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The Critical Corner - 06/12/2006

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Why we should read...

    `Antranig and His Times - Volume II' by Hratchig Simonian
    (832pp, Gaysa Publishers, Yerevan, 1996)

Armenian News Network / Groong
June 12, 2006

By Eddie Arnavoudian


`Not to know anything about Antranig is equivalent to knowing nothing
about one's own modern (Armenian) history.'  So wrote the great 20th
century poet Barouyr Sevak in a 1963 article urging Soviet Armenian
historians to restore Antranig to his rightful place in history.
Hratchig Simonian's two-volume biography `Antranig and His Times'
leaves us no excuse not to know. The second volume, albeit more
controversial and debatable, is equal to the first, both in scope and
depth. Covering the period from 1918 to Antranig's death in 1927, far
from home in the USA, its considered narrative and rich detail provide
a comprehensive historical overview into which Simonian fits an
account of the last decade of his hero's life.

Of particular interest is Simonian's reconstruction of events from
January 1918 to Antranig's final departure from Armenian territories
in April 1919. Here his focus is on Antranig's role in the 1918
Armenian-Turkish wars, on his relations with the First Armenian
Republic established in May 1918 and on his military campaigns in
Nakhichevan and Zangezur/Karabagh that together brought to the fore
some of the critical issues of 19th and 20th century Armenian national
and state formation.  Despite the 1915 Young Turk genocide in western
Armenia, the end of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman and
Tsarist empires afforded new opportunities for Armenian national
emancipation. Yet, as Simonian shows, the attempt encountered immense
obstacles.

The Armenian national movement never evolved the cohesive and
single-minded leadership that was needed to tackle the problems of the
day. Largely located outside Armenian territories, it was fragmented
socially, economically and politically. It lacked an overarching
national consciousness, political vision or practical ambition and
proved incapable of overcoming the deep-rooted provincialism that
debilitated every sphere of Armenian life. Critically it was unable to
construct an effective national army, a first and decisive task for
any nation emerging amidst wars and foreign invasion. More tragically
still the Armenian leadership (and indeed those of the other national
groups in the region) had no strategy to cope with the complex
demographic composition of the historic provinces of western Armenia
and the Caucuses that presented enormous obstacles to the emergence of
exclusive, homogenous nation states.

 

I. THE ARMENIAN-TURKISH WAR OF JANUARY-MAY 1918

In January 1918 with the collapse and then the retreat of Tsarist
armies, significant portions of western Armenia were left in tenuous
Armenian control. However Ottoman Turkey was not about to cede
territory that it had for centuries regarded as its own. A Turkish
offensive to re-conquer Armenian controlled territory was inevitable
and urgently put on the Armenian agenda the task of forming a
centralised and disciplined national army.

For the first time, the Armenian national movement confronted a
decisive problem that it had to resolve with no direct assistance from
any foreign power.  To this challenge the Armenian leadership could
not rise, despite the fact that:

    `Russian forces...had left behind...vast stocks of weapons and
    ammunition, as well as clothing and foodstuffs. The Armenians
    failed to put all this to use... They could not even destroy these
    stocks to prevent them falling to the enemy. So the ill-equipped
    and half-starved Turkish soldiers were thus clothed and nourished
    and with invigorated spirit they threw themselves forward.' (p20)

Poor military leadership and organisation led to the collapse of plans
to create `a 64,000 strong Armenian Army under Tovma Nazarpekian's
leadership' and an army of `30,00 western Armenians led by Andranig.'
(p37) And in what became a lightening advance, Turkish armies
confronted an ill-organised largely rag-tag, untrained and demoralised
Armenian military force, mere remnants of the disintegrated Tsarist
army composed of men exhausted by war and lacking any decisive or
centralised leadership. Arriving in Erzerum on 18 February 1918,
Antranig found the `substantial (Armenian) military force' in a state
of such `extreme disorganisation' that it was `incapable of serving
any purpose'. There was `no spirit of resistance'. Many soldiers
simply `did not want to defend' the town. Fighting siprit was sapped
further by rampant provincialism with eastern Armenian soldiers
`having little desire to fight' for western Armenia on the grounds
that `this is not our land'.  (p49) As a result the Armenian military
experienced a rapid collapse `of morale' and `discipline' that was
followed by a tide of desertions'.  (p25)

