The October Revolution of 1917 which marked the beginning of the Soviet period would become a sentence for millions. The NKVD bodies – including the ones in Armenia – weren’t dormant. The elite of the nation – its best representatives – were especially affected. The nation would become orphaned.
Among those who perished were people whom the Armenian nation owes its existence. Their names were banned until the late 80s and early 90s of the 20th century.
Even after their rehabilitation, many were not familiar with the names of prominent generals Movses Silikyan, Kristapor Araratyan, and their comrades – saviors of Armenia whose lives were interrupted on a cold December morning of 1937.
Generals Kristapor Araratyan, Movses Silikyan, and their associates turned out to be the central figures in the outcome of key battles against the Turkish army – Sardarapat and Bash-Aparan – as well as in the fate of the remaining Armenian nation crippled by wars and genocide. The continued existence of Armenia depended on the mentioned battles.
History has repeatedly proved that small nations must conquer the right to live with blood. After surviving the Armenian Genocide, Armenians had to get together and fight back, realizing that the war would not be for life but for death.
On May 15, 1918, the Turks invaded Eastern Armenia. The enemy advanced into the Ararat valley and by the next day already controlled the Araks station 10 km from Sardarapat. The Turks outnumbered the Armenians both in armament (against the newest 40 cannons, the Armenians had only 18 old ones) and manpower. In addition, the Germans supported the Turks as well.
The heroic generals had to act in these tough conditions. The situation ruled out retreat. Perhaps the colossal tension of the situation was the reason for the reckless courage of the commander of the second division Movses Silikyan and the commander of the artillery Kristapor Araratyan.
“If the Armenians had been defeated near Sardarapat, the word ‘Armenia’ would have become just a geographic term,” said English historian Christopher J. Walker.
It was decided to wait for the enemy and attack first to create a sense of quantitative superiority. The first order given to artillerymen by Araratyan was: “Shoot from all the batteries!”
The military strategy of the talented commander allowed Armenian troops to capture 12 cannons from the Turks. General Movses Silikyan would hug Araratyan tightly and say: “Praise and glory to you, God of Sardarapat, praise and glory to your brave artillerymen…”
The command in the most important battle which would lead on to Sardarapat and Bash-Aparan was actually in the hands of Silikyan. He led a common front that blocked the enemy’s road to Yerevan. With limited forces, he managed to defeat the 13,000-strong Turkish forces, which was a truly unprecedented victory.
“I have never been so happy as on May 25, 1918,” Araratyan would say.
Then, the victorious Sardarapat and Bash-Aparan battles stopped the advance of Turkish troops towards Yerevan, which allowed the statehood of the Armenian nation to be proclaimed on May 28, 1918, and the First Republic of Armenia to be established.
Military success motivated the Armenian command to continue the struggle for the liberation of the Armenian lands, but politicians intervened in their plans. Thus, at the negotiations in Batumi, Armenian delegates weren’t aware of the military successes of their country.
As a result, the conquered territories again came under the control of the Turks. Because of their politicians, the Armenian people at the cost of thousands of lives had to abandon their ancestral territories, and independence was proclaimed in a small piece of land surrounded by enemies.
Subsequently, in 1919, on the advice of Movses Silikyan, Kristapor Araratyan was appointed Minister of War of the First Republic: “It is necessary to assign him the honored rank of general, and may God direct the Ministry of Defense. He is flaming, harsh, swearing, and has an excellent command of not only the Armenian but also the military language. So it’s him who should be given control…”
Soon, a new opportunity to correct the dire consequences of failed diplomacy showed itself. The Turks would soon be driven out of Kars by the troops of England and France. In April 1920, General Silikyan received the city that had been abandoned without a fight. In turn, Araratyan, having abandoned his new position in the Armenian government, also went to Kars to participate in the defense of the city.
The success of the Armenian forces this time ran into a change in the foreign policy – the reorientation of the Turks who crossed over to the side of the Bolsheviks. Armenian politicians again failed to manage the situation. Then came the shameful surrender of Kars. Araratyan along with other commanders was captured and would stay in captivity for a year.
On the eve of the establishment of a new government, Movses Silikyan was fired from the army. Soon, he was exiled from the country, but he would be reassessed and released in 1921.
Silikyan’s main occupation in the Soviet years was small business. He spent the last years of his life playing chess with friends and recalling the glorious war years.
He was not alone or forgotten though – the leaders of the First Republic who had emigrated from the country would often recall his name in their memoirs. Apparently, this [his popularity] was the reason for his repeated arrest.
The son of General Silikyan recalls: “Having delivered the last program in December 1937, mother returned and got offended by father’s note where he complained that shirt cuffs should be washed better.
By our naivety, if not stupidity, we did not understand anything. And only when the woman washing the clothes brought us a purple lump – the remains of a note written with a chemical pencil and hidden into the cuff of a shirt – did we learn that my father wanted to warn us about something.”
Silikyan’s arrest also shocked Kristapor Araratyan who after the year of captivity settled in his Sovietized homeland. Without telling anyone at home, he secretly went to the NKVD to find out the reason for the arrest of his comrade. He was told that he could go and that he would be soon taken away too.
In the Soviet years, Araratyan was the commander of the Armenian Rifle Division, as well as the head of the military department at Yerevan State University.
The memoirs of the grandson of Araratyan read: “I got acquainted with the archives and read their interrogations. I have read what each of them said, and everyone refused the accusations in their direction. They were accused of organizing fascist groups that were supposed to fight against the USSR. This is absurd! In the end, all those people who were the heroes of the great Sardarapat battle were shot.”
At 5 AM on December 10, a group of former military men was brought to the Nork gorge. These were General Movses Silikyan, Artillery General Kristapor Araratyan, General Dmitry Mirimanov, Colonels Aghasi Varosyan, Stepan Hovhannisyan, Hakob Mkrtchyan, and Harutyun Hakobyan.
The Chekists wanted to blindfold the warriors, but they refused.
“Shoot, you sons of bitches… We have looked death in the eyes more than once!”
Armenia in an instant lost its saviors. What the Turks could not do in open battle, the Soviet regime did in peacetime.
Eleonore Sarkissian, armat.im