BY SIMON VRATZIAN
From The Armenian Review
Volume 3, Number 3
Autumn, October, 1950
The Armenian Question and the Birth of the Revolution
After the loss of their independence in the latter part of the Fourteenth Century, for almost six centuries the Armenian people remained under the domination of the foreign ruler. Armenia had been overrun successively by the Seljuk, the Mongol, the Tartar, the Turk and the Persian, all of whom ravaged the country with fire and sword, until the Seventeenth Century when Armenia was partitioned between Persia and Turkey.
The countless wars of the centuries, the lootings and the oppression had brought Armenia and the Armenian people to brink of extreme misery. The one time flourishing economy and culture were ruined and the educational centers – the monasteries and the schools were .rendered desolate. Under the insufferable weight of exorbitant taxation the Armenian people were reduced to stark poverty. Life under the heel of the barbarians became unendurable in Armenia. As a result of these insufferable hardships and privations, large masses of Armenians took the road to foreign countries in search of security and a decent life. In the course of time populous and quite prosperous colonies were established in Poland, Crimea, India, Constantinople, as well as commercial and cultural centers in Venice, Genoa, Amsterdam, Moscow, St. Petersburg and elsewhere. In 1605 Shah Abbas of Persia transplanted large numbers of Armenians from the Ararat Plain into Persia with a view to revitalizing his capital. The newcomers founded the flourishing town of New Julfa in the immediate vicinity of Ispahan.
While an economically and culturally ruined Armenia continued to languish under the yoke of foreign oppressors, the colonies gradually prospered and in. the course of time became centers of national regeneration, always keeping a living tie with the fatherland. These colonies started and developed the art of Armenian printing: The first printed Armenian book saw the light 1512 in Venice. With the foundmg of the Mekhitarist Institution in 1701 in Venice, a great impetus was given to the cause of Armenian education. The first printed Armenian newspaper “Azdarar”-Messenger -saw the light •in 1784 in the City of Madras, India. It was also in these colonies that the first stirrings of Armenian emancipatory notions took form, such as the demand for Armenian independence on the principles of democracy.
These emancipatory notions agitated abroad naturally found an echo in Armenia where the sentiment for freedom was not completely extinguished. In a number of mountainous regions, such as Karabagh, Sassoun, Zeitun etc., the people lived a semi-independent existence. The hope of the fatherland’s independence was far from being dead among the Armenian nobility and clergy. Taking advantage of various occasions, there had even been •some attempts to restore the independence of Armenia. The Meliks of Karabagh, headed by David Beg, revolted against Persian domination, and Shah Tahmaz was obliged to recognize the independence of Karabagh from 1722 to 1730.
It was with the cooperation of these same Meliks that Catholicos Hagop of Julfa called an assembly in 1678 in Etchmiadzin where it was decided Ito .send a delegation to Europe, headed by the Catholicos, to solicit the intervention of the Pope and the powers in behalf of the Armenians. When the Delegation arrived in Constantinople the Catholicos died and the members returned to Armenia; but one of them, a young man by the name of Israel Ori, proceeded to Europe where he entered the service of Louis XIV. At first as a common soldier, and later as an officer, he fought in the Franco-English war, was taken prisoner by the English, and fina1ly obtaining his freedom, he settled in the Palatinate of Dusseldorf. In the course of time he won position and rank, became an intimate friend of Prince Johann Wilhelm of the Palatinate, and eventually persuaded him to champion the cause of Armenia’s emancipation.
Thereafter, supported by the Prince, and as the .representative of the Meliks of Karabagh, Israel Ori made appeals to the Papal Throne and Emperor Leopold, and equipped with their recommendations, he went to St. Petersburg in order to enlist the support of Peter the Great. Both Emperor Leopold and Peter the Great showed a keen interest in the Armenian cause; however, the times were quite unfavorable for any positive action. Peter the Great went so far as to organize an invasion against the Persians and reached as far as Derbend, but eventually he was forced to retreat. Israel Ori is quite a figure in Armenian history, both as a personality and as a political worker.
Russian expansion toward the south continued after the death of Peter the Great. During the reigns of Catherine the Great and Emperor Alexander I, Russia conquered northern Caucasus, penetrated the Caucasian mountains, and occupied the Khannates of eastern Transcaucasia. In 1801 Russia annexed Georgia, and later, in the reign of Nicholas I, a part of Armenia as far as the Arax River. By the Treaties of Turkmencha (1828) and Adrianople (1829) Armenia was partitioned between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Later, in 1878, the regions of Kars and Ardahan also were annexed to Russia.
Thereafter, the life of the Armenians in Russia and Turkey took entirely different courses. Russian Armenia, which at the time of occupation was practically desolate, was swiftly populated, the country was rebuilt, the people prospered economically, and a beginning was made of a cultural revival. The middle of the Nineteenth Century is regarded as ~the period of Russian Armenian renaissance. Schools were founded in the villages and the towns. In Tiflis was founded the Nersessian College which played a prominent role in the regeneration of the Armenians. A similar school called the Lazarian Jemaran (College) was likewise founded in Moscow. In 1858, in Moscow was begun the publication of “Hiusisapayl,” a liberal monthly publication which established a new era for the Armenians. The same year•saw the publication of Khachatour Abovian’s famous book, “Verk Hayastani” – The Wounds of Armenia-which lent a terrific impetus to the national revival and was instrumental in educating generations in the spirit of patriotism.
By the 70’s the Armenians of Russia were already organized, having reached a distinct cultural stage with their .schools, press, literature, and national consciousness. They were engrossed not only with their own destiny, but with the condition of their kinship, en in Turkey as well. And when in 1877 the Russo-Turkish war broke out, the Armenians of Russia rose to a man in defense of the Turkish Armenian cause.
In contrast with this, the Armenians in Armenia proper and the remaining provinces continued to grope in ignorance and material poverty, abandoned to their fate. On the other hand there were administrative abuses, exorbitant and insufferable taxes, corruption of wanton officers, and the unbridled depredations of the Kurdish Ashirets -tribes. The absence of elementary law and judicial restraint, particularly 1n the case of the Armenian peasantry, had created a life which was a veritable hell. The situation was further aggravated by the fact that the Government, driven by political or other considerations, was populating the Armenian regions with Moslem immigrants from Caucasus and the Balkans. These newcomers •squatted on Armenian lands, and ~encouraged by the Government, kept oppressing the Armenians, who were forbidden to carry arms for their self-defense. The Patriarchate of Constantinople was powerless to defend the rights of the Armenians in the provinces; the countless protests to the Government fell on deaf ears. The Armenian peasant, ~either had to submit to this relentless oppression, or to leave the country. As a result, Armenia slowly was being depopulated of Armenians while their places were being taken by the Moslems.
The middle of the Nineteenth Century was the beginning of the •revival of Turkish Armenians, influenced chiefly by the French Revolution and the Treaty of Paris of 1856 which obliged the Sultan to introduce reforms in the country and to guarantee the safety of the Christian minorities. The Armenian youth of Constantinople who had been educated in French schools started a movement to overhaul the Patriarchate and the national bodies through the implementation of democratic principles. The result of this movement was the National Constitution of 1863, promulgated by the Sultan, which guaranteed national-religious-cultural autonomy within the compass of the Armenian Patriarchate. The Turkish Armenians stood now as a national, religious, and judicial community, with a representa~t1ve National Assembly and administrative bodies which had direct control over the religious, educational and civil life of the community. The National Constitution, for all practical purposes, remained, however, as a purely metropolitan institution, and it was a long time until its influence was extended to the provinces.
When in 1869 Khrimian was elected Patriarch of Turkish Armenians the plight of the Armenian peasantry in the provinces became the issue of the day. An Investigating Commission appointed at the behest of Khrirnian made a -study of the abuses which were being perpetrated on the Armenians. Countless specific charges, supported by the testimony of eye witnesses, included such abuses as: “manifest collusion and exorbitant ratings in the collection of the taxes,” “the denial of the right of the Christians to appear and testify in courts in their behalf,” “corruption, bribery, and graft among government officers, an genera oppress1ve practices, violations, terroristic acts and crimes of all sort.”
When the report was read in the National Assembly, the general picture was so in~ credibly awful that a shiver ran down the spines of the delegates. Patriarch Khrimian, on •his part, confirmed the veracity of the report, saying: “I have spent the greater part of my life with the poor people, and I submit to this Assembly that there is not the slightest exaggeration in the report. The Investigating Commission has been very conscient1ous in the collection of the most important facts.”
The report meticulously avoided any mention of politics, and restricted itself to a mere factual enumeration of the administrative abuses, calling on the “beneficent Government” for the exercise of the elementary rights of .safety of life and personal property. On April 11, 1872, the Patriarch submitted the report to the Sublime Porte. The Armenians fully believed that the Government would pay serious heed to the Patriarch’s appeal and would take practical steps to ameliorate the condition of the Armenian people in the provinces. Great was the disappointment when the Government reluctantly •received the report and did not take one step to remove the abuses.
Until then, and as late as 1878 when as ~ result of the Russo-Turk1sh war the Armenian Question once again came to the fore, the Armenians never entertained any thought of presenting any political demands. Within Turkey proper their aspirations were limited to simple safety of life and property, equality before -the law, and the fr.ee development of their national-cultural life. In some quarters the conviction even prevailed that the existence and the future of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were better safeguarded than under Russian domination. According to Patriarch Nerses Varjabedian, “The Turk killed the body, but the Russian killed the soul.” However, with their barbarous policy, the Turks repelled the Armenians and opened a rift between the Armenian and the Turk.
From this viewpoint, the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 had fatal consequences. In that war the Armenians unanimously supported the view of defending the fatherland. The Armenian Patriarchate assured the Government of Armenian loyalty, and with Pastoral letters instructed the Armenians to support the Government in the war effort to the limit. Armenian delegates of the Parliament delivered patriotic speeches. The same was true of the Armenian press. No other subject people could have manifested a greater degree of loyalty and patriotism to their government. And yet the Islam Turk was immovable in his fanaticism against the Christian Armenians. On December 6, 1876, the Mohammedan rabble of the City of Van, supported by the Turkish soldiers and gendarmerie, looted and burned the Armenian market place, burning down more than 1,500 Armenian shops and stores. In one 11fight the Armenians of the City were forced to sit on the ashes. The Government did nothing •to punish the criminal~ or to redress the Armenian losses.
