Author: Garabet K. Moumdjian - E-mail
To provide the reader (even the general one) with a short essay that simplifies the intricate web of domestic politics characterizing inter-party relations in the Republic of Armenia between 1918 and 1921 is not an easy task. The limits of a short essay, is, very simply put, inadequate, if one wants to make an in-depth analysis of the topic under discussion.
Therefore, I will try to approach the issue from another perspective. I will first present brief sketches of the major participant political organizations. Then, I will identify and explain some of the important issues relating to inter-party relations during the period under discussion. Finally, I will try to draw some conclusions, which might bare educational value for current Armenian endeavors towards democracy and national unity.
During its two and one half years of existence, The Republic of Armenia was a fledgling country proudly taking great strides towards building permanent democratic institutions. The Western orientation of the government had its profound effect on the internal political atmosphere.
It was in an effort to emulate the West and be considered its worthy ally that the ruling Armenian political organization, the ARF (Hay Heghapokhagan Tashnagtsutiun, Armenian Revolutionary Federation, ARF hereafter), committed itself to moderate, republican principles, which, had it not been for the abrupt Sovietization of the Republic, would have undoubtedly paved the way for the realization of democratic governmental institutions.
On the other hand, the short lived experience of some two and a half years was not enough to quite the bickering between the various political organizations with their contradicting ideologies and political agendas.
At the core of the disagreements were some fundamental socio- political beliefs related to the shaping of the future democratic state. Add to this the strong atmosphere of mistrust and uncertainty that existed between the various political parties that had not yet worked within a single governmental entity and you would have a perfect example of a political quagmire in the making.
The political-ideological spectrum in the Republic extended from the far right to the extreme left. The Bourgeoisie, represented by the Eastern Armenian Populists, or Popular Democrats) Zhoghovrtagan, and the Western Armenian Constitutional Democrats (Ramgavar) occupied the right spectrum, while the socialists, ranging from the Social Revolutionaries (SR's) to Marxist Social Democrat (SD's) and splinter groups dotted the left spectrum. The ruling party, The ARF, still adhering to a socialist ideology, pragmatically
assumed a centrist position.
1. - THE RIGHT SPECTRUM
a- THE CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRATS
The Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by the government of Ittihadist Turkey, incapacitated the mainly urban, Western Armenian Constitutional Democrats). The party was formed in the wake of the Ittihadist (Young Turks) coup d'etat of 1908. The restoration of the Ottoman Constitution gave impetus to the party's platform of free enterprise, and the pursuing of Armenian reforms through non-violent, legal means. It should be noted, however, that the absorption of the more militant Armenakans and a faction of the
Reformed Henchakian (Veragazmial) into its ranks made the party more susceptible to notions of defensive armed struggle.
With its strength in the Republic diminished by its Eastern Populist counterpart, the Ramkavars tried to overshadow the ruling party, the Hay Heghapokhagan Tashnagtsutiun, by extending their activities among diasporan Armenian communities. Leaders such as poet Vahan Tekeyan, and academician Arshag Chobanian, worked closely with Boghos Nubar Pasha and his National Delegation in Paris, in an effort to strengthen the position of the latter within Allied circles vis-à-vis the government of the
Republic of Armenia.
In the day to day affairs of the Republic, however, The Ramkavars managed to keep only a bare semblance of party organization. Their presence was due mainly to some Western Armenian refugees from Van (former Armenakans). Although they published the semi-weekly Tsayn Hayastani (Voice of Armenia) in Yerevan, and in mid 1919 reached as far as negotiating with the ruling party for participation in the government (about which more is to be said later), their active political role in the Republic was negligible.
b- THE POPULIST DEMOCRAT
It was with the Eastern Armenian populist democrat party that the Ruling party in Armenia, the ARF entered into a coalition government from November 1918 to June 1919. It was the dictates of its Western orientation and the set aim of attracting Armenian and other capitalist circles towards the newly established Republic, rather than its social ideology, that persuaded the A.R.F. into willingly entering this uneasy partnership with the Eastern Armenian antirevolutionary bourgeoisie.
The Populist Party was a newcomer into Armenian political life. Tsarist imperial-colonial policies didn't provide fertile grounds for the creation of liberal democratic parties. Only after the demise of the Russian imperial regime in 1917, did Armenian commercial and professional circles in Tiflis, Baku and Elisavetbol provide the grass-root support for such a party to materialize. The main catalyst in this formation was members of the Russian Constitutional Democrat (Cadet) party, who were advocates of Armenian cultural
autonomy within a Russian democratic, liberal federation.
