THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee [ANEC])
The “Self-Liquidation” of the
Armenian Revolutionary Federation in Yerevan
(November 20-23, 1923)
The first years of the Soviet experience were marked by the struggle to establish the foundations of the new regime that included the need to end all remaining opposed forces throughout the Soviet Union. Ceremonies of “self-liquidation” of various parties that had been on the anti-Soviet front were staged.
The turn of the Southern Caucasus came in 1923. First the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (June) and then Georgian Menshevik (Social Democrats) and Azerbaijani Musavat parties (both in August) announced their dissolution in congresses “organized” by their ex-members. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation followed suit in November.
After the Sovietization of Armenia in December 1920 and the retreat of the leadership of the party from the country following the revolt of February 1921, the A.R.F. was going through an organizational crisis, which was part of the critical moment being lived by the Armenian people worldwide. It was an hour of reckoning and self-criticism, as the Vienna Conference held in April-May 1923 showed. This conference decided to convene abroad what would be the 10th World Congress of the A.R.F.
The purpose of the “Congress of Former Dashnaks in Armenia” was to impede the reconstitution of the A.R.F. outside Armenia. The Armenian Communists’ concern was to combat the idea of independence and to renounce publicly any territorial claims against the neighbor republics and Turkey, aiming “to open the eyes of the Armenian workers of the colonies."
Upon the invitation of an “organizing bureau” of seventeen members, 247 delegates representing 4,032 members of the party (a striking number in comparison to the number of members of the Communist Party of Armenia, namely, 4,230) gathered at the State Theater of Armenia on November 20, 1923. The opening was by young agronomist and writer Aksel Bakunts (1899-1937), who would soon become one of the leading story writers of Soviet Armenia before his death in the Stalinist purges. As he said in his opening remarks, the congress was organized to allow the “four thousand Dashnak party members who had never been able to express their aspirations” to break with their old party and “to put their revolutionary energies at the service . . . of the Soviet state.” During three days, the delegates evaluated the current situation of the A.R.F., analyzed critically its ideology and its political activities during the preceding thirty years, and measured the extent of its current activities in an environment that enjoyed relative freedom of expression but did not lack theatrical elements. Old Bolshevik Askanaz Mravian had a major address during the second day of sessions, where he analyzed the international and domestic situation in Armenia and Soviet Russia. The closing address on November 23 was by Lukashin (Sargis Srapionian), chairman of the Council of Popular Commissars of Armenia (equivalent to prime minister) and representative of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
The congress stressed that the peasants and workers of Armenia, whose fate had been sacrificed during the previous years at the altar of “national independence,” would henceforth enjoy “peace and security.” It called upon Armenian workers abroad to liquidate the A.R.F. committees and to struggle against capitalism, waiting for the final victory of the international working class, which would allow the resolution of the “bloody question of the liberation of the small nations.”
The main utility of the congress was internal. The “former Dashnaks” contributed to the legitimization of Soviet rule in Armenia playing the role of mediators between the Communist Party, yet poorly rooted in the country, and a population longing for peace and security. The congress failed in its key mission however, as the A.R.F. gathered its 10th World Congress from November 1924-January 1925 in Paris and retained its goals for a free, independent, and united Armenia in its program, although stressing that it had no plan to overthrow the Soviet regime. A.R.F. clandestine structures would remain active in Armenia until 1933.