While cleaning/tidying up my basemen I found a booklet titled “Ապրիլեան եղեռնը քննական ակնոցով” by Garo Sassooni.(Loosely translated as “A critical look at the Armenian Genocide”). It was first published in 1930 in April, May, and June as issues of the official ARF monthly newspaper “Troshag” in Paris, and also published as a booklet in 1931.
It was written on the occasion of the Fifteenth Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and he states that at the time it was discussed in the Armenian news media. “Իր ժամանակին քննութեան առնուած հայ մամուլի կողմէ” something that is hardly done in today’ Armenian news media. The booklet I have is a re-published copy 35 years later in 1965 in Beirut Lebanon on the occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
Garo Sassoon born in the historic and heroic Armenian province of Sassoon was an intellectual, educator, political activist, etc. He was part of the ARF leadership prior to, during, and after, the Armenian Genocide. He was also part of the ARF leadership during the establishment of the Republic of Armenia from 1918 till 1920, and held senior government posts including the governor of Alexandrapol (Gumry) region.
He was part of a generation that after establishing and governing the republic of Armenia for a short two and half year period, were exiled by Soviet Armenian authorities and lived in the diaspora(s) with the hope that one day they will return and govern Armenia again. Needless to say, they never had that chance. Talented Armenian poet and intellectual Antranig Zarougian called that generation “Հողի կարոտով հող դառցած մարդիք”.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Garo Sassooni had the opportunity to visit Soviet Armenia in ninety seventies and got such a popular welcome by Sassoontsis living in Soviet Armenia that the soviet government cut short his visit to prevent a resurgence of national sentiments.
When Jemaran high school was opened in Beirut Lebanon in the early nineteen-thirties by the prominent Armenian educators and intellectuals Levon Shant and Nikol Aghbalian, Sassooni came from Paris to become an Armenian history teacher and lived in Beirut till he passed away in the late nineteen seventies.
(Jemaran was a high school established by ARF leadership as the highest educational institution run by ARF to prepare the future generations of ARF leadership for both, the Lebanese Armenian Community, and other Armenian Diaspora Communities as well. It is still run by ARF in Beirut Lebanon).
His observations and criticism are in general nature and lack specifics, but he deserves the credit for partially succeeding to be more objective and less partisan that will be expected from a lifelong ARF leader.
He describes the divisive nature of the Armenian politics during, and after post-1908 constitutional reforms in Ottoman Empire and the rivalry between Armenian rich and conservative elements that controlled the Armenian Church institutions, the cultural associations, and the relatively newly established Political Parties including ARF.
(At the time the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul was the highest Armenian authority of the Armenian Community “Millet” in the Ottoman Empire, and was officially recognized by the Ottoman government as THE official establishment representing the Armenian community. Needless to say, it was heavily influenced and controlled by the Ottoman Government).
Sassooni considers the lack of decisive Armenian leadership on both sides, (which was mostly concentrated in Istanbul), the lack of concern and communications with the rural regions, and the conformity with the Ottoman authorities, especially from 1908 to 1913 were the main causes that “blinded” the Armenian leadership not to be able to see the coming of the unprecedented disaster that the Turkish government planned and executed.
Sassooni states that by 1913 it was clear that the Young Turk authorities that govern the country cannot be trusted, and the best option for Armenians was to start the process to prepare themselves for self-defense.
Instead the conformity and wait and see attitudes, and relying on the European intervention for some reforms (Բարենորոգումներ), was the dominant thinking of the leadership of the establishment, including that of the relatively new political parties including that of ARF. “մեր կուսակցութիւնը մեծ չափով վարակուած էր պահպանողական թոյնով”
He also mentions that the few heroic efforts of self-defense of Van, Sassoon, Mush, Ourfa, Musadagh, etc, were isolated acts of self-defense initiated entirely by local leadership as a last resort and only at the last minute when “դանակը ոսկորին հասած էր”. Sassooni also states that “հայ ժողովուրդ այդ օրերուն ղեկավարներու պէտք ունէր եւ ոչ թէ մարտիրոսներու”.
The booklet is only 64 pages long and is not intended to be an in-depth analysis of the events and circumstances that led to the Armenian Genocide. Rather, it is an honest effort by the author to have a critical look at the circumstances that led to our greatest tragedy ” մեր պատմութեան մեծագույն աղէտը”. It basically covers the years from 1908 till the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and its aftermath.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian.