M. Hakan Yavuz
The New Politics of the Late 19 th Century: Revolutionary Committees
Said Nursi and the ARF
Said Nursi and the Armenian Question
This paper has two descriptive goals.
First, I will introduce Said Nursi, and explain why there is need to become thoroughly
acquainted with his perspective on the Armenian insurgency.
Second, in an effort to juxtapose his views on the Armenians with those of the Ottoman
state, I will list his statements on the Armenians in general, and on the Armenian insurgency in
Ultimately, I shall ask: was there an overlap between local and state perceptions of the
Armenian insurgency, in terms of its goals.
Said Nursi and the Significance of his Perspective
Who is Nursi? Why is it important to examine Nursi’s description and understanding of the
Armenian issue? Is there any difference between Nursi’s analysis from that of the Ottoman state or
from that of Turkish nationalists? It is important to study Nursi’s take on the Armenain nationalism
and the struggle within the Ottoman Empire because he is the founder of Turkey’s most influential
religious movement. His followers’ position on the Armenian debate is largely informed and
shaped by Nursi’s writings.
It is important to study the Nur movement because it helps us to understand the continuity
and change in the evolution of Islamic ideas and movements. Nursi is a fascinating figure, primarily
because his life spans a period of intense change in Turkey: the Ottoman policies of pan-islamism,
the Young Turk Revolution of 1909, the Armenian insurgency in his native Van, and the collapse of
the Empire, the emergence of an independent nationalist Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal, and,
finally, the harsh imposition of strict secularist policies that left little room for religious activity in
the new state. Nursi’s life is often referred to as consisting of three different “Saids” – each
reflecting his phases of intellectual and organizational approach in the different periods of Turkey’s
development. His temporal locus is significant for the simple reason that he developed different
and nuanced attitudes for different historical contexts such as the absolutism of Sultan Abdulhamid
II (1876-1909), the constitutionalism of the Young Turks (1909-1916), the republican single-party
rule of Mustafa Kemal (1922-1950) and, finally, the multi-party system (1950-1960).
Before I examine each period of Old, New, and Third, Said, I prefer to offer a short
biography. Nursi was born in 1876 (some say 1877, others 1878...) in a village by the name of Nurs
in Eastern Anatolia, populated by Armenians and other Christian minorities; from this village he
received his surname, Nursi in Bitlis. He received his Islamic education from his family and the
traditional medrese system in his early age. Nursi developed a unique mode of understanding Islam
by closely following the developments in Europe, and sought to reinvent and rediscover Islamic
tradition. His perspective was not a mere reaction to modern institutions and ideas, but rather a
development of Islamic modernism by way of updating Islamic tradition in accordance with the
needs of the 20 th century. The 31st March (April 13 1909) rebellion, when a coalition of Istanbulbased military unity, ulema, and some merchants, rebelled against the Young Turk government, was
a turning point in his life. He was charged of being involved in the “reactionary” rebellion, but he
was later acquitted, after delivering a long defense in which he outlined his views about the
relationship between politics and military, freedom and constitutionalism. He never supported any
movement that turned the verses of the Qur’an into a slogan in order to transform society or the
polity. Although the 31st March event has been a source of major historical debate among Turkish
scholars, the 31st March rebellion was certainly the last attempt by the ulema to maintain Islam as
the grammar of politics and source of legitimacy. After the rebellion, almost all social movements
and criticisms of the centralizing state control were portrayed as being “fanatic,” and criminalized
by the state.
After the 1909 rebellion, Nursi returned to his Kurdish region and explained the virtue of
constitutionalism to the Kurdish tribes. He later collected these speeches (Munazarat) in which he
tried to prove the compatibility of Islam and constitutionalism, with freedom. When local Kurdish
tribes were against equality for all religions groups, Nursi visited them and tried to defend
constitutionalism and equality on the basis of Islam. In 1911, Nursi visited Damascus and delivered
a key speech, known as Sam Hutbesi, to raise Muslim consciousness. In the speech, Nursi identified
three sources of powerlessness in the Muslim world: poverty, ignorance, and disorder. In this
speech, he also stressed the Ottoman brotherhood. During the WWI, he fought against the Russian
occupation in Eastern Anatolia and, while in the battlefield, he wrote Isarat’ül I’caz, a model of
interpreting the Qur’an. He was later arrested by the Russian army, and spent two years in Russia.
