Photo: Ottoman Armenian Krikor Zohrab, journalist, parliamentarian, university professor.
The Young Turks and the Young Ottomans are the most popular Ottoman intellectuals. Namık Kemal, İbrahim Şinasi, Ziya Paşa and Abdullah Cevdet are renowned intellectuals who are considered Young Turks. These are names we are familiar with; however, there are also some leading figures most of us do not remember: Ottoman-Armenian intellectuals. One of these intellectuals attempted to translate the Quran and the Seerah (biographical texts on the Prophet Muhammad) into the Armenian language; another tried to launch a Western-style music school. Some of them were deputies in Parliament, whereas others were members of the Committee of Union and Progress. But all were Ottomans. And, sadly, they were taken to either Çankırı or Ayaş after massive arrests on April 24, shortly before the mass deportation. In the following few posts I will tell the stories of these Armenian intellectuals.
Zohrab was elected after the pronouncement of the second constitutional monarchy as an İstanbul deputy; he was one of the Armenian representatives of the Committee for Union and Progress in Parliament. Zohrab, one of the most active members of Parliament, was famous for his eloquent speeches. He addressed a large audience in Turkish on July 31, 1908 in the Taksim Municipal Garden. He ended his speech saying: “We have different religions; but we do have the same path. And that path is the road to freedom.”
These remarks suggest that Zohrab was an Ottoman. He was not a nationalist; he was a pro-Ottoman intellectual. He supported the idea of promoting different identities on the basis of a common Ottoman identity. He worked to foster brotherhood between Armenians and Turks. For this reason, he defined himself as both a Turk and an Armenian.
He had a lot of friends, including Talat Paşa, the most powerful man of the time. According to Izrail, both were Freemasons. During the massive wave of arrests on April 24, Zohrab, like Erzurum deputy Vartkes Serengülyan, was comfortable, feeling no pressure at all. But this did not last long; while having dinner and playing cards on June 2 at the Cercle d’Orient, a social club and restaurant, Zohrab got up to leave, and Talat also stood up and kissed him on the cheek. Surprised, Zohrab asked why; Talat said he had wanted to do so.
This is known as a kiss of death, because that same day, Talat signed the papers for the arrest of Zohrab and his deportation to Diyarbakır. Talat was aware that this simply meant death. Despite their friendship, Talat did not hesitate to make this move. Zohrab was killed in Urfa; his head was smashed with a stone.
Source: Nesim Ovadya Izrail (2014, April 20). Forgotten Ottoman legacy: Armenian intellectuals.Today’s Zaman [Istanbul, Turkey]