The Continued Need to Fight for our Independence
Armenians worldwide joined in celebrating the 104th anniversary of Armenia’s independence on May 28, 1918, an independence garnered under the most challenging of circumstances and led by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). Announced by Aram Manukian, the founding father of modern Armenia, the nation’s declaration of independence was the result of three strategic battles. These battles, fought and won to prevent the complete annihilation of the Armenian population by Turkey, were waged in three directions: Bash Abaran, Karakilisa and Sardarabad.
Led by Generals Drastamat Kanaian (Dro) and Movses Silikian, approximately 1,000 Armenian riflemen met the 3rd Regiment of the 11th Caucasian Division, who had moved down from Hamamlu on May 21. Three days of fierce fighting by the Armenian forces resulted in halting the Turkish offensive and the launch of an Armenian counter-offensive on May 29. Within four days, the Turkish forces lost the battle and retreated back to Hamamlu.
On other fronts, Turkish forces were advancing towards Yerevan, having captured a number of cities and villages on their way, including Alexandropol (Gyumri). The Turkish force of approximately 10,000 soldiers, 70 pieces of artillery and 40 machine guns reached Karakilisa, as the population was evacuating the city. Garegin Njdeh and his forces rallied and amassed a force of 6,000 soldiers, 70 pieces of artillery and 20 machine guns to stop the enemy’s advance. A bloody battle ensued from May 25 to May 28, with significant losses suffered by both sides. Turkish forces occupied Karakilisa, massacring all inhabitants; however, they could no longer move forward, as they had exhausted their resources and manpower. Mehmed Wehib Pasha, the Ottoman Army General leading the Turkish forces, sent the following message to headquarters, following the stalemate at Karakilisa.
“We do not have the strength to defeat the Armenians. The three-day battle in Karakilisa shows that as long as their existence is in danger, they will prefer to die fighting. We must not bring on a battle with the force that 1,200,000 Armenians can raise. If the Georgians join in the hostilities, it will be impossible to advance… In short, we must come to terms with the Armenians and Georgians.”
Perhaps the most monumental of all three battles, the Battle of Sardarabad took place 25 miles outside of Yerevan, where it halted the Turkish advances into Armenia and prevented the wholesale annihilation and destruction of the Armenian people and the nation, respectively. Christopher Walker, a British historian, asserted that “it is perfectly possible that the word Armenia would have henceforth denoted only an antique geographical term.”
Led by Tovmas Nazarbekian (commander of the Armenian Army Corps), Movses Silikian (commander of the Yerevan detachment), Daniel Bek-Pirumian, Poghos Bek-Pirumian, Christophor Araratov and Manukian, the battle pitted a 9,000-strong Armenian force against Turkish forces numbering more than 10,000. At this point and following the fall of Gyumri, only a small portion of the Armenian territories were unoccupied by the Turks, where hundreds of thousands of Armenians were taking refuge. The Yerevan City Council and the mayor advocated evacuating the city and handing it over to the Turks. However, these plans were strongly opposed by Manukian and Catholicos George V, who encouraged resisting the Turkish advances. Armenians from all walks of life, peasants, poets, blacksmiths and even the clergymen joined in the efforts to organize units and see to the logistical needs of the battle. Again, Manukian played a decisive role in organizing all aspects of the Armenian response and bringing order and stability to the situation.
He ordered to stop the retreat of the Armenian forces and protect Yerevan at all costs. Lasting eight days, the battle started by resisting Turkish advances and ensuring that key roads and railroads connecting to Yerevan and Tbilisi were protected at all costs. Turkish forces mounted an offensive on May 24 but were thwarted by Armenian forces and artillery units. The battle went on with the Armenian forces making multiple attempts to surround the Turkish forces with mixed results. However, the continued battle turned the tide in favor of the Armenian forces, and following the decisive battles waged on May 27, the Turkish forces were completely defeated.
With this hard-fought victory, a singular moment of significance was born in the long and tumultuous history of the Armenian nation. Marshal Baghramian, who also fought at the battle of Sardarabad, reflected on the significance of this battle in his later years.
“The significance of the battle of Sardarabad is great… If they [the Armenian forces] did not defeat the Ottomans there, they would have proceeded to Etchmiadzin and Yerevan—nothing would have remained of Armenia, nothing would have been saved… The Armenians won and, thanks to them, our people preserved their physical existence within the current borders of Armenia.”
Equally importantly, this battle demonstrated the capacity of the Armenian nation when it comes together under a unified goal with dedicated and competent leadership. The battle was won not because some people decided to not participate or were indifferent to their fate and to that of their kin. The battle was won because everyone did their part, men, women, children, the elderly, the clergy, the intellectual…
The reality of 1918 was not so different from ours today. In some respects, they had clarity on which direction the enemy came from and in what uniform. Today, the same enemy has infiltrated our nation, where a collaborator government with no national values or interests, other than a purported call for an elusive peace, is working from within to orchestrate the fall of Artsakh, Syunik and Yerevan eventually.
Today, the decisive battle is fought not on battlefields but in our souls and on the streets of Yerevan.
So, while we put images of Sardarabad on our social media and congratulate one another on our Independence Day, our inaction in resisting the collaborator government in Armenia is negating every gain made during the battles of Bash Abaran, Karakilisa and Sardarabad. Today, the decisive battle is fought not on battlefields but in our souls and on the streets of Yerevan. Do we watch from a distance and lend credence to this collaborator government through our inaction? Or do we join our fellow Armenians on the streets to fight for a chance to fulfill our destiny?
It is clear who the current collaborator government represents, and it is not the Armenian nation. A representative government does not hide behind walls of thugs dressed as law enforcement; it does not weld the doors of the National Assembly shut; it does not summarily arrest and imprison opposition politicians and civilians; it does not fail to uphold the nation’s interests at every diplomatic turn; it does not fail to secure the release of our POWs; it does not fail to protect the sovereignty of the nation on a daily basis; it does not desecrate the memory of our heroes; it does not fake COVID infection to avoid joining in the April 24 commemoration and Army Day events; and it does not block access to Sardarabad to the general public, as it is too afraid to visit the monument shoulder to shoulder with its citizens.