An Armenian Source: Hovhannes Katchaznouni
The Manifesto of Hovhannes Katchaznouni, First Prime Minister of the Independent Armenian Republic. Translated from the original by Matthew A. Callender, Edited by John Roy Carlson (Arthur A. Derounian). Published by the Armenian Information Service Suite 7D, 471 Park Ave. New York 22 – 1955.
This is a summary of an important book, entitled “The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnagtzoutiun) Has Nothing To Do Any More.
The author is Hovhannes Katchaznouni (1), the first Prime Minister of the independent Armenian Republic. It is actually a manifesto, which he had presented to the Convention of foreign branches of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation convened in April 1923 in Bucharest, Romania. Convinced that the questions raised there would be subject to serious consideration of, not only the members of the Dashnag (Dashnak) Party, but also of other Armenians as well, Hovhannes Katchaznouni thought it was his duty to have the manifesto published and thereby made public property.
The Armenian version of the book was published in Vienna by the Mihitarian Press in the year 1923. The English version appeared in New York in 1955 through the Armenian Information Service. It was translated from the original by Matthew A Callender and edited by John Roy Carlson (Arthur A. Derounian).
One small detail worthy of remark is the fact that it is rather difficult, even impossible, to find it nowadays in the libraries of the world. On account of what the former Prime Minister says of the Dashnag experience, it is quite possible that certain Armenian circles prefer it to be dropped from the list of acquisitions of libraries. In some libraries it appears in the card cataloques, but cannot be found in the stacks.
In his “Introduction” to the English version, the editor states that «historical truth cannot be subverted forever” and that “however hard Dashnag propagandists may try to twist and bury the truth and glorify the failure of their Independent Armenian Republic, truth must eventually prevail.” He rightfully presents the author as “a pillar of the Dashnagtzoutiun.» He adds that “few were in a position to know more, nor to express themselves with greater clarity, logic and foresight than Hovhannes Katchaznouni.” (p. 3)
The English version is a condensation of Katchaznouni’s parting words to the Dashnags. The first seven-and-a-half pages are “translated verbatim”, but from there on, the text is only “excerpts of his arguments.” (p.8) Apparently, the Armenian version is the complete text. As well expressed by the editor, “Katchaznouni’s work is a basic source of Dashnag history.” (p. 3) Therefore, this booklet will mainly quote or restate the arguments of the author and thus make available to the reader a publication now difficult to find.
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During its two-and-a-half years of existence, the independent Armenian Republic had four prime ministers and seven cabinets. Hovhannes Katchaznouni was the Premier of the First Cabinet, in which A. Manoogian served as the Minister of the Interior, A. Khatissian the Minister of Foreign Affairs, A. Hakhverdian the Minister of War and K. Gardjigian the Minister of Finance.
Katchaznouni had given “deliberate and serious consideration” (p. 4) to the matters that he discussed at the Convention. He asked the party members to “approach the matters with an open mind.” In an attempt to give a concise commentary from the beginning of the First World War to the Lausanne Conference, he formulated the initial attitude of the Armenian bands in the following words :
“At the beginning of the Fall of 1914 when Turkey had not yet entered the war but had already been making preparations, Armenian revolutionary bands began to be formed in Transcaucasia with great enthusiasm and, with especially, much uproar. Contrary to the decision taken during their general meeting at Erzurum only a few weeks before, the A.R.F. had [actively participated] in the formation of the bands and their future military action against Turkey.
