On Armenian independence day, a visit to Sardarapat, symbol of Armenian pride

by Tatul Hakobyan

Published: Thursday May 28, 2009

Schoolchildren visiting the Sardarapat Memorial Complex, with the eagles in the background. . Tatul Hakobyan for the Armenian Reporter

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Sardarapat Memorial Complex

Araks Village, Armavir Province, Armenia - "My name is Karen."

"My name is Rafael."

"My name is Narek."

"My name is Lazar."

"My name is Armen."

"My name is Alex."

"My name is Hrant."

The fifth-graders of City of Artik School No. 3 introduced themselves during their May 22 field trip to the Sardarapat Memorial Complex. They were accompanied by their teachers and parents.

Asked what had happened here at Sardarapat, they spoke at the same time, completing each other's sentences: "The Armenians beat the Turks because the Turks were trying to kill people and occupy Armenia."

In May 1918, the hometown of these children, Artik, and the whole of the Shirak plateau were occupied by Kazim Karabekir's army. It was only toward the end of the year, when the armed forces of Ottoman Turkey, defeated in the First World War, were forced to leave Transcaucasia, that Armenia - war-torn and famine-ravaged - expanded its borders to 60,000 sq km from 10,000.

The end of the Armenians

It seemed in May 1918 that the end of the Armenian people had come. Four Turkish divisions had begun an attack on Gharakilisa (today's Vanadzor), Bash-Aparan, and Sardarapat. A setback in Gharakilisa did not determine the fate of the Armenian people because the Armenian forces - responding to an appeal from the Mother See and with the help of the people - were able to stop the Turks at Bash-Aparan and Sardarapat and then to push them back.

Catholicos of All Armenians Gevorg V addressed the people: "The Turk, the bloodthirsty enemy of our rational flock, is moving toward the heart of our country, our faith, our life's story, toward Etchmiadzin. Our generals are suggesting to the Catholicos of All Armenians to leave in the enemy's jaws the Mother See at Etchmiadzin, our holy places, the Armenian people, and to take refuge in Byurakan.

"No and No, and a thousand times, No. I will not abandon the Mother See entrusted to me by our forebears. I will not leave the hearth of the Armenian Apostolic faith. If the Armenian soldiers themselves, if the Armenian people are unable to stop the enemy's progress, if they cannot save our sanctities, then let me be martyred right here.

"I, who have the honor of occupying this throne through the just intercession of our holy predecessors and the grace of God, [would rather fall] on the doorstep of the Mother See."

The commander of the Yerevan forces, General Movses Silikian, called upon every Armenian man to make every last effort to strike at the enemy to save his patrimony and defend his wife's and daughters' honor: "Armenian men! It is not time to slow down. Every man up to the age of 50 is obliged to take arms and I demand that they report with their firearms and ammunition for the defense of the homeland.

"Armenian women! Remember the ‘delicate ladies' of the fifth century who encouraged their husbands to undertake the Great Task in the days of the wars of the Immortal Vartan. Follow their example.

"For the physical existence of the tormented Armenian people. For trampled-upon truth. Rise. Toward work. Toward holy war."

Another chance

The Armenian territories had been part of the Czarist Empire. With the victory of the Bolsheviks in late 1917, Lenin's Russia had withdrawn from Transcaucasia, and the territory was nominally administered by the "Sejm," or parliament of the Federated Republic of Transcaucasia.

On May 26, the Sejm held its last session, where it adopted the proposal of the Georgian Mensheviks to dissolve. On the same evening the Georgian National Council proclaimed the independence of Georgia. On May 27, in Tiflis, the Muslim National Council proclaimed the independence of Azerbaijan. Also in Tiflis, the Armenian National Council, after long deliberations, on May 28 proclaimed Armenia independent. On May 30 it officially announced its decision.

An Armenian delegation in Batumi signed a peace agreement with the Turks in early June. Aleksandr Khatisian, the head of the delegation, notes in his memoirs: "We stayed in Batumi for eight days, until June 5, and the whole time we were engaged in preparing the peace agreement. On the first session, Vehib Pasha personally drew Armenia's borders on the historic map that I had with me in Trabizon and later in Constantinople, Aleksandropol, and Europe.

"When we looked at the map, we were overwhelmed with two sharp feelings. The first was pride: after dreaming for centuries, we would finally have a little corner of our own on the map of the world. The second was bitterness: this corner was barely 9,000 sq km, absolutely inadequate for accommodating our people."

The memorial complex

Fifty years after the heroic Battle of Sardarapat, on May 28, 1968, the Sardarapat Memorial Complex opened in the Araks village of Armavir. Its authors were architect Rafael Israelian and sculptors Ara Harutiunian, Samvel Manasian, and Arsham Shahinian.

At the entrance are two stone bulls, symbolizing the force and determination of the Armenian people united. These bulls are also the guardians of victory, scaring away any evildoer who would seek entrance, and defending the homeland.

The bell-tower, 35 meters high, is the memorial stone to the heroes martyred in the battle. At the time of the Battle of Sardarapat, church bells had raised the alarm and called the people to arms.

Going toward the memorial wall, eagles facing Biblical Ararat and the Armenian mountains represent statehood and power. As alert watchers, they keep guard over the present and future of the Armenian people.

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