Underlying and exacerbating the poor organisation of Armenian military
forces was the lack of any dynamic national political leadership.
During his military campaigns Antranig was outraged not just `by the
inactivity of the military leadership at the front' but by the
passivity of `the national authorities in Tbilisi.' Armenian forces
that held lines from Erzerum to Van did so not through triumphant
battle driven by clear political goals but by default, inheriting them
after Russian troops retreated. The Tbilisi leadership showed neither
the will nor the wisdom to elaborate a strategy that would replace its
previous reliance on the Tsarist power. So it bickered internally,
floundered and bent passively to Turkish military and political
offensive. Paralysis, confusion and squabbling were aggravated by the
provincialism that infected even the highest reaches of the political
establishment.

`Many eastern Armenian activists were of the view that the efforts in
defence of western Armenia were of no value. Increasingly there took
root the view that western Armenians should look after western Armenia
whilst eastern Armenians should turn their attention to Caucasian
(i.e.  eastern) Armenia.' (p36)

As a result of all these factors `Turkish troop, even though they were
not large in number' were `superior' to the Armenians' `numerically
and in their battle-readiness.' (p20)

Turkish military superiority was reinforced significantly by support
from Turkish and Kurdish communities in western Armenia. The hundreds
of miles of lines defended by Armenian forces protected a hinterland
that the 1915 Genocide had emptied of its native Armenian communities.
Armenian troops were therefore denied important and strategic civilian
support. On the other hand Turkish and Kurdish communities who had
benefited by post-1915 seizures of Armenian land were now even more
fiercely hostile both to Armenian military forces and the idea of an
Armenian state in the area. Thus when Turkish troops entered Erzinckan
Turks who had until then `been in hiding' emerged, `fell upon (the
town's) Armenian districts' and `ruthlessly slaughtered those who
remained.' (p30). In the environs of Erzerum Turkish troops `secured
support from at least 20,000...Turks, Kurds and Lazars, of whom 7,000
were armed. Within Erzerum there were 4,000 armed men ready to fight
alongside' the invading Turkish army. (p65)

Antranig did attempt to establish harmonious co-existence with
non-Armenian communities in the region. Throughout his military career
he had been singular in his freedom from any chauvinist or racist
attitudes. Such was the case during the Armenian-Turkish wars of 1918
as well. In his essay on the poet Hovaness Toumanian, novelist Gourgen
Mahari tells of a meeting between Toumanian and Antranig in which
Antranig recounted how:

    `During the Armenian-Turkish battles (Antranig) had gathered
    together Turkish women and children, fed them and under the
    supervision of two Armenian soldiers escorted them to Turkish held
    territory.' (Gourgen Mahari, Selected Works, Volume 5, p598)

On entering Erzerum in 1918, Captain Bonapartian addressing the
Turkish population on Antranig's behalf, stated that Turkish `people
too, like the Armenians had suffered terribly at the hands of an
unjust government.'

    `You can all be absolutely sure (Bonapartian went on to add) that
    General Antranig makes no distinction between people. He is
    opposed to no national group, so long as no national group
    conspires against or exploits another group' (p54).

As for the Kurdish people Antranig considered `it a great tragedy for
Armenian and Kurd to be in conflict' and urged that `every means be
utilised to bring the Kurds closer to us' (p16). But with no national
effective strategy to incorporate different national groups in joint
projects of emancipation such ambitions could not be realised.

No leadership by example from Antranig or from men such as Murat with
their dedicated but tiny battalions could fundamentally alter the
situation. Whatever Antranig's `astonishing daring, iron decisiveness,
stubbornness, personal example', whatever his `immense military
experience' and `overwhelming popularity' (p56), he could not
substitute for the historically inherited indecisiveness and
fragmentation of the Armenian national leadership. He and his men
could not substitute for the broad social base for Armenian
emancipation in western Armenia that was destroyed in 1915. Nor could
Antranig's individual lack of hostility to Turkish and Kurdish people
replace the lack of a national strategy that accounted for the
demographic complexities of western Armenia.