“In an undertaking of such gravity, fraught with most serious consequences, individual agents of the Transcaucasian A.R.F. acted against the will of our superior authority, against the will of the General Meeting of the Party… In the Fall of 1914 Armenian volunteer bands organized themselves and fought against the Turks because they could not refrain from organizing and fighting. This was (in) [sic.] an inevitable result of a psychology on which the Armenian people had nourished itself during an entire generation: that mentality should have found its expression, and did so.” (p. 5)
Katchaznouni believes that “the formation of bands was wrong” and that the Armenians had participated in that movement to the greatest extent “contrary to the decision and the will of the General Meeting of the Party.” He wrote that the Armenians “had embraced Russia whole heartedly without any compunction.” (p. 6) He declares :
“We had created a dense atmosphere of illusion in our minds. We had implanted our own desires into the minds of others ; we had lost our sense of reality and were carried away with our dreams. Attention was called to some kind of a letter by Vorontzov-Dashkov to the Catholicos… with…generalities which might be interpreted in any manner…”
Katchaznouni says that they had “overestimated the ability of the Armenian people.” This is, of course, in the sense of “political and military power… the extent and importance of the services [the Armenians] rendered to the Russians.” He adds : “And by overestimating our very modest worth and merit we were naturally exaggerating our hopes and expectations.” He admits that the cause of the Dashnags was “an incidental and trivial phase for the Russians.” (p. 7) They had drawn such conclusions as though the Armenian issue was “the center of gravity of the Great War, its cause and purpose.” He declares : “When the Russians were advancing, we used to say from the depths of our subconscious mind that they were coming to save us.”
Katchaznouni also asserts, however, that one of the main aspects of what he calls Armenian “national psychology… [is] to seek external causes for [Armenian ] misfortune.” He says: “One might think we found a spiritual consolation in the conviction that the Russians behaved villainously towards us (later it would be the turn of the French, the Americans, the British, the Georgians, Bolsheviks -the whole world- to be so blamed.)” (p. 8)
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The territory of the Armenian Republic was formerly a part of one of the outlying provinces of the Tsarist Russian Empire, namely Transcaucasia. Following the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in the Spring of 1917, the then Provisional Government of Kerensky created there a special administrative body called the Commissariat of Transcaucasia. When the Bolsheviks overthrew the Kerensky government, the Commissariat declared itself on November 28, 1917 to be the supreme authority there. In February 1918, the Seim, or the legislative assembly of Transcaucasia convened in Tiflis, accepted the resignation of the Commissariat and created in its place a temporary government. On April 22, 1918, the Federal Democratic Republic of Transcaucasia was formed. The three principal peoples of Transcaucasia were the Azerbaijanis, the Georgians and the Armenians. The federal republic lasted about five weeks ; on May 26, 1918, it was terminated. Georgia declared its independence the same day, and Azerbaijan and Armenia followed, two days later. The Treaty of Batum was signed on June 4, 1918 between Turkey and the Transcaucasian Republics. Armenia was based upon a republican form of government. It had a legislative branch, consisting of an elected Parliament and an executive branch, which was the Cabinet. It did not have a President, whose powers were exercised in part by the Parliament and in part by the Cabinet.
Sovereignty resided in an 80 member Parliament of one house, composed of representatives from the four political parties. Voting was direct and secret, and the elections were based on the system of proportional representation. The Cabinet was composed of eight ministers. The Prime Minister, elected by the Parliament, was at the head of the government. He designated the ministers, but presented them for the approval of the Parliament, to which the Cabinet as a whole was responsible.
Katchaznouni says, in his book, however, that “this was the form. But the reality was otherwise.” (p. 8) In a Memorandum, dated October 28, 1919, to the United States Government, the same Katchaznouni had described the Armenian Republic as a democracy. (2) Later in the book, he concludes : “ln practice our Party tended to subject to itself, to control, the legislative body and the government. We did not have the courage, nor the ability to declare an open dictatorship…There was no Parliament ; it was an empty form without content. The problems of state were being discussed and solved behind closed doors… In reality, there was not even a parliamentary faction, because this latter was under the very strict supervision of the Dashnag Bureau and was obliged to carry out its orders. There was not a government either. This, also, was subject to the Bureau ; it was a kind of executive body for the Bureau in the state.” (pp. 8-9)
The Parliament of the independent Armenian Republic opened on August 1, 1919. It looked like a body composed of the people’s representatives. Katchaznouni writes : “…It was strange and disheartening that 72 out of 80 members were Dashnags, with only four members from the other parties. There was no opposition party to act as a check… It was not a Parliament, but a caricature of a Parliament.” (p. 9) The Party Bureau had “replaced the Parliament with its own dictatorial rule.”
