Sample documents and photos from the archives on display, including at the bottom right, the photos of women digging trenches in Aintab while other women protect them with rifles, the ARF military academy in Bulgaria, and Murad of Sepasdia with his wife and child (photo: Aram Arkun)

ARF Archives Open to the Public for First Time

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WATERTOWN — For the first time in their history, a substantial portion of the archives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and the first Republic of Armenia, held in the Hairenik Building in Watertown, have been opened to the public. On the evening of October 25, leaders of Boston-area Armenian organizations were invited to the Papken Suni Armenian-American Social Club for a wine-and-cheese reception and a first look at the archives next door. The event was intended as an educational part of the celebration of the centennial of the first Republic of Armenia.

Sample documents and photos from the archives on display, including at bottom far right, original declaration of independence of the Republic of Armenia (photo: Aram Arkun)

Joshua Tevekelian, chairman of the ARF Boston Sardarabad Committee, welcomed the organizational representatives. He said that a group of members of the ARF and sister organizations already have been given this tour and that now the wider community is being invited. Tevekelian declared that, “The archives do not belong just to our organization, but to the independent Republic of Armenia and therefore to all of us.” A repeating slide show of some of the photographs and documents in the archives was on display throughout the evening.

Joshua Tevekelian (photo: Aram Arkun)

George Aghjayan, chairman of the ARF Central Committee of the Eastern Region of the United States and director of the archives, gave a brief background of the archives, which were moved from Europe to the United States eventually after World War I. In 1986, when the Hairenik Building was built, a vault was placed in the basement specifically for the archives. A few years ago, when Aghjayan was appointed as director of the archives, he took the pragmatic approach of starting with doing the possible, not the ideal maximum, which would be prohibitively expensive. He had the space improved with equipment that people could use and updated the humidity control system. Recently scholars have come to use the archives.

George Aghjayan (photo: Aram Arkun)

Afterwards, guests went to the Hairenik building in groups of ten and were given a brief tour by Aghjayan. A series of interesting documents and photographs were placed on display there, including the original declaration of independence of the Republic of Armenia of May 30, 1918 and an original manuscript of Simon Vratsian’s book, Hayastani hanrabedutiwn. A report by Haroutiun Khachadoorian, a graduate of the University of Vermont and native of Aintab who accompanied the Harbord Mission from the United States as translator and engineer, on a proposed railway system for Armenia after World War I, was shown along with a list of the population of regions of Russian Armenia found in his papers. A stamp that was used by the first republic’s consulate in Sofia, Bulgaria, a copy of an ARF membership card, and pictures of various ARF fighters were on a table along with a newsletter published in the early 1960s in the US for ARF membership only on the arrest of Syrian ARF members.

Archival boxes containing documents are stored in the vault of the archives (photo: Aram Arkun)

Aghjayan defined the archives as having four sections. First is the ARF party archives from 1890 onward. Of these, the entire ARF collection from 1890 to 1926 has been fully catalogued and microfilmed. Only this part is accessible for use. The remaining materials have been placed in archival boxes but not catalogued. This is a project to be done in the future.

Up until the 1980s, Aghjayan explained, all regions of the party continued to send archival materials to Watertown, but after that it became untenable. Furthermore, the electronic age has now changed the nature of correspondence.

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The second part is composed of the archives of the first Republic of Armenia, from 1918 to 1920. Only a small portion of this has been catalogued — roughly 10-15 percent, according to Aghjayan. The uncatalogued part is not available for the general public, but historians would be allowed to use the uncatalogued section. Some like Richard Hovannisian had done so a long time ago.

The third major section contains over 30 boxes of photographs, which need to be digitized and catalogued. Project Save has provided advice on their preservation and digitalization, said Aghjayan. The fourth section is still being assembled. It is composed of private papers, including those belonging to members of the party like Abraham Gulkhandanian, who served in various posts in the government of the first republic and later actually was the first to start cataloguing the archives.

There are even some film materials that have been found in the archives.

After a long period of time during which scholars, or at least those not affiliated with the ARF, were unable to access this rich storehouse of material, the opening of the ARF archives no doubt will give new impetus to the study of many topics in modern Armenian history. It can even be useful to individuals seeking information on relatives and ancestors. Those who are interested in seeing the archives should contact George Aghjayan via email at sakratpalu@gmail.com.

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