The first interaction between the Muslims and Anatolian Armenians took place during the reign of the four caliphs. Muslims under the command of Uthman ibn Affan arrived in Caucasus in 640 and took full control of the region in 653. Muawiya, the then Syrian governor and the first ruler and founder of the Umayyads, refrained from Arabization or Islamization policies and instead offered broad autonomies to the indigenous Nakharar families.
When Sultan Alp Arslan defeated the Byzantine army at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the doors of Anatolia were opened to Turks. From that point on, Turks and Armenians have lived together side by side on these lands. It should also be noted that after the fall of the Seljuks, the Armenian Church maintained its presence under Turkish, Iranian and Mongol rules until the Ottoman Emirate built the Anatolian union.
When Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror took Istanbul in 1453, a sort of golden age for the Armenians began. Sultan Mehmed II, completely of his own accord, invited Hovageem to Istanbul and established an Armenian Patriarch next to the Greek Patriarch in 1461. Hovageem was the spiritual leader of the Armenians at the time. Following this development, the Patriarch was declared the leader of the Armenian community by the Sultan’s decree and the Armenians were entrusted to his care. This development prompted Armenian populations around the world to come to Istanbul and form Istanbul’s strong Armenian community. After Eastern Anatolia and South Caucasia were conquered during the reigns of Sultan Selim I and Sultan Suleiman I, the Armenian population in the newly taken areas was also incorporated in the Istanbul community and bonded to the Istanbul Patriarch. Throughout the history of Ottoman rule, Armenians enjoyed great freedoms in religion, politics, economy and culture.
Armenians, as the trusted, reliable and friendly non-Muslim constituents of a Muslim country, were known as the ‘Loyal People’ (Millet-i Sadıka). They formed a precious and indispensable part of Ottoman society. Just as every other Ottoman citizen, they enjoyed many rights and liberties in the Ottoman Empire, practiced their religion freely and without any inhibition engaged in business and social life. This is the path to which the Qur’an guides us.
Among the people of the Book there are some who believe in God and in what has been sent down to you and what was sent down to them, and who are humble before God. They do not sell God’s signs for a paltry price. Such people will have their reward with their Lord. And God is swift at reckoning. (Qur’an, 3:199)