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Armenian fedayi

Armenian fedayi
A fedayi group fighting under the ARF banner.
The banner reads Liberty or Death.
Active 1880s–1920s
Country Ottoman Empire
Russian Empire
Qajar Iran


Type Militia

up to few thousands

Engagements Armenian national liberation movement
Iranian Constitutional Revolution
before 1893 Arabo
1893–1899 Aghbiur Serob
1899–1904 Andranik
1904–1907 Kevork Chavush

Fedayi (Western Armenian: Ֆէտայի Fedayi; Eastern Armenian: Ֆիդայի Fidayi), also known as the Armenian irregular units or Armenian militia, were Armenian civilians who voluntarily 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, known 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.

Some of the key Fedayi figures also participated in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution that commenced during the same period, upon agreement of the ARF leaders.

The Armenian term fedayi is ultimately derived from Arabic fedayeen: فدائيون fidā'īyīn, literally meaning "those who sacrifice".[2][3]


  • Goals and activities 1
    • Persian Constitutional Revolution 1.1
    • World War I 1.2
  • Notable fedayis 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Bibliography 5

Goals and activities

The Bitlis Vilayet (historic Taron) was the center of fedayi operations in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Armenian fedayis' 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 fought 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 sabotaged telegraph lines and raided 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 Empire's Armenian citizens the same rights as its Turkish and Kurdish citizens. Most fedayi groups then disbanded, their members returning to their families.

Persian Constitutional Revolution

Yeprem Khan was a revolutionary leader of Iran and a key figure of the revolution

Several fedayi and ARF key figures such as Aram Manukian, Hamo Ohanjanyan and Stepan Stepanian agreed upon joining the ongoing Iranian Constitutional Revolution in neighboring Qajar Persia.[4]

They established that the movement was one that had political, ideological and economic components and was thus aimed at establishing law and order, human rights and the interests of all working people. They also felt that it would work for the benefit and interest of Armenian-Iranians. The final vote was 25 votes in favour and one absentia.[4]

World War I

A photo of an Armenian volunteer from the Library of Congress

Some fedayi 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 45 to either be recruited in the Ottoman army or to pay special fees (which would be used in the war effort) 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 fedayis. Apart from thousands of Armenians who were drafted or volunteered in several different armies fighting against the Ottoman Empire those who were drafted into the Ottoman army before World War I,[5] the fedayis fought inside Ottoman borders.

During the first year of the Democratic Republic of Armenia, Armenians were flooding from Anatolia to its safe havens. Roads were clogged with refugees. Further southeast, in Van, the fedayis helped the local Armenians resist the Turkish army until April 1918, but eventually were forced to evacuate and withdraw to Persia.

To consider emergency measures, the Western Armenian Administration sponsored a conference which adopted plans to form a 20,000-man militia under Andranik in December 1917. Civilian commissioner Dr. Hakob Zavriev promoted Andranik 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 (Yerevan 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 Paris Peace Conference of 1919 who wrote:

In the Caucasus, where, without mentioning the 150,000 Armenians in the Imperial Russian Army, more than 40,000 of their volunteers helpeds to liberate part 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."[6]

Boghos Nubar, as a part of the Armenian Delegation, intended to expand 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 that there were no more than a few handfuls 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 Armenian genocide.

Notable fedayis

The Museum of Fedayis named after Andranik, Yerevan
Nom de guerre
Years active
(as fedayees)
Operation location(s)
Political affiliation
Arabo 1880s - 1893 Western Armenia Dashnak
Girayr 1880s - 1894 Western Armenia Hunchak
Papken Siuni - 1896 Western Armenia, Constantinople Dashnak
Aghbiur Serob 1891–1899 Western Armenia Dashnak
Hrayr Dzhoghk 1880s - 1904 Western Armenia Hunchak, Dashnak
Kevork Chavush 1890–1907 Western Armenia Hunchak, Dashnak
Sevkaretsi Sako - 1908 Western Armenia, Iran Dashnak
Yeprem Khan 1880s - 1912 Western Armenia, Iran Dashnak
Nikol Duman - 1914 Western Armenia, Eastern Armenia Dashnak
Medzn Mourad 1880s - 1915 Western Armenia Hunchak
Ishkhan - 1915 Western Armenia Dashnak
Paramaz 1890s - 1915 Eastern Armenia Hunchak
Keri 1880s - 1916 Western Armenia, Iran, Eastern Armenia Dashnak
Hovsep Arghutian 1889–1918 Western Armenia Dashnak
Armenak Yekarian 1890s - 1918 Western Armenia Armenakan
Sebastatsi Murad 1890s - 1918 Western Armenia, Eastern Armenia, Baku Hunchak, Dashnak
Andranik 1895–1919 Western Armenia, Bulgaria, Zangezur Hunchak, Dashnak
Aram Manukian 1903–1919 Western Armenia, Eastern Armenia Dashnak
Sose Mayrig 1890s - 1920 Western Armenia Dashnak
Hamazasp 1890 - 1920 Western Armenia, Eastern Armenia Dashnak
Dro 1914–1920 Western Armenia, Eastern Armenia Dashnak
Vartan 1890 - 1920s Western Armenia, Eastern Armenia Dashnak
Garegin Nzhdeh 1908–1921 Iran, Balkans, Eastern Armenia (particularly Zangezur) Dashnak
Makhluto 1880s - 1921 Western Armenia, Eastern Armenia, Zangezur Dashnak
Armen Garo 1895–1922 Western Armenia, Eastern Armenia Dashnak
Tuman Tumyan 1901–1906 Western Armenia, Eastern Armenia none
Sarkis Kukunayn 1890–1910 Western Armenia, Eastern Armenia Dashnak
Balabekh Karapet 1890s–1915 Western Armenia Dashnak

See also


  1. ^ Hambarian, A. S. (1989). "Սասունի 1904 թվականի գոյամարտը [1904 Sasun war]".  
  2. ^ Middle East Glossary - The Israel Project: FEDAYEE
  3. ^ Tony Rea and John Wright (1993). The Arab-Israeli Conflict.  
  4. ^ a b Berberian, Houri (2001). Armenians and the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1905–1911. Westview Press. pp. 116–117.  
  5. ^ "Ottoman labour battalions". 
  6. ^ 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.
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