Leonid Azgaldyan was born on November 22, 1942, in Tbilisi. He spent his childhood in Nor-Bayazet, where his father, Ruben Azgaldyan, served as the first secretary of the regional party committee. In 1949, the family moved to Yerevan, and Leonid enrolled in Mravyan School.
A handsome and intelligent boy, Leonid had a remarkable talent for mathematics. He frequently triumphed in national and republic-wide olympiads. He was equally successful in sports, representing Armenia in swimming and athletics.
After finishing school, the ambitious young man realized his dream. Facing fierce competition, he secured admission to the prestigious Lomonosov Moscow State University’s radiophysics department.
From the entrance exams onward, the talented young man drew the attention of seasoned professors, and their interest in the Armenian student never waned. He was known not only for his knowledge and intelligence but also for his striking appearance, friendly demeanor, and athletic achievements.
As the leading player of the university’s water polo team, Leonid’s precise and powerful throws often led them to victory. However, his vibrant and exciting student life in Moscow was tragically short-lived. In 1962, he suffered a devastating blow with the loss of his beloved mother.
Unable to cope with this grief far from home, Leonid returned to Yerevan and continued his studies at Yerevan State University, graduating brilliantly in 1964. Years later, in memory of the famed student physicist, one of the university’s best laboratories was named in his honor.
Upon graduation, the young physicist enthusiastically delved into scientific work. In no time, he became one of the republic’s leading experts in computational technology. The projects under his guidance had a significant positive impact on the republic’s economy.
The young scientist worked so fruitfully and with such dedication in the peaceful realm of science, reaching peaks in his complex specialty. But the pivotal year of 1988 arrived for the nation – a time that marked a new chapter in Armenia’s modern history and in the life of Leonid Azgaldyan.
Turbulent events that shook the republic, the spirit of unity, and national awakening – all of this became decisive and pivotal in Leonid’s life, facilitating the manifestation and revelation of his limitless capabilities.
During this period, Azgaldyan’s bright and exceptional personality fully emerged: deeply understanding the essence of the ongoing events, realizing the full extent of the looming threat to the country, he knew that the battle for Artsakh was not only a fight for the survival of the people on inherently Armenian territories but also a struggle to strengthen and preserve Armenian statehood.
Thinking in national and state categories, Azgaldyan essentially became one of the ideologists of the new, Independent Armenia, a politician with a sober assessment of reality. He knew that one could only rely on one’s own strengths and that appeals to the conscience of the international community would not retain Karabakh.
From the very beginning of the movement, Azgaldyan was convinced that the confrontation would escalate into armed conflict and that preparation for a harsh and prolonged war was necessary, rather than mere “gestures and speeches.”
He wasn’t one for excessive words or verbosity: he was reserved, but his succinct phrases possessed a certain magical power that influenced people.
He was one of the first in Armenia to realize the need to create homemade weapons. And, while impassioned speeches resonated in the squares, he and a group of comrades began to design, produce, and test homemade weapons.
Very soon, he became a recognized leader for both the technical and university intelligentsia, who provided him with comprehensive assistance and immense support.
Meanwhile, events in Artsakh were heating up. He knew that there would be those in the rear who could handle tasks, but not everyone could fight and overcome fear. He could, and brilliantly so! And, despite his mature age, he threw himself into the crucible of war.
While many “fiery orators” who considered themselves movement leaders stayed in their cozy apartments, there were those few representatives of the intelligentsia who, realizing their enormous responsibility to the people and devoted to their ideas and ideals, were ready to defend their homeland at the cost of their lives.
Being at the epicenter of the combat operations, by February 1990, Azgaldyan managed to transform disparate squads of fidains into a combat-ready structure called the Army of Independence.
Thanks to his unique ability to unite different people, the best sons of Artsakh, the Diaspora, and Armenia fought in the army. And in early 1991, the legendary Vladimir Balayan joined the ranks of the army, becoming the commander of the “Front of Artsakh” unit, by then named the Liberation Army. Leonid greatly valued Vladimir and would later say about him, “People of such caliber are born once in a century.” Indeed, these words could fully apply to Leonid himself.
Remarkably, despite having no military education or combat experience, Leonid, in a short period and under extreme conditions, accomplished what many military departments would have taken years to achieve.
His scholarly qualities came in very handy: he approached military affairs scientifically, like a true scholar, filling in the gaps in his knowledge by studying academic military literature, watching documentaries, and examining the experience of various world armies. An impressive volume would be needed to describe his leadership methods and the way he trained his soldiers.
Sadly, such a book does not exist, even though it could have become a valuable scientific guide for the training of soldiers and officers of the National Army, a model of a top-tier army, an exemplar to emulate, a standard.