The geographical distribution of its grass roots support suggests that the party was more influential in all parts of Trans-Caucasia except in the predominantly agrarian Armenian Republic.
It was during the second Populist party congress-- held in Yerevan on the wake of the collapse of the coalition government, and the party's boycotting of parliamentary elections during the preceding months—that the representatives of the Eastern Armenian Bourgeoisie displayed, for the first time, "an emphatic western orientation by expressing deep admiration for the Allied Powers." It was during this congress too, that
party delegates put aside their previous advocacy of cultural autonomy, and endorsed national independence. It was in this euphoric mood that the populists called upon all anti-socialist elements to coalesce to oust the ARF from the government and form a new one based on the principles of free, capitalistic enterprise.
2. - THE LEFT SPECTRUM
a- The Social Revolutionaries
The adherents of the Russian Social Revolutionary Movement also had a nominal presence in the Republic. Like the populists, their grass root support was based on student and intellectual circles in Tiflis and Baku. Many of its members were former Tashnakists who had abandoned the party in 1907 because of its absorption of and adherence to the movement to liberate “Turkish-Armenia,” which led the party to assume a somewhat shallow position within the Russian opposition movement of the day.
A decade later, in 1917, Armenian SR’s joined the Georgian Mensheviks and fought hard to exclude the ARF from the revolutionary councils, which were shaped as a result of the political vacuum created by the toppling of the Tsarist regime.
Contrary to their lack of a strong support group within the republic, and in spite of their feeble membership, Armenian SR's campaigned vigorously in parliamentary elections. Although they attained meager results, they continued to advocate a single Caucasian entity within an all-Russian federative democracy.
Their failure was a direct result of their disbelief in the concept of national independence. Even when the majority of its delegates, perhaps out of expediency, voted in favor of working within separate Caucasian republics during the party's conference held in Tiflis in August of 1919, the party could not formulate a working strategy out of their demand. The party organ, Sotsial Heghapokhagan (The Socialist Revolutionary), continued to publish contradicting views about issues relating to self determination and
national independence, thus furthering the gap between the party and the general populace.
b- The Social Democrats
The collapse of empire, partition of Trans-Caucasus, end of Baku Commune, disagreement over tactics, and the final schism between Bolshevik and Menshevik factions had weakened the Social Democrats and scattered them into five rival groups.-
1) The Armenian Section of the Georgian SD (Menshevik) Party that had a
negligible role in the Republic,
2) Adherents of the International Russian SD (Menshevik) Party,
3) Adherents to Russian SD (Bolshevik) Party, who were advocates of Trans-Caucasian Soviet Republics, and National Communist Parties as affiliates of the Russian Communist Party. There was some resistance from Armenian and Georgian Bolshevik circles to this separatist agenda, but it was finally agreed upon by all Bolsheviks in
the region, especially when Lenin and the Central Committee in Moscow advocated it.
The Bolsheviks had lots of disagreement over tactics. Some, like Arshavir Melikian advocated educating the public through legal means rather than revolutionary agitation, because the Republic was in shambles. Young extremists opposed this view. The Bolshevik boycotting of parliamentary elections in summer of 1919 suggests that extremists were in control of the party.
In the summer of 1919 there were not more than 500 Bolsheviks in Armenia.
Yet they were on the rise because of their agitation and because of other factors such as.-
- Unresolved condition of the Armenian Question.
- Radical Bolshevik “proletar”s from Baku and other parts of the Caucasus
Were purring into Armenia.
- Bolsheviks expelled from Georgia coming to Armenia.
- Moscow sending agitators and propagandists into Armenia.
- Armenian government inactive at first (Bolsheviks on government
payroll in ministries, they were permitted to deliver lectures,
engage in political debates, address public rallies, and even criticize
government and ruling party. Therefore, Bolsheviks found a haven in
The Government started taking severe measures only after Bolshevik led uprisings in May 1920.
September 1919 saw the first underground party conference in Yerevan. Only
twelve delegates were present. There was a conflict between Melikian’s mild views and KRIAKOM members Azkanaz Mravian and Sarkis Gasian. Decision taken to
start subversive actions against the existing government.
Thus ARMENKOM was created. However, the party remained underground.
c- The Social Democratic Specifists
Those were intellectuals who adhered to the principle that Armenians had the right to choose their own unique approach to SOCIALISM. They advocated distinct national Marxist parties.
