A Centennial Celebration

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

May 2018 will be a watershed in Armenian history because it will mark the centennial of the revival of Armenian statehood. During the months leading up to that benchmark, the news media and political groups are positioning themselves to share in or to own the limelight.

There are discussions about the events leading to the formation of the First Republic in 1918. There are also proprietary claims on the leadership who contributed to the birth of the First Republic. Yet, there is little talk about the demise of the republic or the status and historic value of its successor, Soviet Armenia, which shaped the world view of generations of Armenians, for better or worse.

The Armenian government, currently in a coalition with the ARF and eager to carry its own political agenda, is on the path of a pragmatic policy, not too interested in upholding the historic truth. Everything seems to be up for grabs.

We are not certain if Armenia and the diaspora combined are celebrating the historic victories at Sardarabad, Ghara Kilisa and Bash Aparan or the inception of the first period of statehood after six centuries of statelessness by Armenians.

Since all the above battles were fought through popular participation and since the ensuing republic was valued by all the surviving Armenians from the Genocide, it would make more sense to celebrate one hundred years of statehood, irrespective of our views of who lost the First Republic, what percentage of sovereignty the Soviet Armenian Republic enjoyed and how post-Soviet independent Armenia is performing.

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Battles leading to Armenia’s independence were fought by popular forces, including members of our clergy. The commander of the Sardarabad battle was Movses Silikian, Dro was at Bash Aparan and Piroumian, Ghassapbashian, Antranik and other heroes contributed to the victory. In hindsight, Silikian and Piroumian have been ignored because they did not have their political heirs. Dro’s monument is there, as well as that of Garegin Njdeh, both of whom were valuable heroes but later Nazi collaborators, giving us a black eye internationally.

Aram Manoukian emerging next to the Metro station near the main square in Yerevan, all wrapped up in the tricolor flag, pushing a partisan agenda, diminishes the popular nature of the celebration.

Similarly, the first government was led by majority ARF members who deserve credit. But the first cabinet also included members of the Popular Party (Joghovertagan), composed of a highly intellectual group with a philosophy of evolution, looking to the West rather than embracing revolution, a philosophy very much in vogue at the time.

When the First Republic emerged, it embodied the dreams of all Armenians wounded by the Genocide. Alexander Khadissian’s fundraising trips to Istanbul and Egypt met with popular enthusiasm — Ramgavars, Reformed Hunchaks, which later would join the Popular Party to form the ADL — were at the forefront of generosity. They had also negotiated a deal with the British army in Egypt to purchase an air force for the fledgling republic.

The enumeration of these contributions does not intend to push a partisan agenda but to just emphasize that the republic belonged to the entire Armenian people, regardless of political affiliations and today, the celebration must reflect that all-inclusive nature of support extended to the First Republic at the time.

After the fall of the First Republic, Soviet Armenia became more of a bone of contention than a realistic assessment of historic perspective. Its sovereignty was compromised in favor of its security. Seventy years of Soviet rule in Armenia divided the diaspora. A relentless campaign was launched against the government in Yerevan, which certainly was not affected by the controversy. What was affected, however, was the unity of the diaspora, as well as the people-to-people relations between Armenia and the diaspora.

Despite its ideological differences with the Soviet government, the ADL strived to nurture people-to-people relations and when the “iron curtain” fell, at least the two segments of the Armenian world were not as unfamiliar with each other as they would have been had they had been left to their own devices.

Despite Stalin’s purges and the unfortunate losses of life during world War II, Soviet Armenia proved to be a haven of security for the nation living on its ancestral land.

Soviet Armenian leaders, under the banner of communist ideology, carried a deeply nationalistic agenda by erecting the Sardarabad and Genocide monuments. But above all, they promoted Armenian culture and scholarship to the world. The economic, industrial and scientific base which was founded in the country during the Soviet era has been recklessly weakened in the past 26 years but still it continues to sustain its structure.

Now that the Soviet scarecrow is gone, an objective evaluation of that era is due.

What was a trend during the first and second republics has receded during the current third republic. Armenians who had survived the horrors of the Genocide valued the birth of a nation highly. And despite all adversities, they gravitated towards the homeland.

Armenians had an affluent and cultured life in Tbilisi. Even the National Council (Azgayin Khorhurt) which later became the nucleus of the first government in Yerevan was based in Tbilisi. Yerevan was on a primitive social and economic level. But leaders and people moved to that backward hinterland to build a new homeland. Even in Soviet times, Avedik Issahakian, Sarian, Kochar, Ara Sarksyan and many other artists and intellectuals settled in Armenia, drawing behind them waves of expatriates. There was an influx of immigration to Armenia in the 1920s through the 1960s.

Now that we have attained our freedom, a reverse process is in progress and no one can see an end to that trend.

Today’s artists, performers, writers are exporting rabeez culture to the west and mixing it with the worst trends of western culture, and feeding it back to Armenia through movies, social media and personal contacts.

The pioneer spirit which moved the generations living in the first and second republics has disappeared. An unprincipled condescending attitude towards Armenia is dominating the diaspora and eroding self-esteem in Armenia.

There has to be a return to our senses, to our values as well as old-fashioned patriotism.

Unless we all rise to the historic occasion, the centennial celebration may remain a festive occasion just like any other occasion.

May is around the corner. Are we up to the centennial spirit?

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