3668) Would The Armenian Terrorist Monté Melkonian Be A Hero ?

Monté Melkonian: Armenian Resistance Hero Or A Terrorist?

Died 25 years ago, Monté Melkonian (1957-1993), his life and his struggles, pose an essential and troubling question: is violent action, in some cases, justifiable? His brother Markar dedicated a book to this extraordinary existence.

Summer 1969, El Grao de Castellón, south of Spain. The couple came to live here a few months, to discover Europe to his offspring. Children take Spanish classes at a small college. One day, the teacher turns to the youngest member of the family, Monté, 11, and asks, "Where are you from?"

The kid answers that he comes from California. "I mean, where do your ancestors come from?" Says Señorita Blanca. "We did not look like the little American blondes we could see in the movies," writes Markar Melkonian in his book on his brother Monté, The Road to My Brother . " The rest of the day, and during the days and months that followed, my brother reflects on the question asked by Blanca: where do you come from?" . . .

Burnt head but strategic genius

This is one of the episodes triggering the extraordinary calling, the tragic destiny of the one who was nicknamed the Armenian Che Guevara, although he also looked like Indiana Jones. Burnt head but strategic genius, Marxist-Leninist but especially man of the field, rat of the fields rather than rat of the cities, Monté Melkonian was the charismatic commander of Asala, "the Armenian secret army for the liberation of Armenia", which convinced thousands of his compatriots to take up arms in the 1970s and 80s

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Monté Melkonian: a hero or a terrorist?

Declassified & Released by CIA

The Riddle of Monte Melkonian : Family and friends wonder how a Visalia Cub Scout with no interest in his roots ended up as a terrorist and Armenian war martyr.

VISALIA, Calif. — Here in this San Joaquin Valley farm town, they still marvel at the transformation of Monte Melkonian from local Cub Scout with a talent for languages to international terrorist to Armenian war hero.

He had been an unusual teen-ager to be sure, touring the South Vietnam war zone alone at the age of 15. Still, his parents, teachers and priest shake their heads at the improbability of it all: A second-generation Armenian-American grew up not knowing the Armenian language or church, then turned his back on Oxford University to join the Armenian underground, a life that included four years in a French prison and dealings with Yasser Arafat.

That life ended this summer when Melkonian, 35, commanding a guerrilla force of 4,000 in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian enclave trying to secede from Azerbaijan, became the first American to die in the bitter ethnic war.

A throng of 100,000 mourners and the Armenian president followed the body, clad in bloodstained military fatigues, through the streets of Yerevan, the Armenian capital. Melkonian was buried in a soldiers cemetery looking out toward Mt. Ararat, in the land his grandfather fled 80 years earlier to escape the Turkish genocide.

To many Armenians worldwide, Melkonian is a martyr, his rout of the Azeris last winter the stuff of legend. A province in Nagorno-Karabakh has been renamed "Ft. Monte," and Armenian-Americans compare him to St. Vardan Mamikonian, the 5th-Century general who died turning back the Persians. In U.S. Armenian communities, Monte T-shirts are sold at picnics and fathers snap photos of sons beside a larger than life portrait of the commander.

To the FBI, which tracked his movements for more than a decade, Melkonian was just a wily terrorist who had led one of the most violent underground groups in the 1980s--the Beirut-based Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia.

"He was a soldier of fortune," said William O. Heaton, a special agent in Los Angeles. "Some people enjoy killing other people, don't they?"

To the family and friends he left behind nearly two decades ago, Melkonian remains an enigma.

"We didn't talk up the Armenian cause at home. We didn't drum the Turkish genocide into their heads," said his perplexed father, Charles Melkonian, a retired cabinetmaker. "And there were no grandfathers around to pass along the stories. . . . The change in Monte just kind of happened."

At a church service here last month, family and friends remembered Melkonian and watched a video of his Armenian state funeral. His high school history teacher, Linda Yost, could hardly listen or look. She tried to recall instead the star pupil who by age 16 spoke fluent Japanese and Spanish--two of the nine languages he would master--and devoured the writings of Locke, Descartes and Hobbes.

"He was simply the most brilliant student I ever had, a once in a lifetime," said Yost, who has taught at Mt. Whitney High School for 21 years. "I got goose bumps thinking what he might accomplish."

Now, she and the others search their memories of the teen-ager who captained the quiz team, looking for clues to the origin of Dimitriu Georgiu and Avo--the noms de guerre he took in a later life. Where and when, they wonder, did this fire get lit, a fire that carried him from promising archeologist in the 1970s to stalker of Turkish diplomats in the 1980s to Armenian war hero in the 1990s?

"It's one of the enduring mysteries of my experience here," said the Rev. Vartan Kasparian of the local Armenian parish. "How this one bright child, so American, not only stopped the clock of assimilation but reversed it in such a fierce way. . . . It was an astounding transformation to witness."


Long before his funeral, before he became a terrorist to some and a freedom fighter to others, Melkonian belonged to this valley. He was a kid straight out of a William Saroyan short story who chased jack rabbits through vineyards and rode inner tubes down irrigation canals.

He was a Little League pitcher, the first student body president at Conyers Elementary and the commencement speaker at his eighth-grade graduation, his head barely visible from behind the podium.

Her son was a pipsqueak who made peace among the warring factions of the neighborhood, said his mother, Zabelle Melkonian: "We had this neighbor whose two sons never got along and once a week she'd call and say, 'Get Monte over here.' Somehow he always managed to divert their attention and get things settled."

His father, Charles, owned a successful cabinet and fixtures business and belonged to the Elks and Lions clubs. His mother taught elementary school and joined the University Women's Club.

They had spent too many years overcoming deep prejudice against Armenians here, they said, to saddle their four children with Armenian culture and language and stories of the 1916 Turkish massacre, which historians say took more than 1 million lives.

"When my father came to this country in 1913, he wanted nothing more to do with the old country," Charles Melkonian said. "He felt it was best to leave all that behind, and that's what we did with our children."

The elder Melkonian has tried to trace his youngest son's militancy to a single event. The best he can come up with is a 15-month overseas trip the family began in 1970.

They started in Europe and during the next 15 months, in a Volkswagen van with popup camper, traveled to 41 countries on three continents.

In Spain, a teacher asked 12-year-old Monte about his ethnic background and he replied, "Why American, of course." She asked him to check with his parents and that night, for the first time, they told him he was Armenian, descended from an ancient people who formed the first Christian nation.

A month later, the boy came upon his maternal grandfather's house in Turkey. There was one Armenian living in a town Armenians had built, his father said. The Turkish villagers said they did not know why the Armenians had left. The boy noticed the cross on the front door had been chiseled away.

"Monte told me he was never the same after that visit," said his widow, Seta, 30, a graduate student in literature at the University of Yerevan in Armenia. "He saw the place that had been lost."

His teachers and parents, sensing that he was bored with his sophomore year in high school, set up a year of study in Japan. Rather than return home at the end, he insisted on traveling in Asia by himself. His family said he lived with monks in South Korea and went to Vietnam to glimpse the war, a 15-year-old roaming the ravaged countryside with a backpack and 35-millimeter camera.

"He went to these places without us knowing," said his mother, eyeing his grade school photo. "Can you imagine that boy with a crooked smile in Vietnam?"

Melkonian returned home proficient in Japanese and karate. He now seemed to be in a footrace with himself, his family said. At UC Berkeley, he graduated in 2 1/2 years with a double major in archeology and ancient Asian history. He got all A's despite often taking off at mid-quarter to enjoy Carnival in Rio de Janeiro or to mine gems in the Cambodian mountains. He would have the stones cut in Thailand and sell them to friends to finance his education.

There was little evidence of the budding militant until the spring of his senior year. The university, yielding to Turkish government pressure, banned an exhibit on the genocide that Melkonian and his friends had put up in the library.

Turkey has long argued that accounts of the Armenian genocide by U.S. and European historians stem from anti-Turkish bias. If Armenians did die in large numbers, Turkish officials say, it was the result of war and famine.

"It was the beginning of Monte's politicization," said David Occhinero, his cousin and roommate at Berkeley. "We made such a stink that they put the exhibit back up and the librarian resigned."

His parents did not know it but he had already chosen his path. On the eve of his departure to London, ostensibly to accept a fellowship to Oxford, he made a remark to his father that seemed cryptic at the time: "I've got too much education already for what I'm going to do."

He never enrolled at Oxford. Instead, he hitchhiked from London to Iran, where he taught English at an Armenian school. It was 1978, the waning days of the Shah, and Melkonian watched troops in a helicopter rain bullets on a parade of demonstrators. He told his brother he never got over the sight of bodies piled high in the street one day that vanished the next. Life there was cheap.

