The National Archives of Armenia is preparing to publish four documentary collections dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the heroic battles of May and the First Republic of Armenia. The books “Officers of the Army of the Republic of Armenia”, “Political History of Armenia”, “The Caucasian Front”, and “The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin during World War I and the First Republic of Armenia” were to be published one after another during the anniversary year – that is, 2018.
As Director of the National Archives Amatuni Virabyan noted, in 2018, several important dates were to be celebrated in our country, and major events were planned, including the 100th anniversary of the May battles and the First Republic of Armenia, the 2800th anniversary of Yerevan, and the Francophonie summit. The National Archives participated in these events with various programs.
Works have been carried out in two main areas – the organization of exhibitions which were to display thematic documents, photographs, and publications, as well as the publication of books compiled on the basis of the materials of the National Archive of Armenia.
The readers were first presented with the collection “Officers of the Army of the Republic of Armenia”. It is dedicated to officers of all ranks who have served in the Armenian army from 1918-1920.
The book includes documents about 3,000 officers, not only Armenians but also representatives of other nationalities – Russians, Greeks, Estonians, Germans, and others who have devoted themselves to military service during the First Republic of Armenia.
Each officer is given the most detailed information regarding the terms and place of service, rank and promotion, participation in battles, and awards (mainly the military order “George Cross”, an award in the Russian imperial army).
“Unfortunately, the First Republic of Armenia failed to approve its own national military orders. The government decided to create, for example, the orders of the military commander Vardan or Trdat the Great, but failed to implement the plan,” says Amatuni Virabyan.
The book “Officers of the Army of the Republic of Armenia” contains not only dry documentary information about 3,000 military personnel. The publication also addresses the fate of each officer. Some of them continued to serve in the ranks of the Red Army of Soviet Armenia, others switched to civilian work, a small portion put their heads down in the period of 1918-20, and the rest moved abroad after the establishment of Soviet power in the country.
But there is another contingent whose fate will undoubtedly arouse interest and empathy among a wide range of readers. These are officers who were arrested during the years of Stalinist repressions and ended up in prison in 1930 when the “purge” first began in the ranks of the Red Army, as well as in 1937–38, during the period of “great terror” when the repressions intensified.
During these years, many officers who did not even serve in the army of the Republic of Armenia ended up in prisons. Having started their careers in 1924-25 and having advanced in service, many soldiers fell into the category of “employees of the Dashnak army”, were arrested, exiled to Siberia, and shot.
As Amatuni Virabyan notes, the command of the Soviet armed forces had nurtured their own cadres by that time who were to replace former officers whose careers had begun back in tsarist times.
Fortunately, a small number of officers managed to avoid the tragic fate, stay out of the view of the NKVD, and then prove themselves during the years of World War II. Among them were Marshal Hovhannes Baghramyan who used to serve in the army of the Republic of Armenia, as well as some soldiers and non-commissioned officers who continued to serve after independent Armenia joined the USSR.
The collection “Officers of the Army of the Republic of Armenia” was to be published in Russian. Materials from the archives of Armenia, Georgia, and Russia have been used for the work along with the memoirs of the officers themselves. In these memoirs, the officers tell not only about themselves but also about the fates of their brothers in arms. These notes supplement and enrich the documentary information present in the collection.
“For me, the true fate of Alexander Bey-Mamikonyan, the commander of the battle of Karakilisa, is still unclear.
There is information about the fate of his son who was born and lived in Tbilisi and who was among those repressed there in 1937. Unfortunately, the traces of Alexander Bey-Mamikonyan are lost in 1925, although it is believed that he died in 1935,” the director of the National Archive of Armenia explains, “But the tragic fate of another Armenian officer, Lieutenant General Tovmas Nazarbekyan, is known to us.
Hero of the Sardarapat battle, Nazarbekyan was arrested after the establishment of Soviet power in Armenia. In January 1921, he was transferred from Yerevan to Baku and from there to the Ryazan camp. In May 1921, he was amnestied.
Thereafter, he lived in Tbilisi in a small communal apartment where he died at an old age in hunger, cold, and poverty. Despite extreme poverty, Tovmas Nazarbekyan has written memoirs about his military path.”
As for the archives on repressed individuals, most of them were until recently stored in the Armenian KGB cellars (since 1991, the National Security Service of Armenia). Since the late 1990s, the National Security Service of Armenia has been transferring them to the National Archives of Armenia. These are the cases of the repressed that were tagged “store forever.”
“We completed the receipt of these archival documents in 2016. It is known that on May 26, 1946, a flood damaged the basement of the KGB,” says Amatuni Virabyan, “The pages of many of ‘Stalin’s affairs’ got wet and covered with dirt, and we had to painstakingly and carefully clean them of 70-year-old dirt and examine and restore the damaged pages.
The number of cases of the repressed reaches 40 thousand. Part of them is documentation on army officers of the First Republic of Armenia who were accused of serving the Dashnak government. Among them are Generals Movses Silikyan, Kristapor Araratyan, colonels, lieutenant colonels, captains, warrant officers, and others.”
In the implementation of projects, including publishing, the National Archives of Armenia cooperated with archives of different countries. However, it was not always possible to obtain the necessary information and, in particular, access archival materials.
For example, in Russia, access to documents from the period of the Stalinist repressions is limited – according to the law, these cases are considered to contain personal and family secrets and can only be provided to the members of the repressed families. But sometimes, information leaked to the press from various sources came to the rescue.
According to Amatuni Virabyan, recently, information was found online about the fate of Colonel Arsen Shahmazyan who commanded the battle for Zangezur. The latest information about him dates to 1921 when he was arrested and exiled.
The online post made it clear that Arsen Shakhmanyan was shot in 1937 in one of the Siberian camps, although in many books and documents published earlier, a mysterious question mark is given instead of the date of his death.
The “Officers of the Army of the Republic of Armenia” was to include 1000 pages and was to be released in a printing of 500 copies. It was also planned to launch its electronic version to make the materials about the army of the First Republic of Armenia accessible to a wider audience.