In February 1918, the regular Turkish army, violating the armistice regime, launched a large-scale offensive on the Caucasian front. The advancement of the superior Turkish forces was virtually only opposed by the new Armenian military units. The situation was aggravated by the lack of organization in the actions of the Transcaucasian government in Tiflis, due to which the rear and the military front would be completely split.
In those days, when the homeland was in danger, 20-year-old Hovhannes Baghramyan, who already had considerable military experience, joined the special Armenian cavalry regiment. In early March 1918, he was assigned to a group of cavalrymen to advance from Kars to Sarıkamış and further to Erzurum to participate in the defense of the ancient Armenian city as part of a special division commanded by General Andranik.
However, by March 12, Erzurum had already fallen. Andranik, covering the rear of numerous Armenian refugees, battling retreated towards Sarıkamış. Hovhannes Baghramyan witnessed this sad picture. Later, in his memoirs, he described how endless columns of refugees with carts filled with housewares passed along the roads. And on both sides, the Armenian soldiers allowed them a safe retreat.
Meeting with a legend
The meeting of Baghramyan with Commander Andranik took place in March 1918 in the village of Khorasan near Sarıkamış. According to Baghramyan’s biographer Aramais Mnatsakanyan, the division commander Amirkhanyan and vanguard commander Baghramyan appeared before Andranik and reported on the arrival of the division. Andranik listened to them and asked about the composition and armament of the combat forces. He got angry and scolded the Transcaucasian coalition government for splitting the front and putting the Armenians in a difficult situation.
Then, Andranik, accompanied by Amirkhanyan and Baghramyan, passed in front of the cavalry formation and greeted them. The cavalrymen greeted the national heroes, shouting “hurray”. Andranik ordered the division to move in the direction of the village of Keprikei, take positions there, organize resistance to the Turks, and temporarily suspend the advance of the enemy’s vanguard in the direction of the village of Khorasan so that the retreating refugees could escape. The division, which also included Baghramyan’s platoon, successfully completed Andranik’s combat mission.
There was another interesting episode associated with the aforementioned meeting. In 1968, Baghramyan gave a speech in the hall of Yerevan State University to the students and professors of the university. The marshal shared his memories and answered questions from those present. He told about his meeting with commander Andranik in more detail.
The day after Baghramyan’s platoon appeared in front of Andranik in the village of Khorasan, an unexpected incident occurred: Andranik, a hot-tempered man, summoned Baghramyan and unexpectedly gave him a slap in the face.
“Cornet Vano, your thirty soldiers were my hope, but I received information that some of them refused to fight. This is our homeland and it does not matter who is leading… The homeland will always live the lives of the most faithful sons… Go and bring your squadron back to order,” Said Andranik to Baghramyan.
In the university, Baghramyan said that in the spring of 1918, one could often hear such words: “Let the sons of the gentlemen fight now, we have already had enough warfare.” This was the cause of Andranik’s anger.
“The commander’s slap in the face made me a marshal. In no case should you be offended by your motherland…” Baghramyan said.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
In 1974, while in Paris, Marshal Hovhannes Baghramyan visited the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Here, he laid a wreath at the monument erected on the grave of Andranik and saluted to it. On the wreath brought by Baghramyan was an inscription: “Eternal memory to the legendary Armenian hero Andranik whose soldier I had the honor to be in 1918, the hardest year for the homeland. H. Baghramyan”.