Ahead of the Centennial Let Us Harmoniously Celebrate the Centennial of Armenian Statehood in 2018

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By Dr. Arshavir Gundjian

I have no doubt that the appeal expressed in the title of this article will not come as a surprise to any of the readers who follow the daily discussions concerning Armenian life in the press, be it in the Diaspora or in Armenia.

This article is the logical follow-up of my previous article which appeared in the July 9 issue of Baikar, entitled “Let Us Celebrate the 1918-2018 Centennial of the Reestablishment of Armenian Statehood Without Falling Prey to the Temptation of Divisiveness.”

Soon after the authorities in Armenia announced recently that next year, in May 2018, the “Centennial of the May 1918 Days” will be celebrated, articles and proposals exhibiting a clear spirit of divisiveness started to appear in the Armenian press in the Diaspora and Armenia. Evidently the polemic was prompted by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF or “Tashnag”) press. Inevitably and quite understandably, responding articles appeared in organs of the nonpartisan press, such as Aravod, as well as Baikar, a part of the partisan Ramgavar press.

The articles that appear, particularly in the Diaspora Tashnag press, clearly indicate a return to the self-centered Tashnag spirit evinced for over 70 years following May 28, 1918. During those long years, the ARF exhibited extreme bigotry. At the cost of ignoring its own published literature of the relevant period, it systematically claimed exclusive credit for the creation of the first Republic of Armenia. Quite unfortunately, the ARF has used both the first Republic and the tricolor flag of Armenia as symbols of intense and sustained destructive strife directed against every person, organization or undertaking in favor of Armenia, the Holy See of Echmiadzin, or any cultural, literary or scientific endeavors located in Armenia during those 70 years.

Unfortunately, today the Tashnag press is reverting to that same self-centered bigoted spirit without realizing that by now such an attitude is totally unacceptable. One particular manifestation of this behaviour appears in its current forceful promotion of the idea that in May 2018 a statue be erected dedicated to one of its leaders of the past century whom it would like to see adopted as an uncontested hero of the entire Armenian nation.

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On the eve of the centennial that will be marked in May 2018, the ARF must realize that it is imperative for it to renounce such bigotry, which has led in the past to very serious and extremely destructive crises within the Armenian community. Instead, the centennial must be allowed to become an opportunity for pan-Armenian celebration of the reestablishment of Armenian statehood, following six centuries of stateless existence.

The indisputable starting point of the currently uninterrupted hundred years of Armenian statehood has been the heroic and victorious battle of Sardarabad, which was won by the united participation of the entire Armenian population. The victorious battle of Sardarabad was followed by the first, second and now the third Republics, without any interruption. During all three periods, significant achievements were realized, and to this date they continue to be realized. However, it is equally true that those same periods were marked, including the current one, by negative and destructive events for which the authorities of the corresponding periods are also responsible and accountable.

I will therefore repeat, we ought to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” nothing more nor less.

In order to clarify further my thoughts, I shall enumerate in the rest of this article a number of facts all based on undeniable historic documentation, in the form of short statements. Each and every one of those statements can easily be the subject of one or more properly documented articles. I am presenting these facts here in a highly summarized form in order to make them available as a basis for the continuing controversy on this issue.

  1. The period of May 1918, and more particularly the events that took place during the last ten days of the month of May 1918, which coincided with the final phase of the First World War, were undoubtedly particularly difficult and confusing for Armenia. Day after day and even hour after hour, unpredictable and often contradictory developments were taking place. Those who during those days happened to be in a position of leadership of the Armenians were neither ready nor able to take action or make decisions based uniquely on considerations of Armenian supreme interests, as they were surrounded by enemies, and subjected to the latter’s intense military and political pressure. The simple reality is that until the end of World War One, which took place on November 11, 1918, Turkey had the upper hand in imposing its will on the political decisions taken by the three Transcaucasian Seim countries, and most particularly by Armenia. It is, therefore, evident that on and around the 28th of May 1918, it was none other than Turkey which was dictating its conditions to Armenia, including the imposition of the condition for it to declare its independence.
  2. During those nightmarish days of May 1918, the Turkish regular army was advancing on the Caucasian front towards Yerevan aiming at the complete occupation of Armenia. It was at that fateful moment of life and death that Armenians as a whole stood up and created a turning point in Armenian history. Indeed, intellectuals, villagers, clergymen, partisans and non-partisans, Armenians from all walks of life, responded to the call for general mobilization that was heralded by the ringing bells of Holy Echmiadzin. With a heroic effort, they miraculously succeeded in stopping and defeating the Turkish army at what is known as the Heroic Battle of Sardarabad. This turning point, the event that led to the declaration of Armenian independence, is commemorated on May 25 as the Pan-Armenian Heroic Victorious Battle of Sardarabad.
  3. The days that followed Sardarabad were still literally nightmarish for Armenians. Indeed, while a small part of Armenia had been saved from the grip of Turkey, Armenia had neither the means nor an army or any infrastructure which would allow it to become an independent nation. Under such circumstances, all those who were responsible for the destiny of Armenia, including Tashnags, Hentchags, and other parties which would eventually join and form the ADL, such as Joghovrtagans, and Ramgavars quite desperately wanted to remain within the Transcaucasian Seim. No one wished to declare independence.
  4. However, on May 26, Georgians declared independence and the Seim was dissolved. Azerbaijan followed by declaring independence on May 27. Armenians had been left alone, subjected to the pressures imposed by Turkey. Even though no alternative was left, there were still different views within every group, including within the ARF. Within the latter, Avedis Aharonian was against while Simon Vratzian was in favor of declaring independence; the latter’s argument was that “there is no alternative left for Armenia.”
  5. After lengthy hesitations, from May 28-30, finally Armenia was forced to declare independence. At the time, this was not considered an opportunity for joy and cause for celebration. Simon Vratzian’s recorded expressions of thoughts on this subject are self-explanatory.
  6. Nevertheless, May 28 was accepted as the date of Armenia’s independence. Armenia became legally an independent nation. Consequently, May 28 is an important date in the history of Armenia that deserves to be commemorated. However, it is clearly evident that May 28 was not earned by any particular group or party. Simon Vratzian’s statement that independence was imposed by Turkey has to be kept in mind.
  7. At that time, all Armenians, everywhere, and not only Tashnags, stood up to support the newly independent first Armenian republic, in spite of their very limited resources. Unfortunately, during the following two years Tashnags consistently maneuvered to push the representatives of all other Armenian political groups out of the governing structures. In spite of this Tashnag bigoted attitude, Armenians of all different political tendencies extended a helping hand. When Aleksander Khadisian went to Egypt on a fundraising campaign, Ramgavars and the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) gave full support and organized many successful events. Furthermore, Ramgavars even succeeded in negotiating with the British, and raised funds to acquire twenty military planes for Armenia under those rather highly unusual international political times…
  8. During the following two years, defeated Turkey recovered. It resumed unperturbed its policy to occupy what was left of Armenia. It was at such time that with the help of communist Armenians, Armenia became a Soviet Republic on November 29, 1920, thus establishing the Second Republic of Armenia.
  9. During the following 70 years, Armenia took full advantage of being able to exist finally within secure borders. Undeniably, during those seven decades Armenia has lived through an unprecedented period of developments, achievements and creativity in every and all fields of national interest, such as in the areas of industry, economy, science, culture and literature. Armenians were also subjected to the known excesses and brutalities of a communist regime.
  10. Finally, in 1991, following unprecedented international developments that were way above and beyond the means of Armenians, the Soviet Union collapsed. Once more, due to external circumstances, Armenia was left to itself and therefore declared its new independence. Thus, on September 21, 1991 the Third Republic of Armenia was created.

