On April 28, the Yerevan Council of Elders decided to erect the statue of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi in the Ajapnyak district in Yerevan.
The decision, however, received a mixed response. Many opposed the erection of the statue, noting that Gandhi was a friend of Turkey and had never condemn the Armenian Genocide. Gandhi’s personal life was also hotly debated, particularly the testimonies that the Indian leader slept naked with young girls.
The Fact Investigation Platform has studied some of the documents related to Gandhi to find out whether the allegations about him in Armenia are true or not.
Who was Mahatma Gandhi?
Mahatma Gandhi, born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was a lawyer, politician, public activist and writer. He was one of the pioneers of the Indian people’s fight against British colonial policy. Gandhi is known around the world for his teachings according to which it is possible to achieve political and social progress through nonviolent resistance. As a result of this peaceful resistance, after World War II, trilateral talks began between the British government; the leader of the All-India Muslim League, Muhammad Ali Jinnah; and the Indian National Congress, which ended with the creation of two independent states- India and Pakistan. Gandhi was a proponent of pluralism and diversity. The purpose of his life was to unite the Muslim and Hindu communities. When clashes broke out between Muslims and Hindus after the creation of Pakistan, he went on a hunger strike demanding an end to the violence.
Gandhi’s drastic measures sobered up the citizens and put an end to the clashes. Three days after the hunger strike, Indian nationalists and ideological opponents shot Gandhi dead.
Since 2007, Gandhi’s birthday has been celebrated around the world as an International Day of Non-Violence.
Gandhi and the Armenians
For Muslims, the Ottoman Empire was the bearer of Pan-Islamism in those years. When the Treaty of Sèvres was signed in 1920 after World War I, and as a losing side of the war, Turkey lost control of a number of territories, great turmoil broke out in British-controlled India. That’s when the Khilafat movement started. Its activists were mostly Muslim residents of the country.It should be noted, that, according to the Treaty of Sèvres, not only Armenia but also a number of Arab countries were gaining independence: Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt were ceded to France and Great Britain as sub-mandated territories. The Muslim population of India saw this as an encroachment on the idea of Pan-Islamism. Since the fight was against the Great Britain, the Indian National League also supported the movement.
For Mahatma Gandhi, this was an opportunity to unite the country’s Muslim and Hindu population. However, in his literary review of Mr. Andrew’s Difficulty, published in 1920 in Young India, Gandhi explicitly stated that he was not opposed to the independence of Armenians and Arabs. He was opposed to the double standards of British colonial policy.
“If I understand the spirit of Islam properly, it is essentially republican in the truest sense of the term. Therefore, if Armenia or Arabia desired independence of Turkey they should have it…. I have thus discussed the question academically. The fact is that neither the Mussulmans nor the Hindus believe in the English Ministerial word. They do not believe that the Arabs or the Armenians want complete independence of Turkey. That they want self-government is beyond doubt. Nobody disputes that claim. But nobody has ever ascertained that either the Arabs or the Armenians desire to do away with all connection, even nominal, with Turkey.”
According to Gandhi, the solution to the problem did not lie in the academic or theoretical discussions, but the study of the real desire of Armenians and Arabs, after which they had to come to a point where the desires of national and religious affiliation would be satisfied. Gandhi also considered it unfair to seize some territories from Turkey and hand over the British mandate with the support of the military.
“…Apart therefore from the questions of Armenia and Arabia, the dishonesty and hypocrisy that pollute the peace terms require to be instantaneously removed. It paves the way to an equitable solution of the question of Armenian and Arabian independence which in theory no one denies and which in practice may be easily guaranteed if only the wishes of the people concerned could with any degree of certainty be ascertained.”- Gandhi wrote.
Thus, Gandhi was not theoretically against Armenia’s independence, however he was against it being gained as a result of the war negotiations, when two great colonial powers, such as Great Britain or France, which also had peoples under their rule dreaming of independence, would force Turkey to take such an action. According to Gandhi, it was a dishonest and hypocritical approach. Moreover, Gandhi himself was fighting for the independence of his own people. He thought the best way to achieve this was to unite with the Muslim population of the country, for which he was ready to support the movement for the protection of the Khilafate;
Gandhi and Women
Gandhi’s way of life is also widely discussed, in particular the evidence that the Indian leader has slept with teenage girls in the last years of his life. In fact, in the early 1900s, Gandhi, who was already married and had children, switched to the teachings of the Brahmacharya, which implied a renunciation of bodily desires, including sexual intercourse. However, there are reports that after Gandhi’s wife died in 1944, he occasionally slept naked with his personal physician, Sushila Nara, and his distant relatives, Aba and Manu, who were 60 years younger than him. There was no sexual intercourse between them.
If he didn’t have sexual desire in the presence of naked girls, it would mean that he had reached the Brahmacharya. This way he was strengthening his willpower and self-control.
However, this act was not unequivocally accepted even by contemporaries. His scribe and translator had left him for that reason. However, no complaints were made by Aba or Manu, who had been by Gandhi’s side until the last moment of his life. Thus, Mahatma Gandhi, due to the situation in British India, opposed the Treaty of Sèvres and the partition of the Ottoman Empire, however, at the same time, he did not oppose Armenia’s independence, valuing the expression of the will of the Armenians.