|A New York Times article headline from March 17, 1921|
The transference of government and loss of independence had been the choice between the lesser of two evils. On the west, Armenia had been defeated by the Turkish nationalist forces that responded to Mustafa Kemal, which had occupied Alexandropol, and the danger of a new massacre that would complete the genocide loomed over the country. It was expected that the new government, while dealing with the Turks with the sponsorship of Soviet Russia, would also address the myriad of problems that affected the exhausted population.
This did not happen. The newcomers, instead, caught in the fever of revolution and war communism, tried to apply to Armenia the same recipes that were being practiced in Soviet Russia. Food was requisitioned from the starving population to be sent to Russia as “help from the Armenian workers.” Repression against the former government and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation started. In late December about 1,200 high-ranking officers of the army of independent Armenia were arrested, including the heroes of the May 1918 battles, like generals Tovmas Nazarbekian, Movses Silikian, Daniel Bek-Pirumian, and Dro. They were forced to walk from Yerevan to Alaverdi (about 100 miles), and then dispatched to prisons in Baku and Russia; Daniel Bek-Pirumian, hero of the battle of Sardarabad, was shot in the Yerevan prison in February 1921.
Economic suffering and political violence led to the brewing of a popular movement to put an end to the situation. In February 1921 many prominent A.R.F. members, who had also been active in the years of the Republic, like Levon Shant, Nikol Aghbalian, and Hovhannes Kajaznuni, were arrested. Some of them were killed in prison by Azeri killers armed with axes. Others were saved by the rebellion, which started on February 13 amid a group of refugees from Sasun who had settled on the foot of Mount Aragatz. In the next four days, the rebel forces, now headed by members of the A.R.F. who had eluded persecution, took Ashtarak, Echmiadzin, Garni, and Hrazdan. Yerevan was liberated on February 18 and the Bolshevik-led Military Revolutionary Committee retreated. The rebellion had been helped by the fact that the troops of the XI Red Army had been taken out of Armenia to participate in the sovietization of Georgia.
On February 18 the independence of Armenia was again proclaimed and the “Committee for the Salvation of the Homeland” took power under the leadership of the last prime minister of the independent Republic, Simon Vratzian. It issued an order that stated: “The Bolshevik regime in Armenia has been eliminated. Until the formation of a government, the whole authority is in the hands of the Committee for the Salvation of the Homeland.” A message to the delegation of the Republic of Armenia and to the leaders of the world powers, sent on the same day, remained unanswered. A response to a message sent to Georgia was received on February 21, when the Armenian embassy was reopened in Tiflis. However, four days later Georgia fell to the Soviet forces, and the rebellion in Armenia was left alone against the Communist forces. There was no help from the outside world, because it was obvious that the rebellion would fail sooner or later; the Soviet forces in Armenia had the support of Soviet Russia.
Bloody battles took place between the opposing sides during the short-lived period of freedom. The Bolsheviks attacked Yerevan on February 27, but were forced to retreat on March 1. After a two-week stop, they attacked again and briefly took Ashtarak, but were repelled on March 17. However, the numerical superiority of the Bolsheviks became crucial. Their great offensive started on March 24 and nine days later, on April 2, Yerevan fell.
The A.R.F. forces retreated without opposing serious resistance to avoid the destruction of the capital. Thousands of people, both civilians and soldiers, retreated to Zangezur, where the Republic of Mountainous Armenia had been formed, and joined the forces of Garegin Nzhdeh. The resistance ended in July, while the refugees and the leaders of the rebellion had already crossed the border to Persia.
The reasons of the revolt were later discussed by the Bolshevik authorities in Russia and the Military-Revolutionary Committee was replaced in April 1921 by the Council of People’s Commissars, led by Alexander Miasnikian until his death in 1925, whose policies ensured a more tolerant treatment of the population, the end of the rebellion, and the partial return of some of the refugees from Persia.