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Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia

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Flag of the ASALA, prominently featuring a red star and a map of their goal.

The Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) was a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla organization whose primary objective was to assassinate Turkish diplomats and politicians in revenge for the deaths inflicted upon the Armenians during the Armenian Genocide. It also demanded reparations in the form of currency and land from Turkey (in particular the area promised to the Armenians by US President Woodrow Wilson, named "Wilsonian Armenia" at the Treaty of Sevres, which never came into effect). [1] The group also operated under other names such as The Orly Group and the 3 October Organization as if to make the allusion of a broader international movement, though it is estimated that fewer than 1,000 belonged to the ASALA and its rival the Justice Commandos Against Armenian Genocide (JCAG) combined.[1] It was considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the Soviet Union.



The ASALA was founded in 1975 in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War by Hagop Tarakchian and Hagop Hagopian with the help of sympathetic Palestinians. [1] At the time, Turkey was in political turmoil, and Hagopian believed that the time was right to avenge the deaths of the Armenians who died during the Armenian Genocide and to force the Turkish government to a cede to them the territory of Wilsonian Armenia for the purpose of unification with the existing Armenian SSR. In reaction to this, the rightist Lebanese Armenian extremists formed the JCAG to rival the ASALA. Neither group was assocoiated with the mainstream Armenian communities in Lebanon nor with the Armenian communities in Turkey.[1]

The group's activities were primarily assassinations of Turkish diplomats and politicians in Western Europe, whereas the JCAG would operate in the United States and Canada. [1] Their first acknowledged killing was the assassination of the Turkish diplomat, Danış Tunalıgil, in Vienna on October 22, 1975. A failed attack in Geneva on October 3, 1980, in which two Armenian militants were injured resulted in a new nickname for the group, the 3 October Organization. The ASALA's eight point manifesto was published in 1981.

Continuous attacks prompted Turkey to blame Cyprus, Greece, Syria, Lebanon, and the Soviet Union of provoking or possibly funding the ASALA, though nothing of this sort was ever found to be true.[2] With the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 the group lost much of its organization and support. Sympathetic Palestinian organizations including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) withdrew their support and passed materials to the French intelligence services in 1983, detailing ASALA operatives.

The ASALA's most destructive attack was on August 7, 1982 in Ankara at the Esenboga International Airport, when its members targeted civilians for the first time. Two militants opened fire in a crowded passenger waiting room. One of shooters took more than 20 hostages while the second was apprehended by police. Altogether, nine people died and 82 were injured. The surviving militant Levon Ekmekjian condemned the ASALA in the aftermath of the attack and appealed to other members to leave and stop the violence. The Esenboga attack also precipitated a split in the group over tactics, between the Nationalists (ASALA-Militant) led by Hagopian and the 'Popular Movement' (ASALA-Mouvement Révolutionnaire) led by Monte Melkonian. While Melkonian's faction insisted on attacks strictly against Turkish officials and the Turkish government, Hagopian's group disregarded the losses of unintended victims and regularly executed dissenting members.

Still, on July 15, 1983, the ASALA carried out another devastating attack at the Orly Airport near Paris. The attack gave the group a new nickname, the Orly Group. Afterwards, French forces promptly arrested those involved.[3]

By 1986, the ASALA virtually ceased all attacks. Hagop Hagopian, one of the group's founders, was assassinated on a sidewalk in an affluent neighborhood in Athens, Greece on April 28, 1988, his assailants, Hovsep A., Vartan G., Garabed K., and Albert "Sultan-Minas", were all ASALA members and lieutenants of Hapopian. His body was riddled by several shotgun rounds while he walking out with two women at 4:30 in the morning.[4] Tarakchian died of cancer in 1980 and the group fell into inactivity. Assassinations of former members continued in Armenia into the late 1990s.[5] According to Turkish sources, the ASALA was repressed by a series of attacks by the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT), some carried out by Abdullah Çatlı, leader of the ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves, which worked in cooperation with the MIT and with Gladio "stay-behind" NATO secret paramilitary organizations [6]. Throughout its history, the ASALA claimed the lives of 31 Turkish diplomats and embassy staff, including wives and children.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Paul M. Pitman. Turkey: A Country Study. The Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, p. 354.
  2. Paul M. Pitman and the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. Turkey: A Country Study, p. 283.
  3. The Associated Press. French Hold Armenians In Orly Airport Bombing. October 9, 1983
  4. Melkonian, Markar. My Brother's Road: An American's Fateful Journey to Armenia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005 p.187
  5. Melkonian, My Brother's Road, pp. 277-278
  6. Template:Tr icon {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}

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