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Worth a read: Not necessarily masterpieces or artistically outstanding. Yet none will disappoint the lover of literature or history. Reading them one will always find something of value... Armenian News Network / Groong February 2, 2010 By Eddie Arnavoudian I. THE PLIGHT OF ARMENIANS UNDER GEORGIAN RULE In historical times the Tchavakhk region now just beyond the north Armenian border was one of the nine districts of the northern Armenian province of Gugark. But, since 1918 and against the will of its overwhelming Armenian majority constituting 92% of the population, it has been annexed to Georgia. During the Soviet era and after, Tchavakhk's Armenian community has continued to experience national oppression at the hands of a Georgian elite determined to cleanse the Armenian community from its homeland. Though sometimes over-detailed and frequently lax in argument and supporting evidence, Ashot Melkonian's `Tchavakhk through the 19th and the First Quarter of the 20th century' (544pp, 2003, Yerevan, Armenia) constitutes a valuable introduction to yet another disputed region in the Caucuses. It has in addition a substantial appendix of important documentary evidence, but amazingly there is not a single map in the entire volume! Propounding a case for Tchavakhk's secession from Georgia or for its annexation to Armenia is not the author's primary concern. What he does rather is mount a firm defence of the Armenian population's national rights against a rising tide of Georgian chauvinism that buttresses its contemporary anti-Armenian campaign by a fabricated history that denies any ancient Armenian presence in Tchavakhk. Falsifying the historical record Georgian chauvinists are developing a counterfeit history in which a significant Armenian presence in Tchavakhk is wrongly dated to commence only in the 19th century and as if a result only of 19th century Tsarist engineered mass migrations at the expense of the native Georgian population. It is to Melkonian's credit that he does not attempt to assert an exclusive Armenian identity or Armenian political right to the region. The synopsis of Tchavakhk's pre-19th century history shows that it never had an exclusive national physiognomy, Georgian, Armenian or otherwise. As a political and social entity it had been endlessly fought over and passed back and forth among Armenian and Georgian monarchies and principalities, and later among Arab, Turkish, Persian and Tsarist claimants. In the constant violent contests Tchavakhk was repeatedly battered, beaten and reduced to waste, frequently with the entire region depopulated and repopulated and its demographic structure repeatedly and radically altered. Successive occupying powers, Arab, Ottoman, Persian and Tsarist all used mass population relocations as instruments of policy, repopulating Tchavakhk, and not only Tchavakhk, with a pliable community that would serve it, produce taxable wealth, act as a social base for their rule and supply fodder for their armies and administrations. During Arab, Persian and Ottoman domination inward non-Armenian migration and outward Armenian emigration contributed significantly to the decline of Tchavakhk's Armenian population. This decline was accelerated by campaigns of forced conversions to Islam and to equally pernicious forced conversion to the Georgian Orthodox Church. In this connection Melkonian's excavation of documentary evidence is particularly persuasive. For Armenians who suffered disproportionately under Ottoman and Persian rule and whose leadership was locked into alliance with the Tsarist Empire, mass migration to Tsarist controlled territory was frequently regarded as a path to salvation and freedom. So in the trail of Russian troops Armenians would readily abandon their older homelands in the hope of rebuilding their lives in new territories conquered by Tsarist armies. The Tsarist state readily encouraged Armenian emigration in view of the Armenian Church's willingness to act as a vanguard and ally of Russian invaders and recruit the local Armenian population to aid Tsarist military efforts. This led Turkish or Persian forces to treat all Armenians as a fifth column for Russian expansion to the frequent slaughter of the innocent population. It was as a result of one such mass Tsarist sponsored migration that followed the 1829-30 Ottoman-Russian war that the much diminished Armenian community in Tchavakhk was restored to a majority position that endures to this day. An estimated 20,000 Armenians abandoned Erzeroum, then part of historic Ottoman occupied Armenia, for the newly Tsarist occupied Tchavakhk. After much hardship the newly established communities flourished. Old dilapidated Church's were restored and new ones built along with new schools, libraries and social institutions. From its very beginning this process was opposed by an emerging Georgian nationalist movement. Nevertheless Tchavakhk's Armenians