Article Index

9. Derebeys

To the non-muslims the local derebey wars brought misery, including a change in the legal status of large numbers of Greek peasants in the valleys.  Up to this time, their religious leaders dealt directly with Ottoman officials.  Connections with the government had been largely confined to the payment of the ‘head tax’ paid by non-muslims.  Official justice was largely in the hands of the Greek bishop and effective local justice was with the ‘peacemaking elders’.  But the derebeys were recognized by the Pashalik and the Porte on feudal terms: the payment of a tithe [paid as a compulsory tax to government] and military service.  These corresponded to the christian and muslim monetary and service tributes, but the derebeys required recruits for their armies and, where christians could not give military service, they demanded work service instead.  Thus many christians became serfs (Bryer 1970).

Trabzon itself was divided into three timariot holdings: the eastern suburbs and western suburbs and the lower walled city.  The Citadel was held by the Ottoman Pasha and a Janissary garrison.  In the 18th century, the family which held the eastern suburbs was particularly oppressive (Bryer 1969). 

Local wars between the derebeys were a curse.  In 1758–59 the central and lower walled cities, St Eugenios and the Theoskepastos monastery were used as derebey strongholds against the Pasha and his Janissary garrison.  In 1812, Sultan Mahmud II proclaimed the first 19th century Ottoman reform and ordered the destruction of the derebeys.  The massacre of the Janissaries followed in 1826 and the abolition of the last timar holdings in 1832 (Bryer 1969).  The destruction of the derebeys in Trabzon occurred during 1812–40 (Bryer 1970).  

10. Revival of the Trabzon-Erzurum-Tabriz trade route, 1829–69

After the 15th century the Trabzon–Erzurum–Tabriz trade route was largely abandoned.  The Ottoman closure of the Black Sea to foreign commerce had ended Trabzon’s importance as a transit centre, although in 1774, the Black Sea was opened again (King 2006). 

Tabriz in Persia was the terminal point for most of the European goods shipped through Trabzon with Persian and a few Armenian merchants handled most of this trade in the mid-1830s.  Trabzon’s commerce prospered (Braude and Lewis 1982).  The period coincided with the Ottoman reforms of 1812 and 1839, and the suppression of the Pontic derebeys of Trabzon (Bryer 1970). 

In 1837, however, the imports of Tabriz fell to 30% of the previous year.  As a result, several major Persian merchants in Istanbul and Tabriz, who had over extended themselves, went bankrupt.  Their places were mostly taken by Russian, Greek and Armenian merchants.  Most of the Greek merchants had attained Russian consular protection (Braude and Lewis 1982). 

As the activities of the Greek and Armenian merchants of the Russian Black Sea ports and Tabriz increased, the position of the Greeks and Armenians in Trabzon, acting as intermediaries, became increasingly important.  Meanwhile, these merchants attracted the attention of the Russian and the British consuls at Trabzon, who saw them as sole agents of European trade (Braude and Lewis 1982). 

In 1838, Trabzon’s trade was stimulated by the Anglo-Ottoman Commercial Convention which removed all Ottoman monopolies.  Soon after, trade agreements were signed with other major European powers and Russia (Braude and Lewis 1982). 

The Crimean War (1853–56) had a significant impact on Trabzon’s trade; many supplies of the Allied armies (of Britain, France, Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire) were shipped through this port (Braude and Lewis 1982).  In 1856, most remaining civil restrictions on the non-muslims were lifted and the crypto-christians (see Note 4) were allowed to declare their christian faith.  By 1867 the British consul in Trabzon reported on the status of Pontic Greeks with, ‘they do not aim at equality, which they have already got, but at mastery.’  The Turkish majority was becoming aware it was entering second-class citizenship and friction between the two groups was inevitable (Bryer 1970). 