The fifth Cabinet under A. Khadissian had resigned and the sixth under H.Ohanchanian was formed on the orders of the Bureau. The latter presented the already prepared list of ministers to the Parliament, which was indefinitely recessed. Katchaznouni sums up : “The Armenian Parliament had given a dictatorial government to the Dashnagtzoutiun – to the Bureau.»
The war between the Turks and the Armenians broke out in the Fall of 1920. The crushed Turkey of 1918 was no more. Atatürk’s British biographer writes : “[Mustafa Kemâl’s] foreign policy was based not on expansion but on retraction of frontiers ; his home policy on the foundation of a political system which could survive his own time. It was in this realistic spirit that he regenerated his country, transforming the old sprawling Ottoman Empire into a compact new Turkish Republic.” (3) The Turks formed a representative government in Ankara at the same time the Dashnags were trying to do the same in the Caucasus. The Ankara experiment was a novelty in many ways. The idea of representative government and republic was ever present in Mustafa Kemâl’s mind. As early as the second constitutional regime (1908), he believed in eradicating the Sultanate.
Several Turkish memoirs reveal his early statements while on duty in Salonica (his birthplace) and later in Aleppo (Syria), on the dire necessity to establish a republican form of government. (4)
Considering the conditions prevalent at the end of the First World War, an independent Turkish state, based on national sovereignty, seemed to be the only alternative to the newly-dismembered Ottoman Empire. The old capital was occupied, the former members of the Union and Progress had fled and the Sultan was powerless. A new government had to be formed ; its task necessitated the active support of the people at large ; and success depended upon the nation’s democratic participation in the struggle. Apart from the theoretical considerations, republicanism seemed the only practical alternative. The new Ankara government was based on the republican régime even before the official proclamation on October 29, 1923.
In the newly-established government in Ankara, there was no higher authority than the Grand National Assembly, any member of which could pose questions and cross-examine, not only the government members, but Mustafa Kemâl himself -even on his tactical military moves. (5) This right of scrunity, this resolute interrogation, this solemn canvassing was not mere theory ; discussion and perusal were the order of the day even in the most critical hours. Mustafa Kemâl, as Speaker of the Grand National Assembly and as acting Commander-in-Chief, was replying to questions even on minute details when the roar of enemy artillery could be heard from the assembly hall.
On the war with Turkey , Katchaznouni says:
“The war with us was inevitable… We had not done all that was necessary for us to have done to evade war. We ought to have used peaceful language with the Turks…We had no information about the real strength of the Turks and relied on ours. This was the fundamental error. We were not afraid of war because we thought we could win… When the skirmishes had started the Turks proposed that we meet and confer. We did not do so and defied them. Our army was well fed and well armed and [clothed] but it did not fight. The troops were constantly retreating and deserting their positions ; they threw away their arms and dispersed in the villages. Our army was demoralized during the period of internal strife, the inane destruction and the pillage that went [on] without punishment. It was demoralized and tired. The system of roving bands, which was especially encouraged by the Bureau government, was destroying the unity of the military organization…” (pp. 9-10)
In spite of the fact that the Armenians had better material and better support, their armies lost. Although Armenian politicians and writers had, for years, criticized the Ottoman Government for not making military service obligatory for the Armenians, there were no Moslems in the army of the Armenian Republic. (6) And the advancing Turks fought only against the regular soldiers ; they did not carry the battle to the civilian sector.
