THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)
Birth of Armen Garo
(February 9, 1872)
Armen Garo was the ambassador of the first Republic of Armenia in the United States from 1918-1921, but that was the ending chapter of a comparatively short life dedicated to serve his people.
Karekin Pastermadjian was born on February 9, 1872 in Garin (Armenian name of Erzerum). He completed his studies at the Sanasarian School of his birthplace and graduated in 1891. Three years later, he went to France to pursue higher education at the School of Agronomy of the University of Nancy. In the meantime, he became a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
When the Armenians of Zeitun started their second rebellion against the power of Sultan Abdul Hamid in the winter of 1895-1896, Karekin abandoned his studies and decided to help them. He went to Geneva, the center of the A.R.F., and was sent to Egypt to help the rebels. Soon he left Egypt with a group of fellow activists and entered the Ottoman Empire. At this time, he took his pseudonym Armen Garo.
He organized the occupation of the Ottoman Bank, the main financial institution of the empire, controlled by European capitals, together with another young party member, Papken Siuni (pseudonym of Bedros Parian). The group of 26 revolutionaries hoped to attract the attention of Europe and threatened to destroy the bank if Turkey did not enact reforms in Western Armenia. After the death of Papken Siuni during the occupation, in August 1896, Armen Garo took command. Finally, on August 27, the group left the bank under the warranty of European powers for Marseilles.
Armen Garo was forced to leave France and go to Switzerland, where he continued his studies at the University of Geneva. Meanwhile, he continued his activities within the A.R.F. He graduated in 1900 with a Ph.D. in physics and chemistry. A year later, he opened a laboratory in Tiflis to carry out research in the field of chemistry.
The A.R.F. organized the Armenian self-defense during the Armeno-Tatar conflict of 1906-1907. Armen Garo headed the Armenian volunteer groups of self-defense in Tiflis.
After the Ottoman Revolution of 1908, the Armenians of Erzerum, as well as the A.R.F., asked Armen Garo to become their candidate in the forthcoming elections for the Ottoman Parliament.
After finishing his four-year term as a Parliament member, in 1913 Armen Garo was actively involved in the discussions for the Armenian reforms. In the fall of 1914, he crossed the frontier and went to Russia, where he participated in the organization of the Armenian volunteer battalions in the Russian army that would fight in the Caucasian front against the Ottoman Empire. In November 1914 he accompanied the second battalion as representative of the Armenian National Bureau of Tiflis. However, when its commander, Dro, was wounded, Armen Garo was forced to replace him and led the battalion in the Caucasian front until March 1915. Afterwards, he reached Van with the volunteers, bringing the self-defense of the city against the Turkish forces to a successful end.
In 1917 he came to the United States as representative of the Armenian National Council of Tiflis. After the proclamation of the Republic of Armenia, he was designated ambassador. Together with Shahan Natalie, from 1919-1922 he was the main organizer of the Nemesis Operation, the A.R.F. covert operation to punish the main culprits of the Armenian Genocide.
Weakened by long years of non-stop activities, as well as the final fall of the Republic, Armen Garo passed away in Geneva on March 23, 1923 from heart disease at the age of 51. His memoirs, published in the monthly Hairenik, were later collected in a book (1948). His son was historian Hrand Pastermadjian, who published a well-regarded history of Armenia in French.