The Poet and The Commander – The History of Friendship of Two Great Armenians

The Poet and The CommanderThe poet and the commander met in 1904 in the house of one Sako from the village of Sev Kar. After plenty of gatherings and talks, Hovhannes Tumanyan and Andranik Ozanyan became close friends.

Andranik often visited Tumanyan in his home village of Dsegh to maybe hide from pursuit. According to the work “Life, war, and memories of Andranik” of Vahan Totovents, Tumanyan has always gladly accepted his dear guest and friend.

“Tumanyan gathered his children around the guest, and they sang about Andranik. These songs were a pleasant surprise for Ozanyan as he did not expect the fame of his deeds to become so spread and people to sing about him up to Tiflis and far beyond the most remote corners of the region”, Totovents wrote in his book. Having witnessed their friendship, he often noted that they had had common interests and an understanding of the national question.

During the World War I in the battle of Dilman and the battles for the liberation of Van, Bitlis, and Mush, Andranik formed a volunteer unit of 1,100 people. It included young patriots from different regions of Western and Eastern Armenia. Among the brave soldiers in Andranik’s unit were the sons of Tumanyan Mushegh, Areg, Artavazd, and Amlik.

“From now on, my four sons are under your order. They will readily take up any work in the rear and do everything that is necessary. I firmly believe in your experience tested in the storms of trials, your ardent patriotism and freedom of love, your humanity and the innate great talent of the commander who is in the right place whenever the voices of his brothers call for help,” Tumanyan wrote in his letter to Andranik.

At that time, the Armenian public associated hopes for victory in the liberation struggle with Andranik, but enemy’s forces prevailed. After the offensive of the Turkish troops in the Caucasian front in 1918, only three of the sons of Tumanyan returned home. Having lost his son Artavazd, Tumanyan wrote two poems, Շուռ է գալիս ծանըր քարը (Heavy stone is being pushed…) and Աղթամարի կղզում (On the Island of Akhtamar), in which an unquenchable pain of loss is transmitted.

During the years of the Armenian Genocide, Tumanyan helped refugees from Western Armenia. Later, he was awarded the title of “Poet of All Armenians”. “He could become rich and enjoy the laurels, but he despised himself of that for the sake of the interest of his people. He suffered and shared his pain and sorrow with them,” Andranik said about his friend.

As for Ozanyan, he, in his turn, organized assistance for Armenian refugees and took part in the publication of the Hayastan newspaper, which advocated the unification of the forces of Eastern and Western Armenias.

For showing courage in the battles in 1915-1916, Zoravar Andranik was awarded the St. George Medal IV class, Crosses of St. George III and IV classes, Order of Saint Stanislaus II class and Order of Saint Vladimir IV class.

Two friends also loved folklore. Moreover, the national hero of Armenia, Andranik, was known as an inimitable humorist and narrator. Listening to his stories, hearers could portray the history, personalities, place, time, and atmosphere of the described events. Friends enjoyed exchanging anecdotes, sayings, telling folkloric versions of history, sharing moralizing stories, fairy tales. One of the most famous poems of Tumanyan is The Dog and The Cat (Armenian: Շունն ու կատուն).

Once Tumanyan proposed a toast, “Twenty years ago there were two celebrities: Mkrtich Khrimyan, and my “The Dog and The Cat.” Even though twenty years have passed, there are still two celebrities: my poem, and Andranik. And I drink this toast to one of these celebrities, to Andranik.”

After this toast and a cheerful revitalization at the table caused by the words of the storyteller, Andranik stood up and proposed a reciprocal toast:

“Years will pass, neither I nor Tumanyan will exist, but such a wonderful work as “The Dog and The Cat” will remain. Let’s drink to that.”

For many years, friends have been inseparable. In 1923, Tumanyan passed away. Remembering the loss of his comrade, Andranik gave a speech, in which he described the best qualities of his faithful friend:

“There are individuals whose presence attaches a special charm and strength to life, instills confidence and inspiration in people. One of these truly national representatives is the singer of the Armenian peasantry, the founder of village poetry, poet Hovhannes Tumanyan,” Andranik said.

The great poet Hovhannes Tumanyan was buried in Tbilisi in the Khodjivank Pantheon, and his heart was buried in his home village of Dsegh. As for the national hero of Armenia, in 1927, 4 years after the death of his friend, Andranik died. His ashes were brought from the United States to Paris and buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.


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