The Founding of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation

The Armenian Weekly Magazine
Dec. 2015: The ARF at 125

Special for the Armenian Weekly

One hundred and twenty five years ago, in the Caucasus, a group of young men and women, imbued with social revolutionary fervor, turned their sight toward national liberation and forged an alliance, which became the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). It pledged to emancipate the Armenian people from despotic and hostile nations. It helped to establish the independent Republic of Armenia and continues to defend the Armenian people during critical and peaceful times, from Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh) to Lebanon and Syria. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation is the party of the people, the largest and the most representative. It took upon itself the defense of the Armenian people in Western Armenia (Eastern Anatolia/Turkish Armenia) against Turkish and Kurdish truculence and tyranny, despoliation and desecration. It was the Armenian Revolutionary Federation that led the Armenian resistance against Turkey during World War I. It was through the perseverance of this organization that the Allied Powers of World War I officially recognized the Armenians as their “Little Ally.” It was the organized Armenian Revolutionary Federation volunteers who fought the Turks long enough in Baku and prevented the Germans from reaching the oil fields, contributing to the decisive Allied victory. It was this organization that saved thousands of children left orphaned in the bloody fields of Western Armenia. It was this organization that produced the victories at Sardarabad, Bash-Abaran, and Karakilisa on May 28, 1918, and declared the independence of Armenia. And it was the Armenian Revolutionary Federation members of the Armenian government who signed the Treaty of Sèvres.

One hundred and twenty five years ago, in the Caucasus, a group of young men and women, imbued with social revolutionary fervor, turned their sight toward national liberation and forged an alliance, which became the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF).

How did this national political organization form and grow from disparate and disorganized Armenian groups having Russian social revolutionary orientation in the last decade of the 19th century? A closer look reveals that the ARF had its seeds sown earlier in Western Armenia by secret organizations that could no longer bear the suffering of the Armenians at the hands of the abusive Turkish government. The Zeytun uprising of 1862 against intolerable taxation signaled the nascent Armenian liberation movement and found its response in the far-away Caucasus.

In 1872, Miutiun I Perkutiun (Union of Salvation) in Van became the first organized revolutionary society in Western Armenia. It had 46 members from all classes, including clergy; they dedicated themselves to liberate the Armenians in the region. They applied to the Russian government to send a consul to Van, and later they asked to become Russian subjects.

The Sev Khach Kasmakerbutiun (Black Cross Society) was formed during the Berlin Congress, in 1878, in Van, when the Kurdish atrocities were continuing with Britain’s encouragement. Organized to alleviate the suffering of the Armenians from terror and famine, the members were sworn to secrecy and those who broke their oath were marked with a black cross and put to death.

Raffi and his Jelaleddin and Khente

In 1880, Pashtpan Hayreniats (Protectors of the Fatherland) was formed in Erzerum (Garin) and led by Khachatur Kerektsian and Karapet Nshikian. Its purpose was to arm the inhabitants for defense against any future attacks by Turks, Kurds, and Circassians. It was thought that the society was directed by Dr. Bagrat Navasardian from headquarters in Tiflis (Tbilisi). There was evidence that Raffi cooperated with them. It had a 7-member central committee, with decentralized groups of 10, each with a leader. Hundreds joined the society, which distributed guns to the people. Bishop Ormanian, the prelate of Erzerum, had been informed of the group, and in 1881 he notified Patriarch Nerses Varzhabedian, who approved the society’s existence. Kerektsian went to Van and conferred with Khrimian Hayrig; then he made contact with Grigor Artsruni, the publisher of “Mshak,” and Raffi. The society printed certificates with its emblem, oath, and the words, “Azatutiun Gam Mah” (Liberty or Death). In 1882, the Turkish government found a copy of the certificate and arrested 67 people, 40 of whom were found guilty and given 5- to 15-year prison terms. Patriarch Nerses’s and Bishop Ormanian’s efforts convinced the sultan to pardon the prisoners in 1886 to avoid European pressure. The London Times reported that 400 persons were arrested in Erzerum and the leaders were believed to be in Tiflis. The Russian consul in Erzerum notified the Russian government, which arrested Artsruni and Raffi and searched their homes and the “Mshak” office. The events in Erzerum served as the inspiration for the revolutionary song, “Dzayne Hnchets Erzerumi Hayots Lerneren.”

