This rare and fascinating map was published in Paris in 1919 by Karapet Y. Basmadjian, the prominent Armenian historian and independence activist, to depict the maximal territorial claims of the First Republic of Armenia, the first independent Armenian state since the middle ages, which lasted only from 1918 to 1920. The map appeared at a critical time in the long history of the Armenian civilization, when it was enduring the unimaginable tragedy of the Armenian Genocide (1915-23), punctuated by the evanescent hope of regaining its first independent state in over 500 years. The map was devised by Basmadjian in the early months of 1919, in the wake of World War I, as a propaganda device for the fledgling Armenian state to advance its territorial claims in the run up to the Treaty of Sèvres (August 10, 1920), during which the Western Allied powers were expected to demarcate the country’s new boundaries.
The crudely, but charmingly, lithographed map takes in the western two-thirds of Anatolia and all of the Caucuses, and shows Armenia’s maximal claimed boundaries, expressed by a yellow line. This relatively vast territory embraces the core area in the Caucuses around Yerevan (the capital), Lake Sevan and Mount Ararat; and then reaches far westwards to include much of eastern Anatolia, taking in Lake Van, Diyarbakir, the eastern Taurus Mountains, as well as a long strong of coast on the Black Sea, extending past Trabzon; plus a window on the Mediterranean at the Gulf of Alexandretta (Iskenderun), being the historical region of Cilicia.
To be clear, these boundaries represent the Armenian lobby’s ‘wish list’, as even the most optimistic of their group knew that they would never be awarded all of this territory, as many of the central and eastern areas had far larger Kurdish and Turkish populations than Armenian. Moreover, even at the height of their contemporary success, the Armenians only controlled the northeastern extremity of this territory, around Yerevan and Lake Sevan. However, the Armenians could base their claims on historical precedents, as it could be definitely proven that the Medieval Armenian kingdoms occupied all of these lands at some point in the past. All major topographical features are marked, as are Armenia’s preferred names for regions and major cities and towns. The key in the lower right uses number to identify the twelve former Ottoman vilayets that covered most of the region.
The (Brief) Rise of an Independent Armenia
The Armenian Civilization is one of the great cultures of the Near East, and it has occupied a variety of different territories during its long history. At its height, the ancient Kingdom of Armenia Major, which existed from 321 to 428 AD, occupied a vast swath of territory from the Levant to the Caspian Sea. Following that time, the Armenian territory was invaded and dissected into different parts. The independent Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia existed from 884 to 1045 in what is now modern day Armenia and Eastern Anatolia. From 1198 to 1375, the Armenian Cilician Kingdom (sometimes referred to as ‘New Armenia’) flourished in what is now the southeastern coastal region of Anatolia.
From 1375 to 1918, the Armenian civilization was entirely occupied by foreign powers. The terms of occupation tended to be very oppressive, forcing a large portion of the Armenian population into exile, whereby many individuals achieved great success in intellectual and commercial pursuits. In the generations up to World War I, the majority of the traditional Armenian territories were under Turkish domination, as ‘Ottoman Armenia’, while the northeastern areas were under the rule of Russia, so-called ‘Russian Armenia’. During this same period, Paris became the most important intellectual centre of the Armenian diaspora, home to key figures such as Karapet Basmadjian.
World War I and its immediate aftermath marked a period of unparalleled tragedy for the Armenian people. As the ailing Ottoman Empire began to collapse under the weight of the conflict, the Turkish leadership targeted the Armenian people as a scapegoat for their own frustrations. Beginning in 1915, and lasting until 1923, the Turkish imperial and post-imperial regimes murdered over 1.5 Armenians in what had become known as the Armenian Genocide.
However, out of the tragedy and chaos appeared, albeit fleetingly, rays of hope that Armenia could regain its independence after almost 550 years. By late 1917, the Ottoman Empire was in a state of collapse, unable to control even its core territories in Anatolia. Meanwhile, the October Revolution in Russia caused the collapse of the Czarist Regime, and as the Bolsheviks were preoccupied with gaining control over Russia, a power vacuum developed in the former empire’s peripheral territories, such as Armenia.
The Armenian independence movement on the ground was led by the Armenian Revolutionary Front (ARF or Dashnaktsutyun), which managed to gain control over most of the former Russian Armenia by the early months of 1918. The ARF civilian political command, the Armenian Council, declared the creation of the (First) Republic of Armenia in Yerevan on May 28, 1918. For the very first time since 1375, Armenians governed their own sovereign state. While the new nation only controlled 70,000 square kilometres of territory, a small fraction of the historical Armenian lands portrayed on the present map, it was hoped that this would be the basis for further territorial gains in the period following the end of World War I.
