Mission, Ethnicity and Civil Society
in Ottoman and early Republican Turkey

 

Hans-Lukas Kieser

Paper read at the workshop Identity Formation and the Missionary Enterprise in the Middle East, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, Providence RI, 17.-18. 11. 1999. An elaborated version with full bibliographical references will be published in: E. Doumato (ed.), Missionary Transformations: Culture, Identity and Environment in the Middle East.

Mission in Turkey is a delicate topic for several reasons. Not only because of its real or supposed link with Western hegemony, but especially because mission was concerned with minorities and had a vision of integrating them into a new form of society which was in some ways diametrically opposed to the ideas of the ruling groups. Instead of homogenizing society and strengthening its unity, missions as seen by the rulers were differentiating society in religious, ethnic and social terms. Missions worked with religious minorities such as the Armenians and Syriacs, heterodox groups such as the Alevis and Yezidis and with the poorer classes.
The Protestant missions were not only a modernizing factor outside the big centres through their schools and hospitals, but also clear promoters of federalist solutions regarding the future of the crisis-ridden Kurdo-Armenian Eastern Provinces of the Empire. During and after World War 1, the government expelled the whole of the flourishing missionary network that had become a thorn in its side. After the establishment and international acceptance in Lausanne (1923) of a unitary Turkish state, all the remaining Christian missions in Turkey remained under suspicion of agitating against national and religious unity.
Exploring unknown geographical regions and ethnic or social particularities was the imperative condition for a successful approach to «unreached peoples». The Turkish historian Uygur Kocabafloglu stated correctly that «when the Ottoman intellectuals in the first quarter of the 20th century began to discover Anatolia and wonder about it, we can say that American missionaries already knew it well. And because they did so, they probably knew much better than the Ottoman rulers the values, patterns of behaviour, desires, prejudices and expectations of the different ethnic and social groups living there.»
At the beginning of the 20th century, the missionary attitude toward Ottoman society changed somewhat. The missionaries, notably those belonging to the ABCFM (American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions), the strongest organisation in Asia Minor, seem for the first time to have become seriously concerned with the functioning of society as a whole, including the Sunni-Muslim majority. In 1908 we see many members of the ABCFM siding with the new Young Turkish rulers in propagating a democratic plural Ottoman «nation». Both sides praised the benefits of civil society. During the wars, however, the honeymoon between American Protestants and Young Turks turned into deep distrust. In the following decades, the Republic of Turkey did not succeed in establishing interethnic peace and social justice in Eastern Anatolia. Nearly all young nations of the former Ottoman area are based on ideologies with strong ethnical overtones which obstruct building open «civil societies» in the Balkans and the Middle East.
I propose here a very summary analysis of the ambiguous identity-forming role of the ABCFM in late Ottoman and early Republican Turkey. It focusses especially on ABCFM’s little-known relation with the Anatolian Alevis, an important heterodox group living among Kurds and Turks in Central and Eastern Anatolia. The creation of a Protestant millet in 1850, which was a result of the new missionary identity-formation, is a significant starting-point, and the cultural destruction or «ethnocide», 1938, of the Dersim – the Kurdish Alevi heartland dear to the Protestant missionaries – forms a logical conclusion to this analysis. I will deal with


1. Integrating minorities in the History of Salvation
The ABCFM’s eschatological view of history during the first half of the 19th century[1] was related to four expectations of great import to the Ottoman Middle East: 1. The global spread of the gospel. 2. The return of the Jews to Palestine and their «restoration» (acceptance of Jesus Christ). 3. The fall of the Pope. 4. The collapse of Islam. The Muslim resistance led to the missions developing a conceptual instrument for using the oriental Christians as agents for «leavening the Levant». So Protestantism first had to bring about a spiritual and educational revival of the «flaccid» Oriental churches before moving on to evangelising non-Christian populations.
Christian minorities and, as we will see, some heterodox groups, thus won a privileged place in the missionary scheme of salvation. The majority of the people, on the other hand, the Sunni Muslims, were seen as a group corrupted by a misguided faith and the abuse of power. Only after they, too, had accepted enlightenment could they take part in the blessings of eschatological progress.