After the formation of the Republic Armenian SD specifists such as Tavit Ananun, Bashki Ishkhanian, and Sdepan Zorian moved to Yerevan to work within governmental institutions and legal structures. in January 1920 they founded The Social Democratic Labor Party of Armenia as a legal organization. They hailed the restoration of national independence and proclaimed that they will participate in
the process of state building. They ridiculed the Ramkavars assertion that Western Armenia should be the nucleus around which the Armenian state is to be formed. They
also criticized other SD factions for their subversive and intrusive agitation and thus attracted the animosity of the Marxists and bourgeoisie alike.
d- The Social Democratic Henchakian Party
Last but not least Social Democratic Henchakian Party. This was the oldest established Armenian SD group and the only one which had Eastern and Western Armenian members. The party reached its peak in 1894-96 during the emancipatory movement in Western Armenia. Then came a period of fragmentation. In 1919 many Henchakists left the party to join Mensheviks or Bolsheviks. Traditional strongholds in Cilicia and Balkans. Publication The Proletar in Tiflis, through which they.-
- Criticized A.R.F. for pseudo socialism, honeymoon with bourgeoisie,
pretension of leadership.
- Criticized all parties that boycotted parliamentary elections.
- Criticized Populists for opportunism (first working with ARF
(then coming out of coalition)
- Criticize intellectuals (SD's specially) because they could not
differentiate between state and government, while the first is
permanent and the other transitory. So, if government is now held y
incompetents that should not mean abandoning the state or
undermining it, but rather aid it by providing new leadership.
- opposed the presence of two delegations in Paris because that was
contrary to the notion of one nation-one struggle.
3. - THE CENTER
a. - The ARF
Although crippled by the Armenian Genocide which shattered its network
in the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Civil war, which battered its organizational machine in the Tsarist Empire, The Armenian Revolutionary Federation was, in 1918, still considered to be the dominant Armenian political organization upon whose shoulders the task of ruling the fledgling Republic rested.
For three decades since its formation, the ARF had acted as a catharsis through which conservative Western and progressive Eastern Armenian ideological fermentations and political aspirations could be funneled into a cohesive working agenda for the realization of the ultimate goal of Free and independent Armenia. Now that the nucleus of that state was accomplished, the old party program with its
revolutionary zeal was inadequate to meet the challenges of a governmental apparatus. Add to this the almost inevitable popular discontent towards the ruling party of a newly established state, and the internal differences within the rank-and-file, and it was obvious that the A.R.F. had to undergo some radical changes in order to meet the challenges of the new situation.
There were three distinct groupings within the party. The largest was that of Western Armenian members who advocated an evolutionary social reform program. On the other extreme stood Internationalist socialist intellectuals, mostly Eastern Armenian, who pushed for radical social and political change. In the middle stood the old leadership, the members of the party's highest executive body, the A.R.F. Bureau which,
out of pragmatic considerations, put aside its revolutionary character, and tilted towards moderation, thus weakening the position of the party's Left. The adoption of a moderate stance by the party's leadership was also evident in the Bureau's organ "Heartache", which stressed gradualism instead of radical social and political reform.
The clash between the first two groups was inevitable during the sessions of the party's 9th congress in September 1919 (the only one held in Armenia's capital Yerevan). Issues ranging from the ideological framework of the party to the relationship between party and government were hotly debated under the watchful eyes of Allied intelligence services which followed the sessions with keen interest. After several weeks of deliberations, the Congress formulated its decisions. It was
evident that the moderates had been successful. The Congress upheld the principles of moderate, democratic government and also instructed the newly elected Bureau that it should have an indirect control of government, that it should not interfere in the affairs of the government, but would rather stay in its shadow and extend a supportive hand to it.
Later events, however, such as the Bolshevik agitated uprisings in May
1920 terminated the principle of indirect control of government, when the ARF Bureau came out of the shadows and assumed the government itself. These were, it seems, tiring and critical days where raison d'etat became the raison d'etre of the ruling party's leadership.
4. - PARTISAN POLITICS
After reviewing the participants, let us now ponder on some of the processes of inter-party politics. Because of time limitations, I will present each very briefly.
