By Edmond Y. Azadian
No matter what your political views may be about Armenian political parties, an objective assessment of those parties requires judging them in a historic context. Many individuals have performed patriotic acts throughout Armenian history and they have carved their places in the collective memory of the people. But those acts have shined like a flash of lightening in the dark without any sustainable impact over a long period.
On the other hand, political parties made patriotic activities their daily responsibility and have transmitted their ideology from generation to generation.
Like any individual or group, they have committed their share of mistakes as well, but the view that parties have been major forces of division cannot be justified historically. The clergy who are supposed to serve the altar of the Lord have proved to be more divisive and vindictive than the political parties.
The party members are — or supposed to be — people of commitment; a committment to an ideology whose realization may require sacrifices. Party members have made their share of sacrifices to fight for freedom or to defend the homeland.
October 1 marked the 95th anniversary of the formation of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party. It is a formation rather than a founding, because it was the culmination of several decades of historic development.
ADL historians maintain that the roots of the organization go back to the 19th century, when Armenians were engaged in a struggle for freedom in the Ottoman Empire.
Towards the end of the 19th century, three political parties were formed, the first one being the Armenagan Party, in 1885, in Van, inspired by three national leaders who, incidentally, bore the same first name, Muguerdich — Khrimian Hayrik, Portukalian and Terlemezian.
Mugurdich Khrimian was the Primate of Van at the time, later to be elevated to the rank of Patriarch in Istanbul and finally Catholicos of All Armenians in Echmiadzin. He was the proponent of concentrating the Armenians on their historic land. He had one powerful slogan which resounded through his sermons, literature and activities — Tebi Yergir (back to the homeland).
Mugurdich Portukalian did not have any direct role in founding the Armenagan organization. As an educator, he had trained many students with patriotic fervor. Later on, he moved to Marseille to publish his periodical, called Armenia, dedicated to the emancipation of the Armenian people from the Ottoman yoke.
Mugurdich Terlemezian was a political activist and organizer of the party, which had a very simple political platform — to educate the youth with patriotic commitment and prepare secretly for self defense, unlike other parties which adhered to international socialism. The Social Democratic Hunchak Party (founded in 1887) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (founded in 1890) believed in the liberation of Armenia through the world victory of socialism.
The Armenagan Party was founded in the heartland of Armenia, while the other two started in Geneva and Tbilisi, respectively.
The simple Armenagan ideology was vindicated when put to the test; Armenagans put up a violent defense in 1895 and 1915 in Van, against the powerful Ottoman army. After the first battle, they lost 800 fighters treacherously, until the local British consul arranged a ceasefire.
In 1921, the political landscape was completely changed. After the genocide and the defeat of the Sevres Treaty historic Armenia was depopulated and the independent Republic of Armenia had been absorbed by the Soviet empire.
A new reality required a new policy. For the West, the Iron Curtain fell after Winston Churchill’s historic speech at Fulton, Missouri, in 1947, whereas the same Curtain had already cut off the Armenian homeland from the masses of survivors scattered around the world.
The Armenagan, Reformed Hunchak, Armenian Popular (from Armenia), Liberal Parties, Armenian National Liberal Union and other groups convened in Istanbul on October 1, 1921 to face a new political reality, to overcome the ideological divide and to reach out to the people in the homeland and to preserve the unity of spirit. The outcome was the formation of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party, which embodied the visions, platforms and concerns of the constituent groups.
Ideologically, the ADL did not share the principles of socialism, which were forced down on the people of Armenia. Despite ideological reservations, the ADL adopted the policy of practical patriotism, which paid off handsomely over the years, despite all the dangers which accompanied that position in the Cold War era.
The other traditional parties chose more doctrinal policies; the Hunchak party supported Soviet Armenia, because socialism had won in the country. The ARF was equally doctrinal, adopting an antagonistic position, because it envisioned Armenia in communist garb and that was enough to wage a 70-year-war against Soviet Armenia, dividing the diaspora into antagonistic camps.
The ADL or its constituent groups had adopted the policy of pragmatic patriotism, even during the two years of Armenia’s independence, despite the fact that they were left out of the government. They poured financial support into the country and even bought a fleet of 20 military planes from Britain, to supply the new government with an air force, though the fall of Armenia prevented the delivery of the war planes.
During World War II, the ADL joined other patriotic groups to support the war effort and after the war, it was instrumental in organizing the repatriation of Armenians from the Diaspora.
All these activities were conducted against tremendous odds. Any one supporting Soviet Armenia could easily be labeled — and indeed were — as communist, when all kinds of people such as McCarthy were engaged in witch hunts around the globe.
The ADL practiced and promoted democratic principles in reorganizing the diaspora.
When the Third Republic became independent, the ADL leaders believed that the historic moment had arrived for the organization to move to Armenia and put into practice the ideology of free enterprise and democratic rule.
More than 20 members were elected to the parliament. The first business investments were brought in along with the ideology. That is where the idealism of the ADL leadership clashed with the oligarchic system, which preempted the formation of a democratic society. The ADL suffered internal cracks which were exacerbated by the three succeeding administrations that ruled Armenia.
Today, the spirit of unity which brought all the splinter groups together almost a century ago has been visiting the ADL ranks once again. As the world membership of the ADL join in the spirit of the 95th anniversary celebration at the Yerevan Opera, the vision of unity will lift and bring together all the disparate groups to mark the journey of the next 95 years.