A Glimpse into the First Republic Archives

From the Armenian Weekly 2018 Magazine Dedicated to the Centennial of the First Republic of Armenia

The Declaration of Armenia’s Independence, dated May 30, 1918 and effective retroactively to May 28, 1918 (Document: File HH 1/1-1, Armenian Historical Archives)

This special magazine issue of the Hairenik newspapers is dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the First Armenian Republic (1918-1920). Other contributors to this issue will supply fascinating details, commentary, and context regarding the legacy of the Republic. Here, I wish only to broadly comment on some of the circumstances under which the government of the Republic functioned, as indicated by documents in the archives located in the Hairenik building.

Independent Armenia was declared during one of the most desperate times in Armenian history, via a simple statement issued in Tiflis (Tbilisi) by a representative body: “The Armenian National Council declares itself the supreme and sole administration of the Armenian provinces.”

Having been left to its own devices by both Georgia and Azerbaijan, and with the complete annihilation of Armenians barely forestalled by the victories of Armenian military and volunteer forces against the Turkish army at the battles of Sardarabad, Bash-Abaran, and Gharakilisa, Armenia was compelled to accede to the harsh provisions of the Treaty of Batum with Turkey.

This photograph, which is stored in the ARF Archives and has never been published previously, shows the “Heroes of
Vaspurakan” (L to R) Mesrop of Maku, Haroutiun, Aram Manoukian, Ishkhan, and Sogho of Akhaltskha (Photo: ARF Archives)

The birth of the First Republic was marked by an immense refugee crisis stemming from the Armenian Genocide, with the remnants of the massacred populations of Turkish (Western) Armenia having found refuge in Russian (Eastern) Armenia.

The government of the First Republic, though preoccupied with ameliorating the harsh conditions confronting the population, was not consumed solely with humanitarian concerns. Many early documents in the archives also contain survivor testimony and criminal complaints against the perpetrators of the Genocide. Of course, that process was not merely a documentation of past crimes but also of the ongoing victimization of the Armenian people.

A list of Armenian Genocide perpetrators. Talat Pasha’s name is at the top of the list. (Document: File HH 2/2-76, Armenian Historical Archives)

The Republic faced insurmountable financial challenges, as well. Money was needed both to feed the population and to acquire weaponry to protect it. Accordingly, there are numerous reports on Armenia’s resources (military, mineral, water, agriculture, etc.), as well as the demographic composition and socioeconomic condition of the population.

The hopes, aspirations, and desperation related to the negotiations at the post-World War I Paris Peace Conference are palpable in the correspondence, meeting minutes, and the diaries of key actors. The government of the First Republic played a role in the issues and aspirations of Western Armenians, viewing those concerns as integral to the survival of the Republic itself.

Moreover, references to the ongoing disputes regarding Nakhichevan, Zangezur, and Artsakh (Karabagh), as well as threats confronting their indigenous Armenian populations, can also be found in these documents.

Receipt for 78,520 Francs donated to the Republic of Armenia from the ARF Central Committee—Boston (Document: File HH 19/19-1-41, Armenian Historical Archives)

Viewing those documents in their totality, one clearly understands how the leading figures and statesmen of the Republic considered themselves a government for all Armenians.

Report of massacres of Armenians in Artsakh (Karabagh) (Document: File HH 9/9-87, Armenian Historical Archives)

One cannot but hold immeasurable respect for those who formed a functioning government under unimaginably difficult conditions in 1918. Though facing significant challenges today, the current independent Armenian Republic (1991) has, in comparison, significant advantages unavailable during the dark days of the First Republic.

Still, appropriately recognizing, honoring, and emulating the legacy of the First Republic would afford today’s Armenia an invaluable opportunity to further consolidate its own independence, placing it on a more democratic and secure footing.

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George Aghjayan

George Aghjayan is the Director of the Armenian Historical Archives and the chair of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Central Committee of the Eastern United States. Aghjayan graduated with honors from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1988 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Actuarial Mathematics. He achieved Fellowship in the Society of Actuaries in 1996. After a career in both insurance and structured finance, Aghjayan retired in 2014 to concentrate on Armenian related research and projects. His primary area of focus is the demographics and geography of western Armenia as well as a keen interest in the hidden Armenians living there today. Other topics he has written and lectured on include Armenian genealogy and genocide denial. He is a board member of the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), a frequent contributor to the Armenian Weekly and Houshamadyan.org, and the creator and curator westernarmenia.weebly.com, a website dedicated to the preservation of Armenian culture in Western Armenia.

2 Comments

  1. Very important that we all better understand what happened as the first Republic was established. It appears that tHe Karabakh issue was very much alive 100 years ago….how did it get swallowed up into Azerbaijan?

  2. In the article above, do you have a copy of the entire document listing the organizers of the Armenian Genocode? I would like to write an article on this issue.

    Thanks

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