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Monte Melkonian, "The Question of Strategy", About ASALA and A.R.F.

Monte Melkonian, "The Question of Strategy", About ASALA and A.R.F.

"The Question of Strategy" is a revised version of an article written in 1984. It was originally the last part of a text entitled A Critique of Armenian Armed Action, from the Early 1970s through 1983. This text appeared under the imprimatur of ASALA -Revolutionary Movement (ASALA-R.M.), the group which split from "Hagopian's" ASALA in the summer of 1983. Monte was not the sole author of the text, but hen known to have participated in writing it. It was later published in April of 1987 by the Kaytzer group in London, in a pamphlet entitled "Organizational Questions of the Diaspora and Correspondence with Monte Melkonian."

The text which appears below comprises exerpts from "The Question of Strategy" about ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia) and A.R.F. (Armenian Revolutionary Federation).


A strategy is a long-term plan of action to reach a given goal. Ultimately, the definition of a concrete goal and the formation of a clear political line determine a realistic strategy. Because this strategy should in theory be defined according to a concrete goal and a clear and realistic political line, it follows that any tactics not conforming to the strategy will be contrary to die achievement of die goal. A strategic goal should determine all tactics. In the past, one or another tactical decision resulting from a spontaneous or narrow consideration has been excused by some people as “a necessary response to a special situation” or “a realistic step necessitated by the special conditions of our struggle”. Isolated, short-sighted tactics, however, have only compromised long-term progress toward our goal, since they fall outside of what should already have been a well-prepared, realistic and efficient political line and strategy. 

Change, of course, is constant, and new and frequently unexpected circumstances come to the fore. Nevertheless, it is equally true that history, society and human behavior are proper objects of scientific inquiry. Despite periodic appearances to the contrary, nothing ever spontaneously goes berserk. Most historical change has been unintended, of course, but there are always identifiable causes of historical change. This is why a scientific political line can be drawn up, and why we can speak of a realistic and systematic political strategy. 

In our case, the struggle projected according to our strategy will be protracted, and should be expected to have its advances as well as its reversals. The appearance of reversals, however, does not mean that the strategy should be changed. If the strategy is founded on an accurate scientific appraisal of relevant considerations, then it should remain intact and the tactics should be changed. The range of tactics should be as broad and flexible as possible and new tactics should be adopted to meet the specific requirements of the conjuncture; however, all tactics should first and foremost fall within the parameters of the strategy. Any inconsistency between strategy and tactics should alert us that one or the other — or both — arc wrong. 

With this general understanding of strategy in mind, we shall turn to a consideration of the actual strategies of ASALA and A.R.F. After examining the general plan within which these groups have deployed die tactic of armed propaganda, we will discuss in broad outline die strategy of the Armenian Patriotic Liberation Movement. 

ASALA's Strategy.

At the outset let us repeat the obvious: ASALA as a movement has never had a single identifiable strategy at all. This has been born out time and again, from many different angles. If, for instance, one judges on the basis of ASALA interviews, communiqués and publications, such as the official journal Hayastan, the one thing that becomes clear is that nothing is dear, lit is not even dear what ASALA’s ultimate goal is. True, one encounters terms such as “Free, United and Socialist Armenia,” “a revolutionary socialist system,” and the like. Not only are these terms ambiguous, however, but some of them even contradict one another. 

To cite an example, one of ASALA’s favorite appeals is the call to “liberate Armenia.” But what on earth the ASALA leadership means by this conglomeration of words is anybody’s guess. Apart from manipulating the still-maturing emotions of many compatriots, such phrases have no programmatic substance. (As events have shown, the purpose of ASALA’s formulations was not to define a struggle, but to exploit emotions to accomplish a series of uncoordinated and ill-defined activities.) The only thing remotely resembling ASALA’s “political line” was the mysterious Eight Points which appeared in Hayastan, No. 1-2 (Fall 1980). 

Besides being unclear and varying according to published translations in one language or another, these eight points confuse tactics with strategy. Included as one of these eight presumably strategic points, for example, is “armed propaganda.” Armed propaganda, however, is a special tactic which is appropriate to the early stages of the movement, but is not necessarily appropriate to every stage. Reviewing the history of ASALA, it is clear that this was not merely a slip of the pen. Time and again, operations which should have been considered merely armed propaganda were given priority over the strategic goal of building a military presence on the ground in that part of the Armenian homeland, controlled by Ankara. Without a clear goal and a political line which reflects that goal, it is not possible to produce a realistic strategy. 