He escaped from the Russian camp during the Russian revolution, and came back to Istanbul
through Europe in 1918. While in Istanbul, he wrote several essays and attacked the British policies
of colonialism. He called Muslims to defend their dignity by refusing to be the slaves of the British
government. He developed an argument for the significance of “human dignity,” and becoming a
master of one’s own fate. In other words, he developed an argument for self-determination both at
the individual and communal level.
Nursi unconditionally supported the anti-colonial struggle of Mustafa Kemal. The war of
independence, for Nursi, was a just war because people were defending their dignity and homeland.
During this period, Nursi developed a nuanced framework of a just war. Jihad is defined in terms of
protecting Muslim dignity. This defensive jihad remained the major theme of Nursi’s thinking.
Due to his ideas on the war of independence guided by Mustafa Kemal, Nursi was invited to
Ankara in 1922. He spent eight months in Ankara, and met with almost all the leaders of the war of
independence. He was disappointed by the lack of religiosity of the leadership and their full
commitment to positivism. He realized that the homeland was liberated, but the brains were
colonized by positivism, materialism, and ethnic nationalism. Consequently, he declared his own
“cognitive jihad”: proving the relevance of God and faith for society. He took the train from Ankara
to Van. In his memoirs, he called this the “transitional journey” to New Said. This “new” Said had
two characteristics: equipping Muslims with a new conceptual map, and transforming private
spaces into public spaces. He wanted Muslims to develop a new conceptual map in these private
spaces, and gradually move from these private spaces to public spaces. His goal was to usher in a
cognitive revolution by raising Muslim consciousness. The Old Said was deeply involved in politics
and thought to cure umma by using the tools of the state. He was an Islamist, who was going along
with a top-down transformation led by an Islamic government. In a way, Old Said, just like the rest
of the Ottoman intellectuals, very much concerned with the salvation of the state.
The collapse of the Empire, coupled with his own experiences, made him realize the power
of private spaces in particular, and society in general. He realized the threats were neither political
nor military, but rather intellectual. Nursi wanted to create a modern Muslim identity by updating
or reconstructing Islam. The level on which he wanted to operate was not the macro state level, but
rather the micro levels of private and personal life. The goal was to raise Muslim consciousness by
utilizing Islamic morality and reconstituting Islam to meet the challenges. In other words, New Said
transitioned from public to private domain, and focused on raising individual and communal
consciousness. Nursi was also concerned with the fate of the state, but he realized that the state
could be secured and humanized if the community is secured and consolidated by revising an
Islamic shared understanding. Said, unlike the Young Turks, never regarded the state as an end in
itself, but rather as an instrument to serve for the freedom and well being of the society. His
conception of society and nation is derived from his understanding of family. Family was the key
analogy in understanding society and nation. Family, this private zone, becomes the exclusive zone
of Islam where selves are formed and conducts are carried out in accordance with the shared
norms. Thus, the concept of freedom for Nursi very much meant freedom from the oppressive
state, to shape family and society.
2. His views on the Armenian issue:
Said Nursi was in favor of a close alliance between the Ottoman Muslims and the Armenians.
He said that “the future of our nation depends on close alliance and friendship with Armenians.”