He moved to Beirut to help defend the city's Armenian enclave from attacks by right-wing Christian Phalangists. The faction controlling the enclave--the right-wing Dashnaks--welcomed the earnest American. He was given a rifle and guard post. His brother, Markar, and Occhinero--inspired by his example and hoping to learn Armenian--soon joined him.

The insanity of Beirut wasted no time introducing itself. According to his brother and cousin, they all stood guard while Armenians strapped dynamite inside tires and rolled them down the hill toward the Phalangists.

"We were living in the community," said Markar Melkonian, 37, a doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Massachusetts. "You got to know the woman who brought you coffee in the middle of the night while you stood guard. You didn't want to see harm done to her. So you did your part."

Over the next 18 months, they said, Melkonian soaked up six more languages and watched the Armenian quarter suffer an exodus of people and businesses to Southern California. Disenchanted with the Dashnak Party, he came under the influence of a Marxist economist, Alek Yenikomeshian, the scion of a prominent Beirut Armenian family who advocated stronger measures to defend Armenians.

Melkonian began meeting with the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, a Marxist group founded four years earlier by an Iraqi-Armenian who fought for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Fearing retribution from his previous associates, Melkonian slept with a machine gun and grenades. One morning, a friend of a friend spirited the Melkonian brothers and their cousin out of the Armenian quarter to a dank safehouse in West Beirut.

It was the Marxists' headquarters. Melkonian's mentor, Yenikomeshian, had already enlisted with the group.

"Monte had some real doubts" about the left-wing group, his brother said. "But he wanted so badly to help Armenians and he felt that something had to be done quickly."

Melkonian signed on with the group, which espoused violence to publicize the genocide and to punish Turkey for holding the Armenian homeland. His brother, believing that a Palestinian homeland was the key to stability in the region, traveled south to briefly become a PLO guerrilla. Occhinero returned home to Fresno.

Melkonian remained underground in Beirut for three years, rising to second in command of the violent Marxist group. The group seemed to be everywhere, taking responsibility for more than 40 bombings and assassinations of Turkish diplomats worldwide, including a 1982 suicide mission at the Ankara airport in Turkey that killed 10 people and wounded 72.

The FBI, which investigated bombings in Los Angeles by members of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, suspected that Melkonian was keeping his family informed of his role and movements. But his father said the family was kept in the dark. In fact, he said, if not for a mysterious phone call they might never have discovered that their son had been jailed in France for carrying a forged Greek passport.

"It was strange," the father said. "This voice says: 'Dimitriu Georgiu has been released from prison.' 'I said: 'Who in the hell is Dimitriu Georgiu?'

"He says: 'He's your son.' I said: 'Well I didn't know he was in prison.' "

Melkonian's parents traveled to Beirut in 1982, hoping to talk some sense into their son. They were whisked to the top floor of a PLO office building where the Armenian Marxist leaders were holed up. The parents stayed one week, long enough to surmise that Melkonian was in too deep. Indeed, they were told that Arafat had twice intervened to rescue Melkonian from Libyans who thought he was a spy.

"I kept asking him: 'Why are you doing this crazy stuff?' and he just smiled," Charles Melkonian recalled. "He said: 'Dad, this is a 100-year movement. If Armenians of your generation had started this 50 years ago, we'd be 50 years ahead.' I said: 'We were trying to eat for Christ's sakes! What movement?"'

In his writings, Melkonian began to argue for a more political organization that limited its violence to Turkish diplomats. The group's Iraqi-Armenian founder, Hagop Hagopian, advocated suicide missions that also took innocent lives as a way to get the most publicity.

The final break came when two Melkonian supporters killed two Hagopian supporters. Hagopian flew to Syria and kidnaped Melkonian's two closest comrades, then held them for 30 days, filming their torture and execution. Melkonian's wife said she saw the film.

Melkonian went underground in France and founded a less violent offshoot of the Armenian Marxist group. He seemed to be making a transition to political activist in late 1985, when French police searching his apartment found two explosive devices and a map showing the travel route of a Turkish diplomat.

Convicted of criminal conspiracy, Melkonian spent four years in a French prison--years in which his mother was finally able to sleep through the night. "As funny as it sounds," she said, "at least I knew where he was."

In a series of prison essays, Melkonian cited failings of the Armenian Secret Army and called on Armenian revolutionaries to join Kurdish and Turkish rebels to establish a guerrilla force in eastern Turkey.

"Pens are pens and guns are guns," he wrote. "Right now we have a greater need for guns than pens."

It might take decades, he insisted, but they would succeed in wresting Armenian land from Turkey and joining them to Soviet Armenia.

The Soviet Union's collapse and the emergence of an independent Armenia changed all that. But it also presented Melkonian with an opportunity after his release from prison in 1990. In Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenians were trying to break free from Azerbaijan on land they said had belonged to Armenia for thousands of years.

Karabakh Armenians credited the American with turning their ragtag irregulars into a fighting force. He forbade the use of alcohol and drugs and the indiscriminate killing of civilians, according to accounts, and exacted a tax on Armenian Mafias in the form of guns and bullets. In an 11-day push, they say, his forces captured 1,500 square kilometers and dislodged Azeri troops from within missile range of Armenia.

"We actually have won this war so far thanks to Avo," said Warrant Officer Grayer Girgorian in an interview in The Times this year. "He turned our army from a bunch of Rambos into an army of discipline, valor and bravery."

Armenians have a saying that every man's destiny has been carved into his forehead. It was Melkonian's insistence on always being on the front line that put him in death's way last June. When the Azeri cannon shot finally whizzed by, a piece of shrapnel tore right through his forehead.

Back home in Visalia, after three months of funeral Masses and memorials, his parents watch videos of Melkonian on the war front. One tape is a pitch to Armenians abroad for arms and cash, and he is talking like the professor his parents imagined he would have been. They have turned their den into a shrine cluttered with his photos and bloodstained military jacket.

"My son chose not to sit in an armchair," Charles Melkonian said. "When you're on the front line for that long, sooner or later there's going to be a bullet with your name on it."

His mother remains haunted by the image of her son as a killer. "In Belgium, the child of a Turkish diplomat was killed," she said. "We didn't ask. Maybe we were naive. We didn't ask. We never asked because Monte wouldn't answer a thing."


Gunmen Kill Man in Athens Identified as Armenian Terrorist Chief
Apr. 29, 1988

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ An assassination team of two masked men fired blasts from a sawed-off shotgun Thursday to kill Agop Agopian, the founder and leader of an Armenian terrorist group feared throughout the world.

Agopian, who posed as a Lebanese businessman in Athens but also carried a South Yemeni diplomatic passport, was shot outside his home in a prosperous seaside suburb.

A statement by the Ministry of Public Order said the victim’s wife, ″during questioning by security police ... said he was the leader of ASALA, Agop Agopian.″

Police identified the wife as Janil Titizian and said she told them her husband recently arrived from South Yemen and was on his way to Yugoslavia. She said he was bound for the airport when killed. ASALA, standing for the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, has claimed numerous terrorist attacks against Turkish targets, including the July 1983 bombing of the Turkish Airlines desk at Paris’ Orly Airport which killed eight people and wounded 56.

The group seeks the foundation of an independent Armenian state in eastern Turkey.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the killing.

Agopian was killed outside his house in the Old Phaleron suburb at 4:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday) as he waited for a taxi in the street outside his home. With him was a woman identified as his sister-in-law. She was unhurt.

According to a police spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with Greek practice, two armed men emerged from a parked car.

One man fired at Agopian, using solid shotgun slugs, the type used in Greece for boar-hunting.

Agopian, hit with two slugs in the chest and elbow, tried to flee. The man ran after him and fired two more slugs into his head and chest.

The attackers got away in a car left parked across the street from the second-floor apartment where Agopian and his wife lived.

The victim was first identified as Abdul Mohammed Kashim, 39, from a South Yemeni diplomatic passport he was carrying.

But following reports from Paris saying the dead man was the long-sought leader of ASALA, the ministry said his wife revealed his real identity.

″He’d lived in Athens for at least a year, possibly longer, as Henri Titizian, but he traveled abroad very frequently on the Yemeni passport,″ said a police source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The source said Agopian planned to open a supermarket in Athens.

Agopian, whose name has also been given as Hagop Hagopian, was reported killed in an Israeli air raid on a Palestinian camp near Beirut during Israel’s 1982 summer invasion of Lebanon.

But there were also reports that Agopian was still alive and active in the terrorist organization he had founded, and had merely changed identities.

Armenian sources in Athens, speaking on condition of anoymity, said Agopian was born in Iraq in 1945, and that his name was most likely a pseudonym.

ASALA, founded by Agopian in 1975, claimed responsibility for more than 60 attacks on Turkish targets, including killings of around 30 Turkish diplomats and dependents in Western Europe and the United States.

Agopian ran ASALA from Beirut with funding from the Palestine Liberation Organization and leftist groups.

