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Books out of Print

19. and 20. Century Armenian Terrorism

Heath W. LOWRY*
OTTOMAN ARCHIVES YILDIZ COLLECTION THE ARMENIAN QUESTION I -TALORI INCIDENTS
 

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The historian of the Ottoman Empire who ventures into reality long enough to examine the activities of Armenian terrorist organizations in the past decade, is immediately struck by the high degree of similarity between the stated aims, the choke of targets, the tactics utilized, and the rhetoric employed by today’s Armenian terrorist groups, and those of their nineteenth and early twentieth century counterparts. On the assumption that the study of the past does at times provide some insight into the present, and even the future, I ning throughout the history of armed Armenian political violence. Having done so, and fully cognizant of the risk I. run in front of an audience among whom are so many distinguished psychologists, I will then venture into an analysis of some of the factors in Armenian society which serve to ensure that each succeeding generation seems to produce and nurture a new group of terrorists. Specifically, I will examine the treatment accorded each generation of Armenian terrorists by their contemporaries, in an attempt to illustrate the manner in which such individuals are traditionally held up to the next generation’s youth as ‘Armenian National Heroes’. Stated differently, they are eulogized in such terms, that they cannot help but be perceived by the young as ‘role models’.

In a recent paper, Dr. Gerard Libaridian, the Director of the Zoryan Institute in Cambridge, Massachusettes, attempted to come to grasp with what he termed: “The Roots of Political Violence In Recent Armenian History” (Libaridian, 1983). Under the heading of ‘Root Causes’ he wrote:

“In general it seems that political violence and more specifically political assassinations, have come to life in Armenian society as a reaction against the repressive regimes of the Ottoman and Russian Empires before the First World War. Empires which seem to have left no way, no more peaceful way anyway, for the Armenians to achieve any kind of progress. In the case of the Armenians particularly, as opposed to larger entities, such as the Turks themselves, or the Russians themselves, their inability because of the smaller size of the Armenians, their inability to effect the larger events within the Empires of which they were apart, seems to have directed them to a more individual type of action which political assassination is.”
 
Compare this view with that expressed in a 1977 letter to the New York Times, written by the Armenian National Committee in Boston, where we read:

“Some Armenians have apparently lost faith in the willingness or capacity of the world’s governments to listen to, or act on, peaceful appeals, “(Times, May 30, 1977).

One fact is immediately apparent. If Libaridian is correct in ascribing nineteenth century Armenian political assassination as resulting from the frustration felt by Armenians who were unable to effect change in the Russian and Ottoman Empires from ‘within’, and the ANC letter is correct in viewing today’s assassinations as stemming from the frustration felt by Armenians unable to influence the world’s governments from ‘without’, it becomes relatively easy to understand why the level of today’s violence is so great Viewed differently, whereas the goal of creating an independent Armenian State in Eastern Anatolia, is certainly shared by both past and present Armenian terrorists, the fact that today’s terrorists are forced to try to do from ‘outside’ what their nineteenth century counterparts were unable to accomplish from ‘inside’, points to a higher frustration level’ among the current crop of terrorists. For, after more than a century of violence, the goal their ‘terrorism’ ostensibly addresses, the creation of an independent Armenian state, is further from reality today than it was a hundred years ago. This does not imply, however, that we should complacently view today’s acts of terrorism as a ‘last gasp effort’. To the contrary, yet another ‘thread of continuity’ linking the nineteenth and twentieth century Armenian terrorists, is their shared inability to comprehend the realities of the world around them. In the same manner that the nineteenth century Armenian revolutionaries failed to see that the geographically dispersed nature of the Armenian minority of the Ottoman population, preordained that their ‘nationalism’ would not share the success of other Ottoman ethnic minorities and result in the creation of an independent Armenia carved out of a portion of the Ottoman Empire; so too, are their twentieth century descendents incapable of grasping the fact that a strong Turkey will never accede to the demands of a handful of terrorists. In other words, one factor totally lacking in the makeup of past and present Armenian terrorists, is logic!

Understanding this aspect of the terrorist’s character makes it much easier to comprehend why they continue to utilize the same methods and tactics today that failed to gain them their objectives in the nineteenth century. Political assassinations in the period between 1860 and the outbreak of World War I, took time lives of scores of Ottoman and Russian officials. However, this fact did not influence Russian or Ottoman policy vis-â vis Armenian separatist aspirations one iota. Nor will the wanton murder of Turkish diplomats today ever effect the decision-making process of the government of the Republic of Turkey.

