Armenian Nationalism and Territorial Claims
When the Armenian Question appears on the agenda, it is stated that the Turks are not in a position to make an objective decision. The Westerners claim that only the Turks have negative convictions about the Armenians. However, the opinions and thoughts about the Turks and Armenians in different sources are often put forward without reflecting on the reality.
The purpose here is to move the matter outside of the geography of Turkey and evaluate the developments that were experienced in the Caucasus, the nature of the discussions of Armenian nationalism, and the ideal of “Great Armenia” that this nationalism shaped. Showing that not only the Turks, but also the Georgians, had problems in the relations with the Armenians in the Caucasus is important in terms of demonstrating looking at the subject from the viewpoint of another country as well.
Armenians identified two strategies to realize the ideal of “Great Armenia.” The first one of these was joining the Turkish territories that had nothing to do with the historical homeland of the Armenians with Armenia either through invasion or through peace. The second one was implementing terror activities against the Turlish peoples by starting national conflicts in order to ensure that.
It is seen that the Armenians made efforts for both of these purposes within the historical process. Joining the “Great Armenian State,” i.e. the territories from sea-to-sea, with the state they wanted to establish was their main goal. They chose Turkey as part of these territories and they viewed this as the “just verdict” of history. In order to legitimize this idea they claimed that these territories used to belong to the Armenians in earlier times and therefore, they annoucned to the world that they would cleanse their land and borders of foreign elements and try to create a “Great Armenia” (Velizade, Muradov, 1996: 56-58).
However, the Russians also had plans on the same territories and Russia tried to seize the trade route from Central Asia to the Near East in order to establish its own power in this region. Therefore, the Russians used the Armenians in their interest in the Caucasus and in the conquest of the region.
The Armenians gave information to the Russians on the political, social, and economic situation of the Caucasus in general, and Azerbaijan in particular, and thereby, contributed to the preparation of the plans of invasion. Starting with the 18th century, Armenian politicians, such as Izrail Ori, played a large role in the establishment and development of the Russian-Armenian relations and especially in the increase of the interest of the Tsar Pyotr I in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, and the Caspian Sea. As a result of convenient conditions emerging in the 19th century, Tsarist Russia used the Armenians in the implementation of the meticulous plans that it had prepared for the invasion of the Caucasus and Azerbaijan. Russia relocated Armenian settlers in groups to the territories that it seized there. The immigration of the Armenians into the Azeri region started between the years 1826-1828 (Kerimova, 1995:71).
Beginning from the end of the 19th century, the Armenians turned to the implementation of their second strategy. They started their activities for “Great Armenia,” which was the real goal, by establishing parties such as “Tashnaksutyun.”
From 1890, the Armenia policy of the Russians also started to change. The reason for that was the rise of the idea of nationalism among the Armenians in these years. The development of the nationalist policy led to the Armenians being seen as potential, if not actual, enemies. The Russians resorted to provoking the Armenians to act against the Azeri Turks in order to eliminate that danger. This tactic paid off and disagreements emerged between the two nations. The 1905 incidents took place because of the Armenians provoking the people for various reasons. These activities, which aimed at removing the Azeri Turks, who lived in their homeland, from that homeland and killing them, started in Baku first and then spread to all of the regions of Azerbaijan. In fact, the only responsible party for these incidents is the Tashnaksutyun Party. The Tashnaks formed units similar to gangs, took the Armenians who had emigrated from the Ottoman State into them, and committed masscares by attacking the Turkish villages. The Azeri Turks had no organization to fight them. They had to fight without coordination and without a plan, and as a result, they failed (Kazemzadeh, 1951:18; Libaridian, 1996: 185-196).
The second phase of the ideal of “Great Armenia” covers the years 1918-1920. The Armenians killed tens of thousands of Azeris in the 1918 incidents, which are mentioned as the “March Incidents” or the “March Massacres” in Azerbaijan history. The plan that aimed at cleansing the Baku commune province from the Turks was put into action. As a result, thousands of Turks were killed because of their Turkish national affiliation.
The “Great Armenia” dream of the Armenian intellectuals covered an area from the Asia Minor to the Southern Caucasus. They justified the invasion of territories that did not belong to them as “the unificaiton of the Armenian-speaking provinces.” According to this, completely Turkish settlement units such as Nagorno Karabagh and Nakhchivan were Armenian territories.
