Armenian News Network / Groong

The Critical Corner - 07/28/2014

'Krikor Ardzrouni: A biography in Three Volumes'  
by Leo (Collected Works, Volume VI) 

Armenian News Network / Groong
July 28, 2014

By Eddie Arnavoudian


Leo's handsome second and third volumes of Krikor Ardzrouni's
(1845-1892) biography, despite the verbosity for which he alas had a
great facility, communicates with force that admirable national
democratic ambition and that unswerving devotion to public duty that
spurred Ardzrouni on throughout a remarkable and historic journalistic
career. Leo displays Ardzrouni's legacy as it is, strikingly modern,
apt to our own 21st century, a measure indeed of how little has
changed but how much has to change if we are to secure a future for
the Armenian people.


To the task of transforming a fragmented, provincial, often
religiously defined and sectarian Armenian national consciousness and
to the business of modernizing Armenian social, economic and cultural
life, Ardzrouni invested his substantial but fragile inheritance in
`The Cultivator', the first Armenian daily paper. To the end of his
life, even in the aftermath of his vanished financial security, he
remained committed to youthful ambitions, remained an unforgiving
critic of two dominant pillars that blocked national progress - the
unreformed Armenian Church and the unproductive, parasitic and often
usurious economic classes. Despite a deep ideological gulf, after
Mikael Nalpantian, Ardzrouni was perhaps their most ruthless critic.

With no faith in the intelligentsia, to push aside obstacles,
Ardzrouni turned to the common people (p573). Leo writes that `with
his usual terseness and without qualification' pouncing on 'an
irresponsible intelligentsia that was enslaved to all that was
foreign' Ardzrouni proclaimed:
	`Let the devil take our intelligentsia, we are not working for
	those who have contempt for the common people and who ignore
	the life of the common people.  We write for the masses.'

Instilling among the common people a sense of individual pride and
self-regard, and pride in Armenian nationality too, was Ardzrouni
understood, a most urgent matter. Centuries of imperial oppression had
all but destroyed this and bred in its stead a deep sense of
inferiority. Here an essay, `We are slaves,' setting out a concept of
`love' as a primary manifestation of social harmony, solidarity and
development is, in both Armenian and international social commentary,
a masterpiece (p546). `Love' is defined as a condition for civilized
life, as the essence of social solidarity that enriches community
relations with the spirit of collectivity and binds people together
compelling as it does a recognition of their common dependence.

Such `love' however ceases to flourish among the victims of national
oppression. Reminding us of themes from Franz Fanon, Ardzrouni writes
that Armenians under foreign rule had been denuded of their humanity,
turned into self-hating egoists and 'vulgar materialists', selfish
individualists with no sense of collective, no sense of national duty
or obligation (p546-7). The inferiority complex born of colonial
oppression had made 'Armenians always ashamed to be called Armenian',
ashamed of their own language too, so that 'on the approach of a
foreigner' they `will immediately switch from speaking Armenian.'
(p552) Ardzrouni had no time for this:
	'Armenians have a habit of always complaining that no foreign
	nation loves us, they all hate us and have contempt for
	us...How can other people love us when we hate ourselves and
	have contempt for ourselves.' (p552)

Proud of his nationality, Ardzrouni bent to overhaul the individual's
sense of self and their collective sense of national worth, to
inculcate pride, energy and determination to move forward.


Countless caustic and cutting editorials from the 19th century `The
Cultivator' could well have been targeting the good for nothings
strutting through the streets of 2014 Yerevan and through the Armenian
Diaspora too, men in brand new priestly garb, shiny shoes and the
latest expensive fashion brands, who as Barouyr Sevak put it:
	'Speak loudly in the name of the sea of society
	But flow always towards their private lake'

Ardzrouni was unforgiving of all Diaspora elites whether in Istanbul
or Tbilisi, damning them for factionalism, selfishness and most of all
for collaboration with occupying powers. Such elites were utterly
useless, doing nothing for people and nation. Armenian merchants may
have acquired grand reputations and once upon a time even been masters
of commerce in the east:
	`But now in the 19th century#they are giving way to European
	competition, to English, French and Dutch merchants#It is
	becoming evident that the Armenian merchant # produces
	nothing, he only circulates goods#Among us it was Stepanos
	Nazaryants who first pointed out that this famed merchant was
	no cause for national pride. He is no more than an
	intermediary. He does not develop production in the homelands.