Likewise, the tactic of occupying public buildings, planting them with explosives, and threatening to blow them up if specific demands were not met, did not begin in 1981 Paris, or in 1983 Lisbon. This tactic was first employed by Armenian terrorists in August of 1896, with the takeover of the Ottoman Bank in Beyo?lu, Istanbul. Under the threat of blowing up their hostages, they issued a series of demands, just as eighty-five years later their twentieth century counterparts did, following the September 1981 occupation of the Turkish consulate in Paris, France. In the end the 1896 terrorists surrendered without having seen the fulfillment of their demands, just as their 1981 counterparts did in Paris. Indeed, the only real difference between these operation, stemmed from the subsequent treatment accorded to the terrorists. The 1896 occupiers of the Ottoman Bank were shipped out of Istanbul in style on the yacht of the British a ambassador, whereas, the terrorists who took over the Paris consulate, were given a French trial and inappropriately light prison sentences. In both Instances the only tangible result, was a brief flurry of attention by the press.

Given the total failure of one hundred years of senseless violence to achieve its avowed aim of the creation of an independent Armenia, what if any are its successes? To answer this query we must broaden our examination to include the topic of Armenian terrorism, when its objects are terrorist actions against Armenians. A recent study focusing on the years between 1904 and 1906 provides the following statistics on the victims of Armenian political assassination in that era:

“In this three-year period there were 105 political assassinations: of which 56 were against Armenian informers; 32 were for political reasons against both Russian and Turkish officials and officers; 7 or 8 were against blackmailers; 5 against usurors; and, 2 or 3 were incidental with unspecified causes. These figures were for the Eastern Armenian regions of Tiflis and Baku, as well as or Van and its vicinity in the Ottoman Empire. “(Libaridian 1983)

In other words, during this brief three-year period, there were two Armenian victims assassinated by Armenian terrorists, for every one non-Armenian. This hitherto almost totally neglected fact deserves our attention, for it was not a phenomenon limited to 1904 1906, but rather one which still exists today. Its purpose, then as now, was nothing more or less than intimidation. The conscious attempt to frighten the overwhelming majority of peaceful Armenians into silence as regards the activities of the terrorists.

On September 24, 1933, the then primate of the Armenian Church of America, Archbishop Leon Tourian was assassinated by Armenian terrorists as he prepared to celebrate mass in the Armenian Cathedral of New York City. As he walked up the aisle in plain sight of several hundred waiting parishioners, a group of men blocked his path, knives flashed, and he fell dead on the floor. Not one individual in the crowd was able to identify a single one of the assailants; The New York district attorney who prosecuted the subsequent trial of the nine man Dashnak cell responsible for the assassination, had the following to say in regard to the failure of a single Armenian present in tine Church to testify against the assailants:

“The detectives faced a wall of reticence which did not auger well for a solution of the mysterious killing. Either these Armenians wished to settle the feuds in their own way by murderous counterplots; or they were too much in fear for their own safety to disclose what they knew. (Spectator, December 7, 1983)

While those Armenians in attendance may have been unaware of the statistic quoted above, that 56 of the 105 individuals assassinated by Armenian terrorists between 1904-1906 were murdered as “informers”, the message which the terrorists intended to convey had clearly gotten through to them. Anyone who speaks up against one of their members will die.

Nor has this message changed today. Only six months ago, ASALA executed two Armenians (one of them an American) in Lebanon who were charged with having served as C.I.A. “informants” in regard to the planned atack on the Istanbul Kapal? Çar?? some months earlier. (Spectator, January 7, 1 984: p. 16).

The result is a ‘curtain of fear’ which makes it extremely difficult for law enforcement authorities of all nations to permeate the ranks of Armenian terrorists. For Armenians know full weft what their fate will be if they are labeled as “informers” by the terrorists.

The irony of this situation is, that while Armenian terrorists have throughout the past one hundred years consistently failed to obtain their goals vis-â-vis their enemies, be they the Russian or Ottoman empires or the government of the Republic of Turkey, they have succeeded in creating the desired climate of terror among their fellow Armenians, the very community they claim to be working on behalf of. This is the sole success of a century of Armenian terrorism.

