June 15, 2011 marks the 96th anniversary of the martyrdom of 20 Hunchakian activists who were hung in the Sultan Bayazid square of Constantinople. These 20 Armenian activists were hung few months after the beginning of the Armenian Genocide.
Before the materialization of the Armenian Genocide, Armenian intellectuals, primarily within the SDHP, saw clear signs that the hopes of the second constitutional era that were envisioned and promised after the 1908 Ottoman revolution had not and would not transpire.
After 1912, Armenians once again welcomed the renewed interest of the superpowers in pressuring the Ottoman government for reforms in the Armenian provinces of the Empire. However, this did not change the fundamental relationship between the leaderships of the Young Turk (CUP) government and the Armenian people.
The 7th General Convention of the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party which was held in Constanta, Romania, in 1913, had a unique and great importance not only for the Hunchaks, but in the history of the Armenian people as a whole. During the Convention, members stressed their concern of the Ittihad (Young Turk) government’s blatant disregard of the Armenian lives who resided in Historic Armenia. The Hunchaks perceived the dangers inherent in CUP mentality. A new party policy was based, among other arguments, on the fact that the “fundamental principles [of the CUP] call for the preservation of a Turkish bureaucracy and that they do not allow for the emergence of a new state, and that it is the obvious goal [of that party] not only to assimilate but also to eliminate, and if need be exterminate, constituent nationalities.” This would only escalate as time passed.
The Hunchaks also stressed the importance of a United Independent Armenia which would be impossible under the racist and dictatorial Young Turk government’s rule of the Ottoman Empire. The SDHP concluded that Armenians should at the very least be ready for self-defense.
Thus the 7th General Convention adjourned with two main objectives:
I – As stated in its original program, the party was to move from licit to illicit activities, thus becoming once again a covert organization.
II – To plan and implement the elimination of the leaders of the Ittihad (Young Turk) party, the same leaders that carried out the Adana massacres of 1909, and thus the same leaders who at that moment were planning the annihilation of the Armenian people.
Nonetheless, the SDHP was determined to pursue the search for peaceful solutions, if and when possible, especially with the Turkish and Kurdish populace of the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately, these secret objectives were passed on to the CUP Ottoman government by an Armenian agent for the government; consequently as soon as the delegates arrived in Constantinople, they were arrested. By the end of the year a total of one hundred and forty Hunchak leaders were arrested.
After spending two years in terrible conditions in Turkish prisons, and undergoing lengthy mock trials, twenty prominent figures – Paramaz, Dr. Benne, Aram Achekbashian, Vanig and others were sentenced to death by hanging. On June 15, 1915, all twenty men were hung in Sultan Bayazid Square; the central square of Constantinople.
Paramaz’s last words before his hanging were, “You can only hang our bodies, but not our ideology. …You will see tomorrow on the Eastern horizon a Socialist Armenia.”
Since their execution, the “20 Gallows” have been a source of inspiration for thousands of young Armenians throughout the world, but most especially to those who joined the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party, fought under its banner, and in its ranks work for the welfare of all Armenians.
In the month of June, commemorative events in remembrance of the “20 Gallows” are scheduled to take place throughout the world.