Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Birth of Nelson Stepanian (March 28, 1913)

Armenians had an important participation in the Soviet army during World War II. One of the most remarkable names in the Soviet air force was Nelson Stepanian.
Stepanian was born in Shushi (Artsakh) on March 28, 1913. He moved to Yerevan with his parents shortly thereafter and attended Maxim Gorki School. He was a fifth grader when he got interested in aviation and aeromodelism. He won competitions of aeromodelism in Moscow, Kiev, Tbilisi, and Baku.
In 1932 he graduated from the Sergo Orjonikidze preparatory military school of Baku, and three years later finished the school of Military Aviation in Bataysk, where he worked as a flight instructor until 1938. He continued his service in the city of Mineralniye Vodi, in the Northern Caucasus, until 1941.
On June 23, 1941, the day after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Stepanian was called to service in the offensive aviation of the Black Sea fleet. He entered the 46 th attack squadron and got familiarized with the Il-2 fighter, participating in the defensive combats in Poltava, Zaporozhye, and Odessa. He was wounded by shrapnel flak in his twentieth sortie.
In August 1941 Stepanian was transferred to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) as a member of the second air squadron of the 57 th division and participated in the defense of the city. He was designated ring commander. By decision of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, on October 23, 1942, he was decorated as Hero of the Soviet Union, and in November of the same year, Capt. Stepanian became commander of the squadron of the 57 th Assault Regiment. As of November 1942, he was reported to have destroyed 78 German trucks, 67 tanks, 63 anti-aircraft guns, nineteen mortars, 36 railroad cars, twenty merchantmen and warships (including a destroyer), thirteen fuel tankers, twelve armored cars, seven long-range guns, five ammunition dumps, and five bridges.
After he was promoted to the rank of major in 1943, he became the commander of the 47th Fighter Division. He executed about 60 battle flights in the positions of Leningrad and destroyed, together with his men, eight tanks, some 90 vehicles, and more than 60 cannons and machine guns.
During the Crimean offensive in April 1944, Stepanian became commander of the 47 th air battalion, which was fighting in Crimea and Kuban. Under his command, the battalion participated in the fights near Feodosia, Sebastopol, and Sudak. On April 16, 1944 Stepanian, who headed a group of 12 Il-2 fighters, had personally destroyed three landing barges. He participated in the elimination of a German convoy on May 22, although his plane suffered important damage. Prior to the offensive, the 47th Division had destroyed 8 transports, 12 barges, 9 patrol boats, and more than 3,000 soldiers and officers.
In May 1944, after the liberation of Crimea, Stepanian returned to the Baltic Sea with his 47th Fighter Division, where they were involved in the battles of the Gulf Finland. He was awarded the Order of the Red Banner on July 22.
On his final sortie against Liepaja in Latvia, on December 14, 1944, the assault group was attacked by German fighters. Stepanian’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and, though wounded, he rammed his own plane into a German warship. The 31-year-old Armenian pilot died along with navigator Captain Alexander Rumyantsev. The devastating loss hit the rest of the squadron harshly. His fellow pilots sent the following letter to his parents after his death:
“[A] simple and modest man, close and beloved by all; he was a father and teacher to all of us, a friend and a commander....We all wept when Nelson Gevorgovich failed to return on that fateful day. They say that tears bring comfort. But the few tears of a soldier, like the red-hot drops of metal, burn the heart and call for vengeance.”
Stepanian was posthumously awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title for a second time for his sacrifice. According to Soviet sources, Stepanian undertook no less than 239 combat sorties, sunk 53 ships (thirteen alone), destroyed 80 tanks, 600 armored vehicles, 105 cannons, 130 machine guns, 27 aircraft, and 5,000 soldiers.
Four statues of Stepanian were inaugurated in Liepaja, Yerevan, Stepanakert, and Shushi. The latter was destroyed by Azerbaijanis during the Gharabagh war. The statue of Liepaja was moved to Kaliningrad in the 1990s.
Stepanian’s name is also remembered by school No. 71 of Yerevan, named after him on the tenth anniversary of his death in 1954.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Treaty of Moscow (March 16, 1921)

The Treaty of Moscow was signed between Soviet Russia and Kemalist Turkey on March 16, 1921. The Russian side yielded to most Turkish demands, and signed a document that was utterly damaging to Armenia for the sake of Russian-Turkish “friendship and brotherhood.”

