Thursday, November 20, 2014

November 20-23, 1923: The “Self-Liquidation” of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in Yerevan

The first years of the Soviet experience were marked by the struggle to establish the foundations of the new regime that included the need to end all remaining opposed forces throughout the Soviet Union. Ceremonies of “self-liquidation” of various parties that had been on the anti-Soviet front were staged.

The turn of the Southern Caucasus came in 1923. First the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (June) and then Georgian Menshevik (Social Democrats) and Azerbaijani Musavat parties (both in August) announced their dissolution in congresses “organized” by their ex-members. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation followed suit in November.

After the Sovietization of Armenia in December 1920 and the retreat of the leadership of the party from the country following the revolt of February 1921, the A.R.F. was going through an organizational crisis, which was part of the critical moment being lived by the Armenian people worldwide. It was an hour of reckoning and self-criticism, as the Vienna Conference held in April-May 1923 showed. This conference decided to convene abroad what would be the 10th World Congress of the A.R.F.

The purpose of the “Congress of Former Dashnaks in Armenia” was to impede the reconstitution of the A.R.F. outside Armenia. The Armenian Communists’ concern was to combat the idea of independence and to renounce publicly any territorial claims against the neighbor republics and Turkey, aiming “to open the eyes of the Armenian workers of the colonies."

Upon the invitation of an “organizing bureau” of seventeen members, 247 delegates representing 4,032 members of the party (a striking number in comparison to the number of members of the Communist Party of Armenia, namely, 4,230) gathered at the State Theater of Armenia on November 20, 1923. The opening was by young agronomist and writer Aksel Bakunts (1899-1937), who would soon become one of the leading story writers of Soviet Armenia before his death in the Stalinist purges. As he said in his opening remarks, the congress was organized to allow the “four thousand Dashnak party members who had never been able to express their aspirations” to break with their old party and “to put their revolutionary energies at the service . . . of the Soviet state.” During three days, the delegates evaluated the current situation of the A.R.F., analyzed critically its ideology and its political activities during the preceding thirty years, and measured the extent of its current activities in an environment that enjoyed relative freedom of expression but did not lack theatrical elements. Old Bolshevik Askanaz Mravian had a major address during the second day of sessions, where he analyzed the international and domestic situation in Armenia and Soviet Russia. The closing address on November 23 was by Lukashin (Sargis Srapionian), chairman of the Council of Popular Commissars of Armenia (equivalent to prime minister) and representative of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

The congress stressed that the peasants and workers of Armenia, whose fate had been sacrificed during the previous years at the altar of “national independence,” would henceforth enjoy “peace and security.” It called upon Armenian workers abroad to liquidate the A.R.F. committees and to struggle against capitalism, waiting for the final victory of the international working class, which would allow the resolution of the “bloody question of the liberation of the small nations.”

The main utility of the congress was internal. The “former Dashnaks” contributed to the legitimization of Soviet rule in Armenia playing the role of mediators between the Communist Party, yet poorly rooted in the country, and a population longing for peace and security. The congress failed in its key mission however, as the A.R.F. gathered its 10th World Congress from November 1924-January 1925 in Paris and retained its goals for a free, independent, and united Armenia in its program, although stressing that it had no plan to overthrow the Soviet regime. A.R.F. clandestine structures would remain active in Armenia until 1933.

Friday, November 14, 2014

November 14, 1829: Birth of Mikael Nalbandian

Francis Scott Key is just remembered as the author of the lyrics of the U.S. national anthem. It is not the same in the case of Mikael Nalbandian, who was an influential intellectual of the nineteenth century and is an important name in the history of Armenian culture, besides being the author of the lyrics of the Armenian anthem.

Nalbandian was born on November 14, 1829, in Nor Nakhichevan, the town close to Rostov-on-Don founded in the late eighteenth century by Armenian emigrants from Crimea, in the family of a craftsman. He studied in his hometown at the school of Gabriel Patkanian, and for a while he was classmate of his son, the future poet Rafael Patkanian (Kamar Katipa). He worked as a secretary in the Armenian diocese of Nor Nakhichevan and Besarabia from 1848-1853. Then he left his post and went to Moscow, where he taught Armenian language at the Lazarian College for a short while, and took classes at the Medicine School of Moscow University as an auditor (1854-1858).

