- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 May 30, 2003 

A Fight for Finishing: Genocide survivors recall victory at Sardarapat

Kozetta Harutyunyan was there when Sardarapat made its stand.

On May 28, Armenia celebrates its first independence, and also remembers a battle that helped secure the first Republic.

Many know about the Great Battle of Sardarapat. Few, however, are left who can tell of it from first- hand experience.

"On that day old and young alike were going to Sardarapat, women and men alike were taking some sharp weapon and running to the battlefield," recalls 93-year old Kozetta Harutyunyan. "We achieved independence only at the expense of blood and the sword."

Those running to the battlefield in the village some 50 kilometers west of Yerevan in 1918 were going to face invading Turks, who had already taken Western Armenia.

Kozetta was nine years old and she remembers her uncle entering their house with an old sword in his hand, saying he was on his way to the fields of Sardarapat.

Kozetta's family had escaped Van during the Genocide.

"For 15 days we were walking along Masis mountain's slopes. We were walking in the hot sun of Ararat valley and it seemed that this planet is endless," she recalls of the journey to Yerevan. "We stayed alive thanks to prudence of my mother. She managed to take with her water and sugar, so in fact our only food for a whole month was sugar-water."

Kozetta's mother was a little girl when Turks invaded her family's village in the late 1800s. One morning she found the severed heads of her father and five uncles under a rose bush. Kozetta's father fled to avoid being called into the Turkish army.

"The men who escaped with my father were caught and were hung," Kozetta says. "Later we got to know that my father saved himself and left to Argentina, but it was Soviet times and we couldn't even send a letter to him."

With the men in exile, it was easy for the Turks to chase women and children from their homes. Kozetta, her mother, aunt and sister started the journey toward Sardarapat.

The most horrible memory was the migration way that left its imprint on her mind since the age of six and accompanied her throughout her life, while screams of children and women's death are always in her ears.

Sardarapat was a chance not just for independence, but for revenge.

"Sardarapat's battle straightened our backs and we understood that we could fight and protect our dignity," says Hayk Shavoyan, 98, another survivor. "I was only eight years old but remember like now that we were crossing a deep, stormy river on the migration way. A woman was standing on a bank of the river; she was screaming and tearing her hair. She was asking herself which one of the two children to leave and which one to take across. After crying for a few minutes she closed her eyes and ears not to see and hear screams of the child and the pleading look, then left the child up to the river's flow."

A river of tears washes Hayk's face even now when he recalls those days.

"Till now I remember the cry and lament of that woman."

Those who had survived the march from Van and other Western Armenian settlements would face their enemies three years later at Sardarapat.

"Nobody told us to go and fight, but we ran to Sardarapat at the summon of blood - some by cart, others on horses or on foot - just to reach the place and take revenge," Kozetta says. "Those heroic battles lasted for six days; even women were fighting or bringing water and bread to the men.

"I thought that by liberating Sardarapat we would be able to return to our native Van, and I was ready to take a knife and go to the battlefield."

Victory at Sardarapat did not lead to re-taking Van. But each year since, Kozetta has celebrated the victory.

She fondly recalls the first Independence Day.

"We celebrated that day modestly. A lot of people had gathered in the street leading from the Square to Shahumyan Statue. Leaders of the first republic, who had really saved us and did a faithful job for people, were standing and greeting people waving their hands. There were no splendid flowers like today, but there was an unbreakable spirit, victorious smiles and tears."

And she remembers the day's most remarkable moment: A beautiful woman with long hair in an Armenian costume was sat on a horse and driven along the street. The woman symbolized Mother Armenia - independent and surrounded by her people.

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