In the 1860s and 1870s Trabzon’s trade decreased and then levelled off.  Two developments permanently undermined the Trabzon–Erzurum–Tabriz route.  First, the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and secondly the building of an alternative route by Russia in the Caucasus to divert the Persian transit trade.  As Europeans initiated broader economic and technological changes, the economic influence and control of christian elements in the Ottoman Empire expanded.  Combined with personal connections in Europe, provided to the Greek and Armenian Ottoman traders they assumed prominent positions in foreign trade (Braude and Lewis 1982). 

The economic dominance of the christians was reflected in Trabzon.  By 1884, the foreign trade of Trabzon was dominated by Greek and Armenian merchants.  In extending protection to christian Ottomans, European diplomats and consuls in major Ottoman cities abused privileges granted to them.  They extended the rights accorded to their own nationals to some non-muslims Ottoman subjects for their own aims.  In this way, they created a privileged class – by helping them obtain tax exemptions and preferential treatment (Braude and Lewis 1982). 

The muslim merchants, subject to higher taxes than their christian counterparts lost considerable leverage in the economic life in the town.  The advantages the Greek and Armenian merchants who held Russian passports created firm resentment within the muslim merchant community.  This resentment later materialised in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries in the form of political action and conflicts between the different ethnic groups (Braude and Lewis 1982) (see Note 5). 

11. Beginning of the christian massacres

In May 1895 the Trabzon Armenian primate was murdered by Ottoman Turkish irregulars.  The Armenians believed that the Vali of Van was responsible.  An assassination attempt on the Vali was unsuccessful with severe ramifications.  The Vali then ordered the light cavalry regiments to massacre the entire Armenian population of the Trabzon province (Suakjian 1981).  The massacres committed under Sultan Abdul Hamid against the Armenians in the province of Trabzon occurred in October 1895 and claimed about 1,000 lives.  The massacres led to mass emigration (Payaslian 2009).  In Trabzon, on 18 October 1895, somewhere between 180 and 500 Armenians were killed (see Note 6).

On 26 June 1915 an official Ottoman proclamation stated that all Armenians (except for the sick) were to leave Trabzon within 5 days of the proclamation, for the interior under the escort of the gendarmerie.  Between 1 and 18 July almost 6,000 Armenians left Trabzon in 5 caravans under escort.  Very few escaped being murdered (see Note 7).  Armenians were also deliberately drowned at sea.  There are eye witness accounts by the Italian and the American consuls in Trabzon of the genocide.  Of the approximately 65,000 Armenians in the province of Trabzon, all but 15,000 were deported and subsequently dispatched to their deaths (Suakjian 1981).  

12. Traumatic period 1915–24

1915 to the end of World War I (1918)

The American Consul in Trabzon (Heizer) estimated that over the winter of 1914–15, between 5,000 and 6,000 Ottoman soldiers and civilians had died of typhus in Trabzon (Rogan 2015).  In 1915, the Russian Black Sea Fleet bombarded Trabzon causing over 1,300 casualties (The Encyclopaedia of Islam 1998). This led to Trabzon being captured by the Russians in April 1916. 

When the Russians arrived in Trabzon it had approximately up to 15,000 Greeks; but the majority of the Ottoman Turk population had already fled (although significant numbers stayed in the surrounding villages) (Akarca 2002).  The first months of occupation were chaotic with looting and destruction of the districts abandoned by the muslims.  Within 5 months, there was an influx of Armenians into the Russian held territory.  Some of the Armenians were organised into gangs and wreaked revenge [in retribution of the Ottoman Armenian Genocide in 1915] on the remaining Turks.  During the occupation there was a food shortage and widespread disease that killed many soldiers and civilians (Mintslov 1923).  

During the Russian occupation, the Greek Metropolitan of Trabzon, Chrysanthos, worked to ensure that locals, regardless of religion, did not suffer unbearably (Clark 2006).  In January 1918, a month before the Ottoman re-occupation of Trabzon and at the first symptom of revolt against the Greeks by the Turks, Chrysanthos distributed arms to the christian inhabitants so they could defend themselves (Greek Patriarchate 1919). 

