Maj. Sargis Stepanyan visiting a wounded soldier in Armenia

Armenian Army Hero Saves Lives Off and On the Battlefield

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By Taleen Babayan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

NEW YORK — When Maj. Sargis Stepanyan realized a fellow soldier was trapped among landmines during a special operations forces mission in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), he did what the best military commanders on the battlefield do — he risked his own life trying to save him. That rescue attempt would ultimately cost him his two legs and right arm, but helped him fulfill a greater calling through the Armenian Wounded Heroes Fund (AWHF) and its life-saving mission.

Hailed as a war hero since that fateful day in 2014, Stepanyan has continued to devote his life to the Armenian Armed Forces and has discovered a new purpose of raising awareness for the medical emergencies soldiers face on the front line in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as providing counsel to other wounded soldiers, inspiring them.

In his first-ever trip to the United States, Stepanyan spent time in the New York metro area as well as in Las Vegas and Los Angeles to garner support for the AWHF’s US Military-Grade Kits that have allowed soldiers to become their own medics on the field in the crucial moments after they’re hit.

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During his time in New York, Stepanyan was recognized by the Knights of Vartan in a special award ceremony at the Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration on Sunday, April 22. He also participated in awareness events that week at St. Illuminator’s Cathedral in New York City; St. Vartanantz Armenian Church in Ridgefield, NJ; an Armenian Genocide Flag Raising Ceremony in Fort Lee, NJ; Hovnanian Armenian School in New Milford, NJ and the home of James and Maral Sahagian in Mahwah, NJ before heading west.

 

Saving More Lives, Buoying Spirits

His story is not only inspirational but also connects the diaspora to the ongoing conflict in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and the sacrifices being made to protect the historic land. When the landmine detonated on Stepanyan, he was rushed to the hospital in Stepanakert, which didn’t have enough blood stored to sustain his injuries. Fellow soldiers with his blood type donated their blood through the dangerous method of direct transfusion. During the aftermath of the explosion, his heart stopped three times.

“It must have been God’s will for me to remain on this earth,” said Stepanyan, 35, who was born and raised in Yerevan before joining the Armenian Armed Forces and subsequently its Special Operations Forces.

Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich presenting Maj. Sargis Stepanyan with a plaque during the city’s flag raising ceremony in honor of the Armenian Genocide on Saturday, April 21.

Doctors credit his survival to his tremendous athletic shape, thanks to his years of training as a soldier and paratrooper. Once stabilized, he was transferred to a hospital in Yerevan by helicopter and during the flight Stepanyan began to feel better, perhaps because he was accustomed to being elevated high in the air during his military training and operations.

Topics: artsakh, New York

Arriving in Yerevan, Stepanyan knew it would be hard on his parents to see their son in his condition, so he made it a priority to help ease their agony and distress.

“My parents were very upset when they saw me,” said Stepanyan. “I knew I had to make them feel comfortable otherwise it was going to be very difficult for all of us.”

Stepanyan worked hard to maintain his mental and physical strength to recover from his injuries. He persevered, his competitive nature kicking in, to recover as quickly as possible to leave the hospital bed and resume daily life to the best of his ability.

At the behest of Karekin II, Catholicos of all Armenians, Stepanyan traveled to Calcutta, India for his prosthetic surgery, under the care of the Armenian Humanitarian College of Calcutta, which operates under the auspices of the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin. At first he had difficulty adjusting to his prosthetics as they were heavy and foreign to his body but he says he was “determined for normalcy.”

Stepanyan soon looked for a sport in which he could compete and “one that I could win.” He chose arm wrestling and selected a coach with the mindset of “training towards victory.”

As he prepared for the European Para-Arm Wrestling World Cup competitions, he met Razmig Arzoumanian, one of the founders of the Armenian Wounded Heroes Fund (AWHF), with whom he forged a close relationship. AWHF is committed to the overall betterment of Armenia’s heroes and it sponsored Stepanyan’s participation in the competition. Most recently Stepanyan became the world champion, winning two gold and one silver medal last November in Poland.

Founded in response to the April 2016 war in Artsakh, AWHF’s mission is to supply troops with first-aid kits on the front line in order to prevent the three leading causes of combat deaths, which include lacerated lungs, airway obstruction and hemorrhaging. Delivering every dollar donated, the organization has already sent thousands of kits to the front line in its short history and trained soldiers on how to use the devices and supplies. The organization’s current goal is to cover the eastern front of Artsakh, working in tandem with Armenia’s Ministry of Defense.

Stepanyan’s presence in the diaspora, particularly in New York City, illuminated the significance of the Armenian Armed Forces, who risk their lives every day to protect the homeland. According to Stepanyan, it is their duty to do so and it is a duty they fulfill with pride.

“We are an intelligent nation,” said Stepanyan. “I want our country to become stronger and have an even stronger Army.”

In Stepanyan’s eyes, it is through that powerful army that Armenia will flourish and not be subject to other catastrophic attacks on its people.

“I feel great pain for the one and a half million Armenians who were massacred during the genocide,” said Stepanyan. “But by strengthening the country’s army, that kind of tragedy will never occur again.”

He sees the potential in the younger generation of Armenians, both in the homeland and in the diaspora, where he had a chance to engage with the youth, particularly at the Hovnanian Armenian School.

“I was very impressed with the curiosity of the students,” said Stepanyan. “They asked mature questions and I in turn encouraged them to never forget the Armenian language and the Armenian nation.”

Through his ongoing work with the Armenian Armed Forces and the AWHF, he hopes to bring continued awareness to important causes and to improve the quality of life for amputees and disabled soldiers by building a gym and recreational center.

“I want the gym to be free of charge and accessible to the disabled, where the wounded can train and also work,” he said. “It gives them a new life and shows the world that the Armenian people are a strong people.”

As for the future of the country that he, his parents and grandparents have physically fought for, he says he wants to “witness the return of Artsakh to Armenia and for more Armenian children to be born on the Armenian soil.”

 

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