While the war was being waged, at the very moment when the Armenians of Constantinople and the provinces were devoted to the defense of the country, the tribes of Sheik Jellaleddin, with the manifest connivance of the Turkish Government and army, were looting and ruining :the villages in the region of Van, the Armenians of Beyazit, Alashkert and other places were being massacred and looted by the Turkish soldiers, and the Armenian peasantry, under the dread of the massacre, were rushing to the Caucasus for safety. The news of these atrocities naturally disturbed the Constantinople Armenians who had expected a better treatment from the Sultan’s Government. Suspicion and disillusionment were beginning to take root in their hearts.
On the other hand, the victorious Russian armies were advancing with promises of freedom to the enslaved Christians of Turkey. The City of Karin-Erzeroum-which was considered the heart of Turkish Armenia was already occupied by Russian armies. Bulgaria had taken up arms for her independence. The Russian armies had occupied Adrianople and were knocking at the gates of Constantinople at San Stefano when the Sultan issued for peace.
Only then did the Armenians realize that there was no other way out for them except the inclusion of a provision for Armenian reforms in the forthcoming peace treaty. Upon the appeal of Patriarch Nerses Varjabedian, the Russian High Command inserted in the Treaty of San Stefano (March 3, 1878) a provision called Article 16 whereby the Sultan undertook to carry out certain 11eforms in the Armenian populated provinces of Anatolia before the withdrawal of the Russian armies from the 0ccupied regions.
The Treaty of San Stefano, however, remained a dead letter. Beaconsfield’s England, after signing the secret Treaty of Cyprus with Turkey by which she assumed the protectorate of that country, served Russia with an ultimatum demanding tile revision of the Treaty of San Stefano by the six .signatories of the Treaty of Paris. Powerless, Russia yielded, giving way to the Congress of Berlin which was presided over by Bismarck, the “honest broker.” The Armenians also sent a Delegation to the Congress of Berlin, headed by former Patriarch Muguerdich Archbishop Khrimian. The Delegation visited Rome, Vienna, Paris and London in an attempt to enlist the support of these governments in behalf of Armenian aspirations, and after completing its tour, it presented to the Congress of Berlin a summary of Armenian demands which had been endorsed by the National Assembly and the Patriarch of Constantinople.
The Armenian plan of reform’s called for the formation of an autonomous administrative unit, consisting of the provinces of Van and Erzeroum, the Armenian populated sections of the Province of Diarbekir (to the east of Kharpert), the Sanjak of Arkana, rthe northern part of the Sanjak of Sughert, add a part of the Province of Trebizond, including the port city of Rizzeh, under a General Governor to be appointed by the Sublime Porte and with the agreement of the powers. The Governor was to be assisted by a Council of the people’s representatives and an Executive Council, the first a legislative body, and the second, the executive. The autonomous region was to be organized on the democratic pattern, with national and religious equality for all the people. The plan clearly defined the respective jurisdictions of the Governor General and the Central Government.
The Anglo-Russian rivalry prevented, however, the consideration of the Armenian plan at the Congress, and even Article 16 of San Stefano, modest as it was, met with the violent opposition of Beaconsfield. English diplomacy was opposed to the presence of the Russians in Armenia until after the execution of the reforms. Finally, the San Stefano article was replaced by Article 61 of the Congress of Berlin (July 13, 1878). Article 61 provided:
“The Sublime Porte undertakes to carry out, without further delay, the improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by the Armenians, to guarantee their security against the Circaassians and Kurds. It will periodically make known the steps taken to this effect to the Powers, who will superintend their application.”
The Armenians naturally were not .satisfied with this result. The 61st article not only did not give autonomy, but the promised reforms were far from being reassuring. In the end, everything was left to the Sultan’s will under the platonic protectorate of the six powers, whereas the Sultan’s will was known to all. It was no wonder, therefore, that the Armenian Delegation returned home from Berlin wholly dissatisfied and embittered. In its protest letter to the delegations at the Congress the Armenian Delegation had said:
“The Armenian Delegation expresses its profound disappointment and regret that the Congress has rejected their legal and at once modest demands. We had thought that a people consisting of several millions, which to date has never been the tool of foreign policy, a people which, despite the fact that it has been subjected to greater persecution and oppressive treatment than the other Christian races in Turkey, has never been a cause of trouble to the Turkish Government, a people which although not a kinsmen or coreligionist with any nation but nevertheless is Christian as all other Christian peoples of Turkey, in this century of ours could have hoped to find the same protection which ‘has been accorded to others. We had hoped that such a nation which cherished no political ambitions could have been granted the right to live its own life on Armenian soil and to be governed by Armenian officers. The Arrmenians now realize that they have been betrayed, that their rights have not been recognized, because they have been peace-loving, and that they have gained nothing by preserving the centuries- old independence of their church and their national identity.
”The Armenian Delegation will return 10 the East, taking along this lesson. Notwithstanding it, the Delegation affirms that rthe Armenian people shall never .stop its protest until Europe gives satisfaction to its just demands.”-Berlin, July 13, 1878.
However, the Armenian disappointment was tempered with a certain degree of optimism. True, the Congress had denied the Armenians <the right to autonomy, still the reforms, if carried out, were a distinct gain. Most important of all, the 6lst article of the Berlin ‘treaty had raised the Armenian Question to the dignity of an interna1ional issue. On the other hand, the Congress of Berlin was a ringing lesson; “The Armenians were ignored because they a-re a peace-loving people. Henceforth, the Armenian people shall never •stop raising their voice until Europe has given satisfaction to their just demands.”
With this disposition Khrimian left for Constantinople where his return was being awaited with anxious impatience. After ‘submitting •his official report to the Patriarch and the National Assembly, Khrimian, who was an eloquent orator, delivered a sermon from the Cathedral of Pera on his mission to Europe which left an historic imprint on the political and •intellectual development of the Armenian people, and which was a direct call to revolution.
Khrimian related that when he entered the Congress of Berlin he saw in the hall an enormous cauldron filled with Harissa-a native thick porridge of ground wheat and meat. At the invitation of the President, each representative of the Balkan nations approached the cauldron holding in his hand an iron spoon and helped himself. When the turn came to the Armenian representative, having nothing but a paper spoon in his hand, he could not help himself .to the Harissa. The dignitary who was standing beside <the kettle, seeing the paper •spoon, asked him, ”Where is your iron spoon? We are serving Harissa here, but the man who has no iron spoon can have none. Get this well. If in the near future again Harissa should be served here, don’t forget your iron spoon if you don’t want to return. Empty handed.”
In conclusion, Khrimian admonished his listeners:
”Armenian people, you of course understand well what it means to be armed, what all arms can accomplish. Therefore, blessed people of Armenia, when you re1urn to your homes, take to your relatives and friends a gift of arms. Get hold of arms, and again arms. My people, above all things else, put your .trust in yourselves, •strengthen your intellect and your right arm. A man can be saved by his effort alone.”
Arms alone, however, were not enough to insure freedom and prosperity. Other factors were necessary. And Patriarch Nerses Varjabedian called the attention of the Armenian people to these very factors. On August 2, 1878, he gave an extensive report to the National Assembly on the Congress of Berlin, replying meanwhile to his critics. The Patriarch himself had been disappointed in the Congress, but he realized that “at no time, and by the hand of no one man could such a task be accomplished.” Time and persistent endeavor were indispensable requisites for success. Therefore, he exhorted, “let us prepare ourselves for the future. Firs1, we must not -stay here; we must go Ito Armenia. We must send to Armenia our patriotic men, our men of intelligence and talent, our educators and our church-loving men. We must send there our teachers and spirited youths. Let our artisans and merchants go to Armenia. Let our wanderers return to the homeland. There will no longer be any famine or massacre there, no longer any oppressions, no longer any violations against life, property and honor. We shall build highways, irrigation canals, and factories there. Let the capitalists hasten there, form their corporations, in order to •establish schools in all the villages and the towns, business firms, and factories for the workingmen. Let all Armenians unite from all parts of the world, from India, Turkey, England, Russia, Austria, and as far as Persia.”
Nor was it Khrimian and Varjabedian alone who were imbued with this spirit. All Armenians were engrossed with the same concern. They all agreed with Khrimian that the trip to the Congress of Berlin, from the viewpoint of the future, was not entirely useless. The Armenian Question had become an international issue. A new path had been opened before the Armenians. Khrimian and Varjabedian had shown the way along which they should travel for a brighter future. And that was the path which the Armenians espoused.
Presently, in Constantinople and other Armenian centers, one after another there came into existence cultural, educational and economic societies, all pledged to the founding of schools, libraries, and cultural and economic institutions in Armenia. The young people, as teachers, as agricultural experts, or as disseminators of new ideas, took the road to Armenia with the aim of educating and enlightening the people, and raising their intellectual and economic standards. University graduates went to the remotest backwoods villages of Armenia, shared the hardships and the privations of the peasants, and in many cases sacrificed their lives in their effort to serve the national cause. For the young people the 80’s were years of idealistic emotions and hopes. Like the butterfly which is attracted by the burning light, these youths rushed to the bosom of the suffering people in Armenia where they were burnt up in the ensuing fire.
The reforms promised by Article 61 of Berlin, however, yielded no positive results. The signatories of the Treaty, always mutual rivals, contented themselves with paper reminder •s and paper demands which produced an exactly opposite result. The Sultan became increasingly harsh in his treatment of the Armenians. His first step, after the conclusion of the Congress, was the organization of the famous Hamidieh Regiments, ostensibly for the defense of the Caucasian border, but in reality intended to further suppress and weaken the Armenians. This mob, clad in government uniform, armed by the government, and instigated by the same government, turned into a veritable scourge to the defenseless peasantry. They were of invaluable assistance to the Sultan in his policy of depopulating Armenia as the radical solution of the Armenian Question.
