BELMONT, Mass.—Dr. Dikran Kaligian presented a lecture entitled “The Armenian Revolutionary Federation Under Ottoman Rule, 1908-14,” on Thursday, January 21, 2010, at the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) Center, 395 Concord Ave., Belmont, MA. The lecture was the first of the year for NAASR.
Kaligian is a historian who has taught at Clark University, Regis College, and other institutions, as well as the managing editor of the Armenian Review and a former chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, Eastern U.S. He is the author of Armenian Organization and Ideology Under Ottoman Rule, 1908-1914 (Transaction, 2009), which provides a comprehensive picture of relations between the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) both before and after the CUP reached power in the constitutional revolution of 1908.
Kaligian explained that his reason for undertaking this particular research was that there is a lot of research that has been done on the Armenian Genocide “but the years immediately before are critical…The party that will end up implementing the Armenian Genocide is the CUP,” and yet the CUP had been allied with the Armenians and in particular the ARF. “How do you go from two parties, both revolutionary parties, both working to overthrow Sultan Abdul Hamid, to just a few years later one committing genocide against the people of the other,” Kaligian asked. “That’s the question I wanted to look at.”
An “Armenian Uprising”?
He briefly described the Turkish state-aligned historiography, which generally describes “how there was no genocide and why it was justified,” and places blame for violence against the Armenians, including the 1909 Adana Massacres and the Armenian Genocide, as a natural response to an Armenian uprising. The ARF is often portrayed as leading this uprising and its long-term alliance with the CUP is seen as entirely insincere.
In his book, Kaligian “traces ARF policies and initiatives to answer the important question of whether or not the party and the Armenian community in general largely remained loyal to the constitutional regime and only resumed their appeals to Europe after the government’s repeated failures to implement promised reforms.” Making extensive use of the ARF archives in Watertown, Kaligian was able to give a detailed picture of the inner workings of the party and its internal debates and discussions.
Backtracking to the turn of the 20th century, Kaligian explained, the ARF and Verakazmial Hnchakian Party entered into a dialogue with Turkish opposition groups and both parties took part in the First Congress of Ottoman Opposition Forces in 1902 along with Turkish, Arab, Greek, Kurdish, Albanian, Circassian, and Jewish representatives. At the end of 1907, the Second Congress of Ottoman Opposition Forces met in Paris. This congress resolved to overthrow the Sultan and to restore the Ottoman constitution using radical means, including refusal to pay taxes, propaganda, and armed resistance, if necessary.
When the Sultan was indeed overthrown in 1908 and the Ottoman constitution reimplemented, there was jubilation among all of the opposition parties, including the ARF. The ARF published a program which recognized the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire and called for a federal, decentralized government that would allow a high degree of local autonomy. Parliamentary elections held late in the year brought a multi-ethnic governing body which included 11 Armenians into existence.
However, in the spring of 1909 a counterrevolution temporarily drove the CUP from power and in April 1909 the Adana massacres took place, claiming upwards of 20,000 Arme-nian lives in and near Adana. Kaligian stated that this “created the first major test for ARF-CUP relations,” and the ARF was faced with a decision: to continue or to break off their cooperation with the CUP.
The party, Kaligian explained, had to weigh the degree of CUP culpability in the massacres against the benefits of continuing to work with the CUP toward a true constitutional regime. The party was “torn between solidarity with the progressive elements within the CUP and their revulsion at the murderous acts of its chauvinistic elements.” While the ARF clearly wanted to assist the progressive elements within the CUP, they were forced to gamble on whether Adana was an aberration or a sign of things to come. This, Kaligian said, with their credibility at stake, was “a serious political gamble by the ARF.” The decision made—to con-tinue cooperation under certain conditions—may have been determined partly by self-interest, insofar as the ARF “may not have wanted to admit their policy of cooperation was a failure.”
Although there was heightened distrust after Adana, Kaligian stated, apart from that major incident conditions did, indeed, improve for Armenians under the constitution, with acts of violence substantially decreased. However, less headway was made on the other issue most critical to the ARF, that of land reform. While the CUP never officially retreated from its prom-ises to restore lands confiscated from Armenians under the Sultan and to improve conditions for the peasants, neither did they take any action, ultimately convincing the ARF that their pledges had not been made in good faith. The CUP’s failure to act proved to be a “crippling blow” to relations with the ARF, said Kaligian.
Kaligian explained that in a joint CUP and ARF meeting in Constantinople on April 1, 1911, in response to worsening security conditions “the CUP agreed to take steps to control persecution by having the government arm all villages, Armenian and Kurdish.”
Impatience with Unfulfilled Promises
In the summer of 1911, the ARF held its 6th World Congress, with the main item on the agenda being relations with the CUP. The congress passed a resolution stating, among other things, that “despite a series of hopeful initiatives … the CUP has gradually withdrawn from constitutional and democratic principles” and “failed to take steps to combat and cleanse itself of right-wing elements which, increasing their numbers over time, have developed a preponderant influence.” Therefore, “if, after the party’s appeal, the CUP and the cabinets drawn from it do not show through their deeds that the realization of their repeated promises are imminent, the Western Bureau is authorized to cease its relations with the CUP.”
Kaligian noted that it was not simply a clear case of the CUP’s being uninterested in carrying out promised reforms. The CUP, in fact, was struggling to maintain control and was con-fronted with a series of crises, culminating in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. The year 1912 would be critical for the two parties: disagreements over the parliamentary elections that year, in which the CUP sought to limit the number of potential Armenian elected representatives, combined with ongoing frustration over un-kept promises, led the ARF to break off relations.
In the wake of the Balkan Wars, the European powers sought to place inspectors to oversee the Armenian provinces and institute the promised reforms. Such a measure was bitterly opposed by the CUP and the Ottoman leadership in general. For various reasons, the inspectors did not arrive in Constantinople until May 1914—only months before the outbreak of World War I and too late to have any impact.
With the outbreak of war, Kaligian explained, a final breach came when the CUP offered the ARF a deal it could not accept: t
o organize an uprising among the Armenian population in the Russian Empire (roughly in today’s Republic of Armenia) in exchange for autonomy after the war. The ARF refused, saying that Armenians in Russia would do their duty as Russian subjects and the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire would do their duty as citizens. Talaat Pasha and the CUP leadership seemingly regarded this as a final act of betrayal.
Kaligian ended his presentation with the outbreak of World War I. Following his lecture there was a lengthy discussion period and he signed copies of Armenian Organization and Ide-ology Under Ottoman Rule, 1908-1914.
More information about the lecture is available by calling 617-489-1610, faxing 617-484-1759, e-mailing [email protected], or writing to NAASR, 395 Concord Ave., Belmont, MA 02478.