Tall Armenian Tale


The Other Side of the Falsified Genocide


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Harems, a Byzantine tradition, take up a good part of the "mysterious Orient" lore surrounding the times of the Ottoman Empire. Other cultures also have had harems.... such as Cambodia, China, Bengal... some putting the Ottoman harem to shame. For example, India's Mughal emperor, Akbar, was reputed to have had 5,000 women in his harem; a Sassanian king might have had as many as 12,000.

 As far as I know, the only harem that existed in the Ottoman Empire was the Sultan's. Ordinary Turks did not have harems. Aside from the one and only imperial harem, it is said some powerful men also participated in the institution, which would not be hard to believe. However, this possibility goes for harems throughout the world, and I haven't come across evidence of private harems in the Ottoman Empire. Especially not during its last, comparatively "modern" phase in the early 20th Century... when the old traditions did not hold the importance they once did.

Perhaps people confuse the practice of polygamy with harems... an Islamic practice that was largely phased out by the 19th and 20th centuries. Rear Admiral Colby M. Chester reported in 1922:

The harem has vanished out of Turkey, and there are fewer men with plural wives than there are married men with mistresses in the United States.

(More of the admiral's thoughts on Turkish polygamy.)

The harem that the admiral was referring to was THE harem, I presume... the royal harem of Topkapi that vanished, along with the sultan that made use of it. What was the truth behind this one and only harem?

(After preparing this page, I came across the most revealing insight as far as what is referred to as the generic meaning of "harem" in the Ottoman Empire.... written by a missionary, of all people. What he describes is as far removed from what we associate with harems as one can get. At page's bottom.)

Odalisque in harem: From a painting in a French museum

From a painting in a French museum

     Many of those who have written about harems have reacted against the image of the harem of unimaginable sexual delights. Western painters have often depicted beautiful, firm-breasted odalisques lounging by pools or lying
expectantly in lavishly furnished boudoirs. Alev Lytle Croutier, Harem: The World Behind the Veil (New York: Abbeville Press, 1989)


From the PBS program, ISLAM: EMPIRE OF FAITH

NARRATOR: Contrary to the Western stereotype, it was not the sultan's playpen... but lay at the center of dynastic power.

"The harem was the private quarters of the Sultan. We tend to think of the harem as where the women lived; but what it means is, the place where you're not on display. 'Home,' is what it means."

NARRATOR: Islam allowed the sultan four wives... and many concubines.

"It was a system designed to produce heirs, is what it was. When you look into the actual details of how these things were carried out, it was hardly anything terribly erotic. The sultan did not have much choice in his selection of female companions. The Sultan was not in the position to look around and say, 'I want her,' because his mother would have a lot to say about it."

A Harem scene; From the PBS program, ISLAM: EMPIRE OF FAITH

The quotes are by Victoria Holbrook, of Ohio State University.

Leslie Pierce, author of "The Imperial Harem: Women and
Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire" (Oxford, 1993) confirms this bubble-bursting notion:

It was not sex, however, that was the fundamental dynamic of the harem, but rather family politics. That is not to say that sex — sexual desire, the sexual act — was absent as an animating force within the harem, but it was only one of several forces, and for most of the period examined here, one of relatively little importance.


  "Harems," as related to the Armenian "Genocide"


During my research for this site, I have lost count of the number of allegations of how the nefarious Turks kidnapped the prettiest girls of the relocating Armenians, for placement in "harems." WHAT harems!? Usually, these reports are by missionaries with the nuttiest imaginations... and missionaries and Armenians who are behind such reports are motivated by the following:

1) Exploitation of ignorance in the West regarding the mysterious ways of the Orient, and

2) Their outrage over decent, Christian women being violated by "The Lustful Turk," a dirty and inferior race.

Did the roving bands that attacked some Armenians on the march (who were not adequately protected by the gendarmes) rape women? If men were acting like murderous animals, you can bet rape was among their crimes. Were women taken away, for the use of further sexual slavery? No doubt. However, I don't think the word "harem" enters into this scenario. Otherwise, the Armenians who raped Turkish women when the Armenians were doing the pillaging would also need be described as furthering their "harems," which would be a ridiculous way of describing the situation.

Two aged women and an eleven-year-old girl violated by Armenian band members in Erzurum; from The Aspirations and Revolutionary Movements of the Armenian Committees: Before and After the Declaration of Constitutional Monarchy, Istanbul, 1916

During war time, unfortunately, the raping of women becomes part of the picture... especially when irregular fighters and not professional soldiers are involved. (Not to say the notion of "civility" would go hand-in-hand with professional soldiers... that would probably be more of an oxymoron.) For a page out of the Orthodox rule book, we need look no further back than the behavior of the Serbs during the Bosnian conflict. Rape was a purposeful tactic to chip away at the foundation of Bosnian culture, since Moslem women carry that special stigma of being violated. (In other words, because of religious trappings, their shame is monumental... as they are no longer "pure." That's another story in nonsense, but it's just the way things are with many Moslems; certainly, this is not an exclusive view among fundamentalists of all religions, although Bosnian Moslems were far from fundamentalist. This is more of a cultural, rather than a religious, concept.) Certainly, less modern Turkish women of the First World War era were even more susceptible to such devastation... and you had better believe the Armenian goons took full advantage of the situation. Here is a page from the more recent "rape" practice out of the Orthodox rule book, to refresh your memory.