The commander had a unique system of upbringing: according to Azgaldyan, an excellent soldier ready to defend his homeland is, first and foremost, a physically enduring warrior who has mastered combat tactics and undergone battlefield hardening.
This warrior must also possess spiritual strength – the most formidable weapon, and the commander himself should be the embodiment of this spirit. The moral character should further complement the image of a true warrior.
It was such soldiers that Azgaldyan managed to raise. Those who went through his training and received invaluable lessons from their teacher, spiritual mentor, and educator became such warriors. The achievement of such a high standard was facilitated by the commander’s stringent requirements, which were to be followed without fail: first and foremost, strict discipline.
In the army, the consumption of alcoholic beverages was strictly forbidden, and soldiers were not allowed to smoke. There were cases when soldiers, even those who had excelled on the battlefield, were dismissed due to smoking.
Of course, there was solid logic behind this: a smoking soldier couldn’t withstand the immense physical load that fighters had to overcome daily.
This included exercises to hone military skills and physical training that involved 10-kilometer runs in mountainous terrain. What was most astonishing was that the 50-year-old commander not only completed these tasks alongside everyone else but often surpassed many younger soldiers. However, the commander’s personal example was the most effective in upbringing.
Strict discipline and physical exertion were not an end in themselves: it was all aimed at the primary goal – minimizing losses. “War is a dirty business,” Azgaldyan said, “but it should be waged with minimal losses.”
Saving a soldier’s life was of the utmost importance to him. He stated, “Our greatest wealth is volunteer soldiers. There is nothing more valuable to our country, and we cannot simply sacrifice them to liberate a piece of land.
We must plan both the attack and defense in a way that minimizes casualties.” And he acted accordingly. As a result, only 6 soldiers were lost during the 4 years of war.
Every fighter was incredibly precious to him; he deeply mourned each loss, which is why he prepared meticulously for each battle: calculating all options to choose the best one.
To each soldier, he thoroughly explained every detail of the battle, and it was no coincidence that this strict, demanding, yet infinitely kind commander was idolized by his fighters.
They revered their general. He addressed the soldiers with the formal “you” (akin to the old-fashioned English “thou”), while they called him “Paron Leonid”. The term “paron” sounded like a high and honorable title, fitting his majestic demeanor.
Azgaldyan’s greatness manifested in everything: in his heroic beauty, in his name reminiscent of ancient Spartan kings, which he proudly carried throughout his life. His surname was also significant, containing the root “azg”, the word he held most sacred.
He loved his people and his homeland immensely. “Not an inch of land should be lost. This is Armenia – period.” With these famous words, which became the motto for both the army and the entire nation, he led his fighters to victory.
Azgaldyan’s army marched “on the path of battle for the future”, achieving brilliant victories. 27 victories and not a single defeat – such was the triumphant path of the army’s Liberator, from the border villages of Vardenis to Noemberyan, through Kornidzor to Shaumyan, Mardakert.
Step by step, villages like Buzluh, Manashid, Tog, Erkedj, Verinshen, Karachinar, and Gyulistan were liberated. Many Azerbaijani villages were neutralized. But the main achievement, in Azgaldyan’s view, was the liberation of Shushi.
“Whoever controls Shushi controls all of Artsakh… The new history of Armenia begins with Shushi,” said Leonid. He dreamed of changing the course of a sad history, of reclaiming ancestral lands, of “building a powerful country where the spirit of the people would be revived.”
For him, the homeland was not limited to the contours of modern Armenia; for him, the homeland encompassed all lands that had been warmed by the Armenian spirit and infused with the constructive work of Armenians from ancient times.
In liberating Artsakh, he mentally freed Karin and Van, Kars, and Ani. He often reiterated, “Do not believe if you are told of my death. I will die at the walls of Istanbul”. Sadly, his grand dream was not to come true.
The triumphant march of the Liberation Army was halted in the mournful June of 1992 when the best of the best fell – Vladimir Balayan, Vladimir Karapetyan, Manuk Saakyan, Vagif Galstyan. On June 21, near the village of Tonashen, a cruel bullet took the life of Leonid Azgaldyan, and in September, Valeriy Gambarian perished.
His death became a truly national tragedy: representatives from six different parties carried his coffin, recognizing that, as Nzhdeh said, “even the most powerful party cannot encompass a personality of such magnitude.” Indeed, a personality of this scale belongs to the entire nation.
Nzhdeh himself dreamed of such a noble image of an intellectual: the great thinker and military leader envisioned this image over decades, and when the time came, this image emerged and revealed itself in all its power and grandeur. To what further heights he might have reached, if not for the harsh reality.
Evelina MELKUMYAN, “Republic of Armenia”
Translatrd by Vigen Avetisyan