Thursday, January 22, 2015

January 22, 1936: Death of Yeghishe Tadeosian

Yeghishe Tadeosian was a talented painter of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He was born on September 12, 1870 in Vagharshapat. He studied in the Ter Hakobian pension of Tiflis from 1879-1881 and then at the Lazarian Lyceum of Moscow (1881-1885). Afterwards he entered the School of Fine Arts, Sculpture, and Architecture of Moscow, where he was a student of Russian influential painters Vladimir Makovsky (1846-1920) and Vasily Polenov (1844-1927).

Tadeosian, Komitas, 1936
After graduation in 1894, Tadeosian returned to Armenia and taught for a year at the Kevorkian Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin. In 1896 he returned to Moscow and participated in the 24th salon of the Peredvizhniki (“The Wanderers”), a group of realist painters to which his teachers Makovsky and Polenov were affiliated. The budding artist won two prizes in 1898 at the competition of the Society of Artists of Moscow for his paintings “Midday Meal” and “Preaching to the Right Believers.” He traveled to Palestine with his mentor Polenov in 1898 and, later, almost every day traveled through the Middle East and Europe (until 1914), Russia, and Armenia, which became the source for his art.

The painter settled in Tiflis in 1901 and was a member of the literary and artistic group “Ikar,” founded in 1907. He participated in the exhibitions of the “classical period” of the avant-garde group Mir isskustva (“World of Art”), and its successor, the Union of Russian Artists, until 1910. He collaborated with the foundation of the Union of Armenian Artists in Tiflis (1916) and was elected as its chairman.

Tadeosian's tombstone at the Komitas Pantheon in Yerevan.
Tadeosian organized the exhibition of the Union of Armenian Artists in Yerevan (1921) and two years later, he was one of the founders and first professors of the Academy of Fine Arts of Georgia. In 1935 he was bestowed the title of Emeritus Worker of Art of Soviet Armenia.

In his works of the 1890s and 1900s, Tadeosian showed some trends close to impressionism, although he remained essentially a realist painter. He tried many varieties of plastic art, including mosaic, small sculptures, and stage decoration. He was a master of portrait and landscape. He also touched the subject of the Armenian massacres, as well as traditions and historical past.

He passed away on January 22, 1936 in Tiflis. His body was later moved to Yerevan, where a street bears his name, and was buried in the Pantheon, the cemetery of cultural and political figures situated near Gomidas Park. His tombstone offers a unique piece of trivia: for some reason, the name of the painter has been written as «Եղիշէ Թադէոսեան» (Yeghishe Tadeosian), in Classical Armenian spelling, even though his name should have been «Եղիշե Թադեւոսյան» (Yeghishe Tadevosyan) in Soviet Armenian spelling. One may only wonder how this happened and how the writing escaped the attention of Soviet Armenian censors.

Monday, January 19, 2015

January 19, 2007: Assassination of Hrant Dink

Eight years ago, the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink became a crucial moment in the last decade of Turkish public life and a symbol of intolerance against freedom of speech.

Dink was born in Malatia on September 15, 1954. At the age of five, his family moved to Istanbul. Due to the separation of their parents, he and his two brothers were sent to the kindergarten of the Armenian Evangelical Church of Gedigpaşa as boarders. The three brothers continued their education at the elementary school of the same church in Incirdibi and went to its summer camp in Tuzla. Hrant went to the Bezjian School in junior high and to the Surp Khach Tbrevank in high school, and graduated as a senior from the public school of Şişli.

At summer camp, he met Rakel Yagbasan, five years his junior, who was born in Silopi and came from the Varto clan. In 1972 he entered university and engaged in the Turkish leftist movement, which he left four years later, when he got married. Hrant and Rakel Dink had three children. He completed his degree in zoology, but could not finish his second bachelor degree in philosophy.

In 1979 he opened a bookstore with his brothers, which they ran successfully. From 1979-1984, he and his wife also ran the Tuzla summer camp, until the Turkish government seized it after a five year legal battle.

In the 1990s Dink was a contributor to Marmara newspaper, reviewing Turkish books about Armenians with the pen name “Chutak” (Violin). On April 5, 1996, he launched the first bilingual (Turkish and Armenian) weekly in the history of Turkey, Agos, which he edited until his death. Agos spoke loudly against any unfair treatment of the Armenian community in Turkey, covered human rights violations and problems of democratization in Turkey, carried news of developments in the Republic of Armenia, with special emphasis on Turkey-Armenia relations, published articles and serials on the Armenian cultural heritage and its contributions to the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, and criticized malfunctions and lack of transparency in Armenian institutions.

Dink was also a commentator for Turkish periodicals. He wrote about the establishment of good neighborhood relations between Turkey and Armenia, the opening of the borders, support of Turkish democratic processes, and the Armenian genocide. He also lectured in many countries about Armenian identity and Turkish-Armenian relations.

