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The Critical Corner - 02/28/2005

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Why we should read...

`Antranig and His Times' by Hratchig Simonian 
(752pp, Gaysa Publishers, Yerevan,  1996)


						For  Donald Abcarian,  
						translator of Raffi and
						upright thinker whose help
						here and elsewhere is
						valued immensely.

Armenian News Network / Groong
February 28, 2005

By Eddie Arnavoudian


This hefty first volume of Hratchig Simonian's two-volume biography of
Antranig is no hagiography. The author pulls no punches as he
considers the life and times of this most extraordinary Armenian
guerrilla commander; `warts and all' as Oliver Cromwell put it.
Erudite and well-researched, Simonian brings to his work a great deal
of little known material that affords fresh insight into his subject.
Of particular note is his account of those factors that helped shape
the character and direction of the Armenian National Liberation
Movement (ANLM) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I am not a
historian and offer the following remarks in the spirit of a
discussion on these important issues. For the sake of clarity it is
perhaps worthwhile at the outset noting that unless directly
attributed to Hratchig Simonian, views and opinions are mine alone,
albeit based on a reading of the work.

 

I. NATIONAL LIBERATION - TWO VISIONS, TWO DIRECTIONS

Hratchig Simonian explores extensively the relationships between the
military and political wings of the ANLM that had such determining
influence on its strategy between 1896-1908. He details Antranig's
case for the primacy of guerrilla warfare setting this against the
programme proposed by the ANLM leadership, of which the Armenian
Revolutionary Federation (ARF) was now master. (Here and hereafter all
reference to the ARF is to its leadership alone, not to its countless
dedicated and self-sacrificing ranks) Closely related is the
examination of the opposition between Antranig's revolutionary
nationalism and the ARF's Second International socialism. This
examination lends credence to the view that the ARF's socialist
rhetoric served only to conceal an abandonment of independent
revolutionary struggle. This view is in turn reinforced by Simonian's
account of Antranig's opposition to the ARF-Young Turk alliance; an
alliance that did indeed mark an end to the ARF's revolutionary
period.

A singular value of Simonian's overall endeavour lies in its
comprehensive demonstration of an oft-neglected truth: the course
taken by the ANLM was not determined by external forces alone, by the
Ottoman Empire or European imperialist powers. Nor was it pre-ordained
by inescapable objective conditions of life in historical Armenia.
Contributing significantly to all its important turns were those
political and military choices made by the ANLM leadership after
debate between its two major component forces: the home-based
guerrilla movement and the Diaspora based urban intelligentsia. Here,
Antranig, a vocal and ardent advocate for the former played a role of
immense significance.

Antranig's views expressed more closely the experience of the
artisan-peasant population of Armenia that provided the mainstay for
the Armenian revolution and its guerrilla forces. Antranig was of the
people and lived amongst them. His perceptions and approaches to armed
struggle, political organisation and political alliances were borne of
direct knowledge of conditions in Armenia and of its people. For the
mass of the Armenian people life, whether ruled over by Sultans or
Young Turks, was defined by plunder, pillage, murder, abduction and
arson.  The so-called 1908 Young Turk revolution made no difference -
none of the vast swathes of stolen land or property were returned and
there was no let up in official and unofficial anti-Armenian terror
that was continuing to drive tens of thousands into exile. For the
common people the Young Turk was just that same unreconstructed
military and political official of the Sultan's Empire, only dressed
in the latest fashion. The people had no ground for illusions in the
capacity of Sultan or Young Turk to make meaningful concessions to
their legitimate democratic and national demands. Antranig's
revolutionary vision was fashioned by this fundamentally antagonistic
relation between the mass of Armenians and the Ottoman state and Young
Turks. His uncompromising stand was prompted by the people's
experience of the uncompromising tyranny of the Ottoman state.

The outlook of the urban elite, on the other hand, was shaped by an
entirely different experience. This elite that gave rise to a
political and nationalist intelligentsia was externally based, in
Istanbul, Tbilisi and further afield. Its relatively secure and
privileged conditions of life removed it from the direct experience of
the vast majority of the Armenian people. The western Armenian segment
of this elite though subject to Ottoman tyranny did not suffer its
full savagery. Important sections of both eastern and western elites
were integrated into their respective imperial economic systems and
sometimes even into the higher echelons of their political apparatus.
In Istanbul the elite moved in the genteel surroundings of Ottoman
wealth and luxury. When Armenian relations with the Empire soured
elite Armenian ears in Istanbul echoed to the sympathetic sounding
hypocrisy emanating from European Embassies in Istanbul.

