Mensoian: Where Is the ARF of Our Fathers? (Part I)

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaksitiun (ARF-D) celebrated its 120th anniversary in 2010. During these many decades it was dedicated to protecting the Armenian people and the interests of the Armenian nation. The history of the ARF may be divided into three distinct periods during these 120 years, from the founding of the ARF in 1890 to the apocalyptic year of 1923, when the Lausanne Treaty firmly shut the door on what hopes remained for the decimated Armenian nation. The second period, from 1923-1991, coincided with the catastrophic after-effects of the genocide and the existence of the Bolshevik Armenian republic. The final period is ongoing and began when the second free and independent Armenian Republic was founded in 1991.

Period I: 1890-1923

The history of the ARF during this early period reads like an adventure novel. As fedayees, they challenged the rapaciousness of the Turkish and Kurdish overlords who ruled the interior of Anatolia. As political leaders, they worked with the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) to modify the constitution with the Western liberal ideas that influenced both the ARF leadership and the Young Turks. The incentive for the ARF was to improve conditions for the Armenians within the empire. To the Young Turks, it was primarily a means to maintain a multi-ethnic empire from disintegrating.

For the Young Turks, liberal ideas to support this nationalist goal soon gave way to a virulent form of nationalism. During World War I, in which the Ottoman Turkish Empire was allied with Germany, the Armenians were caught between the interests of imperial (later Bolshevik) Russia and the growing ultra-nationalist tendencies of the Young Turks.

Between April 24, 1915 to the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, the Armenian nation endured one of the most disastrous periods in its history. As fedayees, state builders, and diplomats on the international stage, the ARF valiantly sought to protect its people and the interests of the Armenian nation. In the end, the duplicity of the international powers, the total devastation wrought by the genocide—human, economic, and political—and the victorious Bolsheviks in Russia simply overwhelmed the capacity of the ARF to effectively respond.

How easy it would have been for the party’s leadership to rationalize the creation of the Bolshevik Armenian republic as being a small price to pay for their people to gain security from the Kemalist government and a psychological respite from the horrors of the genocide. That rationale cannot be faulted. What can be faulted is the acceptance by some in the diaspora that a captive Bolshevik Armenia should forever be the nation’s future.

When in 1923 the Treaty of Lausanne was signed, the last vestige of hope had been taken from the Armenian people. The first free and independent Armenian republic had been subverted several years earlier by the Russian Bolsheviks supported by Armenian sympathizers. Wilsonian Armenia was forgotten, as was Ottoman Turkey’s systematic murder of some 1.5 million innocent Armenian men, women, and children. Towns and villages that had been occupied by Armenians for millennia were empty. Turkey, successor to the defeated Ottoman Turkish Empire, was rewarded by being recognized as a sovereign state welcomed into the community of nations. The Bolsheviks, by way of creating their new social order, had stripped Armenia of what little remained of her historic lands. Kars-Ardahan had been ceded to Turkey, Javakhk to Georgia, and Artsakh and Nakhitchevan to Azerbaijan. Those Armenians who had escaped the genocide or survived its bestiality were scattered wherever chance may have taken them.

Period II: 1923-1991

The early years of this second period were dominated by the determination of the survivors to rebuild their lives in alien environments under the most difficult circumstances. The situation was bleak and the obstacles formidable. Rather than fall victim to a defeatist attitude, the leadership and the ranks of the party were imbued with a spirit and a dedication to the idea that Armenia would never remain a captive country. The ARF became the caretaker of the symbols of Armenian independence—the tricolor and “Mer Hairenik.” Absent the persistence and determination of the Dashnaktsutiun, Hai Tahd (Armenian Cause) would never have survived the 70 years of this Bolshevik interregnum. The Dashnaktsutiun alone became the principal, if not the only, international voice of the Armenian nation in the diaspora, opposing the Turkish policy of genocide denial, obfuscation, and revisionism, and as an avowed opponent of the communist regime.

With the requisite determination and vision, the ARF set about the Herculean task of bringing order out of chaos. To this end the ARF leadership (the Bureau) now in exile oversaw an evolving structure made up of Central Committees (Getronagan Gomidehs) that served as interfaces between the Bureau and the many local Committees (Gomidehs) that linked the ever-expanding nodes of Armenian population within the diaspora to one another and to the party. The ARF, through its support of cultural, social, youth, and humanitarian organizations, publications, and sponsored events, became the principal Armenian political institution in the diaspora. And through this panoply of organizations, programs, and information outlets, generations of Armenians born in the diaspora were able to maintain a meaningful connection to their heritage and Hai Tahd. As a result, these disparate communities spread worldwide never lost their Armenian identity, their commitment to Hai Tahd, or their belief that a free and independent Armenia would someday be a reality (see “The Armenian Revolutionary Federation: What Revolution?” the Armenian Weekly, July 3, 2010).


