Marzvan City – Historical Armenia: The Ancestral Homeland of Monte Melkonyan

Before the tragic events of the Armenian Genocide in 1915, the city of Marzvan was home to a vibrant community of 17,000 Armenians and a nearly equal number of Greeks. Both peoples were former citizens of Byzantium, which had been captured by the Ottoman Empire.

During the genocide, the Ottoman authorities mercilessly targeted the local Christian population, resulting in the death of the majority. Only a few managed to survive the horrors of that time.

Among the survivors were the members of the Melkonian family. With the assistance of missionaries, they were able to escape to the United States, where they settled in the town of Visalia, California.

It was in Visalia, California, that the Melkonian family, Charles and Zabel, welcomed their son Monte into the world in 1957. Monte’s connection to his Armenian heritage would become apparent during a trip to his ancestral city, Marzvan, in 1969. Accompanied by his parents, the twelve-year-old Monte embarked on a journey that would shape his destiny.

It was in Marzvan that Monte first experienced a profound sense of belonging to the Armenian people and developed an unwavering desire to dedicate his life to the liberation of his homeland and the pursuit of justice for the Armenian people. His brother Markar would later recount this pivotal moment in Monte’s life.

Upon returning to the United States, Monte enrolled at the University of Berkeley, pursuing his passion for archaeology and the study of Armenian history. Despite his family’s wealth, Monte sought knowledge and purpose rather than material wealth. He excelled academically and became fluent in multiple languages, including English, Armenian, Japanese, French, Spanish, Turkish, Italian, Persian, and Kurdish. His linguistic skills were truly remarkable.

In 1978, Monte decided to leave behind his affluent life in the United States and traveled to Iran, where he taught English and became involved in the anti-Shah uprising. It was there that he encountered the Kurdish guerrilla movement, which deeply inspired him.

Impelled by his convictions, Monte joined the Kurdish guerrilla units as a volunteer, donning a military uniform that he would wear for the remainder of his life. He later relocated to Lebanon, specifically to the Armenian quarter of Bourj Hammoud in Beirut, which housed tens of thousands of Armenian refugee families from Cilicia and Western Armenia.

During the Lebanese civil war, Monte actively participated in the defense of the Armenian quarters, gaining firsthand experience in conflict. It was in Lebanon that he met Seda, an Armenian woman from a family of refugees from Cilician Adana, who would later become his wife.

In 1980, Monte joined the ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia) and orchestrated terrorist attacks against Turkish consulates and businesses engaged in trade with Turkey. These attacks took place in Rome and Athens.

In 1985, Monte was arrested by the French police and sentenced to six years in prison on weapons charges. After serving his sentence, he journeyed to Yemen before ultimately arriving in the Soviet Union to participate in the defense of the Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region. In 1987, Nagorno-Karabakh passed a legislative decision to reunite with the Armenian SSR.

Following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh held a referendum, in which over 85% of the population participated, with more than 99% voting in favor of independence from the USSR.

Azerbaijan, having also declared its independence, launched a brutal assault on Nagorno-Karabakh, with the support of international Islamic terrorist organizations and a 100,000-strong regular army, seeking to annihilate the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and carry out ethnic cleansing.

Monte Melkonyan took it upon himself to organize self-defense units. In the summer of 1992, his detachments successfully repelled enemy forces advancing towards Shushi from the south. They also defended the Martuni region, withstanding enemy attacks for an entire year. Monte’s forces orchestrated the liberation of the Karvachar region, which houses the sacred Dadivank Monastery.

On June 12, 1993, during a battle in the Agdam region, Monte sustained a fatal shrapnel wound to the temple. He passed away on the battlefield, a true hero. His body was transported to Yerevan, where on June 19, the entire nation bid farewell to this courageous warrior at the Yerablur cemetery.

May his soul rest in peace. Let us forever cherish the memory of our hero.

Vigen Avetisyan

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