Lessons of History – Memoirs of Alexander Khatisian

Lessons of History – Memoirs

Below, we present the memoirs of the Prime Minister of the First Republic of Armenia Alexander Khatisian on the difficult situation in which Armenians ended up as a result of the Russian-Turkish war. He also covered the lack of prudence of the Russian side towards Armenians and the justified caution of the Georgians.

“In 1915, the Russian army went deep into the territory of Turkey. Armenian volunteers, always in the forefront, bravely carried out all their military missions as fighters, intelligence agents, and defenders of Armenian refugees.

Great administrative changes took place in the Caucasus. A new policy, a new period commenced. The attitude towards Armenian volunteers has changed. As a representative of the Armenian volunteer army, I immediately felt this change in attitude, the main reasons for which were the following:

  1. The Russian government was afraid that the Armenian voluntary army, like the Polish and Czech legions, could become an obstacle to the Russification of the region.
  2. After the seizure of Western Armenia, the role of volunteers was considered completed.
  3. There were no more Armenians in Western Armenia. The Russian government instead wanted to appease the local Kurds, and for this purpose, agent Prince Shakhovskoy was sent to them.
  4. The shortage of food and rifles on the European front forced them to take back the 3-line rifles from the Armenian volunteers and replace them with Berdan rifles.

The position of the Armenian volunteers was becoming tragic. The Russian authorities, in order to justify their attitude, charged the volunteers with severe crimes, accusing them of desertion and violence against the Kurds.

I demanded an investigation which showed that the information was unfounded. It was clear that all this slander had one goal — to disarm the Armenian volunteer groups. We could not and, unfortunately, still cannot disrupt our relations with Russia.

Wasn’t our political fate fully in Russia’s hands? We had to agree, to adapt, to ask, because we did not have the strength to impose our will. Today, we are destined to the same national misfortune.

There were also people among Armenians who criticized the volunteer movement. Armenian social democrats believed that without bringing tangible benefits, the volunteer movement would throw us into the hands of Russians.

That is, in the hands of the Allies (Entente) because of which our neighbors Georgians and Tatars had become hostile to us. Of course, some truth was in this criticism. However, it was necessary to completely change the Armenian policy towards the Turks.

One of the representatives of the Georgian Social Democrats during the conversation told me that they did not even want to hear about the volunteer army. “It is enough that tens of thousands of Georgians are fighting on the Russian fronts.”

On the contrary, the Georgians created one volunteer detachment that fought against the Russians on the side of the Turks. This two-faced policy did not harm the Georgians in the least.

In February 1916, the Russians captured Erzurum. The need for a volunteer detachment became redundant. Dissolution began. Those who wanted to retire were disbanded first. The remaining units turned into Russian regiments which were headed by Russian or Armenian military.

Armenian commanders were disbanded, and in the spring of 1916, the reorganization of the volunteer armies, which lasted from the summer of 1914 to the summer of 1916, was completed.

“Between the Young Turks and the Romanovs”, “Hayrenik” magazine, No. 12, 1932.

Ruben Shukhyan

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