General Andranik: "Alas, my task remained unfinished..."
"The fact that we Armenians have a heroic past and have stood the test of time as nation we wholeheartedly owe to the well-remembered and immortal hero Andranik." (Albert Gasparyan, "Sovetakan Hayastan" news-writer, August, 1971)
Almost all the Armenians know about the national hero and national liberation movement leader Andranik Ozanyan. He is one of those people owing to who the Armenians are perceived not only as long-suffering people that have survived the genocide but also people who have fought heroic battles against the Turkish forces who were in large excess over. The history of Andranik's life is the struggle of the Armenian for the restoration of his rights and dignity.
Andranik was born on February 25, 1865; it was the period when the boiling point of the Armenians living under the Sultan oppression was approaching its tragic ending. Living in constant harassment for several centuries as afterthought people deprived of rights for even simple self-defense, they finally started to secretly coordinate their forces by giving rise to the national liberation movement.
In 1885 a revolutionary movement commenced in Shapin Garahisar; Andranik's hometown. Living from a young age in fear awaiting the following massacres and plunders Andranik was one of the first to join the secret group that taught the youth self-defense techniques in case the Kurds or the Turks attacked.
In 1895 Andranik gained his first experience as a fedayeen by joining Serob Aghbyur's detachment; one of the most prominent Armenian revolutionary and fighter of all time. At first Andranik remained in the background and did carrier's job, helping the more experienced fedayeen. He recalled that the day when he was finally trusted to carry arms was the happiest day in his life. It was an old rifle. "After that it did not matter what kind of weapon I carried — it did not give me the same quiver", he said.
Over the years the significance of Andranik's individuality increased so much in the eyes of his comrade-fedayeen, that after the tragic death of Serob Aghbyur he was elected as the new leader. The ARF Dashnak party leader, famous writer Mikayel Vardanyan said: "Andranik who was no less courageous and clever as Serob Aghbyur, was intelligent and had strong intuition. Congenial strategic thinker, he remembered by heart all the mountains and valleys of his motherland, he was a unique and insuperable leader and commander. He was brave but at the same time cautious and longsighted."
Owing to the vigorous activities of Andranik and his fedayeen the Kurdish and Turkish bandits felt no more unpunished and the systematic plunders and massacres of the Armenian population were degraded. However this is not to say that the Turkish authorities had abandoned the policy of oppressing the Christian population; they simply switched to cunning tactics.
In 1901 the Turkish authorities imposed on the Armenians of Mush to feed and maintain the armed refugee Muslims resettled from the Caucasus. And, as if it was not enough, the property of the Armenians was confiscated and given to them. The Armenian patriarch of Constantinople Maghakia Ormanyan appealed the Armenians for patience, "be loyal to the government." The Russian consul in Mush promised to help if the Armenians accepted Orthodox faith. The Armenian peasants in despair started to accuse the fedayeen for not starting full-scale revolution. But the revolution required years of preparation.
On these critical days, at the beginning of his revolutionary career, Andranik rose to the occasion with a plan so bald and daring that it would amaze his friends and foes and keep everyone in the country with suspense for weeks...
He gathered together a detachment of thirty fedayeen and barricaded himself in the nearby monastery of the Holy Apostles in Mush right under the noses of Ottoman military commanders and tossed a challenge to them to fight. This step played for high stakes: his carrier as a revolutionary, his reputation as a leader and of course his life!
While Andranik was fighting in the monastery, two individuals in the custody in the prison of Mush: an Armenian named Sako from Sev-Kar and a Kurd from Jibran were placing a bet. The Kurd said to the Armenian:
— Sako I think Andranik pasha will escape the monastery.
Sako was skeptical:
— How can he get out of the monastery alive when six thousand Turkish soldiers have besieged the area?
— Sako, — said the Kurd, — if Andranik does not get out alive, I shall give you one of my horses. If he gets out alive, what will you give me?
— I have nothing except for my saz (musical instrument), — said the Armenian. — But when I am discharged and I go to Russia, I will send you a nice present.
When the news that Andranik and the fedayeen got out alive from the monastery spread among the prisoners in Mush, the Kurd hurried to Sako and said:
— Sako! Sako! Didn't I say that Andranik would get out alive?
— Aga (a title of respect), how did you know it?
— Sako, Andranik pasha has been around here for many years. Have you ever heard that he did some injustice? If God won't save such a man, whom will He save?
