WE DO NOT CARE WHAT “THEY” HAVE TO SAY- OURS IS A FRIENDSHIP OF HEARTS
By Dr. Rahul Anil Sethi
Centuries have passed and still, the INDO-ARMENIAN relations are rock solid and will remain the same till armageddon. To extend the warmth of these credit-worthy relations, about a year ago based on the enjoinder of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Governments, City Council of Elders, and Municipality of Yerevan in a caucus held on the 28th of April 2020 ratified the installation of a statue of the father of India fondly known as Mahatma(great-souled)Gandhi in one of the oldest capitals of all times, the pink city, the city of great charm, yes, you guessed it right, It is Yerevan, the splendid capital of Armenia. The city has mesmerized many with its never-ending beauty, the pulpulaks(drinking water fountains), and scenic view of biblical Mount Ararat.
But, after the installation, there has been minor resistance by few oblivious mortals who tried to besmirch the name of Mahatma Gandhi stating his association with the Khilafat(against or opposition) movement in India was support to Armenian Genocide and prophecies of the Ottoman empire.
The fallacy of some ignorants needs good history lessons. Thus let's dig deep in history to understand the whole scenario.
The backdrop of any event is as important as the event itself.
So, to set the context, allow me to first give a brief and relevant background of the Armenian Genocide and the Khilafat Movement
As per history, the Armenian Genocide took place after the Battle of Sarikamish in the year 1915 between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian empire when the Ottomans, having faced defeat at the hands of the Russians systematically exterminated around a million and half of its Armenian subjects.
For many years after this massacre, the term genocide was not coined. It was only in the year 1944 when Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin came up with the term” Genocide”. At that time, it was seen either as 'suppression of anti-nationalist sentiments' or a 'state-sponsored mass killing', the two sides of the same coin, and both were commonly used by the empires to justify their stand throughout history, even till date.
Now, let's get our time machine back to India where this fact was well known to Indians that Britishers are liars and they never keep any of their promises, once their purpose is solved.
The Indians were cheated by the Britishers by this 'use-and-throw attitude towards them; made promises to earn loyalty when needed, and then outrightly disregarded those promises when the need was over.
And here comes the Khilafat Movement which was launched after the Britishers started to show their true colours after WW1 ended in 1919, and the movement gained momentum after the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 and lasted till 1924.
Just to keep up the timeline intact, it must be noted that the Armenian Genocide took place in 1915 and the Khilafat movement in India was started in 1919. 4 years after the Armenian Genocide. Also, the fact must be taken into consideration that Mahatma Gandhi came to India in the year 1915 and his political career was still in a nascent stage and he was not well aware of what was happening at that time in the Caucasian part of the World as that time we did not have internet and other fast means of communication.
The Khilafat movement aimed to build political unity amongst Muslims and use their influence to protect the Caliphate. They called upon the British to protect the Caliphate and for Indian Muslims to unite and hold the British accountable for this purpose. They also declared it religiously unlawful for Muslims to continue serving in the British Army.
But Mahatma Gandhi as true patriotic saw an opportunity to unite and bring together Hindus and Muslims for a greater goal of freedom of India from British rule and thus did the Indianization of the movement and build the indigenous movement against Britishers to free India from their rule. If you study the word Khilafat, it means "to oppose" or "to be against". Mahatma Gandhi planned to use this movement against British rule in India. Thus the movement’s name justified its meaning.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who is widely regarded as the political guru of Mahatma Gandhi, knew the power of religious sentiments. He knew people can be united by evoking the common emotions that those people share. In Maharashtra, he mobilized the Hindus in masses by appealing to their Hindu roots, culture, and glory.
This reinvigorated religious and cultural unity was then converted into nationalist unity and was given a direction during the rest of the freedom struggle.
When Gandhi came to India, he felt that without the unity of Indian citizens, freedom from the British would stay a dream. So, he was looking out for an opportunity to bring the masses into the mainstream freedom struggle.
Taking a cue from Tilak, he saw the Khilafat Movement as an opportunity to unite the Indian brothers, and then mobilize them towards a common goal of India's freedom.
Mahatma Gandhi’s sole motive for the Khilafat movement in India was only about the downright betrayal from the British and nothing else. He was never in support of the Caliph or Ottoman empire or Armenian Genocide and proof of his support to Turkey has never been documented, approved or disclosed.
The Britishers could have continued their 'use-and-throw tactic in the future, had Indians not retaliated in such a big number.
If Gandhi didn't approve the Khilafat Movement, the Khilafat leaders wouldn't have got the much-needed voice of the masses, something which only the Indian National Congress could have provided. As a consequence, the Britishers would have got the impression that these two communities don't care about each other, and they can easily dupe one of them and get away with it.
The Khilafat leaders needed a voice audible enough to be heard and Gandhi extended his support because he saw the long-term dividends in it.
And as for the question of supporting a movement that was speaking in favour of the mass-murdering Turks, Gandhi was not looking at Khilafat Movement with that lens. He still emphasized the non-violent non-cooperation as the instrument of struggle and asked the Khilafat leaders to follow the same path. The person who is looked at as a symbol of peace and has influenced and inspired many renowned leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Aung San Su Kyi, Lech Walesa, Cesar E. Chavez, Barack Obama and countless others who shaped their lives based on Gandhiji's principles of nonviolence is blamed to be a supporter of one of the biggest atrocities in human history. My question to some history illiterates who think that Mahatma Ji was in support of the Armenian Genocide- How can you imagine someone like Mahatma Gandhi to condone a genocide?
