Correspondence Relating to Executions in Turkey for Apostacy from Islamism online

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Produced by John Bechard ([email protected])







Presented to the House of Lords, by Her Majesty's Command.

May, 1844.








No. 1.

_Sir Stratford Canning to the Earl of Aberdeen_. - (_Received
September_ 20.)

(Extract.) _Buyukderé, August_ 27, 1843.

Within the last few days an execution has taken place at
Constantinople under circumstances which have occasioned much
excitement and indignation among the Christian inhabitants. The
sufferer was an Armenian youth of eighteen or twenty years, who
having, under fear of punishment, declared himself a Turk, went to
the Island of Syra, and returning, after an absence of some length,
resumed his former religion. Apprehensive of the danger but resolved
not to deny his real faith a second time, he kept out of sight till
accident betrayed him to the police, and he was then thrown into
prison. In spite of threats, promises, and blows, he there
maintained his resolution, refused to save his life by a fresh
disavowal of Christianity, and was finally decapitated in one of the
most frequented parts of the city with circumstances of great

Inclosed herewith is a statement of the particulars drawn up by Mr.

It is not merely on grounds of humanity that I would draw your
Lordship's attention to this incident: political considerations of
serious importance are connected with it; and on this account, no
less than from regard for the tears and entreaties of a distracted
family, I exhausted my influence in vain endeavours to divert the
Porte from its purpose. Every Member of the Council to whom I
applied, returned the same answer, expressing a willingness to meet
my wishes, and regretting the inexorable necessity of the law.

For my own part I do not believe that any such necessity exists. The
determination of the Government to sacrifice the Armenian youth, in
spite of my earnest solicitations, unless he recanted publicly, is
part and parcel of that system of reaction which preceded my arrival
here, against which I have constantly struggled, and which,
notwithstanding the assurances given to me, and the efforts of its
partisans to conceal it, is day by day gaining strength, to the
despair of every enlightened Turkish statesman, to the prejudice of
our relations with this country, and to the visible decline of those
improvements which, in my humble judgment, can alone avert the
dissolution of the Sultan's empire.

The law, which, in this instance, has torn a youth from the bosom of
his family, and consigned him to an ignominious and cruel death,
would apply with equal force to a subject of any Christian Power.

Such of my colleagues as I have consulted upon this subject appear
to take a view of it similar to my own, I refer, in particular, to
the Austrian, French, Russian, and Prussian Ministers: each of them
has told me that he intended to recommend the question to the
serious consideration of his Government.

Since my arrival here one British and two French subjects have
declared in favour of Mahomedanism, and much difficulty has been
experienced in dealing with the individuals concerned. The British
subject, a Maltese, returned to the Catholic faith a few days after
he had declared himself a Turk, and he was privately conveyed out of
this country. The Porte, on that occasion, evidently identified the
change of allegiance with the change of creed, and not only would a
trifling incident have sufficed to raise the question arising out of
that principle between Her Majesty's Embassy and the Porte, but had
the man been arrested after his recantation, I should perhaps have
been reduced to the necessity of putting all to hazard in order to
snatch him from the hands of the executioner.

The only* Articles relating to this matter in our Capitulations with
the Porte are the sixty-first and seventy-first. The French have an
Article of similar meaning in their capitulations, and by the Treaty
of Kainardji between Russia and the Porte it was agreed that
individuals who had changed their religion should be mutually
exempted from the operation of the Article, which otherwise
stipulates for the extradition of refugees and malefactors.

* Article LXI. - That if any Englishman should turn Turk, and it
should be represented and proved that besides his own goods he has
in his hands any property belonging to another person in England,
such property shall be taken from him and delivered up to the
Ambassador or Consul, that they may convey the same to the owner

Article LXXI. - That should any Englishman coming with merchandize
turn Turk, and the goods so imported by him be proved to belong to
merchants of his own country, from whom he had taken them, the whole
shall be detained, with the ready money, and delivered up to the
Ambassador, in order to his transmitting the same to the right
owners, without any of our judges or officers interposing any
obstacle or hindrance thereto.

Under these impressions I trust that your Lordship will not think I
have exceeded the bounds of prudence in stating confidentially,
though without reserve, to the Grand Vizier the impressions made
upon my mind by the recent execution. Couched as my message was in
respectful and kindly terms, I hope it will operate as a salutary
admonition. The interpreter's report of his Highness' reply is
inclosed with this despatch.

Inclosure l in No. 1.