The secret organization Barenepatak Enkerutiun (Goodwill Society; 1868-1876) was formed in April 1868, in Alexandropol, under the guise of a cultural and philosophical organization. It managed to avoid detection by police until it was exposed by an unpatriotic bishop.

The secret organization Kontora Hayreniats Siro (Devotion to the Fatherland Bureau; 1874-1875) was formed in Karakilisa (now Vanadzor). It was a sister organization of Barenepatak Enkerutiun, disguised as a cultural organization but with political objectives.

Due to the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War, emigrants from Mush, working as laborers in Tiflis, formed a society to self educate and acquire training in the use of arms to prepare for liberation activities in their homeland. They were taught the use of arms by Gabriel (Gabo) Mirzoian, Aleksander Simonian, and Ghazakhetsi Mekhak until 1884 when Kristapor Mikaelian—at that time a member of the Russian social revolutionary group Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will)—assumed the leadership.

In Yerevan in the early 1880’s, V. Yeghiazarian, T. Vardanian, and T. Meherian formed the secret Azkaser Usutsichner organization (Patriotic Teachers). They were suspected of having ties with Tiflis and Erzerum. The government discovered and imprisoned them.

In Shushi, Karabagh, the Uzh (Strength) secret organization formed to help the liberation cause through money and arms. The members read banned books and encouraged the use of the Armenian language and culture.

Starting in 1885, brigand bands formed in Western Armenia and attacked Kurdish feudal lords and Turkish government forces. In the Daron region there were the Arapo, Mkho, and Markar Varzhabed groups; in Alashkert, Huno; in Erzerum, Shamil (Dikran Okonian); in Yerzinga, Kalust Arkhanian; in Shadakh, Chato and Shero; and in Dersim, Dersimi Keri.

Influenced by the writings of Khachatur Abovian, Mikael Nalbandian, Rafael Patkanian, Raffi’s novels, and the outcome of two world events—the Russo-Turkish War and Bulgaria’s independence—raised the hopes of the Armenian intellectuals in Russia for Western Armenia’s emancipation. The university-educated class followed two separate ideologies. One segment included students from the wealthy class and advocated pure nationalism; the other had social revolutionary tendencies similar to that of Narodnaya Volya. The young men and women began to form various secret groups to help liberate the Armenians from Turkish tyranny. In 1878, Raffi published Jelaleddin, and in 1880 Khente, which shocked readers and aroused the youth’s desire to liberate Western Armenia.

Kristapor Mikaelian

Young people of various nationalities in Transcaucasia worked together in the Russian revolutionary organizations Zemly i Volya (Land and Freedom) and Narodnaya Volya. Kristapor Mikaelian had joined Narodnaya Volya during his student days at the Pedagogical Institute in Tiflis in the late 1870’s. He graduated in 1880 and went to Verin Agulis, his hometown, to teach in the Armenian schools. The school board had funded his education with the condition that he would go back and teach for four years. He was already a seasoned political activist. His reformation came about during the years he spent in his hometown, where he became closely acquainted with the condition of the peasantry. He saw how the Russian government officials oppressed and subjugated the people to myriad injustices.

During his time in Verin Agulis, the committee of Narodnaya Volya in Tiflis was comprised of three Georgians and three Armenians—Grigor Ter Grigorian, Abraham Dastakian, and Tamara Adamian. In the summer of 1881, Kristapor returned to Tiflis and met with Abraham Dastakian and one of the Georgians. He suggested that the members, as separate national groups, go to the regions and work among the people. His suggestion was met with strong opposition.

