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The Creation of Armenia

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By Jirair Tutunjian, Toronto, 11 May 2014

When considering Armenia’s recent and somewhat reluctant alliance with Russia it’s important to remember that today’s Armenia is mostly a Russian creation.

Following more than a century of desperate lobbying by Armenia, tsarist Russia’s army finally moved deeper into the Caucasus, in the early 19th century, and liberated most of the region from Turkic and Persian rule. What we now call modern Armenia was occupied by Russia and was named “Armenian Province”. Thus for the first time, since 1375, Armenia appeared on maps as a political entity. Soon after ultranationalist and narrow-minded Tsar Nicholas I changed the region’s name to “Yerevan Province”, but it was now recognized that the region was Armenian, although the majority of population was non-Armenian due to foreign occupation.

These and many other facts about the roots of modern Armenia were limned by Dr. George Bournoutian in his talk titled “Russo-Iranian Relations and the Formation of the Modern Armenian State” at AGBU’s Alex Manoogian Cultural Centre in Toronto on May 9. Dr. Bournoutian is on a book tour about his recent “From Tabriz to St. Petersbourg”.

Attendees at the standing-room-only event were also regaled by exciting mini-sketches of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, the slaying of Sayat Nova, Shah Fath Ali who had 145 children, a eunuch shah, and Generals Tsitsianov and Paskievich. Attendees also took away stories about the several Russo-Persian and Russo-Turkish Wars, about the bravery of Armenian volunteers, the Karapagh meliks, the colorful Armenian, Russian, and Persian characters who were involved in the transformation of Southern Caucasus, and the several repatriations of Armenians from Persia, Ottoman Turkey and Russia.

One of the most dramatic stories Dr. Bournoutian told was that of the pro-Armenian Russian Ambassador Alexander Griboyedov who was sent by Tsar Nicholas I, in 1829, to Persia to ratify the recent treaty between Russia and Persia. A larger-than-life character, Griboyedov was a famous playwright, poet, composer, and friend and rival of Alexander Pushkin.

One of Griboyedov’s duties was to assure the return of Christian prisoners taken by the Persians during their recent war with Russia. An unexpected conflict flared up when an Armenian eunuch escaped from the harem of Fath Ali Shah and two Armenian girls escaped from the harem of the shah’s son-in-law. All three sought refuge in the Russian embassy. The shah demanded that the Armenians be returned. When Griboyedov refused, Persian mobs, incited by the mullahs, attacked the Russian embassy. Griboyedov and his Cossacks put up a brave fight but were killed along with the 45-member staff. Griboyedov was 34. The Armenian eunuch was also killed. The fate of the two girls remains unknown. The young ambassador’s body was taken to Tbilisi where it’s buried.

 Fearing a massive Russian retaliation, the shah sent a 40-man mission to Moscow, carrying fabulous gifts, including vast carpets, manuscripts, and a large diamond. With peace established between the two empires, the Yerevan Province, now largely inhabited by Armenians, became a backwater. It remained so for the next 80 years, said Dr. Bournoutian, and became important only in Soviet times. He pointed out that while there were many obvious negative aspects to Soviet rule, one should not forget that present-day Yerevan is a legacy of the Soviet Era, and that scientific and artistic life bloomed in that period as opposed to the post-independence era.

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Comments

Inaccurate Interpretaion of History

I disagree with this article's implications and conclusions. Today's Armenia is not a "mostly Russian creation"--far from it. But no doubt, the presence of Russia did enable patriotic Armenians to lay the foundations of the re-emergence of the state, primarily the Tashnagsutiun. It does not mean that "Russia created Armenia". In fact, if not for these WWI-era patriotic Armenians, today's Armenia would be part of Azerbaijan, as the Soviet Union could care less about an Armenian state. In fact the Soviet Union, after chopping up Armenia into little pieces and giving its territories to Turkey and Azerbaijan as gifts, had even a plan to give all of southern Armenia to Azerbaijan as well--the lifelong dream of pan-Turkism.

But thanks again to the Tashnagstagan Karekin Njdeh's resistance, this was prevented from materializing. That's why the Soviet Union hated "nationalists" and for 70 years of its existence, Tashnagsutiun and the Soviet Union were at odds. And this hatred trickled into today's Russia as well, although not as antagonistic as before. Russians don't like "Armenian nationalists" because a strong Armenia would encroach into its interests of dominating the region and its energy routes.

Brith of Armenia

The article narrated events which preceded the the establishment of the Republic of Armenia after WWI by 80 years. It described how the geographic boundaries of the republic were secured during the Russian move deeper into the Caucasus. Before the arrival of the Russian armies, the area, which is now the Republic of Armenia, was occupied by the Persians. It was the Russians who liberated it. Had the Russians not moved and delineated the boundaries of the area they called 'Armenia Province' and later 'Yerevan Province' one could speculate whether there would have been a Republic of Armenia after the Genocide.
---Jirair Tutunjian

I don't doubt what you say

I don't doubt what you say and the history is accurate. I was merely pointing out that today's Armenia came to fruition as a result of Armenian patriotism and not Russian benevolence like some Armenians believe. Not trying to stick "Tashnags" in anyone's face, as I believe all the parties contributed in their own right.

After the war between Russia and Iran, today's Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan were simply part of the "Russian Empire". A century later, after the Armenian Genocide, Turkish nationalists created Azerbaijan for the purposes of pan-Turkism, and in their vision and plans, Armenia would never exist.

Had Armenians remained idle and been observers, no one else, including ethnic Russians, would have ever bothered declaring a country for Armenians, and what is today Armenia would either be a province around lake Sevan, or a semi-autonomous territory in the offical country named "Azerbaijan", like Karabakh was, that is, assuming Armenians would have survived the subseqent genocidal activities of the Turkish-Azeris. The USSR could not purge Armenia because it was a recognized country, declared the same time the Turks declared their "Azerbaijan"  - however, they did mange to mutilate Armenia for the benefit of Turks and Azeris.

Creation of Armenia

Tsarist Russia had no intention to create an Armenia, let alone an independent Armenia. Tsar Nicholas I was one of the most nationalistic, despotic, and reactionary rulers of the time. But by wresting the territory from the Persians, Russia created a province (Yerevan Province), a province identified as one populated largely by Armenians. And because the Russians created the province, Armenians from Persia, the Ottoman Empire and Crimea emigrated to the province, hoping to live in an Armenian society. In doing so, they helped create the necessary demographic mass which would later be able to withstand the Turkish invasion, after the WWI, and establish the First Republic.

Creation

What a story! And here I thought all along that we were descendants of Noah, and the Russians and Iranians were our servants.

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