Edward Fox, the American District Commander at Kars, in a telegram, dated October 31, 1920, (7) to Admiral Bristol, the U.S. High Commissioner in Istanbul, wrote that the Americans were continuing their work of looking after the Armenian children as before, that the Turkish soldiers were well-disciplined and that there had not been any massacres. Such missionary and philanthropic establishments protected only the children of Armenians, and never the thousands of Turkish children, who had become orphans on account of Armenian massacres of their parents and families.(8)
When on November 2, 1920, the armies of Kâzim Karabekir Pasha reached Gümrü (Alexandropol, now Leninakan), the Bureau-government presented its resignation. Simultaneously, within a few hours of each other, while one Dashnag delegation headed by the retiring Prime Minister was negotiating with the Soviets, another Dashnag delegation led by a former Prime Minister negotiated with the Turks It was decided that those who negotiated should be new men. A government under Simon Vratzian was formed.
Talks with the Turks led to the Treaty of Gümrü (9), signed on December 2, 1920. It states that the Turkish and the Armenian Governments, “for the purpose of putting an end to the hostilities and to find a basis of agreement, have sat down for an examination of the facts.” Kâzim Karabekir Pasha (Commander on the Eastern Front) on behalf of the Turks, and Alexander Khadissian (Prime Minister) on behalf of the Armenians, participated.
The discussions resulted in the following agreement : The state of war between Turkey and the Armenian Republic was to be ended. The frontier between Turkey and Armenia was established. The territories designated for Turkey were to remain as such “by irrefutable historical, ethnic and legal rights.” The two parties agreed to the return of refugees across the old boundaries, with the exception of those who, during the First World War, went over to the enemy’s army and those who crossed occupied territories and participated in massacres. Those claims of the refugees who do not return within one year after the ratification of the Treaty would not be heard. The two parties agreed “to forego their rights to ask for damages.” They had thus closed the doors forever for reparations. The cancellation of damages also included the great expenses of Turkey incurred during two years because of the urgency of the war it had to wage against Armenia. The Yerevan Government declared the Treaty of Sèvres null and void. It promised to recall “delegations who have been tools in the hands of the imperialist countries” and to keep away from such men “who are after imperialist aims.” Armenia agreed to consider null and void all treaties signed by the Armenian Republic with any country that related to Turkey or were harmful to Turkish interests.
In the meantime, the Armenian Bolsheviks entered Itchevan and Dilijan.
“Was there an understanding between the Bolsheviks and the Turks ?” asks Katchaznouni and replies : “In our ranks that conviction was widespread. I think, however, that it was wrong. The plot of the Bolsheviks was not the reason of our defeat, nor the power of the Turks… but our own [ineptitude] ! Of course the Bolsheviks benefited from our defeat and that was very natural, but it was not essential that they should have come to an understanding with the Turks for that purpose.” (p. 11 )
The day the Vratzian government signed an agreement with the Turks, it resigned and relinquished power to the Bolsheviks. Katchaznouni says:
“The Bolsheviks entered Armenia without meeting any resistance. This was the decision of our Party. There were two reasons for acting this way : first, we could not resist even if we wanted to… ; second, we hoped that the Soviet authorities, backed by Russia, would be able to introduce some order in the state -a thing which we, all alone, had failed to do, and it was very plain already that we would not be able to do. It was our desire to let the Bolsheviks rule the country without any obstruction, to remain loyal to the new government, to cooperate with their useful work.” (p.11)
