The pro-Armenian movement in Europe at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century had French politician Jean Jaures as one of its most remarkable figures.
Jaures, born in Castres (Tarn) on September 3, 1859, was the son of an unsuccessful businessman and farmer. He was a brilliant student, and after being graduated from the famous Lycée Louis-le-Grand of Paris, he was admitted first at the École normale supérieure in 1878. He obtained a degree (agrégation) in philosophy (1881) and taught for two years at a lyceum, before lecturing at the University of Toulouse. In 1885 he was elected deputy from Tarn on the ticket of the Republican Party. In the late 1880s he veered towards socialism.
After losing in the elections of 1889, he returned to Toulouse, where he was actively involved in municipal affairs and helped found the medical school of the University. He also prepared two theses for his doctorate in philosophy; one was about the first expressions of German socialism in the writings of important theologians and philosophers Martin Luther, Immanuel Kant, Johann Fichte, and Georg Hegel. He became a highly influential historian of the French Revolution after the publication of his book Histoire socialiste (1901). His articles and speeches were collected in several other books.
In 1893 Jaures returned to the National Assembly as socialist deputy for Tarn and retained his seat until his death, except for the period 1898-1902.
After the summer of 1894, when the Hamidian massacres started, the young socialist deputy would become a central name in the condemnation of Ottoman policies. He first published an article in January 1895 in the periodical La Petite République. His intervention in the parliamentary debate on the Armenian massacres, on November 3, 1896, however, left a deep mark on public awareness.
Jaures spoke after the interventions of conservative deputies. He took everyone by surprise, because nobody expected him to enter the fray of foreign policy. His vibrant and implacable speech had considerable impact on public opinion. He directly charged the French government for its four year-long obsequious policy towards the Ottoman Empire. As historian Raymond Kevorkian has noted, his 90 minute-long speech marked the actual beginning of the pro-Armenian movement in France. The Parisian newspapers, which were generously subsidized by Ottoman agents, changed their pro-Turkish tune afterwards. Jaures solemn discourse established that justice had no boundaries and that democratic moral was bound to fight against tyranny. He would intervene on behalf of Armenians several other times. He would show the same civic courage in his defense of Alfred Dreyfus during the infamous Dreyfus Affair.
After Jaures returned to the National Assembly in 1902, three socialist parties merged in 1902 to form the social-democratic French Socialist Party, which would become the United Socialist Party in 1905 with the incorporation of the revolutionary socialists. In 1904 he founded the daily L’Humanité, which he edited until his death (it would become the organ of the French Communist Party after 1920). He also became a member of the editorial board of Pro Armenia, a French periodical published to defend the Armenian cause (1900-1908, 1912-1914).
Jaures hailed the Ottoman Revolution, believing that the coming to power of the Young Turks would regenerate the empire. After the massacres of Adana, however, he maintained his trust that the revolutionary regime would end the Armenian persecution. He placed the solidarity of progressive movements above the imperatives of humanity and protection of minorities, historian Vincent Duclert has written. As a result, he opposed any military intervention in Cilicia during the parliamentary debate of May 1909 and asked for diplomatic action in Constantinople.
Jaures, as a committed antimilitarist, tried to use diplomatic means to prevent a general European war. On July 28, 1914, exactly a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist, Austria declared the war on Serbia and mobilized its troops. This obliged Russia and France to mobilize, according to the secret treaty of 1892. World War I was on its way. Jaures addressed the Chamber of Deputies in an impassioned speech, pleading for social justice and peace. Shortly thereafter, on the night of July 31, 1914, while dining in a restaurant he was assassinated by French nationalist Raoul Villain. His remains were transferred to the Paris Panthéon in November 1924.