‘Communism in Armenia’ by Avis Nurijanyan from Communist International. No. 13. 1920.

An essential history of Bolshevism in Armenia up until the crushing of the May, 1920 Uprising by the leader of Armenia’s Military Revolutionary Committee. The Red Army would invade in November 1920 as the Turkish Army entered Armenia, partitioning the country and establishing the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.

‘Communism in Armenia’ by Avis Nurijanyan from Communist International. No. 13. 1920.


OF the three Transcaucasian Republics Armenia is the most backward economically. Its political backwardness corresponds fully to its economic backwardness.

From the moment of the organisation of the “independent State,” Armenia’s political and economic life became strictly isolated and squeezed into the narrow limits of nationalism. Without this isolation, without the separation of Transcaucasia from Soviet Russia and its division into three petty-bourgeois Republics, the “Dashnaktsiutun,” a party of the Armenian bourgeoisie, would not have acquired power over the workers and peasant masses of Armenia.

This isolation pursued two objects: the struggle against the proletarian revolution, advancing from the North, and the struggle against the workers and peasants of Armenia, who were ready to join the revolution. The organisation of a bourgeois nationalist State was accompanied by continuous national wars, which turned into ruins whole provinces inhabited by the working masses of Armenia and Mahomedans. Zangezur, Karabakh, Akulis, Agbaba, Zangibassar, are the living witnesses of the bloody imperialist policy of the “Dashnaktsiutun” Party and its kindred “Mussovat” Party in Azerbeidjan.

Avis Nurijanyan.

“Independent and united Armenia from sea to sea”—this sacred dream of the Armenian bourgeoisie is now being practically realised by the counter-revolutionary government of Armenia, clearing its territory of the hated Mohammedan peasantry, and destroying by sword and fire the Mohammedan villages and settlements.

But, if the national wars in the hands of the government and its parties have served as a means for the strengthening of their power over the workers and peasant masses of Armenia, the same national wars, with their ruinous results and their imperialist aims which have become evident to the working masses, have undermined the foundation of this economically weak and backward country.

The Armenian peasantry, formerly comparatively well-to-do, became ruined partly during the war between Russia and Turkey, but, chiefly during the period of triumph of the Dashnak reaction and the following epoch of bloody collisions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The war, as everywhere else, swallowed up the remaining wealth of this not very rich country, destroying all its productive forces and transforming the peasants of entire provinces into beggar refugees. The blows dealt to the worker-peasant masses of Armenia by the bloody collisions organised and provoked by the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan were increased by the internal régime, which lay with a heavy pressure on the working masses. “Free and independent Armenia” in the hands of the Dashnaks, became a country “independent” of workers and peasants and “free” for speculators, mauserists (terrorists), exploiters, and the officers of Denikin.

The deception of the worker-peasant masses of Armenia by the international imperialists showed itself especially in the acceptance of the mandate for Armenia. The imperialists still continue to haggle about the mandate. But they do not let Armenia out of their hands yet, because she is necessary to them in their struggle against Bolshevism. That is why America is supplying Armenia with grain—on account, of course, of the raw materials—wool, cotton—which are being obtained from her.

However, even American grain, in the hands of the government, is transformed into a means for the struggle against the revolution. The Government, which had formerly been frightening the worker and peasant masses by the threat of an attack on the part of Azerbaijan, later on, when the masses began to see clearly the imperialist nature of the wars, made use of the American grain and the threat to allow the peasants to die of famine in case of their refusal to enlist support for the Government. All the arriving grain fell into the hands of speculators and the village exploiters. The middle peasantry, lacking bread and possessing but small pieces of land, was compelled to borrow the grain from the speculators, and to cede to them the right of using the land. Throughout the whole of Armenia, this process resulted long ago in the formation of a tremendous army of proletarised peasants in the villages. Thus, notwithstanding the import of grain from America, an army of hungry masses has been created by the speculative governmental organisation.

A characteristic feature is the fact that during the Tsarist regime there existed almost no land question in Armenia, apart from the defence of the monastery lands from the Tsarist government, which strove to confiscate them, and which enabled the Armenian nationalists, together with the clergy, to increase their influence over the peasantry. On the contrary, during the régime of the Dashnaks, the land question has assumed a most acute form; the Dashnak exploiters have succeeded in depriving the peasants of their land, in exchange for grain; and the peasants are now beginning to comprehend that it was not in the interests of the peasantry that the Council of Etchmiadzin, with its enormous staff of employees and vast tracts of land, appealed to them at the time to struggle against the pretensions of the imperial government. The land question is becoming more acute in Armenia in consequence also of the artificial formation of a landowners’ class, consisting of members of the government and parliament, to whom the government is according the lands requisitioned from the Mohammedan peasantry. The policy of slaughter of the Mohammedans within the country, besides its economic aims, i.e., the enrichment of the members of the government and parliament, has chiefly a political aim. The government is peopling the regions which have become cleared of Mohammedans with Turkish- Armenian refugees, in order to create an “Armenian-Cossack class” for the assistance of the government in its struggle against the local, beggared, and consequently revolutionary peasantry. Almost all the commerce in the city of Erivan is concentrated in the hands of the Turkish-Armenians. The government is completely dependent on them.

