Thursday, August 28, 2014

August 30, 1997: Death of Frunze Dovlatyan

Almost fifty years ago, Frunze Dovlatyan’s film, “Hello, It’s Me!” (Բարեւ, ես եմ), marked a milestone in the history of Armenian cinema.
Dovlatyan was born in Kamo (nowadays Gavar), on May 27, 1927, in a family of actors. His father and his paternal aunt staged amateur plays in the theater of the town. When the Dovlatyan family moved to Yerevan, Frunze, still a school student, started his career as an actor. He performed from 1941-1952 in the provincial theaters of Armenia and in the “Gabriel Sundukian” academic theater of Yerevan. He graduated in 1947 from the theatrical studio of the latter, and appeared in a few films from 1943-1958, the first being Hamo-Bek Nazarian’s “David Bek”.
He moved to Moscow and graduated from the all-Soviet Cinema Institute (VGIK) in 1959. He had already started his career as a film director (he would still appear as an actor in several films, some of them of his own, until the late 1980s) and directed three movies from 1958-1963 in Moscow.
Soviet movie poster for Hello, It's Me.
He returned to Armenia in 1964 and the next year directed his first film in the homeland, “Hello, It’s Me,” partly based on the life of the famous Armenian physicist Artem Alikhanian, the founder of the Institute of Physics of Yerevan. The film started the career of famous actor Armen Djigarkhanian and had ten million viewers in 1966. It was nominated to the Palme d’Or in the Festival of Cannes in the same year and won the State Prize of Armenia in 1967.
From 1966-1969 Dovlatyan was first secretary of the Union of Cinematographers of Armenia. He went on to direct some important films of the last decades of Soviet Armenian cinema: “Saroyan Brothers” (1968), “Chronicle of Yerevan Days” (1972), “Live Long” (1979), “The Solitary Walnut Tree” (1986). From 1986 he was the artistic director of the Armenfilm studios. His last work was “Yearning” (1990), about the life of a genocide survivor who, led by his yearning of the lost homeland, crosses the Soviet-Turkish border during the time of Stalin.

The filmmaker was the chairman of the Tekeyan Cultural Association in Armenia during the last three years of his life. He passed away in 1997 and was buried in Yerevan.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

August 23, 1990: Armenian Declaration of Independence

The Constitution of the Soviet Union, adopted in 1977, established in article 71 that “Each Union Republic shall retain the right freely to secede from the USSR [Union of Soviet Socialist Republics].” In the late eighties, within the scope of Mikhail Gorbachev’s newly proclaimed policy of restructuration (perestroika) and transparency (glasnost), the political tension in the country would reach the point of explosion and, in the end, the secession and collapse of the Soviet Union would be completed between 1990 and 1991.

The Karabagh Movement started in February 1988, called “the test of perestroika” at the time, had its ebbs and flows, and the rise of the people became the inspiration for similar movements in other Soviet republics, such as the Baltic States, where the “popular fronts” made their appearance in the middle of the year. In Armenia, four days after the earthquake of December 7, 1988, the eleven members of the Karabagh Committee that led the movement were arrested and imprisoned in Moscow. A wide movement of international solidarity, as well as internal developments caused their release in May 1989.

The reformist tide in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the revolutions of 1989 that ended the Communist rule in Eastern Europe, including the fall of the Berlin wall that became the symbol of the reunification of Germany, were echoed in Armenia by the formation of the Armenian National Movement (ANM) as an alternative, democratic choice against party monopoly.

In February 1990 the Communist Party yielded its 70-year-long monopoly of power. The immediate result was the loss of four republics to the democratic opposition in parliamentary elections held in February and March (Lithuania, Moldova, Estonia, and Latvia). The three Baltic States, headed by Lithuania, declared the beginning of a process to reestablish themselves as independent states between March and May. In Armenia, the elections of May 1990 saw the victory of the ANM over the Communist Party.

In June a power struggle started between the Russian Federation, represented by Boris Yeltsin, newly elected chairman of the Presidium of its Supreme Soviet, and the Soviet Union, represented by Mikhail Gorbachev, first secretary of the Communist Party. It was followed in July by the resignation of Yeltsin from the Communist Party.

