Electronic version of “ARMENIA: The Survival of a Nation”, revised second edition © 1990 Christopher J. Walker
Revised Second Edition
CHRISTOPHER J. WALKER
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The Survival of a Nation
Revised Second Edition
CHRISTOPHER J. WALKER
© 1980 Christopher J. Walker
New Material © 1990 Christopher J. Walker
Routledge, 11 New Fetter Lane,
First published in England in 1980
Revised edition first published in England in 1990
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Mackays of Chatham PLC, Chatham, Kent
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Walker, Christopher J, 1942-
Armenia: the survival of a nation. – Rev. 2nd ed
I. Armenia, history
Auden material on page 121 courtesy of Faber & Faber Ltd.
List of maps 7
1. Theatre of Perpetual War 19
PART I: THE REALM OF THE TSARS
2. Northern Light 37
3. The Infirmities of Autocracy 64
PART II: THE REALM OF THE SULTANS
4. Empires in the West, from the Ottomans to the British 85
5. No Help Came 121
6. The Rebirth of Oghuz 177
7. The Death of Turkish Armenia 197
PART III: COLLAPSE OF EMPIRES
8. Striving to Create a Republic 243
9. Peace on the Plain of Ararat 339
10. Confronting Denial 379
11. Perestroika and Karabagh 391
Biographical Notes 409
Select Bibliography 459
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1. Armenia in Ancient and Medieval Times 22
2. The Caucasus in the Early Nineteenth Century 44
3. Baku 72
4. The Romanov–Ottoman Frontier in Asia, according to the Treaties of Adrianople, San Stefano and Berlin 113
5. Administrative Divisions in Ottoman Armenia after 1878 122
6. Sasun 137
7. Constantinople 152
8. Armenia and the Transcaucasian Disputed Territories 271
9. Cilicia 293
10. The Kemalist War, September–November 1920 307
11. President Wilson's Award, November 1920 316
12. Soviet Armenia 340
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Although we are small and very limited
in numbers, not a powerful people, and
many times have been subjugated by
foreign kingdoms, yet too, many deeds of
bravery have been performed in our land
which are worthy of record, but which
no one has troubled to write down.
History of the Armenians, I, 3
(c. AD 480)
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Today, on a map of the world, the only region shown as Armenia is the Soviet republic of Armenia – 29,000 square kilometres, smaller than Belgium, about the same size as Albania. This is a fraction, which Armenians themselves put at one-tenth, of the historic land of Armenia, and of the region shown as 'Armenia' on maps of sixty or more years ago. Even Mount Ararat, closely identified with Armenia throughout her history, towering today over the Armenian capital of Yerevan and represented on the Soviet insignia of the republic, now stands in Turkey.
About three million Armenians live in Soviet Armenia, half their world-wide number. Approximately a million live in other parts of the USSR, especially in the neighbouring republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Upwards of half a million live not in other Asiatic counties, where snow-capped peaks surmount harsh plateaux, but in North America, especially in Massachusetts and California. Another quarter of a million live in Syria and Lebanon. A somewhat smaller amount live in Iran. Other Armenian communities, from Buenos Aires to Shanghai, make up the total picture.
The Armenian dispersion, or ëspiurk, is an ancient phenomenon. Enterprising Armenians have for centuries sought their fortunes in lands other than their own – although they have seldom lost their connections with and affection for their mother country. However the majority of dispersed Armenians did not leave their land voluntarily. From the time of Armenia's loss of sovereignty over her lands, many centuries ago, until the present borders were fixed in 1921, the country has been characterised by misrule, by invasion, by imperial rivalry and in more recent times by outright and deliberate massacre. The refrain of a well known Armenian song, addressed by an Armenian far from home to a crane flying overhead, goes: 'Do you bring good news from our land?', but it is expressed with such doleful melancholy that the singer knows the answer as he puts the question. Misrule, deportation and massacre swelled the communities in North America and Syria–Lebanon to their present large numbers.
Soviet Armenia is the inheritor of what was known, before the first world war, as Eastern, or Russian, Armenia. What of Western, or Turkish, Armenia? For Armenians the land today – known simply as eastern Turkey – is a terrible, scalding emptiness, where, apart from a tiny handful of their compatriots, living in remote and isolated communities, only ruined churches and heavily overgrown villages testify to the former presence of the native population of the once fruitful and flourishing land. Deportation and massacre have all but
denuded the region of its Armenian inhabitants. To be a Western Armenian is, with few exceptions, either to be dead or in exile. Nevertheless the spirit, and to a remarkable extent the cultural tradition, of the Western Armenians live on, whether in Lebanon (with increasing precariousness), or in Paris, Boston and Los Angeles. Even though Western Armenians live in intensely cosmopolitan cities, many of them – but not all – have the knack of keeping alive their historical traditions and their devotion to their homeland, now lost to them. These things are to them, in the words of the poet Hovhannes Tumanian, their sea of treasure, which, despite the many attempts to drain it from them, has always survived intact.