The complete withdrawal of the Russians from the Trabzon region forced 30,000 panic stricken Greeks to leave with the Russians (see Note 8).  According to Kwiatkowski (Austrian Consul at Trabzon) 8,000 were inhabitants of the town (Photiades 1987).  This left only 2,300 christians in Chrysanthos’s Trabzon Diocese (Greek Patriarchate 1919). 

After the Armistice, the persecution of the christians continued.  This forced some Greeks to organize armed bands of volunteers (militias) to defend the Greek population against the irregular Turkish soldiers and brigands (Ligue Nationale du Pont Euxin 1919). 

After World War I

The Greek community in the Pontos began calling for an independent Pontos state and argued their case in 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference.  In the same year, under international pressure, the Istanbul Government agreed to investigate the treatment of christians in Trabzon to ‘prove’ no mistreatment was occurring.  Finally, to restore order, Mustafa Kemal (the future Ataturk) was appointed by the Istanbul Government to head the regional army and in 1919 he landed in Samsun (Stanley 2007).  

Over the next 2 years localised fighting got worse.  Various Greek militias were formed in the Pontos in both the mountains and the towns (see Note 9).  Finally, in April 1920, the Turks created the Central Army to crush the rebels and by 1923, Mustafa Kemal and General Kazim Karabekir Pasha finally brought the region back under Ottoman Turk control.  In 1921–22, one technique used was to forcibly exile Greek men aged between 15 and 50 years from the Black Sea coastal region to join labour battalions.  Most of Trabzon’s male Greeks were marched to central Anatolia, where most were to die (see Note 10) (Stanley 2007).  

Tragically, in May 1922, it was reported that all Greek boys as young as 11 to 14 years of age from Trabzon were to be massacred at Machka (south of Trabzon) (The Christian Science Monitor, 31 May 1922) (see Note 11).  

In December 1922, Greeks from the Black Sea area including Trabzon, began to arrive in Istanbul and were placed into refugee camps on route to Greece (Yildirim 2012).  In January (winter) 1923 most of the Orthodox christian families who still lived in Trabzon were told they must leave their homes permanently and gather near the harbour bringing only what they could carry.  Within a few days, the uprooted Greeks were taken to disease-ridden refugee camps in Istanbul (where many died), on to Greece, their notional homeland (Clark 2006).  (Many also died who had to walk long distances from their villages to the ports.)

In the end, the only real choice for christian Pontic Greeks was to leave their homeland or convert to Islam and remain in Anatolia (Psomiades 2006).  

By 1924 about 1.4 million of the surviving Anatolian Greeks were forcibly uprooted and settled in Greece as part of the compulsory exchange of Greek [christian] and Turkish [muslim] populations contained in the peace settlement with Turkey at the Conference of Lausanne.  (Many thousands of Greeks had previously left with the departing Russian army in 1918.  They were not to leave in bulk from the Caucasus for Greece until 1939 or later.) 

Of the much smaller number of muslims forced to leave permanently from Greece to their notional home of Turkey; 56,347 were sent to the Turkish Black Sea region.  However, of the 1,328 people who arrived in Trabzon, only 393 people settled.  Initially, Trabzon was not selected for settlement since the large number of the houses vacated by Greeks and Armenians had all been occupied by local residents.  Trabzon also lacked adequate land for the migrants.  Houses and shops in the centre and 59 hectares of land located in the green belt zone were distributed to the 393 people (Çomu 2012).  