This rather quick review of our nation’s last hundred years history shows that whereas on May 25, 1918, the Armenian people were able to achieve the turning point major event of the Sardarabad heroic victorious battle by their own means and efforts, as a matter of fact, the following three important stages of May 28, November 29 and September 21, and the corresponding Republics, were not achieved, after all, through victories of Armenian armies. Of the latter three only the November 29 event was obtained with the participation of Armenian armed forces.

One hundred years is a sufficiently long period of time for us to appreciate and value the independence that we currently enjoy. We fully wish that today’s Third Republic will last for many years to come thanks to the full support and participation of all Armenians, and that it will be marked with continuing achievements and progress.

Before concluding, let us refer back to that one other issue that is being raised by the ARF in the context of the marking of the Centennial. On the scale of historical time periods, one hundred years is still a relatively short period for it to try to press for one or another personality to be recognized as an unquestionable pan-Armenian hero who would deserve to have his statue erected on a major square in Armenia. This is another subject that is currently prone to cause controversy and discord.

Indeed, if the ARF proposes that statues of Aram Manougian or Dro receive such honor, one could easily propose the alternative of General Antranik Ozanian as a candidate who enjoys unquestionably much more universal admiration among Armenians. In this latter case, however, we would expect a strong Tashnag objection and resistance…

If it is really necessary to erect a statue on the occasion of the Centennial, let it then be the statue of Tigran the Great as the undisputed symbol of a powerful Armenian statehood…!

To conclude, I return to the heading of this article in expanded form: “Let Us All Agree to Refrain from Self-Aggrandizing Efforts, Such That We May Celebrate in May 2018, The Centennial Of the Armenian Statehood in A Pan-Armenian Harmonious Spirit Of Unity.”

It is essential to avoid at all cost any effort and initiative that leads to bigotry and divisiveness.

 

Editorial Note:

The author, Dr. Arshavir Gundjian, is an internationally known scientist and university professor, who in parallel with his professional activities has played a leadership role in major Armenian organizations.

After obtaining his PhD in the field of electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965, he moved to Montreal, Canada. In the following years and for a duration of half a century, in parallel with his research activities, resulting publications, several patents and teaching at the well-known McGill University, Dr. Arshavir Gundjian has played an unusually active and singularly productive leadership role within the Armenian community, participating in and contributing not only to Canadian-Armenian community life but also to the Armenian Diaspora in general and towards the establishment and maintenance of solid and healthy relations with Armenia.

Dr. Arshavir Gundjian is one of the founders as well as the first chairman of the Diocesan Council of the Armenian Church of Canada. He is the founder of the first Canadian-Armenian school, the Montreal AGBU Alex Manoogian School, which he has served, on a volunteer basis, in the positions of president and general director for forty years. He was one of the closest collaborators of the well-known benefactor, the late Alex Manoogian,. He was elected a member of the AGBU Central Board for thirty years. and served as AGBU vice president for eight years.

More particularly, Dr. Arshavir Gundjian is recognized as being one of the most active and influential leaders of the Armenian Democratic Liberal (ADL) or Ramgavar Party. He was elected member of the ADL Central Board for twenty consecutive years from 1975 to 1995. He was the chairman of the ADL Central Board for ten years, especially during the critical eventful years of the independence of Armenia in 1991. He is currently a member, as Senior Advisor, of the ADL Supreme Council.

He is also a founding member and vice chairman of the Central Board of the Tekeyan Cultural Association of US & Canada. He is one of the founders of the Azg newspaper of Armenia, and the Abaka weekly of Montreal.

In recognition for his services and exceptional contributions, he has been named Honorary Chairman of the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Canada. and also Emeritus Member of the AGBU Central Board of Directors.

 

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