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(en) History, Alexander Atabekian - An anarchist on the roads of freedom by Cemal Selbuz

Date Tue, 19 Sep 2006 11:20:11 +0300

In the last quarter of the 19th century, Alexander Atabekian was an
active figure in the anarchist movement of Europe, especially for the
Russian anarchist movement and Armenian revolutionary movements.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, Alexander Atabekian was an active
figure in the anarchist movement of Europe, especially for the Russian
anarchist movement and Armenian revolutionary movements. He published several
pamphlets including the essays of Bakunin, Kropotkin and Errico Malatesta in
Armenian and Russian through the Anarchist Library which he founded in Geneva.
Max Nettlau proposes that it is the self-sacrificing efforts of Alexander
Atabekian, who was studying medicine in Geneva, that made anarchist
publications in Armenian become known (between 1891-1894) (Max
Nettlau, Anarchisten und Syndikalisten Band V).

In the early years of his education (1888-1890) Alexander Atabekian
contributed to the typesetting of «Hinchak» («Sound of the Bell»)
which was the periodical of Hinchakian Social Democratic Party, being
published by an Armenian socialist, Avetis Nazarbekian. The articles and
essays in «Hinchak» were mainly composed of the Ottoman genocide
over Armenians and the Armenian resistance to it and the pogrom executed
on Armenians in Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Atabekian continued to the anarchist propaganda activities addressing the
Armenian and Ottoman villagers and established relations with the
militants and anarchists in Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) after
he joined the anarchist movement in Europe (1890).


The essays written by Peter Kropotkin in 1879 and which appeared on the
paper «Le Revolt» were provoking individual and collective revolt
actions and emphasizing the importance of the strikes’ transformation
into rebellions. These essays were collected by Elisee Reclus and published
under the name of «Words of a Rebel» in Paris in 1885. This pamphlet
was very popular between the young anarchists of the period. Alexander
Atabekian also joined the anarchist-communist movement after reading
«Words of a Rebel». He started to work in old Ukrainian Kuzman’s
printing house (which was the only place anarchists could attain in Geneva)
in order to collect the Armenian and Russian essays.

The pamphlets he prepared here were: «To the Armenian villagers» and
«Letter to Armenian Revolutionaries from an International Anarchist
Organization» (Max Nettlau, Anarchisten und Syndikalisten Band V).

Besides preparing these pamphlets, Atabekian was establishing relations
with the anarchists in Geneva, Paris and Italy. Kropotkin, Max Nettlau,
Stoianoff, Paraskev, Jacques Grave and J. Gross would be the first
anarchists for him to meet and exchange letters. Luigi Galleani, P.
Stoianoff and Elisee Reclus (who faced prosecution after their actions in
Paris in 1st of May, 1890) came to Geneva and met Atabekian. Here they
printed the manifest which was written to the memory of the anarchists
who were executed in Chicago (llth of November, 1887) in Kuzman’s
printing house and postered it in the streets of Geneva.

Atabekian, together with Stoinoff, met Kropotkin in London and declared
that he was undertaking the plan to deliver the pamphlets to the first
anarchist organization in southern Russia. After he returned to Geneva,
Atabekian - fairly experienced at creating multipurpose and practical
printing devices - carried his work in Kuzman’s printing house to the
boarding-house he stayed. (This lodging house would later be the place in
which the manuscripts of Bakunin were preserved. Some parts of the
manuscripts were anonymously published by Atabekian in Les Temps
Nouveaux later on). He printed the first volume of Bakunin’s «Paris
Commune and Idea of the State» in Russian in Anarchiceskaya Biblioteka
(Anarchist Library) which he founded in his room (Jaap Kloosterman, Les
papiers de Michel Bakunin a Amsterdam).

Other Armenian and Russian pamphlets he published in anarchist library

Kropotkin: Political Rights (1893), Decomposition of the State (1892),
Anarchism (1893), Revolutionary Minorities (1894), Spirit of Revolt (1893,
was published in Libre de la Federation in unfinished form), Elisee Reclus:
To Our Farmer Brothers, Errico Malatesta: Between Peasants (This article
was published with an preface for Armenians, 1893), Jacques Grave: Why
Are We Revolutionaries? (1894) (M. Nettlau, Anarchisten und
Syndikalisten Band VS. 481.82)

In his article titled «Anarchism and Armenian Movements in the
Ottoman Empire», Anahide Ter Minassian notes that there is the
insertion «published with the consent of Ministry of Education» (in
Ottoman language) in the first pages of the pamphlets published by
Atabekian. (Osmanii Imparatorlugu’nda Sosyalizm ve Milliyetcilik
(1876-1923), ed. Tuncay, Mete - Jan Zurcher, Erik)

These pamphlets were in circulation among the Armenian immigrants.
This circulation was organized by Stoianoff who went to Southern Caucasia
and Istanbul and also to Bulgaria after being exiled from Paris. Some
sources argue that Atabekian tried to distribute the pamphlets in Izmir and
Istanbul also. (It is hard to conceive if it was done by himself or via other
people. Also the archives belonging to Atabekian are scattered through four
countries and much of it couldn’t be classified yet).