So, in the space of three to four months Armenian military forces were
decisively repulsed. After Erzerum was `scandalously abandoned', the
`140,000 Armenians that remained in western Armenian provinces' were
once more `uprooted' and, so `began yet another round of tortured
retreat.' (p72) The retreat went beyond even the 1878 Ottoman and
Russian occupied Armenian borders. On 12 April 1918 the apparently
impregnable and heavily fortified fortress of Kars was abandoned without
a fight in the wake of the Armenian leadership's failure to respond to
Turkish, Georgian and Azeri intrigue and machinations. In Simonian's
view the surrender of Kars was: 

    `... striking evidence that the Tbilisi-based national powers were
    incapable of rising to the level of their responsibilities. In
    those decisive days they were unable to offer wise and effective
    leadership.  (p112)

`As Antranig rightfully noted' concludes Simionian the `main
responsibility' for Armenian defeats `rests with the national
leadership' whose failures Simonian adds led to `heavy defeats' that
`left to the enemy the wide expanse of Western Armenia. (p34)



II. ANTRANIG AND THE FIRST ARMENIAN REPUBLIC

In some important respects Antranig and the government of the First
Armenian Republic (FAR) represented two opposing and even
irreconcilable forces within the Armenian national movement. Antranig,
even given his shortcomings, was a personification of a broader,
all-embracing Armenian nationhood. Always ready to fight alongside the
common people whatever province they hailed from his example and
attitude contrasted sharply with narrower, even elitist,
preoccupations of the trends that held the reigns in the FAR
government.

In his stature, his moral authority and popularity Antranig stood on a
par with leaders of other national movements such as Garibaldi, Che
Guevara, Ho Chi Minh or Nelson Mandela. His appeal cut across all
provincialism or localism. Integrated into the leadership of the
Armenian state and Republic he could have contributed enormously to
welding the people and its army into a single united force. According
to General Nazarbekian (1855-1931), a leader of the Armenian General
Staff at the time and an outstanding figure in the victorious battles
at Khrakilisa, Bash Abaran and Sartarabad, `Antranig (in 1918) was the
only person who could save the Armenian people.'  Yet there was, and
it appears there could never be, a place for him within the leadership
of the Armenian state that was established on 28 May 1918.

The First Armenian Republic was not the realisation of a national ideal
born on the wave of mighty popular triumph over provincialism and
foreign domination, as had been the case in Garibaldi's Italy for
example, or the unification of the Chinese or Vietnamese nations. It was
rather an almost unsustainable entity foisted upon the Armenian people,
and on an unwilling Armenian elite, against its will and in
circumstances beyond its control. Repeating a widely held view Simonian
argues that in 1918:

    `The establishment of an independent Armenian state in the
    conditions that then prevailed flowed from Turkish interests and
    were to the detriment of the Armenian people. In creating what was
    a travesty of a state Turkey hoped to divert attention away from
    the problem of western Armenia.' (p158)

The full extent of the `travesty' was exposed a week after the
proclamation of independence, when on 4 June 1918 representatives of
the allegedly independent state signed the humiliating Treaty of Batum
whose terms reduced Armenia to a dependent, apartheid Bantustan-like
state.  Presided over by representatives of a weak elite that had
little enthusiasm for independence, some 800,000 people, many ill and
starving remnants of the Genocide, were squeezed into a 10,000 square
kilometre patch of virtual stone and desert around Yerevan. Turkey
furthermore obtained rights to use Armenian road and rail facilities
to transport its troops across the Caucuses. Under the pretext of
maintaining law and order it also secured rights to intervene in
domestic Armenian affairs.

One significant clause in the Treaty highlighted the intractable
demographic complications even within Armenian state borders. Intent
on organising and deploying Turkish and Azerbaijani communities as a
5th fifth column within Armenia in anticipation of a further offensive
to terminate the new republic, the Turkish state inserted a clause in
the Treaty that curtailed Armenian government jurisdiction over these
communities. The Armenian government meanwhile was required to
demobilise a substantial part of its army. Finally Turkish officers
were to be stationed in Armenia to supervise implementation of these
clauses.