Simon Zavarian in his youth

In 1882, the Armenians separated from the Narodnaya Volya committee based on national aspiration. Dastakian wrote to Kristapor: “Our group will entirely dedicate its activities to the unprotected rights of the unfortunate Armenian people.” Dastakian attracted Simeon and Srapion Ter Grigorian, Aleksandr Petrosian, Davit Nersesian, Arisdages Tokhmakhian, Tigran Pirumian, Simon Zavarian, and Grigor Aghababian, among others. The group held meetings, during which the members presented lectures on national history and culture. They published two secret papers called “Munetik” (Crier), edited by Simon Zavarian, Martiros Markarian, and Grigor Aghababian, and “Hairennaser Dzain” (Patriotic Voice), edited by Simeon and Srabion Ter Grigorian. The former had a revolutionary tone and declared resistance to the Russian government’s oppression; the latter suggested a passive reaction and stressed speaking Armenian outside the home as well. The group sent observers Aleksandr Petrosian and Tigran Pirumian to Western Armenia in 1883 to gather information for their future operations. That same year Haik Dadaian and Zakar Tavakalian were sent by the secret organization in Yerevan. In the fall of 1883, Abraham Dastakian, Tamara Adamian, Simeon and Srapion Ter Grigorian left Tiflis to study in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Thus, the activities of the group discontinued in Tiflis.

The St. Petersburg Armenian students in the early 1880’s had formed a group and followed the events in Western Armenia and the political independence of the Balkan people from the Ottoman Empire. The students printed 15 brochures on the Greek and Bulgarian revolutionaries and distributed them among the Armenians, hoping to inspire them for action against the Turkish government.

In the spring of 1882, the Armenian students in Moscow were similarly influenced by the Balkan events. They formed an organization called Hayrenaserneri Miutiun (Union of Patriots), and published revolutionary literature calling Armenians to liberate their compatriots in Western Armenia. Some of the members were Simon Zavarian, Martin Shatirian, Harutiun Pirabian, Nerses Abelian, Vardges Kachaznuni (Hovhannes Kachaznuni’s brother), Margar Artemian, Mikael Zalian, Davit Nersesian, Karapet Ter Khachaturina, and Martin Vekilian. They produced a pamphlet declaring their objectives, a copy of which was brought to Tiflis by Davit Nersesian in the summer of 1882. On New Year’s Day, 1884, the St. Petersburg students Abraham Dastakian, Simeon and Srapion Ter Grigorian, and Tamara Adamian met with the Moscow students and formed a single organization. Hayrenaserneri Miutiun decided to publish their organ “Azatutian Avetaber” (Herald of Freedom) and set up the first Armenian secret printing press in 1884, in Russia. The group had the ideology of Narodnaya Volya. The organ declared that the Turkish government was the greatest oppressor of the Armenian people, and it proclaimed to achieve political and economic independence from Turkey by revolutionary means. The organization and the press were discovered by the Russian government in 1886, forcing the group to disband.

Russian revolutionaries assassinated Tsar Alexander II in 1881. His son Alexander III ascended the throne and pursued a policy of severe persecutions against minorities, especially the Armenians. In 1884, Kristapor Mikaelian completed his teaching responsibilities and returned to Tiflis, and found only a few of Abraham Dastakian’s Hayrenaserneri Miutiun members. Many had left for Europe and Russia to attend universities, and others were occupied with family and professional responsibilities. The only ones left were the Mushetsi laborers, being trained by Gabriel Mirzoian and assisted by Aleksander Simonian (Santro) and Ghazakhetsi Mekhak (Bidza). Kristapor joined Mirzoian and assumed the leadership of the Mushetsi group. In 1884, the Russian government eliminated Armenians from civil and military positions and banned participation in cultural activities. This policy was formalized by the “Ukaz” Law of 1884. The restrictions imposed on the Armenians reached its peak in 1885 when the government closed all 600 of the Armenian diocesan schools in an attempt to assimilate the Armenians. In defiance of the law, Gabriel Mirzoian and Kristapor Mikaelian printed and distributed three anti-Tsarist pamphlets protesting the closing of the schools. The anti-Armenian campaign drove away Armenians from Russian revolutionary circles. On the advice of Raffi, the Armenian secret organizations opened schools in homes and distributed anti-government leaflets written by Kristapor Mikaelian. Kristapor left for Moscow in the fall of 1885 to further his studies.

