J. Hunter Watts October 1907
Source: Social Democrat, Vol. XI, No. 10, October 15, 592-597, (1,560 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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“By peaceful means if possible, by forcible if necessary” is the reply of the Socialist lecturer to the frequent interrogatory “How do you purpose attaining your object?” But to judge from the report submitted to the Stuttgart Congress by the Armenian Socialist Revolutionary Party, Daschnaktzoutioun, familiarly styled the Droschakist Party, there is one corner of the globe in which our comrades have no effective weapon of warfare other than the sword. Until the latter half of the nineteenth century the greater part of Armenian Turkey was subject to the rule of feudal lords, its subjection to the Sultans being merely nominal; but about that period the central Government broke the power of these feudal Kurds and enforced its own sovereignity. The hostility between the Sultan and the Kurdish chiefs was, however, of brief duration, for after the Russo-Turkish war of 1878 the Government at Constantinople adopted a conciliatory policy in order to secure the allegiance of the Kurds. It endowed their chiefs with privileges, sanctioning semi-independence, and organised this warlike race into armed bodies analogous to Cossacks. The peasant population was thus subjected to a double tyranny, that of officials who taxed them heavily, and of feudal Kurds who asserted privileges dating from the Middle-Ages.
In this atmosphere of arbitrary rule, of primitive habits, of nameless violences and atrocities, the Armenian people uttered its first cry of protest. The Droschakist Party was organised in 1890 to give expression thereto, and in 1892 it convened a general assembly, which established an Armenian Revolutionary Federation whose political programme was limited to the demand for democratic political freedom and equality without distinction of race or religion of all the peoples dwelling in the six Armenian vilayets, but the affirmed furthermore the great principles of international Socialism, as evidenced by extract:—
“The conquest of autonomy and of political rights is but one part of our task. These rights alone will not protect the worker in the enjoyment of the fruit of labour. We seek to spread the principle of collectivism as to prepare ourselves for the social organisation which sooner or later will establish itself in advanced countries by revolt of the proletariat.”
The party resolved to realise its political programme by armed revolt against an unbridled despotism which crushed both rich and poor, stifled individual initiative, destroyed all the sources of national wealth, giving unbridled license to the organised brigandage of officialism. This war has been waged by the party for 37 years, and if we cannot here narrate its history we may cite some incidents of the sanguinary struggle that are registered in the report:
1. The attack upon the Ottoman Bank in 1896 by a handful of militants, who threw diplomats into a state of panic by seizing one of the fortresses of international finance.
2. The skirmish of Samatia, in which, concurrently with the attack on the bank, our forces engaged in another quarter of the capital.
3. The battle of Van of 1896 and a series of engagements during the great massacres of 1895 when the skirmishers of the Revolutionary Federation saved a great number of Armenian villagers from complete extermination.
4. The fight at Khanassor in 1897, in which a troop of no more than 250 of our cavalry and light infantry defeated the tribe of the bloodthirsty Kurdish chief, Scharaf, who one year earlier massacred by order of the Sultan a thousand Armenians.
5. The heroic struggle carried on for six years in the mountains of Sassoun and at Akhlat by a valiant band led by Serob against the Turkish troops.
6. The insurrection of 1904 in Sassoun led by four of our comrades, who for two months held in check the Sultan’s army of 15,000 men and Kurdish bands. numbering 20,000.
But the courage and devotion of these heroes availed nought against the Machiavellian intrigues of European diplomacy, which, in support of conflicting bourgeois interests, paralysed the efforts of the Armenian people and left them, in the clutches of Abdul-Hamid the Damned. Insurrection was stifled in a sea of blood. Two hundred thousand people were massacred and Armenia was converted into a huge cemetery, while Europe gazed with indifference on the immense tragedy.
Despair invaded the hearts of the people and the Droschakist Party alone refused to succumb to that feeling. It closed up its ranks and, still preaching resistance, succeeded in certain regions in overthrowing Kurdish dominion. It assumed control some essential administrative and juridic functions. During the life of Serob, and for a long time after death (1899), the people of Sassoun enjoyed complete independence, paying tribute neither to the Kurdish lords nor to the central Government.
