Monday, April 4, 2016

Birth of Tovmas Nazarbekian (April 4, 1855)

General Tovmas Nazarbekian was one of the main names in a host of Armenian officers that served in the Russian army and helped found the Republic of Armenia in 1918 with their military expertise.

Nazarbekian was born on April 4, 1855 to a Russianized Armenian family in Tiflis, the capital of the viceroyalty of the Caucasus. He graduated from the military gymnasium of Moscow in 1874 and from the Alexandrian Military School in 1875. He participated in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, earning the Order of St. Stanislaus for his contribution to the occupation of the fortress of Ardahan and the Order of St. Anna for distinguished service in Erzerum. He was promoted to the rank of colonel in 1902, and awarded the Gold Sword for Bravery for distinguished service during the Battle of Mukden in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905. Nazarbekian attained the rank of major-general in 1906. He renounced his commission when the Russian policy turned against the Armenians in the period 1908-1912, but returned to the army when this anti-Armenian was abandoned.

He had an important role in the Caucasian front after the outbreak of World War I. He was commander of the second artillery division of the Russian army, which included the Armenian volunteer battalions. He achieved an important victory in the Battle of Dilman (April 1915), which helped stop the advance of Ottoman forces commanded by Halil Pasha into Persia. He also commanded the forces that occupied Bitlis in the winter of 1916, and took his army down through the mountains of Western Armenia to the plains of Mush, capturing the homonymous city. His achievements earned him the admiration of military critics. He supported the British Mesopotamian Army by disrupting Ottoman supply lines, and established the outposts that made possible the further advance of the British in the failed Mesopotamian campaign of 1916. Nazarbekian was decorated by the French government for his achievements.

General Nazarbekian with officers in his army.

The chaos caused by the Russian Revolution in 1917 stopped all military operations and the Russian regular troops withdrew from the frontline. The situation brought forward the formation of the Armenian national corps under the command of Nazarbekian. The Special Transcaucasian Committee (Ozakom) negotiated the armistice of Erzinga with the Third Ottoman Army on December 5, 1917, freezing the conflict until February 7, 1918.

By the end of January, 1918, Nazarbekian's divisions occupied the major positions from Yerevan to Van and Erzinga. Despite his resistance, he had to follow an order by the president of the newly formed Transcaucasian Parliament (Seim), the Georgian Akaki Chkhenkeli, and abandon Kars to the Ottoman advancing forces in April. Under his leadership, in late May 1918 the Armenian troops defeated the Ottoman forces in the battles of Sardarabad and Pash-Abaran, and stopped their advance in Gharakilise.

Nazarbekian was appointed the first Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the first Republic of Armenia. He continued his military service to the homeland without leaning to any political party. He used his knowledge and experience to aid in the creation of the Armenian national army. He established a special uniform, instead of the Russian uniform, and instructed to translate the military code into Armenian. The orders were issued in Armenian. He was appointed Chairman of the Military Council on March 25, 1919, and awarded the rank of Lieutenant General on July 15 in the same year.

After the sovietization of Armenia, in January 1921 Nazarbekian was arrested, together with 1,200 Armenian officers, and exiled to Moscow and then to Riazan. He was released four months later after an amnesty. He settled in his hometown, Tiflis, where he lived quietly and wrote a series of memoirs about his campaigns from 1917-1918. He passed away on February 19, 1931.