Meanwhile, the leading members of the Armenian diaspora in France, Britain and the United States, stepped their efforts into high gear. Awareness and sympathy had developed in the West for the suffering of the Armenian people due to the genocide at the hands of the Turks. Many Armenian leaders believed that there was now a receptive audience for the Armenian cause, and so set about to educate Western policy makers on the historic claims of the Armenian people and their contemporary challenges.
By the beginning of 1919, it was well known that the fate of Armenia’s territorial claims would be decided by the Western powers at a treaty conference, likely to be convened at some point in 1920. The Armenian exile leaders, including Karapet Basmadjian, prepared numerous well-researched newspaper articles, essays and pamphlets, along with a handful of maps that advanced the Armenian position, all geared towards convincing the Western powers to grant the most favourable possible terms to Armenia.
The present map was a key aspect of this public relations exercise, as it educated Westerners as to the extensive historical territory of the Armenian civilization. Even if it was conceded that there was no realistic way that the independent Armenian state would gain all, or even the majority, of the territory designated on the map, even the reward of a large minority of the land would represent a great leap forward.
The Armenian public relations campaign proved to be a resounding success. At the long-awaited conference, which manifested itself as the Treaty of Sèvres (August 10, 1920), Armenia was awarded 174,000 square kilometres of territory, expanding it holdings westward to include Lake Van, Erzerum and a lengthy coastline along the Black Sea, including the key port of Trabzon. While falling far short of Armenia’s maximal claims, it was more than enough territory to form the basis of viable nation. The support of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson caused the proposed treaty state to be referred to as ‘Wilsonian Armenia’.
Unfortunately, the dream was not to be, as the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres were never realized. Moreover, the First Armenian Republic was plagued by internal problems and external enemies, the consequences of living in ‘rough neighborhood’. The Turks managed to regroup from their earlier implosion and managed to regain control of eastern Anatolia, including the Armenian-designated lands extending from Lake Van up to Trabzon. Meanwhile, the Soviet Red Army successfully invaded the territory of the Republic. Thus, the first independent Armenian nation since 1375 lasted barely 2 years. The Soviets formally incorporated the northeastern Armenian lands into the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922.
The Armenian people would have to wait another 69 years, until 1991, to regain their own independent state (on roughly the same territory as held by the Frist Republic).
Karapet Basmadjian: Intellectual Advocate for an Independent Armenia
The author of the present map, Karapet J. Basmadjian (1864 – 1942), was a leading Armenian exile intellectual and activist for the cause of his native country. It should be noted that his biography is sometimes difficult to research in Western European languages, as his name had been transliterated from Armenian into Latin script in a bewildering variety of ways, such that he is often alternatively known as ‘Garabed Basmadjian’, ‘K.Y. Basmadjian’, ‘K.Y. Bamachian’, and even ‘Bamachean’.
Basmadjian was long an outspoken and unabashed advocate of Armenian independence and as a result found himself no longer welcome in either Ottoman or Russian controlled Armenia, and was thus based in Paris for most of his life.
He was a historian, archeologist and numismatist of estimable reputation, with most of his works focusing on research that revived and confirmed the significance of the historical Armenian kingdoms and their origins. These include Inscriptions cunéiformes vanniques de Manazgert (Venice, 1897); Lewon V. verjin T‘agawor Hayots‘ (Paris, 1908), a work on King Leo V, the last ruler of the Cilician kingdom; Les Inscriptions arméniennes d’Ani, de Bagnaïr et de Marmachên (Paris, 1931); and Manuel de numismatique orientale de l’antiquité et du moyen age (Paris, 1932-6), amongst others.
Even more prominent than his scholarly works, however, were his patriotic tracts and maps that justified the reestablishment of an independent Armenian state with ample territory, predicated on its historical grandeur. His defining text in this regard was Le Droit arménien depuis l’origine jusqu’à nos jours, mémoire présenté au congrès international d’histoire comparée (Paris, 1900).
During World War I, as the notion of an independent Armenia emerged as a reality, Basmadjian was one of the protagonists of the Paris-based group of Armenian intellectuals lobbying the Western powers to back their cause. In addition to the present map, he produced two other cartographic works that supported historical Armenian claims, Carte de l’Arménie ancienne (Paris, 1916) and Carte de Cilicie et ses environs (Paris, 1918). Even long after the collapse of the First Republic of Armenia, Basmadjian worked tirelessly to reassert Armenian self-determination.
A Note on Rarity
The present map is very rare. It was issued both separately and folded within a pamphlet advocating Armenian treaty claims, Avédis Aharonian & Boghos Nubar’s La Question arménienne devant la Conférence de la paix (1920) [Paris: February 12, 1919]. We are aware of only a single separately issued example of the map and 8 examples of the pamphlet in institutions. The only sales record, for either the separate map or the pamphlet, of which we are aware was of an example of the separate map which we sold in 2017.
References: Bibliothèque nationale de France, GED-7436.