Enlightened in its revolutionary struggle by democratic and Socialist principles, the Droschakist Party sought to extend the sphere of its activity. From its inception it preached the solidarity of all races in the Ottoman Empire, and allied itself with the revolutionary and reformist parties of different nationalities. It entered into offensive alliance with the Macedonian revolutionary party in view of joint action in European Turkey, an alliance which was baptised on the field of battle near Adrianople in 1900, and on the gallows raised soon after within that town by the Turkish Government to chastise the authors of the Arrneno-Macedonia plot. Since 1894 the party has endeavoured to establish friendly relations with that of “Young Turkey,” and though, in the earlier and ante-revolutionary days of this movement, these efforts seemed futile, Armeno-Mussulman co-operation has now been realised. In the engagements at Khanassor and in Sassoun some Turks and a few Kurds fought on our side, and if at that time they were but individuals detached from the great conservative and reactionary Mohammedan population, a new era has dawned—already the revolutionary party has dug an abyss between the people and the bureaucracy, and the time is not remote when the despotism of the Sultan will be overthrown by assault of an awakened democracy.
During the thirteen years 1890-1903 the Federation concentrated its efforts in Turkish Armenia. The Transcaucasian, Persian, and other committees, were auxiliary organisations supplying money, men, and arms. The Armenians in Transcaucasia were then in a relatively tolerable position under Russian dominion. At any rate they enjoyed the right to live though they were slain morally, for their rulers endeavoured to blot out their language, their literature and all national culture. In 1897 the Armenian schools to the number of 520 were closed and thousands of children deprived of elementary education.
Although bound by its original programme to work for the emancipation of Turkish Armenia the party could not remain indifferent to this violent Russification which inflicted much suffering upon the working classes of Russian Armenia. After the closing of the schools the Droschakist Party took in hand the task of education, and in town and country established secret schools and provided teachers who gave instructions in the mother tongue. Action did not stop at this point. Since 1902 the party in Transcaucasia has been openly and clearly a revolutionary one. In certain provinces we seized one of the reins of Government—that of jurisdiction. The party established courts, and for some time it exercised the function of supreme arbiter; it settled all sorts of differences between the peasants; the judges were often elected by constituencies, but they acted under control of the party. Our Mohammedan. neighbours themselves Turkish peasants, Kurds or Tartars—often appealed to the justice dispensed in our courts to settle their legal disputes, and we had many Mohammedan adherents who did not neglect to contribute to the funds of the Revolutionary Tribunal.
The outbreak in July, 1903, when the Armenian populace was goaded into fury by the ukase of the Czar ordering the confiscation of the property of the Armenian church, and the repression of that outbreak by the infamous Plehve; the devilish cunning of Russian autocracy in exciting division and strife between Tartars and Armenians in order to “divide rule,” and the way the people were incited to one another, are matters of recent history. After the carnage at Baku in February, 1905, after the party had exhausted every effort to put a stop to fratricidal conflict, it decided to combat the red folly of the counter-revolution. The Armenian people were without arms—the Government had disarmed them while at the same time it was providing the Tartars with arms. The party succeeded, in spite thousand obstacles, in arming a considerable of Armenians, and it organised bands of who fought under the leadership of its most experienced officers. To its profound regret the Federation had to carry on this disastrous war for more than a year, but while repulsing attacks it never ceased preaching reconciliation and peace, and its appeals were at length successful. To-day the Armenian and the Tartar live in neighbourly relation, and joint action is being taken, at least within the economic domain, for they have made common cause in strikes against capitalist exploitation. The party has now succeeded in organising 110 trade unions, and though the total membership is not more than 10,990 it has established unions of peasants with an additional membership of 67,000, evidencing that it is quite prepared to return the sword to its scabbard and to take up the task of organisation and education when the path of peaceful development is re-opened.
J. HUNTER WATTS