Besides seeking the creation of an independent Armenian state in Turkey, the Marxist-oriented organization vows to avenge a massacre by Ottoman Turks in 1915-16 that it says left 1.5 Armenians dead.

Both security police and ministry officials declined to say whether a rival Armenian group could have been responsible for killing Agopian.

The French news agency Agence France-Presse reported in Paris that Thursday’s killing may have been the work of the ASALA-Revolutionary Movement, an Armenian commando group which separated from the main organization.

The head of that group, American archaeologist Monte Melkonian, is serving a six-year term in French prison for criminal association, weapons possession and forging identity papers.

The ministry said security police were still questioning Mrs. Titizian.

A police source said Agopian ″apparently was selling off some businesses in Lebanon and was transferring his activities to Greece.″

The police spokesman said Agopian was booked on an early morning Yugoslav Airlines flight to Belgrade.


Armenian Terrorism: A Reappraisal by Michael M. Gunter
Tennessee Technological University

Vol 27, No 2 (2007)

This article reappraises the strategic impact of Armenian terrorism in the twentieth century. From 1973 to 1985, Armenian terrorists earned a deadly and infamous international reputation by murdering Turkish diplomats or members of their families, along with many other non-involved third parties killed in the crossfire, during 188 terrorist operations worldwide. By the mid-1980s, however, Armenian terrorists had fallen into mindless but deadly internal fighting that resulted in the deaths of several of their leading members. Yet even with the benefit of 20 years of hindsight, it remains difficult to assess definitively the strategic influence exerted by Armenian terrorism. It was an excellent example of how one person’s terrorist can be viewed by some as another’s freedom fighter. In seeking revenge for past perceived wrongs and in pursuit of the goal of an independent state, Armenian terrorism also shared common characteristics with such other ethnic-based terrorist movements as the Irish and Palestinians. Although by practically all conventional standards of measurement its ultimate strategic impact was virtually nil, some might still argue that Armenian terrorism did help preserve the memory of what many call the twentieth-century’s first or forgotten genocide.


1 Tacitly supported by many Armenians and others throughout the world as legitimate revenge for what most observers viewed as genocide1 in the First World War, Armenian terrorism in the twentieth century was an excellent example of how one person‟s terrorist can be viewed by some as another‟s freedom fighter. In seeking revenge for past perceived wrongs and in pursuit of the goal of an independent state, Armenian terrorism also shared common characteristics with such other ethnic-based terrorist movements as the Irish and Palestinians. In another sense, however, Armenian terrorism, as well as its support in the larger Armenian community, was unique in its visceral hatred of its enemy, in this case the Turks. Also unique was how Armenian terrorism manifested two separate periods of activity separated by almost half a century: first, the period immediately after the First World War when a secretive Armenian organization called Operation Nemesis assassinated several former Ottoman officials; and second, the period from approximately 1973 to 1985 when the Marxist Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) and its more right-wing nationalist rival, the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide (JCAG; after July 1983, the Armenian Revolutionary Army [ARA]), assassinated numerous Turkish diplomats as well as a number of third parties.2

2 This article will reappraise the strategic impact of Armenian terrorism in the twentieth century. What forces drove this particular terrorism, and what led to its demise? What was its strategic impact, if any? With the perspective of time, what role did Armenian terrorism play in the twentieth century‟s over-all explosion of terrorism as a means by which the weak could achieve strategic goals they could not reach in more conventional ways? Alternatively, was Armenian terrorism more sui generis, a unique phenomenon which had no lasting achievement?


3 Terrorism is a phenomenon that usually emanates from the failure of its perpetrators to develop sufficient political or military strength to present their case in a more conventional manner. The inability of the victims to stem it, on the other hand, often flows from the cliché that "one person‟s terrorist is another‟s freedom fighter." For example, during the 1984 trial in Paris of the four ASALA operatives who seized the Turkish consulate and killed its Turkish guard in 1981, the president of the French court ruled that referring to the defendants as "terrorists" would not be allowed, since anyone participating in a struggle can be called a terrorist by someone who opposes that struggle.3 Clearly, one of the background causes of Armenian terrorism during the 1970s and 1980s was that too many states and individuals were too lenient on the matter, condemning it in one breath but apologizing for it in the next by saying "but we have to understand the motives."

4 Although Operation Nemesis, the Armenian terrorist organization that assassinated Ottoman officials immediately after the First World War, disappeared in the early 1920s, "there have existed for many decades those organizations internationally . . . that are pursuing quite seriously the Armenian struggle for liberation in every peaceful method available."4 Eventually some Armenians became frustrated with what they saw as the unsuccessful peaceful approach and turned to violence.

5 The deletion of paragraph 30 from a report of the United Nations in 1973-74 is one example of the failure of the peaceful method. This paragraph specifically mentioned the Armenian massacres in 1915 "as the first case of genocide in the 20th century," and was included in a progress report to a study entitled, "Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide." When Turkey objected during the UN Commission on Human Rights, however, paragraph 30 was deleted, and the Armenians frustrated.5 Gerard J. Libaridian, a prominent Armenian scholar, concluded that "the unwillingness of the Turkish state and major world powers to recognize Armenian aspirations after 60 years of peaceful efforts has resulted in a decade of terrorism."6 Similarly, the leader of the ASALA group explained the wave of Armenian terrorism that occurred in the 1970s, in part, as the result of "the general discovery as to the failure of the policy of the traditional Armenian parties."7

6 In 1965, anti-Turkish demonstrations were organized in Beirut, Lebanon, by Lebanese Armenians to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1915 Armenian deportations and massacres by the Ottoman Empire. At this time, the Lebanese Armenians proclaimed 24 April as "Commemoration Day."8 On the same day in 1965, thousands of Armenians illegally demonstrated in Yerevan, the capital of what was then Soviet Armenia. The protest became disorderly when rocks were thrown, and calm was finally restored only with difficulty. Since that date, Armenians around the world have commemorated 24 April as Genocide Day.9

7 Another event seminal to the genesis of organized Armenian terrorism occurred on 27 January 1973. In an individual act of revenge, a 78-year-old Californian of Armenian descent, Gourgen Yanikian, lured Mehmet Baydar and Behadir Demir, respectively the Turkish consul general and vice consul in Los Angeles, to a hotel room on the pretext of presenting them with two rare paintings. When the two Turkish diplomats arrived, Yanikian, who had lost members of his family in Turkey during the First World War, launched into a tirade and then shot both Turks to death. Many feel that this double murder served as a catalyst for the ensuing decade of Armenian terrorism by ASALA and JCAG. Indeed, after Yanikian died in 1984, a respected Armenian newspaper in the United States declared that he had "opened [a] new era of political struggle" and "changed the course of Armenian history."10

8 Armenian terrorists themselves declared that their campaign began in 1975. In an interview with the Arab-language periodical Al-Majallah in August 1982, an ASALA representative stated that his organization‟s first operation had been in 1975 against an office in Beirut "run by the World Council of Churches, for promoting the emigration of Armenians to the United States."11 A miniscule breakaway ASALA group headed by American-born Monte Melkonian agreed that "the January 20, 1975 bombing of the Beirut office of the World Council of Churches . . . became known as the act which defined the birth of ASALA."12 After one of its agents murdered Kemal Arikan, the new Turkish consul general in Los Angeles on 28 January 1982, the other Armenian terrorist organization, JCAG, claimed the deed in a recorded message over the telephone to the Washington Bureau of the Associated Press, adding that "our revolutionary struggle began in 1975,"13 apparently referring to its assassination of Danis Tunaligil, the Turkish ambassador in Vienna, Austria, on 22 October 1975.

Lebanese-Palestinian Catalyst.

9 The Lebanese civil war of the mid-1970s acted as another catalyst for organized Armenian terrorism. As a result of the upheavals of the First World War, Lebanon had come to serve as the host for the largest group of displaced Armenians in the Middle East. In time, they numbered some 200,000 or approximately 6 percent of that country‟s population.14 Many lived in Bourj Hammoud, the teeming Armenian quarter of east Beirut, while the Cilician See of the Armenian apostolic church was headquartered nearby in Antelias. During the 1970s, some Lebanese-Armenians gradually fell into the internecine power struggles that were to turn Lebanon into a byword for violence. The nationalist Dashnaks formed close alliances with the right-wing Christian Phalangists of Pierre Gemayel and the National Liberals of Camille Chamoun. Leftist Armenians drew close to Kemal Jumblatt‟s Progressive Socialist (Druze) Party and various factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which had become a state within a state in Lebanon by the early 1970s.

