Lt.-Col. Ashot Chobanyan

Remembering Our Heroes: Lieutenant-Colonel Ashot Chobanyan

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By Vahe Sahakyan

The date was January 9, 2021. Many of my friends in Armenia gathered at St. Sarkis Armenian Church in Yeghvard to bid farewell to a dear friend of our childhood, Ashot Chobanyan. A huge crowd attended the memorial service at the church, despite the snow on the ground and the bitter cold, to pay tribute to their compatriot from Yeghvard, to the fallen hero of the second war in Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh (September 27 – November 10, 2020).

Ashot Chobanyan

Lieutenant-Colonel Ashot (Arshaluys) Chobanyan was killed in action on October 13, 2020, near the village of Sarinshen (Shahyeri), on the way from Jrakan (Jebrayil) to Hadrut in Nagorno-Karabakh — an area that remained under the Azerbaijani control following the Russia-brokered cease-fire on November 10, 2020. Ashot’s body was recovered only at the end of December, and was laid to rest at the Yerablur Military Pantheon in Yerevan, Armenia, on January 10, 2021.

Ashot was born in Orojalar (Orojalari), a village in the district of Bogdanovka (now Ninotsminda, Samtskhe-Javakheti) in Soviet Georgia on September 3, 1978. He was very young when his family moved to Yeghvard, a small town in Armenia, some 10-15 miles north of the capital Yerevan, on the slopes of Mount Ara. I first met Ashot when he was 10 years old. My brother Hayk and Ashot were classmates at the No. 3 Secondary School in Yeghvard. My own family moved to Yeghvard from Armenia’s third largest city of Kirovakan (now Vanadzor) in the summer of 1988. This was the same year the Karabagh movement had started and the anti-Armenian sentiments in Azerbaijan and the pogroms in Sumgait had driven many refugees to Soviet Armenia. Hayk and Ashot became friends that same year, when Hayk joined their class. They studied in the same classes for seven years and graduated in 1995.

As two adventurous middle schoolers, Ashot and Hayk spent much time together, both at school and after school. Aspiring and curious, their ambitious projects of building a robot, an automatic coffee grinder and maker (not known at the time in Armenia), or discovering medicine to cure some illnesses made their friendship ever stronger. Ignoring my skepticism, they continued putting much time, effort and imagination into drawing up plans, finding appropriate materials, putting together some parts, and conducting experiments in the pursuit of their projects, until at some point a new interesting idea or project occupied their curious minds, energy and time. Those were the days of our happy and careless childhood.

We were teenagers when the first war in Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in the winter of 1991-1992. Armenia’s independence, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and the economic blockade imposed by the neighboring Azerbaijan – all these events had disrupted the Soviet-era supply lines, infrastructure and transportation networks. The events that made news headlines in many countries had very tangible effects on our daily lives. The war, the devastated economy and hyperinflation, accompanied by the shortage of energy, water, natural gas, and food, left hundreds of thousands of Armenia’s inhabitants around or below the poverty line. The hardship of life, however, made our friendship and bonds even stronger.

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Ashot and his brother Arman lived with their parents Alik (Aleksan) and Haykush on the top, fifth floor of an apartment building with no elevator. As many families did at the time, Alik installed a wood-burning oven in their apartment that served as a heater and a stove to cook food in winter. Early fall was the season when all close friends of ours, five or six people, would gather on weekends at one of our friends’ apartment buildings to chop wood for winter with two-man crosscut saws and axes. The work was hard and physically demanding, especially at Ashot’s place, where after the chopping was done we all had to load our hands with as much chopped wood as we could carry and climb the stairs up to the top fifth floor. Exhausted from work, we were happy, however. The work was usually followed by a social gathering and a small feast around some modest meal cooked on a wood burning oven.

It was during the years of war, when Ashot, Hayk, Armen (another mutual friend of ours) and I began playing rock music at the local music school in Yeghvard. My father was a teacher at the music school. He taught students how to play various instruments — drums, electric guitars, and synthesizers. The best of them played in the band my father had started, composed of youngsters between ages 13 and 18. With his encouragement and support, we used the outdated Soviet-era instruments in his rehearsal room to play our own rock compositions loud enough to often annoy the refugees from Baku who were temporarily placed in some of the rooms at the music school. Ashot took accordion classes for five years. He had also learned to play the piano, but he became the Jason Newsted of our band. He loved the heavy metal of Metallica and loved playing the bass guitar, although at the time we had only a few tape recorded songs by Metallica, and their full albums were nowhere to find in our small town. Not a very gifted singer, occasionally he would also try his dull and funny voice alongside our singer Armen.

