'Krikor Ardzrouni: A biography in Three Volumes' by Leo (Collected Works, Volume VI) Armenian News Network / Groong July 28, 2014 By Eddie Arnavoudian PART TWO Leo's handsome second and third volumes of Krikor Ardzrouni's (1845-1892) biography, despite the verbosity for which he alas had a great facility, communicates with force that admirable national democratic ambition and that unswerving devotion to public duty that spurred Ardzrouni on throughout a remarkable and historic journalistic career. Leo displays Ardzrouni's legacy as it is, strikingly modern, apt to our own 21st century, a measure indeed of how little has changed but how much has to change if we are to secure a future for the Armenian people. I To the task of transforming a fragmented, provincial, often religiously defined and sectarian Armenian national consciousness and to the business of modernizing Armenian social, economic and cultural life, Ardzrouni invested his substantial but fragile inheritance in `The Cultivator', the first Armenian daily paper. To the end of his life, even in the aftermath of his vanished financial security, he remained committed to youthful ambitions, remained an unforgiving critic of two dominant pillars that blocked national progress - the unreformed Armenian Church and the unproductive, parasitic and often usurious economic classes. Despite a deep ideological gulf, after Mikael Nalpantian, Ardzrouni was perhaps their most ruthless critic. With no faith in the intelligentsia, to push aside obstacles, Ardzrouni turned to the common people (p573). Leo writes that `with his usual terseness and without qualification' pouncing on 'an irresponsible intelligentsia that was enslaved to all that was foreign' Ardzrouni proclaimed: `Let the devil take our intelligentsia, we are not working for those who have contempt for the common people and who ignore the life of the common people. We write for the masses.' Instilling among the common people a sense of individual pride and self-regard, and pride in Armenian nationality too, was Ardzrouni understood, a most urgent matter. Centuries of imperial oppression had all but destroyed this and bred in its stead a deep sense of inferiority. Here an essay, `We are slaves,' setting out a concept of `love' as a primary manifestation of social harmony, solidarity and development is, in both Armenian and international social commentary, a masterpiece (p546). `Love' is defined as a condition for civilized life, as the essence of social solidarity that enriches community relations with the spirit of collectivity and binds people together compelling as it does a recognition of their common dependence. Such `love' however ceases to flourish among the victims of national oppression. Reminding us of themes from Franz Fanon, Ardzrouni writes that Armenians under foreign rule had been denuded of their humanity, turned into self-hating egoists and 'vulgar materialists', selfish individualists with no sense of collective, no sense of national duty or obligation (p546-7). The inferiority complex born of colonial oppression had made 'Armenians always ashamed to be called Armenian', ashamed of their own language too, so that 'on the approach of a foreigner' they `will immediately switch from speaking Armenian.' (p552) Ardzrouni had no time for this: 'Armenians have a habit of always complaining that no foreign nation loves us, they all hate us and have contempt for us...How can other people love us when we hate ourselves and have contempt for ourselves.' (p552) Proud of his nationality, Ardzrouni bent to overhaul the individual's sense of self and their collective sense of national worth, to inculcate pride, energy and determination to move forward. II Countless caustic and cutting editorials from the 19th century `The Cultivator' could well have been targeting the good for nothings strutting through the streets of 2014 Yerevan and through the Armenian Diaspora too, men in brand new priestly garb, shiny shoes and the latest expensive fashion brands, who as Barouyr Sevak put it: 'Speak loudly in the name of the sea of society But flow always towards their private lake' Ardzrouni was unforgiving of all Diaspora elites whether in Istanbul or Tbilisi, damning them for factionalism, selfishness and most of all for collaboration with occupying powers. Such elites were utterly useless, doing nothing for people and nation. Armenian merchants may have acquired grand reputations and once upon a time even been masters of commerce in the east: `But now in the 19th century#they are giving way to European competition, to English, French and Dutch merchants#It is becoming evident that the Armenian merchant # produces nothing, he only circulates goods#Among us it was Stepanos Nazaryants who first pointed out that this famed merchant was no cause for national pride. He is no more than an intermediary. He does not develop production in the homelands. Affinities with the Nalpantian are striking. Ardzrouni too dismissed Armenian merchant claims to a national role and mission: `Of what value to the nation these merchants settled in foreign lands#Better that these men had remained in their homelands, poor but hardworking, devoted