Nest of Revolution: The Caucasus, Iran, and Armenians

The Russian Caucasus’s geographic in-between-ness as a land bridge between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean region is reflected in its history as a crossroads between empires and East and West. The Caucasus has been incorporated into the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Ottoman, Russian, and Soviet empires at different points in its history, yet it has remained peripheral to these empires. A long history of multiethnic, multireligious, and multilingual existence has disposed the region both to peace and conflict, division and unity – seemingly paradoxical trends. As a center of both cultural reception and transmission, especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Caucasus has been the playground and battleground of socialist and nationalist revolutionary ideas that have permeated both Iran and Ottoman Anatolia. In that sense, the Russian-ruled Caucasus served as the glue and hinge that bound and connected three revolutions (Russian - 1905, Iranian - 1905-1911, Ottoman - 1908) together and became the nursery of revolutionary ideas.

This presentation will focus on the importance and contribution of the Caucasus to the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911) by exploring the Caucasus in its global, regional, and local context. Using Armenian-language biographies, memoirs, and the archival documents of the leading Armenian political party of early twentieth-century Caucasus and Iran, this talk will center on the circulation of Armenian revolutionaries and ideas. Armenian revolutionaries and intellectuals flowing between the Caucasus and Iran are ideal subjects for study for many reasons: they prepared for, collaborated in, and participated in the Russian, Iranian, and Ottoman revolutions; they frequently crossed imperial borders within the Caucasus and Iranian region and beyond; and, they adopted, interpreted, adapted, and took part in spreading such influential and global ideologies as socialism and constitutionalism from the Caucasus (and Europe) to Iran. They were local and regional actors with global ties to big ideas and ideologies. As such, Armenian revolutionaries and the ideas they carried become quite a fitting way to study the Russian Caucasus as a nest of revolution, giving wings to revolutionary ideas and to roving revolutionaries.