Friday, December 21, 2012

Death of Gareguin Nezhdeh - December 21, 1955

Gareguin Nezhdeh was an important military and political figure of the twentieth century, particularly during the first Republic of Armenia and the first two decades of the Diaspora.

His actual name was Gareguin Ter Harutiunian, and he was born on January 1, 1886, in the family of a priest (hence the surname Ter Harutiunian) in the village of Kznout, Nakhichevan.
He adopted the surname Nezhdeh in 1906. He studied in the Armenian parochial school of the village, the Russian school of Nakhichevan, and the Russian gymnasium of Tiflis. He studied law for two years in St. Petersburg, but left the university to join the revolutionary movement in 1906. 
In 1906 he moved to Bulgaria where he studied in the school of officers of Sofia from 1906-1907. He entered the ranks of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and returned to the Caucasus in 1908. The next year he was arrested by the Russian police for illegal transportation of weapons and spent three years in prison. 

In 1912 he went to Bulgaria, where he fought in the First Balkan War (the alliance of Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, and Bulgaria against the Ottoman Empire). Together with General Antranig, he organized a battalion of Armenian volunteers (271 soldiers) and fought in the Bulgarian volunteer unit against the Turks, and was decorated for his bravery. He returned again to the Caucasus and during World War I was deputy commander of the second regiment of Armenian volunteers, commanded by Dro, in 1915-1916. With a group of cavalry, he participated in the historical battle of Gharakilise (May 24-28, 1918), one of the three that paved the way for the first independence of Armenia.

He became commander of the armed forces in the region of Zanguezur (nowadays Siunik) in October 1919. Shortly thereafter, these forces had to confront the attacks of Turkish and Azerbaijani forces, which continued for the next two years. Zanguezur, (along with Karabagh and Nakhichevan), was claimed by Azerbaijan as part of its territory. The leadership of Nezhdeh would be crucial to preventing this historically Armenian region, strategically very important as the main way to Iran, to fall into Azerbaijani hands.

The Republic of Armenia and Soviet Russia signed an agreement on August 10, 1920 in Tiflis, according to which the three contested regions would be temporarily controlled by Soviet forces until Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan peacefully solved their controversy. However, the population of Zanguezur, led by Nezhdeh, did not recognize that agreement. During the months of September and October of 1920, Nezhdeh liberated the cities of Kapan, Sisian, and Goris.

Independent Armenia collapsed in early December. On December 25 a popular assembly proclaimed the autonomy of Siunik and Nezhdeh was elected general-in-chief of Siunik. After the end of the February revolt against the Soviet regime (February 18 – April 2, 1921) that briefly re-established the independence of Armenia, thousands of rebels, including many prominent members of the ARF, found refuge in Siunik, where resistance against attacks by the Red Army and Azerbaijani forces had continued relentlessly. Siunik was the only way of exit for the opposition to the Soviet regime towards Iran. On April 26, 1921, the second congress of Armenians of Zanguezur, held in the monastery of Tatev, proclaimed the autonomous region of Siunik as the Republic of Mountainous Armenia (Lernahayastani Hanrabedoutioun). Nezhdeh was elected Prime Minister and War Minister.

The epic resistance of Siunik ended in mid-July 1921, when Nezhdeh, after receiving guarantees that the region would be attached to Soviet Armenia, retreated with a small group of soldiers towards Iran. He departed to Sofia in the next year. He lived in Bulgaria for most of the next twenty years, participating actively in Armenian politics and organization of the Diaspora. He also wrote several books and many articles in the press.

He was sent by the ARF to the United States between 1932 and 1934, where in 1933 he founded the Tzeghagron organization, which in 1941 became the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF). During the 1930s he developed the theoretical grounds of a new ideological movement called tzeghagronutiun, which was aimed at the development of national spirit among Armenians. Divergences with the leadership of the ARF after his return to Bulgaria in 1934 triggered his separation from the party in 1937 (he was expelled in 1938).

On October 10, 1944, he was captured by the Soviet forces that had entered Bulgaria. After being moved to Bucharest, he was incarcerated in the prison of Lubyanka, in Moscow. In November 1946 he was sent to Yerevan and, after a trial, condemned to 25 years in prison. In 1948 he was moved to the prison of Vladimir (Russia), where he died in 1955 and was buried in the prison’s cemetery.

Nezhdeh was rehabilitated by the ARF shortly after his death. In 1963 his bust was inaugurated in Camp Hayastan (Franklin, Massachusetts), as a tribute by the AYF to its founder. The remains of Nezhdeh were secretly moved to Yerevan in 1983. A small part of his remains was interred at the foot of Mount Khusdup, in Siunik, and the rest was reburied in the courtyard of the monastery of Spitakavor, near the village of Vernashen (province of Vayots Dzor).

After the fall of the Soviet regime, the rehabilitation of Nezhdeh started in Armenia. In Yerevan, a square, a street, a subway station, and a school all bear his name, as well as a square and a street in Gumri. He was reburied with military honors in 2005 in Kapan where a memorial complex was built.