takvorian (Avgank)

There have been others whose names have not been recorded. It should be pointed out that the Armenian elected to the position of mukhtar has an influential person in the town as his backer. For example Bedros Mesrobian of Havav has been backed by one of the town’s influential Armenians named Mgrdich agha Khoshmatlian, and Nshan Tkhtkhian a man from the Turkish quarter, Tahir Effendi, who is a lawyer and government official.[17]

Several Armenians from Palu have been officials in government bodies just before the outbreak of the First World War. One of them is Kevork Effendi Bozian, who was the mal müdir (head of the treasury), another is Setrag Effendi Khoshmatlian, a member of the court. The names Kevork Lousararian and Kevork Meramian are also noted, although the positions they have held are not recorded. At this same time there have been only two Armenian lawyers in the whole of Palu region, Adjem Khacho and Hovhannes agha Arpadjian.[18]

In this form of community the Armenian political parties have only begun to have a part to play after the declaration of the Ottoman constitution. It is true that Armenian sources before that date (1908) record underground political activity in the region; secret Hnchag and Dashnak groups have operated there and political activists have visited it. But it is thought that political activity has not been very widespread as the activists haven’t been able to undermine the community’s system of governance by the chorbadjis and other notable Armenians, either in Palu or the villages. The situation inside the community’s governing body couldn’t have remained the same after the declaration of the constitution. The Hnchag party and especially the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsoutiun) had many followers and has become influential in the community’s government. In the case of the Armenian-populated villages, subsequent elections of mukhtars took place in accordance with party lines.

  • [1] Rev Harutiun Sarkisian (nom-de-plume Alevor), Palu: its customs, education, intellectual state and dialect (in Armenian), Sahag-Mesrob Press, Cairo, p. 304.

    [2] Ibid., p. 305.

    [3] Ibid., p. 305-306.

    [4] Ibid., p. 306.

    [5] Rev K Servantsiantz, Brother Toros: A traveller in Armenia (in Armenian), Part 1, Published by Y. M. Dndesian, Istanbul, 1879, p. 155-156.

    [6] The following books were used in the preparation of this list: Sarkisian, op. cit., p. 306-307, Harutiun Tsakhsurian, History of the valley of Palu from the earliest times until our days (in Armenian), Published by Donigian, 1974, Beirut, p. 318-319.

    [7] Tsakhsurian, op. cit., p. 379.

    [8] Sarkisian, op. cit., p. 310-311.

    [9] Ibid., p. 314.

    [10] Ibid., p. 315-317.

    [11] Natanian, op. cit., p. 46.

    [12] Tsakhsurian, op. cit., p. 406.

    [13] Archpriest Rev Boghos Natanian, Tears of Armenia, or a report about Palu, Kharpert (Harput), Charsandjak, Djabagh Chur and Erzindjan (in Armenian), 1883, Istanbul, p. 50.

    [14] Tsakhsurian, op. cit., p. 248.

    [15] Natanian, op. cit., p. 38-40.

    [16] Sarkisian, op. cit., p. 273.

    [17] Tsakhsurian, op. cit., p. 408-409.

    [18] Mesrob Grayian, Palu: Pictures, recollections, poetry and prose taken from the life of Palu (in Armenian), Published by the Catholicossate of Cilicia, 1965, Antilias, p. 139.

A family from the town of Palu

Standing, left to right: Yeghsa Bjian, Krikor Bjian, Bedros Yeshilian, Mariam Yeshilian. Seated, left to right: Giragos Bjian (Yeghsa’s husband), Avedik Yeshilian (Mariam’s husband)