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
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
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
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,"
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
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
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
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
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."