- Roving Revolutionaries: Armenians and the Connected Revolutions in the Russian, Iranian, and Ottoman Worlds by Houri Berberian
The early twentieth century was a pivotal time in Russian, Ottoman, and Persian history because of the emergence of constitutional movements, mass politics, and numerous political parties. Using the Armenians as a prism for understanding the transnational influences of these movements, historian Houri Berberian analyzes three revolutions in Imperial Russia in 1905–1907, nearby Qajar Persia in 1906, and the Ottoman Empire in 1908, all of which were motivated by a propensity for constitutionalism and reforms.
Berberian does not examine these revolutions in isolation. Instead, she applies a transnational, or “connected histories” approach which, she argues “goes beyond an examination of the similarities and differences” (p. 2). In an effort to show the relationship between the three revolutions, Berberian focuses on the spread of Armenian revolutionary ideals that circulated and drove all three socio-political disruptions. Highlighting the ideas, participation, and contributions of Armenian revolutionaries, Berberian’s work underscores their influence on world history. Although they were minorities in all three empires, Armenians were affected by revolutionary and constitutional movements in neighboring Russia, Qajar Persia (Iran), and the Ottoman Empire, and actively exchanged political concepts and revolutionary ideals across borders. With greater access to transportation and communication channels, Armenian revolutionaries were able to efficiently disseminate revolutionary ideals prevalent in early-twentieth century Europe and Asia.
Berberian’s study sheds light on the importance of evaluating the connection of all three revolutions in order to better understand how early-twentieth century tumult originated and went on to affect history of these societies. She is careful to point out the ways in which location, geography, and cultural connection influenced the transfer of ideas. The book consists of five chapters, with the first one being an introductory chapter and the fifth chapter written in lieu of a conclusion. Among some of the fascinating aspects of the study is Berberian’s focus on the way that advances in transportation and communication facilitated the spread of revolutionaries, weapons, and print media throughout South Caucasus, Anatolia, Iran, and into [End Page 646] Europe. Armenian revolutionaries were able to disseminate ideas and arms throughout all three empires with the help of printing technology, telegraph, railway, and steamship. Berberian’s research also highlights the relationship of Armenian activists with constitutionalism, federalism, socialism, and nationalism. For example, Berberian delves into the way in which Armenian revolutionaries perceived constitutionalism in each empire and how they were influenced by the ideas of constitutionalism. Additionally, she examines the impetus for revolutionary socialist actions and the spread of radical ideas by way of print media, translations, and other reference material, to pinpoint the origins of these ideas.
Berberian conducted extensive archival research in the previously closed archives of the main Armenian political party (ARF—held in Watertown, Massachusetts). Berberian also relies on materials housed in libraries and archives in Paris, London, Vienna, and Yerevan (Armenia). While she made impressive use of various unpublished and collected published documents in several languages, she worked primarily with numerous Armenian language periodicals published in Tiflis, Baku, Istanbul, Erzurum, Paris, and Geneva. References to official and unofficial Russian and Persian press material would have enhanced the value of this study as well as work with police and military archives and reports from Russian, Iranian, and Turkish officials, informants, and populations.
This well-researched and well-written study is easy to follow and will be useful for any course structured around the themes of empire, transnational border relations, cross-cultural exchange, colonial experience and revolutionary politics.