Armen Garo was the nom de guerre of Dr. Garegin Pasdermadjian (1872 – 1923). He was born in Garin (Erzerum). Garegin studied first at Sanasarian College in Garin, later getting a degree in Agronomie in France, and eventually a PhD in Physical Chemistry in Switzerland. He was known early on for his role in the Zeitun Resistance. He became an Armenian hero because of the August 26, 1896 raid on Bank Ottoman in Istanbul. Papken Siuni (Bedros Parian) planned the raid but as he was killed in the first moments of the raid, Armen Garo, being educated and fluent in French and Turkish, became the leader of the Armenians. Later, Armen Garo was the Ambassador to the United States from the 1918 – 1920 Republic of Armenia.
There are things I should have known and probably did not remember from my Armenian Education in the Armenian Youth Federation. First, Bank Ottoman was not an exclusively Ottoman Bank. It was established 1856 as a joint venture of the British, French, and the Ottoman Government. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation decided to take over the bank to bring to the attention of the Brits and French the plight of the Armenians which included the massacres perpetrated under Sultan Abdul Hamid II 1895. While the takeover is viewed as a major heroic deed, revered in song and history, by the Armenians, it was viewed as an act of terrorism by the Ottoman Government. The takeover evoked some European sympathy and attempts to influence the Ottoman
|Bank Ottoman in 1896|
After the incident, President Grover Cleveland spoke out against these atrocities as part of a longer address to Congress and reported in the December 8, 1896 New York Times. He stopped short of any intervention as is often the case in such circumstances. He closed his comments on the Armenians with the following comment to the Ottoman subjects:
For centuries our forbears have been living with you in peace and harmony...but recently your government, conceived in crimes, began to sow discord among us in order to strangle us and you with greater ease. You, people, did not understand this diabolical scheme of politics and, soaking yourselves in the blood of our brothers, you became an accomplice in the perpetration of this heinous crime. Nevertheless, know well that our fight is not against you, but your government, against which your own best sons are fighting also.Change did come however. The Young Turks, officially the Committee of Unity and Progress, took control of the Ottoman Government in 1908. There was a brief honeymoon period in which the Armenians were encourage that unity and progress might actually happen. The exiles returned home, and Armen Garo became one of the ARF deputies in the Turkish Parliament. He served from 1908 to 1912 where he lost an election to a more pro-CUP Armenian. He then took an active role in ARF military activities in the Caucuses perhaps foreseeing the dark events of 1915.
When the first Republic of Armenia was founded on May 28, 1918, Armen Garo became the first and only Ambassador to the United States. After the fall of the Republic to the Soviets, Armen Garo was overwhelmed with had happened to his people and country. He died in Geneva in 1923 at the young age of 51.
As Simon Vratzian wrote in the introduction to these memoirs:
When Armen Garo arrived in Paris in November, 1922, only a ghost was left of the Armen Garo we knew. He was worn out and broken down, yet he had not lost his hope for the future. He wanted to hear endlessly about events, the accomplishments and the comrades in Armenia. He would sigh with deep sorrow that he had been away from it all… “Oh, but if I could only breathe the air and eat the grapes of Erevan all my ailments would be cured,” he would say quite often.The book is an easy read. It is not a finished or polished memoir but rather taken from Armen Garo’s notes and journals presumably without a lot of editing. It was clear that Armen Garo was a bright, educated, and pragmatic man. He was deeply devoted to the plight of the Armenian people. Given that we just celebrated the 100thanniversary of the establishment of the 1918 Republic, these Memoirs of Armen Garo were a great read.