A group of Turkish women and girls whom Armenian bands savagely violated; from The Aspirations and Revolutionary Movements of the Armenian Committees: Before and After the Declaration of Constitutional Monarchy, Istanbul, 1916

A Mormon Missionary's Thoughts on "Harems"

Mormon missionaries to the Ottoman Empire were often at odds with their Protestant counterparts, and "the resentful attitude of their compatriots must have diverted the Mormons to develop a better understanding of the Turks for their recorded impressions do not bear the bitterness viewed in those of the American Protestant missionaries.* " For example, below is a passage reflecting Missionary Tanner’s impressions of the Turks, titled “Who Can be So Polite and Courteous As a Turk” from History of the Turkish Mission (Elder Tanner, soon after his arrival in Istanbul expressed his opinion about the Turks as “After all, they are the most honest and moral of the Orientals. Like the Mormons, however, they have been wonderfully misrepresented!" Millenial Star, June 22, 1886):

"I have often wanted to write you something about the domestic life and institutions of the Turks, but I have been among them only about eight months, and I did not wish to expose myself in a nonsensical way about people much talked of, and I am thus far convinced grossly misrepresented. During odd moments, and by way of change of work as a rest, I have read some eight volumes on the peoples of Turkey —The Turkish harem — meaning the “holy”, is an object of much comment. The “haremlik” is the women’s apartment, and the “selamlik” is the men’s apartment. The harem is not an institution of polygamy, but a religious or race institution, and belongs to every household. Polygamy is little practiced in Turkey, still it is an acknowledged institution. All women wear a veil that conceals most of the face except the eyes, though among many of the modern beauties it is so thin — made of such light muslin — that the features can be distinctly seen through it. The Turkish woman by no means is a slave; indeed she enjoys many more privileges in her harem than European women do in their homes. Like many of their European sisters, they have a mind of their own and they are not afraid to let it be known. But Turkish women do not associate in any way with men, except their immediate relatives or husbands. ........... free association of men and women as among the Europeans is unknown to the Turks....... The men have their gatherings and amusements to themselves, and the women, likewise. If there is any truth whatever in the saying that “Virtue is the absence of temptation”, the Turks are vastly superior morally to the Europeans. I have formed the acquaintance of a German foreign correspondent of Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna newspapers. He has been in this country a great number of years, and has lived in Turkish families. His ideas, though embodied in those of most Europeans of considerable experience here with whom I have talked, are probably the most definite and best formulated. He has repeatedly asserted that the Turks are vastly more moral respecting women than Europeans. His theory is that if the Turks had more of that passion which, while it has developed Europe intellectually, has made its moral status so low, they would be superior to what they now are. A few of the Turks, however, practice polygamy, and that furnishes the literary artist materials to paint all sorts of pictures. Probably no city in the world presents on its surface a worse spectacle of fallen women of Christendom and Judaism than this. One often hears stories of the grossest immorality of the Turks, and he hears them just as often contradicted. There are many curious customs among the people here, and they furnish literary men and newspaper correspondents, sto[p]ping a few weeks here, stuff for many silly and nonsensical stories. You know there is considerable political speculation about this country, and there are men here, politicians, who have made in the past and expect in the future to make money out of European interferences. There are many things I cannot praise among the Turks in their administration of affairs; but because A lets the weeds grow up in the garden, it is no excuse that B should rob him of it. The Turkish Question, or the Eastern Question as it is more generally called is weak Turkey. The Greeks want European Turkey, The Russians would like Constantinople, and England is planting strong interests here. The Germans are strongly represented, and Bismarck to-day has his fingers deepest in the pie of Turkish politics, and his influence is great with the government. England has been a greater enemy to Turkey than Russia. Russia is our avoved enemy in her attempts to enforce her pan-Slavic schemes, but England has been an enemy in the disguise of a friend — has inflicted internal wounds that are more difficult to heal than external ones inflicted by Russia.” [7]

(1886 July 31, SLC/CRmh14250 Vol.I, Turkey Mission; from the fine article, * SOME ABSTRACTS FROM THE MORMON MISSIONARIES ABOUT THE TURKS AND ARMENIANS, by Professor Seçil KARAL AKGÜN, History Department, Middle East Technical University)

"Actual Life in the Turkish Harem"


"Actual Life in the Turkish Harem" is a booklet written by Vahan Cardashian in 1911. Cardashian was the poster boy for Armenian deception and dishonesty, when he manipulated minds as a lawyer in the United States, going so far as to even disloyally blacken the reputations of great Armenian friends such as the Rev. James Barton and even Pres. Woodrow Wilson, when they would no longer prove as "useful." (Cardashian would write a future booklet, WILSON, WRECKER OF ARMENIA).

