The Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) was a militant Marxist-Leninist organization, that operated from 1975 to 1986 and was responsible for the assassination of many Turkish diplomats and their families. The group also operated under other names such as The Orly Group and the 3 October Organization. The intention of ASALA was purportedly "to compel the Turkish Government to acknowledge publicly its alleged responsibility for the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915, pay reparations, and cede territory for an Armenian homeland". ASALA was listed as a terrorist organization by the United States in 1980s.
ASALA was founded in 1975 in Beirut
during the Lebanese Civil War
by Hagop Hagopian
(Harutiun Tagushian) and Kevork Ajemian
, a prominent contemporary writer, with the help of sympathetic Palestinians
. Consisting primarily of Lebanese-born Armenians of the Diaspora (whose parents and/or grandparents were survivors of the Armenian Genocide
), the organization followed a theoretical model based on leftist ideology
The group's activities were primarily assassinations of Turkish diplomats and politicians in Western Europe
, in the United States
and the Middle East
. Their first acknowledged killing was the assassination of the Turkish diplomat, Daniş Tunalıgil
, in Vienna
on October 22
. A failed attack in Geneva
on October 3
, 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.
ASALA, trained in the Beirut camps of Palestine Liberation Organization, is the best known of the guerilla groups responsible for assassinations of at least 36 Turkish diplomats.
According to MIPT website, there had been 84 incidents involving ASALA leaving 46 people dead, and 299 people injured including the following:
- February 16, 1976 in Turkish Embassy in Beirut, Oktar Cirit was killed.
- October 12, 1979 in Turkish Embassy in the Hague, Ahmet Benler, the son of the Ambassador Özdemir Benler, was killed (This attack was one of the attacks co-claimed by JCAG.
- July 31, 1980 in Turkish Embassy in Athens, Galip Özmen and his 14 year old daughter Neslihan were killed in the Turkish consulate. Galip Özmen's wife Sevil Özmen and their son Kaan survived the attack with injuries.
- December 29, 1980 in Madrid, a Spanish journalist, assistant director of the "Pueblo" newspaper, José Antonio Gurriarán was accidentally injured during an October 3 group attack. Then Gurriarán was interested what the group's purposes were; he found and interviewed ASALA members. In 1982 his "La Bomba" book was published, dedicated to the Armenian cause and Armenian militant's struggle.
- March 4th, 1981 in the Turkish Embassy in Paris, Reşat Moralı was killed and Tecelli Arı was injured.
- June 9th, 1981 in the Turkish Consulate in Geneva, Mehmet Savaş Yergüz was killed.
- September 24, 1981 in Turkish Consulate in Paris, 56 Turks were held hostage in the embassy by ASALA militants (none of the hostages were harmed), Turkish guard Cemal Özen was killed. ASALA members demanded the Turkish government free Armenian political prisoners within 12 hours and fly them to Paris. After 15 hours they surrendered peacefully requesting political asylum from the French government.
- April 28, 1984 in Turkish Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Işık Yönder was killed.
The ASALA's most criticized attack was on August 7, 1982 in Ankara at the Esenboğa International Airport, when its members targeted both diplomats and non-diplomat civilians for the first time. Two militants opened fire in a crowded passenger waiting room. One of the shooters took more than 20 hostages while the second was apprehended by police. Altogether, nine people died and 82 were injured. The arrested 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.
On August 10, 1982, Artin Penik a Turk of Armenian descent, set himself on fire in protest of this attack.
Prominent Armenian poet Silva Kaputikyan in 1983 wrote "Its raining my sonny" poem dedicated to the memory of ASALA member Ekmekjian.
On July 15, 1983, the ASALA carried out another attack at the Orly Airport near Paris, in which 8 people were killed. The attack resulted in a split in ASALA, between those individuals who carried it out, called the "Orly Group," and those who believed the attack to be counter productive. Afterwards, French forces promptly arrested those involved. Moreover, this attack eliminated the suspected secret agreement that the French socialist government made with ASALA, in which the government would allow ASALA to use France as a base of operations in exchange for refraining from launching attacks on French soil. Belief in this suspected agreement was further bolstered after "Interior Minister Gaston Defferre called [ASALA's] cause "just," and four Armenians arrested for taking hostages at the Turkish Embassy in September 1981 were given light sentences.
With the Israeli invasion of Lebanon
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 last attack committed by the ASALA was the attack on the bullet-proof limousine carrying the Turkish Ambassador to Budapest
). The ambassador was not injured in the attack, which was claimed by ASALA in Paris
ASALA's founder Hagop Hagopian 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 former ASALA members and lieutenants of Hagopian. His body was riddled with several bullets while he was walking with two women at 4:30 in the morning. Tarakchian died of cancer in 1980. Assassinations of former members continued in Armenia into the late 1990s.
Continuous attacks prompted Turkey to accuse Cyprus
, and the Soviet Union
of provoking or possibly funding the ASALA. Although they publicly distanced themselves from the ASALA, Turkey's Armenian community came under attack by Turkish nationalists in reaction to the group's actions. This became apparent after the assassination of Ahmet Benler
on October 12
by Armenian militants in the Hague
. The reaction to the attack led to the bombing of the church of the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate in Istanbul
on October 19
According to Tessa Hofmann, Turkish officials frequently used the accusation of collaboration with the ASALA and foreign Armenian circles to incriminate extreme left-wing Turkish opposition groups.