After run-off elections in June and July to complete the seats of the Supreme Soviet of Armenia, the democratic wave saw the victory of Levon Ter Petrossian, one of the leaders of the Karabagh Committee and the Armenian National Movement, over Vladimir Movsisian, the candidate of the Communist Party, in the election for president of the Supreme Council (Parliament), held on August 4.

Less than three weeks later, on August 23, Ter Petrossian, president of the Soviet Council, and Ara Sahakian, secretary, signed the proclamation of independence, which established that the Supreme Council declared “the beginning of the process of establishing of independent statehood positioning the question of the creation of a democratic society based on the rule of law” on the basis of the November 1, 1989 joint decision of the Armenian SSR Supreme Soviet and the Artsakh National Council on the reunification of Armenia and Upper Karabagh, “developing the democratic traditions of the independent Republic of Armenia established on May 28, 1918.”

The proclamation had twelve points: 1) The Armenian SSR was renamed Republic of Armenia, which would have its own flag, coat of arms, and anthem; 2) The Republic of Armenia became a self-governing state, where only its constitution and laws were valid; 3) The people were the bearer of Armenian statehood and exerted its authority through its representatives; the right to speak on behalf of the people belonged exclusively to the Supreme Council; 4) Citizens living on Armenian territory were granted citizenship, and Diasporan Armenians had the right of citizenship of Armenia; 5) The new republic created its own armed forces and organs of public security; 6) The republic led an independent foreign policy; 7) National wealth was property of their people, regulated by laws of the republic, which had the right to its share of the USSR national wealth; 8) The republic created the principles of its economic system and created its own money and financial system; 9) The republic guaranteed freedom of speech, press, and conscience; separation of powers; and a multi-party system; 10) The republic guaranteed the use of Armenian as the official language; 11) The republic stood in support of international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Finally, point 12 declared that the proclamation would be the basis for the future Armenian Constitution and, meanwhile, was the basis for the introduction of amendments to the current constitution and for the government of the country.

There was no date set to end the process of establishment of an independent statehood. The events would take a dramatic pace in 1991 and, thirteen months after the proclamation, Armenia held a referendum to declare its second independence in the twentieth century.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

August 14, 1896: Occupation of the Ottoman Bank

The occupation of the Ottoman Bank of Constantinople, organized by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in 1896, was an audacious attempt to attract the attention of the European great powers towards the Armenian Question.

Europe was the guarantor of article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin (1878), which obligated the Ottoman Empire to carry out reforms to improve the situation of Armenians living in their historical territories. The May 1895 plan presented by the European powers to Sultan Abdul Hamid II was never executed. Instead, Abdul Hamid perpetrated a massacre of its Armenian subjects with an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 victims in 1895-1896.

The headquarters of the Imperial Ottoman Bank in Istanbul, 1896.

The Central Committee of the A.R.F. in Constantinople organized the strike against the bank, which was a joint venture of Ottoman, British, and French capitals, in order to have the reforms executed. The action was also intended to show the sultan that Armenians were not ready to give up on their rights.

Armen Garo (Karekin Pastermadjian)
The preparations to occupy the bank started in February 1896. The idea had been conceived by 23-year old Papken Siuni (Bedros Parian), who would lead the operation. Hrach (Haig) Tiryakian, 25-years old, was his lieutenant, and Armen Garo (Karekin Pastermadjian), also 23, would take care of maintaining order in the bank and among the staff. Armen Garo wrote in his memoirs: “We transported close to 400 empty bombs during eight days from our secret foundry in Scutari to our workshop of Pera, in the house of Miss Iskouhi. After filling those bombs there, we transported them to various neighborhoods of Constantinople. We were only 10-15 trustworthy comrades to all this, teachers and students, twenty- to twenty-five-year-old young people, including three young ladies."

After several changes of date, the operation was finally carried on August 14. At noon, a discharge of guns and the thunder of bombs started the occupation. The group of militants included 28 people. The attacking group killed the guards, although four Armenians were also slain and another five were wounded. A very important loss was that of the head of the operation, Papken Siuni, who was wounded and the bombs on his body exploded when he fell.
Armen Garo took the command of the group and the fight started between the occupiers and the Ottoman forces. Meanwhile, a Turkish mob had started to kill innocent Armenians throughout the city. The A.R.F. militants sent a note with their demands to the European embassies: a) 1. To stop the massacre of innocent Armenians; b) To stop the attack against the bank, otherwise the building would be blown; c) To give written guarantees about the reforms to be carried in the Armenian provinces; d) To liberate all Armenian political prisoners.

