- Armenian Literature, History, Religion in in Russian

Edwin Munsell Bliss


Note from the administration of the page numbering is preserved, so the book can be used for quoting. Also we did our best to keep the layout as close to the original as possible.

[page 51]



Islam and Christianity—A few Pagan Communities—Origin of Mohammedanism—The Koran—The Traditions—Extent of Islam—Present Condition—Effect upon the Turks—Contact with Civilization—Sects—Oriental Christianity—Characteristics.

The religions of Turkey are in general two—Mohammedanism and Christianity. The semi-pagan forms of faith held by the Nusairiyeh, Yezidis and Druzes are spoken of in another chapter in connection with an account of those races. This is not the place for a scientific statement of the general subject of Mohammedanism. The purpose of this volume is to set forth the situation of the Turkish Empire as it is, and we have to deal with Mohammedanism not as a theory or a doctrine, but as a fact. At the same time some understanding of the doctrine is essential in order to realize how potent a factor it is in the present situation.

Mohammedanism is primarily a historical religion, based upon the fundamental idea of the absolute unity of God and the recognition by God of Mohammed as his latest and most approved prophet. Without entering into the question of the sanity or insanity of Mohammed himself, it is sufficient to say that this Arab imbibed with his earliest teachings the doctrine which was held by the Jews, and a few in Arabia, of the power of the Deity. Apparently the teachings of the

[page 52] MOHAMMED.

Hebrews had left their trace upon him, and his mind dwelling upon the precepts of Moses and comparing them with what he saw of the Christians, developed within him a hostility to any form of what seemed to him idolatry, such as he found existent everywhere. Among the pagan tribes there were said to have been 365 images of the gods, who were looked upon as the children of Allah, the creator of all, whose wife was Al-hat, and the Meccans looked upon their local deities as the daughters of this idol. Idols were found in every house and formed an important article of manufacture. Religion was a sort of barter, and festivals and pilgrimages made up a large part of religious life and worship. At the same time the form of Christianity was of the most inferior type. The doctrine of the Trinity was practically a sort of tritheism in which the three persons were God the Father, God the Son and the Virgin Mary. To Mohammed there seemed little difference between the two and both appeared to him the very lowest forms of religious faith, and he was stirred with an earnest desire to know more. This, according to the idea of the time, he thought to accomplish by a hermit life and would spend days in a lonely cave. While here it is probable that epileptic fits would come upon him and there would be what he considered ecstatic reveries in which revelations appeared to him. The story of the fierce persecution which he suffered at the hands of his tribe is a most interesting portion of history. From the time of his fleeing from Mecca to Medina, in 622, which marks the era of Mohammedanism, his advance was rapid. In eight years at the head of 10,000 men he entered Mecca in triumph. He only lived two years longer, but he had laid the foundation for a religious power of marvelous vigor and extent.

[page 53 - illustration]

The Hamidieh Mosque

[caption] THE HAMIDIEH MOSQUE, located close by the Sultan's palace, at Yildiz, to which he goes every Friday for service. In former times it was the custom of the Sultan to attend service on Friday in different mosques of the city, but Abdul Hammed II. has confined his attention to this mosque, chiefly from fear of assassination in the public streets of the city.

[page 54 - illustration]

Turkish Dervish

[caption] TURKISH DERVISH. The dervishes correspond in the Moslem communities to the special orders in the Roman Catholic Church. There are different classes, itinerant and local. This is one of the better class of local dervishes. They are feared by the people rather than respected, and are usually men of ability and considerable force; fanatical in the extreme and bitter haters of all Christians.

[page 55] THE KORAN.

As to his character, those who have studied him most say that there can be no doubt of his sincerity and his conduct was in the main beyond reproach. He believed himself to be a divinely appointed messenger for the overturning of idolatry, and for years endured the hostility and taunts of his people with apparently no further motive than their reformation. At a later time other characteristics appeared of a much lower grade. Wealth and glory mingled with his reform ideas. Cruelty, greed and the grossest sensuality were not merely allowed but encouraged by his teachings, and the most successful portion of his life, so far as his public career was concerned, made it appear that he was a thoroughly self-deceived man.

