Garegin Nzhdeh – An Armenian hero
Posted by Fredsvenn on May 27, 2016
Garegin Nzhdeh is a vivid example of serving the motherland for the sake of many generations of Armenian people.
“The motherland must be loved regardless of her political regime and our political convictions!” – Garegin Nzhdeh.
Armenian is an Indo-European language. It has two mutually intelligible and written forms: Eastern Armenian, today spoken mainly in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Iran and the former Soviet republics, and Western Armenian, used in the historical Western Armenia and, after the Armenian Genocide, primarily in the Armenian diaspora communities. The unique Armenian alphabet was invented in 405 AD by Mesrop Mashtots.
The Armenian Highlands is the central-most and highest of three land-locked plateaus that together form the northern sector of the Middle East. During Antiquity, it was known as Armenia Major, a central region to the history of Armenians, and one of the four geo-political regions associated with Armenians, the other three being Armenia Minor, Cilicia and Commagene.
To its west is the Anatolian plateau which rises slowly from the lowland coast of the Aegean Sea and converges with the Armenian Highlands to the east of Cappadocia. To its southeast is the Iranian plateau, where the elevation drops rapidly by about 600 metres (2,000 ft) to 1,500 metres (5,000 ft) above sea level. The Caucasus extends to the northeast of the Armenian Highlands. To the southwest of the Armenian Highlands is Upper Mesopotamia.
During the Middle Ages, Turkmens settled in large numbers in the Armenian Highlands. Armenia had come largely under Ottoman rule during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. According to the latter, there were almost three million Armenians living in the empire in 1878 (400,000 in Constantinople and the Balkans, 600,000 in Asia Minor and Cilicia, 670,000 in Lesser Armenia and the area near Kayseri, and 1,300,000 in Western Armenia itself).
In the eastern provinces, the Armenians were subject to the whims of their Turkish and Kurdish neighbors, who would regularly overtax them, subject them to brigandage and kidnapping, force them to convert to Islam, and otherwise exploit them without interference from central or local authorities. They were in essence treated as second-class citizens in the empire and referred to in Turkish as gavours, a pejorative word meaning “infidel” or “unbeliever”.
Writing in the late 1890s after a visit to the Ottoman Empire, the British ethnographer William Ramsay described the conditions of Armenian life as follows:
“We must, however, go back to an older time, if we want to appreciate what uncontrolled Turkish rule meant, alike to Armenians and to Greeks. It did not mean religious persecution; it meant unutterable contempt … They were dogs and pigs; and their nature was to be Christians, to be spat upon, if their shadow darkened a Turk, to be outraged, to be the mats on which he wiped the mud from his feet. Conceive the inevitable result of centuries of slavery, of subjection to insult and scorn, centuries in which nothing that belonged to the Armenian, neither his property, his house, his life, his person, nor his family was sacred or safe from violence – capricious, unprovoked violence – to resist which by violence meant death!”
In addition to other legal limitations, Christians were not considered equals to Muslims and several prohibitions were placed on them. Their testimony against Muslims by Christians and Jews was inadmissible in courts of law wherein a Muslim could be punished; this meant that their testimony could only be considered in commercial cases. They were forbidden to carry weapons or ride atop horses and camels. Their houses could not overlook those of Muslims; and their religious practices were severely circumscribed (e.g., the ringing of church bells was strictly forbidden).
The ethnic cleansing of Armenians during the final years of the Ottoman Empire is widely considered a genocide, an estimated 1.5 million victims, with one wave of persecution in the years 1894 to 1896 culminating in the events of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and 1916. With World War I in progress, the Ottoman Empire accused the (Christian) Armenians as liable to ally with Imperial Russia, and used it as a pretext to deal with the entire Armenian population as an enemy within their empire. The Christian population of the Western half of the region was exterminated.
Garegin Ter-Harutyunyan, better known by his nome de guerre Garegin Nzhdeh (1 January 1886 – 21 December 1955), was an Armenian statesman and military strategist. The word nzhdeh in Armenian means pilgrim or emigrant.
As a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, he was involved in national liberation struggle and revolutionary activities during the First Balkan War and World War I. He was one of the key political and military leaders of the First Republic of Armenia (1918–1921), and is widely admired as a charismatic national hero by Armenians.
In 1921, he instrumented the establishment of the Republic of Mountainous Armenia, an anti-Bolshevik state that became a key factor that led to the inclusion of the province of Syunik into Soviet Armenia.
During World War II, he assisted the Armenian Legion of the Wehrmacht, the armed forces of the Nazi Germany, he hoped that if Germany succeeded in conquering the USSR, they would be able to grant Armenia independence.
