Scouting in Armenian life developed in the 17th century. Dikran Khoyan, one of the Homenetmen founders, in one of the old issues of St. Etchmiadzin's “Ararad” magazine wrote: “We come across a bylaw that has been approved since the 1680s until the early 19th century successively by Yeghiazar, Alexander and Arghoutyants Hovsep Catholicos and finally confirmed by Archbishop Krikor of Bessarabia.”
The bylaw was related to Botushan, Moldova, and the Armenian youth organization found in other cities (Brasrava), whose members were called Gdridj (Brave).
The aim of that organization was to enrich the youth of the mentioned cities both spiritually and physically.
According to the bylaws, every teenager at the age of 12 was required to register as a “nakhendza” to Brasrava and, after taking an oath, was required to belong to that organization under the name of “Gdridj” until marriage.
According to their number, Gdridjner had a group leader or group leaders, who were elected by the youth assembly and then approved by the elders of the city. The responsibilities of Gdridjner were:
- Every day, and especially every Sunday, they should go to church and be present at the service.
- They should be present at the wedding, funeral and burial ceremonies of any individual (rich or poor) in the community and participate in the singing of religious hymns.
- During the holidays, they should go to their group leader's house to congratulate him, and then they were obliged to visit the homes of all Armenian citizens and congratulate them.
- Every Saturday, Gdridjner were required to perform a mass for the souls of the deceased Gdridjner of the organization.
- The strictest qualities required of the Gdridjner were discipline and absolute obedience to their group leader, whose obligation was to make the above-mentioned rules applicable and control the moral and physical condition of the Gdridjner.
- If a member violated the bylaws, he would pay a fine as punishment. Also, punishment according to the offense or the degree of the offense. If the leader of the group violated the laws, his punishment would be even more severe.
- The group leaders (Vadah) were righteous young men who won the trust of the whole city and the Gdridjner. It was their duty to treat Gdridjner equally and fairly.
- When the group leader was drunk or angry, he wasn’t supposed to make any lawsuit at that moment, for he would not have the required lucidity to make a fair decision. When he was fully sober able to judge a Gdridj for one of his misdeeds, Gdridj’s parents or relatives could not intervene in his decision, and even Gdridj could not appeal against the order, otherwise both he and his parents would be forced to pay a fine without being able to change the decision again.
- The group leader was also obliged to take advantage of any opportunity to strengthen his group financially, and to know how to save money (which is part of the current Scout creed). Moreover, he was supposed to provide information about his activities to his voters.
- All the Gdridjner were obliged to control each other and inform the others if they saw any inappropriate course. The group leader always had to create opportunities so that the Gdridjner could gather as often as possible and keep in touch with each other. The Gdridj who didn’t respond to the leader’s invitation, was reprimanded and fined.
There is no trace of where the bylaws came from. Perhaps the Armenians of Moldova brought it with them, but most probably they created it because of emigration, so that their children would remain in the Armenian circle, be educated in that spirit and preserve their identity. In order to make the bylaws more influential, they were approved by the Catholicos who was the most influential religious figure of the time.
Gdridjner who were the children of non-independent and religiously nurtured community, depended on religious principles. Two hundred years later, scout movement emerged and formed its principles in more modern ways.
Gdridjner who were not the children of a military nation, enlisted to public service. Scouts who were born into a great state that emerged from a long war, enlisted to a movement that taught them how to make ethical and moral choices.
Both, however, strived for the same goal: the salvation and the enlightenment of the new generation.
Armenian Scouts Nowadays
In early 1908, Lord Baden Powell published his first book which led to the development of “Boy Scouts” groups in Europe, America first, and then throughout the continents.
A review of this was published in Shavarsh Krisian's "Marmnamarz" magazine in January 1912. Then, few months later, starting from May 1912 issue, Hovhannes T. Hintlian, in a series of articles, presented in detail the essence and purpose of this English-born movement to the Armenians. The series of articles was also published in a booklet. Hintlian acknowledged the value of moral and physical development of the boys who in their turn were excited about forming uniformed groups, with the prospect of camping...
Hintlian was very wise. He wrote in “Marmnamarz” May-June issue: " I wish we would not pursue the establishment of scouts clubs like those founded by Baden Powell, but we should instill its spirit in our morals to ennoble our people ..." Hintlian was a very wise man. One can assume that he was afraid that the creation of such a movement among the Armenians, which was somehow military in nature, would be misjudged by the Turkish government.
H. T. Hintlian, did not want to bring those "Dghayots koumardagnere" (boy groups) to life in the Turkish-Armenian reality. He was the brainchild and his idea was slowly spreading, and capturing the hearts of the Armenian youth in Istanbul, especially Isgudar where a new scout club was born in 1913 in the pree-formed “Hrad” sports group. The Armenians of Isgudar were dynamic and "Nor Tbrots" also made its own group.
The two scout groups, in their uniforms and disciplined parade were impressive in the 1913 Armenian Olympic Games. This is how the Armenian Scout Movement was born, which, after an obligatory break, gained strength in 1918. Hovhannes T. Hintlian was a motivating figure and participated in the Central Scouts Committee. He encouraged scout groups in “Nor Tbrots” under the leadership of Ararad Krisian (Shavarsh Krisian’s nephew) and became one of the most respected and prominent organizations in the region.
The Armenian Scout Movement in Constantinople ended when Homenetmen dissolved its organization on the borders of Turkey (September 16, 1922). But it revived almost immediately and spread to all the countries where Armenians took refuge in the 1920s.