Saturday, December 29, 2012

Soviet Russia’s Decree on Turkish Armenia - December 29, 1917

The Russian October Revolution (October 25/November 7, 1917) introduced sweeping changes in the situation of Armenia. At that moment, Russian troops occupied part of Western Armenia, mostly emptied of its Armenian population due to the genocide. 
However, Vladimir Lenin, the head of the Bolshevik (Communist) party which had initiated the October Revolution, was against the imperialist process that had marked the “long nineteenth century.” He had already demanded the withdrawal of Russian armies from Western Armenia. The reason behind this demand was self-determination. However, if such a demand had been executed, it meant that Ottoman Turks would be allowed to re-enter the area and continue their genocidal campaign. Lenin’s hope that “an independent Armenian republic” would be established, as enunciated at the first All-Russian Congress of Soviets (22 June 1917), was equally illusory, given the menace of a powerful Turkish army against such a hypothetical republic. 

After the revolution, Communist policy was consistent with Lenin’s views. A decree, “On Turkish Armenia,” was issued on December 29 and published two days later in Pravda: it declared that Russia “defended the right of the Armenian people to free self-determination in Russian-occupied Turkish Armenia, including even total independence.” It also called for the withdrawal of Russian troops, the establishment of a local Armenian militia, and the return of refugees. However, it did not take into account the menace posed by the Ottoman Empire. 

It is important to mention that the decree had been drafted by poet Vahan Terian (1885-1920), who worked at the Commissariat for Armenian Issues. His draft included a temporary stay of Russian troops, which was actually left out of the final text because of the opposition of Joseph Stalin, Commissar for Nationalities and Terian’s superior. 

Stalin published an article in the same issue of Pravda where he scorned “the voracious diplomatic appetites of the West and the bloody administrative exercises of the East,” whose outcome had been “pogroms and massacres of Armenians, on the one hand, and the hypocritical ‘intercession’ of the diplomats of all countries as a screen for fresh massacres,” and “a blood-soaked, deceived, and enslaved Armenia as a result.” He assessed that “the old path of diplomatic scheming is not the path to the liberation of Armenia.” That path, Stalin assured, “lies through the workers’ revolution that was started in Russia in October,” which “has broken the chains of national oppression.” He concluded by writing that the decree was “particularly necessary today, when the German and Turkish authorities, true to their imperialist nature, make no secret of their desire forcibly to retain the occupied regions under their sway. Let the peoples of Russia know that the striving for conquest is alien to the Russian revolution and its government. Let everyone know that the Council of People's Commissars counters the imperialist policy of national oppression by the policy of complete liberation of the oppressed peoples.”

 Of course, this was just rhetoric: there was no mention of any practical means to counter “the imperialist policy of national oppression” that the Turks would soon unleash again over Western and Eastern Armenia. The call for Russian troops to withdraw from the Caucasus had already been issued. Less than three months later, on March 3, 1918, when Ottoman forces had already advanced and mostly overrun the Armenian resistance in Western Armenia, Soviet Russia would be forced to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and cede, on behalf of the nationalities she no longer dominated, Batum, Kars, and Ardahan to Turkey. The theoretical “self-determination” of Western Armenia had been left on a piece of paper.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Death of Gareguin Nezhdeh - December 21, 1955

Gareguin Nezhdeh was an important military and political figure of the twentieth century, particularly during the first Republic of Armenia and the first two decades of the Diaspora.

His actual name was Gareguin Ter Harutiunian, and he was born on January 1, 1886, in the family of a priest (hence the surname Ter Harutiunian) in the village of Kznout, Nakhichevan.
He adopted the surname Nezhdeh in 1906. He studied in the Armenian parochial school of the village, the Russian school of Nakhichevan, and the Russian gymnasium of Tiflis. He studied law for two years in St. Petersburg, but left the university to join the revolutionary movement in 1906. 
In 1906 he moved to Bulgaria where he studied in the school of officers of Sofia from 1906-1907. He entered the ranks of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and returned to the Caucasus in 1908. The next year he was arrested by the Russian police for illegal transportation of weapons and spent three years in prison. 

