The ARF at 120: The History and Ideology

This year marks the 120th anniversary of the founding of Armenian Revolutionary Federation–one of the oldest and most influential political organizations in Armenian history. On this occasion, the USC Institute of Armenian Studies and the Armenian Review have organized a commemorative academic conference on the ARF’s history, current activities and future prospects.

The conference titled “The ARF at 120: History in the Making” will be held on December 4 at the Davidson Conference Center on the campus of University of Southern California (Driving Directions). The conference will critically examine such key issues as socioeconomic aspects of ARF’s activities in Armenia; role of women in the ARF; the challenge of functioning as state-based political party and a Diaspora-wide political movement; and assessments of historical developments and issues of current relevance.

The day-long event will feature academics, researchers, professionals and activists from Armenia, the Middle East, Europe and the United States, who will present nuanced and multi-disciplinary analyses of ARF’s activities in celebration of its 120th anniversary.

The conference will be webcasted live on the day of the event on The event is free and open to the public but the organizers are strongly recommending attendees register ahead of time. Register online at

Today, we introduce the speakers and present some of the topics to be addressed during the first panel of the conference, titled “ARF in History and Ideology.”

Richard Hovannisian (Moderator)

Prof. Hovannisian was born and raised in Tulare, California. He received his BA (1954) and MA (1958) degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, and his PhD (1966) from University of California, Los Angeles. He was an Associate Professor of History at Mount St. Mary’s College, Los Angeles, from 1966 to 1969. In 1987, Professor Hovannisian was appointed as the first holder of the Armenian Educational Foundation Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History at the UCLA. Hovanissian is a Guggenheim Fellow who has received numerous honors for his scholarship, civic activities, and advancement of Armenian Studies. His biographical entries are included in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World among other scholarly and literary reference works.

Houri Berberian

Houri Berberian is Professor of Middle Eastern History at California State University, Long Beach, where she also serves as Director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program. She is the author of a number of articles and a book, Armenians and the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911: “The Love for Freedom Has No Fatherland” (2001).

Connected Revolutions: The ARF and Russian, Ottoman, and Iranian Revolutions in the Early Twentieth Century

Using the concept of “connected histories,” this paper explores the Ottoman, Iranian, and Russian Revolutions of the early twentieth century through the circulation, interaction, and relationships of Armenian revolutionary elites, particularly Dashnaks, who simultaneously operated in each of these political and social upheavals. This study is interested in the connectedness of all three revolutions, which have helped shape the history of the states and societies in which they occurred. One of the most interesting and significant aspects about the three revolutions occurring approximately at the same time in regions bordering each other is the circulation and flow of revolutionary elites, activists, and intellectuals as well as revolutionary literature and arms throughout the three regions before and during the revolutions. In the case of the Dashnaks, they traveled from one Armenian community to another in the Ottoman, Russian, and Qajar empires, taking advantage of a network of already established political party branches or communities of like-minded activists. Dashnaks played an interesting and at times important role in the events leading to revolutions in the Russian, Ottoman, and Iranian empires and in the course of the revolutions themselves.

Elke Hartmann

Elke Hartmann, has studied History and Middle Eastern/Islamic Studies in Berlin specializing on Modern Ottoman history. Her MA thesis examines the German military mission to the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Abdulhamid II, while her dissertation analyzes conscription in the late Ottoman Empire in the context of modern state and nation building. The topic of her current research within the research group “Self-Narratives in Transcultural Perspective” at Free University in Berlin are the memoirs of Armenian fedayis, focusing mainly on Roupen Der Minasian’s “Memoirs of an Armenian Revolutionary.”

“The Turks and Kurds are our fate“: ARF Concepts and Strategies of Self-Defense

Roupen Der Minasian, fedayi, minister in the first Armenian republic and member of the ARF Bureau, was undoubtedly one of the important figures in the ARF in the first decades of the 20th century that were so crucial in Armenian history. But Roupen’s prominent status among contemporary ARF leaders is the result especially of his writings. His memoirs, printed in seven volumes and totaling more than 2,700 pages, is the most voluminous single report about life in Western Armenia before the Armenian Genocide and the fedayi movement in particular. In this paper they will serve as a starting point for the analysis of ARF concepts and strategies of self-defense in Ottoman Western Armenia.

The paper gives a short introduction to Roupen’s “Memoirs of an Armenian Revolutionary” as a first-person narrative, followed by a summary of what this text tells us about Armenian self-defense. The “Memoirs” reflect the differences within the party and between Eastern (Russian) and Western (Ottoman) Armenian functionaries. They are testimony of Roupen’s own position of extreme pragmatism. They show that the ARF self-defense agenda went beyond armed struggle, also including political methods, notably the cooperation with the Young Turkish movement. But, most importantly, Roupen’s memoirs point out the Ottoman context of the Armenian fedayi movement.

Accordingly, in its main part, this paper offers an analysis of the ARF self-defense, placing it in the context of the Ottoman system of administration and rule in its Eastern provinces and of the local and regional power relations in the Eastern Ottoman borderlands. This paper argues that the Armenian fedayis and the ARF were themselves part of the highly complex tangle that characterized Ottoman rule in the Western Armenian provinces, becoming one of the actors involved locally in controlling the villages and their populations, Armenian and non-Armenian alike.