13. Trabzon in more recent times

In 1930, Trabzon’s share of the Persian transit trade had fallen to less than 4% compared to 53% before World War I (Aydemir and Aydemir 2007).  By 1936, this reduced Persian trade was conducted by lorry which had finally replaced the camel.  In 1939, Trabzon was left isolated by the extension of the Ankara-Erzincan railway to Erzurum, (located southeast of Trabzon),  (  In 1941, the production of nuts was still the life-blood of the town.  By 1945, Trabzon’s population had dropped to 25,000 (1945 Census) which was much lower than its pre-World War I population (Table 3) (Wright 1945).  By 1950, Trabzon remained isolated from the rest of Anatolia (Harris 2005). 

The port was modernised in 1954 including a new breakwater, but it handled much less traffic than nearby Samsun.  The airport was opened in 1957 and a Technical University was founded in 1963 which expanded to a full-scale University in 1982 (The Encyclopaedia of Islam 1998).  

On the sporting front, from its founding in 1967, Trabzonspor, the town’s professional football team, has enjoyed winning several titles in the Turkish Super League and continues to be a very competitive team.  It continues to be a source of much sporting pride. 

The 1960s and 1970s witnessed significant population growth for the town.  There was another spurt of in-migration after the fall of the Soviet Union as traders from the Caucasus made Trabzon their key entrepot (Stanley 2007).  Trabzon’s population rose to 140,000 in 1990; 180,000 in 1998 (Papadopoulou-Symeonidou 2001) and 230,000 in 2009 (2009 census).

The major regional imports are coal, heavy lumber, timber and cars.  Agricultural products, like hazelnuts, nut products, vegetables and fruits cover 94% of exports, about half of them produced regionally (Aydemir and Aydemir 2007).  

Trabzon’s manufacturing industry is still agro-based.  There are tea and hazelnut processing facilities, the manufacturing of cement, building materials, medical, metal, glass products, together with trade in items made of copper, silver and gold.  In addition, there are fish canning factories (,33572/the-economy-and-trade-in-trabzon.html).  

Tourism accounts for a considerable part of Trabzon’s economy with visitors to the ‘restored’ Soumela monastery (south of Trabzon) and expectedly to the recently restored Theoskepastos monastery.  The opening of the border between Turkey and the newly-formed Commonwealth of Independent States (countries of the former Soviet Republics) has introduced Trabzon to ‘trade tourism’. 

Unfortunately, there are serious infrastructure problems in Trabzon, e.g. there is no railway.  But the town aims to become a major international trade centre with the establishment of a Trans Caucasian Corridor passing through the Caucasus into the Middle East.  May it prosper. 


14. Notes

Note 1

The Armenian version of Eusebios (one edition being, Eusebii Chronicorum Libri Duo, ed. A Schoene, Berlin, 1866) provides a date for the founding of Trabzon of 757–56 BC, which is plainly wrong.  Eusebios was referring to another city in the Propontis.  There is no precise colonisation date for Trabzon (Avram et al 2004).  It is disappointing that so many people continue to quote this inaccurate foundation date for Trabzon. 

Note 2

In April 1404 Spanish traveller, De Clavijo described Trabzon as:

built near the sea, and its wall rises up over some rocks, and on the highest part there is a very strong castle, which has another wall round it.  A small river passes by the castle, and dashes over the rocks, and on this side the city is very strong, but on the other side it is on open ground.  Outside the city walls there are suburbs, … On the shore there are two castles, with strong walls and towers, one belonging to the Venetians and the other to the Genoese (Clavijo 1859, pp. 62-3). 

In 1701, the French scientist, Tournefort (1741), described the town as big but not well peopled with well-built houses which were one story high.  The castle which was pretty large was much neglected and was situated upon a flat rock that was commandable.  Its ditches were very fine, being generally cut in the rock 

In 1836, Hamilton (1842) wrote that in the Greek quarter, to the east of the walled town, all the houses were surrounded with gardens, and the streets were the narrowest he had ever seen.  The principal articles of trade were alum and copper brought from the mines in the interior.  The copper was manufactured there into different articles for domestic or culinary purposes. 