This conviction lies at the basis of our observation that ASALA has no strategy. Even if we ignore the absence of a satisfactory stated goal and a political line, anyone who reviews the sequence of ASALA’s erratic, counterproductive and frequently countervailing armed actions can only be impressed by the lack of any clear direction, theoretical application or systematic perspective. 

So one may ask, “If ASALA has never had a goal, political line or strategy, why has it been doing so many things in the name of the patriotic liberation struggle?” The answer to this question demands a long, detailed study of its own. It must suffice here to say that a certain insincere and influential member of ASALA has found it convenient to exploit our struggle and our people’s emotions in order to serve his agenda. (This point is taken up in ASALA: The Reality, and elsewhere.) 

Before closing this section, one more important clarification should be made. Although ASALA as a movement never subscribed to a strategy, there were members within its ranks who strove to establish a strategic approach to the struggle. Since they failed to do so, their ideas remained ineffectual. The existence of strategic thinkers within ASALA, then, did not mean that the group as a whole had a strategic outlook. 

The A.R.F.’s Strategy.

Unlike ASALA, the Dashnak Party (A.R.F.) has indeed conducted its armed campaign according to a strategy. The actual strategy of the party’s central leadership at times differs in some respects from the strategy announced in the party’s program. Limiting ourselves for the moment to the A.R.F.’s publicly announced strategy vis-a-vis armed action, it can be seen that this has been unrealizable and remains so. In essence, the A.R.F.’s present strategy does not differ from the strategy it pursued at die turn of die century. The A.R.F. viewed its armed propaganda as a means of introducing the “Armenian Cause” (Hai Tad Հայ Դատ) into the arena of international politics. 

In fret, almost all of the A.R.F.’s tactics, armed or not, are still aimed at somehow convincing “Western” governments and diplomatic circles to sponsor the party’s demands. As we know, these demands have usually had to do with Turkish government recognition of the genocide of 1915 and negotiations for reparations to the Armenian people. In this way the A.R.F. hopes to reach its professed goal of a “Free, Independent and United Armenia.” It is thus the A.R.F.’s immediate goal to “force” certain governments and international organization to formally recognize the historic reality of die 1915 genocide. 

After using all legal methods at its disposal for over fifty years, however, die A.R.F. had gotten nowhere in its attempt to win over governments and sway influential circles. On the contrary, the “Armenian Question” had only slipped further into the same historical oblivion which has put an end to many other causes. Recognizing this, the A.R.F. decided to adopt armed propaganda as a means of reversing this trend and putting the "Armenian Cause” into the headlines. By mounting attacks against Turkish diplomats and institutions, the A.R.F hoped to reassert its waning influence and breathe new life into the struggle. These attacks had repercussions on the internal security of several countries and even on their diplomatic relations with Ankara. 

Thus, according to the A.R.F's position, the “international community” was confronted with the “Armenian Cause” as an issue which had to be addressed. The adoption of armed tactics, however, did not signal a reform in A.R.F. strategy. In keeping with the A.R.F.’s long-standing strategy of appealing to “Western” powers to realize its objectives, armed propaganda was merely a last-resort tactic intended to generate international attention. In this light armed propaganda was actually a symptom of the failing strategy of which it was a part. To understand A.R.F. strategy in general, however, we should not focus on armed propaganda. 

We have already mentioned the A.R.F. goal of convincing other powers of the justness of the “Armenian Question.” This strategy is very dependent on foreign initiatives, and it implies a belief that the Armenian people’s future cannot be determined primarily by the Armenian people themselves. The A.R.F. sees the Armenian people’s job as somehow influencing other governments—especially the United States—to force the Turkish government into direct or indirect negotiations with the Armenian people’s “representatives” (who presumably will reflect the views of none other than the A.R.F.!). 

Realizing that it is against the economic, political and strategic interests of these countries to sponsor A.R.F. demands, the party seeks to reassure “Western” governments of the A.R.F.’s “reliability” and “good intentions.” Consequently, the party spends much time and energy reassuring the “West” that if an Armenia* is created, “Western” interests in the region will not be jeopardized. In the same vein, the A.R.F attempts to convince representatives of “Western” interests that Turkey is not a reliable ally and that in the long-run Turkey’s “disloyal” nature will make things difficult for them. (Propagation of this strategic line is not limited to non-Armenian audiences. The role of foreign powers in the fate of the Armenian people is even emphasized in Aztag, Asbarez, Alik and Troshag—A.R.F. publications with almost exclusively Armenian readers.) 

