GLENVIEW, Ill.—The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Christapor gomidyutiun of Chicago hosted the 101st anniversary of Armenia’s first independence with hundreds in attendance on June 2.
Over the past decade, the Chicago ARF has celebrated Armenia’s independence with a special tradition—by blessing and raising a new Armenian tricolor flag at the entrance of the Armenian All Saints Apostolic Church and Community Center. This year’s flag godfather was Vasken Aivazian, a respectful and active ARF member who has served in several capacities on both local and regional levels. An emotional Aivazian held the flag, while Hayr Ghevont Pentezian blessed it. The flag was presented by Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) members Areni Artinian and Alina Dekirmenjian, along with Homenetmen scouts Talar Aroyan and Tsoler Dikranian.
Following the blessing of the flag, the AYF, Homenetmen Scouts and Aivazian led those in attendance, including Honorary Counsel Oscar Tatosian, to the front of the community center for the raising of the flag. Local ARF chairman Greg Bedian invited everyone inside for a brief program, where he highlighted and reflected on Armenia’s first independence. Bedian spoke about the ARF visionaries who paved the path of dreams for freedom and independence and described their leadership during the battles of Sardarabad, Bash Aparan and Karakiliseh.
“Answering unger Aram Manoukian’s call to arms, as the bells of our churches rang out throughout the countryside, the remnants of our people gathered, with scythe and shovel, with rocks and sticks, with guns and swords, and under the masterful direction of generals Tovmas Nazarbekian, Movses Silikian, commanders Christapor Araratov, Daniel and Boghos Bek-Pirumyan, Ungers Dro Drastamat Ganayan, and Karekin Nejdeh, and turned back the tide of the Turkish armies,” said Bedian in his formal remarks. “Western Armenian regiments from Erzingan, Khnous, Igdir, Van and Maku, joined together with the Armenian army units and despite being outnumbered and out-gunned on all three fronts at Sardarabad, Karakiliseh and Bash Abaran, not only stopped the Turkish assault, but sent the Turks fleeing. Had the Armenian forces not been limited by a lack of ammunition and supplies, the victory would have been greater still,” he went on.
In his remarks, Bedian said during the 70 years of Soviet rule, the ruling communists unsuccessfully attempted to turn the ARF into “enemy number one of the Armenian people,” and that the Soviets and their supporters here in the Diaspora used every opportunity to undermine and attack the ARF. “The ARF was portrayed as the source of all that was bad, and the Independent Republic, its Coat of Arms, its anthem Mer Hairenik, and tricolor flag were spat upon, both figurative and literally. When the dark days of Soviet domination came to an end, the ARF, which had lovingly cared for the memory of the first republic and our national symbols, bequeathed them to our newly freed country, which quickly modernized the coat of arms and updated the lyrics to Mer Hairenik. Aram Manoukian, Karekin Njdeh, Drastamat Kanayan, our ungers who were heroes of the May battles, all now have memorials or statues in Armenia, but few seem to know that they were leaders in the ARF. The history of the First Armenian republic remains Sovietized, sanitized of the ARF’s role. Yet without the leadership and sacrifice of our ungers, our nation may not have regained its freedom, and as Marshall Baghramian said, our nation may not have survived at all.”
Bedian then introduced keynote speaker Rupen Janbazian, editor of h-pem and the former editor of the Armenian Weekly. Janbazian, first in English and then in Armenian, indicated the significance of the short-lived First Republic of Armenia. “The establishment of the many institutions and relief efforts of the First Republic were made against all odds—in the most dreadful of situations. But even in the worst conditions, visionaries such as Aram Manoukian, Avetis Aharonian, Nikol Aghbalian and countless others, devoted themselves to nation-building and carved out a truly progressive state by challenging the status quo,” he said.
Janbazian then spoke at length about the progressive nature of the 1918-1920 Republic and its leadership: “The short-lived first Armenian Republic, which lasted barely two and a half years, was one of the first states to give women the right to vote—to elect and to be elected—even before women in this country, who had to wait until 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment was adopted.” In this regard Janbazian went on to explain that three female members were represented in 1919 and the first Republic also boasted the first female consul (diplomat) in the modern world, Dr. Diana Apcar, who represented Armenia in Japan.
Janbazian then explained that it is important to understand that the First Republic of Armenia does not belong to the ARF: “It’s not a ‘Dashnak Republic’ as it had been long called, especially during the Cold War. The Republic established 101 years ago belongs to the Armenian people, regardless of political stripe or affiliation. It is must be a point of pride for us all. Period.”
Janbazian also made connections between the 1918 Republic and the recent political changes in Armenia. “ We saw the youth of Armenia challenging the status quo in Armenia a little over a year ago during the Velvet Revolution—and now that they have seen that there is hope for real change to come about, they will continue to challenge the status quo. They will—along with all of us in the Diaspora—hold its new leaders accountable. We, collectively, must praise their successes and criticize their missteps—always and only by being constructive and for the betterment of the nation,” Janbazian said.