The Koran is a volume divided into 114 chapters or suras, made up in a volume not quite as large as the New Testament. It constitutes the revelation proclaimed by him as received during the latter portion of his life. These were originally written on all sorts of material, “ bits of stone, leather and thigh-bones,” but had their strongest hold in the retentive memory of the Arabs, which assists their marvelous power of story-telling. These were gathered together after his death, in the caliphate of Othman, and the edition then prepared has been the standard edition for the Moslem world ever since. It is written in the Meccan dialect and held to be the absolute standard of the Arabic language, so beautiful that its very style is proof of its divine origin. The doctrine of the Koran is thoroughly simple. The fundamental teachings are the unity of God, the final judgment and absolute submission to his will or “Islam.” The confession of faith is simply, “ There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet.” The general belief includes belief in God, angels,

[page 56] THE BIBLE.

the Scriptures, the resurrection and day of judgment, God’s absolute decree and predestination of both good and evil. In practice it requires prayers, alms, fasting and the pilgrimage to Mecca. In its relation to Christianity the Koran thoroughly recognizes the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testaments, and the prophets, from Abraham to Jesus, are acknowledged as divinely sent and of authority only less than Mohammed himself. The result of this is that a thoroughly orthodox Mohammedan, well grounded in his own faith, will always accept the authority of the Bible, merely claiming that wherever that comes in contact with the Koran the Koran supersedes it as being a later revelation. A Kurdish Sheik with whom the author spent a Sunday in the city of Rowandiz, said, “ Why do not the great Bible societies of England and America print the Koran and the Bible together ? Both are revelations from God; the only difference is, that the Koran being later is more authoritative. Print them both together and then we shall have the complete revelation.” This fact explains in great degree the position of the Turkish Government with regard to the Scriptures. So long as they thought that there was no danger of the Christians’ Bible superseding the Koran they were entirely willing that it should be printed. It was only when they learned that the teaching of the Bible was antagonistic to the Koran that they made every effort to hinder its publication and circulation; and in the whole contest the strongest argument and the one which they could not answer was that based upon the absolute recognition of the Bible by the Koran and the teachings of Mohammed.

Secondary to the Koran in form yet practically overpowering it are the traditions: the “ unread revelations,” the “ unin-


spired record of inspired sayings.” They refer “ not only to what Mohammed said and did, but what he allowed others to say unrebuked.” As was inevitable, the mass of these traditions is very great and their influence is proportionate. Any statement of Mohammedanism based upon the Koran alone is sure to be misleading. That together with the traditions must be understood in order to gain a clear and accurate conception of what the religion is. It is due to this fact that Mohammedanism has adapted itself with such marked success to the most varying conditions. It is as powerful in Central Asia as in Central Africa. It appeals to the educated Moslem of North India and to the ignorant and brutal Kurd. It numbers among its votaries men of every grade of intellectual ability. This is illustrated by the statement as to the extent to which the religion has spread over the world. Any accurate estimate is simply impossible owing to the fact that in Moslem regions there is no such thing as a complete census known. The Encyclopedia of Missions presents the following table derived from the Statesman’s year-book published in 1890:

Rumania . . . . . . . 2,000
. . . . . . . 668,173
Servia . . . . . . . 14,569
Bosnia and Herzegovina . . . . . . . 492,710
Montenegro . . . . . . . 10,000
Greece . . . . . . . 24,000
Turkey in Europe . . . . . . . 2,000,000
Russia in Europe . . . . . . . 2,600,000
Total for Europe . . . . . . . 5,811,452
Turkey in Asia (including Arabia) . . . . . . . 22,000,000
Persia . . . . . . . 7,560,600
Bokhara . . . . . . . 2,500,000


