He was born Nikoghayos Ter-Hovhannisian in the village of Kishlak (nowadays Tzaghkashat) of the district of Askeran (Mountainous Gharabagh). His father, a priest, sent him to the Diocesan School of Shushi in 1876, from where he graduated in 1887. For the next four years, after a short stint at the Ecclesiastical Council of Shushi, he worked as a teacher at the Armenian schools of the Northern Caucasus.
The revolutionary movement had started among the Armenians of the Caucasus with the foundation of the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (Geneva, 1887) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Tiflis, 1890). Education was the way to sow the seeds of the future and to attract the sympathy of the people. In 1891 Ter-Hovhannisian’s former schoolmate Hovnan Davtian was appointed principal of one of the Armenian schools of Tabriz, in Iranian Azerbaijan, and invited him as a teacher. Tabriz was a hub of revolutionary activities. In 1892 Ter-Hovhannisian participated in the first general assembly of the A.R.F. and, after Davtian’s departure to Geneva as newly-appointed editor of the party organ Droshak, he took a new teaching position in the nearby city of Salmast in 1894. A year later, he went to the nearby monastery of Derek, a center of revolutionary activity, and participated in the victorious self-defense fights against Turks and Kurds.
The tall, black-bearded fighter was one of the leaders in the combats of Saray-Boghazkiasan a few months later. The defeated Kurds, deeply impressed by his bravery, called him Duman (“storm”) in their songs. Nikoghayos Ter-Hovhannisian, whose first name was already shortened to Nikol, became Nikol Duman.
In the same year, Duman went to Van with a group of fifty fedayees (freedom fighters). In 1896 he came up with the idea of avenging the death of the young Armenians who had defended Van during the Hamidian massacres and who had perished in an ambush by the Kurdish Mazrik tribe during their retreat to Persia. The outcome was the expedition of Khanasor (July 1897), in which Duman was one of its leaders. He later went back to the Caucasus and settled in Baku. In 1904 he attempted to cross into Western Armenia to help the rebellion of Sassoun with a group of fedayees, but he engaged in combat with Kurdish gangs near the Turkish-Persian border and could not reach his aim.
Nikol Duman led the Armenian self-defense forces in the province of Yerevan and the plain of Ararat during the Armeno-Tatar inter-ethnic conflict of 1905-1906. Later, he left the Caucasus and went to Europe to avoid the persecution of the Czarist police. One of the “intellectual fedayees,” he stated his opposition to the “Caucasian Project” approved in the crucial 4th General Assembly of the A.R.F. (Vienna, 1907), which allowed the party to enter in an alliance with Russian revolutionaries. He also published a booklet, Project of Popular Self-Defense (Geneva, 1907), which became one of the mainstays of the strategic literature of the Armenian liberation movement.
In 1910 he was one of the representatives of the A.R.F. in the congress of the Second International held in Copenhagen (Denmark). A year later, he participated in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, where the party had been active since 1908, and led the victorious defense of Tabriz against the counter-revolutionary forces in September 1911. When the Russian intervention turned the tide against the revolution, in late 1911 Nikol Duman gathered his group of fedayees and went to Western Armenia, where he stayed until 1913. Finally, he returned to the Caucasus.
At the beginning of World War I, Duman was opposed to the organization of the Armenian volunteer battalions in the Caucasus, since the 8th General Assembly (Erzerum, 1914) had not approved it. He was a natural candidate to lead one of them. However, his wandering and active life had taken its toll on his health. After his arthritic pains, he had got infected with tuberculosis. He could not stay in the hospital, waiting patiently for death while his comrades were in the battlefields. He had only one solution: on September 27, 1914 he committed suicide. He was buried in the cemetery of Khojivank, in Tiflis, near Simon Zavarian, one of the founders of the A.R.F.