At 1 a.m., Russian consul Maximov arrived in the bank and proposed to evacuate it, guaranteeing safe passage for Armen Garo and his companions. The young Armenian answered Maximov: “Mr. Ambassador, we didn’t enter here so you take the trouble of saving us from here...” He meant that he had clear demands, which they expected to be accomplished by the diplomatic representatives and the Sultan. Maximov answered back that the massacre and the attack had stopped; the ambassadors promised to do their best to ensure the reforms and he promised to have the jailed Armenians freed. After long negotiations, the revolutionaries agreed to leave the bank, receiving guarantees about their demands.

After 14 hours of occupation, the seventeen surviving revolutionaries came out of the bank at daybreak. To Maximov’s question of why the others were not coming out, Armen Garo answered that there was no one else; the Turks had convinced Maximov that 200 Armenians had occupied the building. The group, still armed, passed through the Turkish troops, led by Maximov, and was taken to the French ship “Gironde.”

The young Armenians were disarmed and taken to Marseilles, where they stayed 17 days in prison. Afterwards, Armen Garo and Hrach were sent to Switzerland, while the French government promised to send the others to New York. The remaining fifteen revolutionaries were sent to America; however, their destination was South America. They were dispatched to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they stayed until November 1896, when they were able to catch a British ship that took them to London.

The takeover of the Ottoman Bank, with its extraordinary circumstances, was widely reported in the international press. However, the act did not have any positive consequence, since the reforms were not implemented and Armenians would continue to be in dire straits under Ottoman rule. Nevertheless, the action reinforced the determination of the Armenian revolutionaries to continue their struggle in order to achieve political and social freedom for their people.

The surviving members of the Ottoman Bank takeover after arriving in Marseilles, France

Friday, August 8, 2014

August 8, 1992: Fall of Artzvashen

The Soviet policy of “divide and rule” created ethnic enclaves (piece of land surrounded by foreign territory) under various pretexts, such as the incorporation in Azerbaijan of the highlands of the historically Armenian region of Gharabagh as an autonomous region (the lowlands were directly annexed to that country). It also created exclaves (piece of land politically attached to a larger piece, but surrounded by foreign territory), such as Artzvashen, part of the Gegharkunik province of Armenia.

The village of Artzvashen was founded in 1854 with the name of Bashkend by Armenians from Shamshadin, although an inscription on the St. Hovhannes church of the village, dated to 1607, attests to an earlier Armenian presence on the site.

The population of the village was entirely of Armenian origin. It had a surrounding territory of 40 square kilometers (15.5 square miles) and enjoyed a town status in the 1980s, managing four factories. This included a branch of Haygorg, the Armenian state carpet company.

The encircled land is the location of Artzvashen which is now in the hands of the Azeris.

In May 1991, during the last months of the Soviet Union, when the conflict for Gharabagh had already started, the inhabitants of the village surrendered their weapons to Soviet military units to avert an imminent occupation.

Indeed, Azerbaijan was prone to occupy those portions of Armenian territory that were completely landlocked, and one of them was Artzvashen. After a four-day resistance headed by the unit 016 of motorized artillery of Vanadzor, Artzvashen was surrendered to Azerbaijani armed forces on August 8, 1992. According to The New York Times, Azerbaijan announced the “liberation” of the town, destroying enemy tanks and weaponry, and killing 300 Armenian “brigands,” while Armenian reports did not mention any dead, but said that 29 people were “missing without trace.” The bodies of 12 Armenian soldiers were later delivered; one of the Azerbaijani colonels declared: “They fought until the last bullet. They are the pride of your nation.”

The Armenian population was given one hour to evacuate the village. According to the Regional Administration of Gegharkunik, 719 families (around 2,800 people) were displaced after its occupation. A total of 664 families resettled in the towns of Chambarak and nearby villages, and the rest went to other provinces. The migrants were not considered a separate commune, but the government of the Republic decided to create a separate working staff, financed by the national budget. This staff takes care of problems related to documents and workbooks of displaced people, as well as claims of property rights and improvement of living conditions.

