Armenian News Network / Groong

The Critical Corner - 12/05/2016


Worth a read...

    Not necessarily masterpieces or artistically outstanding. Yet none
    will disappoint the lover of literature. Reading them one will
    always find something of value.

Armenian News Network / Groong
December 5, 2016

By Eddie Arnavoudian


Armenia During the 1905 Russian Revolution

`Armenia During the 1905 Russian Revolution' by T A Muradyan (260pp,
1964) retains value despite disfigurement by needless use of
Russian-language words and despite its uncouth rant against the
ARF. Bringing together often ignored historical data it is a reminder
of the existence in eastern Armenia of economic and social grounds for
a home grown militant peasant and working class movement, however
small. In describing social conditions of the time Muratyan shows as
history something that was already long evident in Armenian
literature. It is easy to see how an impoverished Armenian rural
population and a smaller super-exploited mining, transport and
small-manufacturing working class could become willing participants in
the 1905-1907 revolution that swept across the Tsarist Empire of which
eastern Armenia and the Caucuses were then a part.


                                  I.

Like any colonial province, the Caucuses supplied imperial Tsarist
Russia with raw materials and agricultural goods - oil, copper,
cotton, spirits, tobacco, rice - from productive enterprises that,
where most advanced, were in or rapidly fell to foreign control,
French or Russian in the first instance, but later to British, Swiss,
German and others. Such economic development and the necessary
transportation networks began to create a regional working class of
various nationalities across the whole of the Caucuses.

In what is now the Armenia, during 1905-07 a small working class of
some 10-12,000 was centred on the regional railway network,
small-scale manufacturing centres in Alexandrabol (now Gyumri) and
Yerevan and most substantially in the copper mines of Alaverti and
Ghaban. Starvation wages, terrible working conditions, exposure to
constant physical danger and the constant threat of immediate
dismissal frequently drove them to protest.

The impoverished rural population, owning only 30% of the land and
victim to the usurer, was also driven to revolt. Indeed as early as
1903 a peasant uprising in Haghbad, Lori was as a prelude to repeated
revolts in 1905. A desperate pesant community resorted to armed
self-defence (p56-57) against a regime that with Church support used
military and police to suppress resistance (p60). Significantly
Haghbad was to be the site of the first Armenian Bolshevik cell (p61)
fighting against shocking feudal conditions (p57).

However, describing working class and peasant movements in the
Caucuses primarily in national, Armenian, Georgian or Azeri, terms is
a serious misnomer, a distortion indeed of historical reality. These
were in essence multi-national movements evolved across the Caucuses
within multi-national regions and workplaces, even when in some
localised areas a single national group predominated, as was the case
of Armenian Lori (p59). Defining the working class by nationality in
mines and railways (p62-63), that stretched across the Caucuses is
even more unwarranted. The workforce here was also multi-national with
all battling together against contractors who kept them in conditions
they would not keep their own cattle (p63). In fact Muratyan's
limiting of his account to the geographical region that is today the
Republic of Armenia is also artificial. Nevertheless!

                                 II.

A first round of strikes and uprisings beginning in the spring of 1905
took in the Alexandrabol (now Gyumri)-Lori railway networks, the city's
small scale manufacturing, the Alaverdi and Ghaban mines, Yerevan
cognac, service and educational institutions (p69-81). Militancy among
miners and railway workers was high.  In Alaverdi explosives were
`liberated' to arm the masses (p111) while in Alexandrabol railway
lines serving troop movements were sabotaged (p119).

In October Alaverdi rail workers and adjacent rural villagers from
Lori formed united strike committees of different nationalities.
Postal and rail strikes erupted again in November and December with
mixed-nationality strike committees (p150, 153, 156-57). Reflecting
national diversity leaflets and speeches were delivered in Georgian,
Armenian and Russian both in Yerevan and Alexandrabol (p164, 165,
173). One wonders why no reference is made to any Azeri involvement
despite their then large presence in Yerevan.

Through 1905-1906 strikes spread to smaller production units, service
workers, leather workers, iron mongers and print workers. In August
1906 renewed strikes break out in Alaverti (p194). Bakers join the
movement in Alexandrabol (p197) and in Yerevan bank workers strike
and, Muratyan claims, are sabotaged by the ARF (p198). The 1905-7
strike movement also swept through Armenian educational establishments
with young Armenians educated in Russia playing leading roles
(p141-42). Within the army too, among whom Armenians work (p134),
demands were raised for the government to intervene in and halt
Armenian-Azeri clashes (p140).

Even if Muratyan exaggerates the breadth and the intensity of the 1905
class struggle in Armenia and the Caucuses, his account does show why
the Tsarist regime was desperate to drown the social and class
uprising in the blood of internecine hatreds. Baku oil was critical to
the Empire. The Caucuses beyond its economic value was also a critical
imperial outpost eyed by Germany, Britain and Ottoman challengers.
Albeit small, the 1905 revolutionary movement in the Caucuses did
demonstrate and decisively so a potential unity that rising above
national division and hostilities represented a real danger to Tsarist
control of the region and moreover could offer itself as an example to
the rest of the Empire.