The town was very picturesque, bounded to the east and west by rocky ravines of considerable depth, in all parts of which are rich and luxuriant trees, and well watered gardens; while the summits were fringed with the venerable ruins of the Byzantine walls, which, with their numerous turrets and battlements.  This part of the town was connected with the suburbs by a narrow bridge on each side and is defended by strongly-fortified gateways, above which, and entirely occupying the ground between the two ravines, are the extensive remains of an old and picturesque castle, the outer walls of which are of great height (Hamilton 1842, p. 161).

In May 1916, Russian officer Mintslov (1923), described Trabzon as having many crooked and narrow by-streets, meandering between tightly shut little forts and homes.  Stone walls up to around 4 metres in height surround them on all sides.  Along the main commercial street; rows of grocery shops stretched along both sides of the street; on the threshold of each of them on the footpaths were mountains of tobacco piled high.

Note 3

The Ottoman tax registers cannot be considered a population census in the modern sense.  Only the number of male head households was counted in the tax registers, not the number of every person in the town.  To accommodate this gap, Lowry (2009) multiplied the number of male head households by five to determine the average size of the population.  The author has added 132 muslim guards to Lowry’s c.1486 muslim figure.  (The muslim guards were counted in the c.1523 register.) 

The number of households headed by a female was not recorded for muslim communities, but counted for christian communities in the c.1486 and c.1523 registers (Lowry 2009).  The author has slightly adjusted up the original number of the approximate percentage of muslim inhabitants. 

The tax registers, by listing only the adult married male heads of households, do not allow us to determine which of these males may have had more than one wife and family.  So all the derived population figures for muslims would require a slight increase (Lowry 2009).

Although christian Greeks of Trabzon had pressure to convert to Islam so they would not be deported, as reported in the 1553 register, financial pressure (especially for the poorer families), as recorded in the 1553 and 1583 registers, this ‘open conversion’ was not necessarily what they believed at home.  This was probably the first sign of crypto-christians in Trabzon. 

Under sharia law, conversion or reconversion out of Islam met the death penalty in the Ottoman Empire until 1839 (Bryer 1998). 

Note 4

On 18 February 1856, a new reform charter, the Hatt-i Hümayun, was promulgated by the Sultan confirming the principle of freedom of religion within the Ottoman Empire (Bryer 1983).  Crypto-christians were christians who due to the muslim persecution publicly declared themselves muslims.  However, in secret, they upheld their Greek language and christian religious practices.

When Ottoman subjects were given freedom of religion in 1856, crypto-christians were reported in 1857 in the Trabzon region to be almost exclusively drawn from 55 upload settlements.  The population ‘estimates’ (based on 5 members per family) for these villages of that date were: 9,535 muslims, 17,260 crypto-christians and 28,960 open Greek christians.  The highest concentration of crypto-christians was in the Stavri-Kurum-Imera and Santa districts (south of Trabzon) where no more than 12 muslim families were recorded (Bryer 1970). 

Note 5

Despite Ottoman reforms in the 19th century, christians from Trabzon found it difficult to remain loyal subjects of the Ottoman government as well as its religious patriarchate in Istanbul, because from 1829 they were exposed to two external distractions.  The first factor was Orthodox Russia.  Throughout the century the Russian Consul-General in Trabzon actively solicited Pontic Orthodox emigrants to build the infrastructure in the Caucasus and to counter the immigration of muslims in the opposite direction after 1856.  The second factor was the new state of Greece, (which was less significant than Russia) which brought notions of nation, historical determinism and identity by language (Bryer 1991). 

At the beginning of the 19th century a male Pontic Greek christian might have described himself as being from a particular village first and then as a ‘Roman’ (Rum) Orthodox subject of the Sultan; by the end of the century he was calling himself Greek and later after he had finally left the Pontos in 1923 for Greece, a Pontic Greek (Bryer 1991). 

Note 6

The New York Times, October 18 1895, ‘Hundreds Killed at Trebizond: Soldiers Joined the Mob in Looting and in Firing on Armenians’.