went on to play a significant role in their national movement with outstanding figures from the region including poet Vahan Derian, novelist and dramatist Terenik Demirjian, troubadour Ashough Djivani, the controversial Rouben Ter-Minassian and Hovanness Kajaznouni. In connection with the mass 1830 emigration that restored an Armenian majority in Tchavakhk it is worth remarking that it simultaneously and qualitatively undermined the demographic density of Armenian population in the heart of historical western Armenia. In this it constituted a decisive moment in a historical trend of depopulation of Ottoman occupied Armenia - by emigration and repression - and had deep negative consequences for the development of the Armenian national movement as a whole. Damaging demographically, the 1820-30 migrations removed from the core of historic Armenia a central social force of the national movement. A substantial portion of those who left Erzerum were craftsmen, traders, merchants, artisans and skilled workers. This stratum could have provided a crucial foundation both for Armenian economic development, and in an age of rising nationalism, the cadre for an indigenous and independent leadership. Melkonian's volume is most interesting in its coverage of the years between 1917 and 1923. These coincided with the victory of Georgian ultra-nationalists who rejected earlier Georgian-Azeri-Armenian agreements to settle post-war territorial border disputes according to demographic compositions or by popular referendum. Intent on territorial aggrandisement they displayed complete disregard for the interests of the local inhabitants, not just in Tchavakhk but in other areas populated by Armenians or Azeris. Deemed Georgian territory they insisted in addition that these were strategically necessary for Georgian state security and so refused to consider anything but their annexation. In collaboration with German imperialism and with Turkey they moved rapidly to enforce Georgian rule both by military and by other means. Armenians of course were no angels and when their elite had commanded primary economic positions in Georgia they had no hesitation in humiliating their Georgian opposition. Yet this elite prejudice and discrimination could not justify the indiscriminate Georgian elite's campaign against the entire Armenian community within its jurisdiction. In Armenian populated territories that remained in their control after the 1918 Georgian-Armenian war, Georgian leaders resorted to national repression, cultural prohibition, economic discrimination and even starvation in an attempt to cleanse contested regions of their Armenian inhabitants. When almost the entire Armenian population of 80,000 fled the Turkish invasion of Akhalkalak they were, despite being formally Georgian citizens, denied rights of transit or resettlement in other regions of state. They were later denied the right of return to their homes. The result was in the region of 30-35,000 dead. In the drama of the Tchavakhk's Armenian community the British, as they had done in Karabakh, Nakhichevan and elsewhere, again played their pernicious role. Exploiting a vacillating Armenian government they deployed deceptive diplomacy to impose arrangements that passed Armenian populated regions to Georgian control. They urged Armenians to relinquish rights not only to Tchavakhk, but to Karabakh (Artsakh) and Zangezur on the grounds that large portions of Western Armenia were to be offered them from the collapsing Ottoman Empire! Armenians were also prompted to political passivity with promises that international conferences would offer them justice! Melkonian does not explain the roots of Britain's pro-Georgian policy, but it was certainly driven in part by fear of a pro-Russian Armenia becoming a rampart for Russian ambition just at the moment that Bolshevism had been victorious. The British in addition had an eye on substantial Georgian economic resources and sought to counter significant German influence there. Georgia's anti-Armenian policy continued well into the Soviet era when they succeeded in grabbing more Armenian populated land and consolidating their grip on Tchavakhk despite the vocal protests of local Armenians. Nationally minded Armenian Communist Party leaders such as Alexander Miasnikian, who attempted a more democratic resolution, were no match to the influence that their Georgian opponents had in Moscow. Yet despite the fact that the Armenian population recovered its 1917 numbers only in 1989 and despite the mass Armenian emigration of the 1950s-70s the Soviet era Georgian nationalists failed to decompose Tchavakhk's Armenian majority. In the post-soviet period the rampantly nationalist Georgian elite has resumed its campaign, starving Tchavakhk of economic support and redesigning provincial borders to break up and isolate Armenian majorities in the hope of this time accomplishing their ambitions. Armenian resistance however remains stubborn