By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Khrimian Hyrig is a highly revered clergyman. But, he is also a great
leader who has given wonderful political advice to the Armenian
His Holiness was born in Van, Western Armenia, in 1820 and became the
Patriarch of Constantinople in 1869. Due to his nationalistic views,
he was forced to resign by the Ottoman government in 1873. He was then
installed as Catholicos of All Armenians in Etchmiadzin in 1893 and
died in 1907.
Khrimian Hyrig is well-known for his participation in the Berlin
Congress in 1878, hoping to receive from the great powers a decision
to force the Ottoman Empire to establish substantial reforms in the
Armenian provinces. He did not accomplish his objective because
Armenians were powerless. He likened the failed Armenian efforts in
the Berlin Congress to his attempt to eat from a bowl with a “paper
ladle,” while other nations had an “iron ladle.”
The highly nationalistic Khrimian Hyrig exhorted his fellow Armenians
to arm themselves: “People of Armenia, of course you understand well
what the gun could have done and can do. And so, dear and blessed
Armenians, when you return to the Fatherland, to your relatives and
friends, take weapons, take weapons and again weapons. People, above
all, place the hope of your liberation on yourself. Use your brain and
your fist! Man must work for himself in order to be saved.”
Khrimian Hyrig’s wise words are just as valid today, particularly
after the latest disastrous defeat Armenians suffered at the hands of
better armed Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Armenian historian Hayk Konjoryan had crafted a letter written in
Armenian from the perspective of Khrimian Hayrig. Konjoryan’s text is
both politically and prosaically convincing. I have translated the
letter into English:
It is headlined: “If You Have an Independent State in the Future, Do
Everything You Can to Never, Ever Lose Your Independence.”
Here is the counsel that Konjaryan imagined that Khrimian Hyrig would
In the future, I hope you already have an independent state and you
have realized our centuries-old dream. If so, you are now living in
someone’s dream come true; in the dream of millions. I hope you
realize the power of luck that has befallen you.
I would like to know what that dream is like in reality, but since I
cannot see it with my own eyes, let me express my remarks with this
letter. If you read these lines, I will become a part of your present
and my future.
When I went to the Berlin Congress to raise the rights of our people
around the world, only then did I realize that we must first have the
right to have a right. That right is acquired with weapons.
You’ve probably heard of the “iron ladle”. The civilized nations of
Europe, which seemed to us to be law-abiding and fair, gave us nothing
but pity. Russia, which seemed to be a great friend of our people,
other than sympathy, sees and hears nothing but its own interests.
The Armenian people seemed to be like a hungry child outdoors in the
frosty winter, before whom everyone closed the doors of their homes.
The Armenian people were without a care-taker, but the most important
thing I understood was that we should not look for care-takers from
abroad. There, in the future, I am sure, you will not look for foreign
care-takers and you will not pin your hopes on Europeans, Russians or
If you have an independent state, your only care-taker must be your
own government. I hope the government will not leave you abandoned,
but if it abandons you, what is the point of your independence?
The greatest misfortune of the people is that its own leaders treat
them in the same way as the foreigners. We lived under the yoke of
foreigners for centuries. They treated us cruelly and unfairly. We
sought justice and did not find it. If you have an independent state,
I hope there is justice there.
The Turks treated Armenians very unfairly. Can an Armenian treat
another Armenian the same way? Here, in the past, one of the greatest
tragedies of our people is its ignorance. How can an uneducated people
find their place in this cunning world? The Turkish authorities will
not allow this, as they see their danger in the education of our
people. The greater the education of the people, the more restrained
the government will be.
I devoted my whole life to spreading enlightenment in the Armenian
provinces, but alone I could not do much. If you have a state, educate
our people, spread enlightenment in the provinces. The uneducated
people choose uneducated masters who oppress them and one day the
uneducated people are obliged to choose foreign masters.
At a time when ordinary people are living in the provinces under the
heavy burden of the situation, wealthy Armenians in Istanbul are
living in sheer luxury. They are indifferent to the situation of the
people, as if they were foreigners. The Turkish authorities even ally
with them to keep the people obedient. I hope that the rich in your
country are not so arrogant and are not allied with the bad government
against the people.
In 1876, when the Ottoman Constitution was adopted, the hope for
salvation awoke in us. We thought that the five-hundred-year-old,
infertile and old mother Turkey brought forth to the old world a new,
young constitution, but our hopes were dashed and time showed that
they were beautiful letters written on paper, while the people
continued to suffer. There, in the future, perhaps you also have a
beautiful constitution and laws. I want your laws not to remain on
paper like the Ottoman constitution.
And finally, I want to give you a message. Have ambassadors who
properly voice the demands of the people to the world, and the clergy
will not engage in diplomacy, leaving aside their flock. Have leaders
who love the people, because the Armenian people have suffered a lot
from the hatred of foreign leaders. And never seek foreign
care-takers. And if you have in the future an independent state, do
everything you can to never, ever lose your independence again.
While these wise words were not written by Khrimian Hyrig, they are an
excellent advice to every leader of Armenia and to the Armenian people
worldwide. Ironically, Hayk Konjoryan is a member of the My Step
party, helmed by Prime Minster Pashinyan. Evidently, Konjaryan was
unable to inspire his party leader with what he believed would have
been Khrimian Hyrig’s prudent counsel.
Armenia has numerous problems. But the two most important ones are:
1) Armenia needs to develop a powerful military to fend for itself
without relying on other countries. A weak nation is always subject to
the dictates of more powerful ones, as we witnessed in the recent
Artsakh War. If you are weak, you have no rights and no one cares to
come to your rescue. Unless Armenia becomes more powerful militarily
and economically, it will always be subjugated, particularly since we
are surrounded by vicious enemies who constantly plot our destruction.
2) The next important requirement for our nation is to have a
competent leader, something we rarely had throughout our long history,
and we do not have it today!