Natalia Matinian

In 1886, the graduating students from Moscow and St. Petersburg returned to Tiflis and brought the printing types with them. Those mostly from Moscow resided in the middle-class hostel named Iuzhniya Nomera (Southern Numbers); those of the bourgeoisie class from St. Petersburg universities lived in the better hostel named Severnie Nomera (Northern Numbers). All, experienced as members of secret organizations, continued their discussions on how to help their compatriots in Western Armenia. Others joined and formed the nucleus of the future Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Some of the members were Nikol Matinian, Natalia Matinian, Satenik Matinian, Maro Zakarian, Anna Sahakian, Hovhannes Yusufian, Hakob Kocharian, Martin Shatirian, Hovsep Arghutian, Arshak Tadeosian, Tigran Stepanian, Aleksandr Petrosian (Peto/Bedo). The group held meetings mostly at Iuzhniya Nomera to form a united organization and to formulate an operations program. The main disagreement was about the different ideologies of the two groups. Those having Russian social revolutionary orientation, the Iuzhniya group, insisted on founding a socialist organization, whereas the Severnie group—Dr. Hovhannes Loris-Melikian, Kostantin Khatisian, Gabriel Mirzoian, Levon Sarkisian, Tadeos Zakarian—had purely nationalistic and capitalistic inclinations, stressing that the laws of the future Armenia had to protect financial institutions, like those in Western Europe. Khachatur Malumian (E. Agnuni) was associated with Grigor Artsruni, who operated independently. They were all concerned with the liberation of Western Armenia.

Satenig Matinian (Arghoutian), also known as Dzaghig

In 1887, Kristapor returned to Tiflis due to a lack of funding. Although he knew Nikol Matinian, Martin Shatirian, Hakob Kocharian, and Hovsep Arghutian, he did not get involved with the Iuzhniya group. Shatirian knew Kristapor because Zavarian had told Shatirian in Moscow to go and see Kristapor in Tiflis. Shatirian visited Kristapor almost daily at his apartment where he worked as a proofreader for the Russian paper “Novoye Obozrenie” (New Review). The Iuzhniya group asked Shatirian to convince Kristapor to join the discussions at Iuzhniya Nomera. At first, Kristapor was reluctant, but when he realized that the group was serious, he began to attend the meetings. He noticed that the different groups were disorganized and espoused different ideas and plans to unify for revolutionary activities. Kristapor worked on forming a new group and movement. Stepan Zorian (Rostom) arrived in Tiflis in 1887 from his village Dzghna and met Kristapor. They wanted to establish a secret printing press using the types Kristapor had acquired from the members of Azatutian Avetaber, but they lacked the funds. Both began to rally all of the Armenian revolutionary groups for armed struggle for the political and economic liberation of Western Armenia.

Khachatur Malumian (E. Agnuni)

At the end of July 1889, Ruben Khan-Azat (Nshan Karapetian), one of the founders of the Hnchak Party (Paris, 1887), came to Tiflis to recruit members. Khachatur Malumian invited Khan-Azat to stay at his home, where young men gathered to socialize. He met the young men, but was disappointed that their discussions were about matters of entertainment rather than serious national issues. He informed them that he had come to discuss issues that were crucial to the Armenians of Western Armenia. Those present were skeptical about his proposals. He wanted to meet Kristapor and Zavarian, but both had left Tiflis on private business. He asked Malumian to call a meeting with the leadership of the different groups so that he could explain to them the Hnchak ideology. Khan-Azat had three meetings with several members of the various groups and proposed to form a revolutionary organization that would have a socialist program and that its members were obliged to go to Western Armenia and engage in revolutionary activities. The attendees were receptive to the idea of forming a revolutionary group based on purely national issues. They disagreed on the mandatory requirement of members going to Western Armenia. Disappointed, he returned to Batum.