While this ‘curtain of fear’ may well account for the almost total silence of any voices within the Armenian communities of the world (with the exception of the Turkish Armenians) to openly speak out against the activities of Armenian terrorists, it does not account for the fact that many prominent Armenians in Western Europe and the United States of America have frequently used the flurry of press interest occasioned by the latest terrorist attack to make statements which at least tacitly support such activities. As an example of this attitude we may cite the statement of Mr. Kevork Donabedian, the editor of the Armenian Weekly, an ethnic newspaper published in the United States, which was reported in an article in the Christian Science Monitor:

“As an Armenian, I never condone terrorism, but there must be a reason behind this. Maybe the terrorism will work. It worked for the Jews. They have Israel.” (Monitor, November 18, 1980)

This attitude which may be typified as the “of course we don’t condone terrorism, but we must understand the deep sense of frustration experienced by these young men as a result of the great historical injustice done to the Armenians by the Turks etc. etc.”, is repeated in the wake of every assassination, by a variety of Armenian academicians, spokesmen, and religious leaders. What it amounts to, is nothing more than a token distancing of oneself from the actual event with the almost ritual “of course we don’t condone terrorism”, followed by a repetion of the same catalogue of charges concerning allegations of “massacres” and “genocide” against the Ottoman Empire of 1914-1915. Be the spokesman an Armenian American, or a French-Armenian, the littany seldom varies. As for the intent, it never varies. It is the justification of the actions of the terrorists, on the grounds that their ancestors were the victims of an historical injustice. Albeit de facto, this represents nothing less than an acceptance of the actions of the terrorists. What such individuals are really saying is: “while I wouldn’t want to hold the gun myself, those who do are performing a useful service on behalf of the ‘Armenian Cause’.”

Lest this indictment sound too harsh, I should now like to turn to a rather detailed ‘case study’ of the manner in which those few terrorists who have been apprehended, have been treated, and are being treated by the Armenian community as a whole.

This dissussion will focus on an examination of two periods of terrorism that which l will term the ‘Post World War I Round’ and, the ‘Current Round’, which began in 1973 and continues until the present.

Following the end of World War I, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, or the Dashnaks as they are more commonly known, formed, a network, known as ‘Nemisis’ designed to track down and assassinate former members of the Young Turk Government. Their first victim was the former Minister of the Interior, Talat Pa?a, who was gunned down on March 15, 1921, while walking on the street in Berlin. His assassin was an Armenian named Soghomon Tehlirian. Nine months later the former Ottoman Minister of Foreign Affairs, Said Halim Pa?a was assassinated by an Armenian named Arshavir Shiraldan in Rome. Barely four months later, this tine working with an accomplice named Aram Yerganian, Shirakian struck again. This time his victims were two former Young Turk officials, Bahaeddin ?akir Bey and Cemal Azmi Bey, who were shot in Berlin on April 17, 1922. A few months later Cemal Pa?a was gunned down in Tiflis by two Armenians (Walker, 1980: p. 344.) And the killing continued.

Of more import to us here than the assassinations themselves, was the response then and now of the Armenian community at large to these events. Tehlirian, the assassin of Talat Pa?a was arrested in Berlin and charged with murder. Within days of his arrest a ”Soghomon Tehlirian Defense Fund” was established in Berlin, which rapidly grew as Armenians worldwide, and in particular the United States, sent their contributions to Berlin. Aided by the legal advice thus purchased, Tehlirian was acquitted after a cursory two-day trial. For the next forty years, until his death in San Francisco (1960) Tehlirian was accorded the status of an ‘Armenian National Hero’ indeed, the 1968 book by James Nazer entitled: “The First Genocide of the Twentieth Century” places this ‘title’ beneath his photograph (Nazer, 1968). The author likewise granted the epitaph of Armenian National Hero’, to Shiragian and Yerganian, two of Tehlirian’s fellow ‘Nemisis’ members.

Skipping forward in time to the ‘Current Round’ of Armenian terrorism, let us compare the treatment accorded the assassin of Kemal Ar?kan, the Turkish Consul General in Los Angeles, and that given to the five terrorists who occupied the residence of the Turkish Embassy in Lisbon, with that accorded to their ‘Nemisis’ forefathers.

Hampig Sassounian was a twenty year-old Armenian immigrant, who had recently moved to Los Angeles, California from his birthplace in Lebanon, when on January 28,1982 he assassinated the Turkish Consul General to Los Angeles, Kemal Ar?kan. Following a drawn-out trial, he was convicted of this crime in February of 1984. No sooner was Sassounian arrested than Armenian groups throughout the world, but primarily in North America, announced the opening of a variety of ‘Sassounian Defense Funds’. A recent article in the Armenian press summarized their results in this regard as follows:

“During the past twenty-two months, literally tens of thousands of Armenians have shown their interest and concern. Armenians in Los Angeles and in other cities throughout this country, Canada, France, Lebanon, England, Greece, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, South Africa, Argentina, Australia, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Egypt have rallied to support Sassonian’s defense.

