Harmful Elements (ՎՆԱՍԱԿԱՐ ՏԱՐՐԵՐ)

Following is a translation/interpretation of Harmful Elements (Վնասակար Տարրեր) by Rosdom (Stepan Zorian), one of the founders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF Dashnaktsutyun), published in Droshak in 1896 in response to the detractors of the Armenian revolutionary movement spearheaded by the ARF to defend and protect the rights of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire at that time. Rosdom penned his masterpiece 125 years ago, and it has remained applicable and relevant to the Armenian reality in the homeland and the diaspora ever since; even more so today as various characters from Yerevan and Armenia to Los Angeles and the US have emerged. Although the names of the actors and towns and regions may be different, the tactics and methods of the modern-day harmful elements are alarmingly similar, and it remains just as important today to recognize, identify and remove the obstacles and distractions to continue working towards our goals.

Rosdom (Stepan Zorian)

May 1, 1896. Droshak.

Each time the revolutionary organization gains power and influence as a result of the resilience, sacrifice and unwavering dedication of its members, a commotion emerges. Distractions appear in various segments of society when the revolutionary minority gains momentum and the people begin to have faith in its success, belief in its goals and take tangible steps to advance along the revolutionary path.

Each time the people’s spirits are uplifted and they start to believe, support and participate in the movement, various forms of snakes begin to surface; these opportunists, exploiters, usurers, snitches and even traitors, skillfully adapt to the circumstances of the day and enter the arena as “revolutionaries,” “patriots,” sympathizers or supporters of the revolution or the Cause. They are extremely dangerous and harmful during such critical times, as they play on people’s emotions using inflated and boastful statements to exploit the naivete of the masses.

These self-righteous hypocrites are an unbearable pain and a plague on the revolutionary movement.

Whenever we face a temporary setback, these vile creatures create even more diversions and problems for the dedicated and tireless revolutionaries. They retreat to their lairs and peddle altruistic and populist ideals such as “prudence,” “foresightedness,” “common sense,” “love for the people,” and “unity” (without purpose) while continuing to conceal their true colors and motives. They deceive and manipulate the population for personal gains while using the deceptive titles of “revolutionary” and “patriot” as they become the most harmful obstacles to the revolutionary path.

These creatures are like garbage strewn along the revolutionary path in large or small piles with various shapes and sizes, colors and odors polluting the environment.

Occasionally, the revolutionary patriot must stray from his original purpose to deal with this garbage that hinders the movement’s progress. He must take on the disgusting task of clearing the path knowing full well that with the first swing of his broom the piles of garbage will disperse and fill the air with their stench, creating an environment of accusations, lies, slander, gossip, and intrigues… but the revolutionary patriot must work through these horrible conditions to continue working towards his main true purpose.

Along the way we see utopists preach for political parties to unite, while some establish personal associations or organizations under the name of unity, only to escape from the difficult revolutionary tasks necessary to advance the Cause. These “prudent revolutionaries,” liars, cheats and charlatans conveniently and endlessly aspire to prepare, without ever taking action.

They hide behind disingenuous philanthropy and supposed kindness, and with their naïve followers, campaign against the ARF Dashnaktsutyun. These parasites discuss the dire condition of our people and with crocodile tears state, “The people need bread, not weapons as the time for revolutionary methods or tactics has passed.”

They take advantage of this opportunity, using people’s pain and suffering, to portray themselves as good, sensitive, kind-hearted and prudent individuals who adapt to the demands of the time and understand the needs of the masses.

Under the guise of their benevolence, they present themselves as indispensable and invaluable for the homeland, and in the process conveniently excuse themselves from the difficult revolutionary activities safeguarding themselves from any personal risk. They assert the people need a balanced, prudent and knowledgeable shepherd to oversee, guide and save the masses from becoming lost or swayed by “extreme” revolutionary ideals and action that “will lead to an abyss of losses.” In doing so, they cleverly seize the moment and continue falsely portraying themselves as patriots.

Our people’s “true friends” say “we must give the people bread.” Who says the opposite and that there’s no need to provide bread? But why don’t you at least do that much? Why do you also place that burden on the revolutionary organizations? Where were you after the massacres in Sassoun when the ARF Dashnaktsutyun was forced to stray from its main purpose to provide charity in the form of financial aid from its own resources to our helpless country? Where were you after the latest massacres when once again the ARF Dashnaktsutyun provided assistance to our wretched, robbed and bloodied people?