The missionary focus on minorities had far-reaching consequences. The ABCFM contributed decisively not only to furnishing them with what appeared to be a place in the future, but likewise to constructing a collective past, in accordance with Western concepts, and to upgrading their spoken languages by putting them into a written form and using them for publications. All that led to the cultural and national «renaissance» of peoples such as the Armenians and the Syriacs.
But let us understand these important changes with regard to missions, ethnic groups and state by analysing the long-lasting love story between Protestants and Alevis in Central and Eastern Anatolia. The story of the missionary-Alevi relationship begins in the 1850s, shortly after the establishment of the Protestant millet. It is one of mutual sympathy, shared spiritual and social values and of common hope in a new age. The reality fell far short of the great expectations. But missionary enthusiasm for this people and curiosity concerning them remained constant.
The Anatolian Alevis are the descendants of an ethnically mixed heterodox rural people that opposed their integration into the Ottoman state body during the 15th and 16th centuries. The latter turned out to be, with Selim the Second, definitely dominated by Sunnis. The «Kizilbash» – so called then because of their red headgear – pinned their hopes on the Persian Shah Ismail, and became, in Ottoman eyes, traitors and public enemies. They had to live at the edge of society and in remote regions, notably the Dersim between Sivas, Erzurum and Harput, and the Elbistan, south-west of the Dersim. Without mosques, their villages were clearly recognizable, until Sultan Abdulhamid (and his successors till now) constructed mosques there. The partial replacement of the term Kizilbash by «Alevi» in about 1900 did not effectively change the deep prejudices against this important minority prevalent in Turkey among the Sunni majority.[2] Alevis then and now constitute between a third and a quarter of Turkey’s Muslim population.
In the 1850s the missionaries of the ABCFM were probably the first people from outside to enter the close endogamous community of the Kizilbash and were perhaps the first non-Alevis to be admitted to the secret religious assemblies of the cem. They were deeply touched by this «unique people», its whole-hearted hospitality, its fine tenderness during the cem, and its persistent wish to be instructed by the missionaries.[3] They marvelled to hear about a Kurdish Kizilbash chief near Tchemishgezek who had proclaimed himself a Protestant and continued stubbornly to do so – without ever having been in direct contact with the mission.[4] This Ali Gako and other Kizilbash in the regions of Harput, Sivas and Marash, who called themselves Protestants, had probably learnt from their Armenian neighbours about the new Protestant movement.
But this attempt by several Kizilbash groups to redefine their identity and social role touched vital interests of state: it feared for its unity and power. It wanted to keep them under its sole control and thus avoiding the possibility of an external international intervention in their favour. The missionaries found themselves compelled to reduce to a minimum their contacts with the Alevis in the 1860s and 1870s. Notably in the region of Sivas, they feared for the lives of their native employees and of the Alevis concerned. The ABCFM could not bring the Alevis any improvement in their precarious social position. Repression by local officials and Sunni neighbours on account of their protestant inclinations intimidated them. Yet more than a handful continued to avow themselves protestants.
In the 1880s, the post-Tanzimat Sultan Abdulhamid began to carry on a socio-political strategy of the «restoration of the Ümmet» or of Islamic unity, which was by no means the same as the promotion of social equality. On the other hand he implemented more effectively than any reformist before him the centralizing and modernizing concepts of the Tanzimat in administration, education and health. He tried actively to integrate the Alevis and other heterodox groups such as the Yezidis into the Ümmet (i. e. to Sunnitize them). He succeeded in reintegrating the Sunni Kurds by giving numerous tribes the status of privileged cavalry units, the so-called Hamidiye. Abdulhamid sent his own Hanefi missionaries to Central and Eastern Turkey.[5] They mobilized the Muslims for his politics. It seems that this little-known semi-official network played an important role in the extensive anti-armenian pogroms in 1895 and 1896. Even if his politics of incorporating Alevis and Yezidis did not win them over, it isolated them successfully from the ABCFM.
