Comrade Paramaz: A Revolutionary From Turkey


By MassisPost
Updated: July 17, 2014

By Kadir Akin

The tragic story of the Armenian Socialist Paramaz, also known as
Matteos Sarkissian, and his 19 comrades, who were hanged on 15/16
June 1915 in Beyazit district of Istanbul, remains very alive in the
collective memory of the Armenian society today. Conversely, the case
of the 20-s remains unknown to many in Turkey, including the political
circles, despite the fact that the country began slowly to confront
its past.

In these coming days of the centennial of 1915, the number of
discussions of “the many ways and means to face the past” are
increasing. In such a context, bringing up the case of the hangings of
the 20s is indispensable if we want to face the ghosts wandering in
Turkey’s past by positioning ourselves against the act of forgetting
and by demanding that justice be served, even when late.

Flare of “Medz Yeghern”/Great Atrocities: the hangings of Paramaz
and his comrades on June 15th, 1915 It was almost like the flare of
“medz yeghern”/Great Atrocities when only three weeks after the mass
arrests of April 24, which marked the beginning of the state’s sending
close to one million Armenians into forced migration, Paramaz and his
Social Democratic Hunchakian Party member comrades based at Beyazit
were sent to death following their unlawful trial.

Without finding the time to mourn the deaths of Paramaz and his
comrades, the Armenian people were rolled into an even greater pain.

The leadership of Progress and Union Party, which dominated the
political life of the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the last century,
had kept forced assimilation and Turkification as state policies
in the country’s political agenda. The leadership had seized the
opportunity to implement these policies in the aftermath of the Balkan
Wars when Balkan nations rose up against the Ottoman yoke in order to
determine their own destinies and when the Empire lost significant
land as a result of the wars. Moreover, the Ottoman army’s defeat
at Sarikamis, Kars on January 10, 1915 and the Empire’s losing of
its hegemony in the Middle East as a result of this defeat served
as an alibi for the Progress and Union Party to quickly implement
its assimilation policies. Beginning with Armenians, the Greeks and
autochthonous nations of the Anatolian peninsula such as Assyrians
and the Chaldeans were torn off of their lands for centuries and were
forced into exile. They have been sent off to desert areas such as the
Deir-ez-Zor to march to their deaths and were subjected to a genocide
as a result of a calculated ethnic engineering.1 The story of Paramaz
and his comrades, who were sent to death following an unlawful trial,
sums up the foregoing lawlessness without justice that brought about
forced migrations and deportations.

Towards the end of June of 1914, the founders, executives and Istanbul
members of the Socialist Democratic Hunchakian Party (SDHP) were
arrested and put into custody after someone informed against them
alleging that the party took a decision to organize the assassination
of Progress and Union forerunner Talat Pasha, during its 7th party
congress which took place in the Romanian town of Constanta on
September 17, 1913. Paramaz was among them.2

Cases of those who were arrested were not yet heard, and without
definite knowledge of when that might be, they were kept shackled
under horrific conditions in the basement of Istanbul central prison
house for months, while their interrogators tortured them. Indeed,
one of the decisions taken at the 7th party congress of the Socialist
Democrat Hunchakian Party was about to leave the decision of organizing
such a plot to the central committee.

The 7th congress did not attract significant number of delegate, which
had caused some problems at the time with regards to decision-making
during the meeting. The 6th party congress that met in Istanbul in
1909 had ended with the firm decision of legalization of the party.

Yet, members at the Constanta congress decided to go back to their
underground work. In fact, the decision to become legal/officially
legitimate drove serious rifts of opinion within the party during
the 6th congress. The group that included Stepan Sapah-Gulian and
Paramaz had objected to legalization. Nevertheless their objections
did not cause major divisions within the party and all have conceded
to this decision.3 Surely, the new constitution that was declared in
1908 with the Second Constitutional Monarchy has granted Armenians
the right to self-representation in the Ottoman Parliament, much like
other nations, who have legalized their organizations. The Hunchaks
had much cooperated with socialists and liberals against the Progress
and Union members.4

Paramaz’s involvement in the assassination of the Tsar’s governor of
Caucasia in 1905 was well known among the party members, but even
though he was not able to attend the Constanta party congress, he
was elected to the central committee.