_Case of the Armenian Avakim, son of Yagya, of the parish of Top

About a year and a half ago Avakim having had a drunken quarrel with
some neighbours, was sentenced at the War Office to receive 500

Fear and intoxication induced him to become a Mussulman, and he was
conducted on the spot to the Mehkemé where the name of Mehemet was
given him.

Some days afterwards Avakim repented of what he had done, and fled
to Syra, from whence he returned a few months ago.

About three months ago, while returning from his sister's house with
a small bundle containing wearing apparel, he was recognized by the
Kolaga of the quarter, Mustapha, and denounced at the War Office of
having renegaded from Islamism. He was then submitted to the most
cruel punishment to compel him to re-abandon his original belief,
and was even paraded through the streets with his hands tied behind
his back as if for execution. Avakim, however, unintimidated by
torture or the prospect of death, proclaimed aloud his firm belief
in Christianity, and was led forth to suffer on Wednesday last
amidst the execrations of the Ulema partisans.

Only one man, Taouk-Bazarli Ali, among the thirty armed police who
conducted him, could be prevailed upon to strike the blow. Many of
the Turks spat on him as they passed, and openly reviled the faith
for which he had died. A Yafta, in the following terms, was affixed
on the opposite shop: -

"The Armenian shoemaker, Avakim, son of Yagya, having last year, in
the beginning of Moharrem, while at an age of discretion, accepted
Islamism, and received the name of Mehemet, some time afterwards
renegaded, and having now obstinately persisted in refusing the
proffer made to him by the law to re-become a Moslem, sentence of
death was awarded unto him according to fetwa, and he has thereby

The first intelligence received in Pera of this occurrence was the
appearance in the streets of the unfortunate lad's mother tearing
her grey hair, and rushing distractedly from the scene of bloodshed.
The poor old woman, when assured of her boy's fate, returned and sat
in grief by the corpse, from which she was afterwards removed.

A petition of the Armenians for the corpse was rejected, and it was
after three days exposure cast into the sea.

_Constantinople, August_ 27, 1843.

Inclosure 2 in No. 1.

M. Pisani to Sir Stratford Canning.

Excellence, _Péra, le_ 24 _Août_, 1843.

Conformément à vos ordres, j'ai vu le Grand Vizir, et je lui ai
rendu, mot à mot, le message contenu dans votre instruction
confidentielle en date d'hier, relativement au jeune Arménien qui
vient d'être exécuté. Son Altesse a répondu de la manière suivante:

"Quant à moi, personnellement, j'ai en horreur même d'égorger une
poule. Les exécutions, si fréquentes dans l'ancien système, sont
très rares aujourd'hui. Mais dans le cas récent, je vous ai déjà
dit, et je vous répète, qui ni les Ministres, ni le Sultan, ne
pouvaient absolument pas sauver la vie de l'Arménien. Les lois du
Coran ne forcent personne de se faire Musulman; mais elles sont
inexorables tant à l'égard du Musulman qui embrasse une autre
religion, qu'à l'égard du non-Musulman qui, après avoir de son
propre gré embrassé publiquement l'Islamisme, est convaincu d'y
avoir renoncé. Nulle considération ne peut faire commuer la peine
capitale à laquelle la loi le condamne sans miséricorde. Le seul,
l'unique moyen d'échapper à la mort, c'est pour l'accusé de déclarer
qu'il s'est fait de nouveau Musulman. C'est dans le seul but de
sauver la vie a l'individu en question que nous avons, contre la
lettre de la loi, qui exige que la sentence dans le cas dont il
s'agit soit mise à exécution aussitôt qu'elle a été prononcée, que
nous lui avons laissé quelques jours de temps pour y bien réflêchir,
avec l'assurance que la déclaration voulue par la loi une fois
faite, il serait mis en liberté, et qu'il pourrait partir de
Constantinople; mais comme il a résisté à toutes les tentatives
faites pour le persuader de recourir au seul moyen d'échapper à la
mort, force fut à la fin d'obéir à la loi, sans quoi les Oulémas se
souleveraient contre nous. L'exécution a dû, aux termes de la loi,
être faite publiquement."