However, Nursi was also deeply concerned by the lack of economic and educational progress of the
Armenians, and called the Ottoman state to prevent the emerging gap between the two
communities. In 1908, Nursi sent a letter to Abdulhamid II, and asked him to take measures to
improve the situation of the Muslims and Kurds, vis-à-vis the Armenians. Nursi was always critical
of the illiteracy and the failure of justice and order in Anatolia. He identified the prevailing political
and economic conditions as the causes for inter-religious turmoil. He identified three enemies of
the communities in Anatolia: poverty, ignorance and anarchy/lawlessness. To the problems of
poverty, ignorance, and lawlessness, he offered three solutions: economic developments and wellbeing of all communities; secular and religious education of all communities; and, closer
associations and interactions between Muslims and Christians within the framework of good
neighbourly relations. In his writings, Nursi is fully aware of the worsening socio-political
conditions in Anatolia, and he regularly wrote to the Sultan and state officials to address the
problems of the region. He also complained that the state policies were deepening the conflict
between the two communities.
Nursi did not deal with the Armenian issue directly. However, he did address the Armenian
issue while expressing his views in several pamphlets critical of nationalism, violence, and the need
to defend the “territory.” From his writings, one can conclude that there was a fully fledged and
secessionist Armenian nationalism in his time; a nationalism seeking to carve a land from the
Ottoman state. For instance, before the Balkan wars, Nursi stressed the cooperation of the Muslims
and Armenians. After the Balkan wars, he treated nationalism in general, and Armenian nationalism
in particular, as a threat to the Ottoman state and land. Nursi believed that the Armenians are
supported by the European powers (Ecnebi/Russia) to carve the Ottoman land, as they did in the
Balkans. In other words, there is a close similarity between the official state perception of the
Armenian insurgency seeking to “carve the Ottoman territory,” and Nursi’s perspective. This
perception of threat helped to identify the Armenian demands and insurgency as detrimental to the
existence of the Muslim presence in Anatolia. After 1912, Nursi’s writings emphasized “security”
and “stability” against the “Dasnak militias” (fedaileri) and called Muslims to organize and support
the Ottoman state.
There are two discourses in the writings of Nursi. The first discourse, which evolves from
the Abdulhamid II period and until 1914, stresses socio-political conditions as the causes of tension
that would lead to the collapse of the state authority. In it he proposes improvement of social
conditions, restoration of justice, law and order, and supports participatory politics along with a
constitutional system to keep all the members of the Ottoman state together. After the Balkan wars,
we see the second discourse on the Armenian issue which stresses “security, stability, and the unity
of the Ottoman state and territory,” and Nursi eventually joins the Ottoman army against the RussoArmenian units to protect the Ottoman land.
A. Dicourse I: Justice and Socio-Political Conditions: According to Nursi, one of the most
important factors that lead to the decline of the Ottoman social fabric was the lack of justice.
He argues that “bihakkın adâlet-i şeriatı gösteremedik. Şeriat dairesinde, hukuklarını
istibdâdın sünnet-i seyyiesiyle muhâfaza edeme[mektir.]” (Münazarat, s:67.) Diverse
religious groups all lived within the Ottoman empire since the state was just and treated its
subjects with juctice and dignity. When the system of justice has failed, so did the coexistence of diverse religious groups. This indicates that Nursi treated justice as the most
important source of legitimacy for the Ottoman state. When the state fails to provide
justice, it loses its legitimacy, and diverse groups seek for an alternative solution.
After the restoration of the Constitution by the Young Turk revolution in 1909, which
stressed the concepts of equality, justice, and Ottoman brotherhood, the reactionary Islamic and
tribal groups rejected the “new order.” These reactionary groups developed three core arguments:
1) the Constitution and parliament are replacing shari’a, and both institutions are against shari’a
and, therefore, un-Islamic; 2) Muslims cannot accept equality with their Christian neighbors; and 3)
non-Muslims cannot be appointed as governors to lead the Muslim community. Nursi rejected these
three arguments while seeking to remain true to the Qur’an.