The next step was the implementation of rigorous measures against the intellectuals and the national institutions. A number of schools were closed outright and the teachers were either imprisoned or •sent into exile. Khrimian himself was exiled to Jerusalem. The Armenian benevolent and cultural institutions were dissolved. A strict censorship was instituted against the press and literature. The prerogatives of the Patriarchate and the National Assembly were abrogated, and eventually the National Constitution was suspended. The names “Armenia” and “Armenian” were prohibited in the press. Arrests, imprisonments, and executions became the order of the day, especially in the provinces. An infernal situation had been created for the Armenians. And yet, the best the signatories of the Treaty of Berlin would do was to present the Sultan with paper ultimatums couched in friendly terms.
Under the circumstances, the outbreak of the revolution was most natural. The Turks verily drove the Armenians into the arms of the revolution. And this is attested not only by the Armenians, but even by foreign observers who have testified that the Armenian revolution was the result of bad administration and the barbarous policy of the Turks. As impartial a man as Paul Cambon, French Ambassador in Constantinople, who was well versed in the affairs of the Ottoman Empire, in his report of February 20, 1894, describes the origin of the Armenian revolution in following words:
“In those days (1878) there was no Armenian national awakening, no idea of Armenian independence, or if it existed, it could be counted only among a few expatriates in Europe. The masses were solely concerned with the promised reforms. Their only dream was the creation of a normal administration under the Ottoman rule. The indifference of the Sublime Porte disturbed the Armenians. The promised reforms were not being carried out. Corruption was rampant among the government officers. The justice was not improved. The formation of the Hamidieh Kurdish regiments, ostensibly for the vigilance over the border, was nothing but an official organization to persecute and loot the Christian Armenians.
“In 1885 Europe for the first time heard about the Armenian Question. The infiltration of two ideas among the Armenians was natural: Nationalism, and Freedom. The revolutionary committees took upon themselves the task of disseminating these ideas. These ideas made the most of Turkish administrative abuses. By degrees, these abuses became hateful and insufferable in the eyes of the people who had been accustomed to slavery, and as if the agitation of these abuses were not enough, the Turks exaggerated the matter by accusing the malcontents as revolutionaries and traitors.
“As long as they were accusing the Armenians of conspiracy, the Armenians finally were forced into the conspiracy. As long as they claimed that Armenia did not exist, the Armenians clung all the more persistently to the fact of their existence. Thus, in the course of a few years, secret societies came into being which in their propaganda exploited the Turkish administrative abuses and errors, and disseminated the idea of national awakening and -independence throughout Armenia.” (Livre Jaune, 1893-97).
The most eloquent spokesman of the Armenian Revolution was the great novelist Raffi. He not only agitated and popularized the idea of the revolution, but he actually formulated and mapped out the practical plan. With a remarkable intuitive perception, in his novels, especially in his extensive volume called “Gaidzer”-Sparks-he foresaw the coming revolutionary storm and even outlined the actors of the drama who later were to play their historic role on the Armenian stage.
”Loyal submission to a government like Turkey’s,” Raffi said, “is tantamount to blind obedience, namely, to suffer uncomplainingly all the barbarisms of the tyrant. To date, the Armenians have gained nothing by their abject loyalty, except to increase the weight of the chains of slavery. Consequently, it is time that the Armenians made an end of their loyalty and rose against the Sultan’s barbarous regime. Tyrannical governments have more respect for those nations which are disloyal or suspect.” And because “God will not help the Armenians of Turkey who do not want to help themselves,” because “without blood and without sacrifices there is no •salvation,” Raffi called on his compatriots to hoist the flag of rebellion “against the barbarous Turkish Government.” He invited them to organize revolutionary societies, to arouse and arm the people, to mobilize arms and fighting forces in the land, and to throw off the nightmare which has clung to the bosom of Armenia by revolting. The heroes of “Gaidzer,” Sako, Garo, Asian, Vorsord Avo, Murat and others are busy with that sort of work. We shall have occasion to meet these very characters in the revolution which followed.
In the epilogue of his novel “Khent”-The Fool-Raffi has outlined the pattern. of the future independent Armenia. It is a government patterned on the American model, with democratic orders, perfect freedom, and complete equality before the law, in which work and individual initiative are not shackled, and where men live a healthy and happy life. For such a free and enlightened fatherland it is worth shedding blood, and one must shed blood.
The-seeds sown by Raffi and his contemporary pioneers yielded a rich harvest. As early as the 80’s there came into existence individual revolutionaries who armed themselves and sounded the ”Slave’s protest” against the tyranny of the Turk. Revolutionary organizations were next in order. In Karin-Erzeroum-there came into existence the patriotic society called “The Defenders of the Fatherland” whose aim was to arm in secret and to arm the people, to fight if need be for the hastening of the .reforms. In time the Government came to know of this organization. There were arrests, and 76 were confined to prison. After the preliminary questionings, 20 of these were set free while the remaining 56 were tried in April, 1883, as conspirators. Forty of the accused were sentenced to 5-15 years of prison terms. This was the first political trial on the soil of Armenia.
At the same time, in the City of Van, through the inspiration of Khrimian and Muguerdich Portukalian, another secret organization had been organized under the name of “Patriotic Society.” The Government exiled the founder of this society, Mr. Portukalian, who in 1885 started the publication of a newspaper called “Armenia” in Marseilles, France. The Society of Van was reorganized after the name of this newspaper as the “Armenakan Party,” changing meanwhile its original aim, and operating as a moderate-liberal organization. This society continued to function until the overthrow of Sultan Abdul Hamid in 1908, without having played any decisive role in Armenian life.
In 1887 a company of Armenian students in Europe founded another revolutionary society called the Hunchak Party. Influenced by Russian and German Social-Democratic parties, these students had for their aim the emancipation of Armenia by revolution and the establishment of a socialist government. And since the Armenian people were not ripe for socialism, the Hunchak Party was forced to confine its activities to its revolutionary fight against the Turkish regime as a purely national organization. In this capacity, during the initial years, the Hunchak Party found widespread sympathy among the Armenians and expanded itself among the Armenian regions. Its activity, however, was largely confined to demonstrations most of which were abortive. The cause of the failures was ascribed to the leadership who, unfamiliar with the actual conditions in the land, tried to direct the revolution from Europe. In 1896 the Hunchak Party was disrupted, being divided into two hostile factions. As a result of this defection, the party lost its charm in the eyes of the Armenians, and although it continued its existence it never accomplished anything worthy of notice, as far as the revolution was concerned.
Besides these organizations, in the 80’s in various places and independently of each other, numerous other revolutionary bands and societies came into existence, the aim of which was the emancipation of Turkish Armenia. Especially noteworthy among these were students’ groups in Moscow and St. Petersburg for their revolutionary zeal and preparation. The St. Petersburg group in particular had been influenced by the emancipatory movements of the Balkan peoples and wanted to copy their revolutionary methods. They published and extensively circulated booklets on the histories of the Bulgarian and Greek revolutions which left a profound impression on many, •especially the youth.
The Moscow group, on the contrary, were largely inspired by Russian social and political ideas and their revolutionary movements. Especially powerful was the influence of the social ideas and revolutionary activities of the organization called “Narodnaya Volya” which dominated the Russian youth for a certain period. It was in this atmosphere of the Russian Revolution that a large number of the Armenian leaders who later directed the revolution were reared.
During the years 1882-86 there functioned in Moscow an organization called ”Patriots’ Union” which published a newspaper named “Azadoutyan Avedaper” – Messenger of Liberty.-This was the first Armenian revolutionary newspaper. Indoctrinated with Russian social and political ideals, the members of this union were preparing themselves for the future fight in Turkey, their aim being the “political and economic emancipation of Armenia.” Many of these later entered the ranks of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Revolutionary cells also existed in Erivan, Baku, Moush, Constantinople and other places. However, the crucible of the revolution was Tiflis which held the same importance for Russian Armenia as Constantinople did for Turkish Armenia. Here was centered the national intellectual life of the Armenians-the schools, the intelligentsia, the press, the public institutions, the theater, and literature. It was from this center that the Armenians of Caucasus and Russia received their inspiration and their direction. It was natural therefore that the revolutionary “Sparks” .should break out into a conflagration at this place.
Already, in the early 80’s, there had sprung up in Tiflis a number of groups consisting of intellectuals and common people who were busy with the Turkish-Armenian cause, preparing intellectual and militant forces for future activity, sending agents into Turkey, studying the local conditions, and carrying on the propaganda among the people. Toward the close of the 80’s there was a keen feeling for the necessity of uniting the various revolutionary societies in a merger. To achieve this aim, a new organization was founded •in Tiflis called “Eritasard Hayastan”-Young Armenia-enlisting the important members of Tiflis groups. Having for its aim the political and economic emancipation of Turkish Armenia, Eritasard Hayastan strove to create an all-national, powerful revolutionary organization by amalgamating all the existing independent revolutionary societies. The soil was ready, a11d the dream of Eritasard Hayastan was soon to be realized.
The Founding of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Its Program and Organization
Aside from the general causes •enumerated in the preceding chapter, two immediate factors contributed to the creation of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. The first were the events which took place in Turkey and Armenia. In 1889-1890 the condition of the Armenians in Turkey had reached the breaking point. Actually the Armenians had been declared outside the pale of the law. The Armenian peasantry was groaning under the oppressions of the Kurdish tribes and government offices. It seemed there was no limit to the effrontery and the brazenry of the Turks and the Kurds in their treatment of the peasantry. This tension reached its- climax with the kidnapping of an Armenian girl named Giulizar by the notorious tribesman Mousa Beg who for years had been a scourge of the Armenians. This act was the last drop which filled the cup of Armenian indignation to overflowing. The entire Armenian peasantry of the Plain of Maush rose to its feet and marched to the city, demanding of the government the return of Giulizar to her parents and the punishment of the criminal Kurd. The matter reached as far as Constantinople where a delegation of 60 presented a formal protest. For the sake of appearances the Government punished Mousa Beg but soon released him.
The Mousa Beg incident was no exception to the rule. Similar outrages were a daily occurrence everywhere. The only novelty w.as the Armenian protests and resistance, culminating in armed clashes with the oppressors. Armenian youths from Van, Moush, Karin .and other places, copying the Balkan revolutionary volunteers, armed themselves and took to the mountains, giving battle to the Kurdish persecutors and the rapacious officers of the government. In a short while these retaliatory acts were to be followed by popular demonstrations in demand of pressing reform~.
