Monday, November 25, 2013

Birth of Monte Melkonian - November 25, 1957

Rather than his uncommon life journey, the ending part of it, as one of the commanders of the self-defense force of Karabagh, turned the Armenian American modern-day freedom fighter Monte Melkonian into a legend.

Monte Melkonian was born in Visalia (California), an all-American child who in the spring of 1969 visited the ancestral town of his maternal grandparents, Marsovan (nowadays Merzifun), with his family and discovered the “Old Country” of which his parents had rarely spoken. This sparked his interest in his background.

After a study abroad program in East Asia, he returned to the United States and graduated from high school, and from the University of California at Berkeley, in three years, with a major in ancient Asian History and Archaeology.

Upon graduating in the spring of 1978, he was accepted into the archeology graduate program at Oxford University. Instead, he chose to begin his lifelong struggle for the Armenian Cause.

After a short sojourn in Iran, where he participated in the movement to overthrow the last Shah, Melkonian made his way to Beirut in the fall of the same year, and participated in the defense of the Armenian quarters against the attack of right-wing Phalangist forces for the next two years. By this time, he had learned the fourth language he would speak fluently, Armenian, the others being Spanish, French, and Japanese, and of course his native English.

Between 1980 and 1983, he was a militant of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), one of the organizations that carried armed struggle against the Turkish state from 1975 to 1985. After the split of the organization in 1983, he spent over two years underground, until his arrest in Paris in November 1985. He was sentenced to six years in prison for possession of falsified papers and carrying an illegal handgun.

He was released in early 1989 and expelled from France. He reunited with his long-time confidante and future wife Seta Kebranian, whom he had met in early 1980s in Beirut. After living for a year and a half underground in Eastern Europe, they arrived in Soviet Armenia in October 1990, where they married the next year. He first worked at the Armenian Academy of Sciences to prepare an archaeological research monograph on Urartu, which was published after his death.

During the turmoil that led to the independence of Armenia and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Melkonian focused his attention on Mountainous Karabagh. "If we lose [Karabagh]," the bulletin of the Karabagh Defense Forces quoted him as saying, "we turn the final page of our people's history." He traveled to the region of Shahumian (today occupied by Azerbaijan), where he fought for three months in the fall of 1991. He arrived in Martuni as the regional commander in February 1992, without any army experience, and succeeded in pushing back Azeri troops. He was one of the chief strategists who planned and led the capture of the region of Karvajar (formerly Kelbajar), between Armenia and the Autonomous Region of Mountainous Karabagh, in April 1993.

He was killed in the abandoned Azerbaijani village of Merzili on June 12, 1993, during the battle of Aghdam, in an unexpected skirmish that broke out with several Azerbaijani soldiers who had gotten lost. He was buried with full military honors a week later at Yerablur military cemetery in Yerevan and is revered by Armenians in Armenia and Karabagh as a national hero.