Ashot was a happy, positive, and funny young man with a wonderful sense of humor. He was the soul of our social gatherings, who would tell jokes, do silly things and act to make people laugh. I can still recall one of his jokes, told many years ago. A really drunk person in Yerevan waves for a cab. A cab stops, picks him up, and the driver asks: “Where to?” The drunk person goes: “To China,” and falls asleep. The cab driver decides to play a trick. He turns the ignition on, revs the engine a couple of times, then turns the ignition off and wakes the passenger up: “Hey, wake up, we arrived!” The drunk dude, surprised and apparently impressed by how fast they arrived, turns to the driver and, wearing a serious expression on his face and raising his finger, expresses a rebuke: “Dude, don’t ever drive that fast, you’ll get yourself into trouble sometime.”

I still remember that day vividly – Ashot acting as a drunk person, the expressions changing on his face and his voice, as he made the switches between the roles of the driver and the passenger. He was a good joke teller, but he never considered becoming an actor or a standup comedian. At some point, he was preparing to become a musician. But life had other plans for him.

Ashot was drafted to compulsory military service at the age of 18. Armenia’s Military University, established a few years before, in 1994, had been actively recruiting students from among the new army conscripts. I remember those days when Ashot discussed with family and friends the offer he received from the Military University, and the prospect of starting a career in the military. It was a hard decision, but Ashot made the choice, entered Armenia’s Military University, and successfully graduated as a lieutenant in 2001. Since 2001, Ashot served in various military units in Artsakh and Armenia, mostly in commanding positions, and continued climbing up the military ladder.

Ashot and Marine

Ashot got married in 2002. Ashot and his wife Marine grew up in the same neighborhood in Yeghvard, and knew each other from a very young age. I remember their wedding party, my brother Hayk being the kavor (godfather), and the good time we all had that day. Ashot’s daughter Haykuhi was born in 2003, in Yeghvard, and his son, Alik, was born in 2007 in Goris, in the Syunik region of Armenia. Ashot’s military career moved his family from one place to another, wherever his services to the homeland would be most needed. They lived in the apartments reserved for military personnel for many years. Occasionally, when Ashot visited his parents in Yeghvard, we all would have a reunion. We would catch-up and chat for hours, usually about families, children, and world politics, but rarely about work. Then, as usual, Ashot would start telling jokes and endless engaging stories from his time in the armed forces. He was a very entertaining and interesting person, but also very humble. He never boasted of his achievements, promotions or awards. After a few hours spent together, we all had the feeling as though we had said goodbye yesterday and we were going to see each other the next day, and this would continue every day.

Ashot Chobanyan’s awards

In 2012-2013 Ashot finished a 10-month intensive training program at the Russian Military Academy in Moscow. Upon his return, he was appointed to serve as deputy commander of the border guard brigade in Noyemberyan, in the north-eastern region of Armenia. After serving in the military for more than twenty years, Ashot retired in 2018 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and settled in Yerevan, ready to enjoy civilian life with his wonderful family.

Ashot with his family in 2012

Ashot was dreaming of having his own home, starting a small business and establishing a modest life in Yerevan, but above all, of a peaceful and bright future for his children in Armenia. Business partnership with Aram, our other childhood friend, was bringing Ashot very close to the life he wanted to have, when the second war in Artsakh broke out on September 27, 2020. Ashot volunteered to rejoin the army, and was appointed to serve at the military commissariat in Yeghvard. At his own initiative and request, however, Ashot was dispatched to the frontline, where he thought his experience and skills would be more needed. The battalion under his command selflessly defended the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh against the heavily armed, more numerous and technologically more advanced Azerbaijani army between October 6 and 13. Ashot fell on October 13, the day after his long-time friend and colleague in service, commander Colonel Vahagn Asatryan, was killed in action in the same location. Posthumously Ashot Chobanyan was awarded the Order of the Combat Cross by the president of the Republic of Armenia for exceptional courage and self-sacrifice in the service to the homeland.

Ashot Chobanyan and Vahagn Asatryan

Ashot’s daughter Haykuhi expressed the following words of tribute about her father: “He never retreated. He always saw the good, the positive in everything… He brought us up that same way… He kept teaching us that we should not give in to emotions and we should always be guided by our minds, by reason. His dreams were all about me and my brother, about our good education and bright future.” I hope the bright and peaceful future that Ashot dreamed for his children will someday become a reality in Armenia and Artsakh, for which Ashot and many others paid the ultimate price of self-sacrifice. Rest in peace, my dear friend. You will live in our minds and thoughts forever as a happy, kind and positive individual as you always were.

Ashot Chobanyan in a relaxed moment

I would like to thank Ashot’s wife Marine Jalavyan, his daughter Haykuhi Chobanyan, his brother Arman Chobanyan and Arman’s wife Lusine Arzumanyan, my friend Aram Musayelyan and my brother Hayk Sahakyan for helping with factual details and providing the photos.

 

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