On February 2, 1890, the Armeni.an Patriarchate of Constantinople presented to the Subli.me Porte a writ of protest, calling the Government’s attention to the desperate condition of the Armenians in the interior and demanding the .punishment of the criminals. The Armenian sufferings• md the Patriarchs’ protest found a wide echo in the Armenian and foreign press. However the Government remained indifferent to these representations, and on the contrary intensified the persecutions.
Neither was the attitude of the signatories of the Berlin Treaty any more comforting. Their rivalries affecting the Turkish question kept steadily increasing. With the accession of Welhelm II on the German throne a new factor was introduced into the policy of the Near East, the Kaiser posing as the friend of the Ottoman Pad1shah, the Caliph of Islam. In the general scramble among the big powers, the Armenian question naturally w.as trampled underfoot.
In view of this disconsolate situation, the Armenians gradually veered to the idea of the necessity of bearing pressure on the Sultan and the big powers through their own individual means. Europe surely would intervene, as he had intervened in the Balkans if her interests demanded it. If the Armenians could assemble a powerful revolutionary force, as had been done in the Balkans, they could force the Sultan and the powers to introduce the demanded reforms.
The second factor which accelerated the creation of the new organization was a casual incident, having no immediate bearing on the Armenian question. During the first half of 1890 there took place some students’ demonstration against the Tsarist regime in Russia. By order of the government a number of universities were closed and thousands of students were arrested. Some of them were exiled and others were sent back to their home towns. As a result of this dispersion hundreds of Armenian students were scattered in various parts of Caucasus before they had completed their education. A number of these students, chiefly from Moscow and St. Petersburg, assembled in Tiflis where the organization called “Eridasart Hayastan” already was busy organizing the revolution. With the arrival of these students the revolution received a new impetus. The movement was headed by Christopher Mikaelian, a youth who enjoyed great popularity among the young people with his intellectual prowess, accompanied by two talented Moscow students, Simon Zavarian and Rosdom Zorian. Presently, invitations were sent to all revolutionary organizations for a general meeting in June and July in Tiflis to discuss the question of the unification of all revolutionary forces in a single new organization. The Hunchak Party too sent its representatives to participate in the ensuing deliberations. These deliberations were participated in by men who belonged to various liberal currents as well as different classes of society. There were those who were interested only in national and political issues, others were confirmed socialists. There were those who came from noble or capitalist families, and there were those who were the sons or artisans or peasants. The central idea which brought all these classes together was the liberation of Turkish Armenia. A strong arm was necessary to weld these varying elements into a united organization, and this difficult task w:as successfully accomplished by Christopher Mikaelian.
After long and stormy sessions a new party was founded by the name of “Federation of Armenian Revolutionaries.” The modifier “of revolutionaries,” as opposed to “revolutionary,” was the common denominator, indicating the merger of all the revolutionary societies. Thus, with the exception of the
Armenakans who sent no delegates to the charter assembly, the Federation integrated all the revolutionary organizations which existed at the time. This merger, however, did not last long. In a short while the Hunchaks withdrew from the merger, preferring their separate existence. Others followed suit after their disillusionment from the revolutionary activity. The Federation itself was without a developed program as yet, in the fonm of a written constitution and by-laws. The conference had taken place to consider the general principle of emancipating Turkish Armenia by revolution. How this was to be accomplished, each individual explained it according to his understanding. It was only two years later, in the general conference, that the Armenian Revolutionary Federation took distinct form with a formulated program of activity, a platform, and a policy.
Meanwhile, the founders of the Federation were busy with the work of organizing. In a manifesto, addressed to the public, they explained the aims of the newly-founded organization, and in a short while, its representatives and field workers infiltrated all parts of the country. An underground publication called “Droshak”- Banner-the official organ of the party, was founded in Tiflis. Soon, however, a new obstacle loomed on the scene which caused disillusionment and intense bitterness among the Armenians.
The founders of the Federation, and generally all Russian Armenians had believed that Russia would take an attitude of friendly neutrality toward the Armenian movement. This belief was backed by the force of history. The harsh regime of Alexander III classified the Armenians among those minority peoples who were subject to Russification. Accordingly, the Armenians were looked upon .as an unreliable element. In 1885 the Tsarist Government dealt the Armenians a heavy blow by closing all the Armenian schools. It is true that these schools later were reopened under a certain control; however, the Russian Government’s former friendly attitude toward the Armenians was never restored. This change of policy came to the fore immediately upon the founding of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Shocked by the atrocities which were being perpetrated in Turkish Armenia, in the spring of 1890, Sarkis Gougounian, a student from St. Petersburg, accompanied by two companions, came to Tifli•s with the idea of organizing a fighting band in Caucasus and hastening the defense of Turkish Armenians. He was supported in his enterprise warmly by the intellectual and wealthy circles of Tiflis, and by the time of the Federation’s founding, the Gougounian volunteer band was already organized. To lend authenticity to his venture, Gougounian appealed to the Federation’s Central Executive body, requesting it to sponsor the project, and in proof of patriotic zeal, he enlisted in the ranks of the Federation. For an organization which had newly been founded, although the undertaking of -such a serious venture was apparently foolhardy, nevertheless, driven by a number of considerations the Federation’s Central Committee ‘ assented to support Gougounian’s venture.
The night of September 23, 1890, in the Village of Churouk on the border of the Kars region, a solemn mass was held to solemnize the forthcoming expedi•tion. After the volunteers had partaken of Holy Communion, the Gougounian band started off for the Turkish border. The company consisted of 125 fighters, 15 of whom were horsemen. It was led by a flag bearer. The flag itself was embossed with the number 61 and five stars, •symbolic of the Treaty of Berlin and the five Armenian provinces.
With bated breath and prayers on their lips, all the Armenians of the Caucasus watched Gougounian’:s patriotic venture. However, scarcely had the band crossed the border when it was pursued by the Russian patrol guards. Unwilling to engage the Russian soldiers, Gougounian tried to avoid them. But in the end a part of the band were scattered, while •the remainder, including Gougounian, were arrested and under humiliating conditions were taken to the prison of Gaghzuvan, and from ‘here they were transferred to the prison of Kars. They were held here until their trial in 1893. Mos•t revolting of all, by an order from above, the court refused to recognize the political character of the expedition and tried the prisoners as common criminals. The trial was conducted behind closed doors, and the press was forbidden to report the details. Sarkis Gougounian was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor, nineteen others to 15 years of hard labor, six to 8 years, and one, to 3 years. The Supreme Court of Tiflis confirmed this sentence and the condemned men were exiled to Siberia in chains. Gougounian himself was thrown into the dungeons of Sakhalin. This inhumane treatment of the Tsarist Government left a shocking impression on the Armenians, shutting off all hope of optimism. It was obvious to all now that “Christian” Russia not only was unsympathetic toward her Armenian subjects but was opposed to the improvement of the lot of Turkish Armenians .as well. This cruel policy .steadily grew until the brutal massacre of the Armenian revolutionaries who were hastening to the rescue of their brethren in Turkey, and until the utterance of Lofanov’s impudent and cynical motto: “Armenia without Armenians!” Official Russia ever stood as an inveterate enemy of the Armenian Question and the Federation during the entire course of its activity. And yet, how unjust, and how ironic were the charges, •specially uttered in Engli.sh circles, that the Armenian Revolutionary Federation was being directed at the instigation and by the direct support of Russia!
On the contrary, both during the organization of the Gougounian expedition and thereafter, the Tsarist Government intensified its persecutions of the revolutionaries, and especially the Federation. In 1890 there were many cases of imprisonments and exiles. The Fed.eration’s most active leaders, Christopher Mikaelian, Simon Za varian, and Hovsep Arghoutian were exiled to Besa•rabia. The Government damped down on the Armenian revolutionaries in the provinces of Kars and Erivan bordering Turkey. These restrictive measures, however, failed to arrest the progress of the revolution, and on the contrary they only served to provoke enhanced indignation against the inhuman policy of the Tsarist Government.
The Gougounian expedition, as we have seen, was an incident which had not been included in the immediate plan of activity of the Federation’s founders. Their first aim had been to organize, to assemble fighting forces, to popularize the idea of the revolution, and most important of all, to work out a platform and organizational rules, especially in view of the fact that the newly-born party was subject to many severe criticisms in regard to the vagueness of its aims and the form of its organization. The charter convention had adopted the principle of centralization, something which was severely criticized by its opponents.
All these questions were thoroughly thrashed out in the Federation’s first general convention, assembled in 1892 in Tiflis, and attended by representatives of the committees in Russia, Turkey, Persia and Caucasus, and by individual political leaders.
In speaking of this first general convention, as well as the early formative stages of the Federation, we deem it pertinent to quote here .the words of Rosdom, one of the Federation’s most outstanding figures:
“Equipped with bitter experience, and after subjecting the form and the direction of our past activity to a rigorous examination .the members of the convention have mapped out the path along which the Federation has traveled to this date. The Federation’s platform which was developed in that meeting is explicit in that respect. To mention one salient point, the convention was merely consultative, just to exchange views, so to speak, and for that reason all the questions on the agenda were subjected to discussion until agreement was unanimous. Not a single question was subjected to a vote; all were passed unanimously.
In future years this spirit was dominant in the Federation: to .resolve the basic questions unanimously; the ballot had only a secondary meaning. The important thing was mutual understanding and agreement. Consequently, the Federation’s general conventions generally have lasted weeks, and at times months.
The basic questions on the agenda of the first convention were the following:
1. The final formulation of the Federation’s aims.
2. The social demands which should be included in the platform.
3. The organizational form to be adopted.
4. Tactics which should be adopted by the Federation.
Naturally, there could be no difference of opinion in regard to the first and last questions. In the charter convention the Federation’s aim had been explicitly stated, namely: “The political and economic freedom of Turkish Armenia.” It cannot be denied that the idea of independence was an illusion. The only practical thing was the plan which the Armenians had presented to the Congress of Berlin-local autonomy, and broad democratic orders.