In Istanbul the urban intelligentsia existed in its own right, albeit
very conditionally. It had its network of school, publishing houses,
newspapers and journals, theatres and clubs. Though far from the
Homeland, and limited within the very heart of the Empire, it still
had something to live for. As it developed relations with Turkish
intellectuals educated in the same European universities, it believed
that prospects for Armenian life were improving. In contrast to the
Armenian in the Homeland the Armenian intelligentsia and urban
political activist encountered in the Young Turks men who rounded on
the Empire with a democratic rhetoric that exuded a benevolent concern
for all oppressed people. This all played its part in nurturing the
belief that among the Young Turks in particular were forces amenable
to Armenian democratic demands. This in turn generated that
unwarranted willingness for compromise with the Empire as an avenue
for political emancipation. [1]

The conflicts between these two trends within the ANLM were to produce
two strategic visions, one resting on a conception of an independent
Armenian strategic power underpinned by armed force, the other relying
on the promise of internal and external political alliances and
reform.  In the struggle between the home-based guerrilla forces and
the representatives of the urban intelligentsia the latter prevailed.
It was they who were to push the ANLM to abandon armed struggle and
nationwide insurrection. In the name of political organisation they
opted instead for the disastrous alliance with the Young Turks. To
this there was an alternative path. It was argued for by men such as
Antranig. The then ANLM leadership blocked that path. Needless to say,
even as the ARF played the leading role in this process, all other
Armenian political movements were complicit.

Prior to considering some of these issues, one point about the
character and circumstances of the man is illuminating. Like many
leading fedayee Antranig hailed from a relatively well-to-do family of
artisans in historic Armenia, underlining again the role of this class
in the ANLM.  Able to afford education for their children, possessing
a degree of material comfort they were a class with ambitions typical
of their counterparts elsewhere in the world. They balked against the
repressions and insecurities of life in the decaying Ottoman Empire
that were designed to inhibit their development in favour of the
development of a newly emerging Turkish elite.

Antranig was not however a natural revolutionary. In early youth, for
all his explosive personality, he worked in the Royal Ottoman armoury
when in Istanbul - a prestigious establishment post. In his time he
was also a metal worker and cobbler. He had a go at his own copper
business.  A devout Christian, back in his hometown of Shabin-Karahisar
where he was born in 1865, he turned his hand to carpentry and built
the local Church, with no charge. It was the force of circumstance
that drove him, and countless others, to nationalist politics and
revolutionary struggle.

 

II. GUERRILLA WAR VERSUS POLITICAL ORGANISATION - CONFLICT IN THE MOVEMENT


Like many anti-imperialist movements the Armenian movement too was
marked by a complicated relation between its armed wing and its
political organisations, the former based in the homeland, the latter
mostly in exile. Many of the issues that vexed the militants of the
ANLM were to reappear in the liberation movements of the 1950s and
onwards in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The debates within the
Irish Republican Movement during the late 1960s and 1970s are
particularly striking in their numerous parallels with the Armenian
movement.

The 1896 slaughter by the Ottoman state of over 300,000 Armenians and
the killing of over 600 of the most tested Armenian guerrilla fighters
inevitably forced a major re-evaluation of ANLM strategy and tactics.
This received direct expression in a clash between two outstanding
figures - Antranig and Hrair (Armenag Ghazarian - 1864-1904 - another
widely respected guerrilla leader), both of whom in time joined the
ARF.  In his account Simonian does not shy away from the shadier
aspects of this clash. Nor does he disguise the faults of his hero,
writing even of claims that Antranig devised a plan to assassinate
Hrair.

1896 had revealed the shortcomings of locally or provincially
organised resistance that relied almost exclusively on the military
skills of autonomous guerrilla formations operating in isolated
territorial units.  Despite their bravery and skill they proved unable
to defend the population from slaughter and were ultimately no match
for the superior nationally organised forces of the state. So `from
the mid-1890s' writes Simonian `there developed within the guerrilla
forces two positions on the future development of the movement.'
(p95), The first was represented by leaders such as Antranig, Kevork
Chavoush, Sebastatzi Murat and others for whom `the guerrilla struggle
was the principle method of struggle against Turkish and Kurdish
exploiters' (p95).