Voyant que le Grand Vizir n'avait rien dit par rapport aux
observations de votre Excellence sur ce qui arriverait si un
étranger, un Anglais par exemple, se trouvait dans des circonstances
analogues, j'ai prié son Altesse de considérer et de faire
considérer au Ministère Ottoman, dans quelle position la Porte se
mettrait vis à vis du Gouvernement Anglais, si elle recourait à des
violences. Le Grand Vizir a dit alors: "Je ne sais pas vraiment ce
qu'un cas pareil exigerait s'il s'agissait d'un étranger; j'ignore
ce que les lois disent à l'égard d'un Franc qui se trouverait
compromis par les circonstances qui ont fait condamner à la mort
l'Arménien, qui est un rayah."

Le Grand Vizir a fini par dire; "Faites mes complimens à Monsieur
l'Ambassadeur, et dites lui que j'apprécie ses sentimens d'humanité
et de bienveillance; mais que ce qui vient d'arriver était un mal
tout à fait sans remêde."

J'ai l'honneur. &c.,



Excellency, _Pera, August_ 24, 1843.

In conformity with your orders I saw the Grand Vizier and
communicated to him, word for word, the message contained in your
confidential instruction of yesterday respecting the young Armenian
who has just been executed. His Highness made answer to the
following effect: -

"As regards myself personally, I have a horror of even putting a
fowl to death. Executions, so frequent under the old system, are now
of rare occurrence. But in the late instance, as I have already said
to you, and again repeat, positively neither the Ministers nor the
Sultan could have saved the life of the Armenian. The laws of the
Koran compel no man to become a Mussulman, but they are inexorable
both as respects a Mussulman who embraces another religion, and as
respects a person not a Mussulman, who, after having of his own
accord publicly embraced Islamism, is convicted of having renounced
that faith. No consideration can produce a commutation of the
capital punishment to which the law condemns him without mercy. The
only mode of escaping death is for the accused to declare that he
has again become a Mussulman. It was only with a view to saving the
life of the individual in question, that we - contrary to the letter
of the law, which requires that the sentence in cases of this
nature, should be executed as soon as pronounced - allowed him some
days respite to think over the matter carefully, with the assurance
that having once made the declaration required by law, he would be
set at liberty and would be able to leave Constantinople; but
inasmuch as he resisted all the attempts which were made to induce
him to have recourse to the only means of escaping death, it finally
became necessary to obey the law, otherwise the Ulemas would have
risen against us. The execution, according to the terms of the law,
was necessarily public."

Seeing that the Grand Vizier had said nothing with reference to your
Excellency's observations as to what would occur if a foreigner, an
Englishman for instance, were to be placed in similar circumstances,
I begged His Highness to consider, and to direct the consideration
of the Ottoman Ministry to the nature of the position in which the
Porte would place itself as regards the British Government, were it
to have recourse to violence. The Grand Vizier then said, "I really
do not know what would become necessary in such a case if a
foreigner were concerned; I am ignorant as to what is said in the
law as regards a Frank who should be compromised by the
circumstances which caused the Armenian, who was a Rayah, to be
condemned to death."

The Grand Vizier concluded by saying, "Present my compliments to the
Ambassador, and tell him that I appreciate his humane and
well-intentioned sentiments, but that what has occurred was a
misfortune for which there was no remedy whatever."

I have, &c.

(Signed) F. PISANI.

No. 2.

_Lord Cowley to the Earl of Aberdeen_. - (_Received September_ 20.)

My Lord, _Paris, September_ 18, 1843.

M. Guizot informed me this morning that he had received a
communication from M. de Bourqueney, relative to a most
unjustifiable act of the Turkish Government, in having, under
circumstances of great cruelty, put to death an Armenian Turk who
had embraced Christianity, and had refused to renounce that religion
and resume the Ottoman faith.

M. Bourqueney having asked for instructions for his guidance in this
matter, the Minister for Foreign Affairs sent him a protest which he
is to present to the Ottoman Government on the behalf of the
Government of France.

M. Guizot observed, that as the Great Powers of Europe were using
their best endeavours to induce the Sultan's Christian subjects to
live peaceably under the Ottoman rule, they could not allow of such
arbitrary acts of cruelty as that which had been perpetrated, and
which was sufficient to rouse the whole of the Christian population
against the Government. He understood, he said, that Sir Stratford
Canning had asked for instructions from your Lordship in this
matter, and that he trusted that they would be in a similar tenor to
those he was about to send to M. de Bourqueney.

I have, &c.,

(Signed) COWLEY.

No. 3.

_Chevalier Bunsen to the Earl of Aberdeen_. - (_Received September_

Le Soussigné, Envoyé Extraordinaire et Ministre Plénipotentiaire de
Sa Majesté le Roi de Prusse, a l'honneur de transmettre à son
Excellence le Comte de Aberdeen, Principal Secrétaire d'Etat de Sa
Majesté Britannique pour les Affaires Etrangères, copie d'une
dépêche qu'il vient de recevoir, avec l'ordre d'en donner
connaissance à sa Seigneurie.