In contrast to the Armenian national leadership that was willing to
sign the Batum Treaty, Antranig could never reconcile himself to it,
or to the government that had signed it. It was a treaty that made no
provision for the western Armenian people. Angtranig's hostility to
the FAR was fired by more than just what he judged to be a betrayal of
western Armenians. He opposed it for its refusal to support eastern
Armenian people in Nakhichevan, Zangezur and Karabagh who were
themselves engaged in defensive battles against the Azerbaijani
elite's attempt to annex Armenian populated areas of the region.
Simonian for example writes that fearful of Turkish and European
reaction Hovanness Katchaznouni (1868-1938), ARF member and first
Prime Minister of the Armenian Republic, `categorically refused' `to
offer military assistance' to Zangezur Armenians and advised them
instead `not to raise arms against Azerbaijan but to submit to its
authority. (p395) The story was similar first in Nakhichevan and then
later in Karabagh.

For Antranig `a government that displayed such indifference to the
people' simply `did not exist'. (p56-58) Considering the new Armenian
state as a `gift from the Turks' he `refused to submit `to its
leadership and `right to the end of his life' `endlessly exposed it' and
`subjected its work to constant criticism' (p.161-2). Tensions and
stresses sometimes reached levels so acute that they threatened to
explode into civil war. 

Simonian does not satisfactorily explain the deeper causes for the
unceasing hostility between Antranig and the leadership of the First
Armenian Republic. But he provides much material to ponder this and
the related matter of the essentially deformed and feeble nature of
the Armenian elite that in 1918 actually opposed the idea of
independence.  Alexander Khaddissian, (1876-1945) another ARF member
and government minister, writes that the idea was in fact `first
advanced by Turkey'.  Simon Vratzian (1882-1969), a former Minister
and later also Prime Minister recalled that as `Georgians and
Azerbaijanis triumphantly declared independence the Armenian National
Assembly `prevaricated' over what it considered a `bitter joke'. It's
meeting that considered the proposal for independence resembled `a
house in mourning with the corpse laid out in the hall.' (p155) But
confronted with Turkish, Georgian and Azerbaijani pressures it felt it
had no choice but to vote in favour.  The moods and inclinations of
the Armenian elites remained unaffected by the truly momentous
Armenian military victories at Sardarabad, Bash Abaran and
Kharakillissa.

Independence represented totally different prospects for the Armenian
elite on the one hand and the Georgian and Azerbaijani elites on the
other. For the latter two it was a double victory. Freed from Tsarist
colonialism, political independence also offered the Georgian and
Azerbaijani leaderships the instruments with which to challenge and
defeat one of their main internal competitors - the Armenian
financial, commercial and industrial class. Brimming with confidence
and enthusiastic in anticipation their resolve and determination was
steeled by German and Turkish imperialist support.

For the Armenian elite, in contrast, national independence represented
something of a defeat on the wider Caucasian stage. The Armenian elite
was largely located outside historical Armenia and outside the
territories of the new Armenian state, dispersed in fact across the
whole territory of collapsed empires and beyond. As an alternative to
Tsarist rule the eastern wing of the elite that emerged dominant after
the war preferred not independence but a federation of Caucasian states.
This it considered more appropriate to protecting its commanding
economic and even political positions in Georgia and Azerbaijan. (That
the eastern Armenian elite regarded the entire Caucuses, including
Georgia and Azerbaijan as the natural geographic site for its economic
and social development finds striking expression in the 19th and early
20th century Armenian press, right across the spectrum, from the
conservative `The Bee' to the radical liberal `Labour'.) In Tbilisi
the Mayor was Armenian, as was the majority of the population. In Baku
Armenians were significant players in the oil industry. Separate
independent states would effectively remove these areas and Georgia
and Azerbaijan as a whole from the Armenian elite's sphere of action.
In all the elite's calculations, the impoverished and relatively
backward eastern provinces of Armenia around Yerevan hardly featured.

The very structure and nature of this elite almost pre-determined the
absence of any national strategy that was in harmony with the
interests of the people who actually inhabited eastern and western
Armenia. With such origins and such character this elite could have no
real interest let alone the will and determination to single-mindedly
construct a national army and an effective state apparatus in what it
regarded as a backwater around Yerevan that by 1918 was inhabited by a
mass whose suffering it had never felt as its own. In contrast,
Antranig who was borne of the common people, who always remained close
to them, retained a steely will and unbending determination to fight
alongside the ravaged people of a ravaged nation.

