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.