Arsavir Sahakyan, who attended the party congress as the Egyptian
delegate, and was suspected of playing a role in the police operation
against the SDHP by cooperating with the Ottoman police had further
exacerbated the arrests of SDHP members by informing the police that he
was nearly assassinated on January 28, 1914 around Tarlabasi district
of Beyoglu.5 Up to 120 SDHP members were arrested and were tortured
for many moths to come. Some were released after the intervention of
many intermediaries and the payment of many bribes.

The number of remaining arrestees decreased to 49. When the trial
began, however, the number of those on the bench was 23 including
2 absentia. One of those tried, Hemayak Aramyan gave a statement
incriminating Paramaz and his friends.

The events in Van were used as an excuse for the arrests of 240
Armenian intellectuals and community leaders on April 24-25, 1915
in Istanbul, who then were sent to exile. The number of such exiles
went beyond two thousand by the end of May. With the Deportation Law
of May 27, thousands of Armenians were sent on the road to genocide.

Coincidently, the military tribunal (divan-i harp) took up the case
of Social Democrat Huchhakian Party central committee member Paramaz
(Madteos Sarkisyan) and his comrades. Nobody at the time could have
foreseen that the trial of an unfinished assassination attempt would
lead to the executions of Paramaz and his comrades.

Beginning on May 10, 1915, the trial lasted for 17 days and ended on
May 27, which is also the date when the Deportation Law was issued.

Paramaz and 21 other Hunchakian Party members were tried for:
“engaging in armed action in order to form a free and independent
Armenia; conspiring against the state’s indivisible unity by means
of provoking foreign governments against the Ottoman Empire; holding
open and secret meetings in different places in order to incite some
Ottoman peoples to break away from Ottoman dominion and form their own
states; to those ends, use propaganda means such as print media and
organize provocative actions.” Paramaz’s dialogue with the chairman of
the tribunal still carries significance because his defense is still
valid and it proves the extent of the injustices to which these men
were subjected. In response to the question of the chairman as to
whether he engaged in armed insurrection and secessionism against
the Empire, Paramaz responded: “what is left that we have not done
for the welfare of this country? We accepted such self-sacrificing
conditions in order to institute the brotherhood between Turks and
Armenians. How much energy we expended; how much blood we shed! The
reason why we endured so much pain was to elevate each other based on
mutual confidence. And what do we get in return? You not only denied
our extraordinary efforts [to live together in peace] but you tried to
annihilate us. You have attempted to tear us apart form our land by
occupying it for 600 years. And now you are attempting to transform
Ottoman lands into a Turkey. When you do these, you do not consider
yourself to be guilty of anything; but us when we attempt to do the
same based on our historical right?!”

Paramaz and his comrades were first arrested in 1898 in Van and were
sentenced to death. He was a Russian citizen and was extradited
to Russia by the request of this country. When he was tried at
court in Van, he was reported to defend himself with the following
statement: “We want equality [of all nations]. We do not follow rigid
nationalism. Our demand is that Armenians, Turks, Kurds, Alevis,
Lazis, Yezidis, Assyrians, Arabs and Coptics live together under
same conditions. As a revolutionary, I believe we can attain this
objective. But the Ottoman state policies direct at Turkism. You
go back to the same point, Turkism, where you came from hundred
years ago.6

20 men including Paramaz were sentenced to death 17 years later.

Stepan Sapah-Gulian and Hagop Tivrapian were sentenced in their
absentia. Sultan Mehmet Resat approved the court’s decision on June 5
and ordered the Minister of War Enver Pasha to conduct the executions.7

20 hunchakian gallows

In the morning of June 15, 1915 before dusk, the 20s were brought
next to the gallows to be executed. Their death sentences were read to
them. Paramaz turned to his friends and said: “Comrades, we will march
to death with our heads up, like bravemen.” Dr. Benne, who was one of
the 20, shouted to the faces of his executioners: “You are hanging us,
the 20, but 20 thousand will follow after.” The hangmen brought first
Paramaz to the gallows. Before they kicked the stool out from under
his feet, Paramaz shouted: “You can destroy our bodies, but never our
ideas…Tomorrow Armenians will salute a free and socialist Armenia in
the East of the country. Long live socialism!” While others followed
him into the gallows and in his last wishes, the worker Yervant sang
a song as he waited for the knot to find his neck: “Death is the same
everywhere, but how happy for the martyr who dies for the liberation
of his people.”