Opposing Antranig and his co-thinkers was Hrair. Arguing that
liberation was impossible through guerrilla warfare Hrair `proposed
the idea of a nationwide insurrection' involving `mass popular
participation' and `the arming of the people.' To this end Hrair
elaborated an ambitious programme of `popular education' and political
organisation as a preparatory stage for an eventual insurrection. To
enhance effectiveness he also called for `the unification of Armenian
political organisations' and urged the `development of alliances with
other people's oppressed by the Ottoman Empire'. Insisting on a
principle of self-reliance Hrair rejected strategies that `expected
freedom from foreign nations.' (p95 -101) As part of this overall
project he began work to reign in and subordinate the guerrilla units
to the wider movement.

In Antranig Hrair confronted an unyielding opponent. Antranig
`categorically rejected' Hrair's thinking. `Objective conditions in
western Armenia' were not conducive to `mass insurrection'. Giving
Antranig's position a somewhat sharp and one-sided formulation,
Simonian writes that for Antranig it was `the guerrilla who would free
the people from the shackles of tyranny' and therefore `it was the
people who should serve the fedayee, rather than the fedayee serving
the people.'  The foundation of the movement Antranig believed `must
be an elite guerrilla force' that remaining independent should
subordinate to itself all political organisations. Antranig in
contrast to Hrair opposed collaboration with non-Armenian
revolutionary forces. (p103 `104)

One must question Simonian's claim that Antranig's and Hrair's
positions `expressed two categorically opposed views'. (p95) This is
the case only on a first superficial impression. Both were both
dedicated revolutionaries committed to the emancipation of the
people. Their debate was necessary and potentially fruitful. Both
highlighted essential elements of revolutionary strategy that required
the combination of the military and the political into a single whole.
Antranig's formulations may have suggested a militarist disdain for
mass political organisation, but at its core was the unquestionably
correct insistence on the indispensable role of armed struggle for
national liberation. On the other hand Hrair's positions could in
immediate terms suggest a downgrading of armed struggle. But they
expressed, albeit in a one-sided way, a grasp of the urgency of
political and organisational work among the people.

In the Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire any oppositional
political organisation without the protection of armed force invited
slaughter. In addition no amount of political work would persuade
people of the benefits of nationwide insurrection if the movement
could not even begin to defend them in their everyday life from
endemic state repression and brigandage. So while Antranig rightly
insisted on the necessity of an independently organised Armenian armed
force, many of Hrair's proposals were also to the point. Low levels of
popular political consciousness and political involvement, as well as
powerful senses of local identity militated not only against political
organisation and nationwide coordination but against guerrilla warfare
too. Political organisation and education among the masses furthermore
was a condition for securing consistent popular support to feed and
clothe the guerrilla forces and to provide them with safe shelter,
financial aid and a steady stream of recruits.

The business of a revolutionary leadership would have been to develop
this debate and produce an integrated political-military strategy that
by overcoming past weakness would enhance the ANLM's power. This
proved beyond the leadership. As with many other movements, the
Armenian leadership failed to blend the political and the military. So
the political and military spheres came to be headed by antagonists
rather than collaborators. Hrair emerged as the `great organiser of
the liberation movement' while Antranig became `its undisputed
military leader'. (p115).

Simonian does not examine why the leadership failed to produce an
integrated revolutionary strategy. But his text makes it clear that
this had nothing to do with personality clashes or with their debate
about the future of the struggle. Critical here was the chronology and
evolution of the ARF's collaboration with the Young Turks that was
unfolding in the Diaspora far removed from the Homeland. Responding in
turn to what they perceived as the overwhelming power of an external
political leadership with little grasp of conditions in the Homeland
and local realities of Ottoman rule, the guerrillas stood more
stubbornly to its existing traditions with all the weakness that this
entailed.