In the Soviet Union period, the disputes between the Azeri Turks and the Armenians seemed to have been mitigated within the framework of the friendship of the nations. However, the Armenians did not refrain from repeating their territorial claims when they felt that convenient political conditions materialized. The latest example of this can be seen in Nagorno Karabagh. The activities of the Armenians to connect Nagorno Karabagh to Armenia started in the 1960s. In those years, especially the Armenian intellectuals carried out their ideological activies visibly. At the end of the 1980s, the Glastnost and Perestroika policies of Gorbachev gave the Armenians the opportunity to use armed force and 20% of the Azeri territories were invaded by the Armenians. It is also possible to see the traces of the idea of “Great Armenia” in the relations of the Armenians with their other neighbor Georgia. The Georgians indicate that the Armenians call their territories “former Armenian provinces” and claim that a large part of Georgia and Tbilisi have belonged to the Armenians since ancient times. Another concern of the Georgians, who have always been proud of their history, is the falsification of their history by the Armenians. Ilya Chavchavzada, who is a Georgian count, talked about this falsification in his book titled “Armenian Scholars and the Scream of the Stones.” According to this, Armenian scholars tried to prove that historical works belonged to them by scratching out the old inscriptions from the walls of the historical works and by replacing them with their own inscriptions and the stones screamed when faced with this abuse (Çavçavadze, 1902/Baku, 1990: 19-28). As a matter of fact, the “friendship of nations” policy of the Soviet regime had eliminated the controversial subjects between the Georgians and Armenians. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a rapprochament took place between the two people, which were in a struggle for independence. However, this did not last long. First, arguments started as to which country Samshe-Javaheti belonged. Then there was the fighting of the “Bagramyan Regiment,” which consisted of Armenians, against the Georgians in Georgia’s war against Abkhazia and the publishing of anti-Georgian and secessionist articles in the newspaper Jawahk, which was published in Ahalkalaki caused Georgia to approach the issue differently.
Armenians, who were the second largest ethnic group in Georgia after the Georgians, lived mainly in Tbilisi and in Jawaheti, which was a state in the south of the country and comprised 90% of the population there. When a general chaos was experienced in Georgia in the process of the collapse of the USSR, some movement was seen between some political organizations in Tbilisi and Jawaheti. Starting from the 2000s, they did not prefer to commit any radical action in Jawaheti perhaps because of the experiences in Georgia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.
The Armenians in Jawaheti revolted with a demand of independence in 1997 for the first time. The devlopments in the region are similar to the development of the problem of Nagorno Karabagh. The “Jawakh People’s Movement,” which the Armenians of Jawahet established for cultural purposes in 1988, started cooperation with the military circles in Russia and Armenia after the passing of the Caspain oil pipeline from Georgia was decided upon. Georgia has not solved the Armenian problem in Jawaheti yet. Georgia is the most important strategic ally of Azerbaijan. This subject is of critical importance for Azerbaijan, which is in a war of information with Armenia.
Secessionist activities are still ongoing in Samshe-Jawaheti, where the Armenians live. Radical forces carry out protests in various places demanding secession from Georgia and acquiring autonomy with a high status. The fact that these movements take place with direct support of Armenia is obvious. The goal of “Miatsum” (unification with Armenia) of the Armenians of Jawaheti has reached the point where it can create convenient conditions in which new disputes can occur (Emil, 2003; “Cavahetiya Ermenileri Tiflisden Siyasi Muhtariyet İsteyir”, 2003)
Tashnaksutyun chose the path of armed struggle rather than ideological activity in order to realize “Great Armenia.” The main emphasis of the party is the territorial claims on neighboring states. The program and objective of Tashnaksutyun, which is one of the three significant parties that are represented in Armenia, is a reflection of the general understanding in Armenia. The recognition of the 1915 so-called genocide, taking of Kars and Ardahan from Turkey and their being annexed by Armenia, not leaving the 7 regions in Bagorno Karabagh to Azerbaijan and granting of autonomy to Jawaheti have become the main objectives of the party.
Iranian-Armenian relations are developing in all areas today. Russia, Western countries, and Iran sent fuel and food aid to Armenia in the 2000s. Some circles indicate that the aid and support given by Iran to Armenia has the purpose of preventing the territorial claims that may be directed towards Iran. On the other hand, Iran has been trying to make Armenia dependent on Iran in every way (Turgut, 2004b). Nevertheless, it would not be surprising to see Armenia demand territories from Iran after it solves its problems in the future.
In conclusion, today the world is at a turning point with regards to the subjects of security and international terrorism and investments that are worth millions of dollars are on the agenda in relation to the energy resources in the Caspian Sea. However, the fact that Armenia still brings up the genocide issue and territorial claims in the region, while security and ensuring the peace in the Southern Caucasus are being discussed and possible measures are considered, verifies the concern that this country will create obstacles for the peace and security of the region.
Çavçavadze, İlya (1990),Armyanskie uçoniye i vopiyuşçie kamni,Tiflis 1902/Baku.
Emil, “Gürcüstan İkinci Garabağ Problemi İle Üzleşe Biler”,Olaylar Gezeti, www. olaylar.net, 10 Yanvar 2003.
Kazemzadeh, Firuz (1951),The Struggle for Transcaucasia, New York.
Kerimova, S. (1995),Çarizmin Azerbaycanın İşgalında ve Müstemlekecilik Siyasetinde Ermeni Siyasetbazlarının Rolü, Bakı.
Libaridian, G. J., “Revolution and Liberation in the 1892 and 1907 Programs of the Dasnaksutyun”, (haz. R. G. Suny), Transcaucasia, s. 185-196.
Turgut, Emir (2004), “Ermenilerin İrana Erazi İddiası Ola Biler”,Olaylar,www.olaylar.net.
Turgut, Emir (2004), “İran Ermenistan’a Destek Verir”,Olaylar,www.olaylar.net.
Velizade, İ. – Muradov, B. (1996),Ermenistan Azerbaycanlılarının Soygırımı, Bakı.