Protestantism as represented by the ABCFM had become a main ideological enemy in the eyes of the Sultan. It was not only a major factor in the renaissance of Armenian and Syriac self-consciousness, but seemed to have the ideological potential to initiate something like an Alevi renaissance. For historical reasons, the relationship between Alevis and native Christians was – at least in Eastern Anatolia – much more intimate than that between Alevis and Sunnis. A Protestant-influenced, educated and consolidated Alevi community would stand side by side with the Armenians and ultimately promote common political ideas such as social equality and regional autonomy.
Abdulhamid was first to make serious inquiries about the Eastern Alevis.[6] Probably he already feared the possible Alevi-Armenian alliance which was to become a nightmare of Young Turkish nationalists on the eve of World War I. In fact, such an alliance would have gravely challenged the demographic and political predominance of the established system in Central and Eastern Anatolia.[7]
Abdulhamid saw a similar danger in missionary attempts to reach Kurdish people. Since the early Tanzimat, when the central government destroyed the age-old Kurdish autonomies, Sunni Kurds were confused about their social and political role and looking for new orientation. The sheikhs rose as new politico-religious leaders. Printed gospels in Armeno-Kurdish and later in Arabo-Kurdish, and modest Kurdish village schools and Christian instruction appeared to the Hamidian state as dangerous attacks on Islamic unity and as germs of ethnic self-consciousness.
In this perspective, the missionary work of the Protestants was subversive and seditious (fesâd-pezîr), as Yıldız Palace documents state over and over from the 1890s. Catholic mission was not seen in this way at that time. It had got the reputation of being loyal to the government, and it profited from the diplomatic rapprochement between the Sultan and the Pope.

2. The utopian moment of 1908: building plural civil society
The Young Turk revolution of July 1908 abruptly ended the Hamidian régime. It brought to power an élite of young patriotic officials and officers of middle class origin. All members of the party of Union and Progress (also called Unionists) were largely influenced by the European ideologies of the time, notably positivism, social darwinism and racial nationalism. Their declared goal was the establishment of a liberal system to follow the Hamidian autocracy. Yet their first aim was the gaining of unrestricted national unity and sovereignty.
Nevertheless, a utopian moment seemed near in summer 1908: the overcoming of religious and ethnic divisions and the common construction of a pluralistic Middle Eastern «Ottoman Nation» with a constitutional system.
Perhaps nobody was more willing than the American missionaries to believe in such a future and to contribute to building it. They hoped that the crucial Armenian question would find its solution within a free Turkey and allow relations between the ABCFM and the state to be put on a more friendly basis. The pogroms of the 1890s had seriously damaged them. The Unionists’ condemnation of the pogroms, their fraternization with the non-Muslims and political cooperation with the Armenian Dachnak seemed to confirm hopes of improving relations. American missionaries suddenly gained prestige as «pioneers of progress» and were invited as speakers at the Young Turkish club meetings in provincial towns like Mezere-Harput.
The functioning of Ottoman society had always been hierarchical and coercive. The modern ideology of equal citizens (vatandash) within a multireligious empire was designated as «Ottomanism» (osmanlilik) and had some roots in the Ottoman Reform Era of Tanzimat.[8] Its most prominent missionary ideologue in the last two Ottoman decades was James Barton.[9] From 1908 on, forming a pluri-religious national leadership and making good and equal citizens were the declared aims of missionary schools. By taking on social responsibility for the promising development of Young Turkey, the ABCFM won large support from the political establishment of the USA, including the Presidents. The USA and its missionaries were to lead the Ottoman reconstruction.[10]
The ABCFM’s declared change from a minority-orientation to a civil-society-orientation was far from having a broad effect in the short lapse between the Young Turkish revolution and the out-break of World War I. Muslim attendance at mission schools increased somewhat, but remained low. Nevertheless, important steps toward a change were undertaken. Missionaries began analysing some of the constraints and the barriers that resulted from the religious stance of their institutions. They changed some of the rules which gave offence to Muslim students. The pioneers of the mid-19th-century in Eastern Anatolia had not ignored the dangers of the ethnocentric approach, but had scarcely revised their biased view of Islam. Some missionaries began to do so. They asked for a «politically correct» language in regard to Islam. «Civic force», «Ottoman citizenship», «humanitarian leadership», «moral contagion», «antidote» (to corruptive Western influences) and social «leavening process» were the new keywords.
