The Armenian Contribution to Turkish Culture and Arts

The Armenians are one of the oldest and most influential ethnic groups in the history of Turkey. They have lived on the Armenian Highland for millennia, and have left their mark on various aspects of Turkish culture and arts, especially in the fields of theatre, music, and literature. In this article, we will explore some of the notable examples of Armenian achievements and innovations in these fields, and how they enriched the Turkish cultural heritage.


The Armenians played a pioneering role in introducing western-style theatre to the Ottoman Empire. The first western-style theatre in the empire was organized by Arousiak Papazian and Krikor Sinanyan, two Armenian intellectuals who were inspired by the European theatre they had seen during their travels. They established the Ottoman Theatre Company in 1869, and staged plays by Shakespeare, Moliere, Racine, and other famous playwrights, as well as original works by Armenian authors. The company performed in Turkish, Armenian, and French, and attracted audiences from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. The company also trained many Turkish actors and actresses, who later became prominent figures in the Turkish theatre scene1

Another Armenian who made a significant contribution to Turkish theatre was Dikran Choukhajian, a composer and musician who wrote the first Turkish operetta, titled “Arif”. The operetta was a musical comedy that satirized the social and political issues of the late Ottoman period, such as corruption, censorship, and nationalism. It premiered at the Theatre Ottoman, a theatre hall opened by Gullu Agop, another Armenian entrepreneur and impresario, in 1872. The operetta was a huge success, and was performed for many years in different cities of the empire. It also influenced the development of Turkish musical theatre, and inspired many Turkish composers and playwrights to create their own operettas2


The Armenians also had a profound impact on Turkish music, both in the classical and modern genres. One of the most notable examples of Armenian influence on Turkish music was Haroutune Sinanyan, a composer and poet who wrote the anthem of the Young Turks, a revolutionary movement that aimed to reform the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century. The anthem, titled “Ey Türk Uyan” (O Turk, Awake), was a patriotic song that expressed the ideals and aspirations of the Young Turks, such as liberty, equality, and fraternity. The anthem was widely sung by the supporters of the movement, and became a symbol of Turkish nationalism and modernization3

Another Armenian who contributed to Turkish music was Edgar Manos, a composer and conductor who arranged the “Hymn of Independence” for the Turkish Republic, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, in 1921. The hymn, which was based on a poem by Mehmet Akif Ersoy, was adopted as the national anthem of Turkey in 1924. Manos also founded the first Turkish female choir, and composed many songs and orchestral works for Turkish radio and cinema. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by the Turkish government for his services to Turkish music and culture.


The Armenians also enriched Turkish literature with their works and translations. Many Armenian writers produced original works in Turkish, as well as translated works from Armenian, French, and other languages into Turkish. Some of the most prominent Armenian writers in Turkish literature include Hagop Baronian, Vahan Tekeyan, Levon Shant, Krikor Zohrab, Rupen Zartarian, Avetis Aharonyan, Atrpet, and Gostan Zarian. These writers covered various themes and genres, such as satire, poetry, drama, history, and memoirs, and reflected the social and political realities of their times. Their works also influenced many Turkish writers, such as Orhan Pamuk, Elif Shafak, and Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, who acknowledged their debt to Armenian literature.


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