In the winter of 1889, under the leadership of Kristapor Mikaelian, the Iuzhniya and Severnie groups met at the Iuzhniya Nomera and formed a united organization named Yeritasard Hayastan (Young Armenia). The nucleus of this organization was the “Droshak” group. Members of the organization were Kristapor Mikaelian, Simon Zavarian, Avetis Sahakian, Hovhannes Yusufian, Nikol Matinian, Hovsep Arghutian, Abraham Dastakian, Martin Shatirian, Tigran Okonian, Aram Nazaretian, Hakob Kocharian, Martiros Markarian, Arshak Tadeosian, Satenik Matinian, Natalia Matinian, Daria Goloshian, Maro Zavarian, Zhenia Adamian, Tigran Stepanian, Arshak Paronian, Tadeos Zakarian, Aram Aramian, Vardges Kachaznuni, and others. The purpose of the organization was to send men across the border into Western Armenia for punitive missions against the Kurds hoping to attract the attention of the European powers to enforce the reforms stated in Article 61 of the Berlin Treaty, coordinate with the activities of the other secret groups, send observers into Turkish territory to collect information, prepare men in Transcaucasia for possible future armed combat, and smuggle arms into Western Armenia through Persia. Branches of the organization formed in other cities and villages in Russia, Turkey, and Persia. Investigators Hovsep Arghutian, M. Markarian, and Ardashes Barkhudarian went to Western Armenian to evaluate the conditions and assess the people’s disposition for revolutionary work. Martin Shatirian went to Alexandropol and formed Droshak committees in the surrounding villages. Yeritasard Hayastan set up a printing press in the basement of Zhenia Adamian’s home and published propaganda literature.

In 1890, Russia changed its tolerance toward the Armenians and pursued a policy of expansionism in the Far East and warmed its relations with Turkey. In the following year, Turkey formed the Kurdish Hamidiye force, giving them military authority to secure the territory near the Russian border. Both these developments presented serious hardships for the Armenian freedom fighters.

Front page of the July 1900 (No. 5, Vol. 106) issue of Droshak, printed in Geneva, Switzerland