A remarkable step toward a focus on civil society was the weekly newspaper The Orient, published by American missionaries in Istanbul from 1910 to 1914. It had a clear touch of Ottomanism, declaring itself as a «paper devoted to the religious, educational, political, commercial and other interests of the Ottoman Empire».
It seems safe, to say that no other ethnic group was more interested in the promises of early Young Turkey than the Alevis. The slogans «liberty», «equality», and «justice» (hardly «fraternity») were most attractive for a group that knew neither the privileges of the ümmet nor the garantees of a recognized millet. Marginalized among a Sunni majority in Central Anatolia, in constant low intensity rebellion in their heartland, the Dersim, against the state, the Alevis affirmed publicly in 1908, for the first time since the big Kizilbash revolts of the 16th century, their distinct identity and were engaged in opening their own village schools. The emissaries of Union and Progress successfully convinced the Dersimis of the benefits of the new era. Several Alevis adhered to the party. Pillaging and uprisings ceased.
The honeymoon between the Alevis and the state removed all previous obstacles and gave the missionaries the chance to resume and strengthen their relations with the Alevis. Materially, the missionaries did not do much for them, but morally they clearly supported their aims and brought them before an international public, e. g. in the Contemporary Review.[11] Alevis as much as Kurds and other natives tended to overestimate the real political weight of the missionaries’ verbal support. It probably influenced them more than was good for them politically.
With the diplomatic re-emergence of the unsettled Armenian question and the constitution of a dictatorial Unionist government during the Balkan war in 1913, government suspicion against the Alevis, especially the eastern, mainly Kurdish speaking Alevis, increased rapidly. Indeed, for a single party régime, ready to establish national unity at all costs, the scenario appeared catastrophic: The Anatolian Kizilbash, in its own eyes – I quote Köprülü – «genuine Turks, who have preserved in the purest manner the national tradition»,[12] were far from adopting the identity that Young Turkish ideologues had designed for them. Many of them happened, in fact, to adopt political and social ideas similar to the Armenians.
Since 1913 the latter had been more and more seen as alien elements and adversaries in an imminent social-darwinist fight (secular apocalypse fantasies circulated widely among the pre-war European intelligentsia influencing the Young Turks as well as the other nationalist élites in the Near East). Unionists interpreted the close relations between Armenians, Alevis and missionaries as being the result of an unscrupulous propaganda on the part of the Protestants and Armenians.[13] The rulers did not doubt that the Alevis of the Eastern Provinces supported the hated international reform plan for the Eastern Provinces (the so-called «Armenian Reforms»), signed by the Ottoman government under diplomatic pressure, on February 8, 1914. They feared eastern Alevis would vote side by side with the Armenians in the elections scheduled by this plan.

3. The defeat of missionary concepts in and after World War I
The destruction of the Armenians in Central and Eastern Anatolia in 1915-1916 signifies the most brutal end of the 1908 social utopia. This man-made and, as wrote Halide Edip in her Memoirs, «avoidable» catastrophe was fatal for a whole people – and for the missionaries. They lost not only their principal clients, but also most of their confidence and their concepts. From the 1920s on, they were quite alone with a traumatic memory: the eyewitnesses of a genocide, the breakdown of the missionary work of four generations and the large-scale failure of their social and political plans for their beloved Turkey. Not only the few missionaries remaining in that land, but also the ones who returned to Europe and, perhaps, the States, found themselves in a post-war society that suppressed the traumata and refused to interrogate the recent past.