His views and his outspokenness started to discomfort many people. He was prosecuted three times for denigrating Turkishness, pursuant to article 301 of the Turkish Penal Court. He was taken to court for statements during a lecture in Urfa (2002), but acquitted in 2006. A second trumped-up charge, stemming from the purposeful misunderstanding of a statement, resulted in a six-month suspended sentence (2005) that Dink, after ending all avenues in the Turkish judicial system, had appealed to the European Court of Human Rights at the time of his death. The ECHR concluded in 2010 that Turkish authorities had violated his freedom of speech. A third trial came in 2006 after he declared to Reuters that what happened in 1915 was genocide. The latter was dropped after his death, but Agos general director Arat Dink (his son) and publisher Sarkis Seropyan were sentenced to one year of prison.

The actual witch hunt had started in February 2004, after the mainstream Hurriyet daily reprinted a news piece from Agos, published in September 2003, claiming that Sabiha Gökçen, one of the adoptive daughters of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was actually an Armenian orphan of the genocide. The press release from the office of the Chief of General Staff stated on February 22, 2004: “Whatever the reason, opening up such a symbol to public debate is a crime against national unity and social peace.”. Dink was called to the governor’s office in Istanbul and given a warning by two people whose identities remained undisclosed. Afterwards, a virulent campaign started in the press that continued until his death. The well-known journalist Mehmet Ali Birand wrote, “We are the real murderers of Hrant. We have brought up our murderers in an atmosphere and mentality created by Article 301.”

On January 19, 2007, Hrant Dink was killed outside the offices of Agos by seventeen-year-old Ogün Samast. His burial ceremony became a demonstration of more than one hundred thousand people protesting the killing and claiming, “We are all Armenians. We are all Hrant Dink.” His assassin was condemned to 22 years and 10 months in prison in 2011, while another suspect, Yasin Hayal, convicted of ordering the murder, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

However, it has become clear that justice has not been served yet. The Turkish top court ruled in July 2014 that the investigation of the killing was flawed, and recent arrests of policemen for “negligence” in the inquiry of the murder have shown that there is still a long way before closing the books on the assassination of the brave Armenian journalist.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

January 13, 1990: Baku Pogrom

Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which had a large Armenian community since the late nineteenth century, was the theater of anti-Armenian massacres in 1905 and 1918. In January 1990, the local community was persecuted, massacred, and forced to leave the city forever.

The beginning of the Karabagh conflict, followed by the pogrom of Sumgait in February 1988, was marked with a violent Azerbaijani response to the peaceful Armenian demonstrations and claims. Exchange of population started. However, while Armenians were expelled by force from Kirovabad (currently Ganja, the second city of Azerbaijan) in the fall of 1988, as well as from other locations, Azerbaijanis were able to sell their properties and leave Armenia without being disturbed.

Azerbaijani mass media, and particularly television, were flooded with anti-Armenian propaganda, which paved the way for violence. The Popular Front of Azerbaijan, a nationalist and anti-communist movement, called to expel Armenians from Baku and take up their homes. Killings and robbery became frequent throughout 1989.

On December 1 of that year, the Supreme Councils of the Armenian SS Republic and the Mountainous Karabagh Autonomous Region passed a joint resolution on the formal unification of Armenia and Karabagh. This resolution triggered the anti-Armenian massacre of Baku from January 13-19, 1990 as a direct response.

The violence was preceded by demonstrations of the Popular Front, which called for the defense of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty from Armenian demands. Groups of young Azerbaijanis roamed the streets, terrorizing Armenians and warning them to leave Baku. Azaddin Gyulmamedov, a young Azerbaijani who attended the rally in Baku on January 13 and witnessed the outbreak of anti-Armenian violence, gave the following testimony: “We went to see what was happening. We saw these guys in the streets. I don't know who they were - drug addicts, maybe. They had sticks and clubs, and lists of Armenians and where they lived. They wanted to break down the doors of Armenian apartments and chase them out. The police didn't do anything. They just stood and watched. Same with the soldiers, who had weapons. We asked them to help. There were about a dozen soldiers and ten of us, and there were about twenty in the gang, but the soldiers wouldn't help. They said: 'You can do it yourself, Blackie. We're not getting involved.’”

At nightfall of January 12-13, attacks started; Armenian homes were set on fire and looted, while Armenians were killed or injured. The homes of Armenians had been previously identified and mapped, while law enforcement bodies stood idle, and ambulance people made fake medical certificates, according to which the deaths of Armenians were caused by circulatory injury and not by the violence.

An elderly Armenian woman is one of many evacuees that escaped Baku after the massacres of Armenians by Azeris began in mid-January of 1990.
According to Radio Liberty, on the night of January 14 alone, 25 people were killed in the Armenian district. The Russian daily Izvestia reported on January 18 and 19 that 64 cases of pogrom had been identified, with Armenians as victims, on January 16, and 45 pogroms and arsons of residential houses on January 17. The New York Times wrote on January 19: “Nationalists in Lithuania are struggling to wrest independence from Moscow by nonviolent, political means. Nationalists in Azerbaijan also talk of independence, but their protest includes bloody pogroms against their Armenian neighbors.”

