The Battle of Sardarapat and its Aftermath

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One hundred years after the historic Battle of Sardarapat, a visit to ground zero allows a visual survey of the landscape, along with resurrecting the memory of those who sacrificed their lives at that spot and the memory of those who witnessed the victory which sealed Armenia’s fate for posterity.

Armenians may not have demonstrated unity in their self-rule. However, that unity was amply visible during the battles of survival. Some of those battles took place in Sardarapat, Bash Abaran and Ghara Kilisa (Vanadzor) in May 1918, with the decisive victory scored on May 28. That date signifies the victorious outcome of a war and the founding of the first independent Republic of Armenia.

After a century-long debate, discussions and controversies among Armenians, the dust has already settled and bare historical facts are there to stay.

The Battle of Sardarapat enjoyed a groundswell of support from all Armenians, including refugees from Sassoun and Van who joined the army and the popular forces for a last stand in history.

The Turks were not satisfied with exterminating our people in historic Armenia and usurping their native land. They aimed at the last haven of the Armenians in the Caucasus to finish up the grizzly job and connect Turkey with the lands of their brethren in Central Asia, on their way to the pan-Turanic dream. But their march was interrupted on the slopes of Ararat, where Armenia was reborn on a sliver of its historic homeland.

The victory at Sardarapat belongs to all Armenians as well as to the fledgling republic, which was born from the blood and sweat of heroes.

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The fighting force at Sardarapat had many components: professional military commanders, highly educated in the collapsing Tsarist army, like Gen. Movses Silikian, Tovmas Nazarbekian, Daniel bek-Piroumian (general commander) and General Boghos bek-Piroumian. Also vital were heroes like Dro (Drastamat Kanayan) who rose from the ranks of fedayees, civilian volunteers as well as members of the clergy. A case in point is the participation of the future Catholicos of Cilicia, Bishop Garegin Hovsepian, who was dubbed at the time as Yeghishé, a historic figure in the Battle of Avarayr, 451 AD, for inspiring the warriors through his patriotic fervor.

For a long time, Dro and Aram Manoukian had been depicted as the only true heroes of the battle, sometimes overshadowing the professional military, who were the real architects of the victory, because those military leaders did not have political heirs. Today, they are all on a pedestal for the entire Armenian nation. They were the ones who collectively fought without distinction, saved a piece of historic land from calamity and created an ancestral homeland for posterity.

For a long time, there was also historic injustice when comparing and contrasting the first independent republic to the Soviet-era republic. As we revisit historic facts without prejudices and biases, we realize the three republics complement each other in unity.

As much as the Soviet-era leaders are maligned as corrupt communists, many of them harbored true patriotism and nationalism in their hearts to generate pride in the battle of Sardarapat and inspire respect for our martyrs.

Aghasi Khanjyan, Grigor Haroutunyan (who barely spoke Armenian and who claimed Western Armenian territories), Yakob (Hakob) Zarobyan, Andon Kochinyan and Garen Demirjian, pretending to be devout communists, sometimes more Catholic than the Pope, were the ones who built the monumental edifices at Tsitsernakabert and Sardarapat, contravening the Soviet foreign policy which treated Turkey with kid gloves, hoping to lure that country away from the embrace of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Those leaders took such initiatives at their own peril; Khanjyan was assassinated by Lavrenti Beria and Zarobyan was demoted. Yet they all stand tall before history and their own people.

This year, Armenia also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Sardarapat monument, which challenges the gardens of Versailles in its ambition. Sardarapat has more than architectural symbols. It denotes the survival of a beleaguered people in the tumult of history. It was designed by the prominent architect and sculptor Rafael Israelian. The Sardarapat Memorial Complex is composed of a curved wall depicting the details of the war as well as two bullheads and a row of dignified falcons keeping watchful eye on Yerevan.

On the centennial of the Battle of Sardarapat, a visit to the site is a journey into history where the war cries come alive, the agony of the dying soldiers is painfully felt.

That visit becomes more significant on the heels of the soft landing of the Velvet Revolution.

 

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