Affinities with the Nalpantian are striking. Ardzrouni too dismissed
Armenian merchant claims to a national role and mission:
	`Of what value to the nation these merchants settled in
	foreign lands#Better that these men had remained in their
	homelands, poor but hardworking, devoted to a trade#rather
	than breaking all their social relations with their
	nationality and enriching themselves overseas. That type of
	wealth, for us, for the people remaining in the homeland is
	worth not a cent (p523-4).'

When countering endless gossip about his alleged fabulous wealth, he
	`I work only to the extent of my abilities, without riches.
	But if I did in truth possess the millions people claim I do,
	I would have shamed our rich for their unforgivable selfishness,
	for their culpable indifference to the needs of the nation

Ardzrouni speaks in similar vein about the `large majority' of the
Church clergy that together with the merchant dominated Armenian
life. The clergy are a bunch of:
	`Wastrels squandering the peoples' money, mixers, organizers
	of intrigue and conspiracy, chasers after medals of honour,
	without proper work, immobile, ignorant#far removed from
	contemporary knowledge and truth# speaking of popular
	education in words but blocking it in deeds...'

Ardzrouni was not anti-religious. He was not an atheist but was
certainly enraged by a clergy that had abandoned what he deemed to be
those principles of solidarity and charity that defined early
Christianity. As a condition for any respect he demanded their
restoration. Correcting `blockheads' who labelled him `an enemy of the
clergy' Ardzrouni retorted:
	`Yes! We are enemies of ignorance, therefore of the ignorant
	representatives of the clergy. We are enemies of exploitation
	and therefore of the priesthood in which we note this
	anti-social and anti-Christian characteristic.

A priest should be `an educated leader of the people, tending to their
needs and their woes'. Otherwise they would only weaken the nation
facilitating the work of European Catholic and Protestant missionaries
who acted as agents of European imperial invasion.


Cutting through to the core, aware of the fragility of Armenian
nationality in the Caucuses `The Cultivator' laid out arguments for
Armenian finance and energy to return home, invest in and develop the
homeland, establish roots there and so set the only secure foundations
for a genuine Armenian national economy and autonomous progress.
Ardzrouni even called for the relocation of the Istanbul-based
Armenian Constituent Assembly, the entire leadership of Ottoman
occupied Armenian communities that is, to the Armenian town of Erzerum
	`Hereafter the ambition of the Armenian must be to develop all
	his national strengths in his homeland, to introduce European
	enlightenment, to work to reform the peoples' economic
	condition and to win over friendly neighbours by all means
	necessary but take up arms against hostile one.'(p590)

It was a vision shared by men like Minas Cheraz, Mkrtich Portukalian,
Khrimian Hayrik and by Nerses Patriarch who in a speech quoted by Leo
announced to the National Assembly:
	`Let us prepare for our future! First, let us not remain here,
	let us return to Armenia, send to Armenia all that we have
	that is of value, talented, patriotic and education loving
	clergy, let our teachers return to Armenia, so too our
	energetic and fiery youth, our artists and merchants, and may
	our so unfortunate migrants also return to Armenia. (p590)

Nerses, clearly a profound thinker spoke also of building roads and
factories, of setting up associations of traders and merchants,
establishing new schools and much else. Noting a `closeness of vision
and ambition' Leo remarks that Nerses had `spoken from the podium what
Ardzrouni had much earlier expounded in the pages of `The Cultivator'

Nation building, the drive to return home would only be possible
however with a secular notion of nationality, one that rejected
religious and provincial sectarianism and projecting a single united
people and nation that cut across all artificial boundaries imposed by
faith or imperial power. Ardzrouni himself though based in Tsarist
occupied Georgian Tbilisi and living nearest to eastern Armenian
communities, was nevertheless unendingly active in support of
Armenians in western Armenia, particularly in the wake of the 1880
famine (p611-613).

Endorsing a secular concept of nationality, Ardzrouni rejected
official Church sectarianism that recognized only its own followers as
genuine Armenians.  `The Armenian nation does not belong just to the
Armenian Gregorian Church, it belongs to all Armenians.' (p659)

Intent on making 'The Cultivator' 'a newspaper for the entire nation'
its editor recruited Catholics and Protestants to his campaigns on the
issues of the day. Elaborating he reminded readers:
	`I was born an Armenian Gregorian, I learnt Armenian with the
	Catholic Mekhitarists and received my higher university
	education in Protestant Germany. Yet still I remained and will
	always remain an Armenian, respecting all religions.'

Acutely relevant to the debates of our own day, 'The Cultivator'
asserted the right of Armenian Muslims to be recognized as authentic
components of the nation, this even as Ardzrouni himself was aware
that some that had converted had become the most vicious of Ottoman
henchmen and apologists. Arguing the right of Armenian Muslims to
participate in national life he wrote:
	`Catholic, Gregorian, Protestant and Islamic Armenians can
	learn a great deal from each other, help each other and
	together strive for a single end - the moral reform of the
	nation (p658).'


