Adana – History of the Historical Armenian City

Adana – History

Modern Adana is among the ranks of the developing cities in Turkey. It is unlikely that its current residents know the true history of the city which was one of the main settlements of Cilicia and until the 1930s played an exceptional role in the lives of the Armenians of Cilicia. Even after the massacres, deportations, and attempts to get rid of the Armenian heritage in Adana and in almost all regions of the once powerful Armenian Cilicia, an Armenian trace is felt here.

As in other major cities, Armenian educational and religious institutions also operated in Adana. Together with Mersin and Tarson, Adana was one of the key cities in the region, with a huge number of educational institutions concentrated in it, including two higher educational institutions. Armenian newspapers have also been stationed in Adana.

Aside from that, there were three gymnasiums under the Armenian Apostolic Church. Catholic and Protestant Armenian institutions also functioned, considered the best not only in Cilicia but also in the Aleppo region. Western missionaries were particularly active in Adana, with their activity spawning several Armenian-French and Armenian-English educational institutions in the city. The local Armenian youth, besides Turkish, was fluent in French and English.

Hotels and banks, as well as many enterprises belonged to local Armenians. Armenian newspapers Adana, Cilicia, Hayi Dzayn, Tavros, and many others operated in the city, funded by local philanthropists and Armenian charity organizations.

Before the monstrous massacre of Armenians of 1909 in Adana, there were 45,000 people living in the city, of whom 13,500 were Armenians. The rest were Turks, Arabs (Muslims and Christians), Greeks, Assyrians, Jews, Circassians, Kurds, and Levantines.

Armenians mostly lived in the central quarters of the city, in the south and west of Adana. The local Armenian population was divided into adherents of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholics, and Protestants.

Catholic and Protestant Armenians had one church each and were in close relations with the local Levantine population, especially with the French and Genoese. The Armenian Apostolic Church had 4 churches – the churches of Minas, Amberd, Holy Mother of God, and Stepanos.

During the reign of Abdul Hamid, as it would be in the times of the Republic of Turkey, everything was done at a state level to change the ethno-demographic picture of Cilicia and, in particular, of Adana.

The main Muslim element in the city were the Turkmen and the Turks who led a semi-nomadic lifestyle, as well as the Ottoman Ramazan oglu clan, whose representatives occupied high positions in the city. However, in order to change the ethnic and religious image of Adana, Balkan Turks were resettled here from various regions of the Ottoman Empire. Cretan Islamized Greeks were brought in as well.

In addition, the Ottoman government settled Adana with Circassians, Chechens, Dagestanis, and Abkhazians. They were settled on the outskirts of the city, in areas with a mostly Armenian population.

As a result of the state policy, part of the local Armenian population, being persecuted by alien Turkish citizens, was forced to relocate inland and even emigrate to the United States and Western Europe.

But even after the massive outflow of Armenians from the city of Adana, it remained an Armenian city up until the bloody massacre of 1909 when more than 10,000 Armenians were killed. 1,200 Armenian houses (out of 2,000), 6 churches, as well as 16 schools and educational institutions were burned down in Adana. Experts are still unable to estimate the real losses of the Armenian capital of the city.

Hundreds of homeless Armenians sought refuge in the vicinity of the city. Local Armenians managed to organize self-defense in only three of the city’s quarters. The fact that the massacres of Armenians weren’t spontaneous and were organized from above was evidenced by hundreds of archival documents of that time.

Western missionaries, diplomats, and journalists witnessed the monstrous massacre of Armenians in Adana. Some of them were so shocked by what was happening that they left the city in the hope of conveying information to the world community about the events in Adana.

The Russian ambassador in Constantinople Zinoviev wrote that the peaceful Armenian population was exterminated in a brutal manner. French Catholic missionary Father Benoit recalled with horror the massacres and pogroms of Armenians when describing the chronology of the events. The correspondent of the New York Herald G. Gibbons wrote about the main slogan of the murderers: “Kill, kill these giaours (infidels).”

In addition to the Armenians, a part of local Christians – Arabs, Assyrians, and Greeks – were also killed. The Christian quarters of Adana – Ersel, Jamuz, Memerli, Idadiye, Shabania, a district of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite – were completely destroyed.

Surprisingly, in the eyes of the world community of that time, the Young Turks have been exterminating the Armenian population with impunity for a whole month, and no country condemned these events. English journalist Benson found a direct connection between the events in Adana and the genocide of 1915, noting that the events in Adana were the herald of the future genocide and that the Young Turks were engaged in an “experimental policy” in the matter of exterminating the Armenians.

One way or another, the Turkish government has achieved the expected result. The exhausted Armenian population tried to either leave the region, or, remaining at home, felt itself completely alien. The Turks after these events became especially aggressive towards Christians in general. Representatives of the Ottoman Turks – who had become a majority after the massacre of 1909 – were appointed the heads of the city council.

The Armenians of Adana tried to restore the Armenian quarters of the city, but the genocide of 1915 finally destroyed their hopes. After the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the majority of the Armenian population of the city perished at the hands of the Young Turks. As in all regions of Anatolia and Western Armenia, significant groups of the Armenian population were Islamized in parallel with the killings and deportations.

In Cilicia, Islamized groups of Armenians survived in Zeytun, Marash, Tarson, and Adana. After the proclamation of the Turkish Republic and during the rule of Atatürk, the situation of the surviving Armenians of Turkey remained difficult. Atatürk and his political predecessors tried to finally oust the Armenian element from Turkey.

Interestingly, the Turkish intelligence services of that time (1937-1959) had information that in all the provinces of the Turkish Republic, ethnic Armenians still remained, including adherents of the Armenian Apostolic Church, hidden Armenians (crypto-Armenians), Islamized Armenians (Kurdish, Arabized, Turkized), and also Armenians who had survived in the Dersim district along with the people of Zaza.

In subsequent years, the Turkish foreign intelligence services continued to identify the places of residence of the above-mentioned Armenian groups. In the 1970s, the Turkish government settled these areas with Turkic groups from Afghanistan, China, and India.

Today, Adana is one of the most densely populated cities in Turkey. The city is home to 1,572,000 people. It is divided into 5 large districts, where representatives of several ethnic groups live. The Islamized Greeks of the island of Crete, Turkmens, and Turks constitute the majority of the population in two districts of the city. The eastern part of Adana (the Yüreğir district) is inhabited by Arabs.

A large Kurdish community appeared in the city as well.

As for the Armenians of Adana, among them today are no followers of the Armenian Apostolic Church. However, numerous sources report that among the Alevi Arabs and Kurds of Adana, there are Armenian families who secretly adhere to Christianity. According to the data of the Protestant organizations of Turkey, many of the city’s Protestants are also of Armenian descent.

Two Armenian old churches were turned into mosques. The Adana Central Bank is also located in a former Armenian church. Another Armenian church serves members of the city’s Catholic community. Part of the city has preserved the old Armenian buildings – here, time seems to have frozen in anticipation of justice.

Unfortunately, the Armenian massacre in Adana has not yet been sufficiently studied. And besides, how do the Armenians themselves perceive the events in Adana a hundred years later? Adana is still silent.

Arman Hakobyan

Castle of Serpents – Adana
Armenian district before the pogroms of 1909 – Adana




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Comments 2

  • Can we see these interesting stories of Armenia on YouTube. For us the older generation is easier. Thank you

    • Unfortunately, at Adana’s request, nothing was valuable on YouTube. You can periodically go to YouTube, and search for the information you need by keyword, inserting a phrase into the search box. Thanks you!

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