Even as the First Republic leadership could not incorporate Antranig
into its ranks, Turkish power remained hugely fearful of the military
and political potential he represented for Armenian national unity and
independence. `Even before the ink was dry' on the Batum Treaty it
`demanded the immediate disarmament' of Antranig's military battalions'
(p.163). Thereafter Turkish authorities applied unending pressure on
the Armenian government to disarm and remove him (p339, 347). And for
as long as Antranig remained in the region they waged a relentless
campaign against him (p377, 411) intending to isolate him and divide
him from the people.

Turkish efforts were unfortunately bolstered, unintentionally or
otherwise, by sections of the Armenian leadership. On the day the Batum
Treaty was signed the new Armenian government sent a delegation that
included a Turkish officer, to demand Antranig's submission. (p163).
Antranig was categorical in his defiance: `Go and tell Vehib Pasha that
I will not disperse my troops.' (p164) The Armenian government's
position hardly changed later when Antranig was in Nakhichevan and
Zangezur. Katchaznouni considered Antranig's `presence in Zangezur' `an
evil' and thought it `necessary to neutralise and remove' him from the
area. (p396)

 

III. CAMPAIGNING IN NAKHICHEVAN AND ZANGEZUR/KARABAGH

Despite the Treaty of Batum, Antranig remained determined to continue
battle against Turkish power. So he prepared to depart from 1918
Armenian state borders and join up with British forces in Mesopotamia
still engaged in war against Turkey. But en route, in June 1918 he
halted his march to fight alongside Armenian communities in Nakhichevan
resisting Azerbaijani nationalist assault. Then in November he moved
to fight alongside Armenian communities in the Zangezur/Karabagh
region who found themselves in a similar predicament.

The defensive and necessary character of Armenian military operations
in these regions cannot be called into question, whatever the claim of
partisan historians and whatever the sometimes unacceptable conduct of
Armenian forces. In these regions local Armenian communities were not
fighting their Azerbaijani and Turkish neighbours. Without any support
from the Armenian government, they were engaged in a battle for
survival against a united and co-ordinated offensive by the Turkish
and Azerbaijani states, with the latter assisted directly by British
imperialism. Had Armenians not resisted they would have been forced
out of land they had every right to inhabit.

In Nakhichevan, Zangezur and Karabagh Antranig's operations were
dogged not just by the absence of Armenian state support and once
again by narrow local provincialisms, but by another more fundamental
problem. In 1914 Armenians in Nakhichevan province constituted only a
minority, albeit a large one, with 54,000 of the population, compared
to 86,000 Azerbaijanis. In the main city of the same name only a third
were Armenian and two-thirds Azerbaijanis. Though the situation in
Mountainous Karabagh and the northern portions of Zangezur was
significantly different, with Armenian communities accounting for 70
per cent of the population, there was still a substantial 24 per cent
Azerbaijani community. Elsewhere, of Zangezur's four districts -
Sissian, Ghaban, Meghri and Koris - only the latter retained an
overwhelming Armenian majority. In Sissian there were at least 25
Azerbaijani villages, and of Upper Ghaban's 40 villages only four were
Armenian. (p194-5, 343, 366,310)

In these provinces demographic composition and population distribution
was too fragmented to allow for simple resolution of national conflicts
into independent self-sustaining political entities. With different
communities sharing the same villages, or living in neighbouring ones
and all sharing the same natural resources and means of communication
the creation of nationally homogenous and economically and socially
sustainable states was almost impossible.  Allocating different
parcels of territory to any one or the other of the three Caucasian
states would not just break up the region's economic structure it
would create patchworks of hostile national groups some of whom would
be locked into borders against their will.

The area's demographic topography also precluded easy military victories
and dictated a conduct of war that rendered it more savage. Strictly
military needs enforced extraordinarily brutal measures against civilian
communities. With opposing villages and hamlets criss-crossing disputed
territories military and political control of any area was never secure
from renewed offensives organised from hostile neighbouring villages.
Whatever the political and moral principles of war that were adopted by
any military leadership, they were inexorably driven to clear and
destroy villages and communities from opposing armies as the only means
of securing safety on their flanks. 

