Vartan Gregorian

In an obscure corner of the International Court of Arbitration in the Hague “Peace Palace” hangs the portrait of the long-dead Nicholas II, the variously revered and reviled czar of the Russian empire who was the inspiration behind the first Hague International Peace Conference in 1899. Tour guides at the Peace Palace report that few contemporary visitors can identify the visage of the man whose motives in calling for an international conference to both curtail the resort to war and to mitigate its most inhumane effects have long been questioned. Some argue that the czar promoted the conference because he was painfully aware of his nation's inability to compete in a global arms race. Others, more charitably, point to an influential meeting between the thirty-yearold czar and the Polish railway magnate Ivan Bliokh, who published a sixvolume work in 1898 that graphically quantified the horrendous casualty rates and other havoc that would result from a future war. 1

Just as Robert Frost once maintained that a poet can take credit for anything a reader may find in one of his poems, even if unintended, modern observers can look back at Czar Nicholas's inspiration regarding the Hague International Peace Conference as transcending his motives, whatever they might have been. The czar's recent canonization by the Russian Orthodox Church, decidedly not for his irresolute, inept, and autocratic record as monarch but rather for his death as a “martyr for faith” at the hands of the Bolsheviks in July 1918, only underscores the deep ambiguity that continues to haunt his legacy. It is an ambiguity that still haunts the Peace Conference more than one hundred years after it was convened.

The letter of invitation to The Hague sent by the Russian foreign minister, Count Mikhail Mouravieff, on behalf of the czar proclaimed that “this conference should be, by the help of God, a happy presage for the century


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Civilians in War
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