Perhaps one of the most important processes of partisan politics in the Republic was that of the coalition government between the ruling party and the populist Democrats, the Populist Party which lasted from November 1918 to June 1919. Headed first by Hovannes Kachaznuni and then by Alexander Khatisian, The coalition was not a complete semblance of national unity, since the left wing parties (i.e. SR's,
SD's) were against participation in a government where right wing parties were represented. The coalition government provided the opportunity for the Eastern Armenian Bourgeoisie to participate in the state-building process, Many of their Tiflis based cadres relocated themselves to Yerevan or alternated between the two cities, in an effort to plan and implement projects in the spheres of economy, social welfare, education, the judiciary, etc... The coalition government came to an abrupt end because of the
act of United Armenia in May 1919. Even though all populist ministers in the government had signed the act and participated in its official declaration, the Populist Central Committee in Tiflis, at the time, it seems, in cohort with Boghos Nubar's camp in
Paris, which insisted that such an act was the prerogative of a constitutional congress where all segments of Armenians must be represented, protested the act and called upon its ministers to withdraw from the government and boycotted the parliamentary elections to be held in the coming weeks. The Populist Center's unexplainable position spread confusion within the party's rank and file. many cadres questioned the validity of the center's decision. Although the populist center's erroneous
decisions were rectified during the party conference held several months later, the collapse of the coalition government just before the general parliamentary elections did damage the efforts of a unity between the two most influential political segments. The experiment was never repeated.
In explaining the populist center’s stance one should take into
consideration the negotiations conducted at the time between the Zhoghovrtagan (populist democrats) and the Ramkavars (Constitutional Democrats) regarding the merger of the two. It might be deduced that the Zhoghovertagan’s center's position regarding the Act of United Armenia was a result of Ramgavar influences on its leadership.
The Act of United Armenia also created confusion within circles adhering
to the newly established Hay Azkayin Azadagan Miyutiun (Armenian National Liberal Union) whose aim was the creation of a joint Constitutional Democrats- Populist Democrats-Reformed Henchakian coalition as a counterforce against the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Stressed by the prospect that the Act of united Armenia would rally Armenians worldwide around the Ararat Republic -- the term with which Ramkavars and other Western Armenian circles used to undermine and ridicule the Armenian Republic
and its ruling party -- and also worried about The recognition that
the said republic was gaining in Allied circles, architects of the above mentioned Union poet Vahan Tekeyan and Dr. Nshan Der Sdepanian traveled first to Tiflis, where they were joined by Populist Central Committee chairman Samson Harutiunian, and
from there to Yerevan to negotiate the Union's participation in the government. The
plenary sessions of the negotiations coincided with the convening of the 9th ARF Congress. Simon Vratsian represented the ruling party. Proposals and counter proposals led to compromises on both sides, but the end result was that the negotiations created more confusion and distrust.
On the other hand, the single event which solicited unanimous Armenian
unity was the Armeno-Georgian border conflict during the period of coalition government. Armenian parties represented in the Azkayin Khorhurt (National Council; Parliament), unconditionally protested the Georgian militant stance and backed the
government in its efforts to resist the aggressor. Due to time limitations I am unable to speak about the 1919 parliamentary elections and their results. What is to be underlined here, however, is the fact that the election process was yet another
indication of the democratic character of the fledgling republic.
5. - CONCLUSION
Burdened with numerous external and internal hardships, The Armenian
Republic in between 1918-1920 was a country in shambles. War, famine, and thousands upon thousands of bewildered refugees threatened the very fabric of Armenian existence and, in the words of Armenia's first prime minister, Hovannes Kachaznuni, rendered the country into a “Chaos without Form" (Antsev Kaos). Yet despite these painful birth bangs, the Armenian quest for freedom and independence was on the march. In this chaotic situation internal partisan divisions were inevitable. Yet the high politicization level of the parties
and the populace at large was a promising factor for the future democracy. It was on the principles and the broader issues -- and not secondary or tertiary details -- that Armenian political organizations had differences of opinion. The Republic was not the monopoly of a single party. Even though the ruling party influenced the shaping of government, an outspoken opposition did materialize and a multi-party pluralistic system was working.
If one thing should be stressed here, it would be the fact that the national interest was clearly defined and all of the major participant political organizations were in agreement regarding the elements of the national interest. Governmental decisions were tailored according to national interest, rather than predicated by external influences and pressures.
It is said that History repeats itself. We are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past if we do not learn from our experiences. The period of the Republic did not lack those mistakes. On the contrary, mistakes were numerous and lots of efforts were made to rectify them. It is precisely because of this that the 1918-1920 experience must be of importance to us today.