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.