 

III. REVOLUTIONARY REVIVAL STIFLED IN ARF-YOUNG TURK EMBRACE

As the conflict between Antranig and Hrair unfolded, the ARF was
simultaneously overhauling its strategic thinking, but on entirely
different foundations.  As it came to more decidedly dominate the
post-1896 political scene the ARF elaborated a new strategy that was
to mark a steady passage away both from Antranig's conceptions of
guerrilla warfare and from Hrair's vision of nationwide mass
insurrection.  Occupying a central place in this process was the ARF's
alliance with the Young Turks that in its development, if not in its
conception, became not an enhancement of but a substitute for
independent Armenian power.

Accommodating itself to Young Turk strategic requirements the ARF by
1908 became a subordinate and dependent ally. Through their alliance
with the ARF the Young Turks used the ARF in their own struggle
against Sultan Hamid II. They also succeeded in delivering a decisive
blow against the independent power ANLM. Through their accord with the
ARF the Young Turks secured the voluntary disarmament of the military
wing of the ANLM. In 1908 when ANLM members took positions in the
Ottoman Parliament and even in cabinet offices they did so powerless.
The ARF-Young Turk accord had disarmed the ANLM but it had given it no
power over the state army, police or intelligence forces that were to
organise the genocide. As Antranig remarked in another context, `if in
the Homeland' there `are no (Armenian) military forces, as some would
want, then no one will be in a position to resist'. (p299).

1896 had created certain grounds for those who argued in favour of a
strategic and dependent alliance with the Young Turks. Mass slaughter,
the death of many of the finest guerrillas and the subsequent mass
emigration of skilled artisans from Armenia dealt a severe blow to the
domestic base of the ANLM and to the political weight of its local
guerrilla leadership together causing immense demoralisation and
disarray within the ranks. Such circumstances would readily explain
the ARF leadership's almost subservient turn to what it regarded as a
more powerful force - the Young Turks. Yet this Young Turk orientation
accelerated in its negative development at the very moment that the
ANLM was experiencing a powerful revival and was re-rooting itself
among the people.

In 1904 notes Simonian `scores of youngsters having acquired weapons
made their way into the mountains to swell the ranks of the
guerrillas' then under Antranig's leadership. (p155) Underscoring
their refreshed native foundation Simonian cites figures showing that
during the 1904 Ottoman assault on Sassoon the majority of guerrillas
consisted of local people. Among the 200, 125 were from the immediate
region, another 40 from other regions of western Armenia and 30-40
from the Caucasus. There were in addition some 800 local peasants
armed and ready to do battle on behalf of their community. (p172) In
this connection Simonian writes that as battle loomed `the Armenian
(guerrilla) youth had an important advantage (over Ottoman forces)'.
`They were in their own homeland, among their own people and tied by a
thousand and one strings to the peasant masses.' It was this that
defined the `power of the guerrilla and their popular character.'
(p133) The same point is underlined by the official ARF organ `The
Flag' that wrote of the guerrilla `standing never having been greater'
than it was in 1903.' (p156)

In the early 1900s, the revived potency of the ANLM was significant
enough for the Ottoman regime to contemplate another round of massacre
as a means to again decapitate it. Though this did not materialise
Simonian details the heightened social and economic oppression - the
plunder, rape, kidnapping and depopulation - that ensued (p131-137).
Parallel with such repression the Ottoman state in 1904 made another
onslaught against the Armenians of Mush-Sassoon so as to once and for
all break this centre of resistance.

1896 had failed to destroy Sassoon and with the regeneration of
Armenian guerrillas it once again emerged a bastion of revolutionary
Armenian potential. So the government hurled up to 10,000 regular
troops and thousands more Kurdish auxiliaries against Armenian
Sassoon. Outnumbered as they were, the Armenians had little choice but
to engage the enemy in a full frontal battle. As a result they did
make political and military mistakes, especially in regard to the
safety of the local population.  But Armenian forces resisted with a
great deal of military courage and adroitness. Nevertheless the 1904
assault on Sassoon sounded the death-knell of this quasi-independent
region ending an important stage in the history of the Armenian
liberation movement.

Against the new Armenian revolutionary revival there seemed to be an
almost globally organised opposition. The Tsarist regime regarding the
Armenian revolution with equal horror collaborated directly with the
Turkish state slaughtering scores of Armenian fighters in 1904
(p205-217). Besides the Ottoman and Tsarist states in the 1904-1908
period European Embassies, the Armenian Church and the Armenian
political leadership, then in negotiation with the Young Turks, all
seemed to be driven by the same aim: to remove the guerrillas from
Mush-Sassoon. `Antranig must leave' appeared to be their call.

