Obituary: Hrair Maroukhian

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The Independent Culture
HRAIR MAROUKHIAN headed the leading political party in the Armenian diaspora for nearly a quarter of a century.

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), or Dashnak party, is not only a political party, but a way of life for its members, particularly in the diaspora communities of the Middle East, from where Maroukhian came, and in the United States. Besides its political activities, the party runs a series of newspapers, social clubs, youth groups and scouting organisations, and has strong influence over parts of the Armenian Church.

By the 1970s, when Maroukhian was elected chairman of the party's highest body, the Bureau - a position to which he was re-elected six times - the party was a rather timid shadow of its former self, rooted in its Middle Eastern setting. Maroukhian transformed it into an aggressive anti-Turkish body waging a world-wide campaign to force Turkey to admit guilt for the massacres of more than one million Armenians in Anatolia and the expulsion of almost the entire Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire in the early years of this century.

Accused by the Turks of being the sponsors of terrorist attacks on Turkish diplomats from the mid-1970s, the Dashnaks always distanced themselves from Armenian terror groups. However, as late as 1993 Maroukhian was denied entry to Canada, as the authorities there suspected the party of links to the perpetrators of two attacks on Turkish targets in Canada in the early 1980s.

The ARF - founded in Tiflis in 1890 - was always an alliance of strong nationalists and revolutionary socialists. Maroukhian was a strong ideologue who defended the party's socialist identity, to the displeasure of some members who felt it should shed its socialist heritage.

True to its revolutionary origins, the ARF remained a secretive, conspiratorial party, suspicious of outsiders. It was banned by the Soviet authorities after they took power in Armenia in 1920 from the short- lived Dashnak-led government. The Dashnaks remained fiercely anti- Soviet until the early 1980s, when KGB infiltration and the changing international climate caused a rethink among senior ARF leaders, who were won over to the view that the Soviet Union had at least preserved Armenian identity and a piece of territory the Armenians could call their own.

The party revived its activities in Armenia in the late 1980s and - with national independence once again in sight - the ARF leadership officially relocated to Armenia in August 1990. Maroukhian was able to visit the country and engage in its volatile politics. The Dashnaks took a hard line in the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave whose Armenian majority were fighting for independence from Azerbaijan, and on Turkey.

Levon Ter-Petrosyan, who in 1991 became independent Armenia's first president, was increasingly intolerant of Dashnak criticism of his government. Such differences of opinion became even sharper when Maroukhian alleged that Ter-Petrosyan had acted as a KGB informer when he was a student. In June 1992 Ter-Petrosyan announced in a televised speech that he was expelling Maroukhian from Armenia and banned him from any future visits.

Maroukhian, by now a Greek citizen, was in Armenia awaiting the convention of the 25th ARF World Congress which was to be held in Armenia for the first time since 1919. Maroukhian complied with Ter- Petrosyan's request, stating that the ARF would not incite civil unrest in the homeland. The World Congress had to be postponed and convened later in another venue.

Maroukhian could do little but watch from Athens as relations between the Armenian government and the Dashnak-tinged elements of the diaspora worsened. In December 1994 Ter-Petrosyan banned the ARF from operating in Armenia, alleging that it was engaged in a campaign of terrorism and subversion.

Born in 1928 in Iran, Maroukhian was an engineer by training and profession, though politics was his passion. He joined the ARF as a young man and assumed leadership posts in the party, serving as chairman of the Central Committee in Iran. In 1963 the 18th ARF World Congress elected him to the Bureau. He served on the Bureau continuously, becoming chairman in 1971. He was based initially in Beirut but moved to Athens with his family during the Lebanese civil war when the party headquarters transferred to Greece.

By the time of his expulsion from Armenia in 1992, Maroukhian's long political career at the helm of the Dashnaks was about to end. In July 1994, while he was swimming in the Mediterranean off Athens, he suffered a massive brain aneurysm. He fell into a coma from which he would never recover. He was cared for at home by his wife and family, kept alive by tubes and fluids. He lost his position as Bureau chairman and was barely mentioned even by the Dashnak press.

This year Ter-Petrosyan's successor as Armenian president, Robert Kocharian, moved to defuse the hostility to the Dashnaks in Armenia itself. In May he lifted the ban on the party and revoked Ter- Petrosyan's ban on Maroukhian's entry into Armenia. But by this time Maroukhian was unaware of his political rehabilitation in what he considered his homeland.

Although he was preparing to move permanently to live in Armenia at the time of his expulsion, Maroukhian never fulfilled his dream. Armenia will however be his resting place.

Felix Corley

Hrair Maroukhian, politician: born Kermanshah, Iran 1928; Chairman, Dashnak Bureau 1971-94; married 1958 Anahit Ter-Sarkissian (two sons, two daughters); died Athens 21 December 1998.