10 Given the support of their Palestinian allies, radical Armenian leftists had created ASALA by 1975. In reaction to these developments, the right-wing Dashnaks set up their own terrorist organization, JCAG, to keep their young party members from abandoning the rank and file to join ASALA.15 The dissident ASALA group headed by Monte Melkonian agreed that "the most important and active center of such political experimentation during this period [1965-75] was Lebanon,"16 and the editor‟s preface to Melkonian‟s posthumously published writings concurred that "during this time several Palestinian resistance organizations provided their Armenian comrade with extensive military training."17

11 Jose Antonio Gurriaran, a Spanish journalist who had come to know the Armenian terrorists after being maimed by one of their bombs, wrote that the "Black September chief Abu Iyad"18 had helped ASALA leader Hagop Hagopian form ASALA in 1975. A dissident ASALA source stated that soon after joining the Palestinians, Hagopian "found himself within the ranks of Wadi Haddad‟s splinter PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine],"19 which was George Habbash‟s faction in the PLO. "It was during his activity with Wadi Haddad that he [Hagopian] gained most of his experience, developed many personal friendships with Palestinian leaders, and began to mimic the organizational and military tactics of Wadi Haddad," which, according to the same dissident ASALA source cited above, "intentionally caused innocent victims harm, and thus served to discredit the Palestinian Resistance in general as „terrorist.‟"

12 The Lebanese catalyst for Armenian terrorism was further illustrated by the fact that so many of the known terrorists hailed from that country. As Hrand Simonian, a leader of the Armenian community in Los Angeles, explained, "Many of the terrorists are newcomers from Lebanon who learned how to do violent things" in the many years of civil violence there.20 Similarly, Martin Halabian, the director of information of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, stated: "Armenians recently arrived from Lebanon and other Mideast countries . . . are more used to militancy as a way of life."21

The Dashnaks


13 The Hai Heghapokhakan Dashnaktsuthium or the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), commonly referred to as the Dashnaks, was founded in Tiflis, Russia, in 1890.22 Until Armenia declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, the Dashnaks were arguably the preeminent Armenian political organization. The ARF‟s Manifesto issued in 1891 "sounded like a declaration of war against the Turkish authorities," declared a modern Dashnak writer.23 "To attain its aims by means of revolution, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation shall organize revolutionary bands which shall wage an incessant fight against the [Ottoman] Government,"24 wrote Simon Vratzian, the Dashnak leader who briefly became the premier of the independent Republic of Armenia created after the First World War, but was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1921. The resulting fedayeen movement, claimed another Armenian writer, "was a forerunner of the freedom fighters from Iran to Algeria in the 20th century Muslim world."25

14 From its inception in 1890, the ARF resorted to terrorism because of what it perceived as the necessity for self-defense in the absence of any legal means of protection. According to Mikayel Varandian, an early party historian, "Perhaps there has never been a revolutionary party – not even the Russian Narodovoletz, or the Italian Carbonaris – with such rich experiences in the road of terrorist acts, as the AR Federation, which in its difficult environment, has developed the most frenzied types of terrorists, and given hundreds of masters of the pistol, the bomb and the dagger, for acts of revenge."26 According to yet another Armenian source, "terrorism became an act of courage to clandestine organizations – populists or Dashnaks – a primary response in self-defense, comparable to war for a Westerner."27

15 Other scholars, while not condoning the massacres that did occur, point out that, since they were the weaker party, the Dashnaks and other Armenian groups began deliberately to use terror against the Turks to incite reprisals and massacres, which would then encourage broad Armenian support for revolution and, finally, great power intervention. According to historian William Langer, "Europeans in Turkey were agreed that the immediate aim of the [Armenian] agitators was to incite disorders, bring about inhuman reprisals, and so provoke the intervention of the powers."28 Walter Laqueur, a noted authority on terrorism, has concurred: "Since they [the Armenian terrorists] could not possibly hope to overthrow the government, their strategy had to be based on provocation. They assumed, in all probability, that their attacks on the Turks would provoke savage retaliation, and that as a result the Armenian population would be radicalized; more decisive yet, the Western powers, appalled by the massacres, would intervene on their behalf as they did for the Bulgarians two decades earlier."29 This terrorism, which was well developed by the beginning of the twentieth century, was used not only against Ottoman officials but also other Armenians who had run afoul of the Dashnaks‟ interests. This pattern continued during the wave of Armenian terrorism that began in the 1970s, as will be illustrated below.

Operation Nemesis

16 For a few years in the early 1920s, a secret Dashnak network known as Operation Nemesis (named for the Greek goddess of retributive justice) relentlessly pursued and murdered several former Ottoman officials living in exile in Western Europe. Armen Garo – a former member of the Ottoman parliament who had deserted to the Russians at the start of the First World War to join the Armenian volunteers fighting against the Ottoman Empire and whose real name was Garegin Pasdermadjian – was "the overall boss of Operation Nemesis."30 Shahan Natali (an Armenian-American from Turkey whose real name was Hagop Der Hagopian) was the operational coordinator, and Aaron Sachaklian was responsible for finances, logistics, and training.31

17 Talaat Pasha, probably the most important Ottoman leader in the First World War, was gunned down in Berlin on 15 March 1921 by Soghomon Tehlirian. The assassin had lost most of his family in Turkey during the war. The German court found Tehlirian innocent, a precedent frequently cited by Armenian activists as a moral justification for murdering Turkish diplomats during the 1970s and 1980s.32 A Dashnak newspaper, for example, proclaimed that the trial of two Armenian terrorists who had killed Galip Balkar, the Turkish ambassador to Yugoslavia on 9 March 1983, was "becoming like the Tehlirian trial" in the sense that the accused terrorists could and were justifying their actions in terms of their political demands against Turkey.33 Arshavir Shirakian, another Nemesis operative, assassinated Said Halim, the former Ottoman foreign minister, in Rome on 6 December 1921 as well as two other leading Ottoman officials – Bahaeddin Shakir and Djemal Azmi – in Berlin on 17 April 1922. Shirakian then managed to escape to the United States, where he finally died in 1973.34

18 By the summer of 1922, however, the independent Republic of Armenia had fallen to the Soviet Union. The Dashnaks decided that Operation Nemesis had served its purpose. Shahan Natali was criticized for the exorbitant expenses that had been incurred and was eventually expelled from the party in 1929. The so-called „Prometheus‟ plan now sought to use Kemalist Turkey against the Soviet Union, which had become the new main enemy.

New Terrorism

19 As noted above, the Dashnaks apparently decided to create a new terrorist arm, the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide (JCAG), because they were losing their young, activist members to what was perceived as the new, more dynamic ASALA terrorist organization. On 22 October 1975, JCAG carried out its first operation when it assassinated the Turkish ambassador to Austria. Up to 1984, when the diplomatic assassinations stopped, JCAG-ARA had killed 20 Turkish diplomats or members of their immediate families, while ASALA, in spite of its much greater claims, was responsible for only eight diplomatic murders.35 In March 1985, ARA made one last attack when it killed a Canadian security guard during an attack on the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa.

20 Unlike ASALA, the Dashnak terrorist groups shunned other international terrorist connections and struck only at Turkish targets. After it murdered the Turkish consul general in Los Angeles in 1982, for example, JCAG announced: "Our sole targets are Turkish diplomats and Turkish institutions."36 In pointed contrast to ASALA, ARA also made clear its intention to campaign against only the Turkish enemy, while leaving others alone: "Our target is the Turkish reactionary government through all its official representatives."37 In another "communiqué," ARA noted that its activities "will conclude when, taking note of the legality of the Armenian Cause, the Turkish government begins negotiations with the representatives of the Armenian people."38

21 The "Political Platform" ratified by the 23rd World Congress of the ARF in 1985, made the ultimate goal of the party explicit: "The principal political aim of the ARF remains the realization of a free, independent and integral Armenia encompassing the Wilsonian boundaries, Nakhichevan, Gharabagh [Karabagh], and Akhalkalak."39 The platform also declared that "on the road to the resolution of the Armenian Cause, our enemy is Turkey." Placing perhaps impossible barriers before any possibility of accommodation, the Dashnaks proclaimed that "the continuing existence of the Turkish empire is fundamentally in opposition with the Armenian Cause," and concluded that „the Armenian people had no choice but to resort to self defense to insure their physical existence and right to self-determination." Indeed, 15 years after gaining its independence, Armenia still claims in its constitution parts of eastern Turkey while occupying Karabagh, which constitutes 20 percent of Azerbaijan. As a result, Turkey has decided not to maintain diplomatic relations with Armenia.

