Sunday, April 24, 2016

Foundation of the National United Party (April 24, 1966)

In the early 1960s, with the national revival in Soviet Armenia, the Communist regime had to confront pockets of dissident thinking. The monolithic rule of the party was questioned by people who thought in terms of freedom of thought and speech. Some of the banners in the April 24, 1965 popular demonstrations in Yerevan on the fiftieth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide asked for the release of the “seven patriots” who had been imprisoned in 1964 for anti-Soviet activities.

Haykaz Khachatryan
Painter Haykaz Khachatryan (1920-1989) and a group of sympathizers made a demonstration on that day near the tomb of Gomidas Vartabed at the Yerevan Pantheon. They were arrested, but released a few days later due to lack of evidence. During his detention, Khachatryan garnered several adherents to his ideas, among them Stepan Zatikyan, a student of the Polytechnic Institute, and Shahen Harutyunyan. On April 24, 1966, Khachatryan proposed the creation of a party, the National United Party (NUP), in opposition to the monolithic rule of the Communist Party.

The core of the party was formed in a few days, with several clandestine youth organizations joining the National United Party. The new party produced its bylaws and program of activities. On April 24, 1967, the declaration of the NUP was presented in an event near the nearly finished genocide monument on the hill of Tsitsernakaberd. The first members of the party made their sacred pledge to be faithful to the ideas of the party. The NUP Council became the leading body of the party. All members should closely follow the program of the party, entitled “For the Nation and the Homeland.” Any person aged sixteen, who accepted the program, the bylaws, and the sacred pledge, could become a party member. Its structure was composed of ten-member groups, which did not maintain contact and did not know each other. Each group had a leader, who knew the other group leaders, as well as their main leader (captain). The goal of this structure was to maintain the secrecy in the activities of the group.

The NUP produced the first issue of its clandestine periodical Paros (Phare) in October 1967. In an article published with the pseudonym Vram, Haykaz Khachatryan wrote: “Armenian nation, your holy duty is to be faithful to the work of your ancestors, maintain the national identity, struggle for the independence of Armenia. April 24 must be commemorated every year. It must be a day of wrathful protest against the crimes of the past and the present.”

The publication made waves not only in Armenia and the Soviet Union, but also abroad. It disclosed the existence of the party to all quarters where anti-Soviet movements were being formed. Paros was indeed forbidden and labeled as anti-Soviet. Its writers and readers were persecuted. New members joined the National United Party, but this became the cause for its fall, as traitors entered the field. Khachatryan was arrested in June 1968, together with Zatikyan and Harutyunyan, and condemned to five years of prison by the Supreme Court of Armenia on charges of anti-Soviet agitation and participation in an anti-Soviet organization. Khachatryan would be released in 1973 and imprisoned again from 1978-1980; Zatikiyan would be released and then shot by the Soviet regime in 1979; Harutyunyan would later migrate to California and head a movement of support to Armenian dissidents and political prisoners.

Paruyr Hayrikyan
After the imprisonment of its founding leaders, Paruyr Hayrikyan became the leader of the NUP, but he was also arrested in 1969 and condemned to four years of prison. During a brief interval in freedom (1973-1974), he was able to publish a second issue of Paros and produce a revised program of the party, where all anti-Soviet references were eliminated. The fundamental course of struggle for independence via legal provisions remained untouched. The claim of a popular referendum for separation of the Soviet Union, as established in the Soviet Constitution, would be legally carried out two decades later with the September 21, 1991 referendum that decided the independence of Armenia.

Hayrikyan was elected president of the party in 1973. He was arrested again in 1974 and spent the next thirteen years in prison, continuing clandestinely to lead the organization. On his return to Armenia in August 1987, he founded a successor party to the NUP, the National Self-Determination Union, which was quite active in the first years of the Gharabagh movement and still continues its existence as a political party. Other members of the National United Party would become leaders of the Gharabagh movement, such as Movses Gorgisian (1961-1990), or the Republican Party of Armenia, like its founder Ashot Navasardian (1950-1997), or future prime minister Andranik Margaryan (1951-2007).