The battle of the Holy Apostle's Monastery is one of the most heroic and incredibly courageous exploits of Andranik's revolutionary career. With that remarkable and extremely daring feat, Andranik wanted to reflect a glimmer of hope on the hopelessly depressed Armenian people, showing that everything is not lost after all.
In 1904 the uprising of Sasun; one of the largest uprisings against the Turkish oppression broke out. A total of one thousand Armenians (200 fedayeen, the rest were the local residents) withstood the 17 thousand army of the Turks and the Kurds. The swords withstood the main guns. Armenians kept the stiff upper lip for months and even won in several battles. The only reason for the defeat was the lack of weapons and ammunition. The victory of the Turks was accompanied by a mass slaughter and an attempt to eradicate the Armenian population from Sasun.
This drove Andranik to abyss of despair. Although he was already a celebrated personality and a hero for Armenians, however after the suppression of the self defense of Sasun by the Turks Andranik decided to leave Western Armenia. In an interview with teacher-intellectual Hovhannes Guloglyan he said that the experience of the Sasun uprising convinced him of four things:
— that the Armenian revolutionary movement was ineffective;
— that the sacrifices that demanded the revolution was too heavy for people;
— that the Armenian revolutionary movement had no chances of success without the support of the foreign super powers
— and the support of the foreign super powers was only an excuse for the latter to pursue their own interests.
While abroad, in Bulgaria Andranik wrote a book called "Military Instructions" and in the end of the book he addressed a speech to the Armenian youth:
"In the two years since I joined the Diaspora, I have not seen Armenian youth coming together to train themselves in fighting and the use of a gun. It breaks my heart to say this. You witnessed how the sword of the enemy drenched our motherland with blood and forced us to bow down to its will and submit to its cruelties.
Experience has shown that, in order to protect ourselves and to survive — be it in Turkey, Persia, or Caucasia — we have no other alternative but to arm and train ourselves to fight. A man is not born a hero or a warrior. It is only through the use of a gun that he develops in him the ability to fight and survive. It is not me who is urging you, brother Armenians of the Diaspora. It is the call of the motherland, the call of our martyrs and heros who spilled their blood on the soil and rocks of our land. They are calling you to action and vengeance!"
In Bulgaria Andranik lived in a small way and isolated. His company were solely the memories from the past. Every second or third Saturday he was sailing by boat to Varna to attend the liturgy and listen to music in the Armenian St. Sarkis church. He never left the church unless he listened to "Orhnial egheruk" ("Be Blessed"), kissed the hand of the priest and the Bible that he held in his hands.
The matter is that Andranik was against the "Caucasus plan" according to which Armenians ought to take up the struggle against the Russian czarist regime and build socialism in the Caucasus and throughout Russia: "This will loosen our struggle for the liberation in the motherland (in Western Armenia). We have too many enemies; do not make Russia one of them."
Another issue concerned the transportation of the weapon in the Ottoman Empire. Andranik considered that the secret ammunition stores of the revolutionaries must be located in an inconspicuous rural area and not in Van; the biggest city of Vaspurakan, where the government could trace their whereabouts. Andranik warned the congress: "Sooner or later the government will get to ammunition stores."
One of the members of the party Aram Manukyan (future leader of the Republic of Armenia), who had no military experience, argued against Andranik's standing. When the question was put to voting, Congress endorsed Aram's view. Once again Andranik had the feeling that he would not be able to prevent the inevitable losses due to the superficial approach of his comrades towards the political and military issues.
Andranik believed that the liberation of Western Armenia ought to be top priority for the revolutionary organization. In the early days the ARF did indeed stand for this standpoint, however at the Fourth General Congress it changed its main focus. By expanding the scope of its revolutionary activities from the Turkish Armenia to the Caucasus the ARF was trying to simultaneously fight against the tyrannical governments of Sultan Abdul Hamid II and czar Nikolai II. Andranik was against the socialistic focus of the party as for him the liberation of Turkish Armenians took precedence over all other problems and ideologies. To all the arguments in favor or against the socialism Andranik replied: "For God's Sake, let's free people first!"
It is known that Dashnak party cooperated with the Young Turks hoping that with the help of them Sultan Abdul Hamid II would be dethroned. Andranik had absolutely no trust in the Turks regardless their affiliation: whether Ottoman, Young Turk or Kemal.
Soon the Dashnak leaders had to remember what Andranik had said at the Fourth General Congress: four months later Andranik learned that the Turkish government had found the secret ammunition stores in Van and Aram Manoukian was arrested in his shelter.
