THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)
Declaration of United ARMENIA
(May 28, 1919)
At the time of the independence of the first Republic of Armenia (May 1918), its population also included a mass of refugees from Western Armenia who had survived the genocide.
The first congress of Western Armenians, held in the spring of 1917, tried to establish a semblance of organization for the mass of refugees. Some of them had temporarily resettled back in their homes in 1916-1917, when part of Western Armenia had been occupied by Russia. However, the breakdown of the Caucasian front after the Russian Revolution and the advance of the Turkish Ottoman forces had displaced them once again to the east. These events had crippled the organization established in 1917.
In view of the political changes, an interparty council of Western Armenians named a special commission in December 1918 to arrange for a second general conference. The Second Conference of Western Armenians met in Yerevan from February 6-13, 1919.
The conference adopted a resolution on February 12, 1919 that read in part:
“The Second Congress of Western Armenians, having studied the current situation of the Armenian people:
1. Sincerely hails and extols the independence of Free and United Armenia; (. . .)
3. Proclaims its firm determination and will to have one political and governmental entity through the confluence of the lands and people of all Armenia;(. . .)
5. Directs the elected ‘Executive Body’ to work actively, at the same time, with the cabinet and the legislature of the Araratian [Yerevan] Republic to declare the independence of United, Free Armenia and, in order to effect the all-national union, to participate in the administrative and legislative institutions. (…).”
The nine-person Executive Body was instructed to implement the decision of the Congress and to function until the creation of a combined government of united Armenia. Its petition was approved by the coalition government of the Republic, formed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Populist Party, on February 25, 1919.
The cabinet of ministers adopted the text of the declaration on Armenia’s unification on May 26, 1919, and a day later, another cabinet resolution authorized the Executive Body of the Western Armenians to select twelve deputies to enter the Parliament of united Armenia.
On 28 May 1919, on the first anniversary of the Republic of Armenia, acting Prime Minister Alexander Khatisian read the text of the declaration in a solemn ceremony held at the Parliament:
“To restore the integrity of Armenia and to secure the complete freedom and prosperity of its people, the Government of Armenia, abiding by the solid will and desire of the entire Armenian people, declares that from this day forward the separated parts of Armenia are everlastingly combined as an independent political entity.
(. . .) Now in promulgating this act of unification and independence of the ancestral Armenian lands located in Transcaucasia and the Ottoman Empire, the Government of Armenia declares that the political system of United Armenia is a democratic republic and that it has become the Government of the United Republic of Armenia.
Thus, the people of Armenia are henceforth the supreme lord and master of their consolidated fatherland, and the Parliament and Government of Armenia stand as the supreme legislative and executive authority conjoining the free people of United Armenia. (. . .)”
After the ovation that followed the reading, Khatisian invited the twelve newly designated Western Armenian deputies to take their places within the legislature. On their behalf, Vahagn Krmoyan pledged active Western Armenian participation in the governing bodies of the Republic.
After the messages by Avetik Sahakian, president of the Parliament, and Catholicos Gevorg V, and congratulations by the representatives of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Karabagh, Armenian Americans, and others, Khatisian proceeded to the balcony of the Parliament and read again the declaration to the mass of people gathered on the street.
The declaration, intended to cement the unity of the Armenian people and establish its political will towards the restoration of the country over its historical borders, had the contrary effect. Historian Richard Hovannisian has aptly summarized it: “The proclamation that had been intended as an expression of unity actually aggravated the discord between Russian Armenians and Turkish Armenians and between Dashnakist and anti-Dashnakist leaders. A startling about-face by the Populist Party in the days following the celebration in Erevan administered the coup de grace to the coalition cabinet.”
Although the declaration of United Armenia was never carried on the ground (the Treaty of Sevres, which would become its instrument in August 1920, remained on paper), its symbolic force was an expression and an inspiration for the political dreams of the Armenian people.