The treaty was the outcome of the second Russian-Turkish conference, held in Moscow from February 26-March 16, 1921, with the participation of two Russian (Georgi Chicherin, the Commissar of Foreign Affairs, and Jelal Korkmasov) and three Turkish representatives (Yusuf Kemal bey, Riza Nur bey, and Ali Fuad pasha). Stalin, the Commissar of Nationalities, lobbied against any claim from Turkey that could put the Russian-Turkish alliance in risk. In a letter to Lenin on February 12, 1921, he had written: “I just learned yesterday that Chicherin really sent a stupid (and provocative) demand to the Turks to clean Van, Mush, and Bitlis (Turkish provinces with enormous Turkish supremacy) to the benefit of Armenians. This Armenian imperialist demand cannot be our demand. Chicherin must be forbidden to send notes to the Turks suggested by nationalist-oriented Armenians.” The Bolsheviks sought to halt further Turkish advance into the region. Weary from the ongoing Russian Civil War, which was winding down, they had no intent of starting a new war.

Not surprisingly, Chicherin refrained from his pro-Armenian position, and declared during the conference that Russia would not insist about passing the border to the west of the Akhurian (Arpachay) and the south of the Arax rivers. This meant that the entire province of Kars and the district of Surmalu (Igdir), which had never belonged to the Ottoman Empire, would go to Turkey. The Turkish delegation additionally claimed for the province of Nakhichevan, which historically had belonged to the Armenian Province and then to the governorate of Yerevan under the rule of the Russian Empire, to be put under Azerbaijani administration.

Thus, the treaty of “friendship and brotherhood” between Soviet Russia and Turkey recognized Turkish control over Artvin, Ardahan, Kars, and Surmalu. The region of Adjara, with the port of Batum, was returned to Soviet Georgia on the condition that it would be granted political autonomy due to its largely Muslim Georgian population. (Adjara became an autonomous republic within Georgia.) Turkey withdrew from Alexandropol (nowadays Gumri) and a new border was established between Turkey and Soviet Armenia, defined by the Arax and Akhurian rivers. According to these new boundaries, Mount Ararat and the ruins of Ani remained within Turkey.

The treaty also stipulated that Nakhichevan would become an autonomous entity under Azerbaijani protectorate. Azerbaijan obliged not to transfer the jurisdiction to a third party, namely, Armenia. Additionally, Turkey later acquired a small strip of territory known as the Arax corridor, which had also been part of the governorate of Yerevan. This corridor was located east of Surmalu, limited by the Arax River to the north and the Lower Karasu River to the south. It was a strategic strip of land that allowed Turkey to share a common border with Nakhichevan and, consequently, Soviet Azerbaijan.

Both signatory parties were internationally unrecognized, and thus were not subject of international law, which made the treaty illegal and invalid. The RSFSR, now under the guise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was legally recognized for the first time in 1924 by Great Britain. The Great National Assembly of Turkey was a non-governmental organization led by Mustafa Kemal, which did not have any legal grounds to represent the Turkish state in international relations. According to the Ottoman Constitution, only the sultan had the right to engage other states, be it personally or through a representative. The Kemalist movement was actually a rebellion against the legal authorities of the country, and Kemal was a criminal fugitive who had been sentenced to death by a fatwa signed by the Sheikh-ul-Islam, the highest religious authority of the Ottoman Empire, on April 11, 1920, and a court-martial on May 11, 1920.

The section of the Treaty of Moscow related to Armenia was a violation of international law, since treaties can only refer to the signatory parties and do not create any obligation to third parties that are not bound by treaty without the latter’s agreement. At the time of the Treaty, the Soviet regime had been thrown out from Armenia by the popular rebellion of February 1921.

The treaty was reaffirmed in October 1921 with the Treaty of Kars and the borders it established have been maintained ever since. However, this did not mean that Soviet policymakers necessarily accepted the terms of the treaty as permanent. After World War II, when the Soviet Union was at the zenith of its power, its leader Stalin reopened the issue on behalf of Armenia and his native Georgia. Supported by Moscow, both republics began to assert territorial claims against Ankara. According to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin made this move at the insistence of Lavrenti Beria, the deputy premier and a fellow Georgian. Indeed, Ankara sought the support of Washington, which had become suspicious of Soviet intentions with the onset of the Cold War. The issue was eventually dropped by Moscow and by 1952 Turkey joined NATO, precluding any further discussion on border revisions.