It was obvious that the ARF was divided into eastern and western parties. The eastern (Russian-) Armenian delegates that did not live in Turkey and had never experienced the Turkish violations supported the "Caucasus plan." The majority if not all the Western (Turkish-) Armenian delegates joined Andranik clamoring against the plan. They were primarily seeking to liberate their relatives suffering under the Turkish tyranny. They were not concerned about the internal problems of Russia, as they themselves had enough problems.
In 1909, two years after the congress, when the "constitutional" government of the Young Turks was already firmly anchored in the Ottoman Empire massive slaughters took place in Adana. Trying to conceal themselves in front of Europe, the leadership of the Young Turks party carried out fictional investigation of the incident, while the real perpetrators remained unpunished.
While in 1912—1913 the Armenian intellectuals were listening to the speeches of the Young Turks about the new democratic order in Turkey, about the "freedom, equality and fraternity" of all the subjects, Andranik was in Bulgaria and was getting ready to help the Balkan countries, that had declared war against the Turks to gain liberty. He organized a volunteer group from 273 Armenian refugees to fight alongside the Bulgarians against Turkey. Torgom, Nzhdeh, Argamanyan and others were lieutenants of Andranik.
Prepping for the war in the Balkans, the newly-minted Young Turks' party launched a national campaign to raise funds for the Turkish army. Armenians generously responded to the campaign and collected thirty thousand golden pounds. The Armenian traders, who generally contributed five or ten golden pounds for the liberation of Armenia, gave hundreds and even thousand of golden pounds to the Young Turks party.
One of the organizers of the Russian Revolution and founders of the Red Army Leon Trotsky was an eyewitness as war correspondent in the Balkans for the Russian paper Kievskaya Mysl. He described the commander of the Armenian volunteers: "But it is Andranik who is the soul of the [Armenian] troop. He is magnificent in his field-grey outfit, with a tall karakul cap and smart military boots, from one of which protrudes a riding crop, the symbol of his official authority. At his side hang binoculars and a Browning revolver; on his chest rests a whole bouquet with a ribbon that reads: "Freedom or death." It is the gift of the Armenian women of the Red Cross Committee."
All the newspapers wrote about the participation of Andranik in the Balkan war. After the victory in the war and liberation of Balkan people Leon Trotsky wrote an article entitled "Andranik and His Troops": "At the head of the Armenian volunteer troop formed in Sofia stood Andranik, a hero of song and legend. He is of middle height, wears a peaked cap and high boots, is lean, with graying hair and wrinkles, fierce moustaches and a shaved chin, and has the air of a man who, after an over-long historical interval, has found himself once more."
In 1914 members of the ARF party met for the Eighth Party congress that took place in Turkey. The party's leadership made a decision to be "loyal" to the government if the war broke out. Therefore, even after the outbreak of the First World War the Armenians deceived by the slogans of the Young Turks protected them by "the virtue of obedience." One of the members of the party E. Aknuni (Khachatur Malumyan) said the following: "There is no reason why the government should underestimate us. At our congress we made a decision that in case of full military mobilization, every Armenian of military age must fulfill their military obligations. There are grounds for believing that the government will understand and appreciate our sincerity."
With the beginning of the First World War Andranik addressed all the Armenian intellectuals and revolutionaries with an appeal to leave Constantinople and go abroad. They did not listen to Andranik, who would later write in his memoirs: "The lion men were driven into the slaughterhouse like the sheep."
Soon Andranik entered in the First World War forming an Armenian volunteer detachment as part of the Russian army, who would fight against the Turkish forces on the Caucasus front. Enthusiastic Armenians from different parts of the world began to gather in Tbilisi; the meeting place of the volunteer detachment. Everyone wanted to go the front and fight against the enemy. The Armenian detachment fought heroically in the territory of Western Armenia to take Van, Mush, Bitlis and other towns and the Armenian population who fled to the Caucasus due to the genocide returned to their destroyed houses, convinced that they were under the reliable control of the Russian army.
For the first time in the long period, having Russia as an ally for which the Armenian issue was necessary to reach its own goals, Armenians felt that they could build their own state in their historical territories. But the Russian revolution fell under foot resulting in dethroning the Russian monarchy and establishing the socialist system...
New power in Russia — new foreign policy. The revolutionaries decided that in order to maintain their power, Russia should be withdrawn from the war by all means. Hence, the Caucasus front fell apart and the Armenian volunteers were actually the only force protecting the Armenian refugees on the Turkish territory occupied by the Russian army.