In 1912 he went to Bulgaria, where he fought in the First Balkan War (the alliance of Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, and Bulgaria against the Ottoman Empire). Together with General Antranig, he organized a battalion of Armenian volunteers (271 soldiers) and fought in the Bulgarian volunteer unit against the Turks, and was decorated for his bravery. He returned again to the Caucasus and during World War I was deputy commander of the second regiment of Armenian volunteers, commanded by Dro, in 1915-1916. With a group of cavalry, he participated in the historical battle of Gharakilise (May 24-28, 1918), one of the three that paved the way for the first independence of Armenia.

He became commander of the armed forces in the region of Zanguezur (nowadays Siunik) in October 1919. Shortly thereafter, these forces had to confront the attacks of Turkish and Azerbaijani forces, which continued for the next two years. Zanguezur, (along with Karabagh and Nakhichevan), was claimed by Azerbaijan as part of its territory. The leadership of Nezhdeh would be crucial to preventing this historically Armenian region, strategically very important as the main way to Iran, to fall into Azerbaijani hands.

The Republic of Armenia and Soviet Russia signed an agreement on August 10, 1920 in Tiflis, according to which the three contested regions would be temporarily controlled by Soviet forces until Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan peacefully solved their controversy. However, the population of Zanguezur, led by Nezhdeh, did not recognize that agreement. During the months of September and October of 1920, Nezhdeh liberated the cities of Kapan, Sisian, and Goris.

Independent Armenia collapsed in early December. On December 25 a popular assembly proclaimed the autonomy of Siunik and Nezhdeh was elected general-in-chief of Siunik. After the end of the February revolt against the Soviet regime (February 18 – April 2, 1921) that briefly re-established the independence of Armenia, thousands of rebels, including many prominent members of the ARF, found refuge in Siunik, where resistance against attacks by the Red Army and Azerbaijani forces had continued relentlessly. Siunik was the only way of exit for the opposition to the Soviet regime towards Iran. On April 26, 1921, the second congress of Armenians of Zanguezur, held in the monastery of Tatev, proclaimed the autonomous region of Siunik as the Republic of Mountainous Armenia (Lernahayastani Hanrabedoutioun). Nezhdeh was elected Prime Minister and War Minister.

The epic resistance of Siunik ended in mid-July 1921, when Nezhdeh, after receiving guarantees that the region would be attached to Soviet Armenia, retreated with a small group of soldiers towards Iran. He departed to Sofia in the next year. He lived in Bulgaria for most of the next twenty years, participating actively in Armenian politics and organization of the Diaspora. He also wrote several books and many articles in the press.

He was sent by the ARF to the United States between 1932 and 1934, where in 1933 he founded the Tzeghagron organization, which in 1941 became the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF). During the 1930s he developed the theoretical grounds of a new ideological movement called tzeghagronutiun, which was aimed at the development of national spirit among Armenians. Divergences with the leadership of the ARF after his return to Bulgaria in 1934 triggered his separation from the party in 1937 (he was expelled in 1938).

On October 10, 1944, he was captured by the Soviet forces that had entered Bulgaria. After being moved to Bucharest, he was incarcerated in the prison of Lubyanka, in Moscow. In November 1946 he was sent to Yerevan and, after a trial, condemned to 25 years in prison. In 1948 he was moved to the prison of Vladimir (Russia), where he died in 1955 and was buried in the prison’s cemetery.

Nezhdeh was rehabilitated by the ARF shortly after his death. In 1963 his bust was inaugurated in Camp Hayastan (Franklin, Massachusetts), as a tribute by the AYF to its founder. The remains of Nezhdeh were secretly moved to Yerevan in 1983. A small part of his remains was interred at the foot of Mount Khusdup, in Siunik, and the rest was reburied in the courtyard of the monastery of Spitakavor, near the village of Vernashen (province of Vayots Dzor).

After the fall of the Soviet regime, the rehabilitation of Nezhdeh started in Armenia. In Yerevan, a square, a street, a subway station, and a school all bear his name, as well as a square and a street in Gumri. He was reburied with military honors in 2005 in Kapan where a memorial complex was built.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Death of Grigor Artzruni - December 19, 1892

Grigor Artzruni was one of the most prominent names in Armenian journalism during the nineteenth century. He founded and edited the most important newspaper of Russian Armenians, Mshak. 