One of the leaders of the National Front of Azerbaijan, Etibar Mamedov, testified about the cruelties and the lack of official intervention: “I myself witnessed the murder of two Armenians near the railway station. A crowd gathered, threw petrol on them and burned them, whereas the regional militia division was only 200 meters away with some 400-500 soldiers of the internal forces. The soldiers passed by the burning bodies at a distance of some 20 meters, and nobody attempted to circle the area and dissolve the crowd.”

Central authorities in Moscow did little to stop the violence until January 20, when Soviet troops entered Baku and declared the state of emergency. As Moscow News wrote on February 4, “the troops entered the town seized with pogroms not to stop them, but to prevent the final seizure of power by the People’s Front of Azerbaijan, which was planned for January 20.” Most Armenians fled Baku. Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and his family was among the evacuees. Kasparov later testified: “No one would halt the Armenian pogroms in Baku, although there were eleven thousand soldiers of internal troops in the city. No one would intervene until the ethnic cleansing was carried out. The pogroms were happening not in a random place but in the huge capital city with blocks of flats. In such a megapolis as Baku the crowd simply cannot carry out targeted operations like that. When the pogrom-makers go purposefully from one district to another, from one apartment to another this means that they had been given the addresses and that they had a coordinator.”

The number of victims of the Armenian massacres in Baku is not clear yet, with estimates going up to 400. The events were never assessed from a legal point of view and the damages were not repaid.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

January 4, 1915: Russian Victory in the Battle of Sarikamish

The alignment of the Ottoman Empire with the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) and its declaration of war against Russia brought inevitably a winter campaign in the Caucasus. Russia had taken Kars during the Russo-Turkish War in 1877 and feared a campaign aimed at retaking Kars and the port of Batum in Georgia.

An initial Russian offensive in the first half of November was stopped 25 kilometers inside Turkish territory along the Erzerum-Sarikamish axis. War Minister Enver Pasha devised an operation plan and decided to take personal charge and execute his plan through a winter offense. The Turkish Third Army included 83,000 regular troops, reserves, and personnel of the Erzerum fortress added to 118,000. The Russian Caucasus Army was a well-equipped 100,000 troops. It included two battalions of Armenian volunteers, commanded by Hamazasp (Servantzdian) and Keri.

The Turkish plan was two-step: a sudden initial attack and a second step with two corps (Ninth and Tenth) of the army proceeding at full speed. After a very hard march under heavy snow in the mountainous territory, and various delays, the Turkish army started its attack on Sarikamish on December 29, instead of December 25 as planned. The troops were worn out, half-starved, and short of guns and ammunition. Enver thought that the Russians, who had initially evacuated Sarikamish, were retreating to Kars, when they were actually executing an encircling movement.

The IX and X Turkish Corps, totaling 12,000 men, began to attack Sarikamish. At the end of the day, they were driven off, losing 6,000 troops. Enver's positive mood was replaced with disappointment when he received information that the Russians were preparing to encircle his forces with a force of five regiments. On January 1, the commander of the XI Corps pressed a frontal attack on Sarikamish lasting for the next 4 days; after that the heavy fighting began to lose momentum. Snow hindered advancing forces which were supposed to bring the relief. 

On January 2, Russian artillery fire caused severe casualties. Enver Pasha received two reports; both were saying that they did not have any capacity to launch another attack. The Russians were advancing now and the circle was getting narrower. On January 4, Turkish Brigadier General Hafız Hakkı Pasha toured the front line and saw that the fight was over.

Afterwards, Turkish divisions started to surrender. Hafız Hakkı ordered a total retreat on January 7. The Ottoman Third Army started with 118,000 fighting power and was reduced to 42,000 effectives in January 1915. Russian losses were 16,000 killed in action and 12,000 who died of sickness, mostly due to frostbite. 

Enver was the strategist of the operation and the failure was blamed on him. Beyond his faulty estimate on how the encircled Russians would react, his failure was on not keeping operational reserves that matched the needs of the conditions. He did not have enough field service to factor the hardships faced by the soldiers and analyzed the operational necessities theoretically rather than contextually. Carrying out a military plan in the winter was not the major failure of the operation, but the level of its execution.

The Armenian detachment units are credited no small measure of the success which attended by the Russian forces, as they were natives of the region, adjusted to the climatic conditions, familiar with every road and mountain path, and had real incentive to fierce and resolute combat.

On his return to Constantinople, Enver Pasha blamed his failure on the actions of the local Armenians, initiating the repressive measures against the empire's Armenian population that were an early stage of the Armenian Genocide.