In the late spring of 1890, members of Yeritasard Hayastan and teachers who had come from the regions for their summer break held numerous meetings to form a united organization. Deep-rooted ideological differences existed between two major factions—the social revolutionaries and ultra-nationalists. Two major events in 1890 in Turkey—the disturbances in Erzerum on June 20, and the Hnchakian demonstrations at Kum Kapu in Constantinople on July 15—spurred the groups to urgently develop a more comprehensive program than that of Yeritasard Hayastan. These events galvanized the members to immediately form a strong organization and plan for a revolutionary movement in Turkey. Several constituent meetings took place between the various groups in an effort to consolidate into one powerful federation. Rostom was not present at these meetings because he had left Tiflis in the autumn of 1889 and entered the Petrovski Agricultural College in Moscow. Kristapor helped to bring the two major groups closer to compromise and achieve unity. A final agreement had not yet been reached when the meeting heard that Ruben Khan-Azat, the representative of the Hnchak Party, was in Batum. He had escaped from Constantinople the day before the Kum Kapu demonstration on July 15. The meeting agreed to invite Khan-Azat to participate in the meetings. They sent Arshak Ter Grigorian to Batum. Ter Grigorian met Khan-Azat and informed him of the meeting’s intentions. Two weeks later, Khan-Azat arrived in Tiflis and was greeted at the train station by Kristapor, Zavarian, Arshak Ter Grigorian, Hovhannes Yusufian, Nikol Matinian, Khachatur Malumian, Kostantin Khatisian, and a few female members (unnamed by Khan-Azat, but likely Satenik and Natalia Matinian, Daria Goloshian, Maro Zavarian, and Zhenia Adamian). The next day, Kristapor and Zavarian met with Khan-Azat and asked him to wait a few days before joining the meetings because an agreement was imminent and his presence might agitate some members and prevent achieving an agreement. Khan-Azat emphasized that socialism had to be the objective of the new organization. Kristapor and Zavarian assured him that they would incorporate his ideology into the agreement in such a way that it would be acceptable to him, and that his party would be part of the unified organization. Khan-Azat agreed. Kristapor and Zavarian, socialists themselves but pragmatic and realists, were careful to avoid alienating the anti-socialists by carefully wording the economic and political objectives without using the word “socialism.” Kristapor with his charismatic and persuasive personality was able to unify the participants around the idea of liberating Western Armenia. The delegates reconciled their differences and arrived at a compromise. Kristapor suggested that the party objective be “the economic and political” freedom of Western Armenia, thereby incorporating the social-economic system into the agreement without using the word “socialism.” A few days later Kristapor and Zavarian informed Khan-Azat that the group had resolved its differences and the anti-socialists had accepted the statement; he was asked to come to the next meeting and announce the Hnchak Party’s integration into the new organization. Khan-Azat went to the meeting held at Gabriel Mirzoian’s home. Present were Gabriel Mirzoian, Simon Zavarian, Kristapor Mikaelian, Khachatur Malumian, Arshak Ter Grigorian, Abraham Dastakian, Kostantin Khatisian, and Hovhannes Loris-Melikian. They presented the new organization’s plans to Khan-Azat, who pointed out that the words “socialism” and “democracy” were not in the plan. He told the meeting: “The revolutionary organization must have a simple and defined program…when you desire that the Hnchak Party join your organization, your program has to be based on socialism.” He feared falling under the control of the ultra-nationalist elements of the organization, and that his comrades in Geneva would disagree with the new organization’s direction. After the meeting Kristapor and Zavarian met alone with Khan-Azat, and Kristapor told him, “You have lived in a free society and you want to call every item by its actual name. Here it is not like that. We have learned to speak secretly about everything. We do not pay much attention to the word; the important thing is the work. It seems strange to you that the word ‘socialism’ is not in the plan. What is the meaning of the words ‘economic and political,’ if not ‘socialism?’” Khan-Azat was not convinced, but he did not doubt their sincerity. The nationalist elements asked Khan-Azat to inform his party to cease the “Hnchak” publication. He was against it and Kristapor and Zavarian sided with him. When he informed his party leaders, they sent a telegraph telling him to cease negotiations until Hakob Meghavorian arrived with specific instructions. After long discussions with the Hnchak Party representatives, the delegates signed a document stating that the Hnchak Party was to dissolve and become an integral part of the new organization with its headquarters in Trabzon as suggested by Khan-Azat as a compromise. In effect, however, the functioning center was Tiflis, where most of the leaders lived. Thus in August 1890, the Hay Heghapokhakaneri Dashnaktsutiun (Federation of Armenian Revolutionaries) was formed. It was agreed that the “Hnchak” in Geneva would be the federation’s theoretical organ and “Droshak” in Tiflis its revolutionary struggle. A five-member central committee (Center/ Kentron/Bureau) was elected consisting of Kristapor Mikaelian, Simon Zavarian, Abraham Dastakian, Hovhannes Loris-Melikian, and Levon Sargisian. The daily operations were to be centrally directed by the executive. Many Hnchak committees in Russia joined the federation. Because the situation in Western Armenia was of utmost importance, the federation did not have time to prepare a program and operational rules.

