The March of Zeytuntsis written in the 1860s by the founder of the Armenian opera art, the outstanding composer Tigran Tchoukhajian along with the poet Harutyun Chakrian became a peculiar anthem of the national liberation struggle of the Armenians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It was not by chance that in 1968, this melody was played by the bells of the monument opened on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Sardarapat Battle. The March of Zeytuntsis inspired the participants of the Karabakh movement in 1988, and already in 1991, it was discussed as one of the possible versions of the national anthem of independent Armenia.
But what was the impetus for writing the March of Zeytuntsis, what were the important political events for Armenians that took place in the Ottoman Empire in 1862?
The city of Zeytun and the province of the same name (now Süleymanlı) were located in Highland Cilicia, at an inaccessible height, 40 kilometers northwest of the city of Marash. For almost two and a half centuries, Zeytun has been, in fact, an autonomous Armenian province.
The people of Zeytun constantly fought for their freedom, and the uprising of 1862, one of the most significant campaigns against Ottoman tyranny in Armenian history, was a brilliant example of this struggle.
On the old photograph presented below are the leaders of the 1862 Zeytun uprising. From left to right, those are Prince Ghazar Shovroian, priest Movses Khachukents, and Prince Astvatsatur Yenitunian. Looking at us from the photo, these men with a proud bearing and the eyes of people confident in their victory as if give orders to the people now living.
The land dispute that arose between the Armenians and the Turks was the reason why the Turkish army consisting of 40 thousand bayonets marched at Zeytun in early July 1862. They were confronted by self-defense detachments — about seven thousand people – whose entire arsenal was made up of old grandfathers’ guns and pistols, batons, and stones. Soon, thanks to superiority in numbers and troops, the Turks managed to occupy several Armenian villages. The self-defense units and local residents would take refuge in the city itself.
In August, the Turkish forces laid siege to Zeytun. However, the adamant highlanders, demonstrating military ingenuity, spread their forces over four directions, which allowed them to repulse the superior forces of the enemy with exact and reasonable actions. Suffering heavy losses, the Turks left the province of Zeytun, leaving many war trophies on the battlefield.
The uprising of the people of Zeytun received a wide international resonance. The Armenian delegation was able to meet with the French ambassador to Constantinople and convey to him a request to assist the rebels of Zeytun. The result of this meeting was the pressure exerted on the Turkish Sultan by the French Emperor Napoleon III. The Sultan had to give in, lift the siege off of Zeytun, and conclude peace with the Armenians with the mediation of the French.
Inspired by this success, Tigran Tchoukhajian wrote his famous March of Zeytuntsis, a peculiar anthem of the national liberation struggle.
Zeytuncineri marsh – Զեյթունցիների մարշ