Monday, August 4, 2014

August 4, 1922: Killing of Enver Pasha

Enver Pasha
The Russian revolution of November 1917 that set the grounds for the Soviet Union was followed by a civil war. Bolshevik troops were sent into Central Asia to establish Soviet power in 1919-1920. A local movement headed by Muslim elements, known as the Basmachi revolt (the Turkic word basmachi originally meant “bandit”), took advantage of the blunders of the Soviet government in Tashkent (the current capital of Uzbekistan) to challenge its authority and set a movement of national liberation.
Enver Pasha, former Ministry of War of the Ottoman Empire and one of the main perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide, had become a fugitive of justice after his condemnation to death in absentia by the Ottoman court-martial in July 1919. He had first left Constantinople for Berlin in late 1918 and in 1919 had gone to Moscow, where he engaged in pro-Turkish activities among the Bolsheviks. After participating in the Congress of Eastern Peoples of Baku (September 1920), he tried to reenter Anatolia in 1921, but was rejected by Mustafa Kemal.
Enver decided to return to Moscow and won over the trust of Soviet authorities. Lenin sent him to Bukhara, in Soviet Turkestan, to help suppress the Basmachi Revolt. He arrived on November 8, 1921. Instead of carrying his mission, he made secret contacts with some rebel leaders and defected along with a small number of followers. He aimed at uniting the numerous rebel groups under his own command and taking the offensive against the Bolsheviks. He managed to turn the disorganized rebel forces into a small well-drilled army and establish himself as its supreme commander. However, David Fromkin has written, “he was a vain, strutting man who loved uniforms, medals and titles. For use in stamping official documents, he ordered a golden seal that described him as 'Commander-in-Chief of all the Armies of Islam, Son-in-Law of the Caliph and Representative of the Prophet.' Soon he was calling himself Emir of Turkestan, a practice not conducive to good relations with the Emir whose cause he served. At some point in the first half of 1922, the Emir of Bukhara broke off relations with him, depriving him of troops and much-needed financial support. The Emir of Afghanistan also failed to march to his aid."
Operation Nemesis had succeeded in the liquidation of several of Enver’s colleagues in European capitals. An Armenian group assassinated Ahmed Djemal Pasha on July 25, 1922, in Tiflis under the very sight of the Cheka, the Soviet secret police. Ten days later, Enver would find his own Armenian nemesis in Central Asia.
Hakob Melkumian
Yakov Melkumov (Hakob Melkumian), born in Shushi (Gharabagh) in 1885, was a decorated career officer who had participated in World War I and after the revolution had entered the Red Army. After fighting in Bielorrusia (Belarus) in 1918, he became a cavalry brigade commander in Turkestan in late 1919, and from 1920-1923 he was involved in the suppression of the Basmachi revolt.
On August 4, 1922 Melkumian’s brigade launched a surprise attack while Enver had allowed his troops to celebrate the Kurban Bayrami holiday, retaining a 30-men guard at his headquarters near the village of Ab-i-Derya, near Dushanbe. Some Turkish sources claimed that Enver and his men charged the approaching troops, and the Turkish leader was killed by machine-gun fire. Melkumian published his memoirs in 1960, where he stated that Enver had managed to escape on horseback and hid for four days in the village of Chaghan. A Red Army officer infiltrated the village in disguise and located his hideout, after which the troops stormed Chaghan, and Melkumian himself killed Enver in the ensuing combat.
After seven decades in Ab-i-Derya, Enver’s remains were taken to Turkey in 1996 and buried at the Monument of Liberty cemetery in Istanbul. Melkumian was decorated with the second order of the Red Army for killing Enver and defeating his forces. The Armenian officer continued his military career until 1937 in Central Asia. He was arrested in June 1937, during the heyday of the Stalinist purges, and charged with participated in the “military-fascist conspiracy.” He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and 5 years of deprivation of civil rights. After the death of Stalin, he was freed in 1954 and rehabilitated. He died in Moscow in 1962.