Armen Garo was an active participant in the Armenian liberation movement, and a protagonist of some of its more important moments. Leader of the occupation of the Ottoman Bank, deputy to the Ottoman Parliament, organizer of the Nemesis Operation, first ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to the United States; these were just a few highlights of his public life, which ended prematurely.
He was born in Karin (Erzerum) on February 1872 as Karekin Pastermadjian. He was one of the first graduates of the Sanasarian College of his hometown in 1891. Three years later, he went to France to study at the Agricultural School of the University of Nancy. In this period, he became a member of the newly founded Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
His plan to return to his hometown after graduation was thwarted when massacres began in Zeitun (Cilicia), and he left his studies to help his compatriots. He soon found himself in Geneva, and then he was sent to Egypt to assist the resistance in Zeitun. Afterwards, he returned to the Ottoman Empire. Around this time, he took the nom de guerre Armen Garo.
He was one of the organizers of the takeover of the Ottoman Bank in Constantinople by a group of A.R.F. revolutionaries on August 26, 1896. When Papken Siuni, the group leader, was killed, Armen Garo took over for the rest of the standoff.
When the occupation of the bank ended and the group of revolutionaries was sent to Marseilles, French Foreign Minister Gabriel Hanotaux declared them as persona non grata and denied their stay in France. Armen Garo moved to Switzerland and studied natural sciences at the University of Geneva.
He continued his active participation in the A.R.F. and was on the delegate roster of the second General Assembly of 1898. He graduated in 1900 and received a doctoral degree in physical chemistry. In 1901 he founded a laboratory in Tiflis for chemical research.
The scientist could not leave aside the patriot, and Armen Garo organized the self-defense of the Armenians in Tiflis during the Armeno-Tatar conflict of 1905-1907 with a group of 500 volunteers.
After the situation in the Caucasus returned to normalcy, he was able to create a fairly prosperous life for himself. He secured the right to develop a copper mine, and worked towards a partnership with a large company.
After the Ottoman Revolution of 1908, Armen Garo was elected deputy from Erzerum to the Ottoman Parliament, representing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. During his four-year mandate, he worked tirelessly for a railroad bill whose main goal was to build railroads in Western Armenia.
After he finished his mandate in 1912, he participated actively in the organization and implementation of the Armenian reforms in the six Eastern vilayets of the Ottoman Empire in 1913-1914. In the autumn of 1914, a month and a half before the Ottoman Empire entered the war, Armen Garo went to the Caucasus on a special mission after the A.R.F. 8th General Assembly at Erzerum. He joined the committee that had been appointed by the Armenian National Council of the Caucasus to organize the Armenian volunteer units.
In November of the same year, Armen Garo accompanied the second battalion of Armenian volunteers, commanded by Dro (Drastamat Kanayan), as representative of the executive committee of Tiflis. When Dro was seriously wounded in combat, Armen Garo replaced him from November 1914-March 1915 until he returned to active duty.
He went to Van in the summer of 1915, becoming one of the first to enter the city after the Russian troops and the Armenian volunteer battalions liberated it following the Van resistance.
After the Russian Revolution of February 1917, Armen Garo and Dr. Hakob Zavriev were sent to Petrograd in the spring to negotiate about Caucasian affairs with the Russian provisional government. In June he left for America as a representative of the Armenian National Council of Tiflis, which in May 1918 would declare the independence of Armenia. In 1919 Armen Garo was designated ambassador of Armenia to the United States.
He settled in Washington D.C., where he engaged in political and diplomatic action. He published three pamphlets in English: Why Armenia Should Be Free (1918), Armenia and Her Claims to Freedom and National Independence (1919), and Armenia a Leading Factor in the Winning of the War (1919).
He would also engage in covert action, as one of the main leaders of the Operation Nemesis, along with Shahan Natalie and Aharon Sachaklian, ensuring the logistics and the organization of the liquidation of Turkish genociders from 1919-1922.
After the fall of the Republic of Armenia, Armen Garo returned to Europe in November 1922, heartbroken and sick. He passed away in Geneva on March 23, 1923. His memoirs, Days that I Lived, were first serialized in the monthly Hairenik (1923-1924) and posthumously published in 1948 (there is an English translation by Haig T. Partizian, published in 1990 as Bank Ottoman).
Several organizational chapters have been named after him, including the AYF “Armen Garo” chapter (Racine, Wisconsin), the “Armen Karo” ARF Student Association of Canada, and the ARF "Armen Garo" committee (New York).