Russia in Caucasus . . . . . . . 2,000,000
. . . . . . . 700,000
Russia in Central Asia . . . . . . . 3,000,000
Siberia . . . . . . . 61,000
Afghanistan . . . . . . . 4,000,000
India . . . . . . . 50,121,595
Ceylon . . . . . . . 197,775
Beluchistan . . . . . . . 500,000
China . . . . . . . 30,000,000
Australasia . . . . . . . 15,000,000
Total for Asia . . . . . . . 137,640,970
Egypt . . . . . . . 6,000,000
Zanzibar . . . . . . . 200,000
Morocco . . . . . . . 5,000,000
Tripoli . . . . . . . 1,000,000
Tunis . . . . . . . 1,500,000
Algeria . . . . . . . 3,000,000
Bornu (Lake Tsad) . . . . . . . 5,000,000
Wadai . . . . . . . 2,600,000
Baghirmi . . . . . . . 1,500,000
Egyptian Soudan . . . . . . . 10,400,000
Sokoto and Feudatory States . . . . . . . 14,000,000
Sahara and scattered . . . . . . . 10,000,000
Total for Africa . . . . . . . 60,200,000
Total for Europe . . . . . . . 5,811,452
Total for Asia . . . . . . . 137,640,970
Total for Africa . . . . . . . 60,200,000
Total Moslems . . . . . . . 203,652,422

What is the effect of Mohammedanism upon the Moslems of the Turkish Empire ? What relation does it bear to the situation in Turkey to-day ? These are questions not altogether easy to answer definitely and conclusively. A general idea is gathered from references made all through this volume. The situation may be briefly summarized as follows: Mohammedanism is on trial; it finds itself face to face with the aggressive power of a reformed Christianity; it no longer

[page 59] REVIVAL.

has to meet the effete systems of the middle ages, weakened by purely doctrinal discussions that spread among the Christian Churches for centuries. It comes in contact thus with a truer spiritual life, and finds that it has suffered itself in its conceptions the same decadence that Christianity had suffered when it started. The belief in the unity of God is degenerating into pure and simple fanaticism; predestination to good has disappeared, and in place of it comes predestination to evil. The better characteristics of the Moslem influence have disappeared, and it is only the worst elements that come to the surface to-day. True there is an element in the Moslem Church that realizes, in a degree at least, this fact and is making strenuous efforts to reinstate the spiritual power to which the system has owed a large part of its aggressive strength, but it is doing it and has done it by means utterly subversive of the very ends it seeks to accomplish. From time to time there go forth fetvahs from the Moslem priests commanding the faithful to attend the mosque service, forbidding the faithful to indulge in certain things forbidden by the Moslem laws. But such edicts accomplish absolutely nothing. There is still to a certain degree the practice of the old asceticism. Any one who will attend a meeting of the Board of Censors in Constantinople will realize the truth of this as he looks upon the hard-visaged Tartars from Central Asia, whose fanaticism is manifest in every line of the countenance. But with them their religion has ceased to have any spiritual power. It has become nothing more than a form of doctrine identified with aggression and despotism. Eternal punishments take the place of eternal rewards and threats overpower promises. This manifests itself in two ways: first, in the tremendous pressure brought to bear upon the govern-

[page 60] YOUNG TURKEY.

ment to restore the austerities of the Moslem faith, and second, in the manifestation of the sternest Moslem arrogance in the treatment of the Christians. Scarcely at any time in Turkish history has that arrogance been more prominent in certain sections and among certain classes. The scorn and contempt manifest for the infidel; the utter disregard for the most common rights of humanity; the assumption that Christians exist purely and simply for the benefit of Mohammedans; that rapine, murder and outrage are not criminal, but are absolutely legitimate; that Christian property has no rights that Moslems are bound to respect; all these characteristics are apparent to-day as they have not been at any time during the past century.