As a result of such enormous pressure and the military setbacks in
Sassoon Simonian writes that Antranig was forced to `give way to
(Van's) Armenian dignitaries, to pressure from political activist Goms
(Vahan Papazian, 1876-1973, a leading ARF activist) as well as to the
demands of foreign ambassadors.' In the autumn of 1904 against their
will Antranig and his fighters left the city and headed for Persia.'
The `Flag' reported that he had `left temporarily'. But he was to
return only after the catastrophe of the genocide that removed the
foundation of the Armenian nation - the people.

One need not attribute a priori intentions or conscious collaboration
to note how such united efforts succeeded where the Ottoman Empire
alone had failed. This combined Ottoman, imperialist and Armenian
elite pressure running parallel with deepening ARF-Young Turk
negotiation delivered, after 1896, a second and almost irreparable
blow to the ANLM.  In 1907 the death of Gevorg Chavoush, a veteran
guerrilla marked the symbolic end of an independent Armenian
revolutionary force. With Antranig forced into exile and Hrair now
also dead the `ARF leadership sent Aram Manoukian from the Caucuses
into Vasbourakan.' (p227) Thereafter the field was left to the
`politicians' with a free hand to do with the movement as they wished.
By 1908 the ARF-Young Turk accord was sealed.

 

IV. ANTRANIG VERSUS THE ARF LEADERSHIP

Rejecting the ARF political trajectory Antranig, across the years,
acted as something of a consistent opposition, sometimes internal,
sometimes external. `The Movement' summarised the essence of his stand
when it reported him arguing for `removing the reigns of leadership
from the (ARF) Bureau officials, from amateurs' and `passing them to
the military revolutionary forces' `working in the Homeland.' (p305)
On a first encounter the detail of Antranig's politics seem to be
marked by a narrow nationalism and militarism that compared poorly
with an apparently more sophisticated political, democratic and
internationalist ARF leadership. But for all the ambiguities of his
formulations in his practical politics Antranig proved to be the more
acute judge.

Antranig's political views were not born of any theoretical or
ideological considerations. Opposing the Young Turks he simply made
what was a correct practical assessment that they were not genuinely
committed to the emancipation of nations oppressed by the Ottoman
Empire. He may not have argued a sophisticated intellectual case but
in contrast to the ARF his experience in the Homeland enabled him to
discern the utterly reactionary character of the Young Turks. So he
rightly turned down offers of a seat in the new Ottoman `parliament'.
`Go ahead and enjoy their company' he told the ARF leadership. `But be
careful of these new comrades of yours'. In `the not too distant
future they will have your heads and those of the people too... A vast
trap is being laid, be careful.' (p321-322) The ARF leadership, whose
politics expressed tragic delusions of the Diaspora intelligentsia did
not heed such sound advice. [2]

The same practical concerns animated Antranig's stand against the
ARF's decision to join ranks with Russian socialists against the
Tsarist state. Opening this new battlefront was in his view an unwise
extension of severely limited Armenian power. Armenians under the
Tsarist yoke were indeed oppressed. But under the Ottoman yoke they
were threatened with imminent extinction. So Antranig urged the
concentration of all resources and effort on the national struggle in
the heart of Armenia ` the western Armenian provinces occupied by the
Ottoman Empire.

Antranig's opposition to the ARF's brand of socialist ideology flowed
primarily from such practical concerns. As this ideology accompanied
the growing intimacy with the Young Turks and the ARF entry into the
anti-Tsarist struggle Antranig condemned ARF socialism as an `alien
path'. In this socialism he saw little more than radical rhetoric that
disguised the `betrayal of national ideals' (p260-261). However
neither his opposition to the ARF-Young Turk accord nor his hostility
to ARF socialism made him a national chauvinist or a friend of the
elite.