And now, when you’re preoccupied with merely reciting patriotic sermons and only raise pennies from your fat friends, it is once again American, English, and even German and Swiss missionaries that are helping our people.

Shame on you…

They recite, “we should not give the people any weapons” when the facts and evidence clearly show that the villages that were massacred, robbed and destroyed did not have enough weapons to defend themselves, while those areas where we had weapons, or armed Hayduks, fought and successfully defended their regions and properties, or even remained free from attack.

They continue to repeat this nonsense even though the Armenian people throughout the region anticipate new attacks every day, especially in areas that remain free; while the Turkish government maintains the Hamidian regiments and other mountain people at its disposal, on alert and ready to attack at any time; while Armenians in the provinces who understand the importance of defending themselves desperately scream out for weapons to do just that; while our villages that were recently robbed and sacked hold fundraisers amongst themselves and donate their last cent for the chance to arm and defend themselves.

The people are demanding weapons, meanwhile our “prudent” figureheads are trying to convince the people that they are mistaken and they actually need bread, not weapons. Should we believe the sincerity of these prudent fools?

They demand, “It’s necessary to stop the revolutionary movement” and are sometimes even joined by those devastated from the latest massacres, who still have nightmares of the destruction and speak from emotion without using their intellect or common sense.

We’ve already shown it is impossible to stop the revolutionary movement as it is a natural consequence of our unbearable situation, and as conditions worsen the revolution will grow and become more powerful and severe. Only reforms and resolving the horrible conditions in the region can end this.

They remain safe and secure on the sidelines yet demand to stop the movement, and even blame the revolutionaries for the massacres. These weak shortsighted fools quickly fall into despair forgetting about mankind’s plight throughout history, the terrible hardships nations endured to achieve freedom, and the hellish tortures Armenians faced throughout the centuries. Within this context they exaggerate the impact of the latest losses in order to comfortably capitulate to the enemy.

The latest events were undeniably a huge blow to the Armenian people; a horrific impact seen and felt by all as our enemies brazenly and openly butchered our people and terrorized the survivors. 

We too had many losses as Armenian blood was being spilled and our Armenian provinces were being emptied or filled with Kurds, Cherkens, and others. Yet people still haven’t grasped the severity of the situation, they aren’t outraged or furious, and they don’t care about the unbearable conditions and horrors forced upon our people. Our enemies barely start to attack and our exhausted and weakened people are quietly slaughtered. Where are our hardened, strong and tough residents of the Armenian provinces? Forget ancient history, the plains of Mush, Vasbouragan, the Garin and Papert region, Khunous, Pasen are all being significantly emptied right before our eyes. Alashgerd and Payazid lost 90-percent of their population.  

The “prudent patriots’” continue the sermons in their attempts to negatively impact and slow down the revolutionary movement. They say the Armenians are incapable of living in Turkish Armenia under these conditions; they are exhausted and weak; they are dying; they are incapable of protesting, standing up for themselves and joining the revolution as their only savior.

But the demands for justice are now embedded in the blood of the Armenian people.

 You cannot rattle our nerves or change our minds, or treat our people like animals. Try if you dare, but those of you hoping to end the revolution will be all alone in the end.

The people have started the revolution and will continue it to its end. Now, it remains for all of us to collectively realize and recognize the various forms of garbage on the revolutionary path, hurl them aside and continue the fight unobstructed and without distraction to save our people.

Garo Madenlian

Garo Madenlian

Garo R. Madenlian joined the ARF in 1988 and has served on various local ARF bodies including gomidehs in Montebello and Orange County. He has also served a few terms on the ARF Western USA Central Committee. Garo has also been a member of several local ANCA chapters and previously served on the board of the ANCA Western Region Board. Garo is a practicing attorney and partner with the Kevorkian & Madenlian LLP in Costa Mesa, California.


  1. May I suggest the Armenian original also be published alongside it, for reader’s comparison, or for those who would like to read the original text. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Sadly, I find the comparisons to our situation of today exactly the same. When will we learn that our revolution continues, as the Turks via the Azeris take more and more of our territory, kill more of our people, while we have traitors in our own midst.

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