Rostom with Bulgarian-Armenian Ungeruhis in 1893

In September 1890, Rostom was expelled from college and returned to Tiflis when the federation had already formed. Regardless, Rostom immersed himself in the cause and activities of the federation. The federation announced its formation in a secret flier named Droshaki Trutsik Tert (Droshak flier), dubbed “Manifesto,” issued in September 1890 and addressed to the public, wherein it declared that the Armenian Question would be the central purpose of the party; that no longer would it beg European governments for assistance, for such reliance had proved useless; that it would fight for the political and economic freedom of Western Armenia; that the Armenians had resolved to defend their rights, property, honor, and family with their own hands; and that all true patriots should join forces with the new organization. The flier was not dated; there is, however, anecdotal evidence as to when it was published. Tigran Stepanian had taken a number of copies and gone to Yerevan to distribute them and recruit new members. He met Grigor Artsruni there and gave him a copy of the flier. Artsruni was in Yerevan in September 1890; it is certain that the flier was published in September. Unfortunately, not a single copy of the flier has survived. Available financial documents indicate that the fiscal year started on Nov. 1, 1890.

Grigor Artsruni

Meanwhile, Sarkis Gugunian, a central figure in a group of nationalist Armenian students in St. Petersburg, left and went to Tiflis to form an expeditionary group, enter Western Armenia, and defend the terrorized Armenians. He gathered 125 volunteers and trained them in the Kars region along the Turkish border. The Tiflis delegates were interested in Gugunian’s mission, so they sent a representative to inform him about the formation of the federation. He was advised to enter Turkey without delay for fear of being discovered by the Russian government. Gugunian refused to recognize the new organization. He also was not ready to cross the border. The federation received word from its curriers that the Mush prelate had asked to delay sending freedom fighters until a more propitious time. The organization sent Kostantin Khatisian and later Zavarian to convince Gugunian to disperse his men, but neither could convince him.

Unfortunately, when he did cross the border, the group fell under fire from both the Turkish and Russian border guards. Those who survived were arrested by the Russian border guards, and after trials they were imprisoned.

The executive immediately sent field workers—organizers and propagandists—to Western Armenia, Trabzon, Constantinople, the northern Caucasus, Baku, Persia, and other towns and villages. Kristapor went to Baku to organize committees and raise funds. Zavarian and Hovsep Arghutian went to Trabzon; Zavarian became the principal of the Armenian school, and Arghutian became a field worker. Kristapor was arrested and sent into exile to Bessarabia. Zavarian and Arghutian were arrested by the Turkish government and, after trials and imprisonment, were handed over to the Russian government, which also exiled them to Bessarabia.


Field workers Tigran Stepanian, Galust Aloian, and Hovnan Davitian were the first who went to Persia in January 1891. Davitian was invited by the board of the Lilava Armenian School in Tavriz. Soon Nikoghayos Ter Hovhannisian (Nikol-Duman) and several teachers joined him. Gunsmiths Aleksandr Katanian, Aristakes Zorian (Garo), and Yervant Ter Avedikian arrived and set up an arms factory in the Chabakhana market where other gunsmith shops operated. Other field workers renovated and occupied the Derik Monastery, from where they launched expeditions into Vaspurakan and repelled the Kurdish attacks on the Armenian villages along the Persian-Turkish border. Kostantin Khatisian’s ultra-nationalist group, unhappy with the executive, formed a “Fraktsia” (separate group), and in November 1890, Kostantin went to Baku to raise funds and recruit members. He came back with several volunteers and went to Bulgaria to make bombs. The Bulgarian government arrested and exiled them; they returned to Tiflis.

When Khan-Azat returned to Geneva in early 1891, he found that his comrades were far less willing to compromise on the issue of socialism. They complained that the federation was not in the hands of Kristapor and Zavarian, because of their absence, but of the anti-socialist liberals in the executive. The executive informed Avetis Nazarbekian (one of the founders of the Hnchak Party) to stop publishing the “Hnchak” because “Droshak” was going to be published soon. Nazarbekian was extremely critical of the federation’s recent flier and was concerned about complaints from former Hnchakians who had joined the federation. Based on the Hnchaks’ objections, the Geneva headquarters decided to nullify the agreement made in Tiflis. In the May 18 and June 5, 1891 “Hnchak” issues, the Hnchak Party official declared its withdrawal from the federation, claiming that a union had never taken place with the Tiflis groups. The Hnchak Central Committee informed the federation executive in Tiflis of their decision, but the latter did not respond. The second “Droshak” flier appeared in early 1891, wherein it was announced that the federation was going to publish “Droshak” soon. In May 1891, the first official issue of “Droshak” appeared, containing the following excerpt: “‘Droshak’ cannot have solidarity with those who want to reach their goal diplomatically because diplomacy as an exception will not do anything that is affected just by philanthropy. In our material world, the diplomats rule according to their self-interests and the rights of the powerful. … On the other hand, ‘Droshak’ cannot agree with those who want to form such an organization which wants to struggle only in Western Europe…”