Antranig's uncompromising nationalism was prompted only by concern for
the downtrodden. He hated Ottoman tyranny because `executing its work
systematically' it subjects the common people to `artificial famine,
forced emigration...  endless and unbearable taxes...  plunder,
kidnapping and other such miseries.' (p274) In their attitude to
non-Armenians Antranig and the guerrillas were `honourable and just to
all, irrespective of nationality.' It was not unusual, writes Simonian
`for Kurdish and Turkish working people to turn to the guerrillas' to
right wrongs done them by their own elites. (p92)

The final ideological and political, if not organisational rupture
between Antranig and the ARF crystallized during the ARF's Fourth
General Congress held in Vienna in 1907. Though at the time not
resident in Armenia, he attended as the representative for the
guerrilla movement substituting for Gevorg Chavoush. Urging Antranig
to remain firm, a letter from Chavoush gave vent to guerrilla
bitterness against the exiled leadership for its failure to send
`money or armaments' to Mush and Sassoon. This had `thereby caused the
people to curse' the leadership. (p288) At the Congress besides
reiterating his broad positions Antranig laid enormous stress on
questions of armed organisation and weapon procurements calling for
immediate measures to prepare for national insurrection. Among other
reasons he referred to the emigration that was `draining the land of
up to 50,000 people a year' and so undermining the foundations of the
Armenian nation. What in normal circumstances would `take four years
to do we have to do in one' he argued. (p295-300)

But the 1907 ARF Congress marked the isolation of the guerrilla
leadership and final victory of the Diaspora intelligentsia. The
treatment meted out to Antranig highlighted their polarisation. As
representative of the guerrillas he was sidelined. Throughout
Simonian's account one gets a whiff of the leadership's patronising
haughtiness suggesting that Antranig was incapable of appreciating the
finer points of politics. Antranig may not have received a European
university education, but he possessed a brilliant mind. For all his
political shortcomings he was astute enough to anticipate the Young
Turk trap. But he proved unable to organise a political opposition
that would prevent the ARF leadership walking into that trap.

In 1911 the ARF did eventually accept that its alliance with the Young
Turks had proved to be an error and so moved to terminate it. But
instead of developing an independent, self-reliant policy that
combined Antranig's and Hrair's revolutionary vision, the ARF turned
again to treacherous Europe and nefarious Russia that had so cynically
and so systematically used and betrayed the Armenian people.

 

V. NATIONAL LIBERATION AND FOREIGN STRATEGY

The extent of the divergence between the ARF's policy and any form of
independent Armenian political strategy was manifested decisively
during World War One (WWI) and in the aftermath of the Armenian
genocide.  During WWI the ARF abandoned even the pretence to any such
notion and together with the Armenian political elite as a whole
displayed a staggering lack of spine and a total inability to conceive
of any action independent of Russia or the major imperialist powers. [3]

During this same period Antranig's political judgements were not
always as sharp as in the past. Removed from his home base in western
Armenia and without the backing of an organised guerrilla force based
among the people he lacked firm foundations for tactical and strategic
calculations.  Politically isolated he was also in no position to
exercise influence over the direction of Armenian policy. But he was
never passive and always raised his voice when he judged the interests
of the Armenian people endangered. So he repeatedly came into conflict
with the ARF leadership.

Despite the catastrophe of the Genocide, WWI did present the Armenian
political leadership with the opportunity of seizing the initiative,
of embarking on an independent nation-building project. Here the ARF's
war and post-war policy beggared belief. It exerted every effort to
transform the ANLM into a willing and humble servant of Tsarist war
policy. [4] In return it demanded nothing. It was content with the
repetition of duplicitous pro-Armenian proclamations dug up from dusty
Tsarist archives. Yet for all this rhetoric Tsarist (and Western
European) policy during the war years remained as fundamentally
anti-Armenian as it had been for over a century. [5]

The Tsarist Empire seized WWI as an opportunity for another incursion
into the Ottoman Empire to grab portions of occupied western Armenia
for itself. To secure Armenian collaboration for their own imperialist
venture they permitted the establishment in Tbilisi of an Armenian
National Office that came to be controlled by ARF personnel. At once
this body began organising Armenian resources to aid the Tsarist war
effort. A major element was the organisation of battalions of Armenian
Volunteers to act as adjuncts to Tsarist armies. Whilst using the ARF,
the Armenians and their volunteer forces for its own ends the Tsarist
autocracy worked carefully to prevent the emergence of any independent
Armenian political power. It was particularly driven to prevent the
development of any independent Armenian military power.