Closely connected to its strategic reliance on the “West” is the A.R.F.’s antagonism toward Soviet Armenia. We are all familiar with the notion propagated by the A.R.F. that Soviet Armenia is “occupied by the Soviet Union.” At least rhetorically, the A.R.F. pursues a strategy aiming at separating Soviet Armenia from the U.S.S.R. This policy also has its origins deep in the past. The A.R.F. has been especially bitter toward Soviet Armenia ever since 1920, when Armenian Communists toppled the corrupt and impotent government of the Republic of Armenia. 

Since that time, the A.R.F. has considered the Soviet Armenian state to be its enemy—and at times its primary enemy. Right down to the present day, every effort has been made to defame the Soviet system and Soviet Armenia and to minimize the economic and cultural achievements of the Soviet republic. Because of its political and ideological isolation from Soviet Armenia, the A.R.F. finds itself in need of a sponsor. Like one hundred other small “exile” groups, the AR.F. lends itself to exploitation by “Western” agencies with their own anti-Soviet aims. 

Another characteristic of the A.R.F.’s “Western”-dependent strategy is its complete disregard for die need to transfer the Armenian armed struggle to the historic Armenian homeland, the need to build a mass-based guerrilla force closely aligned with Turkish and Kurdish revolutionaries. Many appeals in A.R.F.’s literature and propaganda are directed to “international public opinion” and other non-Armenian audiences. Meanwhile, few appeals are directed to the Armenian people themselves, urging them to support the establishment of an armed presence on our historic homeland. 

And fully in keeping with the demagogic prejudices of the party, no A.R.F. leader would seriously propose participating cooperatively in the struggle of the peoples of Turkey against the fascist regime there. This is more evidence that—at least publicly—the A.R.F. lacks clarity in its view of what should and must be done if we accept realism as our point of departure. While the A.R.F. reprints maps showing the borders of a supposed “Armenia" proposed in the unratified Treaty of Sevres, the party’s literature ignores the native population within the borders of this “Armenia.” 

It should be pointed out that this population, consisting of Kurds, Turks, Lazes and others, exceeds six million. One wonders what kind of Armenia the A.R.F. envisions in which Armenians will be an absolute — if not a miniscule — minority. The A.R.F.’s strategy ignores the need to coordinate the Armenian patriotic liberation struggle with the Kurdish national liberation struggle and the Turkish workers’ struggle. It isolates the Armenian struggle from other revolutionary struggles, and it even isolates the Diasporan struggle from our most natural ally, our own people in Soviet Armenia. In practice it abandons the fate of our people to the caprice of the “Western” powers, particularly the USA — and these are states whose interests are opposed to ours. 

Considering the unfeasible nature of A.R.F.'s strategy, the question has frequently been raised whether die A.R.F.’s armed tactics are in fact intended to serve the patriotic liberation struggle. It has been observed more than once that the A.R.F.’s tactics of armed propaganda actually gave a boost to sinking morale within its ranks, and effectively reversed some of the party’s waning influence. More than once it has been suggested that the A.R.F. was forced to adopt armed propaganda tactics, faced as the party was by a new and more militant rival. By this account, the A.R.F.’s armed activities were a parrying gesture, to discourage defection from its ranks to ASALA. Indeed, armed propaganda has given the A.R.F. a more “radical” image, an image which has just barely kept younger and more militant supporters within its political and ideological domain. 

This may be true. It certainly is corroborated by the circumstance that the A.R.F. began its armed activity nine months after ASALA launched its first armed action, and its armed actions ceased when ASALA’s armed actions ceased. And it is also true that ASALA’s actions were perceived to be a threat to the A.R.F., appealing as they did to its youthful members and supporters. In our opinion, however, ASALA never grew into a force capable of seriously challenging A.R.F. dominance in the Diaspora. What truly does represent a threat, however, is the general discontent and frustration among young Armenians in general, including the A.R.F. membership. 

Certainly, one of the effects of the A.R.F.’s armed propaganda was to give the party more credibility among its own followers. Nevertheless, considering the fact that in October 1975 many people were already crediting the A.R.F. for ASALA’s activities, and the fact that the A.R.F. as an institution in the Diaspora (particularly in Lebanon) had access to resources and traditional patronage that ASALA could not hope to gain, it would be more accurate to say that the A.R.F.’s decision to begin armed propaganda was motivated at least equally by its need for a different tactic linked to its (unworkable and clearly reactionary) strategy to “liberate Armenia.”’


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