The “Armenian Revolutionary Federation” or “Tashnak Organization” is also known as the “TashnakParty.” In fact, after the communist took over of the Armenian Republic, the Tashnak organization continued its existence as a party in exile, mainly in Lebanon, Iran, France, Greece and the United States. This organization has remained active up to the present day and has performed a significant role in planning and promoting the new era of Armenian terrorism, as well as forming teams and groups for carrying out terrorist operations. A move was made, later in its career, to have its name changed from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation to the Armenian National Committee. The intention behind this was to achieve greater effectiveness in its propagandist activities by the removal of a name that could offend Western sensibility.
1. The Structure of the Organization
a. “Bureau”: This is the most important organ of the organization and takes the decisions that determine its administrative policies. In appearance the bureau represents collective leadership. It consists of eight members, one each from California, France and Iran and five from Lebanon. The members elect a chairman. The bureau, which was based in Lebanon until the outbreak of the Civil War, was moved from there to the United States and then to Greece and France. The regulations of the bureau and its decisions are kept secret .It is known that a person named Hrair Marukian, Persian by birth and domiciled in France, was its chairman until 1985.
b. “The Central Committee”: It is the highest-level executive organ. It establishes the link between the bureau and the local groups and organizations. It is instituted in places where there is a sizeable Armenian population. Lebanon and France have one central committee each, whilst the United States has two, one on the eastern and’ the other one on western coasts. Under the pyramid shaped structure the local organizations and their organs take place. These are known by the names of a variety of Armenian associations and clubs, such as the Federation of Armenian Youth, the Youth Organization, the Armenian Boy and Girl Scouts Club, organizations for sport and cultural activities.
c. There are also various offices operating under the central committees, such as those in charge of propagandist activities and publicity, as well as legal, financial, military and educational matters. These offices offer purely technical service or advice. As an example of an office rendering a specific service, we can mention the Committee for Supervising Armenian Immigration.
The Tashnak terrorist organization defines the meaning of the Armenian cause or “the Hay Taht” as the establishment of an independent and non-communist Armenia within the boundaries designated by the abrogated Sévres Treaty and the enforcement of the payment of compensation by Turkey in return for the crimes said to have been committed against the Armenians. Tashnak publications give expression to this objective in the words, “We will continue to insist on the implementation of the Sévres Treaty, as being one of the milestones in the pursuit of our cause.”
In another publication, the aims of the Tashnaks are summarised as the recognition of the right of the Armenians to live in their own lands and to govern themselves. More commonly, the aims of the Tashnaks are presented as centring around three specific demands: a) the recognition of the Armenian claim that genocide was committed, b) the payment of a compensation by Turkey, c) resettlement in the Armenian homelands.
3. Strategies and Policies
Although the Tashnaks have publicly declared that their strategies are directed towards the realization of their aims through “peaceful means”, neither the events of the past nor their activities in the new era of Armenian terrorism have proved this to be true. This ‘party’ which has all the characteristics of a terrorist organization, can assume, when needed, a peaceful guise and mislead the public by using propagandist tactics perfected through long years of experience. In fact, as has been said above, it was the Tashnaks who were responsible for the establishment of the Justice Commandos for Armenian Genocide whose name was later changed to the Armenian Revolutionary Army. It is, indeed, the Tashnaks who decided upon and planned the assassinations and bomb assaults carried out by this group. These activities suffice to show that the Tashnak organization never abandoned the terroristic tendencies it possessed at its inception. Nonetheless, there is a significant difference between the strategies employed by the Tashnaks and those by ASALA. ASALA makes no distinction between the Turks and other nationalities, all of who can figure indiscriminately as their targets, whereas the Tashnak organization and its affiliates take Turkish citizens or official representatives of Turkey as the sole targets of their deadly operations.
After the killing of the Turkish Consul General in Los Angeles in 1972, the Justice Commandos announced that their targets were “only Turkish diplomats and Turkish institutions.” The same declaration of intention was made in connection with the assault carried out by the Armenian Revolutionary Army against the Turkish Embassy in Lisbon in 1983.
The difference that exists between the strategies of the Tashnaks and ASALA may be explained by observing the historical development of the two organizations. As we have seen, the Tashnaks took a pro-Western stance in the nineteenth and the first two decades of the twentieth century and aimed at influencing public opinion in the West, whereas the Hunchaks turned towards Russia for protection and support. It is significant that, during the years 1973-1985, terrorism made use of both camps.
The strategy adopted by the Tashnaks finds its clearest expression in the announcement made in the wake of the Lisbon attack. According to this, “a national liberation movement has to go through two phases in order to attain its end: firstly, the phase of internal propaganda, when bases of support are secured; secondly, the phase of external publicity directed towards gaining the sympathy of the world and attracting attention for the cause: hence the necessity for organizing activities that serve as demonstrations…”
For the Tashnaks, Armenian terrorism was but a form of demonstration conducted as part of their strategy. In other words, the assaults, bombings and raids that were carried out and the people who were injured, killed or trampled to death in the course of these incidents, were all considered to be the necessary elements of a scenario that made up the ‘demonstration’.
The Tashnak historian Varandjian described the characteristics of the Tashnak terrorist organization in the words: “Perhaps no other revolutionary party, not even the Russian Narodovoletz (Narodnaya Volya) or the Charbonari of the Italians, adepts though they were at terrorism and undaunted by anything that came in their way, could breed terrorists as reckless and impassioned as the Tashnaks. Hundreds of men carrying guns, daggers and bombs are up in arms.” It is sobering to reflect that during the period we have studied the mission of these “reckless and impassioned” terrorists was to attack Turkish institutions and the Turks.