Since the collapse of the Tanzimat, observers as experienced as the ABCFM members knew clearly that ethnic co-habitation could not be saved and put on solid foundations without international help. This attitude made them deeply suspect to both the Hamidian and to the Unionist and Kemalist régimes, for which national sovereignty and unity was the first and sacrosanct political goal. In the first half of 1914, the missionaries, too, had pinned their hopes on the international reform plan, the first efficient reform proposal since the vague promises of article 61 of the Berlin Treaty.
The ABCFM had contributed substantially to the internationalisation of the Armenian Question in the 1870s. Its political commitment was then focussed on native Christians’ rights, and, subliminally, on the religious liberty of the Alevis and other nominal Muslims or heterodox people. The Sunni Kurds, the major group in the Eastern Provinces, were in those days outside the missionaries’ interest.
For the missionaries, it was inconceivable to reconstruct postwar Turkey without supranational justice. Therefore an energetic political adjustment was necessary. For Clarence Ussher, who contacted Kurdish and liberal Ottoman leaders in Istanbul and who participated in the Peace deliberations in Paris, justice meant three things: first, the return of hundreds of thousands of Armenian and Kurdish refugees to Eastern and Central Anatolia; secondly the reconstruction of this most ravaged area, including the establishment of a secure home under international protection for the Armenians that constituted the most victimized group; thirdly the prosecution of war criminals, with the logical appointment of new cadre in the Ottoman state, or an amnesty under the condition of collaboration for the above-mentioned new order.[14]
We all know very well that for several reasons and despite some minor successes on the part of the League of Nations, convincing internationalism failed in the period between the two World Wars. Its first obvious failure was postwar Turkey. For missionaries on the ground, the Greek occupation of Izmir permitted by the Allies, was a fatal error, the refusal by the US-Senate to accept a mandate a deep deception.[15] A year later, in 1920, the missionaries of the Eastern provinces, from which the nationalist «Independance War» was organized, began to be expelled. Mehmed Nuri Dersimi, a Kurdish Alevi Veterinarian and Kurdish leader of that time, cursed the régime for its expulsion of persons who – I quote him – had brought. By the Unionist-Kemalist rulers, the missionaries were seen as inconvenient observers and «foreign agents», carrying on a policy of reconstruction opposed to the nationalist one. «In most cases no charges were made against these Americans, but it came to be the general conviction that the reason for their expulsion was their active connection with Armenians, Kurds and other non-Turks in the country», Henry Riggs wrote in his unpublished historical review of that «period of disaster 1914-1922».[16] In 1925, two years after the proclamation of the Republic, the basis of the new state was Turko-Sunni to an extent nobody could have foreseen.
Again Alevi history sheds light upon social utopias as well as on identity and loyalty questions in Anatolia during the long war years. We have touched on the renewed sympathy in relations between Alevis, Armenians, missions and the early Young Turkish state. We have seen that, for several reasons, the Unionists of the dictatorial régime after 1913 no longer believed in a common plural future. In their eyes, native Christians could definitely not be assimilated into a unitarian body, but at the same time their determination to incorporate the Alevis increased.
In 1914-1915, the Unionist party engaged some of its members to investigate and make propaganda among the Alevis. A concrete reason for this step were disturbing papers on the Alevis confiscated in ABCFM’s Anatolia College in Merzifon. In Unionist eyes these papers, probably written by George E. White, were «separatist», as they highlighted Christian affinities to the Alevis.
