Lilit Hr. Hovhannisyan
Key words – ARF Dashnaktsutyun, Western Armenia, Eastern Armenia, Transcaucasia, autonomy, independence, the right of nations to self – determination, H. Zavriyan, Rostom (Stepan Zoryan), Russian Provisional Government, Armenian question, Armenian separate army corps.
In 1905 «Caucasus Project» ARF Dashnaktsutyun brought up a proposal out of necessity to settle of the issue of Western and Eastern Armenia’s political status separately. In 1907 the idea was fixed in the Party program, and in 1914 it was approved by the Eighth General Assembly of ARF. It was set a task to achieve broad autonomy for Western Armenia within the Ottoman state, and to demand autonomy for Eastern Armenia within the Federal Republic of Transcaucasia; the latter was to be an integral part of the Russian Federative Republic. After annexation of Western Armenia by the Russian army in 1915 – 1916 only one change was made in demand of autonomy for Western Armenia – that is the word «Ottoman« was replaced by the word «Russian«, respectively. The claim of Western Armenia’s autonomy did not contradict to idea of it’s independence, moreover it was considered to be a feasible intermediate phase on the way of the real preparing for and attaining independence for the Western Armenia.
The victory of the February revolution in Russia in 1917 created prerequisites for the realization of the program aims of ARF Dashnaktsutyun. Thanks to the efforts of ARF, in particular H. Zavriyan, Lip. Nazaryants and A. Chilingirian, on April 26 (May 9) Russian Provisional Government adopted decision «On governance of the war by right conquered regions of Turkish Armenia«, by which the civil administration of Russian army conquered Western Armenia was withdrawn from the Caucasian authorities, as well as military authorities of Caucasian Front and was handed over directly to the Provisional Government henceforth the final decision on the province’s status due to the peace treaty. So, a status of a separate administrative unit in the Russian state was passed to Western Armenia. This decision, as well as the instructions, given by the Provisional Government on May 15 to the General Commissioner of Western Armenia, established a legal basis to consolidate Armenians in western armenian territories and to achieve the autonomy. In late 1917, about 150 thousand Armenian refugees returned to their homeland – Western Armenia. The socio – economic, political and cultural life of Western Armenians became organized and noticeably active.
It was important also to ensure the physical security and protection of Armenian population and Armenia not only from Turk’s and Kurd’s attacks and robbery, but also from the possible attacks of the Turkish army. For this purpose ARF Dashnaktsutyun (Rostom (Stepan Zoryan) and Lip. Nazaryants) made efforts to move the Armenian soldiers and officers of the Russian army to Armenia and create an Armenian separate army corps, due to the Provisional Government’s policy of the nationalization of the army. So was founded the Armenian national army. This played a decisive role not only to save the Armenian people from physical extermination during the Turkish invasion to Western Armenia and Transcaucasia in 1918, but also to restore the independent statehood on the small part of historical Armenia.
The problem of the political status of Eastern Armenia was essential as well for ARF. In the summer of 1917 the Party brought forth a project to the Russian central and Transcaucasian local authorities on administrative repartition of Transcaucasian region, worked out by Av. Shakhatunyan. According to the project, it was proposed to separate mountainous regions largely populated by Armenians from the Muslim – dominated lowland regions, so as to found an Armenian Canton in the Armenian highlands, including therein the Erivan Province, the mountainous – Armenian part of the Elizavetpol Province, the Akhalqalaq county from Tiflis Province, the Armenian part of the Borchaloo county, Kars and Kaghzvan counties of the Kars region. The Georgians and the Tatars were against the creation of the Armenian Canton, having territorial claims towards the Armenian territories, while the Provisional Government did not realize it because of its short existence.
In conditions of the Russian army’s defeats in Western Front, as well as the Provisional Government’s political crisis, the increasing Bolshevik threat the ARF Dashnaktsutyun raised the issue of self – determination and independence of Western Armenia, strengthening political ties with the US and European countries in order to obtain guarantees of international supervision, if necessary. But the realization of this idea became impossible in 1917 because of the Bolshevik government’s yielding policy towards Quadruple Alliance countries in the name of prompt signing of separate peace treaty, as well as the German – Turkish military and diplomatic pressure, the withdrawal of Russian troops from Western Armenia, the insufficiency of human, economic and military resources therein.