Kasbarian: Building on the Totality of ARF’s Ideals

With its rich history and diverse involvements, the ARF has played a unique and often vital role in the life of our nation. Indeed, if we look at the party’s resumé broadly, we find a remarkable versatility that is unusual for any one organization. Think, for a moment, of the different roles the party has played—across time and space—in pursuit of our national ideals:

–          It has been a party of resistance, rebellion, even revolution. Think of the role it played in enlightening, organizing, and arming the Armenian masses of Eastern Anatolia, during the repressive final decades of Ottoman rule. More recently, think of the role it played as catalyst for the national self-determination movement in Mountainous Karabagh.

–          It has been a party of state. The most prominent example, of course, is the formative role it played in the first Independent Republic of Armenia (1918-1920).

–          It has been a community-builder. Think of the enormous role it played in organizing, orienting, and sustaining our diaspora—essentially communities in exile—following the successive upheavals of Genocide and Sovietization.

–          It has been a protector and promoter of national ideology and culture. Whether battling against cultural assimilation or keeping alive the ideals of national sovereignty, the ARF has led the effort to uphold Armenian nationalism, most prominently in Diaspora during the long years of Soviet rule.

–          It has been a lobbyist toward foreign powers. Whether as government-in-exile, or more recently, as an advocate operating in its host countries, the ARF has led the drive to influence decision-makers and opinion-makers who wield power vis-a-vis the Armenian Cause.

–          It has been at the forefront of social movements, within and beyond Armenia’s borders. Think of the various roles it has played, e.g. as an integral part of the Iranian Revolution and Ottoman reform movements of the early 20th century, as a leader within the multi-ethnic Baku Commune of 1918, and as a dissident force in Armenia at various points during Soviet rule.

–          It has been a party of justice. Whether punishing czarist officials for pitting Armenians against Muslims, avenging the atrocities of Talaat and his comrades, or more recently pressing claims for reparations, ARF activists have sought—through all possible means—to gain justice for the lives, lands, and rights of which Armenians have been dispossessed.

An ARF campaign billboard from the 2012 parliamentary elections in Armenia (Photo by Nanore Barsoumian)
An ARF campaign billboard from the 2012 parliamentary elections in Armenia (Photo by Nanore Barsoumian)

Taken together, such roles tell the story of a party that has remained resilient, adaptable, open to change, and ready to meet the challenges of the day. And yet, such diversity is not always celebrated; indeed, sometimes it is cause for confusion, criticism, or both. How so?

First, such a dazzling array of positions has led some to assert a lack of coherence, an ARF tendency to “be all things to all people.” Indeed, critics have asked how any party can maintain integrity of vision and belief when it has housed under one roof anglophiles and russophiles; socialists and Cold Warriors, pragmatists and revolutionaries, those who wear suits and those who wear khakis, and so forth. This is a valid concern, and deserves separate treatment.

Second, some critics assert that the abovementioned variety no longer exists; that it was a hallmark of the ARF during its early and middle decades of activity, whereas today the party has settled into more predictable and routine functions. This, too, cannot be dismissed and must be treated under separate cover.

Here, however, I wish to deal with a third set of concerns; concerns that are perhaps more immediate and worrisome. It is the tendency among many supporters—even party members themselves—to mistake the part for the whole, to take a piece of the ARF’s resume, magnify it, and assert its primacy at the expense of other pieces that are equally vital and necessary.

On numerous occasions, we have heard comments about what the ARF’s real mission is or should be. I’m not talking about hypothetical straw-men, but actual comments made in the ebb-and-flow of our community life. For some, today’s ARF should stick to lobbying—especially in the West—instead of involving itself in community affairs which presumably fall in the domain of the church and other organizations. For others, the dividing line is found elsewhere: Some assert that the ARF’s primary focus is naturally Hai Tahd (Armenian Cause), and that social issues, especially in Armenia, are really a secondary concern. Others argue exactly the reverse. Still others say that the ARF’s focus should be on the Diaspora because, well, Armenia may be our homeland but it has its own government and society while we sit thousands of miles away with more immediate preoccupations.