22 In a further theoretical justification of terrorism, the Dashnak press declared that "the acts of the Armenian Army and the Justice Commandos against Turkish officials are supported by a mass of the Armenian people since the Oppressor [Turkey] is being defied."40 Armenians "could only be excited by these acts of violence, as „acts of creation‟ since the destruction of any representative of the Oppressor, Turkey, means the assertion of Armenian dignity." Claiming a unique right to engage in such actions and denying that they constituted terrorism, the Dashnaks argued that "our Cause – no matter how militant at times – is not and never was part of „International Terrorism.‟"41

23 Similarly, after the JCAG operative, Hampig Sassounian, was found guilty of assassinating Kemal Arikan, the Turkish consul general in Los Angeles on 28 January 1982, some Armenians in Boston announced: "What occurred throughout Hampig‟s trial was a mockery of justice, an attempt to stop the Armenian people from actively pursuing their cause. . . . We are outraged by the . . . guilty verdict."42 In 2004, an active campaign within the Armenian community to gain Sassounian‟s release on parole failed, partially on the grounds that he still refused to express any remorse for what he had done.

24 Despite this passionate defense of violence, Dashnak-sponsored terrorism against Turkey ceased after 1985. In part, this was probably because the ARF had calculated that such action had served its purpose of preventing ASALA from winning over the Armenian youth, had helped win the Armenian cause international attention, but was now creating negative publicity.43 In addition, the Dashnak-sponsored terrorism probably stopped because the reputed leaders of the two Dashnak terrorist organizations had themselves been assassinated during vicious spasms of intra-Armenian bloodletting in Lebanon. In December 1982, for example, Apo Ashjian, the head of JCAG and a member of the ARF‟s Central Committee in Lebanon, was apparently killed by his Dashnak associates because he advocated Dashnak cooperation with ASALA and sought to disregard a reputed deal with the CIA to cease activities in the United States. After Ashjian‟s death, the Dashnaks created ARA, which was active until shortly before its head, Sarkis Aznavourian, also a member of the ARF Central Committee in Lebanon, was gunned down in Beirut, apparently by ASALA.44


25 The Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) was born in January 1975 as a distinct alternative to the traditional Armenian political parties, especially the Dashnaks. As ASALA later explained in its journal Armenia, "International imperialism had almost completely spread its dominance on our people in the Diaspora through the rightist Dashnag Party which is a tool in the hands of imperialism and Zionism."45 Thus, although "the main target of the New National Liberation Struggle launched in 1975 by ASALA is the liberation of the Turkish-occupied Armenian lands . . . another main aim of the . . . Struggle is the political and national awakening of the Armenian people which was led to a dangerous „deep sleep‟ by the treacherous policy of the Dashnag Party."46 Sarcastically, ASALA declared that "even the name given to their armed group „Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide‟ reveals the deliberate indifference of the Dashnag leadership vis-à-vis the Armenian Territorial Question."47

26 Thus, although the world ironically saw ASALA as a Marxist, anti-Western terrorist organization seeking to join eastern Turkey to Soviet Armenia (goals and characteristics which indeed were true), ASALA first and foremost was created, in its own words, to "become today the representing power of the Armenian people."48 Again, the organization proclaimed: "We came from different Armenian currents and circles, and united in ASALA, putting aside all inter-communal conflicts to serve the principal aim . . . to liberate Western Armenia [Turkey] and join it to today‟s liberated Soviet Armenia, forming an integral, revolutionary Armenia."49

27 In its attempt to appropriate the leadership of the Armenian diaspora, ASALA tried to co-opt historical Armenian heroes and deeds. Gourgen Yanikian, whose murder of two Turkish consuls in California in 1973 anticipated the terrorism that began in 1975, was adopted as "the spiritual leader" of the organization and operations were named for him and other historical Armenian heroes and places, such as Andranik (Ozanian) – an Armenian military hero in the early twentieth century – Shahan Natali, Erzurum, and Van, among others. Andranik‟s portrait sometimes appeared with a fictional one representing ASALA‟s founder and leader, Hagop Hagopian, alongside the masthead of Armenia. Even Vatche Daghlian, the leader of the Dashnak‟s "Lisbon Five," was usurped by ASALA to be portrayed as their "martyr" who had been killed "during a mission in Lisbon, following a Dashnag-international conspiracy."50 Further tapping Armenian historic roots, "the words of our great [Soviet Armenian] poet Yeghishe Tcharentz „O Armenian people/Your sole salvation is/in your collective force‟"51 were cited as a call for unity under ASALA.

28 It is noteworthy that ASALA‟s birth, as mentioned above, was announced by a bombing attack against the Beirut office of the World Council of Churches on 20 January 1975. Hagop Hagopian later wrote that "I chose it because the above mentioned organization was conspiring with the United States, with the Tashnag‟s co-operation, to send the Armenian youth away from the Middle East and socialist countries."52 ASALA was going to challenge the existing Dashnak-led Armenian elites who were allowing the emigration and thus assimilation to occur.

29 By 1980, Hagopian boasted: "In five years we managed to win for ourselves the support of the Armenian masses and the democratic and revolutionary forces throughout the world."53 He even claimed that "some of the leaders of Tashnag and Henshang [another Armenian party] have secretly joined ELA [ASALA]."

30 On 24 September 1981, four ASALA agents seized the Turkish consulate in Paris. They killed its Turkish guard, wounded the consul, and held 56 people hostage for 16 hours. According to Monte Melkonian, at that time a member of ASALA, this so-called "Van Operation" by the "Yeghia Keshishian Suicidal Commando" marked "ASALA‟s historic peak. It became the greatest single military/propaganda success ever achieved in the history of the diaspora. . . . Summed up, this was a tremendous achievement which created a previously unequalled atmosphere of patriotic enthusiasm and which made ASALA the hope in the eyes of a vast number of Armenians for the realization of our national aspirations."54

31 After his release from a French prison in the summer of 1986, Kevork Guzelian, one of the four participants in the Van Operation, discussed it at length.55 "The essential aim . . . was to gain on political ground and to turn the attention of international public opinion on Turkey." In addition, ASALA wanted to "shake the Armenian community in France, which until 1981 was in a slumber." Indeed, while they were occupying the consulate, said Guzelian, "we immediately made an appeal to the Armenians through a phone call . . . to organize a demonstration around the Consulate and back us up." Since "about 3,000 Turks had surrounded the Consulate in a demonstration . . . clashes took place between the Turks and the Armenians in the streets."

32 Guzelian claimed that "after our operation we noticed an awakening of national awareness in the Armenians in France." French Armenians who did not speak Armenian started to learn the language. Before 1981, the 24 April Genocide Day demonstrations in France had brought out no more than 150, but after the Van Operation the figure rose to 10,000. "This was not due to the activities of the other [Armenian] organizations . . . found in France but came as a result of ASALA‟s national and revolutionary sacrifices."

33 At the end of 1981, ASALA published an eight-point political program that was described as "the political line that the Popular Movement of ASALA will support."56 The program was apparently the result of long discussions with the leaders of various "popular movements" with a view to eventually forming a united organization covering a broad spectrum from left to right.

34 In the program, ASALA identified its enemies as "Turkish imperialism" supported by "local reaction" and "international imperialism." "Revolutionary violence" was said to be "the principal means" to achieve the liberation of Armenian territories. ASALA would support those who "reject the authority of the oppressing classes" and would endeavor to "strengthen and expand" coalitions within the "international revolutionary movement." The final goal was a united Armenia with a "democratic, socialistic and revolutionary government." The Soviet Union and other socialist governments were to be called upon for help and Soviet Armenia itself turned into a base for "the long people‟s war."

35 ASALA‟s hope of becoming the leader of a broad, united front of all Armenian groups, however, foundered in general upon the increasingly obvious failure of terrorism to unite the Armenian community but more immediately upon the frequent Armenian tendency toward divisive factionalism. The latter problem involved Hagopian‟s willingness, even apparent eagerness, to employ indiscriminate terrorism against non-involved third-party civilians and non-Turkish targets. "In the name of the Armenian revolution," declared Monte Melkonian, "inhuman operations (i.e. atrocities) were being committed due to which dozens of innocent people were dying and hundreds of others had been wounded."57

36 The deadly attacks on the Ankara and Paris Orly airports in 1982 and 1983, respectively, and the Istanbul Covered Bazaar in 1983 were three egregious examples. As Melkonian explained in an interview: "Orly claimed innocent lives. It debases our struggle."58 The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, and the resulting expulsion of ASALA from its base in west Beirut to the relative isolation of the Bekaa Valley, where the organization fell under increasing Syrian control, also helped lead to the subsequent splintering of ASALA.

37 ASALA violently split into two factions following the assassination of Khachig Havarian and Vicken Ayvazian, two of Hagopian‟s closest allies, on 15-16 July 1983. Hagopian blamed Melkonian for the deed, which Melkonian denied, and reciprocated by killing two of Melkonian‟s closest friends, Garlen Ananian and Aram Vartanian. Amid bitter mutual recriminations, which are too byzantine to go into here, as well as deadly infighting against the Dashnaks analyzed above, ASALA quickly shrank into insignificance. Hagopian‟s ASALA lost its allies and contacts outside Lebanon and, as mentioned above, fell increasingly under Syrian control.