The Armenian military unit, which was supposed to be used against Turkey was sent to the Eastern front, to the Crimean peninsula, in 1943. Nzhdeh requested the detachment’s return, and terminated his connections with Nazi Germany.
On 9 September 1944 Nzhdeh wrote a letter to Stalin offering his support were the Soviet leadership to attack Turkey. A Soviet plan to invade Turkey in order to punish Ankara for collaboration with the Nazis and also for returning the occupied Western Armenia territories was intensely discussed by the Soviet leadership in 1945–1947.
The Soviet military commanders told Nzhdeh that the idea of collaboration was interesting but in order to be able to discuss it in more details, Nzhdeh would have needed to travel to Moscow. He was transferred to Bucharest and later to Moscow, where he was arrested and held in the Lubyanka prison. His wife and son were sent to exile from Sofia to Pavlikeni.
In November 1946, Nzhdeh was sent to Yerevan, Armenia, awaiting trial. In 1947 he proposed an initiative to the Soviet government. It would call for the foundation of a pan-Armenian military and political organization in the Armenian diaspora for the liberation of Western Armenia from Turkish control and its unification to Soviet Armenia.
Despite the reputed great interest shown by the communist leaders to this initiative, the proposal was eventually refused. At the end of his trial, on 24 April 1948, Nzhdeh was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment (to begin in 1944).
Between 1948 and 1952 Nzhdeh was kept in Vladimir prison, then until the summer of 1953 in a secret prison in Yerevan. According to his prison fellow Hovhannes Devedjian, Nzhdeh’s transfer to Yerevan prison was related to an attempt to mediate between the Dashnaks and the Soviet leaders to create a collaborative atmosphere between the two sides.
After long negotiations with the state security service of Soviet Armenia, Nzhdeh and Devejian prepared a letter in Yerevan prison (1953) addressed to the ARF leader Simon Vratsian, calling him for co-operation with the Soviets regarding the issue of the Armenian struggle against Turkey. However, the communist leaders in Moscow refused to send the letter and it only remained a latent document.
After receiving a telegram from the Soviet authorities, announcing his death, Nzhdeh’s brother Levon left Yerevan for Vladimir to take care of his burial service. He received Nzhdeh’s watch and clothing but was not allowed to take his personal writings, which would be published in Yerevan several years later.
The authorities also did not allow the transfer of his body to Armenia. Levon Ter-Harutiunian conducted Nzhdeh’s burial in Vladimir and wrote on his tombstone in Russian “Ter-Harutiunian Garegin Eghishevich (1886–1955)”.
On 31 August 1983, Nzhdeh’s remains were secretly transferred from Vladimir to rest in Soviet Armenia. The process was fulfilled through the efforts of Pavel Ananyan, the husband of Nzhdeh’s granddaughter, with the help of linguistics professor Varag Arakelyan and others, including Gurgen Armaghanyan, Garegin Mkhitaryan, Artsakh Buniatyan, and Zhora Barseghyan.
On 7 October 1983, the right hand of Nzhdeh’s body was placed on the slopes of Mount Khustup near Kozni fountain, as Nzhdeh had once expressed the wish “when you find me killed, bury my body at the top of Khustup to let me clearly view Kapan, Gndevaz, Goghtan and Geghvadzor…”.
According to the participants at the funeral, the rest of Nzhdeh’s body was kept in the cellar of Varag Arakelyan’s house in the village of Kotayk until 9 May 1987, when it was secretly transferred to Vayots Dzor and buried in the churchyard of the 14th-century Spitakavor Surb Astvatsatsin Church near Yeghegnadzor.
Nzhdeh’s gravestone was erected through the efforts of Paruyr Hayrikyan and Movses Gorgisyan on 17 June 1989, a day that later turned into an annual pilgrimage day to the monastery’s graveyard. Decades after his death, on 30 March 1992, Nzhdeh was rehabilitated by the supreme court of the newly independentRepublic of Armenia.
On 26 April 2005 during the celebration of the 84th anniversary of the Republic of Mountainous Armenia, parts of Nzhdeh’s body were taken from Spitakavor church to Khustup. Thus, Nzhdeh was reburied for the third time, finally to rest on the slopes of Mount Khustup near Nzhdeh’s memorial in Kapan.
In March 2010, Nzhdeh was selected as the “National pride and the most outstanding figure” of Armenians throughout the history by the voters of “We are Armenians” TV project launched by “Hay TV” and broadcast as well by thePublic Television of Armenia (H1).