Priest Kalust Boghosyan who was observing the hangings wrote about that
day as follows: “After the hangings of the 20 revolutionary Armenians,
sergeants hung death sentences nailed on wooden pallets around the
victims’ neck. They called the photographers and had many pictures
taken of them with the dead bodies. A doctor certified that each and
every one of them was truly dead and wrote reports. The bodies of
the 20s were then taken off of the gallows and carried away to the
Edirnekapi Armenian cemetery on horse wagon.” On the horse wagon,
their bodies were put one on the other. They were not buried at
the cemetery individually, but en masse, in accordance with Aram
Achikbashyan’s will.8

Paramaz in Memories The Armenian people have never forgotten this
event. Both in the memories of those who remained in this land and of
those who were dispersed into four corners of the world as a result
of deportations, what happened to Paramaz and his comrades, and their
defenses at the trial and heroism were carried from one generation
of Armenians to another. Armenians who survived deportations and
remained in Turkey remember and speak of this event quietly. Those
living in Armenia and in the diaspora commemorate this event in open,
pronounced ways.

Paramaz took his rightful place as a folk hero in the collective
memory of the Armenian people.

In Turkey, the tragic events surrounding killings of Paramaz and
his comrades do appear only in a few books and articles. In 1921
the Dashnaks, Hunchaks and Ramgavars in Istanbul organized a joint
commemoration but nothing came after for ninety years. A panel and
a commemorative event organized in June 2013 where the hangings took
place at the Beyazit Square in Istanbul brought this tragic incident,
about which there has been hitherto limited amount of publicity, to
public attention among the leftists in Turkey. Awareness of the story
of 20 revolutionary Armenians emerged due to activities that took place
within that framework. One would admit of course that the commemoration
of what happened to Paramaz and his comrades by means of such public
activities almost a hundred years later were belated efforts that
nevertheless constitute a first step towards confronting the past.

Paramaz and his wife

When we look at the movement in Turkey, Turkish socialists do not
keep Paramaz and his comrades alive in their collective political
history, even though it is a fact that Armenians and Greeks (and
Bulgarians and Jews) who lived in Istanbul at the time were among the
pioneers/founding figures of the socialist movement.9 The fact that
neither the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) nor the left-socialist
movements remember Paramaz and his comarades is due to the continuing
influence of Kemalism, the founding ideology of the Turkish republic
and a preceding movement of the Progress and Union, on the Left. Many
Kemalist figures committed the crime of deportation and were tried
at the court beginning in 1919 in Istanbul and then in Malta, but
they were also acquitted by M. Kemal himself and later played an
important role in the constitution of the republic.10 Deportations
of Armenians and the public perceptions about their deportation have
influenced left-socialist movements in Turkey for many years. The
influence of Kemalism over left-socialist movements and their lack
of internationalism led to the ignorance and forgetting of ‘other’
socialists and their struggles, who inhabited the same land, while
knowledge and collective memory from these struggles have never been
passed on to new generations.

Confronting the past, knowing our history right I have mentioned before
that while Armenian people’s collective memory retains the tragic
story of Paramaz and his 19 comrades, the number of intellectuals,
democrats, and socialists of Turkey who remember the cause/case of
the 20 is quite small. Even though socialists like Deniz Gezmis,
Mahir Cayan, Ibrahim Kaypakkaya, Mazlum Dogan and their comrades who
died on the gallows and in the torture chambers have kept alive the
legacy of the 20s and Paramaz–albeit unwittingly.

Forced migrations of Armenians have not only resulted in genocide,
they have also hurt the roots of blooming socialism in these lands.

The socialist movement here would have taken a different course, had
the socialists of Turkey and their organizations been familiar with the
socialist literature that was produced by those who came before them,
had known about their predecessors’ concerns which are all the more
significant today while witnessing contemporary developments, and
had a full grasp of the struggle that their predecessors waged with
Ottoman laborers from all of the Empire’s nationalities. Indeed, some
of the ideas in the Hunchaks’ party program from 1910 continue to have
relevance today: “For the working class, which constitutes the majority
of human beings, to be emancipated, it needs to own land, factories,
banks, valuable financial institutions and railways – tools that serve
to production, capital exchange and communication. The administrative,
financial and economic conditions and taxation system to which Ottoman
peoples are subjected today will bring the destruction of the working
class. This people finds itself under such economic circumstances that
on one hand capitalist system takes over the production process, while
the old relations of production are disappearing, on the other hand,
the bourgeois class is vying for power with leftover of the feudal
system. To that end, it tries to use social organizations solely for
its own class interests”

Main principles listed in the party program were the following: 1. A
general Assembly, having full powers, elected by direct and general
popular suffrage.