In spite of these and other efforts, the war régime did not succeed in winning over the Dersim Alevis to take part with tribal militias against Russia. The War alienated the Eastern Alevis from the state. The gravest reason was the Armenian genocide which the Alevis had witnessed. They identified themselves with their neighbours and feared to suffer the same fate. The Dersim became the sole collective asylum for genocide victims. We are not surprised to see Dersimis and Harput missionaries work hand in hand to smuggle thousands of Armenians. The German missionary Christoffel in Malatya witnessed how Alevi tribes attacked deportation caravans, in order to liberate Armenian friends. In March 1916 some tribes of the Dersim assaulted and destroyed the government buildings of the towns in their neighbourhood and marched toward Mamüretülaziz, the residence of the province governor. Finally a substantial military force with numerous participation by the local Zaza Sunni Kurds repulsed them. Unionists took revenge, deporting the whole population of the tribes concerned. It seems logical, that in the summer 1919, Kurdish Alevi tribes were the first «interior enemies» to oppose Mustafa Kemal Pasha’s reorganisation of the Unionist power structures, and to prepare the first Kurdish uprising against the Ankara government in the revolt of Koçgiri-Dersim, 1920-1921. In vain they tried to get political support through the missionaries. Both sides, Alevi Kurds and Unionist-Kemalist officials over-estimated the political influence missionaries were then able to exert. ABCFM contacts with Kurds aroused much suspicion among officials, so that such intercourse became practically impossible.[17]
In 1924 Sunni Kurds finally realized that the Kemalists did not keep autonomy promises, which they had given when they needed Kurdish military support. The Sunni Zaza Kurds around Sheikh Said stood completely alone against the newly established state, with support neither from the Kurdish Alevis, who disdained them for their cooperation with the Unionists during the wars, nor from resident «international agents» such as had been the Eastern Turkey missionaries in late Ottoman times. Said’s revolt in 1925 failed at the end, but had brought the state in the East near to collapse. In the following thirteen years the Republic of Turkey established its military and administrative control. Its gravest measure was the destruction or «ethnocide» of the traditional Dersim society in 1936-1938.[18] In vain did the Dersim leaders pathetically appeal to the League of Nations in Geneva in July and November 1937.
The ABCFM’s adaption to nationalist Turkey in the 1920s was painful, self-denying and partly illusionist. The question of an abandonment of its Turkey Mission was omnipresent since the «tragic year 1922» with the expulsion of the last provincial native Christians and the expulsion of many missionaries. The frustration and self-questioning of Central and Eastern Anatolia missionaries in 1923 was deep. They had lost everything. Most of «their» people had perished, the rest of them were without a home. Missionary supranationalist conceptions had «proved» to be wrong in «real history». How to bear a shattering memory hardly anybody was ready to share? The Missionaries’ silent agony on this point persisted in the following decades without finding a satisfactory response either in Turkey or in the established international historiography.
The conflictive power of the genocide memory jeopardized all missionary work for the future. Henry Riggs said: «In the minds of many members of the Mission were two questions which demanded an honest answer: first, could there be any hope of a regeneration of the Turkish people, and real progress toward a decent national life, without some real repentance and repudiation of that crime, in which now they glory? And second, can any missionary have any influence spiritually and permanently of value if, by keeping silence, he seemed to condone the crime?»[19]
In contrast to other missionary organizations, the ABCFM continued a part of its work in provincial Turkey, but with reduced staff and without its stations in the East. Its new policy was that of non-political character-formation. Its new keywords were: «unnamed Christianity», «personal and sympathetic approach», «Christian radiance», «missionary home – a social centre», «personal talks on vital subjects», «publications with a high moral tone», «cooperation with sympathetic Turks for the uplift of their country», etc. On the one hand, the Turkey Mission did finally reach the Muslim majority it had wanted to reach. On the other hand, the price was high: it had to depend to a large extent on nationalistic regulations and to give up any orientation toward the poorer classes. In Republican Turkey attendance at the American schools was above all a matter for the well-to-do. The broad direct contact with the poor in provincial Turkey had been lost.
In January 1923, when an ABCFM meeting in Istanbul held its decisive vote for a continuation in Turkey, missionaries cherished the illusionist hope that the restrictive measures of those days would soon be removed; «a hope which, it must be said, has not yet been fulfilled», Henry Riggs wrote circa 1940.
As the lack of an approved treaty jeopardized the greater interests of all American institutions in Turkey, missionary leaders like James Barton ardently supported America’s adherence to the Lausanne Treaty. In 1927 the United States resumed «normal» diplomatic relations. The price was the dismissal of the Armenian question. Twenty years later Truman doctrine made Turkey a close partner to USA. NATO personel soon obtained more privileges and immunities than missionaries and other foreigners ever had had under the Ottoman Capitulations.[20]

Conclusion: The catalytic and conflictive impact of Protestant mission on modern Turkey
I can sum up my conclusion in two main points:
1. The ABCFM’s impact on Turkey was catalytic in the sense that it accelerated the promotion of Western models in education, health and standard of living. These models of civilization agreed with the reform ideas of the ruling élite in Tanzimat and Young Turkey. In particular Protestant missionaries showed in an exemplary way that a successful reform movement had to win over Anatolia by investigating and penetrating its provinces, villages and mountain tribes.