Ara Sanjian

Ara Sanjian is an Associate Professor of Armenian and Middle Eastern History and the Director of the Armenian Research Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. From 1986 to 1991, he studied for his master’s degree in history at Yerevan State University. From 1991 to 1994 he did his PhD in modern history of the Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies, the University of London. From 1996 to 2005, he was the Chairman of the Department of Armenian Studies, History and Political Science at Haigazian University in Beirut. His research interests focus on the post-World War I history of Armenia, Turkey, and the Arab states of Western Asia. He is the author of Turkey and Her Arab Neighbors, 1953-1958: A Study in the Origins and Failure of the Baghdad Pact (2001), as well as a monograph and a number of scholarly articles. He is currently working on a book-length project on the Armenian quest for Mountainous Karabagh under Soviet rule in 1923-1987.

The ARF & Land Reform in Eastern Armenia, 1917-1920

The paper will discuss the ideological position taken and the policies implemented by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) as regards the introduction of land reform in Transcaucasia and Armenia in particular from the February Revolution in Russia in 1917 to the sovietization of Armenia in late 1920. It thus covers the successive interim, Transcaucasian regional administrations – the Ozakom, the Commissariat, and the Seim – followed by the periods of the independent Transcaucasian Federation (1918) and the independent Republic of Armenia (1918-1920).

The paper is based on research conducted in the documents of the legislature, the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Agriculture and State Properties of the Republic of Armenia (1918-1920), all housed at present in the National Archives of Armenia in Yerevan, plus on an extensive use of Armenian language newspapers and periodicals published between 1917 and 1920 in Yerevan, Etchmiadzin, Kars, Shushi, Baku, Tiflis and Akhaltsikhe.

The paper will argue that the ARF considered itself as the carrier of the ideals and social and political objectives of the February Revolution of 1917, even after the proclamation of Armenia’s independence the following year. As the ruling political party, it remained committed to the eventual socialization of land in Armenia, although successive internal and external political crises permitted only the adoption and implementation of some interim measures toward that end.

With the collapse of the independent Armenian state, the leaders of the ARF were forced into exile, where they were obliged to adjust their politics to overwhelmingly urban settings in the Armenian Diaspora and work mostly with a younger generation forcibly “alienated” from agricultural land. Under these new conditions, issues related to agrarian reform seemed remote and uninteresting to new generation of ARF activists and supporters and, from then on, the founding fathers of the independent republic of 1918-1920 were evaluated primarily from a nationalist and irredentist perspective. Their social agenda was mostly ignored, perhaps unconsciously. This paper will constitute a humble attempt to remind the academic and lay public of an understudied aspect of the social and ideological dimensions of the history of the ARF.

Khatchik Derghougassian

Khatchik DerGhoukassian received his PhD in International Studies from the University of Miami, Florida, and a MA in International Relations from the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Currently he teaches international politics and security at the Universidad de San Andrés and the Universidad de San Andrés -FLACSO-Universidad de Barcelona joint M.A. program in International Relations and Negotiations. He is also a Visiting Adjunct Professor at the American University of Armenia. Before starting an academic career, he worked as a journalist for Aztag daily newspaper in Beirut, Lebanon (1982-1987) and as the editor of Armenia the Armenian newspaper in Buenos Aires, Argentina (1987-1997).

The Dialectical Dynamics of Socialism and National Liberation: The Historical Evolution of ARF Ideology

The aim of the paper is to analyze the evolution of the ARF-Dashnaktsutiun ideology since the foundation of the party to the present from a systemic approach. The main argument sustains that the official ideology of the ARF has always been socialism in its reformist/non-Marxist version known as social-democracy. Yet the evolution of socialism on the ARF’s political agenda is closely linked to the national liberation struggle in its successive historical phases; hence in its practical aspect the ARF ideology should be understood in the dialectical dynamics of the socialist universalism and the practical decisions of a national political agenda in their interaction with systemic conditions. The paper, therefore, proposes a novel approach to the ARF ideology, which, so far, has been portrayed as a pragmatic balance of socialism and nationalism. This new approach combining political philosophy and international analysis allows not only critically studying the past but also foreseeing the current challenges the party’s ideology faces.


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One Comment;

  1. Arto T. said:

    There certainly is no other organization in Armenia or the Diaspora who are as well organized and committed to the Armenian nation. However it cannot be denied that their “blind ambition” and their attitude that they alone are the “natural governing” party has caused them to make many “politically expedient” decisions that have been disastrous for the Armenian nation:

    1) Early support to the Committee of Union and Progress
    2) Signing the Treaties of Batum and Alexandropol (the latter negating the Treaty of Sevres.
    3) Dividing the Armenian community by splitting our Church

    The ARFs strategy does not differ from the one used during the time of the Ottoman Empire. They have no new ideas. How sad they have to insult our President and hang him in effigy in LA and Paris to dare negotiate with the Turks. That’s why the Armenian people will never vote them into power (much to their displeasure) because the Armenian people know that it will only lead to their destruction.