38 Melkonian‟s hopes for a more humane ASALA under his leadership in the West were dashed by his sudden arrest and imprisonment for three years in France in November 1985. A series of deadly bombings in Paris in September 1986 were at first blamed by many on ASALA as an attempt to win the release of Varoujan Garabedian, the perpetrator of the deadly Orly bombing in 1983. However, the eventual arrest of the actual perpetrators in March 1987 proved this to be untrue. ASALA had been reduced merely to issuing proclamations and threats.

39 Then, on 28 April 1988, Hagop Hagopian himself was assassinated in Athens, Greece.59 It was said that he ironically had been expelled from the now Syrian-controlled ASALA at the end of 1987.60 A subsequent report claimed that the Syrians had been behind these events because Hagopian had refused to follow their orders, which, among other things, involved driving booby-trapped trucks into Christian east Beirut for later explosion.61 The Syrians were also displeased with Hagopian‟s close relations with such Palestinians as Abu Cherif, Abu Iyad, and Fouad Bitar, who operated independently of Syrian influence. A partial rapprochment between Syria and Turkey at that time also played a role in Syria‟s actions.

40 Monte Melkonian was released from the French prison early in 1989 and eventually found his way to the newly independent Armenia. There he became a noted military leader in the war against Azerbaijan over Karabagh, which he saw "as crucial for the long-term security of the entire Armenian nation."62 He was killed in a minor skirmish on 12 July 1993, and given a funeral with full military honors in Yerevan.

Financial Matters

41 Financial matters, of course, constitute an important issue in studying terrorist organizations. On this point, Hagopian declared: "Our strength is the Armenian people; that is where we get our support from. And from robberies."63 Melkonian concurred when he wrote that after the Van Operation on 24 September 1981, Hagopian "went to France to collect money. . . . Due to the atmosphere, collecting money was not difficult and considerable sums were acquired."64 After Hagopian moved to Damascus to escape the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982, Melkonian added that "the collection of money . . . [there] within the Armenian community" also occurred.

42 The amply publicized fact that the Dashnaks in the United States were able to raise over $250,000 in small donations for Sassounian‟s legal defense,65 as well as some $160,000 in Canada for the defense of the so-called „LA-5,‟66 indicates that these claims of broad-based Armenian financial support are not empty. For the legal defense of the accused murderers of the Turkish ambassador to Yugoslavia, "fundraising committees have visited Armenian homes" in Europe and "everyone has been very generous with their donations"67 claimed another Dashnak report.

43 Other reports, however, indicate that the terrorists also extorted funds from nonviolent, fellow Armenians.68 Further such evidence regarding ASALA emerged during the trial of three young ASALA members, charged with conspiring to bomb the freight terminal of Air Canada in Los Angeles in May 1982 to gain freedom for four Armenians held in Canada and with conspiracy to extort money from wealthy Canadian-Armenians in Toronto.69 Vicken Tcharkhutian – who was apparently involved with the three Armenians on trial but who managed to escape to France where the government refused to extradite him back to the United States – was also charged on a separate count of attempting to extort $150,000 from the Haserjian brothers, the owners of a chain of carpet stores throughout the Los Angeles area.

44 In addition, according to Monte Melkonian, ASALA was apparently able to acquire money from "Abu Nidal and certain governments" by performing "operations as gestures of revolutionary solidarity."70 This explains the bizarre ASALA attempt to bomb the Kuwait Airlines office in Athens from a motorcycle on 8 December 1982. The plot failed, causing the death of one ASALA agent, Karnik Vahradian, and the imprisonment of the other, Vahe Khutaverdian. Nevertheless, Hagopian "used Karnik‟s death to extract even more financial aid and other „favors‟ out of Abu Nidal and/or some governments." The Athens operation was "portrayed . . . as proof of the willingness of Armenian revolutionaries to struggle to the death in cooperation with Arab revolutionaries against imperialism." ASALA, concluded Melkonian, "had become a mercenary for [other] governments and organizations." Further reports indicate that ASALA was probably also running a "drug ring"71 and that "the huge revenue generated from this trafficking was being directed for use by the underground radical group." Three Armenians were convicted for this operation in Sweden and incarcerated.

45 Testifying before the US Senate‟s Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Nathan M. Adams, a senior editor of Reader’s Digest, who stated he had been investigating "the connection between drug trafficking and international terrorism . . . over the past several years," declared: "Armenian terrorist groups of both the left and the right were estimated a year ago to be 90 percent financed through the sale or barter of narcotics."72 Adams then elaborated on "the case of Noubar Soufoyon, a notorious Armenian drug trafficker now believed sheltering in Lebanon."

46 In June 1981, Soufoyon "was indicted in New York for importing heroin" and Interpol was alerted. The Greek authorities who arrested him, however, rejected US application for extradition and chose instead to send him to Lebanon, where he was promptly released. Soufoyon, testified Adams, was "capable of dealing as much as 100 kilos of heroin at a single time [and] . . . has helped finance both Armenian terrorist factions with the profits from drug sales." Adams added that Soufoyon "was convicted in Switzerland of the financing of a series of bomb attacks against Turkish financial and cultural establishments in Zurich the year before." The Swiss authorities, however, merely banned him from their country for five years.

47 Similarly, Francis M. Mullen, Jr., the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration of the US Department of Justice, added: "Documented heroin and hashish trafficker Noubar Soufoyon was connected with the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide. . . . He remains a fugitive from U.S. justice and his current whereabouts are unknown."73


48 This article has shown that Armenian terrorism was one of the classic examples of how one person‟s terrorist could be viewed by some as another‟s freedom fighter. From 1973 to 1985, Armenian terrorists earned a deadly and infamous international reputation by murdering 30 Turkish diplomats or members of their immediate families. In addition, many other non-involved third parties were killed in the crossfire. Some 188 terrorist operations occurred on four different continents, including Western Europe, southwest Asia, North America, and even Australia. Nevertheless, some among the Armenian public tacitly sympathized with the terrorists because of what they saw as past wrongs committed by Turkey. As Michael J. Arlen, Jr., a measured Armenian critic of the terrorism, explained: "It was as if a particular poison had entered the Armenian system several generations back, and had remained within it: a poison that one might up to a point live with but that caused the limbs suddenly to twitch, or the mouth – perhaps in mid-sentence – to grimace grotesquely."74

49 By the mid-1980s, however, Armenian terrorists had fallen into mindless but deadly internal fighting that resulted in the deaths of several of their leading members. Tacit Armenian public support for the terrorism dried up, while shortly afterwards Armenia‟s independence from the Soviet Union gave a new generation of Armenian militants a more reputable cause to support. Indeed, Monte Melkonian, a former ASALA leader, became a noted fighter in the Armenian war for Karabagh and was killed in battle fighting for his cause.

50 Even with the benefit of 20 years of hindsight, it remains difficult to assess definitively the strategic influence exerted by Armenian terrorism. There were a number of factors that helped to determine its success or failure. Since Armenians tend to be a closely knit group, who in their own language distinguish themselves from the odar or non-Armenian, the Armenian diaspora around the world provided a unique, transnational system of contacts and support. Given the fact that Armenians tend to be more successful in the professions than many others, they often possess a political clout that exceeds their relatively small numbers. In addition, during the Cold War, the fact that the two largest concentrations of Armenians in the world lived in the Soviet Union and the United States probably gave them more input into the policies of the two superpowers than one would otherwise have suspected.

51 On the other hand, of course, the Turkic population in the Soviet Union was much larger than the Armenian. It was unlikely, therefore, that the Soviet Union would have wanted its Turkic populations to identify it as being too pro-Armenian. The hesitancy in acceding to the Armenian demands on Karabagh was a case in point. On the other hand, although the Armenian population in the United States was much larger than the Turkish, the strategic importance of Turkey to the NATO alliance prevented the United States from taking as strong a stand on behalf of the Armenians as they would have desired. The failure of the Armenian activists in the United States to pass a "Genocide Resolution" in the US Congress over the years illustrated this point. Indeed, as recently as April 2005, US President George W. Bush angered many Armenian-Americans by declining to use the word "genocide" in commemorating the ninetieth anniversary of the tragedy that occurred in 1915.