Non-Armenians, if they think of Armenians at all, think of them as entrepreneurs and businessmen; but throughout Armenia the largest class was, until the catastrophes earlier this century, the peasantry. Until then this class constituted probably 70 per cent of the entire Armenian population. Few European travellers bothered to search them out in their villages; so the notion grew up, fostered by the superficial, snobbish impressions of men such as Sir Mark Sykes, who carried with them imperial and racist prejudices to all corners of the globe, of the Armenian only as an entrepreneur, with all the middleman's vices. Those travellers (such as H. F. B. Lynch) who actually bothered to visit the people in their villages gained an entirely different picture. But the myth of the eternal middleman has proved strong.
One cannot deny that Armenians make good businessmen; and this in turn has led to another myth – that of the Armenian Jew. Several non-Armenian writers, of varying degrees of literacy, have written of this semi-mythical creature; a recent popular book on the 1920s ascribed this identity to Michael Arlen senior (né Kuyumdjian), author of the best-selling novel The Green Hat. In fact the number of Jews in Armenia, in the past and present, is very small indeed, and a number of those are of the Karaite sect, considered to be outside the mainstream of Judaism.
Almost without exception, Armenians are Christians, although often in a sociological rather than a religious sense. Their devotion to their ancient Church as the main embodiment of their traditions, and as the one institution which remained alive when their country was enshrouded in the night of alien empires, is immensely strong. During the centuries when Armenia was divided between theocratic despotisms, the Church became the only mouthpiece for the people. Today, too, the Church has more than a theological significance. It is also an important point of reference for an individual's personal identity. Many Armenians hold that, in a profound way, their children are not fully Armenians until they are baptised by their Church. Even party officials in Soviet Armenia have been known to ask for the baptism of their children.
If Christianity holds a somewhat paradoxical position in the world-wide community of Armenians today, so does Soviet Communism. Expatriate Armenians of all political hues have expressed pride in Soviet Armenia, and many of the most capitalistic of them would be appalled by the thought of the
collapse of the Soviet regime in Armenia. In this way expatriate Armenians differ radically from expatriate Russians, Ukrainians or Georgians. Armenians see Armenia, protected by Soviet power, as a small part of their ancient, continuously inhabited country which has survived against incredible odds. If the alternative to obliteration is the Soviet regime, then long may it live. Westerners, living in secure, stable countries with well defined borders may find this acceptance of Soviet rule rather shocking; if so, they will have to make a gigantic imaginative leap into a world where nothing was secure: not life, livelihood, sex or property; a world too where the defenceless civilian population was frequently subjected to brutal inhumanities by representatives of its own government, and where armies ignorant of any rules of warfare swept through the land, bringing fire, wreckage and death. In these circumstances the survival of Soviet Armenia appears as a miracle. In the context of Armenian's history, Stalin's purges are historical memories which, although tragic, were transient. The Armenian culture and language have survived in Soviet Armenia, and are even flourishing there (despite attempts by the bureaucrats to enforce Russian as the language of government). When this is set against the ruin and desolation of Western Armenia, and against the pitiless manner in which it was carried out, the average Armenian's pride in Soviet Armenia becomes understandable.
The central and most critical issue, the activating principle which unites almost all Armenians – a people not given to unity – whatever their political affiliation, whether living in America, Europe or Asia, is that a great crime was committed against them by Ottoman Turkey in the early part of this century, which has gone unrecognised and unpunished. In the first world war and its aftermath they lost perhaps one-third of their world-wide population through deportation, deliberate starvation and outright massacre. The size of this catastrophe, and the calculated manner in which it was carried out, have given the memory of the events a stabbing, unresolved quality to the average aware Armenian. Other historical events can perhaps be passed over, but 1915 is an unhealed wound – the year that the Armenian people were cut down and uprooted from their native land. Earlier decades had foreshadowed this event, and it has coloured all Turko–Armenian perceptions thereafter. It remains unexorcised.