to a trade#rather than breaking all their social relations with their nationality and enriching themselves overseas. That type of wealth, for us, for the people remaining in the homeland is worth not a cent (p523-4).' When countering endless gossip about his alleged fabulous wealth, he retorted: `I work only to the extent of my abilities, without riches. But if I did in truth possess the millions people claim I do, I would have shamed our rich for their unforgivable selfishness, for their culpable indifference to the needs of the nation (p622-33).' Ardzrouni speaks in similar vein about the `large majority' of the Church clergy that together with the merchant dominated Armenian life. The clergy are a bunch of: `Wastrels squandering the peoples' money, mixers, organizers of intrigue and conspiracy, chasers after medals of honour, without proper work, immobile, ignorant#far removed from contemporary knowledge and truth# speaking of popular education in words but blocking it in deeds...' Ardzrouni was not anti-religious. He was not an atheist but was certainly enraged by a clergy that had abandoned what he deemed to be those principles of solidarity and charity that defined early Christianity. As a condition for any respect he demanded their restoration. Correcting `blockheads' who labelled him `an enemy of the clergy' Ardzrouni retorted: `Yes! We are enemies of ignorance, therefore of the ignorant representatives of the clergy. We are enemies of exploitation and therefore of the priesthood in which we note this anti-social and anti-Christian characteristic. A priest should be `an educated leader of the people, tending to their needs and their woes'. Otherwise they would only weaken the nation facilitating the work of European Catholic and Protestant missionaries who acted as agents of European imperial invasion. III Cutting through to the core, aware of the fragility of Armenian nationality in the Caucuses `The Cultivator' laid out arguments for Armenian finance and energy to return home, invest in and develop the homeland, establish roots there and so set the only secure foundations for a genuine Armenian national economy and autonomous progress. Ardzrouni even called for the relocation of the Istanbul-based Armenian Constituent Assembly, the entire leadership of Ottoman occupied Armenian communities that is, to the Armenian town of Erzerum (p580). `Hereafter the ambition of the Armenian must be to develop all his national strengths in his homeland, to introduce European enlightenment, to work to reform the peoples' economic condition and to win over friendly neighbours by all means necessary but take up arms against hostile one.'(p590) It was a vision shared by men like Minas Cheraz, Mkrtich Portukalian, Khrimian Hayrik and by Nerses Patriarch who in a speech quoted by Leo announced to the National Assembly: `Let us prepare for our future! First, let us not remain here, let us return to Armenia, send to Armenia all that we have that is of value, talented, patriotic and education loving clergy, let our teachers return to Armenia, so too our energetic and fiery youth, our artists and merchants, and may our so unfortunate migrants also return to Armenia. (p590) Nerses, clearly a profound thinker spoke also of building roads and factories, of setting up associations of traders and merchants, establishing new schools and much else. Noting a `closeness of vision and ambition' Leo remarks that Nerses had `spoken from the podium what Ardzrouni had much earlier expounded in the pages of `The Cultivator' (p590). Nation building, the drive to return home would only be possible however with a secular notion of nationality, one that rejected religious and provincial sectarianism and projecting a single united people and nation that cut across all artificial boundaries imposed by faith or imperial power. Ardzrouni himself though based in Tsarist occupied Georgian Tbilisi and living nearest to eastern Armenian communities, was nevertheless unendingly active in support of Armenians in western Armenia, particularly in the wake of the 1880 famine (p611-613). Endorsing a secular concept of nationality, Ardzrouni rejected official Church sectarianism that recognized only its own followers as genuine Armenians. `The Armenian nation does not belong just to the Armenian Gregorian Church, it belongs to all Armenians.' (p659) Intent on making 'The Cultivator' 'a newspaper for the entire nation' its editor recruited Catholics and Protestants to his campaigns on the issues of the day. Elaborating he reminded readers: `I was born an Armenian Gregorian, I learnt Armenian with the Catholic Mekhitarists and received my higher university education in Protestant Germany. Yet still I remained and will always remain an Armenian, respecting all religions.' Acutely relevant to the debates of our own day, 'The Cultivator' asserted the right of Armenian Muslims to be recognized as authentic components of the nation, this even as Ardzrouni himself was aware that some that had converted had become the most vicious of Ottoman henchmen and apologists. Arguing the right of Armenian Muslims to participate in national life he wrote: `Catholic, Gregorian, Protestant and Islamic Armenians can learn a great deal from each other, help each other and together strive for a single end - the moral reform of the nation (p658).' IV In `The Cultivator' a sturdy patriotism that envisaged Armenian nationhood in the core of eastern and western Armenia ran parallel with an equally vigorous regional Caucasian patriotism, one actually quite natural and appropriate to the multi-national Caucuses in which Ardzrouni lived. Rooted in Georgia, as a spokesman for both an Armenian and a Caucasian bourgeois-industrial and democratic development, inter-national harmony and regional collaboration was affirmed as the condition for survival against rapidly encroaching European capitalist penetration. To enhance Armenian-Georgian collaboration 'The Cultivator' took up cudgels against both Georgian chauvinism and Armenian usurious capital. Welcoming the newly appeared Georgian `Droepa' newspaper Ardzrouni affirmed: `Though the Caucuses is populated by many different nationalities belonging to different faiths, by virtue of regional and geographic conditions it has become a single homeland for all and offers all the opportunity to strive for the same universal benefits (p459).' Armenian usurious capital was a dangerous obstruction to Georgian-Armenian harmony. Sucking the Georgian peasantry dry it gave Georgian chauvinists fodder for their indiscriminate anti-Armenian campaigns. Noting `a veritable Georgian crusade against Armenians' that charged them all with the vice of usury, Ardzrouni lashed Armenian merchants: `Who through their exploitative operations not only drive away from us the sympathies of the Georgian peasantry but with this damaging activity#foster Georgian enmity against the Armenian, generating a hatred for them#(p475).' Though focused on Armenian-Georgian relations, Leo reminds us that `the editor of The Cultivator could not forget that a large proportion of our land's population consisted of Turks and towards them he had the same sympathies and positive hopes. (p475).' Leo's stress on a powerful Caucasian patriotism may well have been born of Soviet ideological dictates of his day. But it was still central to Ardzrouni's thought. Such humanist and internationalist sensibilities were in fact inevitable byproducts of life in a Diaspora. Retaining and developing distinct national traditions, Armenians still lived within the borders of host countries that provided them the means of sustaining both their national traditions and more decisively their social and economic existence. It fashioned to their direct sensibility of nature and life-experience too. A sense of Armenian affinity and bonding with host countries was thus natural. V. Genuine appreciation cannot do without some noteworthy qualification! Though populating it only sparsely, bugs of ugly prejudice do raise their heads in the body of Ardzrouni's legacy. His humanism and his politics were, in contrast to Nalpantian, and even Abovian, limited and marred by illusions in Western and Tsarist imperialism that ran parallel with a disdain for Turks and Kurds, often looked at with European imperialist spectacles. Often refuted in his own very writings, such stains nevertheless require acknowledgment. Otherwise they will be used by the falsifiers of history to depict Armenian mainstream democratic thought as fatally crippled. A shocking mimic of imperialist prejudice, Ardzrouni sometimes articulated a variation of the reactionary `clash of civilisations' in which Christianity features as enlightenment and advance waging a necessary battle against an obscurantist and reactionary Islam. In his evaluation of Europe, he also decisively parts company with Nalpantian and Abovian. Unlike Ardzrouni they both saw Europe's barbarism concealed behind its civilized ideological drapery. Ardzrouni was guilty too of dependence politics arguing that for their freedom Armenians must not only rely on, but become willing instruments of Russian imperial ambition. A cloudless spring day is a rarity, but even with some cloud a spring day remains a spring day from which a great deal of benefit can be had. So too with Ardzrouni's legacy! The central drive of his thought is an inspiring humanism and internationalism remote from the narrow, sectarian nationalism that unfortunately taints much of the media in our own day. Leo's monument to a giant of the age ends with a moving account of Krikor Ardzrouni's last days and of his funeral joined by 40-50,000, equivalent to a million in London today. Alas that Ardzrouni's untiring efforts, his cutting intellect, his progressive vision and his self-sacrifice, his unchallengeable logic and argument proved insufficient to fell his foes. He was in the right time, with the right ideas but in the wrong place, in the Diaspora not in Armenia. Yet his critique of the elites of his time remains a sharp weapon that can be wielded in our own battles against the pillars of Armenian backwardness that survived Ardzrouni's unceasing hammer blows and today continue to devastate the nation and its people. -- 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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