At the end of February, 1918 when several thousand miserable Turkish soldiers started to move to the east, they used what the Armenians did not use; huge stocks of the Russian ammunition and military equipment. The Armenian leaders in Tbilisi let the opportunity slip by. "To clean up the sins" in front of the descendants, leaders of Dashnaktsutyun representing the National Armenian Committee of Tbilisi formed an Armenian division declaring general Andranik as their commander. General Andranik set off for Erzurum to defend some parts of Western Armenia and he was fully convinced that the military-political situation is favorable to solve this task.
For the first time ever for centuries at one of the most critical moments in the records of the Armenian history Armenians took up the arms with military dominance in a number of key areas: advantage in numbers (15 thousand people, of which 8 thousand were professional soldiers), huge amount of ammunitions, machine guns and provisions. Beyond that Erzurum was protected with thick walls, trenches and barbed wire, and the enemy was approaching the city from the open fields; four thousand hungry, poor equipped and dressed people.
However the initial optimism of Andranik concerning the fighting spirit of the troops disappeared quickly. The Armenian soldiers from the Caucasus were fighting reluctantly on the Turkish territory. They did not realize that the battle in Erzurum was a crucial moment in the history of Armenia. After examining the situation in the city general Andranik submitted a report to the National Council in Tbilisi. "It is a chaos! A complete chaos, in a strict sense!"
Several factors contributed to the descent of enthusiasm of Andranik's troops, especially among the Armenian soldiers from Russia:
— Lenin's slogan "Out with the war!" that he was using around for the Russians tired of war;
— ambivalent attitude of the National council towards the liberation of Western Armenia;
— rumors from Tbilisi that the Turks would leave the Turkish Armenia;
— Brest treaty, that said that the Turks were not allowed to move beyond their borders of 1914;
— absence of court and death penalty in the Armenian military establishment.
One morning Andranik presaged that before the daylight he would fall on the battlefield. Therefore, before going to the front he told his assistants: "Tell the future generations that I am standing alone and I will fall alone at the walls of Erzurum."
A politician and the future prime minister of the First Republic of Armenia Simon Vratzian later had the following words to say about the fall of Erzerum: "On February 27 Erzerum fell under most disgraceful circumstances. There were eight thousand well-armed and well-trained soldiers under Andranik's command, more than one hundred cannons in good condition, and an inexhaustible supply of ammunition and provisions."
The heart of Western Armenia, Erzurum, was lost.
Mikayel Varandyan, one of the ideologists of the Dashnaktsutyun party later wrote: "Even if Napoleon Bonaparte were in the place of Andranik in such conditions he would not have been able to play the role of the liberator."
For thirty years the Armenian revolutionaries fought hardly in the Ottoman Empire while Erzurum, a strategically important city and one of the historical and cultural centers was simply surrendered to the Turks with the rest of Western Armenia. The dark-minded actions of the army official, unsteady leaders in Tbilisi, who were deceived by the provisions of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, the factional differences between the Russian and Turkish Armenians and lack of the military discipline in the army; all together led to a disaster.
The fall of Erzurum was followed by the fall of Kars, which evoke more anger and grief among the Russian Armenians of the Caucasus than the fall of Erzurum, for Erzurum belonged to the Turkish Armenians and Kars to them. From Tiflis the Armenian troops received an order from the Prime Minister Chkhenkeli to immediately stop military operations and accept the terms of the Turks. Obviously he acted based on the interests of the Georgian nation, through negotiating with the Turks and preventing them from invading the territory of Georgia. The Armenian troops left Kars together with 20 thousand population of the city. The same evening the Turkish division entered Kars.
Despite the fact that the Transcaucasian government (established in Tiflis in 1917 with the participation of Georgian "Menshevik", socialist-revolutionaries, Armenian Dashnaks and Azerbaijani Musavatists) met the requirements of the Turks, the latter continued the military advance and the Armenian division retreated to Alexandropol under their pressure.
Fall of Kars, and then the fall of Alexandropol led to the blockade of Armenia, and in this situation it was necessary to make a decision: either death or fight with the last ounce of strength. It was during this period that the heroic May battles of 1918 took place when the Armenian forces managed to defend their land in the battles of Karakilis, Bash-Aparan and Sardarapat and inflict crippling blow on the Turkish troops.