From 1828 until the first world war Armenia was divided between two opposing empires, those of Russia and Turkey. It became usual to speak of 'Russian Armenia' and 'Turkish Armenia' – although at the popular level there was a common outlook among both peoples, based on their adherence to their Church. This division of Armenia between the domains of tsar and sultan has dictated the structure of this book. After an opening chapter, establishing the ancient and medieval background, there follow two chapters showing the development of Russian Armenia to 1914 and giving a brief glance at the military campaigns in the Armenian highlands. Turkish Armenia, and the
Armenian question as an international issue, take up the next four chapters. (There is a little overlap with the Russian chapters, but this is, I think, outweighed by the gain in clarity.) All strands are unified for the period of the Republic of Armenia, and the final working out of the Armenian question, including the French occupation of Cilicia. The year 1921, which fixed the present frontiers and which froze the Armenian question into immobility, is in an important sense the year in which the door was slammed shut on Armenians; so my last chapter, on Soviet Armenia and the dispersion since then, is only an epilogue.
This book developed from a general interest in the later Ottoman empire, and from a realisation that there was very little on Armenians in modern times. It was really quite hard to find out in any detail what actually happened. Since the subject of modern Armenia seemed to be covered by such a cloak of obscurity – whether from our universities, where the subject cannot be taught since it falls outside the strait-jacket of the syllabuses, or from the press – it took only a little persuading for me to embark on the subject.
'The author bespeaks the reader's patience with the hard names which he will encounter in perusing this work' (Eli Smith, Missionary Researches in Armenia, 1834). Armenian proper names pose certain problems. Some are difficult to pronounce, since they place a number of consonants together without an intervening vowel. And there is no single accepted manner of pronouncing the language: the western dialect (traditionally of Constantinople and Turkish Armenia) differs from the eastern (which is spoken in Soviet Armenia today, and by the Armenian communities of Iran and India). For example a famous Armenian medieval dynasty is known as the 'Bagratuni' to easterners, and as the 'Pakraduni' to westerners. Authors who strive for precise and scholarly consistency transliterate into the eastern form; but in my opinion this loses the flavour of many western names and makes them unrecognisable. So I have adopted my own formula: where possible (and where the original is known to me) I have transcribed proper names from Eastern Armenia according to eastern pronunciation, and Western according to the western. Names of individuals whose activities take them to both east and west appear in the eastern form; and ancient and medieval names are also given in the eastern form. Accepted English forms, such as 'Echmiadzin', are exceptions to this rule. It goes without saying that I have avoided systems of transliteration, spelling words instead so that the reader will approximate to their sounds by pronouncing them as if they were ordinary English. Thus ch is pronounced as in 'church'. Slight problems are posed by kh and gh, which respectively sound like the ch in Scots 'Ben Vorlich' and like the r in the northern French pronunciation of 'Paris'. Armenian has an indeterminate vowel, which sounds like the e in 'laurel'; this appears as ë. G is always hard, as in 'gear'.
Place names pose certain other problems. In works in English, Armenia's present-day capital was known as 'Erivan' until comparatively recently; yet to
Armenians it has always been 'Yerevan', which is the form I prefer. Perhaps, by such reasoning, Georgia's capital should appear as 'Tbilisi', but since Armenians, Russians and English all knew it as 'Tiflis', that is the form I have preferred. I hope that thereby I have not offended against Georgian national pride.
I would like to thank all who have assisted me in this work, principally the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, which awarded me a travelling fellowship to embark on my research. Individuals to whom I am greatly indebted for help and advice include Garbis Armen; the late Revd. Harold Buxton, of the Armenian (Lord Mayor's) Relief Fund; Garbis Essayan; E. V. Gulbekian, who supplied me with many references, and corrected my translation of Vratsian's account of the fall of Kars; Asatur Guzelian, whose library contains many out-of-the-way items; Jacques Kayaloff, who reminisced to me about the battle of Sardarabad; Professor D. M. Lang, whose understanding of the Caucasus has given me many insights; Zaven Messerlian, who has tirelessly answered my letters and compiled the facts for the biographical notes (pp. 379–428), for which I have done little more than act as editor; David MacDowall, whose spirited knowledge of both Ottoman and military matters has been uniquely valuable; Brian Pearce, who has located Soviet and other Russian sources for me; Zohrab Shamlian; and Hayastan Vartanian. I must also add my parents, who have been unfailing in their support. Thanks too to Sara Harper for typing the manuscript. To Tim Harvey, who has painstakingly drawn the maps and designed the jacket, any expression of gratitude will always fall short. To all these, and friends and acquaintances who have been generous in comments, ideas and criticisms, I am most grateful, but should add that responsibility for everything in the book is mine alone.
I would like also to thank the librarian and staff of the London Library; and the keeper of Public Records for permission to reproduce extracts from documents in the Public Record Office which are Crown Copyright.