Thursday, May 28, 2015

Declaration of United Armenia (May 28, 1919)

At the time of the independence of the first Republic of Armenia (May 1918), its population also included a mass of refugees from Western Armenia who had survived the genocide.

The first congress of Western Armenians, held in the spring of 1917, tried to establish a semblance of organization for the mass of refugees. Some of them had temporarily resettled back in their homes in 1916-1917, when part of Western Armenia had been occupied by Russia. However, the breakdown of the Caucasian front after the Russian Revolution and the advance of the Turkish Ottoman forces had displaced them once again to the east. These events had crippled the organization established in 1917.

In view of the political changes, an interparty council of Western Armenians named a special commission in December 1918 to arrange for a second general conference. The Second Conference of Western Armenians met in Yerevan from February 6-13, 1919.

The conference adopted a resolution on February 12, 1919 that read in part:
“The Second Congress of Western Armenians, having studied the current situation of the Armenian people:

1. Sincerely hails and extols the independence of Free and United Armenia; (. . .)

3. Proclaims its firm determination and will to have one political and governmental entity through the confluence of the lands and people of all Armenia;(. . .)

5. Directs the elected ‘Executive Body’ to work actively, at the same time, with the cabinet and the legislature of the Araratian [Yerevan] Republic to declare the independence of United, Free Armenia and, in order to effect the all-national union, to participate in the administrative and legislative institutions. (…).”

The nine-person Executive Body was instructed to implement the decision of the Congress and to function until the creation of a combined government of united Armenia. Its petition was approved by the coalition government of the Republic, formed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Populist Party, on February 25, 1919.

The cabinet of ministers adopted the text of the declaration on Armenia’s unification on May 26, 1919, and a day later, another cabinet resolution authorized the Executive Body of the Western Armenians to select twelve deputies to enter the Parliament of united Armenia.

On 28 May 1919, on the first anniversary of the Republic of Armenia, acting Prime Minister Alexander Khatisian read the text of the declaration in a solemn ceremony held at the Parliament:

“To restore the integrity of Armenia and to secure the complete freedom and prosperity of its people, the Government of Armenia, abiding by the solid will and desire of the entire Armenian people, declares that from this day forward the separated parts of Armenia are everlastingly combined as an independent political entity.

(. . .) Now in promulgating this act of unification and independence of the ancestral Armenian lands located in Transcaucasia and the Ottoman Empire, the Government of Armenia declares that the political system of United Armenia is a democratic republic and that it has become the Government of the United Republic of Armenia.

Thus, the people of Armenia are henceforth the supreme lord and master of their consolidated fatherland, and the Parliament and Government of Armenia stand as the supreme legislative and executive authority conjoining the free people of United Armenia. (. . .)”

After the ovation that followed the reading, Khatisian invited the twelve newly designated Western Armenian deputies to take their places within the legislature. On their behalf, Vahagn Krmoyan pledged active Western Armenian participation in the governing bodies of the Republic.

After the messages by Avetik Sahakian, president of the Parliament, and Catholicos Gevorg V, and congratulations by the representatives of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Karabagh, Armenian Americans, and others, Khatisian proceeded to the balcony of the Parliament and read again the declaration to the mass of people gathered on the street.

The declaration, intended to cement the unity of the Armenian people and establish its political will towards the restoration of the country over its historical borders, had the contrary effect. Historian Richard Hovannisian has aptly summarized it: “The proclamation that had been intended as an expression of unity actually aggravated the discord between Russian Armenians and Turkish Armenians and between Dashnakist and anti-Dashnakist leaders. A startling about-face by the Populist Party in the days following the celebration in Erevan administered the coup de grace to the coalition cabinet.”

Although the declaration of United Armenia was never carried on the ground (the Treaty of Sevres, which would become its instrument in August 1920, remained on paper), its symbolic force was an expression and an inspiration for the political dreams of the Armenian people.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Opening of the Monument of Sardarabad (May 25, 1968)

Sardarabad, located 25 miles to the west of Yerevan, became the last Armenian stance against the advance of the invading Third Ottoman Army in May 1918. A defeat would not only open the door for their penetration to the rest of Eastern Armenia, but also the follow-up to the genocide of 1915-1916. Major General Otto von Lossow, German delegate to the Caucasus, had reported to his government on May 15, 1918 that the Ottomans intended to advance the border further to the east, monopolize the economy of the region, and bring about “the total extermination of the Armenians in Transcaucasia also.” Two days before his departure from Tiflis, on May 23, he wrote in his final report: “The aim of Turkish policy is, as I have always reiterated, the taking of possession of Armenian districts and the extermination of the Armenians.”