En s'acquittant de cette commission, il profite, &c.

(Signé) BUNSEN.

_Londres, le_ 28 _Septembre_, 1843.


The Undersigned, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary
from His Majesty the King of Prussia, has the honour to transmit to
his Excellency the Earl of Aberdeen, Her Britannic Majesty's
Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, a copy of a
despatch which he has just received, with instructions to
communicate it to his Lordship.

In executing this instruction, he avails himself, &c.

(Signed) BUNSEN.

_London, September_ 28, 1843.

Inclosure 1 in No. 3.

_Baron Bülow to Chevalier Bunsen_.

Monsieur, _Berlin, ce_ 21 _Septembre_, 1843.

Vos rapports au Roi jusqu'au No. 91 du 15 du courant nous sont
parvenus et ont été placés sous les yeux de Sa Majesté.

Vous êtes sans doute déjà instruit, par la voie des journaux, des
détails de l'exécution de l'Arménien Serkiz Papazoghlou, mis à mort
dernièrement à Constantinople pour avoir renié la foi de Mahomet
qu'il avait embrassée quelque temps avant. A la vérité, la lettre du
Coran inflige la peine de mort à tous ceux qui abandonnent le
Mahométisme, mais longtemps déjà l'usage avait adouci la rigueur
d'une loi si peu en harmonie avec les préceptes de la civilisation,
et depuis nombre d'années aucune exécution de ce genre n'avait eu
lieu. Celle du malheureux Serkiz doit par conséquent être considérée
comme un triste retour aux barbaries du fanatisme Musulman. Elle le
doit d'autant plus que, d'un côté, l'énergique intercession de Sir
Stratford Canning en faveur de la victime est restée infructueuse;
et que, de l'autre, les autorités Turques, en conduisant Serkiz,
quoique Arménien, en costume Franc et la casquette sur la tête au
supplice, semblent avoir voulu donner à ce sanglant spectacle le
caractère d'un défi public porté par l'ancienne cruauté Mahométane à
l'influence des moeurs Européennes et de la civilisation Chrétienne.

Partant de ce point de vue et regardant la catastrophe qui vient
d'avoir lieu comme un symptôme de plus d'une tendance rétrograde et
pour ainsi dire anti-Européenne dont, dans son propre intérêt, il
importe de détourner le Gouvernement Ottoman, les Répresentans des
Cinq Grandes Puissances à Constantinople ont cru qu'un avertissement
unanime, à la fois bienveillant et sérieux, que ces Puissances
feraient parvenir à cet effet à la Sublime Porte, produirait sur
elle une impression salutaire. Ils ont, en conséquence, et sur
l'invitation spéciale de Sir Stratford Canning, sollicité de leurs
Cours respectives les instructions nécessaires pour se porter à la
démarche en question, et M. l'Ambassadeur d'Angleterre voulait en
outre proposer à Lord Aberdeen de s'employer dans le même sens
auprès des Cabinets de Berlin, de Vienne, de Paris, et de St.

Je n'ai pas encore reçu de communication à ce sujet de la part de
Monsieur le Principal Secrétaire d'Etat, mais je me suis empressé de
répondre par la dépêche dont je joins ici une copie, à celle que
l'Envoyé du Roi à Constantinople a adressé à Sa Majesté sur cette

Veuillez, Monsieur, en donner connaissance, ainsi que de la présente
dépêche, à Lord Aberdeen, et exprimer de ma part à sa Seigneurie
l'espoir d'être allé de cette manière au devant des ouvertures
qu'elle serait peut-être dans le cas de me faire faire [sic] sur la
démarche proposée par les cinq Représentans à Constantinople, mais
mise, de préférence, sur le tapis par M. l'Ambassadeur d'Angleterre.

Recevez, &c.,

(Signé) BULOW.


Sir, _Berlin, September_ 21, 1843.

Your reports to the King, to No. 91 of the 15th instant, have been
received and laid before His Majesty.