Khachatur Malumian, representing “Mshak,” had left the federation before the executive’s election. The ultra-nationalists Kostantine Khatisian, Levon Sarkisian, and Gabriel Mirzoian also left. Upon the departure of the Hnchak Party and Khatisian’s group, the organization changed its name to Hay Heghapokhakan Dashnaktsutiun (Armenian Revolutionary Federation). The bulk of the work was thrust upon Kristapor (1859-1905), Rostom (1867-1919), and Zavarian (1866-1913), who became the triumvirate that was instrumental in achieving political unification and sustaining the momentum for the organization to survive and grow.

The executive lost its effectiveness when in 1891 Kristapor and Zavarian were arrested and exiled to Bessarabia. The remaining members did not show revolutionary abilities. Martin Shatirian and Arshak Tadeosian filled the positions left open by Kristapor and Zavarian. Rostom took upon himself the burden of all major tasks of the organization. The centralized system was ineffective in directing activities in distant places, where contact was difficult between the various groups operating within three hostile nations.

Sarkis Gugunian

In early 1892, the federation was in danger of dissolution. Internal dissensions and desertions had weakened the party and made it ineffective. It was criticized by the members and the public, which had expected great results for the salvation of Western Armenia. In April 1892, a group in Tavriz, Persia, demanded to hold a congress to clarify the objectives of the party, revise its structure and methods of operation, and develop a comprehensive strategy for the revolutionary struggle. They issued an announcement under the heading, “Invitation to the first general meeting of Armenian Revolutionaries,” signed by “A Group of the Federation of Armenian Revolutionaries,” criticizing the executive and their poor performance. The organization further weakened when the bourgeoisie executive members, Hovhannes Loris-Melikian and Levon Sarkisian, left the organization. The federation members agreed with the circular and planned the first General (World) Congress in Tiflis in the summer of 1892. In May, both Kristapor and Zavarian returned from exile. Representatives came from Russia, Persia, and Western Armenia. Invitations were sent to the Hnchak and Armenakan parties, but neither responded. In effect, this gathering was the founding congress of a new consolidated party—Hay Heghapokhakan Dashnaktsutiun. Until the First General Meeting the organization had operated centrally, creating confusion within the field workers in various regions. For that reason, and at the urging of Hovnan Davitian, the Congress decentralized the party operations and produced its Tsragir yev Kanonagir (Program and Rules). The official organ of the ARF remained the “Droshak.” (Note: Nos. 1 & 2 were published in Tiflis; Nos. 3 & 4 in Romania; and No. 5 and on in Geneva, until it moved to several other locations.) The General Meeting allowed a second Bureau to form in Persia to work jointly, but independently, with the Tiflis Bureau. The program did not specify the formation of an independent Armenia but stated that the Armenian people wanted autonomy and freedom from oppression and exploitation under Turkish rule in Western Armenia.

The program regarding Western Armenia was further explained in a series of articles under the title “Ayb u Ben” (A and B) in “Droshak” Nos. 5-8, from November 1893 to May 1894, written by Kristapor, Rostom, and Zavarian. They wrote that political independence was not the same as freedom, and that the Armenian people did not demand national independence, but only political and economic freedom to live in peace and freedom from atrocities and tyranny. It was not until the Ninth General Meeting in 1919, when the ARF had already achieved a united and independent Armenia, that the ARF proclaimed that Western Armenia and Eastern Armenia shall be “United and Independent.”

Source: Armenian Weekly
Link: The Founding of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation

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