The Ottomans soon flushed out Mekhitar and his Venetian allies from their Greek refuge. The senate of the Venetian Republic offered the displaced monks the abandoned island of San Lazzaro, a former leper colony in the Venetian Lagoon.
Mekhitar himself conceived the design of the monastery, supervised its construction and, until his death in 1749, nurtured a major Armenian movement with cultural, educational and literary dimensions.
Long separated from their homeland, the disciples of Mekhitar, known as Mekhitarists, played a key role in revitalizing the spirituality and the cultural and intellectual life of the Armenian nation. From their house in Venice — and later from Vienna, where they set up a second in 1810 — they published weighty archaeological, historical and literary works, established schools throughout the Armenian diaspora and formalized the grammatical structure of the Armenian vernacular.
The number of Catholic Armenians grew modestly over time. Their leaders petitioned the pope for the erection of proper ecclesial structures, including a patriarchate. In 1742, Pope Benedict XIV named Apostolic Bishop Abraham Ardzivian as the Catholic Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, extending his authority only to Armenian Catholics in the southern regions of the Ottoman Empire (modern Lebanon and Syria). The pope further stipulated that Armenian Catholics living in the empire’s northern provinces would remain under the spiritual care of the Latin apostolic vicar in Constantinople.
Papal-created jurisdictions notwithstanding, the sultan’s government placed all Armenian Catholics under the civil jurisdiction of Constantinople’s Armenian Apostolic patriarch.
This conformed to the millet policy of the Ottomans, which provided administrative autonomy for the empire’s minorities. The patriarchate saw Catholics as sources of division within the Armenian community and sought to reintegrate them into the larger Armenian Apostolic fold.
Under pressure from the French crown, however, the Ottoman government in 1829 organized Armenian Catholics as a separate millet led by an archbishop in Constantinople, who eventually was vested with civil authority. In 1867, Pope Pius IX moved the patriarchate to Constantinople, uniting the two jurisdictions.
Trials and rebirth. The rise of national movements throughout 19th-century Europe, which began in the Balkan provinces of the Ottoman Empire, significantly altered the status of the sultan’s Christian subjects.
Nominally supported by France, Great Britain and Russia, Armenians were identified by Ottoman reformers as Turkey’s greatest internal threat. Massacres of Armenians occurred throughout Turkey in 1894 and 1895. After the Ottoman Turks entered World War I as an ally of Germany and Austria-Hungary, these pograms escalated.
While Assyrians, Greeks and Syriac Christians all suffered deportation or death, the sheer number of Armenians affected still astounds. By 1923, as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished in what is commonly called the Armenian Genocide. Those who survived, perhaps a quarter of a million people, fled to Lebanon and Syria. (Turkey disputes the term genocide and the number of the dead and expelled.)
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