A fedayee group fighting under the ARF banner.
The text reads Liberty or Death.
|Active||1880s - 1920s|
|Allegiance||Dashnak, Hunchak, Armenakan|
|Size||up to few thousands|
|Motto||Ազատութիւն կամ Մահ (Azatut'yun kam Mah, Liberty or Death)|
|Engagements||Armenian national movement (late 19th - early 20th centuries)|
Fedayees (Western Armenian: Ֆէտայի Fedayi; Eastern Armenian: Ֆիդայի Fidayi), also known as the Armenian irregular units or Armenian militia, were Armenian civilians who voluntary left their families to form self-defense units and armed bands in reaction to the mass murder of Armenians and the pillage of Armenian villages by criminals, tribal Kurdish forces, and Hamidian guards during the reign of Abdul Hamid II in late 19th and early 20th centuries, know as the Hamidian massacres. Their ultimate goal was always to gain Armenian autonomy (Armenakans) or independence (Dashnaks, Hunchaks) depending on their ideology and the degree of oppression visited on Armenians.
Goals and activities
Armenian fedayees' main goal was to defend Armenian villagers from persecution and at the same time, disrupt the Ottoman Empire's activities in Armenian populated regions. Armenian volunteers fight during Hamidian Massacres, Sasun Resistance (1894), Zeitun Rebellion (1895–1896), Defense of Van, and Khanasor Expedition. They were the leaders and members of the Armenian national movement. These bands committed sabotage activities like cutting telegraph lines and raiding army supplies. They also committed assassinations and counter-attacks on Muslim villages. They helped Armenians defend themselves during village purges by Ottoman officials. They were supported by Armenians and quickly gained fame, support and trust by them.
Their activities in the Ottoman Empire dissipated after the Second Constitutional Era of the Ottoman Empire, when the Committee of Union and Progress came into power and, for a time, granted the Empore's Armenian citizens the same rights as its Turkish and Kurdish citizens. Most fedayee groups disbanded, their members returning to their families.
World War I
Some fedayee groups joined the Ottoman army after the Ottoman government passed a new law to support the war effort that required all enabled adult males up to the age of forty-five to either be recruited in the Ottoman army or to pay special fees (which would be used in the war effort) in order to be excluded from service. As a result of this law, most able-bodied men were removed from their homes, leaving only the women, children, and elderly by themselves. Most of the Armenian recruits were later turned into road laborers, and many were executed before the beginning of the Armenian Genocide.
The genocide gave way to the return of the fedayees. Apart from thousands of Armenians who were drafted or volunteered in several different armies fighting against the Ottoman empire, and apart from those who were drafted in the Ottoman army prior to World War I, the fedayees fought inside Ottoman borders.
During the first year of the new republic, Armenians were flooding from Anatolia to safe havens. Roads were clogged with refugees. Further southeast, in Van, the fedayees helped the local Armenians resist the Turkish army until April 1918, but eventually were forced to evacuate it and withdraw to Persia.
To consider emergency measures, the Western Armenian Administration sponsored a conference which adopted plans to form a twenty-thousand-man militia under Andranik in December 1917. Civilian commissioner Dr. Hakob Zavriev promoted Adrianik to Major General and he took the command of Armenia within the Ottoman Empire. They fought in numerous successful battles such as the Battle of Kara Killisse, the Battle of Bash Abaran and the Battle of Sardarapat, as fedayees merged with the Armenian army (Erivan centered) under the General Tovmas Nazarbekian.
The total number of guerrillas in these irregular bands was 40,000–50,000, according to Boghos Nubar, the president of the "Armenian National Delegation":
In the Caucasus, where, without mentioning the 150,000 Armenians in the Imperial Russian Army, more than 40,000 of their volunteers contributed to the liberation of a portion of the Armenian vilayets, and where, under the command of their leaders, Antranik and Nazerbekoff, they, alone among the peoples of the Caucasus, offered resistance to the Turkish armies, from the beginning of the Bolshevist withdrawal right up to the signing of an armistice."
Boghos Nubar, as a part of the Armenian Delegation, had the intention to expand the borders of the independent Democratic Republic of Armenia. Thus, he might have elevated the number of Armenian fedayees who were able to fight in order to show that the Armenians are capable of defending an eventually large Ottoman-Armenian border. In reality, their numbers at that time were much lower, considering the fact that there were no more than a few handful of fedayees in most of the confrontations between them and Kurdish irregulars or Turkish soldiers, even according to foreign accounts. Moreover, many of the fedayees were the same and reappeared in various places and battles. One should also note that many Armenian irregular fighters died defending regions of Western Armenia during the genocide.
- Middle East Glossary - The Israel Project: FEDAYEE
- Tony Rea and John Wright (1993). The Arab-Israeli Conflict. Oxford University Press. p. 43. ISBN 019917170X.
- Ottoman labour battalions
- letter to French Foreign Office - December 3, 1918
- Vartanian, H.K. The Western Armenian Liberation Struggle Yerevan, 1967
- Translated from the Armenian: Mihran Kurdoghlian, Badmoutioun Hayots, C. hador [Armenian History, volume III], Athens, Greece, 1996, pg. 59-62.