2. The ABCFM’s impact on Turkey was conflictive in so far as it furthered political and ethno-social visions as well as views of the history that were, with a short exception, opposite to those of the country’s leaders. Especially from 1915 on, American and other missionaries were the keepers of large first-hand records on a genocide nobody was willing to speak of in later decades. Materialist and racist options completely contradicted missionaries’ convictions. The Alevis best exemplify the conflictive Protestant impact also upon an important nominal Muslim group in Anatolia. In the mid-19th-century, members of the ABCFM were the first to open a door to these socially marginalized people. Protestantism seemed to many of them to be the modern way out of discrimination and backwardness. Yet before Abdulhamid and the rise of the Armenian question, the Protestant-Alevi connection alarmed the state, which feared for its Muslim unity. The representatives of the government began to side more than ever with the Sunni population. In the Kurdo-Armenian highlands, the Ottoman state was far from being able to play the integrative role it had in the special case of mountain Lebanon.[21]
I return to the first point of our conclusion. ABCFM’s catalytic impact on Turkey has often been summed up as Westernization. It is true to say that, quite against the intentions of 19th century missionaries, the substantial contribution to Westernization is their most evident and well-known heritage in modern Turkey. Not a few present Turkish leaders and intellectuals are graduates of former mission schools and live with one foot in the USA.
Progressive Ottoman élites and Western missionaries had agreed in the conviction that the Ottoman Near East should benefit from the Western technical, educational and sanitary superiority. In the provincial towns missionaries built up prestigious schools, among them revolutionary institutions for girls’ education, as well as hospitals. These provided a model which millets and the state were strongly motivated to emulate. As the Greek, Jewish and Armenian millets were most successful in emulating the given model, the incentive impact it gave to the Muslim community increased.
Yet we should stress more strongly the importance of missionary penetration of the Anatolian countryside, villages and mountains. The state learned from the missions to go into the country, make contact with the people and win them over by bringing them schools and medical care in order to gain a foothold, develop and control over-regional society.
Most authors, Turks and Americans, agree on the benefits of the educational and sanitary models missionaries brought to Turkey. They do not agree on the disintegrative or «separatist» consequences this impact had as interpreted by official ideology. In fact, the Anatolian missionaries saw, early on, the abysses of nationalism which opened before them. No doubt they underestimated the impact of their liberal teachings. They lacked a sufficiently critical view of 19th-century liberation movements with their disproportion between strong national and weak universal values. Yet missionaries fought in their schools, as well they could, for their supra-national liberal ideas. Most of them clearly and constantly condemned any exclusive ethno-nationalism, be it Armenian, Greek or Turkish, in addition to rebuking despotism.
As Roderic Davison justly stated with regard to the Turks, unfortunately, «the only Western religion accepted was the creed of nationalism.»[22] The same is true for the Armenians, at least for the greater majority of Armenian young men frequenting mission schools. Men saw education as an instrument for a professional career or a political commitment. Young women had a more holistic orientation. Their understanding for the deeper concerns of missionaries was generally better. They were more able to translate spiritual contents into their social lives. Men were subject to fairly different, perhaps more compelling group dynamics. They adhered generally to positivist views of the world.
No doubt, the educative and social rise of women – a programmatic point of ABCFM work since the mid-19th-century – was the most successful and long-term impact of Protestant mission in Anatolia. It was one of the few things, Unionist and Kemalist Turks supported without having reservations. It is no accident that the former student of a mission school, Halide Edib, became the embleme of the women’ rise in Young Turkey. By way of contrast, pragmatic solutions regarding the ethnic cohabitation in Eastern Turkey completely failed for ideological reasons.

