Republic of Armenia 1918-1920: Internal Politics by gmoumdjian


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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.


a- THE CONSTITUTINAL 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-àvis 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 DEMOCRATS 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 imperialcolonial 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 grassroot 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 Armenia. The Government started taking severe measures only after Bolshevik uprisings in May 1920. led

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 Dem
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