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The Critical Corner - 09/08/2010

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Worth a read August 2010

    Not necessarily masterpieces or artistically outstanding.
    Yet none will disappoint the lover of literature. Reading
    them one will always find something of value...

Armenian News Network / Groong
September 8, 2010

By Eddie Arnavoudian


Though its title suggests comprehensive treatment, Hovik Grigorian's
valuable essay on `The Problems of Arming and Financing the Armenian
Liberation Struggle' (pp113, 2004, Yerevan) deals primarily with the
most controversial fund raising exercise undertaken by the Armenian
National Liberation Movement's (ANLM). To finance the military and
political defence of the brutally savaged Armenian peasant and artisan
in Ottoman occupied historic Armenia, for about five years up to 1908
the ANLM resorted to a programme of forced taxation of unwilling
Armenian elites settled comfortably in the Diaspora far from the
misery of the people in the homeland.

Grigorian handles what is a vexed question with confidence and
intelligence. He neither glorifies nor vilifies. Neither does he brush
under the carpet the threats, the violence, the terror and executions
involved or that plague of criminals who parading as ANLM cadre robbed
for personal gain. Nevertheless, he manages to convince the reader
that the resort to this extraordinary form of financing was dictated
by objective circumstances and undertaken, at least in the case of the
ARF leadership, as a last resort. Confronted by an increasingly
destructive Ottoman assault on the Armenian population in historic
Armenia, the rapid acquisition of funds to pay for defensive weapons,
ammunition and their transportation was a matter of life and
death. Routine methods had proved utterly inadequate. From where then
were resources to be obtained?

Believing it represented the interests of the whole nation
irrespective of class, the ANLM turned to those who had the means, to
the Armenian elites in Istanbul, Smyrna, Tbilisi, Baku, and
beyond. Fed by the example of Balkan liberation movements that had
been sustained by `dedicated and patriotic representatives' of `a
wealthy stratum of society' the Armenian movement `in its early
stages' Grigorian notes, also had `great expectations from the
Armenian wealthy'. Armenian hopes however were to be rapidly and
rudely dashed. Where the funding, and not just the funding, of
Armenian liberation struggle in the homeland was concerned the
Diaspora rich proved to be stubborn refusniks. By and large they saw
little if anything in common between themselves and the common people
in Armenia.

Leading figures in the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and the
Social Democrat Hnchak Party (SDHP) testify to the elite's miserable
indifference. ARF founder member and theoretician Kristapor Mikaelyan
is particularly scathing:

    `Why get enraged only at Europe's indifference? Throughout the
    year what did the Armenian do.... (They) had heard the cries of
    the starving, the wailing of the orphans, (they had) heard their
    brothers' pleas for guns and bread? What did the Armenian
    bourgeois do, the Armenian youth, the intelligentsia, the
    well-to-do and thinking segment of the Armenian people?' (p41)

Despite `its empty coffers' the Turkish state still secured the means
to fund the `stationing of (its) armed forces' in the very centres of
Armenian resistance, in Van, Zeitun and Sassoon. The wealthy and
privileged Armenian in contrast did nothing, `not because it could
not' but `because it does not want to.' (p42) Grigorian adds that in
what was `co-ordinated resistance' to ANLM demands for financial aid,
the Armenian rich repeatedly `betrayed revolutionaries' to the Ottoman
and Tsarist police and torturers.

The ANLM had not reckoned with the Diaspora physiognomy of the
Armenian elite.  The roots of this elite parsimony rested in the
absence of a decisive structural relationship between it on the one
hand and the Armenian homeland and its native peasant and artisan on
the other. The elite's home, its sources of wealth, its needs and its
interests were located in and shaped by the foreign imperial states
and their trading networks. With virtually no presence or interests in
the homeland it had nothing of its own to defend there and therefore
developed no instinct or reason to concern itself with the plight of
the oppressed common people inhabiting the land.

For the concerns of Armenia proper the Armenian rich felt no need to
open their money bags. The plight of the common people at home
concerned it hardly ever. At best the homeland was a readily available
pool for cheap labour for elite businesses in Baku, Tbilisi or

Where the Armenian elite did have direct interests that were
threatened as was the case in the Caucuses the situation was very
different. Tbilisi and Baku with their substantial Armenian
communities were pockmarked with the mansions, trading depots and oil
fields of the Armenian rich. There during the 1905 Armenian-Azeri
clashes the Armenian elite readily availed itself of the ANLM's
defensive capabilities and where necessary financed and
enthusiastically so. The `eastern Armenian rich', Grigorian writes
`proved relatively generous in its contribution to the defence of
Armenians in the Caucuses'. This he adds `was quite natural' given the
elite's understanding that here it `was also defending its own
(Diaspora-based) life and wealth'.

Historically, therefore it is not at all surprising that the Armenian
elites based primarily in the Diaspora have consistently opposed
themselves to the needs of its own people based in the homeland. The
Diaspora merchants and traders were in effect not a national class or
if so only in a deformed and distorted way, a fact noted by Mikael
Nalpantian as early as the 1850s. The Armenian merchant and trading
class, he wrote:

    `do not represent anything national and have absolutely no
    relation to Armenia's national interest...Armenian merchants are
    essentially servants of European powers...and let me be frank,
    people called merchants are in reality only intermediaries
    servicing others rather than their own people.'

But as conditions at home deteriorated, the revolutionary movement had
little choice but to squeeze funds from the Diaspora Armenian wealthy.
According to Grigorian it appears to have done so with some success.
Judging from figures he cites substantial funds were indeed secured
and directed to areas of great need.  In the case of the forced
taxation campaign it could be argued that through the agency of the
ANLM, the common people forcibly imposed its own interests upon the
reluctant Diaspora elite. One could suggest even that in distorted
fashion this represented a form of class conflict for by means of
force the ANLM appropriated a portion of the Diaspora elite's profits
to pay for the defence not of elite interests but those of the common

The ANLM of course, as with most national liberation movements, was
able to thus directly represent the majority only at certain points.
Historically it too fell under the sway of its national elite and
proved incapable of rising above the deforming effects of the elite's
Diaspora configuration. So manifest, at the very core of the ANLM's
dominant political vision and strategy was dependence and reliance
upon and subordination to the imperialist states so characteristic of
the Diaspora elite. Like the Armenian elites, the dominant wing of the
ANLM also felt it had no need for independent political action.

After the 1895-96 massacres that delivered a further devastating blow
to the social and economic pillars of national development in historic
Armenia, dependence on foreign powers was underlined and took the
ANLM's focus further away from the organisation and defence of the
masses in the homeland. With disastrous consequence this dependence
stretched to an alliance with the Young Turks, the most pernicious
representatives of the worst of Turkish imperialist nationalism.

In setting the context for his discussion Grigorian engages in a sound
polemic against an important axis of the Turkish falsification of ANLM
history. With cogent quotation he shows that the ANLM received no
financial aid from any of the imperial powers then seeking inroads
into the decaying Ottoman Empire.  Whilst liberation movements in the
Balkans secured material, political and military assistance, from
Tsarist Russia in particular, the Armenian received nothing and was in
addition consistently undermined, shunned and betrayed. In an
important reminder Grigorian shows also that the ANLM felt it
important to allocate resources to counter the Ottoman state's
lucratively funded global anti-Armenian propaganda campaign. In
Europe, Abdul Hamid, the Red Sultan, spent millions on mendacious
vilification.  The same enthusiastic Turkish state financing of
falsification continues to this day. To its shame the Armenian state
and elite does nothing effective to counter this.

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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