In a worse condition than the ruined peasantry is the working class, concentrated chiefly on the line of the railway. The centre of the Labour movement is Alexandropol, with the Labour Depot at its head. After the defeat of the Soviet Power in Baku, in 1918, a great number of artisan-workers arrived in Armenia and took up responsible posts in the railway service. The tragic situation of the working masses of Armenia may be explained chiefly by the absence of an organised working class, which might have set its will against the demands of the government. The Dashnaktsiutun Party was able to rule undividedly so long as the voice of the working class was not heard, so long as the comparatively well-to-do petty bourgeois peasantry, not quite ruined by the war, still joined its fate with that of the higher Armenian bourgeoisie. From the moment of the organisation of the independent State, the workers began to concentrate along the railway lines from all points of Transcaucasia. The government used all its efforts to organise the workers into a governmental party, in order to create a support for its power.

But the regime of the Mauserists, which had repulsed the peasantry, repulsed the workers in a still greater degree. The organisation of the governmental Trade Unions, serving exclusively the interests of the Railway Administration; the transformation of the Central Committee of the Railway Union into a secret police section for the persecution of the workers; and, later on, the merciless struggle against the working masses under the banner of Trade Unions, placed before the workers the question of organising their own bona-fide Trade Union, capable of carrying on the class struggle against the government.

On the ground of the struggle against the governmental Trade Unions, and the arrests of the Communist workers in January of the current year, a general strike broke out, during the suppression of which the workers were subject to the most cruel treatment and mass arrests. At the congress of the railwaymen in April, the Communist Party won a complete victory over the governmental party; but the latter managed by means of violence and arrests of the Communist delegates to obtain the election of a new Central Committee, whose object became to exterminate Bolshevism among the railway workers. Numbers of workers were languishing in the prisons of Alexandropol up to the moment of the insurrection. Throughout the whole of Armenia the best Communist workers were arrested as common thieves and robbers. The working class in Armenia is absolutely deprived of all rights and exists on a beggarly wage. It is not surprising that, under the energetic leadership of the Communists, the working class 18 becoming the advance guard of the revolution in Armenia.

These hard conditions were particularly unbearable for the army, consisting mostly of workers and peasants. Suffering deeply under the pressure of the discipline of blows and barracks, which was in no wise better than that of the former Tsarist régime, generously shedding their blood in the senseless nationalist wars, the hungry and barefoot Armenian soldiers became inspired with hatred against the Dashnaks much earlier than their brethren in the factories or at the ploughs. That is why, long before the insurrection, in the first days of April the garrison of Sarakamysh revolted twice in order to liberate the arrested Communist soldiers. The Government was powerless to struggle against the garrison, and the mutiny of the men of Sarakamysh inspired the whole army with courage. The army broke the generals’ chains, and at once took heart.

Such are the objective conditions which, independently of the will of separate individuals and parties, have created the revolutionary situation in Armenia: the constant national wars, the ruin of the peasantry and pauperism of the masses, speculation, theft, and venality, the absence of all rights, the poverty of the workers, and the unbearably hard régime in the army— in a word, the whole insane policy of the government of Dashnaks, speculators, and Mauserists —made the catastrophe inevitable.

What party in Armenia could utilise all these conditions, and, in conformity with the inter- national situation, place itself at the head of the workers’ and peasants’ movement? The Armenian Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries are generals without armies, because any- thing that they could have done in Armenia had been done already by the Dashnaks, who differ in no wise from the Mensheviks of Georgia or Russia. The Communist Party alone took up its position face to face against the government and the ruling Dashnak party. Either the Communists or the Dashnaks—that is how the question stands in Armenia.

The activity of the Communist Party in Armenia began almost from the very day of the revolution; but its work became really mass work only about a year ago. During that time the organisation of the Russian Communist Party in Armenia convened two conferences (up to the last days the Armenian Communist organisation had been working under the flag of the Russian Communist Party). The result of some six months’ work of the Party is about 3,000 organised members——without counting the army, where there is also a strong organisation. The chief attention of the Party was directed towards the organisation of the working class and activity in the Trade Unions, which gradually passed into the hands of the Communists and adopted the tactics and policy of Communism. At the last Party Conference, an exhaustive resolution was passed on all questions concerning the external and internal situation of Armenia.