The decision was, of course, not unanimous. There were some who opposed the Bolsheviks, “even though defeat was inevitable.” Their number was small and when their proposal was refused, they left the country. There was another minority, a so-called “Leftist Dashnags”, whom the Bolsheviks distrusted and discarded. But in a final effort to displace the Soviets, the Dashnags staged on February 18, 1921, a counter-revolt against them. Simon Vratzian, the last Prime Minister, sent the following note, dated March 18, 1921, to Bahaeddin Bey, Turkey’s representative in Yerevan :
“Please forward the present request promptly to your high authorities…The Armenian Government requests the Government of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, that… it… give the Armenian army some ammunition… [and] communicate with us, if the Government of the Grand National Assembly finds it possible to send military aid to Armenia, and if able to do so, to what extend and when ?…” (p.24)
The Ankara Government did not help the Dashnags, and the Soviets ejected them from Armenian soil in April 1921. Vratzian sought asylum in Iran, where he set out for Europe via Istanbul, finally became a U.S. citizen and died in Beirut. (10)
Katchaznouni implores : “What had been our diplomatic activity with the outer world… and what were the results ?” (p. 12). In the Spring of 1919, the Paris Delegation of the Armenian Republic, jointly with the Delegation of Turkish Armenians, presented a Memorandum of Armenian demands to the Peace Conference. According to that memorandum, the frontiers of the Armenian State would include : the Caucasian Republic with enlarged territory, including Kars ; the seven Ottoman provinces in Eastern and Southern Anatolia (namely, Van, Bitlis, Diyarbakir, Harput, Sivas, Erzurum and Trabzon) ; and the four sanjaks of Cilicia (Maras, Sis, Cebel-i Bereket and Adana) plus Alexandretta. It is instructive to read Katchaznouni’s evaluation of the Armenian demands in respect to frontiers:
“A vast state was being organized and demanded -a great Armenia from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, from the mountains of Karabagh to the Arabian Desert, [From] where did that imperial, amazing demand emanate ?. How did it happen that our Delegation signed [the] ‘from Sea to Sea’ demand ? It was told that they did not demand those fascinating frontiers, the Turkish Armenians (through their National Delegation) would sever their cause from that of the ‘Republic of Ararat’ and will apply to the powers accordingly. Our delegation was also told that America would not accept a mandate over a small Armenia but would accept one over a ‘from Sea to Sea’ Armenia. The Paris Memorandum, of course, thrilled us. A kind of mentality was created according to which the drawing of frontiers on paper actually gave us those territories. To doubt it was a treachery.” (p, 12)
Then followed, in the words of Katchaznouni, “the rude awakening”. The Treaty of Sevres, signed on August 10, 1920, which could not have been enforced on the Turks, had to be abandoned, Lord Kinross writes that it was “an early product of that ‘circus’ of Allied conferences which followed the signatures of the Treaty of Versailles.” (11) The Ottoman Empire was broken-up into a series of small states and foreign spheres of interest, Turkey was to lose, not only Arab possessions (to which she was already resigned), but also the Greeks were to receive the whole of Thrace, Smyrna and its hinterland as well as eight Aegean islands (the Dodecanese going to Italy). Apart from an independent Armenia, much of Anatolia was partitioned into French and Italian zones of influence. The Turkish Straits being placed under international control, Istanbul had become a mere enclave of European-occupied territory. The hated Capitulations were extended and Turkey’s finances were to be directed by the Allies. Turkey itself was to become an inland state, with a shadow of a sovereignty. The Turkish army was to be a token force under foreign supervision, and even the limited gendarmerie would be officered by foreigners. When the Greeks advanced along the shores of the Sea of Marmara, the enthusiastic British Prime Minister Lloyd George thought that the Turks were beaten and “fleeing with their forces towards Mecca (sic).” When “Ankara” corrected his Foreign Secretary, Lloyd George replied : “Lord Curzon is good enough to admonish me on a triviality.” (12) The British Premier, who was ignorant of basic knowledge in terms of Turkish geography, pretended to be a driving force in the partition of the country.