In `The Cultivator' a sturdy patriotism that envisaged Armenian
nationhood in the core of eastern and western Armenia ran parallel
with an equally vigorous regional Caucasian patriotism, one actually
quite natural and appropriate to the multi-national Caucuses in which
Ardzrouni lived. Rooted in Georgia, as a spokesman for both an
Armenian and a Caucasian bourgeois-industrial and democratic
development, inter-national harmony and regional collaboration was
affirmed as the condition for survival against rapidly encroaching
European capitalist penetration.

To enhance Armenian-Georgian collaboration 'The Cultivator' took up
cudgels against both Georgian chauvinism and Armenian usurious
capital. Welcoming the newly appeared Georgian `Droepa' newspaper
Ardzrouni affirmed:
	`Though the Caucuses is populated by many different
	nationalities belonging to different faiths, by virtue of
	regional and geographic conditions it has become a single
	homeland for all and offers all the opportunity to strive for
	the same universal benefits (p459).'

Armenian usurious capital was a dangerous obstruction to
Georgian-Armenian harmony. Sucking the Georgian peasantry dry it gave
Georgian chauvinists fodder for their indiscriminate anti-Armenian
campaigns. Noting `a veritable Georgian crusade against Armenians'
that charged them all with the vice of usury, Ardzrouni lashed
Armenian merchants:
	`Who through their exploitative operations not only drive away
	from us the sympathies of the Georgian peasantry but with this
	damaging activity#foster Georgian enmity against the Armenian,
	generating a hatred for them#(p475).'
Though focused on Armenian-Georgian relations, Leo reminds us that
`the editor of The Cultivator could not forget that a large proportion
of our land's population consisted of Turks and towards them he had
the same sympathies and positive hopes. (p475).'

Leo's stress on a powerful Caucasian patriotism may well have been
born of Soviet ideological dictates of his day. But it was still
central to Ardzrouni's thought. Such humanist and internationalist
sensibilities were in fact inevitable byproducts of life in a
Diaspora. Retaining and developing distinct national traditions,
Armenians still lived within the borders of host countries that
provided them the means of sustaining both their national traditions
and more decisively their social and economic existence. It fashioned
to their direct sensibility of nature and life-experience too. A sense
of Armenian affinity and bonding with host countries was thus natural.


Genuine appreciation cannot do without some noteworthy qualification!
Though populating it only sparsely, bugs of ugly prejudice do raise
their heads in the body of Ardzrouni's legacy. His humanism and his
politics were, in contrast to Nalpantian, and even Abovian, limited
and marred by illusions in Western and Tsarist imperialism that ran
parallel with a disdain for Turks and Kurds, often looked at with
European imperialist spectacles. Often refuted in his own very
writings, such stains nevertheless require acknowledgment. Otherwise
they will be used by the falsifiers of history to depict Armenian
mainstream democratic thought as fatally crippled.

A shocking mimic of imperialist prejudice, Ardzrouni sometimes
articulated a variation of the reactionary `clash of civilisations' in
which Christianity features as enlightenment and advance waging a
necessary battle against an obscurantist and reactionary Islam. In his
evaluation of Europe, he also decisively parts company with Nalpantian
and Abovian. Unlike Ardzrouni they both saw Europe's barbarism
concealed behind its civilized ideological drapery. Ardzrouni was
guilty too of dependence politics arguing that for their freedom
Armenians must not only rely on, but become willing instruments of
Russian imperial ambition.

A cloudless spring day is a rarity, but even with some cloud a spring
day remains a spring day from which a great deal of benefit can be
had. So too with Ardzrouni's legacy! The central drive of his thought
is an inspiring humanism and internationalism remote from the narrow,
sectarian nationalism that unfortunately taints much of the media in
our own day.

Leo's monument to a giant of the age ends with a moving account of
Krikor Ardzrouni's last days and of his funeral joined by 40-50,000,
equivalent to a million in London today.

Alas that Ardzrouni's untiring efforts, his cutting intellect, his
progressive vision and his self-sacrifice, his unchallengeable logic
and argument proved insufficient to fell his foes. He was in the right
time, with the right ideas but in the wrong place, in the Diaspora not
in Armenia. Yet his critique of the elites of his time remains a sharp
weapon that can be wielded in our own battles against the pillars of
Armenian backwardness that survived Ardzrouni's unceasing hammer blows
and today continue to devastate the nation and its people.

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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