He was born in Moscow in 1845, but he moved to Tiflis during his childhood. After studying in the Russian gymnasium of the city, he went back to Russia to continue his higher education in Moscow and St. Petersburg. After graduation, in 1867 he was admitted to the University of Heidelberg (Germany), where two years later he graduated with a Ph.D. in Political Economy and Philosophy. Afterwards, he spent a year in Venice and Vienna, studying Armenian with the Mekhitarist Fathers. He taught in 1870-1871 at the Gayanian Girls Schools, and on January 1, 1872 published the inaugural issue of Mshak, which he would edit until his death.

His newspaper became the most important voice of Armenian progressive thought and a champion of political liberalism. He worked towards the introduction and the absorption of the ideas of European liberalism, adapting it to Armenian reality. He was an ideologue of freedom and justice, equality of rights, and democracy, at a time when the Russian Empire was going through political upheaval. Artzruni made an important effort to minimize the distances between Eastern and Western Armenians; among the prominent contributors to Mshak were the great Eastern Armenian novelist Raffi (1835-1888), who first published several of his masterpieces in the newspaper, and his Western Armenian colleague Arpiar Arpiarian (1854-1908).

Artzruni’s efforts also turned the cause of the liberation of Turkish Armenians a focus of the activities of Armenians in Russia. The internationalization of the Armenian Question after the Treaty of Berlin (1878) also resulted in the politicization of the Armenian youth and the subsequent creation of the Armenian political parties.

As the editor of Mshak, he played a role in the birth of all three parties: the Armenagan (1885), the Hunchakian (1887), and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (1890). Mshak’s circle,according to Kristapor Mikayelian, one of the founders of the ARF, had a central role in the creation of the Federation of Armenian Revolutionaries (Hay Heghapokhakanneri Dashnaktsutiun), a union of all revolutionary groups, which became the forerunner of the party. Novelist and playwright Shirvanzade (1858-1935), who was not a sympathizer of the ARF, wrote the following in his memoirs:
“The young group surrounding Artzruni set the foundations of the ARF. The main forces were Dr. Hovhannes Loris-Melikian, Kristapor Mikayelian, Simeon Zavarian, Martiros Shatirian, Kostandin Khatisian, Levon Sargsian, Gabriel Mirzoyan, and a few others, whose names I have forgotten. 

“. . . Those two [Mikayelian and Zavarian] came to visit Grigor Artzruni and exchanged information. That group, together with a few bourgeois, organized the twenty-fifth anniversary of Grigor Artzruni’s journalistic activities, and turned that celebration into a sort of prelude to the ARF.

“The ARF was organized with Grigor Artzruni’s knowledge and sponsorship, but without his immediate participation. Artzruni feared endangering the existence of Mshak, which was above everything else for him. Realizing that people wanted to use his popularity to raise money, he did not believe very much in the sincerity of their friendship.”

Grigor Artzruni died in Tiflis at the age of 47. His burial was a national event throughout the Caucasus. Russian authorities even tried to block the ceremonies. The police made an effort to contain the thousands in the funeral procession away from the main thoroughfares of Tiflis. After his internment (December 27, 1892), there were incidents with the police and dozens of Armenians were arrested and imprisoned.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Beginning of the Armeno-Georgian War - December 7, 1918

One of the many conflicts which the first Republic of Armenia had to confront was the short, but crucial Armeno-Georgian war.

Relations between Armenians and Georgians had been strained for a long time. Georgians had resented Armenian role in the country during Russian rule. The largest concentration of Armenian urban population in the Transcaucasus was in Tiflis. The fact, among others, that the mayors of the Georgian capital in the last decades of Russian domination had been Armenian (one of them was Alexander Khatisian, a future Prime Minister of the independent Armenian Republic) did not fare well with the native elite.

