Armenian people is one of the ancient tribes. They created a great civilization and contributed to the humanity and other civilizations a lot. They established kingdoms and states as well. However as they settled mainly on the crossroads of the civilizations, religions, sects, races and great kingdoms, they could not maintain their independence. As a result they have generally lived under the other nations’ sovereignty. Iranian Empire, Byzantium Empire, Russian Empire, Arab Kingdoms, Seljuk and Ottoman Empires and Soviet ‘Empire’. They enjoyed great freedom under Seljuk and Ottoman Empires however many Armenians were tortured and deported by the Byzantium Emperors due to the religious disputes. Most of the time, they could not become soldiers or governors. In short the main problem for the Armenian peoples was lack of a state. When the French Revolution triggered the nationalist movements in the world, the Armenians were not ready for such a radical change:
The Ottoman Armenians were enjoying a great religious freedom and they were among the most wealthiest class in the empire. Many Armenian bankers, businessmen, doctors and intellectuals were very close to the Palace. The Ottoman Armenians in the towns and rural areas were mostly bankers, businessman or craftsmen. The Armenians with the Ottoman Greeks dominated the Ottoman export and import. Moreover the Ottoman Armenian population was not majority in any region. About 1 million Armenians were scattered around the huge Ottoman territories. In another word the Ottoman Armenians were not ready for a separatist nationalist revolt. They were actually happy with the existing system. The Church in particular had great privileges before the Ottoman State and a great power over the Armenian citizens.
Under these circumstances, the Armenian nationalism was developed in diaspora: In Switzerland and Georgia. Tashnak and Hnchak ‘parties’ were established in Tbilisi and Geneva. The leading Armenians were very young and inexperienced in politics. They had no enough power and financial support to struggle against the Empires. Apart from these, the young Armenian idealists set a formidable task for the Armenian nationalism: To unite all Armenians in the Ottoman, Russian, Iranian Empires and other Armenians in the region under a separate Armenian State. So, they needed foreign assistance, and the great imperial powers were very eager to ‘undermine’ the Ottoman Empire. The British, French and Russian Empires gave a great encouragement to the Tashnaks and other Armenian groups. However they did not fully keep their promises and when they reached agreements with the Istanbul Government the Armenian nationalists failed. Furthermore the Armenian nationalists were encouraged but not fully supported when needed. Another problem was that the Ottoman Armenians did not strongly join the Armenian nationalists. Many Armenians in the Ottoman towns were against the Armenian militants. Therefore the first target to be destroyed was seen as the Ottoman Armenian leaders. Many Armenian leaders were murdered by the Tashnak and other Armenian militants. They accused all Armenian opposition of being traitor. The Armenian terrorism killed more Armenians than the Muslims in the beginning of the 20th Century. The Armenian businessmen were threatened and forced to give ‘tax’ to the illegal Armenian groups. The Tashnak militants transferred a huge amount of weapons, provided by Russia and Britain, to the Ottoman towns. They were preparing a war and revolt against the Istanbul Government. They organized many terrorist attacks against the politicians and institutions. In 1876 the Armenian militants attacked the Ottoman Bank and exploded bombs before the bank. They further organized an assassination against the Sultan (Head of State) II. Abdulhamid.
When the First World War erupted, the Armenian extremists saw the war as an opportunity and the co-operation between the Armenians and Allied States increased. The Russian, British and French Empires who were in war against the Ottoman Empire, Germany and Austrian Empire, considered the Christian minorities as a tool against the Ottomans. Thus the Armenian nationalists were encouraged for more terrorist attacks, revolts and weapon transfers to Anatolia. The Van Revolt was one of the most vivid examples for the Armenian Revolts. The Tashnaks in the Van Revolt aimed to ‘clean the region from the Muslims’. Thousands of Muslims were killed or forced to leave the region. At the end the Armenians declared their independence in Van province and then handled the city to the Russian occupying forces.
The Armenian nationalist ‘adventure’ ended with a tragedy which cost 500.000 Muslim and more than 110.000 Armenian lives. About Thousands of Armenians were relocated, and many died due to the war circumstances. The Armenians rioted against the Government in many towns and attacked their Muslim neighbors with the French, Russian and British encouragement. However the occupiers did not keep their promises and with the end of the war the Armenians could not return their homes. Many immigrated to the European and North American states. The cost of the revolt was very high for the Armenian nationalism. Nevertheless they could establish a tiny state in Caucasus under the Tashnak rule. It is unfortunate that the Tashnaks could not learn anything from the Ottoman Armenian experience and they started a ‘revenge campaign’ (NEMESIS) against the newly-established Turkish State. As a matter of fact that the last thing Independent Armenia needed was a ‘revenge conflict’ with the Turks. Armenia was a ‘country of dead’ at that time. Armenian population was suffering from famine and epidemic diseases, and more than 200.000 Armenians died under these circumstances in the Tashnaks’ Independent Armenia. However the Armenian ‘leaders’ did not focus on the economic development, social and cultural problems and political relations with the neighboring countries while the newly Turkey’s Government sole dealt with the political and economic problems. The Armenian terrorists killed many former Ottoman ministers. But the Tashnak attacks not only killed the Turkish targets but also ended the independence of Armenia. Armenia lost its independence and became a Soviet Republic under Moscow rule.
Armenians once more had to immigrate to the West. They suffered a lot from lack of an independent state. They had no reasonable leader who could lead them under the realistic and pragmatic principles instead of purely naïve emotional motivations.
Under the lack of leadership, Armenians were exposed the great powers national interests. Moscow, Washington, Paris and London abused the Armenian issue.
Armenia gained its independence in 1991 after the decades when the Soviet Empire collapsed. It is unfortunate that the Diaspora Armenians and Tashnaks just focused on their own interests instead of saving the newly-established Armenia. Tashnaks played a crucial role in declaring war against the Azerbaijanis. The Diaspora encouraged more wars to capture the ‘lost territories’ in Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. While the other former republics tried to decrease their dependency on Russia, Armenia more and more became a ‘Russian orbit’ in the region. When Russia lost its military bases in Azerbaijan and Georgia, Armenians invited the Russians to their country.
The new Armenian nationalists and Diaspora saw Turkey the most deadly enemy, though Turkey was one of the first states who recognized Armenian independence. Actually Turkey considered Armenian State as an opportunity to normalize the Turkish-Armenian relations. However Armenian Diaspora seriously reluctant in normalizing the relations because it established the Armenian identity on anti-Turkishness. The 1915 Legacy and anti-Turkish accusations have been the only uniting factor in the diaspora. They feared that if Turkey and Armenia normalized the relations, the assimilation of the Armenians in the West could be accelerated. The Church and the political parties used the Turkish-Armenian problems in cementing the non-homogenous Armenian society. Moreover anti-Turkish Armenian Case was financial and prestige source for many Armenians and Diaspora institutions. In another word the Diaspora Armenian abused the problem with Turks for their personal and institutional interest at the cost of Armenia. Their priority was not State of Armenia but the Diaspora. They knew that the land-locked and relatively poor Armenia had to solve its disputes with Turkey in order to survive. However they sacrificed Armenian state once again as they did in 1918.
To conclude, the foremost priority for the whole Armenians must to protect and survive the young Armenia, instead of strengthening the Armenian diaspora. Armenia should not be part of the adventurous games of its Diaspora and Russia.
Dr. Sedat LACINER: Director, International Strategic Research Organization (ISRO)
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