(1) When some Kurdish tribes reacted against the Young Turk revolution and the Christian
and Muslim equality, Nursi visited these tribes and tried to convince them about the
virtues of constitutionalism, freedom and political participation. Some members of
Kurdish tribes raised questions about the equlaity between Muslims and Christians,
Nursi defended the equality. He told a group of conservative Kurdish tribe members:
“According to shariah, those Muslims who live in Christian countries must have rights so
do the Christians here.” 1 He argues that freedom is a necessary condition for Muslims to
Aşiret mensupları, meşrutiyetle birlikte gayr-i Müslim unsurlara tanınan
özgürlüklere itiraz ettiler. İslam’ın bizatihi bu özgürlüklere izin verdiğini belirterek
onlara şöyle cevap verdi: “Onların hürriyeti, onlara zulmetmemek ve rahat
bırakmaktır. Bu ise, şer’îdir.” Ardından, başka devletlerin sınırları içinde
believe in God and live as Muslim. Thus, the same freedom is also necessary for stability
and justice. Both the Constitution and parliament seek to restore freedom by limiting
decisions of the rulers and allowing society to participate in governance. From Nursi’s
perspective, shari’a does not contradict the Constitution or the institution of the
(2)When some tribe members also rejected the equality with Christians (Armenians), Nursi
said: ““Müsavat ise, fazilet ve şerefte değildir, hukuktadır. Hukukta ise şah ve gedâ
birdir. Acaba bir şeriat, karıncaya bilerek ayak basmayınız dese, tâzibinden men etse,
nasıl benî Âdem’in hukukunu ihmâl eder? Kellâ… Biz imtisal etmedik. Evet, İmam-ı
Ali’nin (r.a.) âdî [sıradan] bir Yahudi ile muhakemesi ve medâr-ı fahriniz olan
Salâhaddin-i Eyyûbî’nin miskin [fakir] bir Hıristiyan ile mürafaası, sizin şu yanlışınızı
tashih eder zannederim.” (Münazarat, s:66.) 2
(3)When some Kurdish tribe members rejected the possibility of having a Christian
(Armenian) governor, Nursi was very consistent and made an argument for having a
governor from a different religious background. Nursi argued that “the task of the state
is to serve for people. The bureucrats of the state are the servants of the people and
their mission is to serve for all citizens of the state. He argued that just as any Muslim
should able to have bureucratic job in non-Muslim state so any Christian should also
have the similar right.” 3 Nursi argues that “a servant of the government has ‘but’ a
serving position (as does, for example, a doorman). His religion is just as (ir)relevant to
someone else as that of the baker. Muslims therefore need not fear being ruled by
Christians.” (Nursi, 1996:70). 4
Müslümanların yaşadığını ve onların hak ve özgürlükleri olduğu gibi Osmanlı
topraklarında yaşayan gayr-i Müslimlerin de hak ve özgürlükleri olması gerektiğini
ifade etti. (Münazarat, s:60-1.)
““Müsavat ise, fazilet ve şerefte değildir, hukuktadır. Hukukta ise şah ve gedâ birdir. Acaba
bir şeriat, karıncaya bilerek ayak basmayınız dese, tâzibinden men etse, nasıl benî Âdem’in
hukukunu ihmâl eder? Kellâ… Biz imt isal et medik. Evet, İmam- ı Ali’nin (r.a.) âdî [sıradan]
bir Yahudi ile muhakemesi ve medâr-ı fahriniz olan Salâhaddin-i Eyyûbî’nin miskin [fakir] bir
Hıristiyan ile mürafaası, sizin şu yanlışınızı tashih eder zannederim.” (Münazarat, s:66.)
(Asar-ı Bediiye, s:324-5.)
Nursi, Bediuzzaman Said (1996a). Münazarat, in: Risale-I Nur Külliyati, Istanbul (1996): Yeni
Asya Neşriyat; Vol. II: Istanbul: Nesil Press (2002a): (cited via Markham, Michel, Saritoprak)
B. Discourse II: Security, Homeland, and the Unity of Anatolia:
The religious cleansing of Muslims from the Balkans, and the partition of the Ottoman
territories, had a major impact on Nursi’s thinking about the role of Armenians. The defeat and
human suffering provided a context in which he had to consider the Armenian insurgency in
Anatolia. He came to the conclusion that major European powers are also seeking to “do the same
in Anatolia by dividing it and creating an independent Armenian homeland.” He turned his
theological seminary into a training ground for his students, not only to learn how to read Qur’an
and understand it but also, to learn how to use weapons against Armenian insurgency and the
possible Russian invasion.