Antranig could not escape these pressures despite his consistent and
indeed ruthless opposition to violence against Azerbaijani and Muslim
communities in Nakhichevan, Zangezur and Karabagh. When in Nakhichevan,
two Russian soldiers in his battalion recall that passing through
exclusively Azerbaijani villages Antranig issued strict orders: 

    `...forbidding (his soldiers), and that on threat of firing squad,
    to lay hands on the Muslim population and its property. As
    (Antranig) had established stern discipline in the battalion these
    orders were carried out without hesitation.' (p212)

In Karabagh Simonian, with an air of unpleasant disapproval, writes
that:

    `Antranig ordered the immediate execution of anyone guilty of
    repression or plunder. There were unfortunate incidents: a few
    (Armenian) refugees suffered the ultimate punishment for trying
    to steal Azerbaijani cattle.' (p 311)

Such attitudes were not exclusive to Antranig. In its address to `our
Muslim brothers' of Zangezur the local Armenian National Assembly
stated that `throughout the long years of war' Armenians had `not once
acted in a hostile or inhuman way' towards the Azerbaijani population
and affirmed that having `been neighbours for centuries' `each and
everyone of us has full rights to live in his home surrounded by his
family.'  (p405)

Yet despite these principles Antranig and his allies also resorted to
village clearances and destructions as indispensable requirements of
military security. In Sissian, assaults from neighbouring Azerbaijani
villages `unavoidably put on the agenda the issue of disarming and
deporting their populations'. According to Simonian he `was determined
to secure agreement' for such policies. (p367) Village clearances and
mass deportations were carried out elsewhere, by all sides, with
inevitable instances of violence against civilians that Simonian alas
does not fully and adequately examine.

By the spring of 1919, with no backing from the Armenian government
and after the fall of the Baku Commune to the British, the stage was
set first for Antranig's retreat from Nakhichevan and then, and
controversially, from Zangezur and Karabagh.

Armenian communities paid a high price for the failure to democratically
resolve national conflicts in these areas. Armenian communities in
Nakhichevan were never to recover. Throughout the Soviet era they were
systematically forced out of their ancestral lands. The present
post-Soviet Azerbaijani leadership continues the steady annihilation of
all evidence that Nakhichevan was once a shining site of Armenian
culture and civilisation. And to this day a terrible question mark hangs
over the future of the Armenian community in Karabagh. Furthermore the
failure to find a democratic and collective inter-national solution to
national problems in the region leaves even the what remains of Armenia
as an object of revanchist ambitions both from the Turkish state and the
Azeribaijani nationalists who claim it as territory its own, and that on
the grounds of having been historically inhabited by Turks and
Azerbaijanis.

 

IV. PERFIDIOUS ALBION

The entire modern history of Armenian nation formation and subsequent
state building has been bedevilled and crippled by one single dominant
weakness: the national leadership's lack of independence and its
strategic reliance on foreign powers. In 1918-1919 Antranig did not
remain immune from this virus. He was to commit one of the greatest
errors of his career when he decided to embark on his march to
Mesopotamia in the hope of there joining up with the British Army.
Predisposing him to rely upon and trust Perfidious Albion his intended
alliance undid his legendary resolve when fighting in Nakhichevan and
in Zangezur/Karabagh.

A collective international and democratic endeavour to resolve the
difficult problems of national emancipation in the Caucuses was not
excluded in advance, despite the apparent strength of chauvinist
politics in the region. There were significant national democratic
trends within all the major communities, the Armenian tradition being
represented by thinkers, intellectuals and artists such as Abovian,
Nalpantian, Broshian, Aghayan, Toumanian and others. The democratic
character of their patriotism is reflected in Toumanian's remark that
`I with my worldview, am not worn away by the absence of an Armenian
kingdom. For me the Armenian people's cultural independence within a
brotherhood of cultured people is entirely adequate.'  The blinkered
vision of regional nationalist forces contributed their bit to
sidelining these trends, but primary responsibility must be laid at
the door of the imperialist powers, first Tsarist and then British. To
prop up its rule the Tsarist government had been single-minded in
fostering, strengthening and whipping up animosities amongst Georgian,
Armenian and Azerbaijani people. After the 1918 Armistice it was the
turn of the British who for a short period effectively colonised the
region deploying their military squadrons to every important and
contested region.