A couple of days later after the victories the Armenian side represented by the National Council of Tbilisi signed the Treaty of Batum with the Turks, which left Armenia the territory of only 12 thousand km2, (Erivan and Echmiadjin regions) with a population of only 1 million people.
After signing the treaty general Andranik quitted the communication with the newly created Republic of Armenia. He believed that the adoption of the current borders of the small Russian republic of Armenia would put an end to the Armenian question and would confirm the final loss of Turkish Armenia for the liberation of which he had fought all his conscious experience.
Even the Russian Armenians did not hurry to return to the newly created small "republic of Yerevan" preferring Baku or Tbilisi instead. In 1920, two years after the declaration of independence, the majority of the 30 000 population of Yerevan were Tatars.
Russian Armenians refused to defend Turkish Armenia and for Andranik the current "republic of Yerevan" was not comprehensive Armenia. Nevertheless, without the participation of Andranik and his division, Zangezur would have been part of Azerbaijan today and only a miracle could save the 60,000 Armenian population of this region from complete destruction by the Turkish-Tatar forces in the autumn of 1918.
The government of the First Republic of Armenia consisted of the members of Dashnaktsutyun party (national-socialists) who sought to get close not to the Soviet but the German-Turkish block. Concluding agreements with the Turks and sending delegations to Constantinople, Dashnak government thought that it was an excellent diplomacy that would help the Turkey to have mercy on the Armenians and grant them a "portion" of historical Armenia.
The life goals and political orientation of Andranik deeply varied from the new foreign policy of Dashnaktsutyun. After thirty years of struggles, triumphal battles and disappointments, general Andranik was physically exhausted and morally depressed.
Turkey attacked Armenia. It took off the Armenian leaders and ended with the defeat of the armed forces of the Republic of Armenia. The Armenian government represented by the Dashnaks agreed to sign the most disgraceful treaty of all times; peace treaty of Alexandropol on all favorable terms for the Turks, in an effort to preserve the tiny part of sovereignty and prevent the sovietization of the little part of Armenia that remained (according to the treaty 20% of the already small republic). Moreover, Turkey established its mandate over Armenia, which meant that Armenians would in fact be "under the protection" of their enemies, and the army of Armenia should not exceed 1500 people...
However soon after signing the peace treaty of Alexandropol the Red Army entered the territory of Armenia and the government of the First republic resigned. The forces of the Soviet army took back half of the territories occupied by the Turks which increased the area of the republic of Armenia three times. After the sovietization of Armenia the treaty of Alexandropol was annulled without coming into force.
Meanwhile, Andranik travelled to France, England and the USA and then at the invitation of a prominent Diaspora Armenian politician Poghos Nubar pasha returned to Europe to support the liberation struggle of the Armenians of Cilicia initiated by France and England. Cilicia was to be recognized as an independent state under the French mandate.
"Migration of Armenians from Cilicia will be a big disaster if we are not able to continue the struggle. It would have been better if Armenians lived under the French rule. There are too many refugees in the Caucasus, and it will be very difficult for the refugees of Cilicia to reach there, especially during this time of the year. Do you think the French can change their attitude? Will they be able to understand the importance of the friendship with the Armenians for their own perspective? The future will show." (from General Andranik's letter)
The future showed. This initiative also failed due to Anglo-French aggravation. France withdrew its troops from Cilicia and the Turkish troops marched into Cilicia.
In 1922 Andranik moved to the USA, to Fresno. The quiet and tranquil life that he found there with his wife did not fit with the life of hero. It was more of a self exile.
Having witnessed the errors of the Armenian politicians in Tbilisi that cost Armenians dear and inglorious retreat of the Armenian soldiers from Erzurum where the fight reached to its peak and was supposed to be crowned with laurels, Andranik could not find a peaceful, quiet place in the world that could console him. Under the silence of vineyards in Fresno Andranik was mourning over his dreams destroyed at the walls of Erzurum.
General Andranik visited many cities and states of America and continued to support the Armenians of Diaspora, organized donations for Armenian refugees and orphans.
During his last visit in New York he said: "We are all mortals. When I die I do not want my body to belong to somebody. It belongs to the Armenian people, my loyal soldiers and Armenia. I do not wish any words of praising in front of my coffin. Instead of flowers, I want you to send presents to my abandoned soldiers and their families."
Andranik Ozanyan died on August 31, 1927 in Caifornia, USA, his last words were: "Alas, my task remained unfinished..."
Source: Andranig Chalabian, "General Andranik and the Armenian Revolutionary Movement".