When the war started, he formed his own militia, and participated in a war against
Russian/Armenian forces. In his writings, he treats Armenians as the “agents of Russian power” and
“Russian tool” to partition Anatolia. When Russian/Armenian forces moved to Van, and then
toward Bitlis, Said Nursi organized his own local militia to fight against the invading forces. Some
members of his unit were killed and, he, along with four others, were captured by local Armenians
and handed to the Russian command. He was sent to Russia as a prisoner of war and spent two
years there. What he witnessed upon returning to Van, was a devastating experience for him. He
Before everything, I went to visit my medrese in Van, the Horhor. I saw that the Armenians had razed
it during the Russian occupation, like the rest of the buildings of Van. It was right under and adjacent
to Van’s famous citadel, which is a great monolith like a mountain. My true friends, brothers, and close
students of the medrese were embodied before my eyes. Some of those self-sacrificing friends of mine
had become actual martyrs, while others who had died due to that calamity had become in effect
martyrs. …Apart from the Armenian quarter, all the Muslim houses of Van had been leveled. My heart
was lacerated. I was so affected that if I had had a thousand eyes, they would have all wept together. I
had returned to my homeland from exile; I had supposed that I had been saved from exile. But alas!
The most lamentable exile I experienced in my homeland. I saw that hundreds of my students and
friends, to whom I had been closely attached, like Abdurrahman in the Twelfth Hope, had entered the
grave and that their places were all ruins.
Aşiret mensupları Ermenilerin kendilerine düşmanlık ettiğini, bu yüzden onlarla ittihat etmelerinin
zor olduğunu beyan ettiklerinde yeni bir döneme girildiğini hatırlatarak onlara şöyle cevap verdi:
“Düşmanlığın sebebi olan istibdat öldü. İstibdâdın zevâliyle dostluk hayat bulacak. Size bunu
katiyen söylüyorum ki, şu milletin saadeti ve selâmeti Ermenilerle ittifak ve dost olmaya vâbestedir.
Fakat mütezellilâne dost olmak değil, belki izzet-i milliyeyi muhâfaza ederek, musâlaha elini
uzatmaktır.” (Münazarat, s:67-8.) Ermenilerin uyandığını ve terakki ettiğini, bölgedeki aşiretlerin
ise uykuda olduğunu belirterek, Ermenilerden öğrenilecek çok şey olduğuna vurgu yaptı. Çünkü,
“[Ermeniler] uyandılar, dünyaya yayıldılar, terakkiyât tohumlarını topladılar; vatanımızda
ekecekler. Bizi medeniyete mecbur, terakkîye îkaz, bizdeki fikr-i milliyeti hüşyâr ediyorlar. İşte şu
noktalara binâen, onlarla ittifak etmek lâzımdır.”
Nursi, “[Ermeniler] Zîrâ komşudurlar. Komşuluk, dostluğun komşusudur.” sözleriyle, onlarla dost
olmanın gerekliliğine vurgu yapıyordu. Günümüzde ise, sınırların her türlü etkileşime karşı set
olarak kullanılmasından dolayı bu eski dostlar birbirlerine oldukça yabancılaşmış durumdalar.
Hiçbir iletişimin olmaması düşmanlıkları giderek artırmaktadır. Çünkü kişi bilmediğinin
düşmanıdır (Lemeat, s:2). Bu eski komşular arasında irtibatın tekrar sağlanması gerekir. İrtibat
tesis edildikçe birbirlerini daha iyi tanıyabilir ve önyargılar yıkılabilir.
