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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