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From Empire to Republic

The Role of American Missionaries in US-Ottoman Empire Relations and their Educational Legacy

Hacer Bahar

This book focuses on American missionary activities in the Ottoman Empire. After the construction of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission in 1810, American missionaries started to spread the Gospel around the world. The Ottoman Empire was perceived as a strategic place since it occupied Jerusalem. By the time they arrived, American missionaries found a weak central authority. Some of the Ottoman officials considered that Westernization of the public institutions in the Empire could strengthen central authority. In order to protect its integrity, the Ottoman Empire started to grant freedoms to the minorities. After gaining liberties, American Missionaries further strengthened their position in the Empire. This book analyzes the strong image of American missionary schools through Robert College which was established in 1863. Robert College which reflects American ideals, preserves its distinguished place to this day.

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4 American Missionaries’ Arrival in Anatolia

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The work of Protestant missionaries in the Ottoman Empire increased by the middle of the nineteenth century because of the Empire’s decreasing power and the growth in imperialism among the western countries. Missionaries became more active in Istanbul, Izmir and Jerusalem and their work soon took on a political character due to the increasing colonization movement. It is important to note that Catholic groups in the Ottoman Empire were supported by France and Austria, with the Orthodox being endorsed by Russia. In the case of Protestants, they were supported by Britain. For example, in 1840 Britain asked permission from the Porte to construct a Protestant missionary church in Jerusalem. In the beginning, the Porte declined this request. However, in 1842 the Porte allowed the construction of the church. Missionaries in that area made their first contacts with the Druze (Vahapoglu 2005). In 1846, there were four Protestant churches in the whole of Anatolia.

Pliny Fisk and Levi Parsons were the first American missionaries assigned to proselytize in the Ottoman Empire. They were both graduates of Williams College and Andover Theological Seminary. The Missionary Herald stated that their objective was to spread: “…the Gospel to Jews and Muslims” and awaken Christians in America “to the duties of the times” (ABCFM 1819, in Kennedy 2008: 11). With regard to settling in Jerusalem, Levi Parson stated that American Protestants should: “…restore the Jews to their rightful place in the Holy Land” (ABCFM 1878, in Kennedy 2008: 11). They should...

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