Wednesday, July 10, 2013

End of the Republic of Mountainous Armenia - July 10, 1921

Historical circumstances have created the existence of two independent Armenian republics, one fully recognized (Armenia) and the other unrecognized (Mountainous Karabagh), since 1991. However, there was another time in the past century when two Armenian republics coexisted, although under completely different circumstances.

The first Republic of Armenia existed from May 28, 1918 to December 2, 1920. The southern part of the Republic, the territory of Zangezur or Siunik, confronted the assault of Turkish, Azerbaijani, and Soviet Russian forces at one time or another during the two years, under the leadership of Garegin Nezhdeh. The area remained unoccupied after the establishment of the Soviet regime in Armenia.

The anti-popular measures exerted by the Revolutionary Committee that had seized power in late 1920 triggered a revolt, and the Bolshevik regime was temporarily ousted on February 18, 1921. Armenia briefly restored its independence under the authority of the Committee for the Salvation of the Fatherland (C.S.F.), led by the A.R.F.

In mid-February, the forces of Autonomous Siunik occupied the area of Vayots Dzor, which constituted the nexus of the region with the rest of the country. The Armenian resistance lasted until April 2, when some 12,000 refugees, including 4,000 members of the military, left Yerevan before the occupation by the Red Army. Vayots Dzor became the door to enter Siunik and be free of Communist persecution. On April 26, 1921, the second congress of Zangezur proclaimed the Republic of Mountainous Armenia, with Nezhdeh as prime minister. Resistance was aimed at ensuring the escape of the refugees from Communist rule towards Persia and maintaining the region within the borders of Soviet Armenia.

Meanwhile, the internal crisis in Soviet Armenia continued, and to solve it, Moscow sent an influential and well-regarded Bolshevik, Alexander Miasnikian (1886-1925). His take was that the errors committed by the Revolutionary Committee should be rectified at once. On May 18 he was designated President of the Soviet of Commissars (Ministers) and War commissar. Negotiations between Soviet Armenia and Mountainous Armenia started, with Nezhdeh’s number one condition being: “Zangezur must be totally part of Armenia.”

Datev Monastery, located in the heart of Zangezur.

As the Soviet Armenian government could not guarantee the achievement of that condition, the negotiations failed, and hostilities began again. The morale of the Armenians of Siunik was lowered by the stance of the refugees, many of which, rather than fighting, were just interested in fleeing to Iran as soon as possible.

The Soviet Armenian government finally received a positive answer from Moscow and declared that Zangezur would be part of the Soviet Armenian republic. The main towns of Siunik fell one after the other between June 22 and July 5. Nezhdeh conceded defeat and crossed into Iran on July 10.

In hindsight, there is no doubt that the heroic resistance of the short-lived Republic of Mountainous Armenia had not only ensured the physical safety of its population against the Azerbaijani advance, but also of thousands of politicians, intellectuals, military, and others from the Bolshevik persecution. Above all, Zangezur was kept in Armenia, and the Turko-Azerbaijani project of a geographic union failed. The fate of the two other contested areas, Karabagh and Nakhichevan, during the decades of existence of the Soviet Union, and the strategic position that Zangezur maintains today in the geopolitical map of the area are proof that the Armenian sacrifice, this time, was not in vain.