Zangezur – The Battle for the Right to Remain Armenians – 1918-1921

Zangezur – The Battle

The battle for Zangezur in 1918-1921 is known as Goyamart, which translates from Armenian as “struggle for existence”. And it, in fact, was a battle for the right to exist, for the land, and for the right to remain Armenians.

Sisian in the battle of Zangezur was a crucial link. In the history of enemy encroachments, it was considered one of the most difficult areas. The period between 1918 and 1921 was not an exception to this rule either.

In Sisian, there were many ordinary soldiers and officers who had served in the tsarist army and had the experience of regular military personnel. Sisian’s strength was also in the discipline and in the presence of a team spirit in the locals.

There was also another circumstance. The inhabitants of Sisian had faced the Turkish Tatars several times in battles and knew that they were insidious and where their villainy might lead. The people of Sisian were also inseparable from their weapons.

Back from the times of 1905-1906, a tradition of buying weapons remained here. In fact, one could sacrifice everything for weaponry, and the very habit of holding weapons was considered sacred. Perhaps this was the reason for the small number of casualties in the region.

Keri, Dro, Andranik, Zakar Ter-Ghazaryan, and Poghos Ter-Davtyan fought side by side with the people of Sisian. Simon Vratsian mentioned Ter-Davtyan as “a hero adored by the people”. The people of Sisian referred to Ter-Davtyan as Lieutenant Davityan.

Poghos Ter-Davtyan was born in Kapan in the village of Verin Khotanan. He was a cadre officer of the royal army. He appeared in Zangezur at the most crucial moment of a struggle caused by Baku commissar Stepan Shahumyan, as testified by Ter-Davtyan’s bodyguard and loyal soldier Arto Balyan from Brnakot, a settlement in the vicinity of Sisian.

When Andranik entered Brnakot, Poghos Ter-Davtyan organized there exercises for the newly formed units. Andranik, having made sure that Poghos did his job the best, kissed his forehead, a gesture that he has done only a few times during his lifetime.

In April 1920, Azerbaijan became a Soviet republic. This was followed by the conflict in Artsakh, as a result of which all local Armenians were driven out within two months. Dro who had been stationed in Artsakh left the area on May 24 as a result of pressure. Encouraged by this success, Azerbaijan set out to make Zangezur Soviet territory.

On July 4, the 32nd Red Division crossed the Zabugh River and easily occupied the border villages of Tegh, Khndzoresk, and Karashen. Armenian forces were forced to retreat to Goris.

On the night of July 5, the Red Army entered Goris, and Zangezur was declared Soviet territory. Together with the Reds, the Communists who had fled from Zangezur to Azerbaijan returned to Goris. The town’s population accepted them quite well, but there were quite a few dissatisfied with their return.

Nzhdeh, who had been in Goris prior to this, left for the mines of Kapan. Dro moved towards Sisian. He was still on the way to Sisian when a riot broke out in the roadside villages against him.

It is difficult to conclude unequivocally that the Sisian Bolsheviks had serious anti-Armenian sentiments since Drastamat Kanayan was well received in Brnakot. Perhaps this was due to the fact that here, people remembered the battles of 1905-1906 which had been led by Keri (Arshak Gavafyan) and a still young Dro.

Thanks to their efforts, the population of this region was saved from the Tatar massacre, and this is how Dro gained his fame.

Nevertheless, the easy surrender of Goris, Tatev, and a number of villages of Sisian disturbed Nzhdeh.

Along with the planned campaign in Zangezur, in July 1920, the formation of the so-called “Islamic army” was commenced in Baku under the command of Khalil Pasha who had arrived from Moscow.

This army comprised of Turkish soldiers who had appeared in the South Caucasus at the beginning of the 20th century and for various reasons had settled there. In reality, they were a wild rabble that became a scourge for the entire Zangezur, especially for Sisian.

This rabble called itself the “Wild Division.” They had to accompany Khalil Pasha along the Zangezur-Nakhichevan route in order to safely carry his cargo to the destination. This cargo was the very 500 kg of gold that Russia gave to Turkey “in support of the Turkish revolution.” The “gold” was supposed to cross the Goris-Sisian route and along the Bichanag (Sisian) mountain range enter Nakhichevan.

All those who were leading the Sovietization of the Transcaucasia during these years, including the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Chicherin, were very concerned with the entry of a particularly “wild division” into the Armenian-populated areas of Zangezur.

The military commanders were specifically instructed to prevent the participation of the Turkish division in clashes with Armenians, especially in the Armenian-populated villages of Sisian, and to avoid clashes with local forces in every way.

