This year the Armenian Weekly is hosting, along with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Eastern Region Central Committee, the first ever virtual celebration of the 102nd anniversary of the First Republic of Armenia. While preparing for the online event, I couldn’t help but think of the Hairenik Daily editors back in 1918 reporting on this monumental news item at a time when our nation and our people were still reeling from the raw devastation of the Armenian Genocide.
At the helm of the 1918 editorial staff were ARF leaders and journalists Sahag Chetechian, Nshan Desdegulian and Minas Veradzin. In addition to reporting news as soon as it reached them, they also had to face the task of helping people who were attempting to find lost relatives in the pages of the paper which at that point had barely been circulating for two decades. I cannot even begin to fathom their thoughts as news of the establishment of the newly independent republic reached them. I’m certain excitement and a sense of victory over incredible adversity were part of what they felt, but I also imagine feelings of intense sadness over all the lost souls as well as trepidation over the stability of the republic during a volatile war-time period.
The simple, but awe-inspiring statement from Tiflis was a powerful turning point in Armenian history. “The Armenian National Council declares itself the supreme and sole administration of the Armenian provinces.” Coming on the heels of the victories against the Turkish army by the Armenian military and volunteer forces at Sardarabad, Bash-Abaran and Gharakilise, the news was promising but also concerning given the conditions under which the First Republic was being established. A refugee crisis from the Genocide, harsh conditions in the republic and the constant threat to its existence were of primary concern. In addition, the typhoid epidemic was running rampant and ultimately resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, exacerbated by the unrelenting hunger of the masses. By all accounts, that first winter of 1918-1919 was absolutely ravaging and heartbreaking for the citizens of the emerging republic.
I can visualize our people here in the United States poring over the pages of the Hairenik as news of the fledgling republic was breaking. To understand how the news reached Armenians in America, we must put aside today’s expectations of immediate news availability. When was the news published in the pages of the Hairenik Daily? It appeared exactly one month after it happened, in the June 30, 1918 issue of the daily paper and this was the headline:
Armenians of the Caucasus Declare Independence
Kachaznuni: Prime Minister – Khadisian: Foreign Affairs Minister – An Armenian delegation has made it to Bolis (Istanbul)
Considering the endless grim updates from the Caucasus, finally here was a glimmer of hope. Here is the rest of the translated article:
Amsterdam, June 28—According to the newspaper Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, the Armenians of the Caucasus have declared independence. Kachaznuni has been appointed Prime Minister and A. Khadisian Foreign Minister. The newspaper also adds that an Armenian delegation has arrived in Istanbul.
Note: This news report confirms the telegram we received from Paris, that the Armenian army has subjected the Turks to a crushing defeat, forcing them to make concessions to the Armenians. We confirm the [news about] Armenian independence and an Armenian delegation’s departure to Istanbul. Kühlmann has said that soon deliberations will be held in Istanbul to resolve Caucasus-related issues.
These days, we would consider this old news after a month, but in 1918 it was as timely as it could be with the technology of the time. We see from the article that the news was initially received via telegram from Paris and confirmed through a newspaper in Europe. Imagine waiting that long for news now!
Today, as it was then, both the Hairenik Weekly and the Armenian Weekly continue to provide the news of the day for our people. The Hairenik newspaper was a lifeline for those Armenians who had made it to the United States, a way for them to feel connected to news from the homeland and a means to remain one nation, despite being separated by oceans.
Now, we have the independent Republics of Armenia and Artsakh, as well as thriving diasporan communities around the globe. We have the immediacy of news via the technology of our times. We have websites and social media outlets churning out information in the blink of an eye. The evolution of our newspapers has been remarkable in the most tragic and dire circumstances. They have survived the test of time and we proudly join in celebrating the 1918 First Republic of Armenia.