It is a deficiency of Muratyan's account that he does not examine the
extent to which a potentially united multi-national movement was
debilitated by the Tsarist fuelled Armenian-Azeri internecine
slaughter. He does however alight on some things of note. He cites
evidence of Bolshevik attempts to defuse conflicts especially at
railway stations (p127-132) and to provide free rail transportation to
supply regions hit by clashes. He tells of a revealing rejection of
national animosities during the Ghaban miners (p201-203) strike when a
mixed Armenian Azeri workforce successfully resisted attempts to
divide them on national grounds. In a grand gesture of retort to the
employers, two strike leaders, one Armenian, one Azeri hug and kiss
before and to an audience of massed miners. The strike is won!
Elsewhere Armenian forces are shown working alongside similar minded
Azeris.
 

                                 III.

Unsurprisingly for a Soviet era historian Muratyan endlessly wields
his polemical sword against the ARF. But more frequently than not he
fails to draws blood. He offers little or no substantiation for claims
such as that together with Church in 1903 the ARF aided Tsarist
repression of the Lori peasant uprising. Again without evidence he
writes that the ARF opposed the Alaverdi miners' strikes in 1903
(p66-67). Later in Lori, he charges the ARF with trying to muscle in
and raise party taxes on peasants that incurred their wrath
(p223-234).

On point the criticism is telling. Trade unions in the Caucuses, as in
Russia were open to workers of all creeds, nationalities and political
persuasions. The ARF however called for trade unions to be party
organisations and thus exclusively national (p215). Muratyan quotes
Bolshevik Spandaryan and Shahumyan condemning such divisive strategies
(p216, 218-19). Elsewhere Spandaryan is quoted attacking the ARF for
its refusal to support reinstatement of striking Azeri workers on the
grounds they are not Armenians (p177).

A serious critical examination of the ARF's role in the 1905
revolution is wanted. Though this is not it, the volume is for other
reasons still worth a read!

                                -----

Avetis Aharonian's denigration of Antranig Ozanian!

Iranian-US-Armenian novelist and critic Hagop Garabents valued
novelist Avetis Aharonian (1866-1948) highly. His judgement may be
correct when speaking of art; indeed some of Aharonian's short stories
in his famous `On the Road to Freedom' are outstanding. But also a
senior ARF ideologue, spokesman and state diplomat, Aharonian's credit
ratings for honesty and decency collapse on reading his apparent
tribute to Antranig (1865-1927) on his death in 1927 (Avetis
Aharonian, Collected Works in 10 Volumes, Volume 5, pp368-430, 1983,
Tehran). In his `evaluation' of Antranig, unrivalled guerrilla
commander and national hero Aharonian proves himself a master of
ruthless damnation through the most flowery praise. In a supposed
honouring what stands out starkly is an insistent, almost gleeful and
vengeful cataloguing of Antranig's supposed failures, deficiencies,
inadequacies and misjudgements!

Worse still is a manifestation of deep contempt for the Armenian
common people.

Aharonian traces the huge and unstinting praise, the idolisation and
worship of Antranig primarily to an alleged plebeian, ignorant,
childlike masses' need for a hero, for a prince and leader. For such
simple people Antranig is flawless. But for the educated ARF
intellectual Antranig is something else! Aharonian and his ARF
colleagues could not then and even today cannot forgive or reconcile
themselves to the fact that in 1907 following bitter disputes Antranig
resigned from the ARF for their collaboration with the Young
Turks. They cannot forget or forgive Antranig for his fierce criticism
of and opposition to the ARF leadership of the 1918 First Armenian
Republic.

Some might wish to argue that in an avalanche of adulation a tribute
that takes in triumphs as well as errors is necessary for history. Yes
of course. But Aharonian's is far from such an endeavour. An objective
evaluation of Antranig is difficult, all the more so because his
guerrilla triumphs, his daring flights, his audacity are all fixed in
the context of a catastrophic national defeat, in the context of 1915
and Genocide. Antranig's strengths and weaknesses and his contribution
to the national movement have to be judged in this context. Marred by
sectarian deceit Aharonian does nothing of the sort.
 
Aharonian refuses to acknowledge any possible ARF responsibility for
the national defeat. So he refuses to account for the reasons Antranig
withdrew from the ARF, reasons that would point an accusing finger at
the ARF leadership. He refuses to confront and evaluate Antranig's
opposition to the ARF leadership of the First Armenian Republic!
Antranig's rejection of the ARF sticks in Aharonian's throat so fast
that he cannot speak straight and honest. In some devious windbag
paragraphs he claims that Antranig despite his differences and his
resignation remained still and even died an ARF member. Aharonian
equates the ARF with the national movement - no exceptions are
countenanced. Antranig he writes correctly was part of the national
movement. Antranig was therefore in essence part of the ARF. The
sleight of hand is obvious and contemptible too.

Avetis Aharonian's literary legacy has much that is tremendous. But
this so-called honouring of a national hero is pitiful.


-
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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