Garegin Nzhdeh defended not only Armenia but also Bulgaria from the Turks. Now, in both countries, people are learning about this better – a film about the forgotten hero was shot in Bulgaria, and a monument is also to be erected in the country.
The Military Television Channel of the Bulgarian Defense Ministry made a film about the forgotten hero Garegin Nzhdeh. Both in Armenia and in Bulgaria itself, a few people know about Nzhdeh’s combat path in the First Balkan War where he fought for the liberation of the Bulgarians and Greeks and contributed to the victory over the army corps of Yaver Pasha.
Detailed documents about the military actions of the Armenian volunteers are now kept in the National Military Archives of Bulgaria. They were collected and presented for filming by Karen Aleksanyan, an entrepreneur living in Bulgaria and the founder of the “Yard of the Cyrillic Alphabet”.
In 1906-07, Garegin Nzhdeh studied in Bulgaria at the school of second lieutenants and received a junior officer’s rank. In 1911, it became clear that a major war against Christians was being prepared by Ottoman Turkey.
“Nzhdeh returned to Bulgaria and began to form an Armenian volunteer company,” says Trendafil Mitev, professor of history at the Bulgarian University of National and World Economy.
“It included 226 people. Many of them were refugees who had moved to Bulgaria after the pogroms in Ottoman Turkey. They were not even citizens of Bulgaria, but they still wanted to contribute to the struggle of this country,” emphasizes Professor Mitev.
In September 1912 when the First Balkan War began, Nzhdeh wrote a petition to the Bulgarian government with a request to form an Armenian volunteer company. The permission was immediately received – moreover, the Armenian detachment was allowed to have its own banner.
Garegin Nzhdeh became the company commander, and Andranik Ozanyan, another hero of the Armenian liberation war, became its commissar. The company fought under the leadership of the commander of the Macedonian-Odrin militia general Nikola Genev.
The Armenian company received baptism by fire during the liberation of the Bulgarian city of Momchilgrad. Thanks to the Bulgarian and Armenian soldiers, this city still bears a Slavic name. Had the warriors failed, it would have been called Mestanli (as it is now called in Turkey), and all its inhabitants would have been Turkified.
During the liberation of Momchilgrad, four Armenian volunteers were killed. Their names are carved on the monument to the liberators of the city.
The Armenians showed true heroism in the battles in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. They launched an attack on the fortified point of the Turks in the village of Orlitsa and opened the passage for the main Bulgarian troops.
After that, they participated in the encirclement of the army corps of Yaver Pasha on the territory of present-day Greece near the city of Komotini. Without this victory, the city would have suffered the same fate – it would have been called Gumulchine, and all its inhabitants would have been turned into Turks or expelled. But the “invincible” Yaver Pasha was surrounded and forced to surrender.
We will tell you about the lesson he was given at the end of the article.
In January 1913, Bulgarian troops – again with the participation of an Armenian company – won another major victory, repelling the 10th navy corps of the Turkish army. The Bulgarian army fought against many times superior forces for three days.
After the war, Garegin Nzhdeh received not only Bulgarian but also Greek military orders, as well as the Order of the Hero of the Balkan peoples.
“We decorated the Armenian flag with Bulgarian medals for bravery,” Nzhdeh would later write about himself and his comrades.
Nzhdeh fought bravely, was wounded, but refused even his military pension. “He believed that this was contrary to his principles – if he is the people’s militiaman, he should fight selflessly,” says Karen Aleksanyan.
During World War I, Nzhdeh fought in the Russian Imperial Army and was awarded several orders. After the establishment of Soviet power, he left Armenia because he was defending the south of the country, Zangezur, from the Azerbaijani troops and – perforce – from the Red Army, which had been ordered to side with the Azerbaijani communists (yesterday’s Turkic nationalists who had fought against the Red Army itself).
Therefore, shortly after the establishment of Soviet power in Armenia, in 1921, Nzhdeh left Armenia. In 1922, he arrived in Bulgaria where by the decree of King Boris III he would receive Bulgarian citizenship in 1932.
“Undoubtedly, the future monarch knew Garegin Nzhdeh from the times of the war, as he had been a communications officer at the headquarters of the Bulgarian army,” emphasizes Aleksanyan, who collected many facts about Nzhdeh from the state archives of Bulgaria and from Bulgarian newspapers of that time.
During the interwar period, Nzhdeh was published extensively in Western Armenian and Bulgarian newspapers. Among other things, he wrote about the classics of Bulgarian poetry, including about Peyo Yavorov who glorified the fate of the Armenians.
He also wrote the poem “Armentsi” (“Armenians”), which is known to every Bulgarian schoolchild. Nzhdeh also was one of those who in the 30s organized a fundraiser for the monument to Yavorov, which was erected in the same years in Sofia.
“If Peyo Yavorov became the symbol of our brotherhood from the Bulgarian people, then from our side, I think, it was Garegin Nzhdeh,” Aleksanyan added.
Soon, Aleksanyan wants to solemnly open a monument to Nzhdeh in the complex “Yard of the Cyrillic Alphabet” in the city of Pliska (the ancient capital of Bulgaria). Here, Aleksanyan has erected monuments to writers writing in Cyrillic. Among them are classical representatives of Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian literature, and writers of the peoples of Russia.
Recently, a monument to Armenian writer Leonid Gurunets (a participant in the Great Patriotic War, a native of Nagorno-Karabakh), who wrote in Russian, appeared here too.
“Now, I want to erect a monument to Garegin Nzhdeh because in the interwar period, he was an active publicist, published a lot in Bulgarian, and left a significant mark on Bulgarian public thought. This way, Bulgarians will be able to get to know the hero of our two peoples even better,” added Aleksanyan.
In Bulgaria, Nzhdeh not only wrote – he was written about as well. In one of the issues of the newspaper “Bulgarian Volunteer” from 1938, the march of Turkish prisoners of war in 1912 was enthusiastically described.
“The Kardzhali corps of Mehmed Yaver Pasha was surrounded by brave Bulgarian and Armenian militiamen on November 15, 1912. The Bulgarian people had been under Turkish rule for 500 years, and the Armenian people for 700 years.
Can you imagine what satisfaction the Bulgarian and Armenian soldiers felt when, for about three hours, 12 thousand askaris were walking in front of them with their heads bowed? This can only be understood by a direct observer of what was happening,” writes the essayist of the newspaper.
This battle took place near the Turkish village of Merhamli. And thanks to Garegin Nzhdeh, the uninvited guests were driven out of here as well. Now, this village is Greek – it is called Peplos and is located near the city of Alexandroupoli.
The monument-bust of Nzhdeh is ready – in fact, it was made not by an Armenian but by a Bulgarian, an internationally famous sculptor. Its opening is to be held right after the passenger traffic in the world begins to recover.
In the second homeland of Nzhdeh, everything is ready – both the monument and the spot for it. And the land for the pedestal was brought from his first homeland – from Mount Khustup in Zangezur.
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