Neither could there be any sharp differences in regard to the method of activity. The name revolutionary already had defined that method. It was through the implementation of that method that the Balkan and Italian peoples had been -emancipated. Too, there was 1the precedent of the Russian revolution. The Armenian •revolutionaries broadly utilized that experiment.
The question of social changes elicited a sharp and violent discussion. As we have noted, the charter convention had been attended by men of different .social rank and views. The overwhelming majority were socialists like Christopher Mikaeian and Simon Zavarian, but not a few were those who thought the national issue was enough and that the inclusion of the social question would even be harmful to the defense of the Armenian Cause. The convention finally agreed in principle, to include socialism in the Federation’s platform as a remote aim” to be considered in the future, and as “an immediate aim” to include only the most pressing social and political demands.
The last, the most important, and most heatedly debated question was the form of the organization. The charter convention had adopted the principle of centralization. The experience of two years had proven clearly that this form was not suited to the condition of the Armenians. The Armenian people, in Turkey and Russia, were scattered over a wide area. The same was true of the dispersion: Europe, America, Egypt and elsewhere. Under the political conditions, and the means of communication of the times, it was impossible to direct a sprawling organization of differing political settings from one central point, no matter where it was located.
On the other hand, the principle of centralization did not proceed from Armenia’s past and was alien to the psychology of the Armenian people. The Armenian Church, for example, which was an all-national centuries- old institution, and around which the Armenian people were centered, was based on the principle of decentralization. The Catholicos of All Armenians was preeminently a religio-moral authority; the real religious authority was vested in the people who elected their patriarchs, their prelates, and their administrative bodies. The principle of autonomy and individual initiative was deeply rooted among the Armenians.
And the majority of the General Convention insisted that the Federation should be founded on the same principle. Finally, the convention adopted the system of decentralization. It was as a result of the adoption of this principle that to a large degree, the Federation became an unprecedently popular and powerful organization among the Armenians. The following i>S the platform of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, .as adopted by the first general convention:
It is the aim of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation to bring about by rebellion the political and economic emancipation of Turkish Armenia, as embodied in following demands:
The popular democratic government which shall rule the future free Armenia, and which shall be pledged to serve the common interests of the people, shall of course be founded on the right of free and equal elections, exercised by all adults, without discrimination of race, and to make the defense of .such right really effective, the principle of the suffrage, beginning with the government as far as the smallest province and the local district, shall be extended to the fullest limit.
1. Security of life and labor.
2. Equality of nationalities and creeds before the law.
3. Freedom of speech, press and assembly.
4. Distribution of land to those who have not, and to ensure the cultivator the benefits of the soil.
5. Assessment of taxes on the communal principle-according to the ability of each to pay, as has been practiced by the Armenians for centuries.
6. The abolition of all compulsory and non–compensatory labor, such as the Olam, the Cor, the Begar etc.
7. The abolition of the military tax, substituting instead the system of military service as determined by the demands of the times.
8. To create ways and means for .the intellectual development of the people. Compulsory education.
9. To give impetus to the people’s production, through the introduction of new forms based on the communal principle, and through .the •extension of the means of export.
10. To promote the communal principle among the artisans, by giving impetus to those 6ocial institutions which have sprung up under the local and historical influence of the Armenian soil. To broaden the scope of these institutions, beginning with the ward and the village, as far as the province and then the whole of the government, thus safeguarding the safety of each member of the community against the casual and current adversities of life.
To achieve these aims, .the Armenian Revolutionary Federation proposes the following methods of action which have been included 1n the platform under the heading of “Methods”:
To attain its aims by means of the revolution, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation shall organize revolutionary bands which shall wage an incessant fight against the Government and those general conditions which have afflicted equally the Armenian and the other nationality groups (the Assyrians, the Yezidis, a part of the Kurds, and peaceful Turks). This policy, aside from its general significance, will be capable of, if not actually uniting, at least neutralizing the hostility of the alien elements.
The revolutionary bands shall put into effect the following means of action:
1. To wage an intensive propaganda of the Federation’s principles and aims to win intelligent sympathy for the revolution.
2. To prepare fighting companies and to educate them in the above mentioned ideals and principles.
3. To use every means, by word of mouth or by action, to raise the revolutionary morale of the people.
4. To use every means to arm the people.
5. To organize revolutionary committees (units) and •to establish among them intimate fraternal ties.
6. To .study the country and the people from the revolutionary viewpoint, and to supply material for the Federation’s official organ.
7. To organize financial zone.
8. To fight, and to use the weapon of the terror on corrupt government officers, spies, traitors, grafters, and all sort of oppressors.
9. To defend the peaceful people against the attacks of bandits.
10. To establish roads for the transportation of arms.
11. To wreck and loot government institutions.
Those who are familiar with the emancipatory struggle of the Balkan peoples will notice the striking ~ similarity between this plan of action and those revolutionary methods, for example, of the Greeks, the Serbians and the Bulgarians. After all, every people has resorted to the same means when the oppressor’s yoke became intolerable. They have taken up arms and fought for their freedom. The Federation could not have chosen any other path.
And lastly, there was the matter of organizational form. In this respect, the basic principle included in the platform is highly interesting:
”The Federation is convinced by the bitter experience of the past that in all revolutionary activities there can be no question of rights and demands, but only the question of moral obligation and moral satisfaction. Based on this principle, the Federation’s first general convention has decided to introduce the system of decentralization in its organization, a system which is more in keeping with its social, moral and revolutionary character, and which at least in ~half measure has been operative in the past.
“The committees which function on this principle are integrated with the general convention whose decrees are binding on all, and which alone can introduce any changes i:n the platform.” Starting from this basic principle, the Federation adopted the following organizational form:
1. All committees, whether in the cities or the villages, are completely independent in their internal affairs.
2. A number of provincial committees can unite to form a Rayon (region) which maintains its Central Committee.
3. If the bordering villages of Turkish Armenia have no committees, the authority of the central committees extend beyond their borders.
4. Each member of 1the party is subject to hi •s committee which enjoys collective (but not individual) au1tonomy.
5. Where there are no committees, a member of the Federation acts independently, keeping close ties with the nearest committee.
6. Federation’s committees and members are subject to 1the most stringent comraderial trial.
7. Any member of the committee guilty of misdemeanor or fraud is investigated by the committee, while the committee guilty of such action is tried by the represen1tatives of its •regional committee. In grievous cases, when the immediate committe.es are not authorized to pass a decision, the case is tried by .the general convention.
The connecting link between the independent committees was the Bureau, elected by the general convention. The committees made periodic reports of their activities, or sent important information to the Bureau, which, in its turn, transferred the information to the other committees, and the official organ, “Droshak,” was the candid reflector, the interpreter of the revolutionary life. Its function was to discuss the economic, public, and political issues in accordance with the policy laid down in the Federation’s platform. In 1893 Droshak was transferred to Geneva where it continued to be edited until the end of World War I.
The Bureau also was the trustee of the organization’s finances and all material assets. ”Each committee,” the constitution provided, “after laying aside the necessary •sums for its needs, shall remit all surplus sums 10 the central treasury-the Bureau.” The latter made disbursements to the committees according to their needs, as prescribed by the general convention.
Thus, .in the initial stages, the Federation was an operational union of independent committees, and 1he Bureau was far from being a directing body. The Bureau was a sort of moral .authority, a dispensing center of information and material aid. The actual revolutionary work was carried out by the committees, led by the party platform and the directives of the general convention. Gradually, however, by sheer dint of experience, the Federation assumed definite shape and character. After the Second General Convention in 1898, the organization assumed the following form.
The Federation’s members were divided into companies or bands of the following categories: the active, the auxiliary, and the fighting members. The active companies were busy with the real revolutionary activity, such as organizing, propaganda, and revolutionary ventures. It was the duty of the auxiliary bands to •supply the necessary material assets and means to the active companies. The fighting bands carried out the enterprises.
The union of the bands in the great cities and the provinces constituted a committee, whereas, the union of the provincial committees constituted the Central Committee.
The committee-s were elected by the representatives of committee regions, while the central committees were elected by the delegates of the provincial committees to which they were accountable. The General Convention elected two Bureaus: one called the Eastern, and the other Western Bureau. It also elected the editor of Droshak, the official organ of the party. The Eastern Bureau included the committees of Russia, Persia and Turkish Armenia; the Western Bureau extended •its authority over the remaining regions. The two bureaus watched over the .scrupulous execution of the general conventions’ decisions. Later, after the creation of the Armenian Republic, the system of a single bureau was adopted which became the organization’s supreme executive body.
To avoid reverting to the question of the constitution and by-laws, it should be added here that, when the Tsarist Government, in intensifying its policy of russification, -seized the church estates of Russian Armenians, the Federation extended its activity to Russia. The party’s constitution and platform was revised in the Fourth General Convention of 1907, sustaining substantial changes in the original political and social viewpoints. Pertaining to the Ottoman Empire and Russia, the party adopted the principle of federative association. Turkish Armenia was to be an autonomous unit of the Ottoman Empire, while Transcaucasia, likewise as an autonomous unit, was to enter the Russian federation. In addition, the platform was revised along the principles of •socialism, and the Federation became a member of the Second International.
After W arid War I, with the creation of the Armenian Republic in 1918, in the Ninth General Convention of 1919, the provisions of the party’s platform pertaining to Turkish Armenia and Russia were replaced by the following provisions:
“Armenia shall be a democratic independent republic, uniting the former Russian and Turkish Armenian territories.
“The basic laws of the United, Free, and Independent democratic Republic of Armenia shall be enacted by the Constitutional Assembly of Armenia, elected by universal, equal, direct, and proportionate ballot.”
Then, point by point, were enumerated the conditions on which the democratic republic of Armenia was to be founded:
1. Complete freedom of speech, press, religion, public assembly, worker-s’ unions, and the right to strike.
2. The inviolability of person, home, and the mail.
3. Freedom of moving from place to place, the abolition of passports.
4. The separation of church and state. Religion is strictly a matter of individual conscience .
5. The abolition of class privileges.
6. Complete equality of nationality groups and religious communities.
7. Universal, compulsory and free elementary education at the expense of the State. The secularization of the schools. The use of the mother tongue as the medium of teaching.