‘Yahudileri ve Hıristiyanları dost edinmeyin’ (Maide, 51) mealindeki ayeti delil göstererek
Ermenilere muhabbet edemeyeceklerini ileri süren aşiret mensuplarına şöyle cevap verdi: “Bu
nehiy, Yahudi ve Nasara ile Yahudiyet ve Nasraniyet olan aynaları hasebiyledir. Hem de bir adam
zâtı için sevilmez. Belki muhabbet, sıfat veya san’atı içindir. Öyleyse her bir Müslüman’ın her bir
sıfatı Müslüman olması lâzım olmadığı gibi, her bir kâfirin dahi bütün sıfat ve san’atları kâfir olmak
lâzım gelmez. Binaenaleyh, Müslüman olan bir sıfatı veya bir san’atı, istihsan etmekle iktibas etmek
neden câiz olmasın? Ehl-i kitaptan bir haremin olsa elbette seveceksin!” (Münazarat, s:70-1.)
Bunlara İlişmeyiniz!
Birinci Dünya Savaşı öncesinde kendi medresesinde talebelerine ders verirken Ermeni çetelerine
karşı mücadele etmek için talebelerine aynı zamanda silah kullanmasını da öğretiyordu. Silahlar ve
kitaplar yan yanaydı. Ermeni çetelerine ve Birinci Dünya Savaşı’nın başlamasıyla Ruslara karşı
savunma hattında görev aldı ve mücadele etti: “Van – Bitlis tarafında Ermeni komitesi, Taşnak
fedaileri çok faaliyette bulunmasıyla, Eski Said onlara karşı duruyordu, bir derece susturuyordu.”
(Tarihçe-i Hayat, s:518.)
Ermeni çetelerine ve Ruslara karşı vatanını müdafaa ederken bile masumları korumaya devam etti.
Tarihçe-i Hayat’ında yer alan bir olay bunu çok güzel bir şekilde gösterir. Ermeni çeteleri geri
püskürtüldüğünde bölgede yaşayan bazı Ermeni kadın ve çocukları kaçamadı ve geri kaldı. Onları
bir yere topladı ve “Şer’an bunlara dokunmak caiz değildir” diyerek halkın onlara zarar vermesini
önledi. Ardından, onları, Ermeni fedailerine teslim etti. (Bediüzzaman Said-i Nursi Mufassal
Tarihçe-i Hayatı, s:376.)
“Bediüzzaman’ın bulunduğu nahiyeye binlerle Ermeni çocuğu toplanmıştı. Molla Said askerlere,
‘Bunlara ilişmeyiniz!’ diye emretti. Daha sonra bu Ermeni çoluk çocuğunu serbest bıraktı; onlar da,
Rusların içerisindeki ailelerinin yanına döndüler.” (Tarihçe-i Hayat, s:99.) Bu müspet hareket
hemen karşılık bulmuştur. Ermeni fedaileri de haber göndererek artık Müslüman çocuklarına zarar
vermeyeceklerini bildirmişlerdir.
Kur’an-ı Kerim’den aldığı dersle asayişi muhafaza için etrafındakilere şu hatırlatmayı yapıyordu:
“Bir hanede veya bir gemide bir tek mâsum, on câni bulunsa, adalet-i Kur’âniye o mâsumun hakkına
zarar vermemek için, o haneyi yakmasını ve o gemiyi batırmasını men ettiği halde, dokuz mâsumu
bir tek câni yüzünden mahvetmek suretinde o haneyi yakmak ve o gemiyi batırmak, en azîm bir
zulüm, bir hıyanet, bir gadir olduğundan, dâhilî âsâyişi ihlâl suretinde, yüzde on cani yüzünden
doksan masumu tehlike ve zararlara sokmak, adalet-i İlâhiye ve hakikat-i Kur’âniye ile şiddetle men
edildiği için, biz bütün kuvvetimizle, o ders-i Kur’ânî itibarıyla, âsâyişi muhafazaya kendimizi dinen
mecbur biliyoruz.” (Emirdağ Lâhikası, s:382)

1 M. Hakan Yavuz The New Politics of the Late 19th Century