‘Affordable Housing:’ Kishlak for Kurds by Firman

In addition to setting them up for double taxation, the Sultan also made Armenians responsible for kishlak, providing winter housing. In the 1800s, a Sultan issued a firman or edit that gave Kurds the right to demand kishlak. Because they shared the Sultan’s religion, he regarded this firman as a way to help his Muslim brothers.

The order gave a Kurdish family permission to demand housing from any Armenian family. And the selected household had to grant the Kurds the kishlak free of charge.

Nomadic shepherds on the Anatolian Plain of Ottoman Turkey, the Kurds’ usual homes were black, felt tents. In winter, an Armenian home was considerably warmer. Since most Armenians were farmers and craftsmen, they also had ample access to food and articles that improved the quality of daily life. So, of course, the Kurds took advantage of the firman ordering kishlak.

When the Kurds left the Armenian farms or villages in the spring, they never left empty-handed. They carried off whatever they wished, including daughters of the Armenian families. As was mentioned in a previous post, the Kurds killed the Armenian men who dared to object to the kidnappings.

The winter quartering ‘system’ established by the Sultan’s firman may have provided ‘affordable housing’ for the Kurds. But it was accomplished at the expense of the families, farms, and villages of Armenians. By governmental order, the Ottoman Empire’s Christians, its third class citizens, had to feed and house the Empire’s second class Muslim citizens, the Kurds.

In spite of the fact that numerous Armenians had hosted Kurdish families and willingly shared mountain pastures during the decades prior to 1915, Kurds still eagerly participated in the looting and slaughtering of their hosts and neighbors. In 1915, the Kurds showed no mercy when they took over Armenian homes and villages and means of making a living.

Segregation Device: Shoes by Firman

Hitler’s Nazi Germany is known around the world for effectively segregating a group of its own citizens by forcing each of them to wear a yellow star. The distinctive identification preceded the segregation into crowded ghettos, the deportation to places unknown, and the covert extermination of millions of the men, women, and children who wore the yellow star. The Holocaust, the genocide of Europe’s Jews, is a well-documented fact of World War II.

Not so well-known is a similar segregation device the Sultans used on certain people groups in the Ottoman Empire. The Sultans’ governmental tools were firmans, or edits. Their targets were the dhimmi, or non-Muslims, under their rule. Viewed by the average Turk as second-class citizens, dhimmis not only paid more taxes than Muslims, but also had to abide by clothing restrictions. With a firman, a Sultan controlled the kinds and colors of clothing an ethnic group wore. For example, no non-Muslim could wear green. Armenians had to wear red (not gold) shoes. Their married women had to wear red, wool hats.

Reprisals for non-compliance to a firman were severe. If any dhimmi was caught in inappropriate dress, he or she could be killed.

The color of shoes and hats set by a Sultan’s firman made Armenians easy targets for further repression. No Armenian could ride a horse. He must ride a donkey or in a cart pulled by one. In towns and cites that included multiple ethnicities, Armenians had to live in a quarter specified for them. Their houses couldn’t have more than one storey. If an Armenian wished to use the town’s hammam, or bath house, he or she must do it on a day designated for Armenians.

Not unlike the yellow stars on the Jews of Nazi Germany, the red hats and shoes on Armenians of the Ottoman Empire made them easily identifiable and set the stage for their extermination by the Turkish government in 1915.

Most people know about the Holocaust. But most are ignorant of a similar occurence against an unrelated people group in another part of the world decades earlier.

How comfortable would you or I be with a governmental edit about the color of shoes or hat we could wear? Or about the part of town in which you or I could live? Keep in mind, singling out a group of citizens by a visual device made it easier for the Germans to target their Jews in the 1940s and the Turks to target their Armenians in 1915.