During the new phase of Armenian terrorism from 1973 to 1985, the terrorist organization most frequently mentioned was ASALA (The Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia). No information has yet been published on its establishment, structure and activities. With regard to ASALA, various Armenian sources and publications provide information about certain individuals, and the results of terrorist activity, mostly obtained from publications issued by the organization or terrorist group. This is information, which the terrorist group wishes to publish or does not object to having published.
With regard to the founding of ASALA, some publications link it with the events in Lebanon; they take the view that it was established under the inspiration of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, within which it had been active. Others claim that it was founded by a small group of Armenians, who, within a short time, carried out the most sensational and effective acts of terrorism of the period. All this is very far from providing a complete explanation of how ASALA was founded. Until the conditions under which ASALA first appeared as an organization are better known and the gap it filled is more satisfactorily elucidated, present doubts will continue for a long time to come.
It is generally known that the first Armenian terrorist activities of the new period were in accordance with the policies and targets of the Dashnak terrorist organization. Throughout the course of history as well as in the period under discussion, the Dashnaks were completely pro-Western. They adopted a policy of limited terrorist activity, which was directed basically against Turkish targets, and, as revealed by various sources of evidence, they obtained help and support from the Western states; in fact, they collaborated with them. Basically, their principles and historical development did not allow them to adopt a different approach.
In this situation, one sphere of activity still remained. Namely that relating to the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, which appealed to the younger Marxist Revolutionary generations and, particularly, to the "New Armenian Resistance Organizations", in France. In fact, this area had long since been filled by the Hunchaks. Since 1960, they, with their various points of view, had also been preparing for a new period of terror. However, the Hunchaks were not in evidence, and a terrorist organization, wishing to be regarded as completely new, appeared on the scene in the guise of ASALA.
When the factors leading to the new period of Armenian terrorism are taken into consideration and their aims and policies, especially as a Hunchak terrorist organization, are examined, the conclusion can be reached that ASALA is a terrorist offshoot of the Hunchaks. It was above all the conditions and new developments in Lebanon that lay behind the emergence of this group as a new terrorist organization, which because known for the various acts of terrorism for which it claimed responsibility. In fact, no significant change has taken place.
The two Armenian terrorist organizations once again occupy the centre of the stage against the backdrop of history. The first is more in evidence, operating through its terrorist offshoots, whilst the second operates under cover, in the guise of a terrorist group to which it has given manpower and expertise, as well as moral support. This group in turn carries out terrorist activities through subsidiary groups and teams.
1. Foundation and Organizational Structure
ASALA was founded in 1975. The leader of this terror organization is known to have been Agop Agopian, one of the two most active members of the six or seven founding members. The second was Agop Tarakdjian, who was personally involved in terrorism and other criminal activity and who ensured the continued existence of the organization in the absence of Agop Agopian. The second of these two men died in 1981, whilst the first continued as leader throughout the whole of this period, apart from the time spent under treatment for wound received. He was well known as a mucahid and a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The organization was structured in accordance with the general practice of the Armenian terrorist groups. The Lebanon Central Committee was the supreme executive body. In 1980 this committee took on a very important form in the Lebanon and assumed the nature of a "bureau". Subordinate to the Central Committee were bodies such as the Political Committee, the Finance Committee, the Propaganda and Information Committee, the Intelligence Committee and the Military Committee. Subordinate to the Military Committee were a number of operational teams.
2. Aims and Objectives
ASALA revealed to the world its aims and objectives in a "political programme" published in the end of 1981. According to this, the aim of ASALA was "the foundation of a united Armenia under the leadership of a democratic, socialist, revolutionary government". The identity of the government in question is quite clear from the definition. All aid was welcome from the USSR and other socialist countries, while at the same time Soviet Armenia was accepted as a base in "the long struggle of the Armenian people".
In this political programme their enemies were divided into two groups. The first of these was the Dashnak Armenian terrorist group, and all the "regional reactionaries" who opposed, or at least failed to support ASALA. The second was "Turkish imperialism, aided and abetted by international imperialism".
ASALA believed that "the only way of liberating Armenian territory was through the use of violence", and issued public announcements to this effect. According to their programme, ASALA was to support all those who rejected the domination of the ruling classes and who were willing to work towards the foundation and strengthening of coalitions within the international revolutionary movement. Violence and terror formed an essential element in this programme.
In order to realise ASALA's aims and objectives it was not essential that terrorist activities should be directed solely against Turks and the friends of Turkey, or against people in positions of power or authority. "Terror is a phenomenon" and the important point is its scope and dimension. The actual targets may be of secondary importance. Greatest stress it to be laid on murders and massacres that will arouse violent public reaction. Whether the targets are men, women or children, Turks or non-Turks, is of little significance. Nevertheless, first importance was to be given to attacks on Turkey and the Turks. The importance of the attacks and massacres carried out in the airports of Paris and Istanbul, in the Istanbul Covered Market and the airport of Orly, lay entirely in the nature and violence of the reaction these were aimed at arousing.