‘Where Is the ARF of Our Fathers? (Part II)’ will assess the role of the ARF during the years following the establishment of the Republic of Armenia in 1991. The return to Armenia should have heralded a new era for the ARF. However, by aligning itself to mundane political parties that did not subscribe to their revolutionary social democratic message, the party’s domestic accomplishments fell far short of expectations.


Michael Mensoian

Michael Mensoian, J.D./Ph.D, is professor emeritus in Middle East and political geography at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a retired major in the U.S. army. He writes regularly for the Armenian Weekly.


  1. Dear Michael,
    I can’t wait for the “Part II”.
    This is our era; there are too many scattered cuts and pieces of events in our minds and it is time to have an analytically detailed and organized Political Mosaic of the last two decades with all its ups; downs and parties involved.
    That can become a very good voting “Cheat Sheet” in the Fatherland for upcoming elections and an
    informative educating tool for us in Diaspora.  
    With best Regards.

  2. I would hope that part II includes some of the shortfalls of the ARF too! It would be an opportune time to discuss the seeds that were planted that produced sour grapes.  

  3. The article falls short of explaining much of the history of the pre-1908 ARF. At least explain its founding and what issues it went through in Ottoman and Russian Armenia. Regardless, you seem to boast the ARF in a very centrist way and disregard that other diasporan institutions also were very influential, the church being number one and the hnchaks and AGBU.
    I’m waiting to read about its shortfalls in Armenia as an opposition party. They have not maintained their true colors and have really fallen short in my opinion. Just watch the leaders of the diaspora shut part 2 down.

  4. Suren, the title of this article is “Where is the ARF of Our Fathers?”. Therefore, this article is about the ARF and not about the other organizations. Also, the ARF has never claimed to be flawless and its members frequently (re)evaluate its past decisions, so you can be sure that part 2 will be put on a grand display.

  5. You should mention that there was an ARF presence in Soviet Armenia too. My grandfather was sent to the gulag camps for being a member.

  6.  Organizations such as the ARF, with longevity and historical prominence are bound to be the subject of both admiration and debate. The subject content is extensive… the fedayees, the 1st republic, the Soviet resistance,community building, the church schism, the Antelias See and the present republic role.
         I would like to comment on a major accomplishment of the ARF to which all Armenians, regardless of intra-communal political leaning, should be indebted. In my view the ARF is almost singularly responsible for the retention of independence based nationalism in the diaspora. Growing up in the Prelacy churches in this country and now attending a diocesan church, I have observed distinct institutional differences in the approach to heritage preservation. During the Soviet era , there is no question that embracing the survival of Armenia in a Soviet existence, dampened true nationalism. The trade-off of survival reflected in the infrastructure of the diocese in the 30’s-70’s. We must draw a distinction between culture and nationalism. Certainly the AGBU, Tekeyan and ACYOA(traditionally associated with or affiliated with the diocese), promoted our culture and have done excellent work, but concepts of nationalism were missing. I have discussed this in detail with many of my diocesan brothers and sisters.
           The causes of this were many. Some truly embraced the idea of our survival under the Soviets as a tolerable alternative to Turkish annihilation. Many felt that cultural advocacy would be sufficient and still other could not embrace the concept of a free Armenia if the Dashnags were the primary promoters. It was a difficult time in our community as many abandoned nationalism because of the political opposition just as many Dashnags or sympathizers had a non- relationship with Soviet Armenia.
             All of this changed dramatically in 1991. All Armenians learned quickly that the people of Armenia never forgot their nationalism. The tri-color was embraced as the flag of the second republic, Mer Hairenik was accepted as the national anthem and Sardarabad is revered as a holiday. In the diaspora for many decades, these were symbols of the Dashnaks… although it is much more accurate to understand that they are a part of our collective history and have been preserved by the ARF. Wheras Sardarabad was remembered only by the ARF community for many years, today it remembered as the “2nd Avarayr”.
              With the emergence of our 2nd republic, we all currently embrace our history and the nation. God granted Armenia its freedom as a mean of also reconciling the diaspora as the tri-color is now displayed in all churches. We need to carry forward with this blessing and remain united. United does not mean the absence of diversity. We need different perspectives to be our best. Leadership is the ingredient that garners the power of our diversity for a strong Armenia and Armenian diaspora.
          I am thankful that the ARF stood strong, sometimes alone, to retain our nationalism in the diaspora. Today, we all enjoy the fruits of a community that embraces nationalism as a integral element in our faith and heritage. Certainly mistakes have been made historically with the benefit of hindsight. Let’s remember one of their most important and courageous accomplishments.

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