The condition that the massacres against the Armenians in the Ottoman
Empire (Sason, Samsun, Zeytun etc.) took a constant state affected
Atabekian deeply. «...He was so affected by the events of 1895 that he
was unable to continue his activities as far as I know» (M. Nettlau
Anarchisten und Syndikalisten Band V).

Atabekian continued his medical degree in Lyon and Paris. He was
graduated in Geneva with his Ph.D. thesis on quinsy. After being notified
with the sentence of exile which was given for his former anarchist
activities in Paris, he left Europe and first travelled to Bulgaria and then
Reshd region of Iran, where he would stay for sixteen years.


«Hamayankh», Atabekian’s first anarchist periodical in Armenian,
was published five issues in Paris in 1894 (Max Nettlau).The periodical
consisted of eight pages and the first pages were containing articles about
anarchism and about Armenian revolutionary movements in general. The
other pages were separated for short news about anarchist movements of
the world and political events, under the title of «International
Revolutionary Movement». The articles about massacres and resistances
mainly consist of the pamphlets published by ARF. One of these
pamphlets, «Sason and Mus Combats» is written in a nihilist and lyric
rhetoric. Besides publishing ARF’s articles, «Hamayankh» also
criticises the authoritarian and centralist structures of the Armenian
revolutionary movements.

«Hamayankh» was well appreciated among the Armenian immigrants
in the West and the Balkans (Max Nettlau). Stoianoff made it possible to
distribute it to the Armenian revolutionists coming from the .Balkans,
Southern Caucasia and Turkey.

There are not any articles signed by Atabekian in «Hamayankh». It is
possible for him to have written under a pseudonym after the legal
prosecutions and the exile sentence in Paris. Anahide Ter Minassian
explains the absence of the name Atabekian in the articles as a possible
precaution for the constant prosecutions against the anarchists.

Reshd region of Iran was another place that «Hamayankh» was
published in. Minassian alleges that «Hamayankh’s» publication in
Iran is attributed to Atabekian himself. The title of this periodical reflects
the anarchist views of its publisher. Its publication date (1880) is quite early
too» (Tuncay - Zurcher, 199). Karekin Levonyan, too, writes that Iran
version of «Hamayankh» was published in 1880 and the publisher was
Atabekian (Armenian Press, 1794-1934). The date 1880 is problematic in
the context of Atabekian’s biography.

Atabekian was born in Shusha, Transcaucasia in 1868. He lived there until
he graduated from high school. The fact which is indicated in many sources
is that his participation in anarcho-communist movement happened in 1890
and his travel to Iran took place after 1896. This makes the publication year
1880 for «Hamayankh» too early. If the fact that the other information
about him in both the two sources are in consensus (except the date) is
taken into consideration, it seems possible that the date 1880 is amiss.


«You cannot predict how an outstanding comrade of mine whom I met
here and shared a deep friendship in the meantime provides me great
tranquillity. He is an immigrant from Constantinople who constantly risks
not only his freedom but also his life and who is one of those
misunderstood rebels. Despite the fact that he is a libertarian who is
convinced in our thoughts, he acts along with Armenian Revolutionary
Federation due to the weakness of the libertarians in the East. He
doesn’t want to spend time here in vain. He is a shoemaker and works
from 4 in the morning to 9 in the evening for a very little money. He
doesn’t want to stay here for long because of his decided and contender
personality. His self-sacrifice to participate the combat again is admirable.
He works in worst conditions in order to gather a few pennies.»
(Atabekian’s letter to Jacques Gross from Sofia, November 16-28,
1896. IISG Amsterdam).

ARF was founded in Tbilisi in 1890. In the beginning, the organization was
constituted by anarchists, socialists and nationalists. It is said that
Khristaphor Mikaelyan, one of the founders, was once a supporter of
Bakunin and was always a defender of direct action and self-government
(Minassian). Mikaelyan was an icon of freedom in Armenian literature for
his militancy and authorship of essays. Like Atabekian and other
libertarians from Istanbul, he also had been to Bulgaria. He died in Bulgaria
while he was testing the bomb which was designed to be used to
assassinate Sultan Abdulhamid II in Yildiz (Avetis Aharonian, The

«Droshak Library» of ARF had a rich collection. Kropotkin’s
«Spirit of Revolt» and «An Appeal to the Young» were too published
by published by «Droshak» («Flag»).

ARF’s propaganda actions appealing to the Muslim population and
militant actions against the Ottoman government affected the intellectuals
who initiated the second «Young Turks» movement. Fifty armed ARF
militants marched to the government centre in 1894 to protest the
massacres against the Armenian population. Later they raided the Ottoman
Bank. Armed conflicts, bombardments and captive holding events lasted for
a whole day. These events centred the gazes of the world to the Armenians
in the ottoman Empire besides leading to a great excitement in Istanbul.
The style and method of the act was a first for Istanbul. Perhaps it was the
first «modem» action style. This action led to Young Turks’ using
new propaganda methods, who were hitherto trying to get organized by
secret gatherings. Young Turks gained possession of a printing press in
Galata. They distributed the declarations which were written by Abdullah
Cevdet and printed in a thousand copies.