3. Strategy, Attitudes and Behaviour
The essential aim of ASALA was to make the Lebanon the centre for all progressive Armenian movements throughout the world and the point from which all operations would be directed. In short, all progressive Armenian groups were to unite in the Lebanon and for the basis for an "ASALA Popular Movement". In this way, all progressive Armenians could enter into an official organization in which their individual strengths could be united.
An attempt was made in the summer of 1981 to put this section of ASALA strategy into effect by calling all progressive Armenians to a meeting in the Lebanon. By "progressive" was meant "Marxist-Leninist".
The second stage of this strategy began with the terrorist activities and open war undertaken by the organization thus founded with the help of certain socialist states. Armenian terror formed an integral part of the struggle for independence in the Middle East, uniting with other movements directed against the integrity of Turkish territory. This led inevitably to the union of ASALA and PKK.
ASALA was clearly a terrorist organization in attitude and behaviour. In all ranks of the administration terror and the implementation of terror was regarded as an essential feature of the organization. The leaders murdered one another, liquidated those of whom they disapproved or had them done away with. Apart from this, each terrorist team was presented to world opinion as if it were a separate Armenian organization and all types of propaganda were carried on by this means. Responsibility for the crimes committed were assumed by various organizations whose names had never before been heard of.
A list is to be found in an appendix at the end of this Introduction showing how in 1981 and 1982 the murders, crimes, bombings and raids were carried out by a single organization but attributed to groups with a variety of different names. By examining this list the reader will find a number of operations claimed to have been carried out by a great many different Armenian groups but which actually all bear the mark of a single team and a single organization. All these so-called independent groups remained subordinate to and directed by ASALA itself.
4. Political developments
The first stage in the political development of ASALA, which is generally agreed to have been founded in 1975, was highly effective, and the organization was strengthened by new forces recruited during the Armenian Congress in Paris in 1979. It gained further strength in 1981. In 1983 it split into two factions.
The first operation carried out by ASALA was the assassination by Agop Tarakdjian, one of the founders of the organization, of Oktay Cerit, First Secretary in the Turkish Embassy in Beirut, on 16 February 1976. The period up to 1979 was marked by ASALA's involvement in the conflicts between the various Palestinian groups, in the course of which Agopian, one of the leaders, was wounded.
Links with the Armenian terrorists in France were established during the Armenian Congress meeting in Paris in 1979, which saw the organization strengthened by the addition of new elements and fresh blood. The most famous of the new members were Alex Yenikomshian and Monte Melkian. In 1981 a number of terrorist attacks carried out by ASALA on innocent groups or individuals having severely shaken its standing in world public opinion. Following the Israeli occupation of the Lebanon the ASALA leaders were forced to leave the Lebanon along with the Palestinians. A split in the organization took place in 1983.
o The Agop Agopian Group - This was centred in Greece and the Middle East. Its terror was directed indiscriminately against Turks and non-Turks, as well as against innocent women and children. It was this group that was responsible for the attack at Orly. o In Western Europe the movement operated under the name of the "Asala Revolutionary Movement". This followed a more moderate course of action and directed its terror solely against Turks. The leaders of this group were Monte Melkonian and Ara Toranian. Toranian was the leader of a group centred in Paris known as the "Armenian National Movement" which described the Orly attack as a purely Fascist operation.
Melkonian, who had been born in Iran, declared his intention of setting the Armenian struggle on a sound political footing. According to this the movement had two aims; to rouse the Armenians to action, and to make common cause with other groups in their struggle against Turkey. In this second stage, Melkonian was involved in establishing alliances with other groups while Agopian continued with his own type of activity.
5. Support and Alliances
ASALA received support from three main sources:
1.The Soviet Union, the Eastern block and other socialist countries.
2. Countries such as Greece and Syria whose geopolitical expectations depended on the destabilisation of Turkey from within and without.
3. Various communist parties, indirectly from the Hunchak Armenian terrorist organization and its sympathisers, and also from the Armenian church, in spite of its difference in outlook.
In ASALA's links with other groups first priority was given to relations with non-Armenian terror groups which threatened Turkey directly or indirectly, and whose activities ran parallel to the strategy implemented by ASALA itself. In the period between 1976 and 1980 these consisted of groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization, activist members of the various communist parties and the secret services belonging to certain states. In 1980 ASALA widened the scope of its activities following the agreement reached with PICK at a meeting in Sidon in the Lebanon, thus establishing unity of outlook and action between ASALA and PKK.
As a matter of fact, these two organizations had already displayed a marked affinity in aims, structure and beliefs. From 1983 onwards ASALA relations began to develop along the lines of the strategy laid down by Monte Melkonian. First priority was given to terrorist activity within Turkey, and links were established with any group capable of furthering this strategy by either direct or indirect means. These groups were headed by PKK, the Turkish CommunistParty and other communist organizations.
6. Publications and information media
ASALA's most important, official organ is Haiastan
Other important publications include the periodicals Hai-Baikar, Armenia and Kaytzer, published in London.
ASALA's first radio broadcasts began in 1981 in Beyrut with a daily one-hour programme "The Voice of the Armenians in the Lebanon". Apart from these, facilities are provided by the public radio corporations and mass communication media belonging to countries with which it has established contacts.