Fearing that the 120,000-150,000 Armenian recruits in the Tsarist army
could become the nucleus of an Armenian army none were allowed to
fight on the Turkish front that looked on the Armenian homeland. Instead
they were scattered into isolated units across the 1000s of miles of
Russia's European front. Having removed the vast bulk of Armenian
fighting men away from Armenia, the Tsarist authorities were to then
turn to neutralise the Armenian Volunteers that they judged to have
become a problem to Tsarist ambition. Albeit relatively small in
numbers the Volunteers with their constant flow of recruits, their
enthusiasm and with leaders such as Antranig had chalked up
significant victories and accumulated enormous experience and war
materiel. Fearing their potential the Tsarist government first
incorporated them into its own army thus denying the Volunteers any
space to act autonomously and then disbanded them. (p479, p495)

Whilst Armenian soldiers were dying on foreign fronts Russian
commanders refused to permit Volunteers to march to the aid of
compatriots being slaughtered by the Young Turks. (pp393-433, p478).
To prevent the Volunteers consolidating military gains they were
repeatedly forced into needless tactical and strategic withdrawals
from territories they had liberated. Russian imperial authorities also
removed all Armenians from administrative posts in the government
apparatus they established.  Planning to populate newly conquered
Armenian lands with Russians they also put impediments before
Armenians wishing to return to their homeland. (p525-526)

Yet, despite all this the Armenian political leadership never for a
moment reconsidered its blind submissiveness to the imperialist
powers.  Together with its earlier alliance with the Young Turks this
constituted another self-inflicted blow to the Armenian national
movement. Yet the Armenian people survived and how they did may be
told in the second volume of Hratchig Simonian's biography of
Antranig.


* * * * * * *

The first volume of `Antranig and His Times' ends with a substantial
chapter on the impact on Armenian politics of the 1917 Russian
Revolution and Antranig's relations with the Bolsheviks, both meriting
separate consideration. Beyond this, Hratchig Simonian's volume stands
as an excellent and thorough history of the modern Armenian liberation
movement covering almost every aspect of its experience: its origins,
the development of political parties, the growth in Ottoman repression,
the vicious and consistent anti-Armenian policy of the Tsarist Empire,
European policy on the Armenian question, the role and weight of the
European solidarity movement and much else.

Here is a fine first volume that inspires one to grab hold of the
second and retreat to a quiet hill refuge for a week.

________________________________________________________________________


[1] Hagop Oshagan, the foremost 20th century Armenian novelist has a
fine artistic examination of some of these questions in his short
novel `Hadji Murad'.


[2] A full history of the ARF-Young Turk relations would be
instructive in answering some significant questions: why, despite
evidence of Young Turk national chauvinism, and despite its opposition
to Armenian autonomy, did the ARF come to its concord with them? What
were the terms of the deal, did it take account of what was happening
in the historic provinces? Was the ARF deceived by apparently credible
assurances about a change in Turkish policy?


[3] Why this leadership centred in the Caucuses and Istanbul refused
or was unable to do so requires explanation. Contributing to such
would be the noting of its structural integration into the economic
and to a certain extent even political/administrative apparatus of the
Ottoman and Russian Empires.


[4] At the outbreak of WWI and just before, the ARF was either
remarkably contemptuous of the strength of Turkish nationalism or
thoroughly ignorant of the Young Turk's frenzied hatred of Russia. So
confident was it of a swift Turkish defeat that it made not even a
tactical effort to disguise its pro-Tsarist enthusiasms.


[5] The visceral European and Russian opposition to an independent
Armenian state also demands further historical study. Beyond immediate
political causes European, British, German, French and Russian
hostility to an independent Armenia was in part a result of their fear
of the potential of Armenian commercial power. All these states had
ambitions to secure the economic wealth of the declining Ottoman
Empire for themselves. Here Armenian industry and capital that was
significant in both the Ottoman and in the Tsarist Empire was a factor
to be taken into account. The potential power of Armenian capital
united with an Armenian state could threaten to obstruct imperialist
ambitions to seize control of the entire area.


--
Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from
Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on
Armenian literature.  His works on literary and political issues
have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open
Letter in Los Angeles.

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