52 Returning again to inherent Armenian strengths, it also should be noted that Armenian terrorism against Turkey tended to elicit a certain amount of implicit sympathy and even tacit support both from Armenians and non-Armenians because of the widespread belief, referred to above, that the Ottoman Turks ruthlessly massacred tens of thousands of Armenians in the latter part of the nineteenth century and then committed genocide against them during the First World War. Add to these damning accusations the view that the Islamic Ottoman Empire was one of the leading historical enemies of Christian Europe, while the Christian Armenians were usually viewed much more sympathetically – as well as the fact that the Armenians were more fluent in languages than the Turks and thus able to get their view across to the rest of the world better – and one can readily appreciate another implicit advantage possessed by the terrorists. Indeed, 20 years after Armenian terrorism stopped, this author often finds sheer disbelief on the part of the general non-Armenian public that the phenomenon ever existed, that somehow any mention of it is simply part of the continuing Turkish attempt to blacken the Armenian reputation and deny the genocide.

53 The tacit sympathy some Greeks showed for Armenian terrorism stemmed from the traditional Hellenic hatred of the Turks. The special requiem service held in Athens in December 1986 for Karnik Vahradian – the ASALA agent who was accidentally killed during an attempt to bomb the Kuwait Airlines office in Athens in 1982 – further illustrated the situation. At the requiem, Reverend Spiros Tsakalos of the Greek Orthodox Church delivered a eulogy in which he declared: "The Turkish fascist regime understands only the language of armed struggle carried out by the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia."75

54 The situation regarding France was similar, although not as intense, since the Turks had not conquered and ruled that country for 400 years as they had Greece. A number of French politicians supported Armenian activists because of their electoral power in certain areas where they were concentrated. On 24 April 1982, for example, Gaston Defferre, the minister of interior and the mayor of Marseille – which had a relatively large Armenian population – told them: "France will assist you to triumph in the pursuit of your just cause."76 Even more tacitly condoning the terrorism that was occurring at that time, Charles Hernu, the minister of defense, told a large Armenian rally in his home city of Villeurbane on 10 October 1982: "Whenever there are aggressions, we must raise the question as to who the real aggressor is. Are the aggressors people that survived a genocide committed by the Turks or the Turks themselves?"

55 Syrian support for the Armenian terrorists also stemmed from traditional animosities and especially contemporary political ambitions. The Turkish annexation of Hatay (Alexandretta) province in 1939, current problems dealing with the waters of the Euphrates River, and the long-term ambitions of the late President Hafez Assad all motivated the Syrians to support the terrorists surreptitiously.

56 In the end, however, the Armenian terrorists also suffered from many problems as detailed above. In addition, the entire Armenian population in the world numbered no more than six million, while the Turks counted more than fifty million. During the period of the terrorism, the Armenians also lacked the institutional framework of a state, while Turkey was a geostrategically important NATO ally of the United States. Although by practically all conventional standards its ultimate strategic impact was virtually nil, some might still argue that Armenian terrorism did help preserve the memory of what many call the twentieth century‟s first or forgotten genocide.

Michael M. Gunter is Professor of Political Science at Tennessee Technological University.

