The centuries-old Armenian community of Transylvania—currently part of Romania--had essentially lost the language by the nineteenth century, but had kept a strong sense of identity. They were fully integrated to the life of Hungary, which was part of Austria since 1526. It should not be surprising that several military leaders of the Hungarian-Revolution of 1848-1849 were Armenian. One of them was Vilmos (pronounced Vilmosh) Lázár.
Lázár’s (originally Lazarian) ancestors had moved from Gherla (Armenopolis), the Armenian center of Transylvania, to the region of Banat—currently divided between Romania, Serbia, and Hungary—and received a title of nobility. He was born in the city of Nagybecskerek (nowadays Zrenjanin in Serbia) on October 24, 1815. In 1834 he began his military career in the service of the 34 th regiment of infantry in the imperial army. He was commissioned by Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria as a second lieutenant in the Hussar regiment, but in 1844 he retired and returned to his estate farm in Zemplen with his wife, Baroness Mária Revitzky. He worked at the railway company in 1847.
The echo of the French revolution of 1848 spread throughout the continent and found fertile ground in Hungary, where nationalist trends had generated an awakening of patriotism. On March 15, 1848, a revolt against the Habsburg dynasty exploded. Led by Lajos Kossuth, poet Sándor Petöfi, and Mór Jókai, it soon became a war of independence. Emperor Franz-Joseph asked for help to Czar Nicholas I of Russia to fight against the revolution.
Lázár took the revolutionary side and volunteered his services to the Hungarian army. He successively became a lieutenant (October 1848), captain (November), major (January 1849). In April 1849 he was appointed as commander of a brigade stationed in Zemplén. At the end of the month the brigade was reassigned to the legion forming in Upper Hungary. In mid-June Lázár became the commander of division in the legion and participated in the Dukla Pass battle against a Russian army. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in July and fought in the last battles of the war of independence. He was promoted to colonel on August 12, but the next day the revolutionary army surrendered to the Austrian-Russian forces. On August 19 Lázár had to do the same with the remainder of his troops (4,600 people).
The promise of an amnesty went unfulfilled. On October 6, 1849, thirteen Hungarian officers were condemned to death by the Austrian forces of occupation in Arad (Transylvania). The date was purposefully selected, because it marked the first anniversary of the failed insurrection of Vienna in 1848 and the supremacy of Austrian power.
Although Lázár only had the rank of colonel, he was considered to have equal status with the generals in the Arad military court martial. He was sentenced to execution by firing squad together with three other colleagues, including General Ernö Kiss, also of Armenian origin. Nine others were hanged.
Vilmos Lázár’s remnants were uncovered in 1913 at the cemetery of the fortress of Arad. His body was then laid to rest in the crypt with a monument that honors him as one of the 13 Martyrs of Arad. Four streets in Budapest and other cities are named after him.
Since 1997, on each October 6, the Armenian community of Hungary organizes a tribute to Vilmos Lázár and Ernö Kiss at the square that remembers the martyrs of Arad in the city of Veszprém.