The actions of ARF and massacres in 1894 and 1895 deeply affected the
thoughts of Ottoman intellectuals. The declaration of the Young Turks
called the peoples of Ottoman Empire to a common war against the
despotic regime (Yuriy Asatovic Petrosyan, JonTurkler, Istanbul 1974).

In the meantime an anarchist group of fourteen people coming from
different countries of Europe and from ARF rustled in Istanbul (Sukru
Hanioglu, Abdullah Cevdet).

Armenian libertarians showing activity in ARF sent a declaration in 1896 to
Socialist International in London.

«Atabekian sent a declaration titled ‘Aux socialistes revolutionnaires
et libertaires’ (To the Revolutionary and Libertarian Socialists) and
signed by the name of Libertaires Armeniens to the International Congress
in London (July 18, 1896). I translated the same declaration for ‘Der
Sosyalisf (September 26, 1896)». (M. Nettlau, Anarchisten und
Syndikalisten Band V, 482).

Minassian notes that Armenian libertarians included in their declaration the
argument that the European states were participating in the crimes of
Sultan Hamit and they (libertarians) were declaring “the dawn of the
social revolution” in the East.


After working as a doctor for many years in Iran, Atabekian came to
Moscow in 1917. There is little information relating to his years in Iran. It is
said that he met the Iranian-Armenian communist Ardeshir Avanessian
there, and that Avanessian worked in the pharmacy of Atabekian for a long
time (Iran Socialist and Communist Parties, Organization and Groups

Atabekian attended to the discussions regarding to the October Revolution
in the newspaper «Anarxia» (the publication of the anarchist
federation). He published thirty articles expressing his high hopes to
transform the October Revolution into an anarchist revolution and
afterwards his criticism of Bolsheviks’ possession of the government.
In November 1917, when the Bolsheviks gained the possession of the
government, Kropotkin said «This will ruin the revolution» for the first
time to his close friend Atabekian.

Atabekian and G. Sandomirsku founded a printing press in 1918 which was
organized as a cooperative one. Here, they published the first
anarcho-cooperative periodical of Moscow, «Pocin». The typesetting
and layout of Pocin was done by Atabekian himself. The periodical mainly
consisted of the memories and letters of Kropotkin who was a close friend
of Atabekian and who was admired by him. The periodical lasted for eleven
issues and five of them included Atabekian’s observations of Iran and
Middle East.

In January 1921, Kropotkin who was lying in his house in Dimitrov, had
Atabekian, his doctor and comrade, with him. Atabekian didn’t leave
him alone until his last breath.

Deteriorating with each passing day, Kropotkin died in 13th of April 1921.
The formal funeral ceremony of the Bolsheviks was rejected by his family.
His funeral was organized by an anarchist committee including Atabekian.
Kropotkin’s funeral became the last and greatest anarchist
demonstration in Russia.

One month after the death of Kropotkin, Bolshevik dictatorship repressed
the uprising of Kronstadt sailors cruelly. Series of operations against
anarchists were initiated throughout the whole Russia. In the private
penitentiaries of Cheka (Russian secret police organization) tens of
anarchists were shot and executed. Hundreds of anarchists were
imprisoned or exiled to Chechnya and Kyrgyzstan. Alexander Atabekian
took his share from the Bolshevik tyranny, too. He was arrested by Cheka
in 1920 with the charge of opposition to the Act of Press. He was sentenced
to six months in a concentration camp. In 1921, when he was arrested
again, he was sentenced to exile to Caucasia. With the intervention of
Kropotkin’s family, the sentence was consolidated (Repression de
I’anarchic en Russie sovietiste, Editions de la « Librairie Sociale»

What happened to Atabekian afterwards? A complete enigma. The sources
in Amsterdam argue that he died in a Soviet concentration camp in 1940,
while A.Burkov (from Yerevan) argues that he died in Moscow. French
sources allege that he was lost in exile. Another source, the author of
«Anarchists in Russian Revolution», Paul Avrich asserts that
Atabekian, like other Russian anarchists, was lost.

It is (un)known that Greeks, Jews and Armenians «in this geography»,
like Atabekian, constitute an extensive literature. Besides the fact that
much of this collection stays in different countries, the rare and few pieces
in Turkey still couldn’t be collected and classified. The discourse of
“this geography” or “these lands” which seems to be
“perfect” should be liberated from being a political discourse from
now on. We are going to publish other essays and articles by Atabekian in
the following issues.
* This article was written originally in Turkish language.
Published in No 25 (July 2006) «Abolishing the Borders
from Below», an anarchist journal from Eastern Europe.
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