civil society and greater social mobility associated with technological skill. On their return, the graduates formed a new professional class, which sought wider scope for self-expression within the structures of the millet. This pressure became all the more insistent after 1848, the 'year of the revolutions'. It was primarily directed against the almost absolute control of millet affairs by the amira class, whose influence was now on the wane with the gradual introduction into the empire of European-style banks.48 These developments internal to the millet paralleled the effect of the broader Ottoman reform movement (1839-78), which had the support of the western powers. It was also evidenced in the socio-cultural phenomenon known as Zart'onk' (Awakening). At its heart were self-financed voluntary organisations, which sought to expand the millet's limited provisions by raising standards of education and by promoting a higher secular culture inspired by Romantic nationalism. It involved the replacement of classical Armenian by a modern standardised literary medium, the diffusion of the periodical press, and the emancipation of women. It aimed at reuniting Armenians, divided by ecclesiastical politics.49
The movement for modernisation and reform attained a significant victory with the ratification of a 'constitution', which made possible a critical transfer of power from the patriarch to a series of assemblies and councils, where the laity predominated. The key provision was the creation of a general assembly of 120 lay representatives and twenty clergy, which was to nominate the patriarch for the sultan's approval. Under it came a religious assembly of fourteen clergy, but far more important was a political assembly of twenty laymen responsible for education, the financial administration of the millet, and monasteries, which now acquired an educational and utilitarian function, maintaining libraries and printing presses, operating seminaries and hospitals, and so on. They were following the model set by Mkrtic Xrimean, abbot of Varag monastery near Lake Van, who furnished his monastery with a library, a museum and a press on which he published the periodical Arciw Vaspurakani
48 See Hagop Barsoumian, 'The dual role of the Armenian amira class within the Ottoman government and the Armenian millet", in Christians and Jews, 1, 171-84.
49 The movement is characterised by the Armenian Catholic writer Mkrtic Pesiktaslean's poem Elbayr emk' menk' [We are brothers], which emphasises the achievement of unity in nationalism, patriotism and an appeal to service of the homeland. All too often Armenians had been separated by circumstances beyond their control. Now they are to unite, as brothers and offspring of Mother Armenia, the personified homeland, and join in common action.
Was this article helpful?