Whilst pretending to the role of impartial arbiter, British appetite
for Baku oil dictated its consistent support for the Azeri elite. So
it displayed a complete disregard for principles such as national
self-determination, for regional demographic realities and the wishes
of the populations of contested regions. As early as December 1918
writes Simonian:

    `General Thompson in a public statement officially confirmed that
    Great Britain regards Azerbaijani territory as an inalienable
    whole and recognises within it only one authority, that of the
    Azerbaijani government. This inalienable whole included Karabagh
    and Zangezur.'  (p469)

At every step Antranig was confronted by the fact of British support
for the Azerbaijani elite. In February 1919 British Army Major Mick
Mayor appointed extreme Azeri nationalist, Dr Sultanov, to the post of
political governor over Armenian populated provinces in Karabagh with
instructions `that each and every one of his orders was to be
fulfilled without question.' (p490) Another Captain Shuttleworth
declared that `every act against Azerbaijan in Karabagh and Shushi
would be considered as an act against British authority.' (p490) The
British also worked to undermine Armenian military advantage when they
permitted Azeri nationalists to station 2000 troops in Shushi but
denied Armenians similar right on `on the grounds that this could
aggravate tensions.'  (p493-94)

But Antranig's expectations of an alliance with the British army in
Mesopotamia trapped him in the web of British deception. Against both
the caution and advice of some of his closest supporters he displayed:

    `...unnecessary faith in the allies, in the promises of their
    representatives and he particularly overvalued the orders and
    actions of General Thomson.' (p463)

At one critical point in Karabagh, on General Thompson's orders,
Antranig halted his march on Shushi calculating that if he `disobeyed
the British order' he would end up `in conflict with both the British
and the Azerbaijanis' and this was exactly what the `Turks wanted.'
(p460). His failure to enter Shushi resulted in the loss of a firmer
negotiating position that was to have critical consequences for the
long-term fortunes of the Armenian communities in Karabagh.

Local Armenian militants frequently grasped more clearly the devious
designs of the British. The Shushi branch of the ARF thought that for
Armenians `the political situation became more dangerous from the
moment `the Turks retreated from Karabagh' and `the British stepped
into the region.' In Yeghishe Ishkhanian's opinion `the British have
come here to restrain the Armenians with the intention of forcing them
to submit to Azerbaijan. (p488). He continues that the British
pretence at supporting Armenians had generated a trust in British
policy that undermined the Armenian people's `independent fighting
spirit.' (p494)

Antranig realised his mistake too late. But, when he did he turned on
the British with a vengeance. In a speech before he and his forces
evacuated Zangezur, and in the presence of British Major Gibbon,
Antranig said, `turning and pointing to local peasants who were
reduced to skin and bone and to refugees literally grazing in the
fields':

    `Do you see Mr Major, representative of Great Britain, the world's
    richest and most powerful nation on earth... these people are
    dying because they tied their destiny to you...They are your
    victims...' (p558)

As he withdrew from Zangezur, Simonian writes that Antranig was
`determined to do everything to ensure that Armenians would never
again go begging to foreigners', believing that `it would be better to
see his troops and the people starving rather than beg for charity.'
(p561).  That he may have deviated from this position after leaving
Armenia must be the subject for a future discussion.


			      * * * * *


In his relations with the leadership of the Armenian National
Liberation Movement and the First Armenian Republic, in his commitment
to the interests of the Armenian common people, in the absence in him
of any chauvinism for Turkish, Kurdish or Azerbaijani people, in his
inspiring leadership and his undaunted will for freedom, Antranig's
life with all its stupendous achievements and all its failures tells
more loudly than anything else of urgent issues that still need
attending to in the process of 21st century Armenian nation formation.
It behooves us well to learn some lessons from Antranig's history and
the history of his times.  Here, among others, Simonian is a first
rate teacher.


--
Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from
Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on
Armenian literature.  His works on literary and political issues
have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open
Letter in Los Angeles.

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