It is impossible for races such as the Moslem races of the Turkish Empire to come into contact with the results of a Christian civilization without realizing and acknowledging to a considerable degree the advantages of that civilization. These, recognizing the fact that Islam has adapted itself to very varying communities and circumstances, claim that it has still that power and that there is no reason why the highest results of European progress may not be appropriated by the Moslems. These men form the basis of what is known as the Young Turkey party. They call for a constitution; they demand railroads and telegraphs, electric lighting, free press, widespread literature, freedom of thought and worship; they refuse to allow that attendance upon mosque service is the test of loyalty to their government. The strife between these two forces is one of the most interesting and significant facts in Mohammedanism to-day. What the result will be time only will show. One more thing should be said. The exclusive power of the Moslem faith has never been manifested


more forcibly than it is now. No form of Christianity has -affected it to any appreciable extent. The reasons for this will be recognized by any who have followed with care the developments of the past centurie

They are to be found (1) in the dominating political power of the religion, and (2) in the fact that as yet to only a limited degree has there been any general perception of a truer spiritual power. This last has affected some, but the great mass are utterly untouched. Should the political break-up of the empire come, then there are many indications that the ecclesiastical power will weaken and with it the force of the faith. Many Turks have spoken of this in private, not daring to set it forth in public.

The great characteristic of Mohammedanism which is most manifest in the dealings of Moslems with each other and with the world at large, is the fact that it recognizes no moral obligation of any kind. Sin is merely transgression of statute; falsehood, deception, robbery, murder, have no moral quality whatever. They are entirely legitimate when used for the furtherance of the Moslem State and even for the furtherance of individual advantage. Undoubtedly there are individual Moslems everywhere who have a strong moral sense, but the great mass of the Moslem community is utterly ignorant of what evangelical Christians understand by the sense of sin. Mistakes are to be atoned for by punishment, penance or remission of penalty; forgiveness in the Christian sense of the term is almost absolutely unknown. Hence arises one of the fundamental difficulties in dealings between Turkey and Christian nations. The Christian Governments unquestionably are bad enough in this respect, but the Moslem Government is far worse. It is a fundamental

[page 62] SECTS.

element in the Moslem creed that “ no faith is to be kept with an infidel.” This has been carried out throughout the whole of Turkish history and will continue to be carried out until the Moslem system is overcome.

A word should be said with regard to the different sects of Mohammedanism. Mohammed himself is reported to have said that the children of Israel were divided into 72 sects, and his people would be divided into 73. A Moslem writer says that there are 150 sects in Islam, but the infinite shades between them make them practically innumerable. The two great divisions of the Moslem world are Sunnites and Shiites. The first follow the first three caliphs after Mohammed; the latter regard these as illegitimate and commence with the caliphate of Ali, the prophet’s nephew. The former embrace by far the larger part of the Moslem world. The latter are chiefly confined to Persia, though they are represented in a considerable degree in Turkey, especially by some tribes of Kurds. The Shiites believe that the last Imam is still alive and will appear as the Mahdi (director), after which the judgment day will follow. Some of them even go so far as to give Ali divine honors, holding him to be greater than Mohammed. They are as a rule far more deceitful than the Sunnites, and observe certain fasts denied by the orthodox. The Sunnites are divided into four great sects and these again into a number of smaller ones. One, the most important, includes in greater part the Moslems of Turkey, Central Asia and Northern India; the second those of Southern India and Egypt; the third those of Morocco, Barbary and Northern Africa generally; the fourth those of Eastern Arabia and some parts of Central Africa.

Sikhism is a strange mixture of Hinduism and Mohamme-

[page 63] APOSTASY.

danism in Northern India. In Persia there are two great sects of considerable power: the Sufis and the followers of Bab. These, however, have no relation especially to Turkey. In Arabia, there is a sect, the Wahhabees, which was at one time very powerful and in the early part of the present century occasioned the Turkish Government considerable trouble. The most prominent development of Mohammedanism of late years has been the rise of the Mahdi, in the Sudan. To describe this at length is beyond our limits. It arose in the dissatisfaction with the caliphate of the Turkish Sultan, and the belief that the sheik who called himself the Mahdi was in reality the one who was to lead Islam in its final victory over the world.

In its relations to Christianity Islam allows absolutely no apostasy. The death penalty is still existent in Persia, and while nominally forbidden in Turkey, it is at least exile and often death for any Turk to accept Christianity.

