Part Ninth: Diyarbekir sanjak of Diyarbekır vilayet and the cantons of Mardin and Jezireh


Gegham M. Badalyan-Candidate of Historical Sciences
Diyarbekır vilayet was one of the earliest (created in 1517 AD) Ottoman administrative units and until the first half of the 19th century included both the southwestern and southern parts of historic Great Armenia (Tsopk, Aghdznik, Korduk), and the Northern Mesopotamia (Tur Abdin, Mardin, Mtsbin-Nisibin, Snjar, Khabur). One of its important features was the existence of semi-independent principalities and successor princedoms. After their elimination, from the end of the 1840s, the Sublime Porte inititated the implementation of substantial modifications to the boundaries and internal structure of the Western Armenian administrative units. As a result, new Kharberd eyalet (since 1867 – the Mamuret-ul-Aziz vilayet) was formed in once the whole western part of Diyarbekır and in 1879 the newly established Bitlis (Baghesh) vilayet was given Khulp (Koghb) and Sgherd cantons. The formation of the outer borders of Diyarbekir vilayet (the provinces of the Ottoman Empire had been renamed vilayets since 1867) was accomplished with the transfer of Arghana (Ergan)Maden sanjak from Kharberd in 1885. Prior to World War I, the internal administrative structure of the vilayet was also finalized, consisting of 4 sanjaks (Diyarbekır or Central, Arghana-Maden, Mardin, Severak) and 15 cantons (Turkish: kaza). The territory of Diyarbekir vilayet was 47.250 sq. km.

From a statistical point of view, particularly with regard to the Armenian population, in the sources Diyarbekır vilayet is presented in a rather poor and fragmentary manner, and the available data are either contradictory or simply missing. That is the reason that the researcher often encounters significant, even serious difficulties. The point is that the data of the Constantinople Patriarchate, which was obtained from the Diyarbekir Diocese, were usually based on improper records. Thus, in the known Armenian statistical bulletins of 1912-1914 the number of Armenian population in the vilayet varies between 88.000-124.000. Quite different are the data of Tovmas Mkrtichyan and Edward Noel, who are conventionally called British by us – 140.000-150.000 people.

Specifically, some adjustments and additions to more detailed E. Noel’s indices allowed one to conclude that on the eve of World War I the Armenian population of Diyarbekir vilayet reached 180.000. In addition, the majority of the Armenians was located in the cantons of Diyarbekir, Bsherik, Slivan (Silvan), Ltche (including the provincial center) located north of the Western Tigris, which were administratively included within the Central sanjak. The only exception was the Derik canton, located in the south of the Western Tigris (on the right) in the Masius or Mardin Mountains. Among the aforementioned administrative units, the neighboring Slivan and Bsherik (Rashkan), who occupied the fertile trans-Tigris and fields of Nprkert and Bsherik, were particularly notable for the abundance of Armenian population. By 1915 there were more than 130 villages and settlements populated by Armenians. This number may be even greater as the Armenian population of many cantons of Diyarbekir is characterized by high mobility and often relocated to more economically advantageous settlements. Hazro canton (Turkish: nahiye) was much populated by Armenians, which was administratively part of Slivan. Mihran (in Armenian sources: Mihranik) – the eastern part of Hazro, was a self-governing Armenian-Kurdish principality until the 40s of the 19th c. The number of Armenians was also considerable in Ltche canton and in the town of Haini located in the southern foothills of the Armenian Taurus. A large number of Armenians lived in the immediate vicinity of the city of Diyarbekir, located in the middle of the Western Tigris Basin – the oldest agricultural center in the Amid valley with its Eastern (Turkish: Diarbakır Şarkovası) and Western (Diyarbakır Garbovası) sections. Several Armenian monasteries were preserved in Diyarbekır canton, which were prominent Armenian writing centers in the Middle Ages: St. Makabayetsvots or Antakh, Surb Tovma Arakelo (St. Thomas the Apostle’s) or Aynebreghi, Surb Tovma Arakelo (St. Thomas the Apostle’s) of Tarjli, Surb Astvatsatsin (the Holy Mother of God) of Alipunar.

The most Armenian-populated cantons were Central (Mardin) and Jezireh (historic Korduk and Beth-Zabde), where they were quite populous settlements, such as the town of Mardin and the Til-Armen settlement. Among the well-known Armenian sanctuaries were St. Gevorg Main Church (5th century) in Mardin and close St. Hovhannes Mkrtich (St. John the Baptist) or Tvin Hermitage. It should be noted that the predominantly Arab-speaking or Kurdish-speaking Armenians in Mardin sanjak were followers of the Armenian Catholic Church. And the remarkable feature of a significant part of the Armenian population of Jezireh canton was the semi-nomadic lifestyle that survivors of the Genocide pereserved until the 1970s.

In 1915 Armenians of Diyarbekir and Mardin were subjected to mass destruction (barely 9% survived). Other Christians, especially the Assyrians (Jacobi, Kildani, etc.) also shared the same fate.

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