This outpouring of monies and personal and collective messages of support is indeed the best measure of a people involved in a political process which ultimately could determine their destiny. “(Asbaraz, October 15, 1983).

A survey of the activities carried out by these ‘Sassounian Defense Committees’ is even more revealing as to the nature and scope of the efforts on his behalf. The following example, typical of numerous similar activities, will serve to illustrate this point. On the evening of Friday, October 21, 1983, at the HOLY CROSS ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC CHURCH in Montebello, California, an “Evening for Hampig ”was organized by the Sassounian Defense Committee”. Opening, and indeed we might say, ‘Headlining’ the evening’s activities, was a ‘Special Church Service’ presided over by HIS GRACE BISHOP YEPREM TABAKIAN, PRELATE, WESTERN PRELACY OF TILE ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC CHURCH. In addition, a variety of well known Armenian artists and singers performed for the benefit of the audience of several hundred Armenians who turned out in a show ‘Moral Support’ for the terrorist assassin, Hampig Sassounian (Observer, October 12, 1983: p.3.).

The most disturbing aspect of this gathering is clearly the fact that it occurred in a religious sanctuary and that it was presided over by the leading Armenian religious authority in the western United States of America. Before proceeding with an analysis of some of the implications of this and similar events, we must examine the treatment accorded the five Armenian terrorists, who in July of 1983 occupied, and subsequently blew up, the Turkish Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal. As their action resulted in their own deaths, as well as that of their innocent victims, they were accorded the status of “Instant Martyrdom” in the Armenian communities across the world. The following partial list of the numerous ‘memorial’ services held in Armenian Churches and Community Centers across America, in ‘commemoration’ of their ‘sacrifice’ will illustrate this point:

a) On Sunday, October 16, 1983 at the A.C.E.C. in Watertown. Massachusetts, a gathering billed as a “Political Rally in memory of the Lisbon Five Martyrs” (Weekly, October 15, 1983);
b) On January 21, 1984 in the Armenian All Saints Apostolic Church in Glenview, Illinois, a commemorative service for the ‘Lisbon Five’ (Weekly, January 14, 1984);
c) On January 22,1984 in the Saints Vartanantz Church in Providence, Rhode Island, a commemorative service for the ‘Lisbon Five’ (Weekly, January 14, 1984);
d) On January 28, 1984 in the Armenian Community Center in Dearborn, Michigan, a commemorative service for the ‘Lisbon Five’ (Weekly, January 14, 1984);
e) On January 29,1984 in the Saints Vartanantz Church of Ridgefield, New Jersey, a commemorative service for the ‘Lisbon Five’ (Weekly, January 14, 1984);
f) On February 12, 1984 in the Soorp Khatch Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., a commemorative service for the ‘Lisbon Five’ (Weekly, January 14, 1984);

The Armenian Weekly of Saturday, February 11, 1984 provides a lengthy description of one such ‘memorial gathering’ which was held in the Saints Vantanantz Church before an audience of “Over 400 people”. It consisted of the following segments:

1. A brief ‘memorial service’ for the souls of the “five heroes” was held in the Saints Vartananiz Church;
2. A presentation of the flag and candle lighting ceremony performed by the local Armenian ‘Boy Scout’ troop. These children carried in pictures of each of the “heroes”, lit a candle in front of them, and placed the Armenian Tri-color flag before each:
3. The next stage was a series of ‘speeches emceed by Urger Harout Misserlian, who began this part of the program by saying: “Since 1975, Armenian youth have resorted to armed struggle having determined the futility of diplomatic efforts. We should not be grieved by the martyrdom of these boys. Passed are the times of lamentation. Now is the time for sustained struggle.” 
4. Following the speeches there were ‘recitations’ of Armenian revolutionary poetry and nationalistic songs were sung;
5. Unger Arpie Balian, the representative of the Armenian Relief Society of North America then spoke. His comments included the following statement “We are gathered here to mark act of our five heroic youths, who, during July of last year with their conscious martyrdom, joined the pantheon of our ancient braves.”
6. Balian’s keynote address was followed by a slide show which outlined the development of the Armenian Liberation Movement from the turn of the century to the present;
7. The evening ended with the following scene: “Five young men, identically dressed and wearing black hoods, marched onto the stage, and after saluting the portraits of the five heroes, unfurled a red banner upon which the following was written in large black letters in Armenian: ‘My name is struggle and my end is victory’ (Weekly, February 11, 1984: pp. 6-7 & 9).