The Treaty of Sevres was obsolete even before it was ready for signature. The Allied Conferences, with continuous rounds of entertainment, had no way of reinforcing the grant of an independent Armenian state by any form of military action. Nor could any country under a Mandate. When President Wilson announced that he was ready to arbitrate on its frontiers, the “award” had no relation whatsoever to realities. The Treaty of Gümrü, the first international agreement to be contracted by the Ankara Government, restored to Turkey its traditional eastern frontier along the banks of the Rivers Aras and Arpacay. The Bolsheviks, who had defeated Wrangel’s army, entered Erevan, without a shot fired. The Ankara Government and Soviet Russia signed the Treaty of Moscow on March 16, 1921, 13 drawing a line across the map which survives as the boundary between the two neighbours today. This is the frontier that is here to stay. The Treaty of Kars, 14 dated October 13, 1921, ratified generally the provisions of the Moscow Treaty. Repeating the territorial clauses regarding the North-eastern boundary of Turkey, it reaffirmed the establishment of the Nakhichevan under the sovereignty of Azerbaijan. Appendix 1 of the Treaty of Kars describes the boundary line between Soviet Georgia, Soviet Armenia, Nakhichevan and Turkey. On December 30, 1922, all three Transcaucasian Soviet Republics merged into the Soviet Union.
What were the reactions of some Armenians to these inevitable developments? Katchaznouni writes : “… There were the usual complaints that the powers were unfair, did not appreciate us and did not compensate us according to what we deserved.” (p. 13) It is common knowledge that the Treaty of Lausanne signed on July 24, 1923, replaced the Treaty of Sevres. While the French signed with the Ankara Government an agreement on October 20, 1921 (which amounted to something like a separate peace between Turkey and France) and the U.S. Senate turned down a Mandate (whose frontiers drawn by President Wilson had not satisfied the Armenians), Chicherin (according to Katchaznouni) “offered in the name of [the] Soviet Russia to locate the Armenians of Turkey in [the] Crimea, on the shores of [the] Volga [and] in Siberia.” (p. 13)
Katchaznouni enquires at this point “Was the arrival of the Bolsheviks a calamity for our country ?” He retorts : “The Bolsheviks are necessary in Armenia… There is no other force that could take their place. This is the truth.” (p. 14) He adds:
“We had exhausted all our resources, had come to an impasse as government and as Party in the Fall of 1920. Had the Bolsheviks delayed their arrival, we ourselves would have asked them to come…”
Katchaznouni concludes that the “European cities are full of emigrant malcontents of all kinds who publish newspapers, write books, call protest meetings…” He ends his book, saying : “It is here that I shall state the very grave word, which I know will embarrass you but which must be said at last and said simply, without concealment or attenuation : “The Armenian Revolutionary Federation has nothing to do any more.” He proposed “dissolution of the party”, having nothing else to do anymore “neither at the present time, nor in the future” (p. 16). After a trip to the United States of America, Katchaznouni himself returned to Armenia and spent his last years there.
(1) – Also spelled as Hovanness Kadjaznouni.
(2) – “A Memorandum on the Recognition of the Government of the Independent Republic of Armenia”, The Armenian Review, Boston. Vol. XXI. No 2-82 (Summer 1968), pp-10 11.
(3) – Lord Kinross Ataturk : the Rebirth of a Nation, Nicosia. Rustem, 1981, p. xvii.
(4) – Anil Cecen Ataturk ve Cumhuriyet, Ankara, Türkiye Is Bankasi. 1981.
(5) – Seref Gözübüyük and Zekâi Sezgin, 1924 Anayasasi Hakkindaki Meclis Görüsmeleri, Ankara Siyasal Bilgiler Fakültesi, 1957.
(6) – The Armenian Review, op. cit., p 11.
(7) – Kâzim Karabekir, Istiklal Harbimiz, Istanbul, Türkiye Yayinevi,1960, pp. 897-898.
(8) – Ibid. pp. 914-915;
(9) – T.C. Kültür Bakanligi, Atatürk’ün Milli Dis Politikasi. 1919- 1923,Vol I, Ankara, Eroglu Matbaacilik, 1981, pp. 517-528.
(10) – Richard G. Hovannisian. “Simon Vratzian and Armenian Nationalism», The Armenian Review, Boston. Vol. XXIII, No.1 89 (Spring 1970), pp. 3-35.
(11) – Kinross, op. cit., p. 231.
(12) – Ibid., p 234.
(13) – Atatürk’ün Milli Dis Politikasi, op. cit., pp 536-554.
(14) – Ibid., pp 555-579.