The frontiers established by the 1921 treaty remained unaltered and were maintained by the newly-independent states of Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R.

Following the shoot down of a Russian plane over the Syria–Turkey border in November 2015 and the rise of Russo-Turkish tensions, members of the Communist Party of Russia proposed the nullification of the Treaty of Moscow. Initially, the Russian Foreign Ministry considered this action in order to send a political message to Turkey.   However, Moscow ultimately decided against it in its effort to de-escalate tensions with Ankara.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Death of Alexander Khatisian (March 10, 1945)

Alexander Khatisian, one of the prime ministers of the first Republic of Armenia, was a remarkable public figure before and after the crucial years of 1918-1920. 
He was born in Tiflis (nowadays Tbilisi), the capital of Georgia, on February 17, 1874. He belonged to a well-to-do family. His brother Kostandin Khatisian (1864-1913) was among the founding members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
After graduating from the local gymnasium (Russian high school) in 1891, Khatisian went to Russia to pursue higher education. He studied medicine at the universities of Moscow and Kharkov, and graduated in 1897. He mastered half a dozen languages, including English, French, and German.
From 1898 to 1900 he traveled abroad for specialization courses in the best clinics. He visited Italy, France, and Germany, where he also studied public hygiene, laws, and municipal work in slaughterhouses, hospitals, and water works. Later on, he would publish articles and pamphlets on cultural and health-related topics.
Upon his return to Tiflis, in 1900, Khatisian worked as a doctor, and also entered the political arena. In 1902 he was elected to the City Council, and in 1905 he became a member of the City Board. He participated in the revolutionary movements of 1905. He wanted to join the A.R.F. at that date, but he was dissuaded by Rostom, one of the party founders, and Hamo Ohanjanian, among others, who argued that he could better serve the Armenian people and the party as a non-partisan. In 1907 he became an assistant to the mayor of Tiflis, and from 1910-1917 served as mayor of Tiflis. He was president of the Caucasus branch of the Union of Cities (including a total of forty-four cities) from 1914-1917.
During World War I, Khatisian was among the organizers of assistance for Armenian refugees and genocide survivors. He collaborated with the formation of the Armenian volunteer battalions and was elected vice-president of the Armenian National Bureau of Tiflis from 1915-1917.
After the February Revolution of 1917, Khatisian entered the ranks of the A.R.F. During that decisive year, he led the National Bureau until October, presided over the Council of Armenian Political Parties (March-April), and participated in the convention of peasants of Transcaucasia (June 1917). He moved to Armenia at the end of the year and was elected mayor of Alexandropol (nowadays Gumri). In February 1918 he participated in the peace negotiations held with the Ottoman Empire in Trebizonda (Trabzon).
However, in April 1918 he went back to Tiflis, when he was designated Minister of Finances and Provisions of the short-lived Republic of Transcaucasia. In May he returned to the table of negotiations with the Turks, and was one of the three Armenian representatives who signed the Treaty of Batum on June 4, 1918, where the Ottoman Empire recognized the independence of Armenia over a stretch of territory.
He moved to Yerevan, and Prime Minister Hovhannes Kajaznuni designated him as Minister of Foreign Affairs. After Kajaznuni left Armenia in February 1919 on official mission, in April Khatisian was designated acting Prime Minister and was confirmed as Prime Minister in May, while also retaining his position in Foreign Affairs. He reshuffled his cabinet first in August 1919 and then in the spring of 1920.
After the failed May 1920 uprising engineered by Armenian Communists, Khatisian resigned from his post. He was replaced by Hamo Ohanjanian, the representative of the A.R.F. Bureau, while the Bureau members took the cabinet posts. Khatisian traveled abroad in the summer to organize a loan for the country within the Armenian communities and create a “Golden Fund.”
After his return, on the eve of the Sovietization, he signed the Treaty of Alexandropol along the representatives of Mustafa Kemal on behalf of the Republic of Armenia in the early morning of December 2-3, 1920.
After the fall of the Republic, Khatisian settled in Paris. He continued his political activities, and participated in the Lausanne Conference in 1922-1923 defending the rights of the Armenian people. He was a member of various Armenian and Russian public organizations. He published his memoirs of his time as mayor of Tiflis and the volume The Origin and Development of the Republic of Armenia (1930).
During World War II and the occupation of Paris, Khatisian moved to Portugal. However, after the liberation of the French capital, he was arrested under trumped-up charges of collaboration with the Nazis, but was soon liberated due to lack of proofs. He passed away on March 10, 1945, in Paris