… an eye-witness of the rioting at Trebizond.  He says four separate moslem mobs surrounded the Armenian quarters at 11 o’clock on the morning of Oct 8, and began to pillage the shops.  Being opposed, they fired on the Armenians and soon a general massacre began. 

Soldiers joined the mob in firing on the Armenians and in pillaging the shops and houses.  The scene continued until 4 o’clock in the afternoon …

An official return places the number of the dead at 180, but well-informed persons place it at between 400 and 500.

Note 7

The fourth caravan identifying almost 700 Armenians leaving Trabzon, is only mentioned by the Armenian sources, so its validity maybe doubtful (Suakjian 1981).  

Note 8

The Russian occupation of the Trabzon region from April 1916 to February 1918 saved many thousands of christian Pontic Greeks from being massacred during the Ottoman deportations which occurred further west in the Pontos. 

Note 9

The Andartes (militias) never totalled more than some 2,000 combatants in the Trabzon-Santa region.  They were essentially a defensive force with limited offensive capabilities.  They lacked an effective communications network and a single command and control structure.  They lacked arms, ammunition and equipment required for sustained combat; they lacked food and medicine for themselves and the large number of people in their care.  Hemmed in by Ottoman Turk forces in their mountain retreats, their movements were severely restricted (Psomiades 2006). 

Note 10

The New York Times, 7 June 1922, ‘Says 22,000 Greeks died on the march, Ward declares only quick action by Washington can stop Turkish massacres. Christian girls for harem; Turks forbade American orphanages to shelter those who were more than 15’. 

… Discussion with The New Times correspondent today the atrocities of which he has been a witness, Dr. Ward estimated that only 8,000 of the 30,000 Greeks he knew to have been deported from the Trebizond region ever reached their destination ...

Note 11

In October 1921, the British military officer Rawlinson observed many gangs of Greeks under guard being exiled to their death along the Trabzon to Erzurum road on their way to the interior (Stavridis 2011). 

It was reported in May 1922 from Dr Ward that, the whole Greek male population above 15 years of age from the Trabzon region and the adjoining areas was deported having as its destination the work battalions of Erzurum, Kars and Sari-Kamish (Tsirkinidis 1998). 

The Christian Science Monitor 31 May 1922, pp. 1 & 2. ‘Greek Massacres by Turks Continue: Ruthless Policy of Extermination Continues–Evidence of Americans Living in Anatolia’ by Herbert Adams Gibbons PH.D. 

… the Angora [Ankara] Turks are following a deliberate and ruthless policy of extermination of the Greeks.  I find that Trebizond is being cleared of the remaining Christian population. … Today between the ages of 80 and 14, the male population numbers six priests and 10 civilians. …

Now after having deported all the older boys the Angora Government has ordered the seizure of children of 14 down to 11 years of age.  It is a heartrending sight to see the poor little children herded like cattle, driven through the streets to the Government House where they are being thrown into a filthy underground dungeon. 

This week these will follow their elders to the barbed-wire enclosure near Jevislik [Machka, south of Trabzon] on the road to Erzerum, far from the unpleasantly inquisitive eyes of foreigners, and where they will disappear forever.  For the deportees, once entering the Jevislik camp never leave it.  The Turks give them no food, which, of course, can only have one result.  Not only Trebizond, but all the Greek villages of this region feed their mankind into the Moloch jaws of Jevislik. 



This work is a collation of sources written in English which provides a summary of a most rich history of Trabzon.  Unfortunately, it does not include Turkish sources which have not been translated into English.  

The author very warmly acknowledges the influence of ‘Megas’ Emeritus Professor Anthony Bryer OBE in this work of his beloved Trabzon.  Warm thanks also to Dr Stavros Stavridis for his suggestions and to the most learned Russell McCaskie for his translation of the Russian text, Mintslov (1923) and for his comments on the draft work. 


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