The Armenian victory in Sardarabad, from May 22-28, 1918, became the cornerstone of the foundation of the first Republic of Armenia. However, the victories of May 1918 and the first republic remained taboo issues in Soviet Armenia until the national awakening of the 1960s that led to the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the genocide in 1965. Afterwards, there would be a historical reassessment, although within the ideological constraints imposed by the regime.

Part of that reassessment would be the construction of the monument dedicated to the battle, inaugurated on May 25, 1968. Its author was talented architect Raphael Israelian (1908-1973), who had already built popular memorials such as the arch of Charents (1957) on the road to Garni and the first monument to the genocide, built in the courtyard of Holy Echmiadzin (1965). Other projects would be completed during his lifetime and posthumously.

The entrance of the impressive complex, which extends over some 50 acres, is guarded by gigantic winged bulls, which symbolize the victory obtained by the people. The steps take the visitor to a wide square, dominated by the 115-foot high bell tower. The nine-bell structure, built from red-orange tufa stone, is the focus of the monumental complex. It reflects the critical moment that the entire country lived and that called the people to the fight. As it is well known, Catholicos Gevorg V ordered all church bells in Armenia to sound day and night in the days of the three battles of Sardarabad, Gharakilise, and Pash Abaran. The bells sound every year on the day of the victory.

The bell tower square marks the beginning of the avenue, flanked by a series of eagles, leading to the 180-foot long Victory wall, which depicts the images of the battle, sculpted by Ara Harutunian and other artists. In 1978 the State Ethnographic Museum of Armenia was built on the end side of the complex, with an impressive collection. It also includes a section dedicated to the first Republic.

As the refrain of the famous song written by poet Paruyr Sevak exhorts, “Generations, know yourself in Sardarabad.” The monument to the battle is one of those mirrors that have helped know history for almost half a century.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Death of Tovma Medzopetsi (May 15, 1446)

Tovma Medzopetsi was the last noteworthy name in the long chain of Armenian medieval historians. As many others before him, his historical works have become a unique source for the study of a certain period of Armenian history, in this case, his own times.

Medzopetsi was born in 1378 in the village of Aghi, near the city of Arjesh, in the region of the Lake Van (Vaspurakan). He studied in the nearby monastery of Medzopavank, built in the eleventh century, between 1386 and 1393. The monastery was headed at the time by Hovhannes Medzopetsi, a vartabed who was a graduate of the University of Datev, in the region of Siunik. He later continued his studies in the monastery of Kharabastavank, as a student of the master vartabeds Sargis Aprakunetsi and Vartan Hokotsvanetsi. Afterwards, he went to the University of Datev in 1406 and studied with St. Grigor Davtevatsi himself, who had been the teacher of Hovhannes Medzopetsi decades before.

After studying for almost a quarter of a century, in 1410 Tovma Medzopetsi returned to his alma mater and became the abbot and the school master of Medzopavank for more than thirty years. During his tenure, the monastery became an active center of manuscript copy and illumination. Textbooks and commentaries were written by specialists who had been invited to teach there.

Besides works in the field of exegesis, music, and ritual, Medzopetsi is particularly noted for his historical work History of Tamerlane and His Successors, devoted to the period 1386-1440. The historian was a contemporary of the devastating invasions of the Turkic-Mongol conqueror Tamerlane, who laid waste of much of Armenia in successive campaigns between 1387 and 1402. He described the ruinous campaigns, the massacres and slavery of the population, the harsh tributary regime, and the few attempts to oppose the enemy.

In 1441, together with other high-ranking ecclesiastics of Armenia, Medzopetsi was among the organizers of the ecclesiastical assembly held in Holy Echmiadzin to elect a new Catholicos. The assembly elected Kirakos I Virapetsi (1441-1443), who installed its seat in Holy Echmiadzin, while Grigor IX Musabekiants (1439-1446) was Catholicos of Cilicia. Thus, from 1441 onwards, the Armenian Church had two Catholicosates.

Medzopetsi passed away in 1446 in the village of Akori, near Mount Ararat, and was buried in the monastery of Medzopavank, which would be destroyed in 1915.