1 There is an enormous body of literature on what most observers call the Armenian Genocide but which Turkey still argues is a term that is too one-sided to characterize fairly what actually occurred. For the most part this continuing debate is beyond the scope of this article. For a recent analysis of what many call the Armenian Genocide, see Rouben Paul Adalian, "The Armenian Genocide," in Samuel Totten, William S. Parsons, and Israel W. Charny, eds., Century of Genocide, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2004), pp. 53-90. For a solid analysis of the conflicting claims that questions whether what occurred can accurately be called a planned genocide, see Guenter Lewy, The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide (Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press, 2007). See also Michael M. Gunter, "The Historical Origins of the Armenian-Turkish Enmity," Journal of Armenian Studies (special issue entitled "Genocide & Human Rights") 4, nos. 1 and 2 (1992), pp. 257-88, which concludes that while "there is no doubt the Armenians suffered a great wrong," (p. 276) "the Armenian claim that they were victims of a premeditated and unprovoked genocide does not ring entirely true." (p. 277)
2 For previous studies of Armenian terrorism, see Michael M. Gunter, "Pursuing the Just Cause of Their People": A Study of Contemporary Armenian Terrorism (New York: Greenwood, 1986); Transnational Armenian Activism, Conflict Studies 229 (London: Research Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism, 1990); "Contemporary Armenian Terrorism," Terrorism: An International Journal 8, no. 3 (1986), pp. 213-52; and "The Armenian Terrorist Campaign Against Turkey," Orbis 27 (Summer 1983), pp. 447-77. In addition, see Anat Kurz and Ariel Merari, ASALA: Irrational Terror or Political Tool (Jerusalem, Israel: Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and Boulder, CO: Westview, 1985); and Franics P. Hyland, Armenian Terrorism: The Past, The Present, The Prospects (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1991).
3 Armenian Reporter (New York), 9 February 1984, p. 2.
4 Armenian National Committee, Los Angeles, letter to the editor published in Christian Science Monitor, 3 April 1981, p. 22.
5 Paragraph 30 appeared in a report of the Special Rapporteur to the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, UN Doc. E/CN. 4/Sub. 2/L. 583, 25 June 1973. For a scholarly analysis, see Leo Kuper, Genocide: Its Political Use in the Twentieth Century (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1981), pp. 219-20.
6 Cited in Christian Science Monitor, 20 October 1983, p. 21.
7 Cited in "Armenian Terrorist Leader Hagopian Interviewed: Milan Panorama in Italian, 1 September 80, pp. 62-65," in Joint Publications Research Service: Western Europe, no. 1628, 24 September 1980, pp. 1-6, hereafter Panorama Interview.
8 See Pierre Terzian, "La question armenienne aujourd‟hui," in the special issue of Critique Socialiste 55, no. 4 (1982) entitled "Armenie du genocide a l‟explosion," p. 51. Armenians mark 24 April 1915 as symbolic of the beginning of the deportations and massacres. On that date, several hundred Armenian civic, political, and intellectual leaders in Constantinople were arrested, deported, and eventually executed.
9 For further details, see Ronald Grigor Suny, Armenia in the Twentieth Century (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983), p. 78.
10 See Armenian Reporter, 8 March 1984, p. 1. Yanikian was convicted on two counts of murder and sentenced to a life term in prison. He was released from prison and died less than a month later on 26 February, at the age of 88.
11 "Nadim Nasir Report: Al-Majallah Visits an Armenian Secret Army Base in Lebanon" in Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), Daily Report (Middle East and Africa), 1 September 1982, p. G8.
12 "Booklet Giving History of ASALA‟s Existence Gives New Insight into the Revolutionary Movement," Armenian Reporter, 10 January 1985, pp. 3 and 10 and the eight subsequent issues. Monte Melkonian – an Armenian-American born in California on 25 November 1957 – became an important member of ASALA before breaking away from the group in an attempt to form a more effective organization. He was probably the author of this most revealing document that was originally published in France, under the title "The Reality," in response to allegations made against it by Hagopian‟s ASALA group. Melkonian spoke several different languages fluently and was eventually killed while leading Armenian troops against Azeris in Karabagh on 12 July 1993.
13 New York Times, 29 January 1982, p. A1.
14 See Christopher Walker, Armenia: The Survival of a Nation (New York: St. Martin‟s Press, 1980), pp. 363-67. The following analysis is based on this source and Andrew Corsun, "Armenian Terrorism: A Profile," U.S. Department of State Bulletin (August 1982), pp. 32 ff.; Sato Papazian, "Sept annes de lutte armee," Hay Baykar (published in Paris, France by the Mouvement National Armenien Pour L’ASALA, 22 December 1982), pp. 8-9; Terzian, "La question armenienne aujourd‟hui," pp. 51-58; and "Booklet Giving History of ASALA‟s Existence."
15 On this point, see Armenian Reporter, 5 January 1984, p. 1, and its subsequent issue of 2 February 1984, p. 2.
16 "Booklet Giving History of ASALA‟s Existence."
17 Markar Melkonian, ed., The Right to Survive: Selected Writings of Monte Melkonian on the Armenian National Question, 2nd ed. (San Francisco, CA: Sardarabad Collective, 1993), p. xiii.
18 Robert I. Friedman, "Spanish Journalist, Victim of ASALA Bombing, Becomes Expert on Armenian Cause," Armenian Reporter, 15 November 1984, p. 2.
19 "Booklet Giving History of ASALA‟s Existence."
20 Cited in [Armenian] California Courier, 28 July 1983, p. 7.
21 Cited in Christian Science Monitor, 6 May 1982, p. 5.
22 For a thorough analysis, see Louise Nalbandian, The Armenian Revolutionary Movement: The Development of Armenian Political Parties through the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1963).
23 Manuel S. Hassassian, ARF as a Revolutionary Party, 1890-1921 (Jerusalem: Hai Tad Publications, 1983), p. 4.
24 Simon Vratzian, "The Armenian Revolution and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation," The Armenian Review 3 (Autumn 1950), p. 19.
25 Anaide Ter Minassian, Nationalism and Socialism in the Armenian Revolutionary Movement (1887-1912) (Cambridge, MA: Zoryan Institute, 1984), p. 19. In addition, see James G. Mandalian, Armenian Freedom Fighters: The Memoirs of Rouben Der Minasian (Boston, MA: Hairenik Association, 1963). The term fedayee refers to freedom fighters in the Middle East organized as irregulars or guerrillas and comes from an Arab word meaning "those who sacrifice themselves." Thus, the term has an almost mystical ring to it redolent of the word martyr.
26 Mikayel Varandian, as cited in K.S. Papazian, Patriotism Perverted (Boston, MA: Baikar Press, 1934), p. 18.
27 Sarkis Atamian, The Armenian Community (New York: Philosophical Library, 1955), p. 277.
28 William Langer, The Diplomacy of Imperialism, 1890-1902, 2nd ed. (Boston, MA: Knopf, 1951), p. 157.
29 Walter Laqueur, Terrorism (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1977), p. 44.
30 Jacques Derogy, Resistance & Revenge: The Armenian Assassination of the Turkish Leaders Responsible for the 1915 Massacres and Deportations (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1990), p. xxvii. Derogy‟s book was originally published in French as Operation Nemesis, in 1986 by Librairie Artheme Fayard.
31 Ibid., p. xiv. For further details, see Yves Ternon, The Armenian Cause (Delmar, NY: Carvan Books, 1985), pp. 98-101.
32 For what purports to be Tehlirian‟s own story, see Lindy V. Avakian, The Cross and the Crescent (Los Angeles, CA: De Vorss & Co., 1965); also, Oliver Baldwin, The Questing Beast (London: Grayson and Grayson, 1932), pp. 201-04; and Sarkis Atamian, "Portrait of Immortality, Part II: „The Hunt,‟" Armenian Review 13 (February 1961), pp. 11-21. Tehlirian finally died in the United States in 1960.
33 "The Belgrade 2 Trial: Becoming Like Tehlirian Trial," Armenian Weekly, 24 December 1983, p. 1.
34 Arshavir Shiragian, The Legacy: Memoirs of an Armenian Patriot (Boston, MA: Hairenik Press, 1976).
35 For a list of the assassinations and who was responsible, see Gunter, "Pursuing the Just Cause," pp. 68-69. ASALA, however, was responsible for a number of civilian, third-party deaths, particularly during bloody airport attacks in Ankara in 1982 and Paris in 1983.
36 Cited in Robert Lindsey, "Turkish Diplomat is Slain on Coast: Armenian Terror Group Takes Responsibility in Shooting," New York Times, 29 January 1982, p. A12.
37 "Communique," dated 12 October 1984, and published in the Dashnak newspaper Armenian Weekly, 3 November 1984, p. 2.
38 "Communique," dated 19 November 1984, and published in Armenian Weekly, 29 December 1984, p. 2.
39 This and the following citations were taken from "Political Platform of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Ratified by the 23rd World Congress," Armenian Weekly, 16 August 1986, pp. 1 and 7; and 30 August 1986, p. 1. Nakhichevan and Gharabagh (Karabagh) were then part of Soviet Azerbaijan, while Akhalkalak was part of Soviet Georgia. Soon after gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, Armenia conquered Karabagh.
40 This and the following citation were taken from Aram Khaligian, "The Necessities of Violence and National Culture in the Liberation Struggle," Armenian Weekly, 31 December 1986, p. 15.
41 This and the following citation were taken from Tatul Sonentz-Papazian, "The ARF Legacy – Are We Ready?" Armenian Weekly, 31 December 1986, p. 3.
42 Cited in Armenian Weekly, 14 January 1984, pp. 7 and 6.
43 For a fuller analysis of these causes, see Khachig Tololyan, "Conflict and Decline in Armenian Terrorism," paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, 29 August 1986.
44 For an analysis of this Dashnak-ASALA fratricide in Lebanon during the early and especially the mid-1980s, see Michael M. Gunter, "The Armenian Dashnak Party in Crisis," Crossroads no. 26 (1987), pp. 75-88.
45 Armenia, no. 131/13, 1986, p. 10.
46 Moush, no. 13 (Autumn 1987), p. 3. Moush is the organ of the Armenian Popular Movement or political arm of ASALA in Greece.
47 Armenia, no. 127-128/11-12, 1986, p. 18.
48 Armenia, no. 105-106/7-8, 1985, p. 29.
49 Armenia, no. 131/13, 1986, p. 7.
50 Armenia, no. 127-128/11-12, 1986, p. 7.
51 Armenia, no. 131/13, 1986, p. 7. For further analysis of such symbolism, see Khachig Tololyan, "Martyrdom as Legitimacy: Terrorism, Religion and Symbolic Appropriation in the Armenian Diaspora" in Paul Wilkinson and Alasdair M. Stewart, eds., Contemporary Research on Terrorism (Great Britain: Aberdeen University Press, 1987), pp. 96 ff.
52 Armenia, no. 89-90/5-6, 1984, p. 5. I have taken the liberty of correcting typographical errors in this citation from ASALA‟s journal without in any way changing the meaning of the text. ASALA‟s journal in Armenian at first also suffered from grammatical errors, but eventually the late Simon Simonian, an authority on classical Armenian who wrote the language perfectly, began to edit it. The result was that the quality of the written Armenian radically improved. I am indebted to Professor Khachig Tololyan for this information. A picture of Simonian and a trim, youthful-looking Hagop Hagopian appears in the Armenian Observer, 31 August 1988, p. 12.
53 Panorama Interview. See note 7 for the full citation to this source.
54 "Booklet Giving History of ASALA‟s Existence."
55 This and the following citations were taken from Armenia, no. 131/13, 1986, pp. 18-19.
56 This and the following citations were translated from "ASALA‟nim Siyasal Programi," [ASALA‟s Political Program] Hay Baykar (Paris) no. 1 (1982). Hay Baykar [Armenian Struggle] was the organ of the Armenian Popular Movement of ASALA in France.
57 "Booklet Giving History of ASALA‟s Existence."
58 "Monte Melkonian Explains His Break with ASALA: Interview," Armenian Reporter, 12 January 1984, p. 4.
59 "Hagop Hagopian, Legendary Leader of ASALA, Gunned Down in Athens, Greece," Armenian Reporter, 28 April 1988, p. 1.
60 "Assassination of ASALA Leader Is Queried by Greek Authorities," Armenian Reporter, 5 May 1988, p. 1.
61 This and the following data were taken from "Syria Said to Have Caused New Split within ASALA," Armenian Reporter, 4 August 1988, pp. 1 and 2.
62 Melkonian, ed. Selective Writings of Monte Melkonian, p. xiv.
63 Panorama Interview.
64 This and the following citation were taken from "Booklet Giving History of ASALA‟s Existence."
65 See the reports in the [Armenian] California Courier, 22 September 1983, p. 2, and 8 December 1983, p. 9.
66 Armenian Weekly, 19 November 1983, p. 1, and 10 December 1983, p. 5.
67 Armenian Weekly, 1 October 1983, p. 1.
68 See "UnArmenian Activities," Economist, 6 February 1980, p. 20; New York Times, 17 April 1983, Sec. 1, p. 20; New York Times, 31 July 1983, p. E2; New York Times, 1 August 1983, p. A6; and Los Angeles Times, 12 November 1982, part 1-B, p. 9.
69 See the report on this case in the Armenian Reporter, 18 August 1983, p. 1. The three tried in Los Angeles were convicted.
70 This and the following citations were taken from "Booklet Giving the History of ASALA‟s Existence."
71 For details, see the account in Armenian Reporter, 25 August 1983, p. 1. For further general background, see Tarik Somer, "Armenian Terrorism and the Narcotic Traffic," in International Terrorism and the Drug Connection (Ankara: Ankara University Press, 1984), pp. 19-27.
72 This and the following citations were taken from the "Statement of Nathan M. Adams Senior Editor of Reader‟s Digest August 2, 1984; Room 428 Dirksen Senate Office Building Before the Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse" (mimeographed), pp. 3-5.
73 "Statement of Francis M. Mullen, Jr., Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration U.S. Department of Justice on Drug-Related Terrorism Before the United States Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Paula Hawkins, Chairman, August 2, 1984" (mimeographed), p. 6.
74 Michael J. Arlen, Jr., Passage to Ararat (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1975), p. 186.
75 "Requiem Service in Athens, Greece Remembers Youth Said To Have Been Killed by Turkish Agents, 2 December 1982," Armenian Reporter, 8 January 1987, p. 15. ASALA falsely claimed that Vahradian was a victim of the MIT, the Turkish intelligence agency, when in reality he was simply killed in a bungled attempt to bomb the Kuwait Airlines office.
76 This and the following citation were taken from "Four French Ministers Friendly to Armenian Cause Severely Criticized," Armenian Reporter, 23 July 1983, p. 7.




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