A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire

By Ronald Grigor; Fatma Müge Göçek et al. | Go to book overview

4
What Was Revolutionary about
Armenian Revolutionary Parties
in the Ottoman Empire?

Gerard J. Libaridian

Armenian political parties were founded at the end of the nineteenth century for the purpose of giving a new direction to their Armenian constituents. They spoke, negotiated, and made decisions on behalf of the Armenians; and they sought to dominate the Armenians’ cultural and religious institutions while transforming their collective identity. Alternately called “nationalist” and “secessionist,” these parties were considered separately from the political order of the Ottoman Empire, as though they were alien to the state’s body politic. Often overlooked is the fact that these parties were active players in Ottoman political life, so active, in fact, that by 1908 they were widely considered as having replaced the church as the main intermediary between the Ottoman authorities and their Armenian subjects. They worked with Young Turk and other Ottoman organizations, took part in Ottoman elections following the Young Turk Revolution in alliances with other Ottomans, held seats in parliament, and deliberated on matters relevant to the whole empire.

Even less recognized is the fact that participation of Armenian political parties in Ottoman politics arose from their ideological underpinnings and programs, even though they have been seen, by and large, as “nationalist” and antistate. The shadow cast by the genocide is so vast that it obscures to this day our sense of the choices that were available to the leaders of the Ottoman state, and, to a lesser extent, to the Armenian parties, prior to that event. The Ottoman leaders had the option to work with Armenian and other groups to solve the problems of the Ottoman Empire and, in the end, they decided not to. The Armenian parties could have acted strictly on an antistate platform or, as the church did, not act at all. Instead they strove toward conditional cooperation.

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