Ottoman people and Orthodox churches

April 22 2007

Aside from Arabs, Kurds, Greeks and Armenians, what are the other elements in the Ottoman Empire to which Toynbee refers in the last post?

The Jacobite Christians of the Tor-Abdin

The Tur Abdin is a hilly region of southeast Turkey west of the Tigris. It is a centre of Syrian Orthodox Christianity.

This is an Oriental Orthodox, or Old Oriental, church, ie a church which rejects the Council of Chalcedon (451). Chalcedon rejected Monophysitism, the belief in the single divine nature of Christ, but it does not follow that the Oriental Orthodox churches are Monophysite. Rather, they reject the Chalcedonian formulation on the matter.

The Oriental Orthodox churches are distinct from the better-known Eastern Orthodox churches which accept Chalcedon. I linked to each of those in a post on January 7. These two groups by no means complete the list of eastern churches. The Chalcedonian schism is, of course, older than the Eastern Orthodox schism.

The name “Jacobite” refers to a sixth-century Monophysite bishop, Jacobus Baradaeus. The prevalence and popularity of Monophysitism in the Eastern Empire in the sixth century helped to prepare the spiritual ground for the reception of Islam.

The Oriental Orthodox churches, in no particular order, are:

The Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch (also known as the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch), with a sub-church in Kerala in The Malankara Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria

The Armenian Apostolic Church of All Armenians, with sub-churches in The Armenian Apostolic Church of Cilicia, The Armenian Apostolic Church of Constantinople and The Armenian Apostolic Church of Jerusalem

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church (I cannot find the main website)

The spiritual leadership of this group is considered to be with the Coptic Church of Egypt, but not in the official sense in which primacy among the Eastern Orthodox Churches rests with the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The Nestorians of the Upper Zab

The Greater Zab and Little Zab are tributaries of the Tigris. The Greater rises in southeast Turkey and joins the Tigris in northern Iraq south of Mosul. The Little rises in northwest Iran and joins the Tigris in Iraq at Baiji. Their basin was the seat of Assyrian civilisation and contains the remains of Assur. Nestorianism is the theological opposite of Monophysitism and insists on the dual nature of Christ. (Arianism, in the West, was more about the relation of Christ and the Father.) The doctrine was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431.

A derivative of Nestorianism survives in the Assyrian Church of the East, sometimes called Assyrian Orthodox Church. In India it is called the Chaldean Syrian Church.

The “pre-Arabic” Semitic language which these Jacobites and Nestorians speak is a variety of Syriac.

The chief thing the Kurds have in common is the Persian dialect they speak, but it is usual to class as Kurds any and every community in the Kurdish area which is not Turkish or Arab and can by courtesy be called Moslem (the Kurds, for that matter, are only Moslems skin-deep).

In that context he talks about the Dersim highlands in eastern Anatolia. Here the main ethnic group are the Zaza, an Iranian Muslim people who arrived in the tenth and eleventh centuries. And he mentions the Yezidis, who are concentrated near Mosul, with smaller communities in Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Russia, Syria and eastern Turkey. They are ethnic Kurds, despite their non-Muslim religion.

Moslem immigrants from its own lost provinces or from other Moslem lands that have changed their rulers. These “Mouhadjirs” are reckoned, from first to last, at three-quarters of a million, drawn from the most diverse stocks – Bosniaks and Pomaks and Albanians, Algerines and Tripolitans, Tchetchens and Circassians. Numbers have been planted recently on the lands of dispossessed Armenians and Greeks.

The Ottoman Empire lost Bosnia at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Austria occupied it, and annexed it thirty years later. The Pomaks are Bulgarian Muslims. Bulgaria was also lost in 1878. Albania was lost in 1912. Algeria was lost when it was occupied by France in 1830 and annexed in 1842. Tripolitania was captured by Italy in the Italo-Turkish war of 1911. The Turkish foothold in Chechnya had been ceded to Russia at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Circassian is a Turkish designation for various peoples of the northwest Caucasus. It does not refer to a people, and it normally excludes Chechnya and Dagestan. Many Circassians fled into the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as Russia consolidated its hold on the Caucasus.


Patriarch St Elias III of Manjinikkara at the Thrikkunnathu Seminary, headquarters of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church in Kerala, 1931

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

8 Responses to “Ottoman people and Orthodox churches”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    This is this blog’s 200th post.

  2. […] of Northern Persia they did their best to wipe out the Syriac element in the population – the Nestorian Christians of Urmia. Their plan was to get rid of all the non-Turkish peoples which separate the Turks of […]

  3. […] Mongol tribes were Nestorian Christian. The court had Christian sympathies. At about the time of the establishment of the […]

  4. […] pre-Islamic and Islamic powers at different times, including Persia. It was the seat of an early Nestorian community, and of a major political experiment in the early Middle Ages as a stronghold of the […]

  5. […] Ottoman people and Orthodox churches […]

  6. […] Christianity is now predominantly Oriental Orthodox, which is […]

  7. […] Ottoman people and Orthodox churches (old post). […]

  8. […] Nestorians, or the Assyrian Church of the East (from which the Ancient Church of the East is a split dating from 1968) (East Syrian rite) […]

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