8. Free trial.
9. Broad local autonomy for communal organs.
10. Direct legislation, initiative and referendum, and popular elections.
It was on these principles that the Independent Republic of Armenia was founded, and it is for the preservation of the same principles that the Federation fights to this day.
This section of the Federation’s platform, with all the details, is unchanged to this day, and generally speaking, it corresponds with the wishes and the aspirations of the majority of the Armenian people. Starting from plain reforms, and going through the stages of autonomy and federative association, the political thinking of the Armenians, thanks to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, quite logically has arrived at the idea of independence both as an ideal and as a political necessity. Today the idea of a United, Free, and Independent Armenia is the demand of all freedom-loving Armenians throughout the world.
From the Ottoman Bank to Sassoun
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s activity in its broad lines may be divided into the following four periods:
1. The struggle for the liberation of Turkish Armenia, from 1890, the date of is founding, to 1903 when Russian Armenia also was included in the compass of the organ1zatwn s activity.
2. The fight for national emancipation against bath Turkish and Russian tyrannies which lasted until 1918, the end of World War I, culminating in the founding of the Independent Republic of Armenia. (During this period, 1908-1910, the Federation also extended its activity to Persia. However, this activity did not pursue strictly Armenian national aims but was merely designed to assist the Persian liberals in their effort to overthrow the reactionary regime.)
3. The period of Armenia’s independence -1918-1921.
4. The fight for the restoration of Armenia’s independence and the unification of Turkish and Russian Armenian faction namely, a United and Independent Armenia.
The Federation’s activity of the first period naturally was centered on the expansion and the strengtheni.ng of .the party, the mobilization of the revolutionary force and the assembly of arms and ammunition supplies, and the establishment of safe roads and bases leading to Turkish Armenia. With this aim, agents were sent in .all parts of the country, and in a few years .the organization won widespread popularity. The rank and file of the Armenians were generous in their support of the cause, both materially and morally. Numerous intellectuals and warriors enlisted in the ranks of the Federation. Revolutionary committees were organized in Caucasus, Pers1a and Turkish Armenia. Arms and ammunition supply carriers were founded in bordering ba-3es, including an arsenal in Tabriz. There was an unusual hustle and bustle everywhere. By degrees the revolution infected large segments of the masses and assumed national character. From the ranks of the people emerged numerous idealistic figures who led the revolutionary movement. In the initial years the Federation was chiefly busy with the work of propaganda and organization, hastening meanwhile arms and fighting volunteer bands to Turkey for the people’s self-defense. These bands had frequent encounters with Kurdish Ashirets (tribes), government troop~, and the gendarmerie, the echo of which further aroused the people’s indignation against the Sultan’s cruel administration. The men who fell in these encounters were crowned by the people with a martyr’s halo, while the visitors and the brave were made heroes and the object of popular wor6hip. Arabo, Houno, Chato, Shero, Bedo, Sako, Nigol Duman, Vazgen, Kevork Chavoush, Aghbiur Serop, Andranik, Mourad, Hrayr and many heroes seasoned in fire have become .the object of the young people’s adulation with their legendary feats.
It is impossible to give a full picture of this period in these limited pages, and consequently we shall content ourselves with citing only a few characteristic episodes which are typical of .these feats.
By the middle of the 90’s the Federation felt strong enough to tackle the Sultan’s government, a11d the occasion was not late in coming. In May of 1895 a plan of Armenian reforms was introduced by signatories of the Treaty of Berlin. The Sultan realized, however, that European diplomacy was divided, the Russian and German governments were openly opposed to the plan of reforms, meanwhile secretly encouraging the Sultan. From May to September the Sultan hoodwinked the Powers with false promises, while during the months of October and November, by orders from the center, massacres were launched in towns and cities with Armenian populations. Hundreds of thousands of Armen1ans were murdered by .the Turkish rabble, assisted by Turkish regulars and the gendarmerie. Aside from the human losses the Armenians sustained incalculable material losses. Only such places where the Federation maintained armed bands were freed from the ravages of the mob. These massacres which, with brief interruptions, were kept up until 1896, shocked the civilized world, provoking a storm of indignation on every hand. However, aside from some feeble notes of protest addressed to the Sultan, European diplomacy did not lift a finger to help the Armenians.
The Armenian indignation was boundless, as much against the Turkish Government as it was against the big powers. In the Federation, the idea gradually took root that it was necessary to strike at European interests in Turkey 1n order to force them to intervene and force the Sultan to carry out the demanded reforms. The seizure of the Ottoman Bank in Istanbul was the product of this mentality.
The Ottoman Bank was an imperial institution; however, all its stock holders were European capitalists, chiefly the French and the English. The directors and the officers were all Europeans. To attack ~this institution meant to ~harm the French .and the British, and at the same time to discredit the already discredited administration of the Sultan, thus forcing Europe’s intervention. The general conviction was that the interventions would be succeeded by reforms. With this idea, the Federation decided to seize the Ottoman Bank and force the powers to hasten the execution of the May reforms. Armed with bombs and grenades, the revolutionaries were to seize the bank and stay there until the powers guaranteed the demanded reforms. In the contrary event, they were to blow up the building, sacrificing their lives.
The date of the seizure was set for August 14, at noon. The preceding night, •relates one of the leaders of the venture, “fifteen of us were assembled around a modest table. By next evening, ten of us might not be alive, or, if we were successful as we hoped, within 24 hours Istanbul would be occupied by European troops and the Armenian Question would be solved. Was it not true that, in May of the same year, the ambassadors of the European powers had warned the Sultan that on the first occasion of trouble in. Istanbul, their 12 warships would land troops and restore the order? That was the precise reason why we decided to seize the bank. We wanted to force the ambassadors to carry out their promise.”
The next day, at noon, 26 Dashnak youths, armed with revolvers, bombs and grenades, and led by Papken Siuni, Armen Garo, and Hrach Tiryakian, entered the bank, and after a slight clash with the guards, a stray ball fired by one of them exploded one of the bombs, taking the life of Papken Siuni who was the spirit of the venture. There was an indescribable confus1on inside and outside the bank. Armen Garo, who had taken charge after Siuni’s death, quieted the frightened officers of the bank, assuring them that the funds of the bank would be safe, then stationed the men under his command in their positions, in preparation of the attack from outside. The Turkish soldiers were incessantly firing on the building on all sides, while the insider-s retaliated with their revolvers and bombs. Meanwhile, the ambassadors of the big powers were already in receipt of the Istanbul ARF Central Committee’s written declaration, demanding the immediate execution of the reforms. These were:
1. The appointment of a European High Commissioner for Armenia, elected by the Powers.
2. The Valis, the Mutesarifs, and the Kaymakams (governors of the provinces and the mayors) to be appointed by the High Commissioner, and to be confirmed by the Sultan.
3. The creation of a militia and a gendarmerie consisting of local nationals, under the command of European officers.
4. Judicial reforms.
5. Complete freedom of religion, education; and press.
6. Three fifths of the country’s revenue to be allotted to local needs.
The news of the bank’s seizure had stunned Sultan Abdul Hamid who instantly ordered the bank cleared of the revolutionaries at all co.st, using the artillery if necessary; however, just at that moment Maximov, the Dragoman of the Russian Embassy appeared, and in the name of all the ambassadors, threatened to bombard the Sultan’s palace from their warships, should any one of the Europeans in the Bank be harmed. The Sultan backed down, and from that moment the ambassadors took charge of the situation.
By the time the Sultan’s order to stop the attack reached the soldiers, there had been a number of furious clashes between them and the revolutionaries, the latter always succeeding in repelling the attackers. The fusilade of the guns and the bursting bomb-s were rocking the heart of the Capital. At the same time bloody clashes were taking place between the troops and the revolutionaries in various parts of Istanbul, especially in the suburb of Samatia. The Turkish rabble in its turn, led by the fanatical softas (priests or theological students) was trying to recapture the Bank, but terrified by the bursting ‘ bombs, broke up and fled to wreak its vengeance on the peaceful Armenians of the city. This was kept up until one o’clock in the night, when the negotiators of the ambassadors and the Sultan, led by Maximov, arrived on the scene, holding the white flag of truce. The negotiations lasted two and a half hours. The following were the terms of the revolutionaries:
1. Immediate cessation of the massacre of the Armenians by the Mohammedan rabble.
2. Immediate cessation of .the attacks on the bank.
3. Written guarantees for the •execution of the reforms.
4. The release of the arrested revolutionaries threatened to blow up the bank, including all the inmates.
Finally, speaking in behalf of all the ambassadors, Maximov promised that if the revolutionaries left the bank by morning, they would be taken aboard a ship, and would receive •the written guarantee of the big powers, signed by the ambassadors, that the •reforms would be carried out within six months. He swore on his honor that there would be no more massacres in Istanbul. He promised to take care of the wounded revolutionaries, and after their recovery to send them abroad. He guaranteed the free and unmolested exit of the revolutionaries from Istanbul.
No matter how doubtful Maximov’.s promises might have been, after the fight of twelve hours on the other hand, the position of the men who had seized the Bank was far from being enviable. They had had nine casualties in killed and wounded, and their supply of ammunition was very low. They could blow up a part of the building with the remaining bombs and cause much harm to the powers in human lives and material assets. But should this happen, they would be responsible for the European indignation which was sure to follow for the killing of the innocent employees of the Bank. Finally they accepted the terms of Maximov, and after holding the Imperial Ottoman Bank under their control for 14 hours, the remaining 17 revolutionaries, armed with revolvers and bombs, and escorted by representatives of the ambassadors, were transferred to an English yacht, and from there to the French ship Gironde which took them to Marseilles.
With the exception of the wounded revolutionaries who, after their treatment at the Russian hospital were safely transferred abroad, none of the promises of Maximov were honored. After 17 days of confinement to prison in Marseilles, the leaders Armen Garo and Hrach were sent to Switzerland under police escort, while the remaining 15, instead of being sent to New York as they had been promised, were hustled off to Argentina, and from there they returned to the homeland to resume their revolutionary activity in the Federation’s ranks.
