The Hay heghapokhakan dashnaktsutiun (Armenian Revolutionary Federation, ARF, Dashnak Party, or Dashnaktsutiun) was founded in 1890 in Tbilisi, by Russian Armenian intellectuals, in order to help Armenians in the Ottoman Empire obtain economic and political reforms. The party established branches throughout the Ottoman and Russian Empires as well as in Europe and the United States. At different times the party supported guerrilla activities, political action, and Western intervention as means to achieve its goals in the Ottoman Empire.
In the Russian Empire the Dashnaktsutiun led the opposition to the anti-Armenian policies of the tsarist government (1903–1905) and, subsequently, the militia forces that clashed with Azerbaijani Turks in the Caucasus during the revolution of 1905–1907. In 1914 it supported a Russian plan for reforms in Ottoman Armenia. During World War I it also organized Russian-supported Armenian volunteer units in Eastern Armenia to help Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
The genocide committed by the Young Turk government against the Armenian population ended the presence of the party in Turkey. With the disintegration of the Russian Empire, the Dashnaktsutiun led the first independent Armenia, 1918–1920, only to cede power to the Bolsheviks in 1920. The party, along with other noncommunist groups, was banned from Soviet Armenia.
In the diaspora the Dashnaktsutiun focused on community-building, representing Armenians in host countries, and pursuing national aspirations internationally. Until the 1960s that meant a free and independent Armenia. Beginning in the 1970s, the party shifted its focus from an anticommunist and anti-Soviet crusade to an anti-Turkish campaign for the recognition of the genocide and territorial reparations from Turkey, for which Russian and USSR support was considered essential.
The Dashnaktsutiun has claimed a special position in Armenian history through its maximalist demands for the reconstitution of historic Armenia. Having reestablished itself in Armenia in 1990, the party reserved the right to resist by force any government it considered unacceptable; it opposed the leadership of the national movement that rose in Armenia in 1988 and accepted with reluctance the country's declaration of independence in 1991. Vehemently opposed to the first president, Levon Ter-Petrossian, it has been more supportive of the second, Robert Kocharian. Nonetheless, despite substantial contributions from its diasporan segment, the Dashnaktsutiun has been unable to make significant gains in Armenia's elections.
The Dashnaktsutiun is a tightly knit, disciplinarian organization with grass roots mechanisms in many communities. It is financed mainly by membership dues and donations by sympathizers.
Libaridian, Gerard J. (1996). "Revolution and Liberation in the 1892 and 1907 Programs of the Dashnaktsutiun." In Transcaucasia, Nationalism and Social Change, rev. ed., ed. Ronald G. Suny. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Ter Minassian, Anaide. (1984). Nationalism and Socialism in the Armenian Revolutionary Movement. Cambridge, MA: Zoryan Institute.
Gerard J. Libaridian