4. The Congresses of Vienna and Munich
On December 27, 1981 the following resolutions were taken in the twenty-second Tashnak Congress held in Vienna:
a) The Party’s goal is to secure the establishment of a united and independent Armenia.
b) Pressure should be exerted on other Armenian organizations by the political committees to induce them to join the ranks of the Tashnaks.
c) Complete agreement with the West must be secured.
d) Close relations have to be established with the Soviet Union, and Armenian immigration must be stopped.
In the Munich Congress held at the end of 1984 with the participation of representatives for fifteen countries, the following resolutions were passed:
a) New campaigns must be launched to publicise the Armenian cause.
b) An attempt must be made to resolve the ‘Armenian question’ through legal and other peaceful measures, for example, a campaign must be conducted to bring the issue of genocide before the United States Congress and the United Nations Committee for Human Rights so as to secure its recognition.
In the declaration made at the end of the Congress, the delegates made the following announcement: “We are to continue our struggle for the recognition of the legal rights of the Armenian people and of the genocide committed by the Turks; as well as the payment of a compensation for the human, cultural and economic losses endured by our nation and the restitution of the Armenian national home which has belonged to us for thousands of years.”
The resolutions taken at both the Congresses are of interest in facilitating the identification of the themes that were to be used as means of, propaganda by the Tashnak terrorist organization.
5. Support and Connections
The Tashnak terrorist organization derived its support largely from the United States and Europe. It operated on the basic principle of avoiding, as far as possible, contact with the other terrorist organizations. Instead it had links with various organizations in the states mentioned, its primary source of support being the Church and the Union of Churches, as well as the Armenian lobbies and research centres.
6. Political Developments
Up to the 1970’s the “liberation and independence of Soviet Armenia” formed the basis of the policies determined and implemented by the Tashnak terrorist organization. For this reason, the Tashnaks gave priority to hostilities against the U.S.S.R. and engaged in a merciless struggle against those who supported and controlled Soviet Armenia. During Christmas worship, the Archbishop of the Holy Cross Armenian Church in New York was assassinated by a Tashnak suicide-killer. The reason given was the Archbishop’s approval of the situation in Soviet Armenia.
After the 1970’s, the break-up, due to death and other factors, of the ruling party in the Armenian Republic and the comparisons being drawn between the Third World liberation movements and the Tashnak terrorist movements led to significant changes in the Tashnak policies. Their hostility was now directed against Turkey and the Turks. “Fascist Turkey” had become the real enemy; Turkey’s ally, the United States, was also counted among their enemies. The “Justice Commandos for Armenian Genocide” (JCAG), a terrorist group established in 1972 and organized by the Tashnaks, were put into action as a result of the policy changes mentioned above. The Aztag Shapatoriag, the propaganda organ of the Tashnaks and especially of the JCAG, issued a warning of ‘terror’ when they announced that “terrorism is the last hope and the only path to follow in the liberation struggles of today.”
Despite all the propaganda efforts by the Tashnak terrorist organization, the Lisbon operation was seen as a complete failure. The attempts to represent the attack on the Turkish Embassy in Lisbon, as a turning point in terror did not win general acceptance. Following this, they were obliged to change the name of the JCAG to “Armenian Revolutionary Army”; even so, this did not produce the desired results. In particular, the arrest and conviction in 1984 of Sasunian, one of the Tashnak murderers, proved a great setback to Tashnak policies. The Tashnaks lost the support of American-born Armenians. According to the Armenian Reporter, the Tashnak Party had been taken over by Lebanese Armenians from abroad, and was powerless in the face of a large majority who did not support terrorism. The weakening of the- terrorist wing of the party led to increasing clashes of opinion at the highest level of the Executive Council and Central Committees. The highest officials in the party were split into two groups. Powerful members of the Executive Council, representatives of the Lebanese Central Committee and leading members of the party administration, were murdered in Beirut or disappeared without trace. By the end of 1985, it was impossible to speak of a united Tashnak Party. Two important external factors helped to create this situation within the Tashnak terrorist organization. The first was the revelation that the Tashnak leaders had had connections with secret service organizations in certain countries and that these were trying to establish control over the Armenian churches. The second was the struggle between ASALA and the Tashnaks. ASALA described the Tashnak leaders ad “parasites who were sucking the blood of Armenians dry.” As a matter of fact, these developments within the Tashnak terrorist organization were not new. Whenever such conflicts and divisions arose in the past, the Tashnaka always re-emerged sometime later. In the World Armenian Congresses, the Tashnaks have always been, and will continue to be, a force to reckon with. As for the policy cahnges, they may be construed as being to temporary conflicts in leaderships.
7. The Media
Within the Armenian terrorist organizations, the Tashnak terrorist organization was experimenting in the field of propaganda and was giving support to that extent. They had acquired the means of constantly informing world opinion of their goals, their activities and their policy through the press and broadcasting media; for example, through various serials and feature films, through radio programmes, which they had purchased, thorough private radios, television and video films. Quite a few countries showed interest and provided the Tashnaks with special support in this area. Among the most important Tashnak publications were Hairenik and Asbarez, both published in Armenian in the United States, together with the Armenian Weekly, which was published in English.
The Tashnaks also organized twenty-two world conferences in places such as Paris, Bucharest, Erevan and Munich, although the number of participants was limited. This was a tremendous propaganda and publicity effort on their part.