Friday, March 2, 2018

Death of Henri Troyat (March 2, 2007)

Prolific and popular French novelist and biographer Henri Troyat, a member of the French Academy for almost half a century, was also of Armenian origin, even though he had little connection to Armenian life.

He was born Lev Aslanovich Tarasov on November 1, 1911, in Moscow. His last name was the Russianized form of Torosian, and his maternal grandfather was of Armenian-Georgian mixed descent. His father was a wealthy Armenian draper who had made a fortune through investment in railways and banking. His privileged environment included a Swiss governess who taught him French. When the Soviet Revolution broke in 1917, the family retreated to their estate in the Caucasus, but the failure of the counter-revolutionary movement forced them to catch the last émigré boat from Crimea to Constantinople in 1920. From Constantinople, they traveled with passports of the Republic of Armenia to France and joined the exiled Russian community in Paris. They settled in the prosperous suburb of Neuilly, where young Lev attended the Lycée Pasteur. The family found exile life difficult and was forced to move to the city, where Lev Tarasov studied law at the Sorbonne. He would once say: “Success means nothing. I know what I'm talking about: at the very beginning of my life, I saw my parents lose everything in a reversal of fortune, and I kept that lesson in mind.”

He would never return to Russia, even after the fall of the Soviet Union, claiming that he wanted to keep alive the imaginary country he had created out of childhood memories and dreams. He acquired French citizenship in 1933, and departed to Metz to complete his mandatory military service. He was still under arms when he published his first novel, False Light, in 1935, which obtained the Prix du Roman Populiste, under the pseudonym Henri Troyat.

After returning from military service, the writer was appointed as a civil servant in the prefecture of the Seine. He continued his literary career, publishing a series of short psychological novels. In 1938 his fifth novel, The Web, earned him both the Prix Max Barthou of the French Academy and the very prestigious Prix Goncourt. He was mobilized with the outbreak of World War II and returned to Paris in 1940.

At this point Troyat’s career took a major shift. He continued with his short psychological fiction--his novel Snow in Mourning (1952) was filmed with Spencer Tracy in 1956 as The Mountain —but his subsequent work was dominated by two major innovations: the long novel cycle and biography. In 1942 he left his civil service job to devote himself entirely to literature. He married twice; he had a son from his marriage, which ended in divorce, and later married a widow, the love of his life, with a young daughter whom he raised as his own.

He initiated a whole series of biographies of Russian writers (Fyodor Dostoevsky, Alexander Pushkin, Leon Tolstoy, Nikolai Gogol, and Anton Chekhov) and tsars (Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, Alexander I, and Ivan the Terrible). These works brought an introduction to Russian literary and political culture to the French public. The historical research became the grounds for a series of historical novels, mostly based in Russia. Troyat devoted the trilogy While the Earth Endures (1947-1950) to prerevolutionary Russia, the revolution, the civil war, and the exile, and then explored France from the same perspective in the tetralogy The Seed and the Fruit (1953-1958), which became a popular French television series in 2001. These cycles of novels were followed by other multivolume novels from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s. He would have more than a hundred literary works in his count, including novels, short stories, biographies, and plays.

Troyat became one the first French best-sellers, combining critical recognition with commercial success. In 1952 he won the Grand Prix Littéraire du Prince Pierre de Monaco. Seven years later, on May 21, 1959, at the age of forty-seven, he was inducted into the French Academy. Intriguingly, he sat on seat number 28, which had previously belonged to Claude Farrere, a novelist well-known for his pro-Turkish stances. He became the most long-standing member of the group of forty “immortals” who safeguard the French language. He would later earn a series of state decorations, including the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, the highest ranking in France.

Henri Troyat published his last novel, The Hunt, in 2006, at the age of ninety-five. He passed away on March 2, 2007.