Posts Tagged ‘Simon Vratsian’

THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY

(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee[ANEC])

 

Death of Simon Vratsian
(May 21, 1969)

The last Prime Minister of the first Republic of Armenia, Simon Vratsian, was born in 1882, in the village of Medz Sala, near Nakhichevan-on-the-Don (today Rostov-on Don, in the northern Caucasus). He studied in the local Armenian and Russian schools, and in 1900 he was admitted in the Kevorkian Lyceum of Etchmiadzin, of which he was a brilliant graduate in 1906. By that time, he was already a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. He had participated in the protests against the confiscation of the properties of the Armenian Church by the imperial regime (1903-1905), in the first Russian Revolution (1905), and in the Armenian self-defense during the Armeno-Tatar conflict of 1905-1906.SimonVratsian

He was a representative of the A.R.F. Student Union to the fourth General Assembly of the party (Vienna, 1907), which would have a decisive importance in its ideological orientation. He later went to St. Petersburg, where he studied law, agronomy, and pedagogy at the university. In 1910, when the persecution against the A.R.F. had peaked in the Russian Empire, he went to Karin (Erzerum), where Rostom, one of the founders of the party, had settled, gathering around him many experienced and promising members in order to dedicate himself to the development of Western Armenians in the country itself.

Vratsian edited the A.R.F. organ Harach in Karin for a year (1910-1911), and then, by Rostom’s recommendation, he was sent to Boston, where he edited Hairenik, then a biweekly, until 1914. He returned to Karin and participated in the crucial eighth General Assembly of the A.R.F., where he was elected a member of the Bureau and left for Tiflis, in the Caucasus. There, he took the editorship of the party daily Horizon and was elected member of the Armenian National Council, which dedicated itself to the organization of the volunteer movement.

After the independence of Armenia, Vratsian moved to Yerevan, where he was elected member of the Parliament and collaborated with the governments of Hovhannes Kachaznuni and Alexander Khatisian. In May 1920, when Hamo Ohanjanian became prime minister, Vratsian took the position of Minister of Labor and Agriculture, until the fall of the government in November 1920. As prime minister from November 24 to December 2, 1920, he would become the witness of the final agony of the independence after the defeat in the Armeno-Turkish war, which would force the sovietization of the country to escape destruction. He signed the agreement to transfer power to the Revolutionary Committee of the Bolsheviks, and he also became the president of the Committee of Salvation of the Homeland, which led Armenia after the rebellion of February 18, 1921.

After the re-establishment of Soviet power in April 1921, Vratsian took the road of exile and settled in Paris, where in 1924 he became the editor of Droshak [Pronounced Troshag], the A.R.F. central organ, until its demise in 1933. He wrote his monumental work, The Republic of Armenia, which he published in 1928, with a second, revised edition published in 1958. He was a prolific writer on political, historical, and literary subjects, and published and edited a journal of history and culture, Vem, between 1933 and 1939.

During the war, he moved to the United States, where he was one of the founders of the Armenian National Committee in 1945 and participated in the lobbying for the Armenian Cause during the founding meetings of the United Nations in San Francisco. In 1952, after the death of writer Levon Shant, Vratsian succeeded him as principal of the Nshan Palandjian Lyceum of Hamazkayin in Beirut, a position that he maintained until his death. He worked actively to consolidate the economic foundations of the Lyceum and continued the publishing of books, including a revised edition of The Republic of Armenia in 1958 and his memoirs in six volumes, “On the Path of Life."

He had written: “The regimes are a temporary phenomenon. The leaders are temporary. Nations and fatherlands, the people sitting in their homeland, are eternal. The freedom-loving Armenian people, which had trampled death with death, forged the independence of the fatherland. The Republic of Armenia continues to live in the heart of the Armenian people as a burning reminder of the past and a lively hope of the future.” He was far from imagining that Armenia would become an independent country less than a quarter of a century after his death in Beirut on May 21, 1969.

 

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY

(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee [ANEC])

 

 

Fall of Kars
 (October 30, 1920)

The Turkish nationalist movement headed by Mustafa Kemal, with headquarters in Ankara, did not recognize the Treaty of Sevres signed by the legal government of the Ottoman Empire on August 10, 1920. Barely a month later, on September 23, Turkish armed forces under the command of General Kiazim Karabekir started an attack, without mediating a war declaration, against the Republic of Armenia. A month later, again, the fortress of Kars—the most important bulwark of the Southern Caucasus—would fall almost without a fight to the advancing troops.

Kars, the capital of an Armenian medieval kingdom ruled by a branch of the Bagratuni family, had changed hands several times over the past hundred years. After being briefly occupied by Russian troops in 1855 during the Crimea War of 1854-1856, it was occupied again during the Russian-Turkish war of 1877 and annexed to the Russian Empire as a result of the Treaty of Berlin in 1878. It fell to the advancing Turkish troops in March 1918 and was re-conquered by the troops of the newly born Republic of Armenia after the Turkish retreat following the end of World War I.

