- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 March 21, 2003 

Glory Days: Men of Echmiadzin look back on volunteer service in Karabakh

The 15th anniversary of the Karabakh Movement, being celebrated this spring throughout Armenia, has special significance to many families in Echmiadzin.

After 1988, when news of massacres in Sumgait, Azerbaijan surfaced, the region known most for the Holy See was among the first to send volunteers to what patriots saw as holy war.

"A great number of men from towns and villages of the region started registering as volunteers in the newly forming volunteer detachments to protect their fatherland," says leader of the volunteer movement of Echmiadzin, pedagogue Hamlet Nahatakyan.

The specialist of Armenian language and literature is not able to remain indifferent and, as he says, at the moment when your homeland is in danger you should go out of a classroom. So the honored teacher became a fighter.

"During these days 15 years ago the rallies and demonstrations of many thousands were held. The Karabakh Movement had also started, which was to turn into a great national liberating struggle. At the very right moment we understood that we could not restore the fatherland's lost territories through rallies," says Nahatakyan.

Twenty-five volunteers formed the first Echimadzin detachment and turned the town's House of Knowledge into their headquarters.

Demobilized officer Aram Ghazaryan remembers: "On the very first days I entered the volunteer headquarter and said that there were many mistakes and as an officer I was ready to help. We started military trainings, they were learning to do precision shooting. A volunteer has no right to make a mistake on the battlefield."

On August 2, 1989 the first 25-man volunteer detachment set off to Goris and then flew by helicopter to Stepanakert. The volunteers took with them food and weapons.

Nahatakyan says, "In Artsakh they met us with surprise. They though we were a building detachment. We said we came to fight. We were led to a hotspot of the battle - the village of Melikashen."

The men of Echmiadzin, still getting used to their weapons, took eight villages of the Hadrut region - Edullu, Hakhuili, Blutan, Khrmnjugh, Drakhtik, Azokh, Dudukchi and Melikashen - under their protection.

Sevak Tumanyan, now 35, joined the Echmiadzin volunteer detachment in 1989. He fought till 1994 in the battalion of General Manvel Grigoryan.

"If today, God forbid, it will become necessary I am ready to go and protect my fatherland. When going to fight you never think that you may not return, and that feeling leads you to victory," he says.

The former fighter says courage, more than strength is what sustained the volunteers against forces that should have overcome them. "It is not strength that helps to confront weapons, but a brave spirit."

Eventually, men with Tumanyan's spirit formed four battalions from Echmiadzin.

"In Artsakh's war," Ghazaryan says, "our detachments never retreated, they bravely fought till the end."

During six years the number of volunteers reached 960. Each battalion consisted of about 200 volunteers.

"Once a week I would come to Echmiadzin and take new volunteers," Nahatakyan says. "Of course the 20 people were changing all the time. I would come home and go back again. There were villagers, workers and representatives of intelligentsia among them. However, they all had a common goal."

Those volunteer detachments participated in liberating Fizuli, Horadiz and Martakert, now seen as turning points of the war. And from those volunteer detachments rose men who today are generals in the Armenian army: Manvel Grigoryan, Seryan Saroyan and Gagik Melkonyan.

Many of the volunteers did not return till the end of the war in 1994 (when a peace treaty, still in effect today, was signed). Many Echmiadzin volunteers - at least 105 - died in Karabakh.

One of the most serious obstacles facing the volunteers was getting guns.

"Many times residents of Echmiadzin collected money to buy weapons," Nahatakyan says. "They got them from the Soviet military units located in Echmiadzin. By the way, they readily sold weapons to us."

He says that just in 1992, on orders of Minister of Defense Vazgen Sargsyan, they bought five million rubles worth of weapons and secretly transported them from Akhaltskha. The transportation was made secretly.

But the men of Echmiadzin weren't just taking weapons to Karabakh. In 1990 they took 200 tons of flour into the regions of Hadrut, Martuni and Askeran and were met by grateful recipients.

"Once in the middle of night an old woman came to the detachment," Nahatakyan remembers. "There was a plate in her hand with cut pieces of potatoes. She said, 'It is not much, but enough for each of you to take a piece.' Then she blessed us and left. The powerful blessing of that old woman was always with our soldiers."


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  Photo of the week
  Minor Protest
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Minor Protest

Members of "Mister and Miss Armenia", an organization that produces children's pageants and contests held a beauty protest outside the United States Embassy in Yerevan Thursday. The kids recently were in Iraq, and wanted to demonstrate their feelings to the US presence here.



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