T •he seizure of the Ottoman Bank found a wide echo in the European press, provoking a wave of indignation and protest ag.ain.st the Sultan’s barbarous administration. Public opinion was particularly impressed by the revolutionaries’ chivalrous treatment of the bank employees, and the fact that not a cent of the bank’s money had been touched. “A handful of braves,” wrote the Doctor of Gironde to the newspaper Etoile Belge of Brussels, “in broad daylight, and with a spirit of complete .self-effacement, seized the greatest Ottoman institution in the heart of the capital. T •hey remained there for 18 hours without touching a cent of the bank’s money, and finally they left the bank with the greatest of dignity and honor. And those heroes, those apostles, were with us on the ship for six days. We had opportunity to get acquainted with them and to appreciate their ~ spirit of devotion. Naval officers and other functionaries, all of us were fascinated by them, respected and loved them.”
Under the pressure of public opinion, European diplomacy once again busied itself with Turkey and the Armenian Question. Gladstone tried hard to force Europe to intervene in behalf of the Armenians. In his speech of September 21, 1896, which was to prove his swan song, in no uncertain terms he excoriated the bloody regime of the Red Sultan and the Pilate-like policy of European diplomacy. “Hundreds of thousands of murdered Armenians,” he said, “and yet not one guarantee that .similar atrocities shall not be repeated. Incalculable gains, won by the assassins, and all this as •the result of the European concert, namely, the mutual contempt and hatreds of the big powers!” The conscience of civilized mankind must revolt against this intolerable crime, cried Glad •Stone. Europe must sever •her relations with the Red Sultan and must take swift and effective steps to help the Armenians.
Official Europe, however, had no ears for such calls. Only Russia seemed inclined for a moment to take effective steps. Lobanov, the Tsar’s infamous minister who had been dreaming to see “an Armenia without Armenians,” by a curious coincidence, upon receipt of the news of the •seizure of the Ottoman Bank on his way back from Vienna had died of a heart stroke in his ‘ coach. Nelidov, the Russian Ambassador to Istanbul, with the approval of the French Ambassador Cambon, immediately after the Bank incident, had written to the Government in St. Petersburg that anarchy is rampant in Turkey, and that, in all probability, the revolutionaries will again strike. Taking advantage of the anarchy, England might seize the Straits. To forestall such a probability, Nelidov advised that Russia assume the initiative of intervening in Turkish affairs.
Nelidov’s suggestion found a warm welcome in St. Petersburg. The Tsar instantly ordered .the naval forces of the Black Sea to prepare for action. At the same time there were troops concentrations in Crimea, to land in Asia Minor if necessary. This movement soon fizzled out, however, chiefly because England did not seem inclined to create new complications around Turkey.
For the Armenians, the seizure of the Ottoman Bank was, and ever remained the symbol of national protest and the elemental outburst of accumulated indignation and revenge. It also further confirmed the conviction that only through striking at European interests could they force the big powers to bear pressure on the Sultan in behalf of the Armenian Cause.
The next .signal venture which the Federation organized was the Expedition of Khanasor. In the summer of 1896, the Turkish Government tried to stage a massacre of the Armenians of Van who had been spared the general massacres of the preceding year. Having made huge troop concentrations in Van and the provincial centers, and after having incited the fanaticism of the Moslem rabble, on June 3 the Government started to carry out its plan. There were searches and arrests, while the Moslem rabble started to loot and kill •the Armenians. However, this time they were met with a stiff resistance. The three Armenian parties, the Federation, the Hunchaks and the Armenakans, led by Bedo, Mardik, and Avedisian, came forward with their armed bands to defend the people. For five days there were bloody encounters between the two sides. Unable to subdue the Armenians, the Government appealed to the European consuls for help, and through the British Consul demanded the unconditional surrender of the Armenians and the delivery of 15 revolutionary ringleaders.
The Armenians rejected the Government’s demands, .and in their turn, demanded guarantees of safety. On June 8, at the orders of the Government, the soldiers began to shell the Armenian section of the city with artillery. The Armenians resisted fiercely all day, but seeing the Turks might do much damage, during the night the revolutionary bands withdrew from the city, delivering the Armenians to the care of the consuls. The retiring bands were accompanied by several hundred unarmed citizens. On the way to Persia the company were waylaid by Turkish troops and the Kurdish tribe called Mazrik, and the greater part were massacred.
This disaster, especially the martyrdom of Bedo, Mardik, and Avedisian who were worshipped by the Armenian people, left a profound impression on the Armenians. Indignation was great especially against the Mazrik tribe who were noted for their inveterate enmity to the Armenians and the revolutionaries. Sharaf Beg, the chief of the Mazriks, was the Sultan’s loyal dog, and after the mass-acre of the Armenians, had been rewarded by the Sultan with medals and financial gifts.
It was not the Mazriks alone who were the enemies of the revolutionaries. The greater part of the Kurdish tribes shared the same sentiments. The Kurds hung heavily on the neck of the Armenians. On numerous occasions the Federation had tried to win their friendship and cooperation, but always in vain. Totally devoid of a sense of nationality, and respecters of force alone, these Kurds had to be brought to their senses, the Federation decided to organize an expedition which ics known atS the Expedition of Khanasor.
In the spring and summer of 1897, hundreds of volunteer fighters from all direction wended their way to the Province of Salmast in Persia, the center of the expedition. Here were assembled Nigol Duman, Vardan, Ishkhan Arghoutian, Sako, Yeprem, Dr. Christopher Ohanian, and many noted volunteer leaders. By the end of July the company was ready, 300 in all, infantry and mounted troops. All were armed with modern rifles, and a supply of 250-300 cartridges each. Each soldier carried with him eight-day supply of food, first aid material, and other necessaries. The company was accompanied by two priests, a physician a•nd nurses. The force was divided into companies of hundreds, fifties, and ten£. Its banner carried the inscription: “Everywhere death is the same.” The noted revolutionary leader Vardan Mehrabian was appointed Commander- in-chief, and Ishkhan Arghoutian •his assistant.
On July 20, in the evening, after the holy mass, the company lined up to partake of Holy Communion. The priest administered the communion. This scene is touchingly related by Hans Fischer who was present at the ceremony, and published in Zukunft, the well-known German weekly periodical
“After the communion,” the narrator relates, ((the priest mounted his horse and held high the Federation’s Cross so all could see. All faces slit one at sight of the cross. The tip of the cross had the shape of a spear, one arm had the shape of a hammer, and the other, a spade.
“On the right and left there flashed two rays, one in the shape of a dagger, and the other, a rifle. In the center was a shield on which was inscribed ‘Treaty of Berlin, Article 61.’ It was a most touching scene. The shining cross in the raised hand of the armed, mounted priest, was burning under the rays of the setting sun.
“Then the priest, mounted on his horse, delivered a fiery speech: ‘Look to the West,’ he said, ‘You will see there desecrated shrines and churches. You see brothers and sisters forcibly Islamized. They see you, and hear the clang of your arms. There are the ruined cities and the deflowered virgins, looking to you with shamed eyes. Your ruined fatherland, too, is looking to you, and is •hailing you with hope and with •new zeal for the future. You are standing there where the bones of your martyred brothers are buried, our heroes of the past. Your subdued brothers of today, and the future generations are looking to you to justify their hopes. By the Grace of God, and thanks to your valor, I am .sure you will be victorious. Here shines the Federation’s cross, under the rays of the setting sun. Here wave the flags, the arms .shine, and your souls are burning, 0 heroes of the fatherland.’
”After this, the company began to chant the psalm which Vardan Mamikonian, and Ghevont Yeretz in the Fifth Century were wont to sing whenever they marched against the Persians:
‘Plead my cause, 0 Lord
With them that •Strive with me;
Fight against them that fight against me.
Take hold of shield and buckler,
And stand up for mine help.
Draw out also the spear,
And stop the way against them that
Say unto my soul,
I am thy salvation.’
“The sun had set. The priest, holding the flag and the cross in hi .s hand, moved to the front of the company, and the army was off, the infantry leading the way, while the cavalry covered the rear.”
The company mounted the peak of the Araoul Mountain which towered over the Valley of Khanasor where the Mazrik tribe was encamped with hundreds of tents. On July 25, at dawn, the bands in regular order, attacked the Mazriks who, shocked by the surprise, were paralyzed into panic. A part of the menfolk were massacred outright, while others took to flight, taking the women and children with them. The chief of the tribe, Sharaf Beg, ran away in hi .s night clothes, while the revolutionaries seized his military uniform, his arms, and his medals from the Sultan. All the tents were burnt down. The Mazrik tribe was sitting on ashes.
The neighboring Kurdish tribes and Turkish regula.rs hastened to the rescue of the Mazriks, precipitating a hot battle which lasted until evening. The Armenian losses in these fights were 19 killed and 8 wounded, however, the enemy’s loss was incomparably greater. Having successfully accomplished their mission, the Armenian expeditionary force returned to Persia that night along the same route it had traveled.
The Expedition of Khanasor, widely echoed by the European press, provoked considerable sympathy for the Armenian cause, nevertheless, from the political viewpoint, its result was nil. Notwithstanding it, its results proved highly beneficent for Armeno- Kurdish relations. The Kurd, who was accustomed to bow only before brute force, began to respect the revolutionaries now, and a number of tribes even concluded friendship pacts with the Federation and rendered valuable services to the revolutionaries.
The psychological effect of the venture was, however, far greater. The Armenians were greatly impressed by the success of the expedition, and even the enemies of the revolution were enthusiastic over the feat of the revolutionaries, •so much so, July 25 is observed to this day as the anniversary of Khanasor.
By this time the revolution’s prestige was greatly enhanced in the eyes of the people. Certain Kurdish tribes had aligned themselves with the Federation. Cooperation was established with the Macedonian revolutionaries. Meanwhile, there was a commensurate increase of the enemies’ fear of the revolutionaries whose avenging arm dealt swift and ruthless punishment to the criminals. There were frequent clashes between the revolutionary bands and government troops or the police. The echoes of these encounters reached Europe, disturbing the civilized world, and even becoming the object of parliamentary interpellations. A similar instance was the interpellation in the French Parliament in 1896, in which the noted socialist Jean J au res delivered a fiery speech in behalf of the Armenian Question.
The Armenian revolution had outstepped its national sphere by this time, and had become the object of active international concern. Notwithstanding it, the powers persisted in maintaining a reserved att1tude. The Russian and French diplomacy in particular was opposed to any changes in the Turkish status, France dictated by the concern for her private interests, and Russia, by her fear of English or German advance in the Near East.