Similar to Khachatur Abovian, Nalbandian championed the introduction of Modern Armenian (ashkharhapar) instead of Classical Armenian (krapar), and confronted the opposition of ecclesiastics and conservatives. He translated poems of Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Heinrich Heine, and others. Among his own poetry, three poems became favorites of the public: “The Song of the Italian Girl” (Idalatsi aghchga yerke), “Freedom” (Azadutiun), and “Days of Childhood” (Mangootian orer). The first, better known as Mer Hairenik (“Our Fatherland”), would become the anthem of the first Republic of Armenia in 1918, and was adopted again after the new independence of 1991.

Nalbandian published the journal Hiusisapayl (Aurora Borealis) with another influential intellectual, Stepanos Nazarian (1812-1879), in Moscow. During its five years of existence (1859-1864), the journal became a leading name in the cultural awakening of Eastern Armenians. Nalbandian had already made a name for himself since the 1850s due to his progressive and liberal views, as well as his outspoken and ironic style. Reform and renewal were his main ideas, as he espoused them in his writings on different issues. He published various political tracts, of which the most important was Agriculture as the Right Way (1862), where he criticized the peasant reform of 1861 in Russia.

The writer made two trips to Europe (1859 and 1860-1862), and he also visited India. In London he became friends with various famous Russian revolutionaries, such as Alexander Herzen and Mikhail Bakunin. After his return in 1862, he was arrested by the Russian secret police and spent three years in prison in St. Petersburg. He was accused of inciting anti-government sentiments and exiled to the fortress of Kamyshin, in the province of Saratov. He passed away at the age of 37, victim of tuberculosis, on April 12, 1866. He was buried in the Armenian monastery of Holy Cross, in Nakhichevan-on-Don. An important street in central Yerevan and a statue remember him.

Friday, November 7, 2014

November 7, 1922: Inauguration of the National Library of Armenia

The biggest repository of Armenian literature in the world is the National Library of Armenia, founded in 1921, but officially inaugurated on November 7, 1922.

The beginning of its history is linked to the foundation of the library of the Boys Gymnasium of Yerevan, in 1832. (“Gymnasium” was the name of Russian schools that emphasized strong academic learning, similar to U.S. preparatory high schools.) During the first independence of Armenia, this library, with a collection of 18,000 volumes, became the main state library after a decree was passed by the Council of Ministers of the Republic. The first director of the library was Stepan Kanayan, between 1919 and 1921. His efforts were instrumental to collect and buy the libraries of various Armenian organizations and schools in Tiflis, Baku, Akhaltskha, and Kars, and transfer them to Yerevan.

Various private and public collections were assembled and became the basis for what was known, during the Soviet period, as the Yerevan Public Library. Alexander Miasnikian, chairman of the Soviet of Popular Commissars (Council of Ministers) from 1921-1925, was instrumental in its foundation and initial growth. After his death in an airplane accident in 1925, the library was named after him and maintained that name until 1990 when it became the National Library of Armenia. Since 1999, July 4 is celebrated as day of the National Library of Armenia.

The library has four buildings. The oldest is the main building designed by architect Alexander Tamanian (1868-1936), who designed the master plan of Yerevan, and finished in 1939.
The number of daily visitors to the library is about 900. An annual average of 1.5 million pieces is delivered to library users. The library collection encompassed more than 6.3 million units as of January 1, 2014, including books, journals, newspapers, maps, posters, dissertations, musical notes, postcards, stamps, calendars, ex libris, banknotes, audiovisual and electronic supports (CDs, DVDs), etcetera. The library has the first printed book in Armenian, Urbatagirk (Venice, 1512); the first newspaper in Armenian, Azdarar (Madras, 1794); and the first map printed in Armenian, Համատարած աշխարհացոյց (Worldwide Map; Amsterdam, 1695). Its current director is Tigran Zargaryan.