The different forms of Christianity are spoken of in connection with the different races. A few statements, however, should be made in regard to them in general. The characteristics manifested by all the different Oriental churches are essentially the same; a strict formalism in doctrinal belief and in worship, a very general lack of spiritual life and an intense devotion to the national idea as identified with church life. It is to this very largely that is due the racial unity of the different classes, and while there has always been through the centuries a great deal of true devotion to Christian faith, it is unquestionably the fact that the national strife that centered about propositions or the most abstruse facts of philosophical theology, seems in many respects impossible to those of different race and different education. The


same characteristics, however, that existed then exist to-day in considerable measure, and this must be remembered in all consideration of the situation of Christians and the development of Christian communities in the empire.

It must be remembered also that the rivalries first occasioned by these theological differences and afterwards developed by the peculiar system of government adopted by the Sultans, has done very much to intensify the peculiarities of each of these sects. They are bitterly opposed one to the other. Armenians will have nothing to do with Greeks, and Greeks are bitterly opposed to the Armenians; Gregorian Armenians hate those of their own race connected with the Roman Catholic Church, and the Greeks despise the Bulgarians, although another branch of their own general faith; Nestorians, Chaldeans, Jacobites, all strive against each other. The position of the Protestants is somewhat peculiar. At first they were looked upon merely as one additional sect developing an additional nation, and to that extent detracting from the power of those from whom they sprung, and they were hated by all. Of late years, however, it has become evident that they are no less national in their feeling than those who have remained in the old churches, and they have been recognized more and more as parts of the same nations. It is hoped by many that, as Evangelical ideas spread in all the different communions, there will result a drawing together, not necessarily a unifying of forms of worship or statements of doctrinal belief, but a sympathy which shall make them support one another rather than work against each other.
One thing more should be said. The general effect of religious instruction throughout the Levant has been to divorce

[page 65] FAITH AND LIFE.

the profession of faith from any control of life. The idea that moral conduct was involved in the profession of a creed seems to have disappeared from a good many lives, and the Greek brigand will say his prayers and then start on his pillaging expedition; the Armenian merchant will attend service and then go forth to get the better of his opponent in trade without the slightest regard to the use of truth in his dealings. The same thing appears in the Moslem, the most outrageous persecutions and terrible cruelties having been carried on under the very lead of the Moslem Church and as a matter of faith.


Table of Contents | The Cover, Frontispiece, Title Page, Copyright Notice, etc.
Introduction | Preface | Turkey in Asia (map) | Table of Contents (as in the book)
List of Illustrations | 1. The Turkish Empire | 2. Population and Languages | 3. Religions
4. The Turks | 5. The Kurds | 6. The Armenians | 7. The Greeks | 8. Other Oriental Churches
9. Rise and Decline of Ottoman Power | 10. Turkey and Europe | 11. Russia and Turkey
12. Mahmud II | 13. Reform and Progress | 14. Treaties of Paris and Berlin
15. Condition of the Christians | 16. The Turkish Government | 17. Protestant Missions in Turkey
18. The Armenian Question | 19. General Situation in 1894 | 20. The Sassun Massacre
21. Politics and Massacre at Constantinople | 22. Massacres at Trebizond and Erzrum
23. Massacres in Harput District | 24. Aintab, Marash and Urfa | 25. Character of the Massacres
26. Religious Persecution | 27. Relief Work | 28. Partition of Turkey | 29. America and Turkey
30. General Survey | Alphabetical Index


Source: Bliss, Rev. Edwin Munsell . Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities. Edgewood Publishing Company , 1896
Provided by: Aram Arkun, Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center
Scanned by: Karen Vrtanesyan
OCR: Irina Minasyan

See also:

J. Rendel Harris & B. Helen Harris, Letters from the Scenes of the Recent Massacres in Armenia
Helen Davenport Gibbons, The Red Rugs of Tarsus
Maj. General James G. Harbord Conditions in the Near East: Report of the American Military Mission to Armenia

Design & Content © Anna & Karen Vrtanesyan, unless otherwise stated.  Legal Notice