The Emergence of Charity as a Contested Domain: Armenian Orphans of Istanbul during the Hamidian Era 1876-1907

By Tugce Kayaal
Submitted to Session P4107 (On the Margins of Ottoman Modernity: Multidimensional Negotiations of Identity, 2015 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper analyzes the social transformation of the Ottoman Empire by focusing on the Armenian orphans of Istanbul, who were moved to the city particularly after 1896 Armenian massacres. The aim of this paper is questioning the nature of the Hamidian regime by going beyond the traditional Islamist and state-centered arguments by examining the transformation of charity into a contested domain between different actors.
During the reign of Abdulhamid II (1876-1909), institutionalization of charity work became one of the crucial policies of the Ottoman state in order to recruit and strengthen the sympathy of people towards the Sultan’s autocratic regime. Abdulhamid II personally involved in the process of enhancing these institutions’ conditions in Istanbul and also in Eastern provinces. After the Armenian massacres of 1896, Ottoman state began to collect the Armenian orphans in state-sponsored orphanages. However, the Sublime Porte was not the only actor interested in orphans. Armenian Patriarchate and also German and American missionaries were also aiming to take these children into their institutions to create the “ideal” adults of the future. Inevitably, the involvement of multiple actors in the politics of benevolence led to the emergence of rivalry and competition among various actors. This transformation of the politics of benevolence into a contested domain also determined the limits of Ottoman state to realize its policies over children entirely.
The institutions that involved in the domain of politics of benevolence were not the only actors that need to be considered. Children who tried to survive in these institutions also had their agency to resist or accept the ideological imposition of these institutions. Particularly children in orphanages of patriarchate found various means, such as performing plays and organizing fund-raising campaigns, to resist the suppressive policies of the Sublime Porte through the means that the orphanages of Armenian community provide them. For that reason, this paper will analyze the resistance of orphans by focusing on the Armenian orphanage in Istanbul (Meryemana Ermeni Eytamhanesi) to institutionalized repression of Hamidian regime. The main motive of this paper will be examining redefined incremental importance of orphans in terms of citizenship and identity construction, and the policies of control over children for the realization of Ottoman modernist project. This paper will analyze these issues by using newspapers and Ottoman archival resources.