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Worth a read August 2010 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 September 8, 2010 By Eddie Arnavoudian FINANCING THE ARMENIAN REVOLUTION Though its title suggests comprehensive treatment, Hovik Grigorian's valuable essay on `The Problems of Arming and Financing the Armenian Liberation Struggle' (pp113, 2004, Yerevan) deals primarily with the most controversial fund raising exercise undertaken by the Armenian National Liberation Movement's (ANLM). To finance the military and political defence of the brutally savaged Armenian peasant and artisan in Ottoman occupied historic Armenia, for about five years up to 1908 the ANLM resorted to a programme of forced taxation of unwilling Armenian elites settled comfortably in the Diaspora far from the misery of the people in the homeland. Grigorian handles what is a vexed question with confidence and intelligence. He neither glorifies nor vilifies. Neither does he brush under the carpet the threats, the violence, the terror and executions involved or that plague of criminals who parading as ANLM cadre robbed for personal gain. Nevertheless, he manages to convince the reader that the resort to this extraordinary form of financing was dictated by objective circumstances and undertaken, at least in the case of the ARF leadership, as a last resort. Confronted by an increasingly destructive Ottoman assault on the Armenian population in historic Armenia, the rapid acquisition of funds to pay for defensive weapons, ammunition and their transportation was a matter of life and death. Routine methods had proved utterly inadequate. From where then were resources to be obtained? Believing it represented the interests of the whole nation irrespective of class, the ANLM turned to those who had the means, to the Armenian elites in Istanbul, Smyrna, Tbilisi, Baku, and beyond. Fed by the example of Balkan liberation movements that had been sustained by `dedicated and patriotic representatives' of `a wealthy stratum of society' the Armenian movement `in its early stages' Grigorian notes, also had `great expectations from the Armenian wealthy'. Armenian hopes however were to be rapidly and rudely dashed. Where the funding, and not just the funding, of Armenian liberation struggle in the homeland was concerned the Diaspora rich proved to be stubborn refusniks. By and large they saw little if anything in common between themselves and the common people in Armenia. Leading figures in the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and the Social Democrat Hnchak Party (SDHP) testify to the elite's miserable indifference. ARF founder member and theoretician Kristapor Mikaelyan is particularly scathing: `Why get enraged only at Europe's indifference? Throughout the year what did the Armenian do.... (They) had heard the cries of the starving, the wailing of the orphans, (they had) heard their brothers' pleas for guns and bread? What did the Armenian bourgeois do, the Armenian youth, the intelligentsia, the well-to-do and thinking segment of the Armenian people?' (p41) Despite `its empty coffers' the Turkish state still secured the means to fund the `stationing of (its) armed forces' in the very centres of Armenian resistance, in Van, Zeitun and Sassoon. The wealthy and privileged Armenian in contrast did nothing, `not because it could not' but `because it does not want to.' (p42) Grigorian adds that in what was `co-ordinated resistance' to ANLM demands for financial aid, the Armenian rich repeatedly `betrayed revolutionaries' to the Ottoman and Tsarist police and torturers. The ANLM had not reckoned with the Diaspora physiognomy of the Armenian elite. The roots of this elite parsimony rested in the absence of a decisive structural relationship between it on the one hand and the Armenian homeland and its native peasant and artisan on the other. The elite's home, its sources of wealth, its needs and its interests were located in and shaped by the foreign imperial states and their trading networks. With virtually no presence or interests in the homeland it had nothing of its own to defend there and therefore developed no instinct or reason to concern itself with the plight of the oppressed common people inhabiting the land. For the concerns of Armenia proper the Armenian rich felt no need to open their money bags. The plight of the common people at home concerned it hardly ever. At best the homeland was a readily available pool for cheap labour for elite businesses in Baku, Tbilisi or Constantinople. Where the Armenian elite did have direct interests that were threatened as was the case in the Caucuses the situation was very different. Tbilisi and Baku with their substantial Armenian communities were pockmarked with the mansions, trading depots and oil fields of the Armenian rich. There during the 1905 Armenian-Azeri clashes the Armenian elite readily availed itself of the ANLM's defensive capabilities and where necessary financed and enthusiastically so. The `eastern Armenian rich', Grigorian writes `proved relatively generous in its contribution to the defence of Armenians in the Caucuses'. This he adds `was quite natural' given the elite's understanding that here it `was also defending its own (Diaspora-based) life and wealth'. Historically, therefore it is not at all surprising that the Armenian elites based primarily in the Diaspora have consistently opposed themselves to the needs of its own people based in the homeland. The Diaspora merchants and traders were in effect not a national class or if so only in a deformed and distorted way, a fact noted by Mikael Nalpantian as early as the 1850s. The Armenian merchant and trading class, he wrote: `do not represent anything national and have absolutely no relation to Armenia's national interest...Armenian merchants are essentially servants of European powers...and let me be frank, people called merchants are in reality only intermediaries servicing others rather than their own people.' But as conditions at home deteriorated, the revolutionary movement had little choice but to squeeze funds from the Diaspora Armenian wealthy. According to Grigorian it appears to have done so with some success. Judging from figures he cites substantial funds were indeed secured and directed to areas of great need. In the case of the forced taxation campaign it could be argued that through the agency of the ANLM, the common people forcibly imposed its own interests upon the reluctant Diaspora elite. One could suggest even that in distorted fashion this represented a form of class conflict for by means of force the ANLM appropriated a portion of the Diaspora elite's profits to pay for the defence not of elite interests but those of the common people. The ANLM of course, as with most national liberation movements, was able to thus directly represent the majority only at certain points. Historically it too fell under the sway of its national elite and proved incapable of rising above the deforming effects of the elite's Diaspora configuration. So manifest, at the very core of the ANLM's dominant political vision and strategy was dependence and reliance upon and subordination to the imperialist states so characteristic of the Diaspora elite. Like the Armenian elites, the dominant wing of the ANLM also felt it had no need for independent political action. After the 1895-96 massacres that delivered a further devastating blow to the social and economic pillars of national development in historic Armenia, dependence on foreign powers was underlined and took the ANLM's focus further away from the organisation and defence of the masses in the homeland. With disastrous consequence this dependence stretched to an alliance with the Young Turks, the most pernicious representatives of the worst of Turkish imperialist nationalism. In setting the context for his discussion Grigorian engages in a sound polemic against an important axis of the Turkish falsification of ANLM history. With cogent quotation he shows that the ANLM received no financial aid from any of the imperial powers then seeking inroads into the decaying Ottoman Empire. Whilst liberation movements in the Balkans secured material, political and military assistance, from Tsarist Russia in particular, the Armenian received nothing and was in addition consistently undermined, shunned and betrayed. In an important reminder Grigorian shows also that the ANLM felt it important to allocate resources to counter the Ottoman state's lucratively funded global anti-Armenian propaganda campaign. In Europe, Abdul Hamid, the Red Sultan, spent millions on mendacious vilification. The same enthusiastic Turkish state financing of falsification continues to this day. To its shame the Armenian state and elite does nothing effective to counter this. -- 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.