You are doubtless already acquainted, by means of the newspapers,
with the details of the execution of the Armenian, Serkiz
Papazoghlou, lately put to death at Constantinople for having
renounced the Mahomedan faith, which he had embraced some time
before. In truth, the letter of the Koran inflicts the punishment of
death upon all those who abandon Mahomedanism, but for some time
past custom had mitigated the rigour of a law so little in harmony
with the precepts of civilization, and for a number of years no
execution of this kind had taken place. That of the unfortunate
Serkiz must therefore be considered as a sad return to the barbarity
of Mahomedan fanaticism. It must be so much the more so because, on
the one hand, the energetic intercession of Sir Stratford Canning in
behalf of the victim was fruitless; and because, on the other, the
Turkish authorities, in leading Serkiz, although he was an Armenian,
in the Frank costume and with a cap upon his head to execution, seem
to have wished to give to this bloody spectacle the character of a
public defiance offered by the old Mahomedan cruelty to the
influence of European manners and Christian civilization.

Setting out from this view of the case and looking upon the
catastrophe which has just taken place as a fresh symptom of the
retrograde, and it may be said anti-European, tendency from which it
is important that the Turkish Government should, in its own
interest, be diverted, the Representatives of the Five Great Powers
at Constantinople thought that a joint representation, at once kind
and earnest, which those Powers should make for this purpose to the
Sublime Porte, would produce a salutary impression upon it. They,
therefore, and at the special request of Sir Stratford Canning,
applied to their respective Courts for the instructions necessary to
enable them to take the step in question, and the English Ambassador
wished moreover to propose to Lord Aberdeen to communicate in the
same sense with the Cabinets of Berlin, Vienna, Paris, and St.

I have not yet received any communication upon this subject from the
Principal Secretary of State; but I lost no time in replying by the
despatch of which I inclose a copy, to that which the Envoy of the
King at Constantinople addressed to His Majesty respecting this

Have the goodness, Sir, to communicate it, as well as this despatch,
to Lord Aberdeen, and to express to his Lordship, on my part, the
hope that I have in this manner anticipated the overtures which he
would perhaps have caused to be made to me with reference to the
step proposed by the Five Representatives at Constantinople, but
especially suggested by the English Ambassador.

Accept, &c.,

(Signed) BULOW

Inclosure 2 in No. 3.

_Baron Bülow to M. Le Coq_.

Monsieur, _Berlin, ce_ 20 _Septembre_, 1843.

Vos rapports au Roi, &c., &c.

Ce que vous avez mandé sur l'exécution de l'Arménien Serkiz
Papazoghlou n'a pu manquer de nous inspirer un intérêt aussi vif que
douloureux. En effet tous les détails de cette sanglante catastrophe
sont bien de nature à mériter la sérieuse attention des Puissances
Européennes. Ce sont autant de symptômes d'une tendance rétrograde à
laquelle la Sublime Porte paraît s'être abandonnée depuis quelques
années, et qui, en tolérant et en favorisant peut-être même les
excès du fanatisme Musulman, est aussi contraire aux lois de
l'humanité qu'aux règles qu'une saine politique devrait dicter au
Gouvernement Ottoman.

A en juger d'après les circonstances qui ont précédé, accompagné et
suivi la mort de cette malheureuse victime de la rigueur Mahométane,
ne serait-on pas tenté de croire que ce Gouvernement a oublié ce
qu'il doit aux efforts réunis des Grandes Puissances, à leurs
conseils désintéressés, à la salutaire influence de la civilisation
Européenne? Ne semble-t-il pas, en opposant aux moeurs plus douces
qui sont la suite de cette civilisation la lettre impitoyable du
Coran, avoir l'intention de faire sentir à l'Europe entière le peu
de cas qu'il fait du bienveillant intérêt, de la constante
sollicitude que lui ont voués les Cabinets Européens,

Or, les graves conséquences, qu'un pareil sytème [sic] entraînerait
pour la Porte, en finissant par lui aliéner réellement l'intérêt de
ces Cabinets, sont si évidentes, que nous aimons à croire qu'un
avertissement unanime de leur part suffira pour la détourner d'une
voie également désastreuse sous le point de vue politique et moral.
Je me range sous ce rapport entièrement à l'avis de Sir Stratford
Canning, et après avoir pris les ordres du Roi, notre Auguste
Maître, je vous invite, Monsieur, à vous associer à la démarche que,
je n'en doute pas, Messieurs vos collègues d'Autriche, de France et
de Russie seront également autorisés à faire à cet effet auprès du
Gouvernement Turc en commun avec M. l'Ambassadeur d'Angleterre. Dans
cette occasion où les Représentans des Cinq Grandes Puissances
agiront en quelque sorte comme organes de la civilisation

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