2. Provincial and Communal autonomy.

3. Equality before the law of all citizens, without distinction of
nationality, religion or sex.

4. Complete freedom of press, conscience and meetings.

5. The institution of Habeas Corpus as a safeguard of liberty.

6. The separation of church and State.

7. The general arming of the entire manhood into a popular militia,
in time of peace.

8. The establishment of a secular and obligatory system of public
instruction, etc.

9. The abolition of the existing system of Contributions and the
establishment of a progressive system.

10. The total abrogation of indirect contributions.

11. The liberation of peasants from debts of all descriptions.

12. The enactment of special laws for the protection of labor against
speculations, etc.

I remind you that these demands were made 114 years ago.

Kegham Vanigian, who was hanged with Paramaz, was the editor of the
youth magazine “Gaidz” (Spark). Vanikian published a counter opinion
to the thesis on the impossibility of establishing socialism in the
Ottoman Empire and argued that the working class made socialism real:
“Wherever is electricity and steam power, there is proletariat. And
wherever is proletariat, there will be class struggle and socialist


Though belatedly, it is imperative to commemorate Paramaz and his
comrades by fully appreciating their camaraderie, to resist forgetting,
and to demand that justice be served. On the centennial of the state
killings of the 20, we will help constitute contemporary democratic
consciousness in Turkey by way of a documentary film about Paramaz and
his comrades. We need to devise a way to begin commemorating Paramaz
and his comrades not as “others’ socialists”, “heroes of other people”
and “other revolutionaries”, but as “our own”. We need to make them
a part of our history of common struggles.

And we need to be able to do these things today as societal
opposition with common demands for peace and democracy comes
together and crystalizes in the Gezi Resistance, and as the search
for solidarity among the socialists materializes. If we can manage to
pass the legacy of Comrade Paramaz onto young generations in Turkey,
we can then begin to believe in the possibility of leaving them with
a future wherein people in this geography were to live side by side
under common conditions of peace and comradeship based on equality.

Notes 1 Modern Turkiye’nin Sifresi – Ittihat ve Terakki’nin Etnisite
Muhendisligi (1913-1918) Fuat Dundar 2 G. K. Baskanligi “Arsiv
Belgeleriyle Ermeni Faaliyetleri” (1914-1918) cilt iv 3 Steban
Sabah-Gulyan (asil adi, Stepanos Der-Danielyan) 1887’de Cenevre’de
kurulan SDHP onderlerinden. 1908 yilinda Ittihat ve Terakkiyi de
elestiren yazilar yazdi. 1991 yilinda yazilari Ermenistan’da kitap
olarak basildi. 20’ler davasinda giyabinda olume mahkum edildi. 1861
Nahcivan dogumlu 1927’de ABD’de oldu 4 1912 Yilindaki Osmanli’daki
Secimler ve Bati Ermenileri Dr.Yeghig Djeredjian Beyrut -2007 5
Arsavir Sahakyan SDHP’nin Romanya-Kostence’deki 7. kongresine Misir
delegesi olarak katildi. Osmanli Emniyetiyle isbirligi yapti. Osmanli
Imparatorlugu disinda baska devletlerin istihbarat orgutleriyle de
calistigina iliskin bilgiler var. 1918 yilinda Adana’da Paramaz’in
arkadaslarinca olduruldu 6 Dr. Yeghig Djeredjian arsivi-Beyrut
7 G. K. Baskanligi “Arsiv Belgeleriyle Ermeni Faaliyetleri”
(1914-1918) syf.63 8 Sonsuzlugun Yolculari – Hrant Amiryan (ilgili
bolumlerin cevirisi: Sarkis Hatspanian) 9 Osmanli Impratorlugu’nda
Sosyalizm ve Milliyetcilik (1876-1923) Mete Tuncay-Erik Jan
Zurcher 10 Malta Surgunlerini Nasil Bilirsiniz – Ayse Hur 11
Also see
G. K. Baskanligi “Arsiv Belgeleriyle Ermeni Faaliyetleri” (1914-1918)
Osmanli Sosyal Demokret Hincakyan Orgutu Ana Tuzuðu syf.

68 12 Dr. Yeghig Djeredjian arsivi – Beyrut

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