Harutyunyan was there when Sardarapat made
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
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
"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
Victory at Sardarapat did not lead to re-taking
Van. But each year since, Kozetta has celebrated
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.