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ARF the Dashnaks on Turkey

Dashnak demonstration in Yerevan
Dashnak demonstration in Yerevan. Photo: flickr/onewmphoto

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun or Dashnaks), a socialist party, was founded in 1890 in Tbilisi. Of the three oldest Armenian parties, the ARF has been the only one to retain significant strength and appeal for more than a century, both at home and in the diaspora. While the ARF does not enjoy mass support in Armenia, its popularity has grown with every parliamentary election. In 1999, the ARF won 7.86 percent of the vote and five seats; in 2003, it won 11.5 percent and 11 seats; in 2007, 12.8 percent and 16.

The ARF's original objective, as stated in its 1892 Programme, was "to attain political and economic freedom in Turkish Armenia by means of insurrection." In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the ARF fought for reforms and protection of the political and religious rights of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and Tsarist Russia.

The ARF was to become a leading force under the short-lived (1918-20) independent Republic of Armenia: all four of the Republic's Prime Ministers were ARF representatives. At the party's 9th World Congress, held in Yerevan in 1919, the ARF's programme objective officially became "the creation of a free, independent and united Armenia": a single and whole Armenian state, including the Turkish occupied [Western] Armenian territories.

In the wake of the Soviet and Turkish attacks on Armenia in 1920, the ARF fell from power; Armenia became part of the Soviet Union.

Banned under the Soviet Union, the ARF survived in exile over the following 70 years. Preservation of Armenian identity in the diaspora survivors of the Armenian genocide settled in places like Syria, Lebanon, Greece, Bulgaria, France, the US and Latin America was to become a priority for the ARF. By establishing churches, schools, athletic clubs, community centres and media outlets, the Dashnaks have aimed to foster Armenian culture and a sense of homeland. Through its worldwide network of Armenian National Committees throughout the world, the ARF has lobbied extensively for Armenian genocide recognition, support for the Armenian position on Karabakh, and financial aid to Yerevan.

After the 1988 Karabakh war ARF members began to return to Armenia from abroad. The ARF was officially registered in Armenia in 1991; in the early 1990s, it was able to secure 12 (of a total of 260) seats in Parliament. The Party was closed down in December 1994, however, accused of having used its proxy "secret intelligence" organization ("Dro") to conspire against the government, commit assassinations and conduct drug trafficking. In 1995 the Armenian Supreme Court ruled to ban all activities of the ARF. A total of 31 ARF members were arrested. The ARF was allowed to return to politics in March 1998 under Prime Minister Robert Kocharian as soon as President Ter Petrossian was ousted. The Party supported Kocharian in both the 1998 and 2004 elections. Having re-entered parliament, the ARF joined the Kocharian and Serzh Sargsian governments, its members taking control of the Social Affairs, Education and Agriculture Ministries and other important posts.

In the words of Kiro Manoyan, Director of the International Secretariat of the ARF, the ARF believes that recognition of the Armenian genocide alone "would not restore historical justice and that the international community should hold Turkey accountable for the killings of 1.5 millions of Armenian in the Ottoman Empire."[10] Recognition by Turkey, in other words, must bear consequences. As Manoyan sees it:

"Today, Armenia is not capable of making territorial claims against Turkey. It is not capable of doing so not because of the lack of documentation, but simply because it lacks the power to do so and because political circumstances are not fortuitous. But Armenia should avoid taking steps today that might prevent it from making such claims towards Turkey tomorrow. The issue of territorial claims does not stop other states from having more or less normal relations. […] Armenia's weakness should not keep the Armenian people from raising their rights in various international forums. The main document confirming these rights is the Sevres Treaty, the main points of which (ones that do not concern Armenia and Kurdistan) have in fact been implemented it is based on this Treaty that new states were founded in the Middle East, on what was previously Ottoman land." [11]

Precisely because they suspected it of being a means of taking the edge off the genocide recognition campaign, ARF members were deeply suspicious about the activities of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (2001-2004). It was clear from the start, the ARF announced soon after TARC's inception,

"that this Commission was to be used to undermine the efforts at gaining recognition for the Armenian Genocide. During the five months of the Commission's existence and as a direct result of its work, great losses have been registered in aspects requiring a unified and collective Armenian action, and the momentum of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the USA and Europe has been hindered severely. All of those who participated in and assisted the Commission in its experimental and adventurous endeavor are accountable to history, as the negative impacts of this experience will undoubtedly continue to be felt for some time to come."[12]

Similarly, the ARF was deeply sceptical of Serzh Sargsian's policy of rapprochement vis--vis Turkey, organizing protests during Abdullah Gul's visit to Yerevan on 6 September 2008. Tensions between the government and the ARF came to a head on 22 April 2009, when the Turkish and Armenian foreign ministries issued a joint statement heralding an agreement on a "comprehensive framework" for the normalization of bilateral relations.[13] ARF members in Armenia and abroad were enraged. The statement, as they saw it, had given US President Obama a convenient pretext for avoiding the term "genocide" in his 24 April commemorative speech. In protest, the ARF quit the coalition government.

"We have been always convinced that one of the strategic directions of state's national security is Armenian Genocide's universal recognition and condemnation, in particular, by Turkey. It was considered in the context of not only restoration of historic justice, but also improvement of atmosphere of mutual confidence in the region and prevention of such crimes in the future. In that respect, as we have already declared, we consider inadmissible and condemnable adoption of a joint statement by Armenian and Turkish Foreign Ministries immediately on the eve of April 24 in the context of Turkish leaders' anti-Armenian position of dictating preconditions. We also have disagreements of principle on some provisions considered in the Armenia-Turkey negotiations."[14]

ARF quit all governmental positions except its chairmanship of two National Assembly committees: foreign affairs and defense, and national security and home affairs.


[10] Ruzanna Stepanian, "Dashnaks Plan Shift in Genocide Recognition Effort", 3 June 2005, Radio Liberty

[11] Kiro Manoyan, Yerkir Newspaper Interview, answers to questions sent from 24-31 January 2005

[12] ARF Bureau, "About TARC", 12 December, 2001

[14] Noyan Tapan News Agency, April 27, 2009

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