How does one respond to such assertions? With great difficulty, I suppose, because all of the proposed foci are important. And perhaps that is the point, i.e. that there are no shortcuts, no easy solutions, because the ARF ultimately is not about this instead of that, but rather about this and that simultaneously. True, there should remain a sense of priority about what matters most at a given time or place, but we must remember that the ARF is distinctive among organizations precisely because of its commitment to the totality of our national ideals. If I had to boil these ideals down to their essence, I’d cite three fundamental pillars that have been present throughout the history of the party:

a)     A commitment to Armenia’s sovereignty: This includes a wide range of goals, from autonomy for Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and Transcaucasia, to the drive to attain and maintain Armenia’s independence, to a pro-independence position during the long years of Soviet rule, to a more recent commitment to bolster Armenia’s newfound independence. (The latter would include, by the way, not only foreign policy and national security issues, but matters of social justice and the rule of law, which are equally part of the fabric of a sovereign Armenia.)

b)     Pursuit of the Armenian Cause: This includes all of those efforts, over so many years, to gain justice/redress for historical grievances, including but not limited to the Armenian Genocide. Obviously, the methods have varied – governmental lobbying, publicity, international legal claims, armed struggle, as well as efforts on the ground – but the overarching goal has been the same.

c)     Armenopreservation (Hayabahbanum): This covers all of the various efforts to keep Armenians Armenian. This ranges from the reawakening of Western Armenia in the late 19th century, to keeping language, culture, and history alive in Diaspora, to current efforts to forge new and vital links between homeland and diaspora.

Many organizations embrace one, even two, of these programmatic foci. But the ARF alone has been the one to embrace all three, which accounts for much of its drawing power among the masses. Imagine, for a moment, an ARF that pursued Hai Tahd alone, without regard for Armenia’s current polity, society, and economy; such an ARF would risk becoming dry and devoid of all social relevance – a narrow, single-interest lobby. Conversely, imagine an ARF that solely embraced the Armenia we have today, without regard for the Armenia that we’ve lost; such an ARF would risk falling out of touch with our roots, with the Western Armenian history and culture that have nourished us through Genocide and into our current predicament in Diaspora.

In sum, the ARF by its nature embraces a diverse whole. It is the totality of its vision, above all else, that has inspired legions to join its ranks or follow its path. True, this path may seem cluttered or overburdened at times, but that is a small price to pay for a legacy of this kind. Such a legacy should not be ignored, nor should it be simply upheld; rather, the ARF’s legacy must be understood, built upon, and ultimately guided with care and intelligence.


This article is adapted from an ARF Day speech delivered in Detroit, Mich. on December 7, 2013.

Antranig Kasbarian

Antranig Kasbarian

Antranig Kasbarian is a former member of the ARF Central Committee, Eastern United States. Over the past 20 years, he has been a lecturer, activist and community leader; he has also worked regularly as a journalist, activist, and researcher in Nagorno-Karabakh. He is a former editor of the Armenian Weekly, and holds a Ph.D. in geography from Rutgers University. He joined the Tufenkian Foundation in 2003, launching its program in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), and served as its executive director until 2015. He is currently the Director of Development of the Tufenkian Foundation, pursuing a range of charitable/strategic projects in Armenia and Artsakh.


  1. It is true that the ARF “Kept the Faith” in Armenia during the Soviet era, and in the Diaspora, as it has done for many years. But it has had a relatively poor support during parliamentary elections in Armenia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Why?

  2. I don t think the ARF has been very active in Armenia in trying to stop monopolies ,to have full justice for all citizens,to stop the outflow of Armenians from the country which is at dangerous level for Armenia s security.Now we are beeing sold out to Russia again.You cannot work with the rules of law with an outlaw mafia government.
    These Republicans will only listen if you put a gun to their heads.Right now the Republicans in Armenia are laughing at every bodies faces.The diaspora should totally ignore and boycott any event where a republican official comes for a visit.

    • Don’t fall into oblivion. No matter what, the National interests; the Survival of this Republic; the endurance of an Armenia… is first and foremost priority. You can make any say, take any action, so far as the EXISTENCE of this people on this part of the land is not risked. As Markarian claimed couple weeks ago in Beirut, all actions in being an opposition stop to exist, when the national interests of Armenia and Armenians are threatened! Forget not: When forced conversion was the only option in Mush and Sassun, and Moskov perceived as the only savior from there to Kars Ardahan Surmalu, Russian Orthodoxy was a preferable choice to the Sultan’s Sunniism (for those who had the choice). This said, if Armenia’s existence is bound more to Moskovian policies than to Western democracies, than so be it. Selling your preference for a higher price, is only tactical politics; paying for it at a lower rate, is again tactical politics. The strength of your OTHER options sets the price; yet if existence is the issue ( as was on Dec. 2, 1920), it suits both sides: Yerevan exists; Moscow does not pay much!