Under the circumstances, the Armenian Question became the victim of European apathy. It was necessary, .therefore, to change this attitude, to agitate the public opinion, and to force the powers to intervene in behalf of the Armenian cause.
The Federation’s Second General Convention, held in 1898, considered this question, and accordingly, decided to increase its political activity in Europe. This task was turned over to Christopher Mikaelian, the Federation’s able.st and most authoritative figure, who would also assume the editorship of Droshag, the Federation’s official organ. Christopher immediately proceeded to Europe to begin his work. The first .step was to send a delegation to the Hague Conference.
The Conference, however, rejected the appeal of the Armenian Delegation, objecting that similar questions were irrelevant to its agenda. Simultaneously, mass rallies were held in various countries, urging the Conference to take action on the Armenian Question.
Christopher organized Armenophile committees in the principal centers of Europe, to carry on the propaganda, enlisting the cooperation of such famous figures as Anatole France, Jean Jaures, August Bebel, James Bryce, Emil Vandervelde, Edward Bernstein, George Brandes, and many others, who pressed the question with their lectures, the press, and their speeches in the parliaments. In October, 1900, a biweekly periodical named “Pro Armenia” was started in Paris, unnder the editorship of the well-known journalist Pierr•Quillard. The editorial board included such celebrities as Anatole France, Jean Jaures, Clemenceau, Pressanse, De Roberti, Ferry, and Vandervelde. Pro Armenia was dedicated to the Armenian Cause, publishing detailed reports of conditions in Armenia and Armenian movements, thus rendering an invaluable service to the propaganda cause.
The first is-sue of Pro Armenia carried a powerful editorial by Pierre Quillard which portrayed the intolerable condition of Armenia, the Sultan’s personal responsibility for these conditions, and the duty of the big powers to put an end to the Sultan’s “bloody orgies.” The article ended with the following tradition taken from Armenian history:
“King Drtad (Tiridates) had hoisted Gregory the Illuminator on a high wall, his hands and feet tied, his mouth clamped with a halter, and his waist swathed with salt. In this condition, Gregory remained alive for seven days. Drtad then had him hung head down, ordered a fire built under his head, and his body flayed. Again Gregory survived seven days. And now Drtad had his feet crushed in wooden jackets. Gregory again remained alive. Then they stretched him on the ground, under the sun, his face to the sky, and they clamped his head in a carpenter’s vice. In this position they crammed his mouth with salt, caustic soda and vinegar, swathed his head with sacks full of hot ashes, scratched his belly with iron spikes, and poured molten lead on his body. And yet Gregory survived the tortures.
“This is a true picture of Armenia which, after centuries of torture, is still alive today. Men who consider themselves civilized can ill afford to permit the disappearance of the Armenians from the face of the earth and thus become accomplices of Sultan Abdul Hamid and the European Powers.”
The Federation’s political activity in Europe steadily gained ground as a •result of this propaganda effort. The public opinion of all countries was aroused against the Sultan’s regime and European diplomacy. Catried away by their mutual rivalries and their private interests, however, the big powers let the “Great Assassin” alone, to carry out his policy of annihilation. In the face of an indignant world opinion, realizing massacres were out of the question, the Sultan now resorted to peaceful means of disintegrating the Armenians, .such as heavy taxes, seizure of the Armenian peasants’ lands, the exploitations of the Hamidieh bandit bands, deportations by administrative measures, and artificial famine. “Death by starvation is worse than death by the sword,” wrote the British agent, Major Williams, in regard to the condition of Armenia in 1898. “The press is full of terrible news from Armenia the people are at the end of their .rope, and yet there is no sign of any hope anywhere.”
Under the circumstances, there was nothing left for the Armenians to do except to carry on the relentless fight against the Sultan’s cursed tyranny. And presently, beginning with the late 90’s, •there was a fresh intensification of volunteer raids and terroristic acts against all types of criminal offenders. There was a succession of bloody clashes between the Armenian revolutionaries on the one hand, and the Turkish regulars and the Kurdish •rabble on the other. The big fight of Khasdour, October 26, 1899, in which the Armenians, with only 15 casualties, took a toll of 400 enemy troops, nine Sheiks, and nearly fifteen noted Kurdish Begs, is a good example of the mood of the Armenian revolutionaries.
The liquidation of Khalil Agha, a man who was noted for his countless atrocities on the Armenians of Moush, in the fall of 1899, by the hand of Andranik’s terrorists was another of these settlements. It was this Khalil who had killed the noted Armenian revolutionary leader Serop Aghbiur.
Another notable fight was the encounter at the Monastery of Arakelotz of Moush in the fall of 1901. Approximately 60 Armenian braves, under the command of Andranik and Kevork Chavoush, defending the walls of the monastery, held off the Turkish regulars and Kurdish bandits for twenty-one days, and with only four casualties, finally pierced the besiegers’ chain and disappeared in the mountains.
And finally, there is the great battle of Sassoun, in 1904, under the general command of Andranik. The Turkish Government had concentrated a force of 15 000 consisting of regulars and Kurdish Hamidieh’s against Sassoun, a region inhabited since centuries by brave mountaineers, and which at the time was one of the revolutionary hotbeds. Here were assembled famous revolutionary captains: Andranik, Kevork Chavoush, Hrayr, Vahan, Mourad, Keri, Hadji of Kodo, Sebouh, Magar, Isso and many others. On April 2, the Turkish artillery opened fire on the mountains of Sassoun, followed by a mass attack of the Turkish battalions and the Kurdish rabble numbering in thousands. The Armenians resisted fiercely and the bloody battle continued for three weeks. Finally Sassoun was conquered but the fights were continued in the plain of Moush. Among those who fell in these battles were Hrayr and the Federation’s representative Vahan Manuelian. Andranik with his warriors took refuge in the Island of Aghtamar on Lake Van, and from here, cutting his way through the besiegers, crossed over to Van, and from there, via Persia and Caucasus, he escaped abroad.
The fights of Sassoun profoundly disturbed the Armenians of the Caucasus who immediately set to work to organize fresh revolutionary bands to hasten to the aid of Sassoun, but these never were destined to reach their destination. The Russian Government, with the cooperation of the Turks, took grim measures against them. It is impossible to imagine a more cruel and barbarian behavior than what took place now on the entire length of the Russo-Turkish border. Christian Russian soldiers, fraternizing with the Turkish troops, brutally murdered the Armenian youths who were hastening to the aid of their kinsmen, and who had vowed never to raise arms against the Russians.
Here was a company of 61, led by Torkom, a former officer of the Russian army, which on June 2 set out from Olti, headed for Sassoun. The company scarcely had crossed the border when it was suddenly attacked by the Russian patrols. At the same time the Turks on the other side of the border closed in on the Armenians. The Armenians resisted the Turks fiercely, meanwhile telling the Russians that they had no quarrel with them and that they were going to the aid of their brothers in Turkey. The Russians, however, kept firing on the Armenians. The latter displayed the white flag, indicating that they were ready to surrender, still the Russians paid no heed to it and kept firing at them.
Until then, the Federation had maintained a policy of loyalty to the Russians, concentrating its efforts against the Turkish despotism. The revolutionary bands had strict orders never to fight the Russians. The fight of Torkom against the combined Turkish and Russian forces lasted from morning till evening. Twenty-seven Armenian volunteers were killed by Russian bullets, including Torkom, the commander, Vorsort, and Father Ghazar, the company chaplain. Six were wounded, and fourteen surrendered to the Russians. In revenge, three months later, the Armenian revolutionaries liquidated Colonel Bikof, the Russian commander who had massacred the volunteers.
On July 11-12, the Armenian volunteer bands Masis and Artavast, consisting of 60 and 40 warriors respectively, crossed the Turkish border via Erivan with the intention of hastening to the aid of Sassoun. When they reached the proximity of Mosun and Zor villages they had an encounter with Turkish troops. They engaged the enemy until night and withdrew to the slopes of Ararat. Here, while resting, they were suddenly attacked by Russian troops. Having been instructed by the party to avoid clashes with the Russians, the volunteers did not reply to the Russian fire. They raised the white flag of surrender, still the Russians under the command of three officers, kept up their fire. Six volunteers were killed, a part of the company were taken prisoners, while the remainder scattered.
There were other similar clashes. The Armenians of Turkey were bleeding white. There were pitious cries from Sassoun, imploring aid, and yet the Christian Russian soldiers, hand in hand with the Turks, were brutally massacring the very men who were hastening to ~the aid of their brothers. One can scarcely imagine the dreadful effect of this barbarism on the Armenians. There was no limit to Armenian indignation when they received the news of Sassoun’s defeat and the Turkish atrocities.
What was the attitude of Europe on which the Armenians •had laid such hopes, while these things were happening? The Armenians were hoping that this time, at least the signatories of the Berlin Treaty would force the Turk to introduce the necessary reforms, but again they were doomed to disappointment. It is true that public opinion in Europe condemned the Sultan’s barbarisms. There were impressive protest demonstrations in all important centers in behalf of the Armenian Cause, fiery speeches were delivered, resolutions were passed, demanding immediate intervention, and in the French parliament the Government was subjected to vigorous interpretations. Once again Jaures, with his characteristic eloquence, castigated the criminal apathy of the powers in regard to the Armenians. Similar interpellations and fiery speeches were also delivered in the Austrian, English, German, and Italian parliaments. Conferences were held in defense of the Armenians, with the participation of such world-renowned figures as Jean Jaures, Elize Reclue, Pressanse, Madame de Severine, Victor Berard, Anatole Franee, Clemenceau, James Bryce etc. The European press was boiling with the Armenian Question, and yet official Europe, true to character, continued its traditional policy, and contented itself with consular investigations on the spot, and with platonic advices to the Sultan. Russia had special reasons now for not being concerned with the Armenian Question. On the one hand, she was entirely engrossed with the war with Japan, and on the other hand .she had a fight on her hands in Caucasus as a result of her seizure of the Armenian church estates. The seizure of the church estates was a turning point in Armeno-Russian relations, and generally in the future activities of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.