The young commander of the fortress, Col. Mazmanian, gave the order of attack to his soldiers, who refused to follow his orders and, instead, deserted. Confronted with the shameful desertion, Mazmanian took his own life with his revolver in the sight of his soldiers. According to the memoirs of Karabekir and other sources, the Kemalist soldiers and the Turkish, Kurdish, Muslim, and Armenian Bolshevik rebels occupied the entire city in three hours, took hundreds of Armenian officers and soldiers as prisoners, seized an enormous quantity of war material (cannons, projectiles, weapons, and bullets) and massacred thousands of people among the civil population; in 1920-1921, the Turks would kill a total of 20,000 Armenians in the city and the province of Kars. Years later, Garegin Nejdeh, who headed the successful defense of Zangezur against the attacks of Azerbaijanis and Bolsheviks from 1919-1921, would write: “The shame of Kars is not only of the government of the Republic of Armenia, but of the entire Armenian people. The armies measure their forces and clash, but the nations are the winners or the losers. Under the walls of Kars, not only the Armenian soldier and the general were defeated, but also the entire Armenian people, lacking spirit of fight and bravery."

The effects of the fall of Kars would be catastrophic. Despite Armenian heroic resistance in other places, two weeks later, Alexandropol (now Gumri) fell to the Turks, which practically reached the outskirts of Yerevan from the west. The cabinet of Prime Minister Hamo Ohanjanian fell, and Simon Vratzian became Prime Minister of a coalition cabinet, which lasted scarcely a week. On November 29, 1920, Bolshevik forces entered Armenia from the east, and the Armenian government, confronting the menace of destruction, chose the lesser of two evils and power was transferred to the Communists on December 2. Armenia would enter the Soviet Union in 1922 as part of the Federative Republic of Transcaucasia.

The trauma of the fall was masterfully addressed by poet Yeghishe Charents, a native of Kars, in his only novel, Yerkir Nayiri (Land of Nayiri), published in 1926. The fall of Kars still remains a polemical one in the historiography of the Republic of Armenia.

Gars

A general view of modern Kars with the central Armenian church in the foreground and the fortress in the background.

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THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
Prepared by
the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC)


The Treaty of Alexandropol
(December 2-3, 1920)

       The Armenian-Turkish war of 1920 put the Republic of Armenia on the brink of collapse. It also brought back the very real threat of physical disappearance for the Armenian people. The secret pact signed between the Turkish Great National Assembly led by Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) and Soviet Russia in August 1920 had ensured the support of Bolshevism to the Turkish insurgents. The latter, unlike the Ottoman legal government, were leading the so-called “war of independence” against Greece in order to overturn the partition of the Ottoman Empire that included the division of current Turkey into different zones of influence and the loss of most of its territories.

       Turkish forces commanded by General Kiazim Karabekir had already reached Alexandropol (now Gumri) at the end of November 1920 when a ceasefire was forced upon the Armenian government. On the other side, a small group of Armenian Bolsheviks had crossed the border from Soviet Azerbaijan into Armenia on November 29 and proclaimed Armenia a Soviet republic, appealing for the intervention of the Red Army. The government of the Republic of Armenia, led by Prime Minister Simon Vratsian (who had assumed power on November 25), was forced to choose the lesser of two evils: to turn away the potential annihilation of Eastern Armenians, it decided to relinquish power to the Communists. The change of regime was legalized through the signature of an agreement between the authorities of the Republic of Armenia and Boris Legran, representative of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR), in the morning of December 2, 1920. It was enforced on the same day at 6 pm. It established that Armenia would become an independent Soviet Socialist republic within the frontiers that had been under the jurisdiction of the government before the Turkish invasion and a revolutionary committee would take power temporarily. On its final session of the same day, the government of the Republic of Armenia decided to resign power. After more than two and half years, the first independence had come to an end.

The sovietization of Armenia did not end the Turkish menace. Karabekir threatened to resume his offensive unless his terms were accepted. The onerous terms obliged Armenia to renounce the Treaty of Sevres and all claims to Western Armenia and the province of Kars, and to accept temporary Turkish jurisdiction in Nakhichevan, among other issues. Alexander Khatisian, representative of the Republic of Armenia, signed the treaty in the wee hours of December 3.

       However, the Armenian government had already resigned and, therefore, Khatisian had no power whatsoever. On the other hand, Kiazim Karabekir represented the Great National Assembly of Turkey, with headquarters in Ankara, but the legal authority of Turkey, until November 1922, was in the hands of Sultan Mehmed VI and the Ottoman government in Constantinople. Legally, none of the signing parties had any attribution to stamp their signature under the document. Writes Richard Hovannisian: “Denounced and branded a traitor by Soviet and other non-Dashnakist authors, Khatisian justified his action as an exigency measure taken with the knowledge of the new Erevan government and intended to give time for the Red Army to enter Armenia in sufficient numbers to block a further Turkish advance. Realizing that he had not legal jurisdiction, Khatisian hoped that the new Soviet government, with the support of Russia, would repudiate his action and force the Turks to withdraw, at least to the pre-war boundaries.”

       The Treaty of Alexandropol was never ratified and was replaced by the treaties of Moscow and Kars (March and October 1921). The latter was signed by the Great National Assembly of Turkey, Soviet Russia, Soviet Armenia, Soviet Georgia, and Soviet Azerbaijan. However, these treaties cannot be recognized as valid according to international law. Mustafa Kemal had not been invested with any powers by the legally recognized Ottoman government, and Soviet Armenia was not a legally recognized state anymore.

 

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