Having received information about the “gold” cargo, Dro commenced an attack from Daralagyaz, captured the village of Bazarchay, entered Angeghakot, and seized 200,6 kilograms of gold.

The cart’s escort comprised of Angeghakot Communists managed to hide the rest of the gold in a haystack outside the village. Later, the gold was returned to the Reds and transported to Turkey.

In the meantime, while battles were fought in Sisian, the Turkish-Musavat forces managed to Sovietize Nakhichevan.

So in July 1920, the “disputed” territories of Karabakh and Nakhichevan were Sovietized, and it seemed that Zangezur was about to surrender. Armenians cringed on a piece of land whose name was Zangezur and on which the final blow was about to be landed.

In the summer, within the scope of 70 days, Zangezur has been repeatedly passed from hand to hand. The nation and close friends opposed each other, not understanding why, and when it would stop.

Vahan Khureni and Arshak Shirinyan were tortured to death in the Goris prison. Zakhar Ter-Ghazaryan and Mikael Aghamyan and brothers Gaspar and David Ter-Mkrtchyans, the organizers of the self-defense of Darbas and Dzorer, were shot.

Dro arrived from Sisian, but it was too late. He sent a telegram to Kirov in Tiflis, describing the red terror and the rest of the outrages.

In October-November 1920, battles became even tougher. The Red Army entered Sisian along with the Turkish regiment. As they were approaching the border with Nakhichevan, their actions became viler. Terrible robbery and plunder began in the villages of Goris.

Sisian, however, remained in its positions. The terrible news received from neighboring villages became a pretext for the creation of new armed detachments. Poghos Ter-Davtyan became the leader of the armed struggle in Sisian. Having razed the village of Yaiji, the Turks attacked Uyts to capture it and then advance in the direction of Sisian.

Intimidated by the events in Yaiji, the peasants felt the urge to flee. Poghos Ter-Davtyan prevented them from doing so and stood side-by-side with them on the defense line. Aid came to Sisian in the form of an armed detachment from the village of Chikmend. Thus, the quick campaign of the Red Army was disrupted.

November came, and in Sisian began one of those terrible winters from which the people suffered greatly. But this time, the people were pleased because the enemy was stuck in the snow and blizzards.

The fighting was terrible, especially near the village of Uyts. The new peasant detachments together with the cavalry surrounded the Turkish regiment. Choking from the fog, the cold, and sudden attacks, the Turks retreated, leaving more than a hundred dead on the battlefield.

During the fierce battle, the favorite commander of the Sisian people Poghos Ter-Davtyan was seriously wounded in the head. The bullet hit him in the right eyebrow and pierced the bone. The soldiers brought him to the regional medical center, where, after a two-week fight with death, he passed away.

On November 20, on the day of his death, Brnakot soldiers of Poghos Ter-Davtyan set off for the village of Verin Khotanan. They traveled about 60 kilometers, carrying on their shoulders the body of their commander.

In the meantime, the battle in Uyts continued even more violently. Poghos Ter-Davtyan was replaced on the spot by a Sisian peasant from Bazarchay Sargis Piliposyan. The new commander with his impressive appearance, audacity, and fearlessness greatly inspired everyone.

Sargis Piliposyan in this battle was greatly assisted by a detachment commanded by Zakar Zohrabyan from the village of Shaghat. The Turks who had fled from the Sisian cold and fog headed for the Aghudi-Goris road. Sisian people climbed the mountain slopes through ice and snow and launched heavy fire on the enemy. The Turks, suffering heavy losses for the second time in a day, retreated to Yaiji.

Nzhdeh moved up from Kapan, freed Goris, and headed to Sisian. On the way, he spoke to the peasants of Brnakot, Shaghat, Mazra, and then reached Angeghakot. To this day, the people of Brnakot say that Nzhdeh addressed the people from the balcony of the Zakaryan house in the center of the village. From the balcony hung a luxurious carpet, which is now an exhibit in the Sisian Museum.

Zangezur was completely freed from the Reds. But life here completely changed after the Soviet system was established in Armenia. In place of Poghos Ter-Davtyan, Nzhdeh appointed captain Torosyan and sent an appeal to the Sisian people.

“Starting today, I surrender the orphaned military unit of Poghos to captain Torosyan who has already been ordered to arrive in Sisian. I am full of hopes that you, the bravest people of Sisian, will become a support for your new commander.”

Not only commander Poghos Ter-Davtyan who died at the age of 40 remained without a family: the stone on his grave also lived a difficult life. In Soviet times, to protect both the grave and the tombstone, the latter has been hidden twice and then put back in place. In those times, the heroic battle of Zangezur was a banned topic.

Tsovinar Petrosyan –

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