After the Russian Revolution, Georgians played their own cards in the attempt to safeguard the existence of Georgia vis-à-vis Ottoman Turkish advance, and at times, they had allied with Muslims during the short-lived Transcaucasian Republic of April-May 1918 and left Armenians alone. In June 1918, shortly after the declaration of independence of both countries, the districts of Lori, Javakhk, and Borchalu had been, until 1917, part of the governorship of Tiflis within the viceroyalty of the Caucasus. Georgian troops entered Lori, which had a 75% Armenian population, in order to forestall an Ottoman advance on Tiflis. Turkish forces started to withdraw after the signature of the Armistice of Mudros (October 31, 1918), which marked the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

Georgia laid claim to Lori and Akhalkalak, both of which were populated overwhelmingly by Armenians. Georgian ambition to annex these territories flouted pre-independence agreements made by the major national forces in the Caucasus—Armenians, Georgians and Tatar-Azerbaijanis—to mark out new state borders in accord with demographic facts and wishes of the majority populations. Georgian ambitions were driven by another equally important domestic consideration. The historical animosity against Armenian economic power in Georgia was seized and nurtured, following independence, to destroy its bastions. The Georgian state had every interest in weakening its Armenian neighbor, which it regarded not only as a competitor over territories, but also as a potential defender of Armenians in Georgia and a contender in the struggle for hegemony over the Caucasus.

Georgian exactions in the areas of Lori and Borchalu (plundering the population, confiscating crops, foodstuffs, and property) triggered reaction from the locals. Armenian groups occupied the south of Lori. Full-scale military clashes, starting on December 7, followed attempts by Georgian forces to repress an Armenian uprising protesting misrule and abuse. Five days later, the Prime Minister of Armenia, Hovhannes Kajaznuni, sent the following message to his Georgian colleague, Noy Zhordania:

“The conduct of Georgian troops in Borchalu, in that part of Armenia occupied forcibly by Georgia, has created an intolerable situation. Only the immediate withdrawal of Georgian troops from that region can prevent new bloodshed and lead to the restoration of friendly, lasting relations between Georgia and Armenia. . . . In the event of refusal or evasion on your part, the Armenian government will be obliged to take the necessary measures to protect the citizens of Armenia from the violence and lawlessness of the Georgian troops.”

The logical rejection of this message and the failure of diplomatic options opened the doors of war. Armenian forces, led by General Dro, made substantial gains in the first ten days. By December 25 they had reached positions 30 miles from Tiflis, when the Allied representatives in Tiflis finally intervened to put an end to the meaningless war. Georgians recovered some initiative in the last week of December. Meanwhile, Armenians were subjects to many arrests, expropriations, and bribery in Tiflis and surrounding communities.

The draft British plan established that Georgian troops would remain in Akhalkalak and northern Borchalu, whereas Armenian forces would settle in southern Borchalu, and the British would take positions between the two opponents. This forced Armenians to relinquish their gains during the war. Georgia accepted the plan and the Allies decided to impose it with or without the approval of the government of Armenia. Finally, hostilities stopped on December 31 when the parties agreed to the British-brokered ceasefire. The result of the war was inconclusive, according to historian Richard Hovannisian: “The question remains disputed although the fact that all battles had taken place in lands formerly held by the Georgian army is not. Statistically, the Armenians had suffered fewer casualties than the Georgians and had given less than a hundred prisoners, while they had captured two armored trains, twenty-eight cannons, nearly seventy-five machine guns, two hundred loaded freight cars, and as many as a thousand Georgian prisoners. But even these figures, when appearing to disprove the Georgian boast of a smashing triumph do not in themselves prove a decisive Armenian victory.”

A bilateral peace agreement signed on January 17, 1919, created a neutral zone between both countries along the lines of the British draft. Georgia failed to establish the border line and lost a small section of prewar-controlled land that was reorganized into a neutral zone. The territorial gains of Armenia (a tiny strip of land in the county of Borchalu) were negligible, compared with previous expectations. The conclusion to the war and the final anti-democratic settlement expressed accurately both the balance of forces and the predatory ambitions of the Georgian elites. Armenia, against its will, against the wishes of the local population, and against previously agreed principles of dividing territory according to the democratic wishes of national majorities, was forced to concede the larger part of disputed areas. According to historian Firuz Kazemzadeh,

“The West was treated to a sad spectacle of two peoples, ruled by parties which were members of the Second International and professed peace to be their chief aim, fighting over a few strips of land in the manner of a Germany or a Russia. Those who were called upon to decide the destinies of mankind at Paris could never again trust Georgia or Armenia. The enemies of Transcaucasia's independence were provided with excellent material, on the basis of which they could, and did, argue that Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan ruled by the Dashnaks, the Mensheviks and the Musavatists, were incapable of preserving order and of guaranteeing a peaceful existence to their peoples. Even in Transcaucasia, doubts were raised whether this land could stand on its own feet.”