But here, even with the incidental touches of bias that one has come to expect as a minimum from Turk-related publications in the West, Cardashian gives a fair accounting of what "Harem" means. And it has nothing to do with the Imperial Harem, or the notion that multiple women may be collected as sex slaves in Turkish homes... the common accusation of the propaganda from the period. That is, the notion of Christian Armenian and Greek women having been abducted so that the sons of the sheik may have their lecherous ways with them.


Countering the omnipresent "Harem" accusations

The following is from Kamuran Gurun's "The Armenian File":

In 1922 in the League of Nations it was claimed that hundreds of thousands of Armenians and Greek children and women were still hidden in the `harems' in Turkey. We quote the following passage from a brochure published by the Ministry of the Interior:

After the Armistice the Ottoman Government spent more than 1,150,000 liras, and employed hundreds of officials to return the Greeks and Armenians to their previous areas of residence from the regions they had been transferred to. The procedures involving the transfer of these people to their homelands, and returning to them their movable and immovable properties, have been carried out through joint delegations formed by British officers appointed by the British High Commission, Ottoman officials, and one member of each of the interested nations. These delegations, whose number exceeded 62, formed by British and Ottoman officials, which were sent to all parts of the country, acted with the utmost attention and care. Even women who had married Muslim men of their own accord were summoned one by one, and were asked again if they had consented, and those who declared that they were pleased were left to their wishes. In the `harems' or orphanages of Istanbul there were not hundreds of thousands of Armenian or Greek children and women, there are not even two children who remained. While there are no remaining Armenian children, some Muslim children, asserted to be Armenian, are still in Armenian orphanages, even though their mothers and fathers are known to be alive.

Then, how is it possible that thousands of Armenian children, as it is claimed, are still in the presence of Turks? How can the League of Nations, which does not have the legal character of an executive power, and does not have an organization or the means to investigate the actual situation in depth, conceive of the existence of children and women whom the police force, the joint delegation, and the high officials of the Entente Powers in Istanbul were unable to find?

For those who are somewhat aware of the actual situation, the matter is quite simple. Because, if an American historian, who has been in Turkey for more than thirty years, and who is at present a member of the Executive Committee of a Benevolent Society in Istanbul, can try to find (only a week ago) a slave market in Istanbul where girls and women are sold for money, then the report and speech reminding one of the Arabian Night Stories, made by Mademoiselle Vakaresko of Rumania, who does not know Turkey, who constantly looks at Turkey from the perspective of the Armenians and the Greeks, and who is influenced by their exaggeration of violence, must not be considered strange.

How can it be explained that this issue which has escaped the attention and the investigation of the officials, the official and non-official organizations of the Great Entente Powers in Istanbul, was able to be detected only by Mademoiselle Vakaresko who resides in Switzerland. (117)

Halide Edip makes an interesting observation about the children in the orphanages.

...Taking the Armenian children from the Turkish orphanages was becoming a tragic sight. . . . A committee was founded, presided over by Colonel Heathcote Smythe, and it was attempting to find the Armenian children and separate them from the Turkish children. They had rented a house in Shishli (a quarter of Istanbul). The majority of the central committee which was to separate the children were Armenians. Nezihe Hanim, General Secretary of the womens' branch of the Red Crescent, had been invited to represent the Turks. . . . When children were brought from the orphanages in Anatolia, to Istanbul, they were sent to the Armenian church in Kumkapu, and there they were claimed to be Armenian. Some children tried to escape, but were caught and brought back.

It was a day when I had gone to visit Nezihe Hanim. Two frightened children came into the room, one was limping and the other had been wounded in the head . . . they had come from an orphanage and had been brought to a church. They had strongly resisted being considered as Armenians, as the Armenians had killed their parents. They had been severely beaten, but had succeeded in escaping. They were crying, they were pleading to be protected, not to be sent back. . . . Nezihe Hanim called a few journalists and requested that they be brought to Mr. Ryan, the head translator of the British Embassy. . . . Although it was known how much hatred he had against the Turks, Nezihe Hanim thought that he would be compassionate in the presence of these two innocent and desperate children. . . I later heard that when these two children were speaking, an Armenian official entered the room to say something to Mr. Ryan. One of the children screamed ‘this was the man who beat and kicked us'. The man was a member of the delegation in the Church of Kumkapu. . . .

The pain of this little creature affected me very much. For me he symbolized the desperate Turkish nation. He was small and weak. (118)

(For a fuller version of the later passage, see here.)

117 Cemiyeti akvam ve Turkiye’deki Ermeni ve Rumlar, Dahiliye Nezareti Muhacarin Kalem Md. Nesriyat No. 6 (Istanbul, 1922), p. 14
118 Halide Edip, The Turkish Ordeal (London, 1928), pp. 16-18


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