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An interview with doctor professor of sciences, a correspondent member of National Academy of Sciences, chief editor of the journal “Messenger Social Sciences” Albert Kharatyan

-Mr. Kharatyan, when did the idea of the constitution start in the history Armenian social and political idea?

-The initiators of the idea of the constitution are the English while we – the Armenians have talked about democratic values almost simultaneously with the French. In the second half of the 18th century the Armenian colonies were recruited mainly with merchants, workmen and ship owners from Iran, particularly New Jugha, whose broad trade circles gave an opportunity to have a great influence, position, authority and to create strong bonds with the English politicians and civilization. At the beginning of the 1770s “Madras Club” was formed where the Armenian intellectual cream of society was involved. The most remarkable member of the club was Shahamir Shahamiryan, his son Hakob, Movses Baghramyan. In 1771 understanding the importance of printing, Shahamiryan set up a printing house where various books were printed. Shahamiryan’s “New Book Which Is Called Butt for Derision”, printed in the same printing house, was devoted to the inner self-government of the Armenian colony of Madras and it was striking for its democratic ideology. It established the common parishioner’s right to vote.

In 1772 Movses Baghramyan’s “New Book Which Is Called Exhortation” was published. Movses Baghramyan is one of the pioneers of the Armenian national liberating movement of the late middle ages. He has been a comrade confederate of famous promoter Hovsep Emin. “New Book Which Is Called Butt For Derision” was a publicizing political work and its aim was to inform the reader about the direction, content of the liberating movement and to inspire with patriotism. He exhorted the Armenian people to get to know their own history, culture, and it called for armed war against the Turks and the Persians.

In 1773 Shahamir Shahamiryan published the work “The Snare of Glory”. This work was much more pragmatic and it theoretically founded the future state structure of Independent Armenia.

That work, actually, was a constitution; moreover, it was quiet structural, inspired with progressive European thinking. Shahamiryan rejected class restrictions and limitations. He acted against class privileges and expressed people’s principle of equality in their right to vote. According to Shahamiryan’s model the society forms the powers of the government and controls it. The powers of the government must have three branches – legislative, executive and judicial, which functions today and is the base of universal democracy. Shahamiryan created an ideology which had adopted the most progressive democratic principles of his time and met the political requirements of the Armenian nation.

-Actually, still in the 18th century Shahamiryan defined the model of modern democratic state.

-It’s true. There are hints about local self-government bodies, about their representations in other national and public structures. The problem of the rights and responsibilities of national minorities was taken into consideration and the Christian Armenians had more advantages due to the exceptional role of our church for the protection of the nation and due to the fact that the country belongs to the Christian Armenians.

In contrast to “The Snare of Glory”, the national constitution of the Western Armenians has been certified by the authorities and has functioned even though not for a long time.

-What general features did the two constitutions have?

– The national constitution of the Western Armenians is one of the important movements of the Armenian constitutional idea. Although it has been used as a charter, but with its formulations, definitions and structure it was close to the Constitution as a legal act. The authors of the national constitution of Western Armenians are famous promoters Nikoghayos Palyan (from the famous family of the Palyans), Grigor Otyan, Aghaton brothers – Grigor, Mkrtich and so on. The charter has been put into action on May 24 1980 as an administrative charter of Western Armenian colony. According to the constitution the Armenian colony was an electoral law (before it the affairs of the Armenian society in Turkey, especially Constantinople were organized by extremely rich people, such as pashas and clergymen of high ranks). Though the Turkish government didn’t certify the constitution in 1860, it was put into practice in some cities of Turkey. The constitution ceased functioning because of cleavages, party and intergroup struggle of Constantinople and Jerusalem. Wealthy people and high class clergy kindled collisions among different classes of people to impede the Constitution. The Greeks and the Jews living in the Ottoman Empire have also had their constitutions, but they have had purely religious essence in contrast to the Armenian constitution which was a secular constitutional structure with its brilliant wordings. It reflected the political dream of Armenian constitutional promoters – to have a legal document typical to independent state system.

– The Turkish government has mentioned several times the national constitution of the Western Armenians emphasizing the fact that the Turks had no constitution while the rights of the Armenians were protected by law in the Ottoman Empire.

– In the 1860s-1970s the ideology of the Turks was ottomanism and its most remarkable followers were the progressive politicians Ali and Faud pashas. Ottomanism underlined the assimilation of all the subjugated nations with the Moslems. The liberating movement of the subjugated nations seriously worried them, and the main means of solving the problem was to separate these nations from their church and bring them closer to Islam. In this way they would completely forget their dreamlike thoughts about creating statehood. The national constitution of the Armenians was noted for its secular essence which weakened the basis of protecting the Armenian nation. It’s not by chance that the role of the patriarch was diminished in the Constitution. The patriarch presided at the National Assembly only formally. The two assemblies could dismiss the patriarch from his power. So the constitution didn’t have a political influence.

– What was the historical value of “A Trap on the Way of Glory” and “The National Constitution of the Western Armenians”?

– The constitution, the author of which was Shahamiryan, was a new stage of the development of the Armenian constitutional theoretical idea which was close to Europe’s progressive ideas and the idea of parliamentarism. Shahamiryan was the first to form the principles of European constitutionalism and parliamentarism. The national constitution of the Western Armenians had a great importance for the inner unity of the Armenian colony in the Ottoman Turkey and for the protection of the culture created by the Western Armenians. It provided national intellectual and cultural unity and development devoid of political values.

The most important meaning of these two Armenian constitutions is that it became the supporting source and the base of the present Armenian constitution for the development of the Armenian constitutional idea.


Category: #45 (910) 17.11.2011 – 23.11.2011, Spiritual-Cultural, News