Mahatma Gandhi fought for independence against a foreign rule without advocating violence or resorting to the use of force along the way. Mahatma Gandhi, throughout his career as the leader of the Indian National struggle, urged all his followers to refrain from using violent means, even when met with violence themselves. When on 5 February 1922, a large group of protesters, participating in Gandhiji's Non-cooperation movement at Chauri Chaura in the Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh attacked and set fire to a police station, killing 22 policemen, Mahatma Gandhi, who was strictly against violence, halted the non-co-operation movement on the national level as a sign of protest against his own followers, although the police had opened fire against the peaceful protestors first. By this time his Non-Cooperation Movement had gained momentum, but for Mahatma Gandhi, the principle of non-violence was of utmost importance. It is unthinkable, that a person who did not support violence against his enemies, would support the massacre of the Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, such as it is being represented today.
Hence, Gandhi supported Khilafat Movement to unite Indian brothers and sisters for freedom struggle, and to tell the Britishers that making promises and then not fulfilling them is not acceptable, and both the communities will stand together to oppose such behaviour.
For Mahatma Gandhi, this was an opportunity to unite the country’s population. However, in his literary review of Mr Andrew’s Difficulty, published in 1920 in Young India, Gandhi explicitly stated that he was not opposed to the independence of Armenians and Arabs. He was opposed to the double standards of British colonial policy. Mahatma Gandhi wrote “If I understand the spirit of Islam properly, it is essentially republican in the truest sense of the term. Therefore, if Armenia or Arabia desired independence from Turkey they should have it…. I have thus discussed the question academically. The fact is that neither the Mussulmans nor the Hindus believe in the English Ministerial word. They do not believe that the Arabs or the Armenians want complete independence from Turkey. That they want self-government is beyond doubt. Nobody disputes that claim. But nobody has ever ascertained that either the Arabs or the Armenians desire to do away with all connection, even nominal, with Turkey.”
According to Gandhi, the solution to the problem did not lie in the academic or theoretical discussions, but the study of the real desire of Armenians and Arabs, after which they had to come to a point where the desires of national and religious affiliation would be satisfied. Gandhi also considered it unfair to seize some territories from Turkey and hand over the British mandate with the support of the military.
“…Apart therefore from the questions of Armenia and Arabia, the dishonesty and hypocrisy that pollute the peace terms require to be instantaneously removed. It paves the way to an equitable solution of the question of Armenian and Arabian independence which in theory no one denies and which in practice may be easily guaranteed if only the wishes of the people concerned could with any degree of certainty be ascertained.”- Gandhi wrote.
Thus, Gandhi was not theoretically against Armenia’s independence. Moreover, Gandhi himself was fighting for the independence of his people.
I hope this much history lesson is enough for our misguided friends to understand the real scenario.
Now let’s understand the Indian-Armenian relations from past till present.
Historians agree that the Armenians always existed in India in small numbers. Yet it is here that the south Caucasian community, the Armenians acquired significant economic and cultural prosperity. “India has been more important to Armenians than Armenia was,” says Sebouh Aslanian, professor of modern Armenian history at the University of California, Los Angeles. “India in the 17th and 18th centuries is where Armenians made a ton of money, and they funnelled that money into cultural productions like Armenian newspapers, books, etc. The most important, intelligent, and forward-thinking Armenians lived in India. The earliest documented references to the mutual relationship of Armenians and Indians are found in Cyropaedia (Persian Expedition), an ancient Greek work by Xenophon dates back to 430 BC – 355 BC. An archive directory (published 1956) in Delhi, India states that an Armenian merchant-cum-diplomat, named Thomas Cana, had reached the Malabar Coast in 780 using the overland route.
The very first Armenian landing in India was Thomas Cana, who was an affluent merchant dealing chiefly in spices and muslins. He was also instrumental in obtaining a decree, inscribed on a copperplate, from the rulers of Malabar, which conferred several commercial, social, and religious privileges for the Christians of that region.
An additional incentive for Armenian settlements in India was an Armenian agreement with the British East India Company. Armenian relations were well documented with different cities of India like Agra, Murshidabad, Surat, Chennai and Kolkatta, where the Armenian churches, tombstone and cemeteries are well preserved to date. Even the Armenian periodical “Azdarar” was first printed in Madras (presently known as Chennai) during 1794 -1796.
The Armenians settled in Chinsurah, near Kolkata, West Bengal, and in 1688 built a Church there which is now known as Armenian Church of the Holy Nazareth This is the second oldest Church in Bengal and is still well preserved on account of the care of the Calcutta Armenian Church Committee. The Armenian college in Kolkatta is operational and students from Armenia get admitted there every year. India-Armenian governments have cooperation agreements and candidates every year are sent to Agra for studying the Hindi language. The educational ties do not limit to this, The Indian government also has installed an Indian supercomputer “Param” in the prestigious Yerevan State University and opened an ARMENIAN-INDIAN centre for excellence in information and communication technologies on the premises of the university itself.
The past and present governments have also kept friendly relations with each other on all fronts since India’s and Armenia’s independence and even before which is well maintained by both countries diplomatic stations/embassies in New Delhi and Yerevan.
Such a humble, full of love atmosphere and beautiful relations between two countries and countrymen are been polluted by few people who need political attention and might have political gains with their poor knowledge of history and no understanding of great relations of two great nations.
I urge the responsible citizens and authorities of the two great nations to be more cautious of such useless propaganda, harming and denting legitimate friendly relationships of two nationalities and peace-loving states. Anyways “WE DO NOT CARE WHAT “THEY” HAVE TO SAY- OUR IS A FRIENDSHIP OF HEARTS”
Article by Adrija Roychowdhury in IndiaExpress
Article by Ali Hasmi on quora
Article by Lusine Voskanyan on Fact investigation platform
Article on Khilafat Movement by Britannica Encyclopedia
The information available at Aruyt, Museum of Printing
Article by Indo-Armenian Friendship NGO