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The emergence of Armenian armed organizations and groups is not at all an accidental or spontaneous thing. The organizers of the massacre of Armenians had to understand that their state, whatever it was called - the Ottoman Empire or the Turkish Republic - would have to pay for the systematic destruction and expulsion of an entire nation from its lands sooner or later.

Since 1915, for more than half a century, the Armenians, who survived the genocide and were scattered around the world, were waiting for a fair assessment of the catastrophe that happened to them, but the world community continued to ignore the Armenian Question, demonstrating the insignificance of the Armenian tragedy and the nation as a whole compared to the advantages of having relations with Turkey.

All this indifference was reinforced by the fear of the older generation, which, for the most part, also did not want to get involved in new conflicts and had already put up with the situation. The efforts and activism of the traditional Armenian political forces - the Dashnaks, Hnchaks, and Ramkavars - were fruitless.

This could not but lead to a boiling point, because a new generation of Armenians grew up in parallel, who were burdened by the fears and trauma of the eyewitnesses of the genocide. This made the blood of the new generation boil, and they became those who understood the simple truth: this world respects only the manifestation of strength, and only strength can give birth to rights.

This is how the fighters for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide appeared not on paper, but in practice.

Gourgen Yanikian: The Godfather of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA)

Gourgen Yanikian (1895 - 1984) was the first person to show how the demonstration of force affects the raising of the Armenian Question to the front pages of newspapers. He was the person who inspired the Armenians to create militarized groups, such as the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (eng. abbreviation - ASALA (which was originally called “The Prisoner Kurken Yanikian (Gourgen Yanikian) Group”)).

You can read more about him at the following link: How a Single Person Made the Whole World Remember the Genocide: Armenian Avenger Gourgen Yanikian

The backbone of ASALA was young patriots who were inspired by Yanikian's actions. They decided to create an underground organization, the short-term goal of which was to return the Armenian Question to the international political and legal arena, and the ultimate goal was to reach the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the creation of preconditions for the liberation of Western Armenia.

Military organizations as a new phase of the armed struggle

So, the explosion of the headquarters of the World Council of Churches on January 20, 1975, in Beirut, marked the beginning of a new, armed phase of the struggle. The previously unknown The Prisoner Kurken Yanikian Group claimed responsibility for the bombing. They took this step to express their dissatisfaction with the fact that the Council of Churches facilitated the emigration of Armenians from the Middle East to the United States and Canada, evicting them from their historical region (bordering on Western Armenia). This day is considered the day ASALA was founded. In the months and years to come, until December 1990, ASALA conducted about 300 military operations in different countries of the world, including Western Armenia, Ankara, and Istanbul. The targets of the Armenian Secret Army were Turkish embassies, consulates, diplomats, government officials, military and police institutions, representatives of the Turkish business environment, in particular, the Turkish Airlines office, as well as governmental and public organizations of other countries that provided military and financial assistance to Turkey and hindered the activities of ASALA. The most notorious military operations of ASALA were at Orly airport, operations Van, Karin-Erzurum, and the attack on the Ankara market.

It must be admitted that ASALA had many branches and subdivisions, and there were irreconcilable ideological disagreements with them at times, but it is important to note that all of these armed groups had one goal. 

One of such groups operated under the name Justice Commandos against Armenian Genocide (JCAG), which held more conservative, right-wing views than the far-left views of ASALA. They operated in 1975 - 1983 mainly in Europe and North America, mounting attacks on Turkish diplomats. After the assassination of JCAG leader Abram (Abraham) Aschyan by Turkish special services in 1982, nothing is known about the activities of the JCAG. It should not be excluded that the organization took on a new name - The Armenian Revolutionary Army, and the famous Lisbon Five operated within them. Those were five brave young guys who launched an attack on the Turkish Embassy in Lisbon on July 27, 1983. They went to a deliberate death and forever remained heroes in the history of the Armenian national struggle of the 1970s-1990s.

The Lisbon Five: Setrak Ajamian, 19; Ara Kuhrjulian, 20; Sarkis Abrahamian, 21; Simon Yahniyan, 21, and Vache Daghlian, 19  

In 1973, a less radical and authoritarian wing of ASALA broke away from it, which was called the New Armenian Resistance Group. Members of the resistance, which included Monte Melkonian as well, were against a series of terrorist attacks, which killed not only Turkish agents but also civilians. Their task was to consolidate like-minded people in Syria and, together with the Kurds, strike against the target, against the Turks: their military leaders, politicians, secret agents, Gray Wolves, and others, and do it in Turkey. According to the former ASALA logistician and accountant Karekin Gregorian, the Kurds did not consider the Armenians an auxiliary battalion as much as an intellectual aid in logistics, technologies, medicine, and organization of attacks due to their small number. Armenians were the brains behind the Kurds. The New Armenian Resistance Group had its methods, which were peaceful for the unknowing people and posed a threat to those involved and justifying the Armenian Genocide.

Results of the Activism

The armed struggle of the Armenians of the 1970s - 1990s showed that the Armenian people, if necessary, are ready for retribution. There are a lot of rumors and myths around ASALA. They have managed and still manage to keep some part of Turkish society at bay: high-ranking Turkish officials were not able to visit the countries where the armed campaigns took place, because no one could ensure their safety.

Thanks to these fighters, the Armenian Question returned to the international agenda. They literally woke up the Armenian diaspora and even those Armenian communities that were considered to be "lying dormant" for a long time. They played a huge role in the coverage of the Armenian Question and in recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Moreover, one of the victims of the ASALA military operation, the famous journalist José Antonio Gurriarán, lost a leg, but this incident did not arouse anger in him. On the contrary, it forced him to study the motives of the organization, which he did for more than 30 years, and become a sincerely sympathetic friend of the Armenian nation. He wrote two books about the Armenian Genocide and what happened to him - The Bomb (La Bomba) and Armenians: The Forgotten Genocide. Based on the second book, the Armenian-French director Robert Guédiguian made the movie titled Don't Tell Me the Boy Was Mad (Une histoire de fou - original title) (2015).

José Antonio Gurriarán with ASALA members  

José Antonio Gurriarán at a meeting with Monte Melkonyan and the one of the founders of ASALA under the pseudonym Hagop Hagopian

Subsequently, some former ASALA fighters took part in the First Nagorno-Karabakh War and became heroes of the Armenian nation. During the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, when the world again found itself to be a silent observer of the killings of civilians, many Armenians hoped for the revival of these organizations and remembered them as defenders of the honor of the Armenian nation and as an example of a real struggle for their violated rights.


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