Clearly, today’s Armenian terrorists are being embraced by this generation’s Armenians in exactly the same manner as the terrorists of the 1920’s (Tehlirian, Shirakian et. al.), were embraced and accorded hero status by their contemporaries.

In closing, I should like to shift my focus from that of a historian, who by comparing the past and the present, has sought to demonstrate several various “threads of continuity” which tie together the acts of Armenian terrorists throughout the past century, to that of ‘prophet’, and attempt to project the reasons why I believe all signs point to the fact that Armenian terrorist acts will continue well into next century. These observations may be summarized as follows:


1) The Sanction of The Church: In any minority community, it is the representatives of organized religion who supply the ‘locus’ around which the group revolves. Among the Armenians, this fact is also true. It was the Church leaders throughout history who have kept the Armenian language, literature, and traditions alive in the memory of their parishoners. Thus, when Armenian Church leaders participate in ‘commemorative memorials’ for slain or imprisoned terrorists, and allow their sanctuaries to be used for the holding of such commemoratives, they are providing de facto recognition of and approval for the acts which the Armenian terrorists commit;

2) The Sanction of the Press: Both the Armenian and English language ethnic Armenian press in the United States, gives wide coverage to the activities of Armenian terrorists. As we have seen, through the examples I have presented, this expresses at least tacit approval of the terrorists’ actions, and thereby gives its ‘stamp of approval’ to their efforts.

It is no exaggeration to state that the Armenian Press and the Armenian Church are the two organizations which most effect the shaping of public opinion among the Armenians of the diaspora. As I have repeatedly shown, the attitude of both vis-â-vis terrorism is, at best, questionable. Unfortunately, terrorism is not a topic towards which one may adopt a ‘luke-warm’ response. You cannot say: “My form of terrorism is justified, but I don’t approve of terrorism.” It is clearly ya hep ya hiç (‘all or nothing’) proposition. By failing to openly CONDEMN the senseless killings perpetrated by ARMENIAN TERRORISTS, both the Armenian Church and the Armenian press are giving their ‘stamp of approval’ to these activities. Bearing in mind that the overwhelming majority of Armenians, fail to make their voices heard on this issue, out of fear, we are faced with a situation where almost the entire Armenian community of the Diaspora, in one form or another, tacitly support the activities of Armenian terrorists.
 
What are the effects of this attitude on the minds of impressionable children? What does it mean when an Armenian ‘Boy Scout Troop’ goes to church and participates in a ‘memorial commemorative service’ for the ‘Lisbon Five Martyrs’? When they listen to their elders speak of dead terrorists as “martyrs”, who have “joined the pantheon of our ancient braves?” The answer to these queries is all too obvious: It means nothing less than that ‘terrorists’ are being portrayed for today’s Armenian youth as fitting ‘role models’, as ‘heroes’ whose actions are worthy of emulation. It further means that for every Armenian terrorist who is captured or killed there will be another impressionable youth waiting to take his place. It means in fact, the continuation of ‘round after round’, of ‘generation after generation’ of Armenian Terrorism.

History does in fact contain lessons for today. It explains how the failure of the Armenian community to openly condemn the Armenian terrorism of the 1920’s has contributed to the ‘current round’ of terrorist activities, and, it suggests that the Armenian failure to condemn today’s terrorism, will guarantee yet another ‘round’ in the coming generation.



BIBLIOGRAPHY

Asbarez: Publication of the A.R.F. Central Committee of the Western U.S.A. Armenian Newspaper with Weekly English Editio;
Libaridian: Transcript of a paper presented by Gerard Libaridian at the 18th. Annual Middle East Studies Association Meeting; held in Chicago, Illinois on November 3-6, 1983. Paper was entitled: “The Roots Of Political Violence In Recent Armenian History.”;
Monitor-Christian Science Monitor;
Nazer:
James Nazer: The First Genocide of the 20th Century. New York. 1968;
Observer: The Armenian Observer. Weekly Armenian newspaper published in Hollywood, California. Osheen Keshishian is its Editor;
Spectator: The Armenian Mirror-Spectator. Weekly Armenian newspaper published by the Baikar Association, Inc. in Watertown, Massachusetts. Barbara Marguerian is Editor,
Walker: Christopher J. Walker: Armenia, The Survival of a Nation. New York, 1980.
Weekly: The Armenian Weekly. Armenian newspaper published by the Harenik Association of Boston, Massachusetts. Managing Editor is Kevork Donabedian.

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- OTTOMAN ARCHIVES YILDIZ COLLECTION THE ARMENIAN QUESTION I -TALORI INCIDENTS
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