In the resolution on the external situation, we read the following:

“The Russian Revolution has advanced the motto of the liberation of all the oppressed nationalities of the East from the yoke of world- capital. The East has already arisen; its sympathies are with Soviet Russia against world imperialism. But there is no doubt that this movement, in the first period of its development, will bear a nationalist liberative character. This question is particularly acute in Armenia, where the ruling classes have finally and indissolubly linked the fate of the country with the victory of international imperialism. In Armenia there is no national question: there exists only a social question. At the moment of the general revolt in the East, the Russian Communist Party in Armenia must be prepared to overthrow the power of the Dashnaktsiutun Party, align its front according to the external imperialist front, and, with the help of the revolted peoples of the East, in alliance with Soviet Russia, form a common front against international imperialism.”

Under the most difficult conditions, when parliament sanctioned a most pitiless warfare on the part of the government against the Bolsheviks, the Party did not cease its work for a moment, issuing fly-sheets, papers, journals, etc. (The following papers are published in the Armenian language: Alick, Communist. The Voice of the Peasant, The New Path, Izvestia. etc.).

The Trade Unions in Armenia—such as the Council of Unions in Alexandropol and all the Railwav Unions—by May 1 had been transformed into militant revolutionary organs of the working class, with the Communist Party at their head.


‘One more to the abyss.’

A FORTNIGHT before May 1, the Committee of the R.C.P. in Armenia sent out circular instructions to all organisations to prepare for the celebration of the first of May. All the Communist organisations were called upon, and special fly-sheets for the first of May were published. The day before May 1 information was received that Baku was occupied by the Soviet troops. With lightning speed the news spread throughout the whole country, drawing closer together the ranks of the workers and peasants, preparing to move out under the banner of the Communist Party.

The first of May passed exclusively under the mottoes of the Communists. The triumphant celebration of this proletarian holiday in all the towns and villages of Armenia, unheard of in the annals of the Armenian worker and peasant masses, won them over to the cause of the social revolution and the establishment of the Soviet power. The government party was nowhere to be seen in the streets of Erivan, Alexandropol, Kars, Sarakamvsh, where, under the Red Banner and to the sounds of the band playing the ‘International,’ many thousands of workers and peasants welcomed the Communist orators, calling the people to overthrow the contemptible power of the Dashnaks and to establish a Soviet Government. The Dashnak officers were particularly discomfited, and could not look with equanimity at the portraits of Lenin or Trotsky. At Alexandropol, the Dashnaks opened fire on the numerous crowds of workers and soldiers; the masses replied by devastating the club of the Dashnaks. On that day the entire army joined the Communist Party. The radio station at Erivan was at the disposition of our organisation during the whole day. At noon the Committee of Armenia sent a congratulatory radio to Moscow and Baku, and special telegrams from Alexandropol to Baku. The day was also triumphantly celebrated in the villages.

From the first of May, in Alexandropol, power was practically in the hands of the Alexandropol Committee of the R.C.P. On the first of Mav the Party demonstrated in the streets of Alexandropol and throughout Armenia. all its secret forces, and took its position at the head of the workers, soldiers, and peasants in revolution against the government. The disconcerted government, foreseeing its approaching defeat, proceeded to plunder the food stores in order to starve the revolutionary masses. The Alexandropol Committee of the R.C.P. comprehending the situation and not wishing to desist from the leadership of the movement took energetic measures on its own risk and responsibility. Circular instructions were sent out to the American representative and all Food Supply institutions, demanding the immediate stoppage of the plundering of the provisions, and threatening them with the Revolutionary Tribunal of the future Soviet Armenia. At that time the American Mission, frightened by the celebration of May 1, and the approaching revolution, had left Erivan for Tiflis. The Alexandropol Committee stopped the train, and pronounced the Mission to be under arrest until the arrival of the food supplies, which were then on the way to Alexandropol from Batoum.

This is the original text of the paper delivered and signed by the American Mission to the Alexandropol Committee of the R.C.P.: “We, the representatives of the American Mission, bind ourselves before the Alexandropol Committee of the R.C.P. to the effect that all the food cargoes destined for Armenia, and actually on their way from Batoum to Alexandropol, will be immediately forwarded to Armenia, independently of what government is at the head of the country—the present imperialist, or a Socialist Soviet Government.” The signatures of the representatives of the Mission follow. (This document is in the custody of the archives of the Alexandropol Committee of the R.C.P.).

On May 3, the station and the fortress were practically in the hands of the Bolsheviks. On Mav 8 a Military-Revolutionary Committee was formed of workers, soldiers, and members of the local Committee of the Party. All power in Alexandropol and the surrounding regions was concentrated in the hands of the Revolutionary Committee from that moment.