[1] Cf. Chaney, Charles L., The Birth of Missions in America, South Pasadena, 1976; Hutchison, William R., Errand to the World: American Protestant Thought and Foreign Missions, Chicago, 1987.
[2] Cf. the authors article «L’Alévisme kurde», Peuples Méditerranéens 68-69, Paris, 1994, p. 57-76.
[3] Missionary Herald, 1857, p. 395; 1861, p. 72.
[4] Missionary Herald, 1855, p. 338-340; 1863, p. 116-118 and 309-312.
[5] Cf. Deringil, Selim, The Well-Protected Domains. Ideology and the Legitimation of Power in the Ottoman Empire. 1876-1909, London: I. B. Tauris, 1998, p. 68-111.
[6] Cf. the reports sent to him, notably by the Ankara Valisi, speaking of the «terrible» political dangers and the loyalty problems the Alevis’ «wrong faith» represented. Its adherents were «completely outside of Islam [ümmet]» and Muslims «only by name». Öz, Baki, Alevilik ile ilgili Osmanli Belgeleri, Istanbul: Can, 1997, p. 143-149, citations p. 148.
[7] Cf. White, George E., «The Shia Turks», in: Transactions of the Victoria Institute, vol. 40, p. 225-239, London, 1908, citation p. 225-226.
[8] Cf. Davison, Roderic H., Essays in Ottoman and Turkish History, 1774-1923. The impact of the West, Austin, 1990, p. 112-132.
[9] Cf. his Daybreak in Turkey, Boston, 1908, and his numerous articles in the Missionary Herald.
[10] Cf. Grabill, Joseph L., The Protestant Diplomacy and the Near East, Minnesota, 1971, p. 264.
[11] White, George E., «The Alevi Turks of Asia Minor», in: Contemporary Review, vol. 104, p. 690-698, London, 1913, citation p. 698.
[12] Köprülü, Fuad, «Bemerkungen zur Religionsgeschichte Kleinasiens», in: Mitteilungen zur Osmanischen Geschichte, vol. 1, p. 203-222, Wien, 1922, citation p. 215. – The Turkish and Kurdish speaking Alevis used actually in their cem liturgical texts in old Turkish that was free from the excessif Arabic and Persan mixture of the Ottoman language.
[13] Tankut, Hasan Resit, «Zazalar hakkinda sosyolojik tetkiler», in: M. Bayrak, Açik-Gizli/ Resmi-Gayriresmi Kürdoloji Belgeleri, p. 409-490, Ankara: Özge, 1994 (1935), here p. 472.
[14] ABC, Pers. Papers Ussher.
[15] 15. 5. 1919 and 1. 6. 1919.
[16] Riggs, Henry H., A. B. C. F. M. History 1910-1942. Section on the Turkey Missions, 1942, ABC Ms. Hist. 31, citation p. 39.
[17] Cf. the author’s «Le soulèvement du Koçkiri-Dersim et la question identitaire (1919-1921)», in: Les Annales de l’autre Islam, no. 5, p. 279-316, Paris: INALCO–ERISM, 1998.
[18] Cf. van Bruinessen, Martin, «Genocide in Kurdistan? The Suppression of the Dersim Rebellion in Turkey (1937-38) and the Chemical War against the Iraqi Kurds (1988)», in: Andreopoulos, George, Genocide - Conceptual and Historical Dimension, p. 141-170, Philadelphia, 1994.
[19] Riggs, Henry H., A. B. C. F. M. History 1910-1942. Section on the Turkey Missions, 1942, ABC Ms. Hist. 31, chap. IV: Beginning again in the Turkey Missions, citation p. 19-20.
[20] Cf. Harris, George S., Troubled Alliance. Turkish-American problems in historical perspective, 1945-1971, Washington, 1972, p. 9-30 and 54-57.
[21] Cf. Akarli, Engin D., The Long Peace. Ottoman Lebanon, 1861–1920, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1993, p. 184-192.
[22] Op. cit., p. 175.

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