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(en) Britain, ORGANISE! #68 - Anarchism and Nationalism in Armenia

Date Mon, 02 Jul 2007 09:27:00 +0300

Armenian anarchists, all of whom fled the country in late 2005 after attacks and threats to their lives by the nationalist Dashnakcuthyun political party, have been vindicated over the issue that threw them into this most recent conflict with the far Right. Four Anarchists, founders of the ex-Soviet Union-wide Anarchist-Communist organisation Autonomous Action, had campaigned against changes in the Armenian constitution by President Robert Kocharyan (whose government is propped up by Dashnakcuthyun). These changes allowed Armenia’s 8,000,000-strong diaspora to apply for duel citizenship. Autonomous Action blew the lid the Right’s real agenda: to allow those with dual citizenship to vote in Armenian elections. --- Armenian anarchists have been engaged in historic struggles with Dashnakcuthyun before. Both movements in fact grew out of a late- nineteenth-century socialist movement which emerged essentially in opposition to control of the country by Imperial Russia. Dashnakcuthyun went the reactionary route and can best be described since then as national-socialist (quasi-fascist), and like most authoritarians actively collaborated with successive regimes before and during the Soviet era to eliminate libertarian influence amongst the people. Anarchism declined under various repressive regimes until Autonomous Action was formed in 2002, when some disillusion young communists found Kropotkin’s Conquest of Bread in a second-hand bookshop.

Armenia was once a vast power and by 304AD was the first ever Christian ‘state’. Over the centuries it was squeezed by Persian, Imperial Russian and in particular Turkish expansionism. In 1915 Turks murdered one and a half million people in what many people regard as an attempt at genocide (but which has only been recognised as such by a handful of countries). During the Soviet era Armenia formed an important geo-political boundary between the USSR and its enemies in Asia, and was closely controlled and militarised by Moscow. As a result of its turbulent history, the Armenian diaspora is far larger than the population of the country itself, a land-locked Trans-Caucasian country of 2,000,000 people. Most of the émigrés are in ex-Soviet Union, France, the US, and also the UK. But extreme nationalism is often a characteristic of displaced peoples, anxious to see their mythologised homeland rise above its enemies.

A popular Armenian joke runs thus: When the Flood subsided Noah set the Ark down on Mount Arrarat (once in Armenia, now in Turkey). It was soon surrounded by a small, proud people shouting “It’s the circus! It’s the circus!” Endearing jokes can mask ugly politics. Specifically, nationalism prevents the ending of a historic conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over control of the largely ethnically Armenian Autonomous Republic of Nagorny Karabakh. In 1991, when the three republics became independent from Soviet Union, Azerbaijan refused to recognise the autonomy of the Karabakh and set about annexing it. Armenia, whilst never officially involved in the Karabakh, sent troops to ‘defend’ it, and to hopefully to take it for itself. The war lasted from 1991-1995 and hundreds of Armenians from the diaspora returned to the region to take part. This demonstrates that nationalist attachment to a greater Armenia is far from being limited to benign romantic nostalgia, and provides stark contrast with the traumatic ordeal of conscripted of Armenian citizens, including those who were to later become the anarchists.

In recent years Armenia has not stood up to close examination of its electoral system. Political commentators and independent observers remain suspicious of practices employed around the last election, way back in 1999. A more recent Armenian joke runs thus: “Bush, Blair and Kocharyan are on a plane. The engines fail, and the pilot bails out leaving only one parachute. The three premiers decide to have a democratic vote to see who deserves the parachute: one man, one vote. Kocharyan wins”. On February 23rd 2007, as the anarchists had predicted, Kocharyan indeed extended the franchise to the diaspora. Anarchists now predict that the voting forms of Armenians entitled to vote, but not actually making the trip to their embassies in New York, London and Paris, will not be returned Armenia blank. “Armenian Embassies are part of the Kocharyan ‘firm’”, an Armenian anarchist exile explained, “This is it for Armenia; the End”.

Autonomous Action is a 500-member strong federation of Anarchist-Communists and others on the Libertarian Left in over 50 towns throughout ex-Soviet Union.
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