On Mav 10, at 5 p.m., by order of the Military Revolutionary Committee, Armenia was proclaimed a Soviet Republic, and the counter-revolutionary government of Armenia outlawed. All the district militia was disarmed. The Dashnak Mauserists, foreseeing the fall of the old government, had left the town before May 1 for some of the remote villages, where they managed to assemble some Turkish-Armenian counter-revolutionary bands. A model order reigned in all the towns; everyone was pleased with the fall of the Dashnaks; the Mohammedan refugees congratulated the workers and soldiers of Alexandropol, with tears in their eyes, promising to help them in the matter of pro- visions. Not only the workers and peasants, but all reasonable citizens, who were disgusted with the bloody regime of the Dashnaks, were glad of the revolution. The price of bread after the fall of the Dashnak power, fell from 150 to 60 roubles.

Monument to May Rising.

Only the counter-revolutionary officers, the Mauserists, and the numerous hordes of speculators and exploiters, hidden about the town, remained faithful to the old government. The speculators and Turkish Armenian exploiters had escaped slaughter in Turkish Armenia, thanks to their wealth; they had been permitted by the government to settle on the lands which had been requisitioned from the Mohammedan peasants; and now they were ready at any moment to act against the Bolsheviks. Simultaneously with the declaration of the establishment of the Soviet Government in Armenia, Kars and Sarakamysh also introduced the Soviet order. The Military Revolutionary Committee of Armenia had formed a plan to join with the Red troops quartered at Akstafa; but this plan was not put into execution, for reasons which did not depend on the Committee. The latter had its attention drawn to the fight against the government troops, sent from Erivan and numbering 1,500 bayonets—without counting the mass of armed bandits consisting of Turkish- Armenian speculators. The head of this army was the Turkish-Armenian Hambalet, now a general on a white horse, and the executioner Sepou. When the Red soldiers approached them they were surprised to see Armenians, as they had been told that they were going to fight the Turks. Ten soldiers immediately passed over to our side, the others, under the threats of the Mauserists, were ordered back to their positions.

On May 13, in the morning, it became known that the whole district was terrorised by the Mauserists, who had organised punitive detachments formed of Turkish-Armenian refugees. The railway line to Karakalis was broken up by a detachment of Mauserists moving from Djadjur station. The government troops were at a distance of one march from the town. Against the wish of the Military Revolutionary Committee, a group of Mensheviks and Social- Revolutionists organised a delegation to carry on negotiations in the name of the citizens with the chief of the governmental punitive detachment regarding the discontinuation of military operations. The delegation gave its word to the Military Revolutionary Committee not to touch upon any other question during the negotiations.

This is the original text of the declaration handed by the chief of the Sepou detachment: “In the name of the government, I demand the delivery of Alexandropol into the hands of the government troops. I declare that no other power can exist on the territory of Armenia besides that of the old government. We have lost Van, Mush, Erzeroum in Turkish-Armenia; the loss of another town—Alexandropol—will be of no importance to us. I will not leave a single stone unturned. I will destroy it, so that not a trace of the town will be left. Give up your leaders of the movement, Captain Musaelian, commander of the Red Army, Avis Melkonian, and members of the Military Revolutionary Committee of Soviet Armenia.”

May 13, in the night, in connection with the advance of the government troops and the victory of the counter-revolution in the regions around Alexandropol, and also with the advance of a detachment of Mauserists from the direction of station Djadjur, the Military Revolutionary Committee acknowledged the situation to be hopeless.

In the morning Sepou, chief of the government troops, started the battle. After a short fight the Soviet troops left the town, and departed from Armenia in different directions. The government troops entered the town, and on the morning of May 14 the Soviet Government in Armenia fell.

The counter-revolution did not spare anyone; all who had any relation to the Soviet Government were arrested. The Dashnaks killed Hatchaturov (General Hatchaturov had gone over to the side of the Soviet Army). It was characteristic that the Dashnaks did not spare even a member of the Central Committee of the Dashnak Party, Iberic Tcholahian, who had protested against the murder of Kondarev of which he had been an eye witness.

Emblem of the Armenia S.S.R., 1922.

Simultaneously with the fall of Alexandropol, Kars fell also. May 19, after a hard fight, the government troops took Soviet Sarakamysh. But, in spite of the fact that the centre of the movement was crushed, Kazar and New Bayazet revolted; to be however cruelly repressed, after four days’ hard fighting.

The Kazakh region, supported by the Red Army and Soviet Azerbeidjan, continued until recently fighting desperately against the Dashnaks. In this area about 4,000 Armenian peasants, together with the Mohammeda peasantry, carried on warfare against the Dash- naks and Mussavatists. The Dashnaks burned down whole areas, and shot and plundered misses of peasants. During the first period of the insurrection at Kazakhs, the Soviet troops came to the rescue of the revolutionists, and occupied the town of Dilijan. However, by order of the Centre, the Red Army and revolutionary peasantry were compelled to retreat. The worker-peasant movement in Armenia is now cruelly crushed.

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