After the sovietization of Armenia (December 1920) and Georgia (March 1921), the neutral zone was divided between both countries. Thus, the current Armeno-Georgian border was established.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Treaty of Alexandropol - December 2-3, 1920

The Armenian-Turkish war of 1920 put the Republic of Armenia on the brink of collapse. It also brought back the very real threat of physical disappearance for the Armenian people. The secret pact signed between the Turkish Great National Assembly led by Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) and Soviet Russia in August 1920 had ensured the support of Bolshevism to the Turkish insurgents. The latter, unlike the Ottoman legal government, were leading the so-called “war of independence” against Greece in order to overturn the partition of the Ottoman Empire that included the division of current Turkey into different zones of influence and the loss of most of its territories.

Turkish forces commanded by General Kiazim Karabekir had already reached Alexandropol (now Gumri) at the end of November 1920 when a ceasefire was forced upon the Armenian government. On the other side, a small group of Armenian Bolsheviks had crossed the border from Soviet Azerbaijan into Armenia on November 29 and proclaimed Armenia a Soviet republic, appealing for the intervention of the Red Army. The government of the Republic of Armenia, led by Prime Minister Simon Vratzian (who had assumed power on November 25), was forced to choose the lesser of two evils: to turn away the potential annihilation of Eastern Armenians, it decided to relinquish power to the Communists. The change of regime was legalized through the signature of an agreement between the authorities of the Republic of Armenia and Boris Legran, representative of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR), in the morning of December 2, 1920. It was enforced on the same day at 6 pm. It established that Armenia would become an independent Soviet Socialist republic within the frontiers that had been under the jurisdiction of the government before the Turkish invasion and a revolutionary committee would take power temporarily. On its final session of the same day, the government of the Republic of Armenia decided to resign power. After more than two and half years, the first independence had come to an end.

Alexander Khatisian
The sovietization of Armenia did not end the Turkish menace. Karabekir threatened to resume his offensive unless his terms were accepted. The onerous terms obliged Armenia to renounce the Treaty of Sevres and all claims to Western Armenia and the province of Kars, and to accept temporary Turkish jurisdiction in Nakhichevan, among other issues. Alexander Khatisian, representative of the Republic of Armenia, signed the treaty in the wee hours of December 3. 

However, the Armenian government had already resigned and, therefore, Khatisian had no power whatsoever. On the other hand, Kiazim Karabekir represented the Great National Assembly of Turkey, with headquarters in Ankara, but the legal authority of Turkey, until November 1922, was in the hands of Sultan Mehmed VI and the Ottoman government in Constantinople. Legally, none of the signing parties had any attribution to stamp their signature under the document. Writes Richard Hovannisian: “Denounced and branded a traitor by Soviet and other non-Dashnakist authors, Khatisian justified his action as an exigency measure taken with the knowledge of the new Erevan government and intended to give time for the Red Army to enter Armenia in sufficient numbers to block a further Turkish advance. Realizing that he had not legal jurisdiction, Khatisian hoped that the new Soviet government, with the support of Russia, would repudiate his action and force the Turks to withdraw, at least to the pre-war boundaries.”

The Treaty of Alexandropol was never ratified and was replaced by the treaties of Moscow and Kars (March and October 1921). The latter was signed by the Great National Assembly of Turkey, Soviet Russia, Soviet Armenia, Soviet Georgia, and Soviet Azerbaijan. However, these treaties cannot be recognized as valid according to international law. Mustafa Kemal had not been invested with any powers by the legally recognized Ottoman government, and Soviet Armenia was not a legally recognized state anymore.