  3. I found Antranig Kasparian’s analysis of the ARF more pragmatic than ideological or should I say that his is a pragmatic analysis of the party’s ideology that will better help the western educated ethnic Armenians understand and appreciate the 123 years old party – the Armenian Revolutionary Federation- Dashnaktsutyun.

  4. No matter where you are, and in whatever circumstances, you embody this “federation”, carry on with its ideals, if you do things for the betterment of this people called Armenians, through the context of social equality and justice: Thus you embody Nationalism through the context of Socialism. You may have a country, or you may not; you may be in your country, or you may be abroad; you may be on the partial part of your country, or you may be on the whole; and you may win an election, or not even be represented… that national social ideology is there, has been there, before the 1890’s, before Marx!!! It is an innate ideology, that time cannot limit it to a century or two: It has always been there, is always there, no matter recognized or not. Some call it anti-Ottoman; some anti-Bolshevik; some ultra-nationalist; some Socialist. Some describe it as revolutionaries; some as racists; some as coiners of national identity; some as anti-Christ; some as State-builders. Some take it as never-erring; some consider it always mistaken. Some describe it as emancipators; some as just a calamity… Yet, it was always there, it is there, and will always be there, so long as some Armenianness survives!! (As kids, we used to throw our rocks to the trees that had the most and the best fruits dangling from). So how to define this ideology, and how to limit it to time. It’s not the trunk, not the tail, not the belly, not the legs… its the whole body, the whole elephant, that blind people try to describe it as a shape they touch. As for time, as Zeitlian once put it, its call for Armenianness and freedom started with the arrow that Haig used against Bel.

  5. To begin with Mr. Kasbarian´s long stretched declarations are in place in praising,perhaps even over-praising the ARF.I don´t wish to delve deep into the activities of this prestigious 123 yr old Armenian political party.Kudos to it,any way you turn it.Many successes and as many failures or neglected areas as well.But nonetheless it stands out as the leading amongst the other Armenian political parties,no doubt about that.
    I wish though they would heed what one of their most important leaders Ruben Ter Minassian wrote in his booklet,which my brother in law gave me as a gift8he was Marukhian´s close friend).Ruben Pasha,as some called him made it clear for the party members that they should respect any offered/presented ideas from any Armenian individual should be respected……
    Then again, when all 15 ex-republics overnight converted from totalitarian communist rule to a ¨wild¨free market economy…ARF should have stepped in and leaning upon its socialist ideas helped armenia go through a Transitional period of Euro Socialism ,before becoming the Western style Free(I repeat)market economy in its ¨´wildest version¨.Even now it is not too late for it in RA to muster up clout ,forming coalition with some others and advocate the Scandinavian kind of socialism.Not the Continental Euro one that has also been manipulated to become casi(quassi) pro capitalistic,which ARF pretends not to be.please someone correct me if I am wrong.One of my other ¨suggestions¨ has been to modify its name(indeed none of business)to Armenian Evolutionar(ies) Federation,especially this would be very much attractive in RA and get many more in their rank & File. All in all though it cannot be denied that aRF is the Vanguaard for Armenity(pronounce like community)in the (ardyerkir) out of the Homeland and stands pretty high.Am not a partisan btw….
    best hasgcoghin

  6. My last name may prejudice some of my ideologies, but I always try to remain ARMENIAN no matter what, as family deep rooted since the foundatin of the party I see need for some changes, they wont be difficult, but the party is fighting internal (Hayastan) and external (diaspora) fronts, while remainig thru to it´s chapter of natinalistic values, those that shine regardless of political afiliation, I now live in Argentina, and work here is non-stop with our lobbying efforts, our educational work through our many schools is second to none. I dont see in the dispora a party that has done more on global sence, while in Armenia the ARF continues to grow despite decades of discrimination and lack of exposure among the citizens in the mother land.

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