and confronted with an unrelenting Georgian state this resistance could easily express itself in a desire for annexation to Armenia. II. THE CULTURAL BARBARISM OF THE YOUNG TURKS `The Loss to Armenian Culture Caused by the Destruction of Armenian Monasteries and Churches During 1894-1896 and 1915-1925' by Rev. Fr. Dajad Yardemian (107pp, Mekhitarist Publication, San Lazzaro, Venice, 1995) should be compulsory reading. It shows why and how cultural barbarism was integral to the Young Turk genocide attempt against the Armenian people. In relation to Armenian culture the Young Turks acted in accord with Nazi Goering's infamous remark that whenever he heard the word culture he reached for his gun. With shocking statistical data Yardemian catalogues the loss represented by the `2500 plundered, burnt down or destroyed monasteries, Churches, libraries, refuges, chapels and other holy places (p11)'. Armenian Churches and Monasteries were more than just spiritual centres and places of worship. They constituted social, cultural and educational hubs of Armenian life, in many ages being an organisational foundation and core. Religious establishments functioned as schools, universities and academies. They were centres of learning for historians, philosophers and poets. They were workshops for the production of hundreds of thousands of beautifully designed manuscripts and books. With their thousands of cultural objects church building were veritable museums as well as being architectural monuments. Church grounds were in addition social centres and gathering points for popular celebrations. Right into the 19th and 20th centuries this Church continued to play a vital role in the Armenian life. Grasping its central role in sustaining Armenian nationhood, Sultan Hamid II's regime in 1896 and the Young Turks thereafter identified it as primary targets. Their mobs `took their rage out most fiercely on Armenian monasteries, Churches, schools and libraries' writes Ormanian, that brilliant historian of the Armenian Church (p20). The story is repeated with greater savagery in 1915. Through the centuries the Armenian Church had been targeted repeatedly by foreign invaders but none compares to the scale, the speed and finality of the 1895-1925 vandalism. In 1898 French lieutenant R Hubert registered the existence of 218 Armenian monasteries and 1740 Churches in Ottoman territories. In 1904 an official census registered a higher figure, 228 and 1958 respectively. The figures for the period just before the 1895-1896 massacres would of course have been even higher. According to Henri Barbie during the 1895-96 massacres `568 Churches and monasteries' were `destroyed or turned into Mosques (p19).' 1915 delivered the final fatal blow. By 1919, 83 Archbishoprics, 1860 Churches and chapels, 229 monastic institutions, 26 secondary schools, 1439 elementary schools and 42 orphanages had been wholly or partially destroyed. The loss this represented - to Armenian life and to human culture - is staggering. Up to 200,000 manuscripts and books, ancient classical literary, philosophic, historical and religious texts protecting centuries of human thought were destroyed (p73). This loss, as Yardemian rightly says, `cannot be measured by any material criteria nor can it be replaced by other values.' The works of many historians and intellectuals whose names have reached us will as `a result of Young Turk vandalism now never be accessible to us and still how many other unknown authors and their works will as a result also `remain forever unknown' (p74). Symbolising the Ottoman and Young Turk vandalism was the fate of the 8th century Monastery of Narek, home to the greatest Armenian poet, 10th century Krikor of Narek, a man of the stature of Dante. In 1896 the monastery was destroyed and in 1915 the manuscript of the poet's `Lamentations' written many believed in his own hand was burnt. To the loss of invaluable manuscripts is to be added the loss of vast amounts of gold and silverware, bronze work, jewellery, woodwork, stone etchings, crosses, chalices, Church vestments and decorations, carpets, curtains, cushions and grave stones - all products of human creativity, labour, ingenuity and skill. Within what was Ottoman controlled historical Armenia, of the vast heritage there once was, today virtually nothing remains and what remains is also under threat of irreversible destruction, notwithstanding recent cosmetic and propaganda moves by the Turkish government. From 1925 onwards Churches that were not turned into Mosques, storage depots or dumping grounds, were demolished, used as military target practice and its stone plundered for local building work. To the crime against humanity represented by the one and a half million dead, is the crime of cultural barbarism. But the 1896-1925 attempts to annihilate Armenian culture and society failed, despite the vastness of irreplaceable loss. -- 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.