The Heart of an Armenian – Lieutenant General A. A. Ter-Gukasov

“Our General” — that’s how my grandmother Siranuysh Tigranovna, born Ter-Gukasova, affectionately and lovingly spoke while flipping through the pages of the yellowed family album in the old parental home in Tbilisi, on Metekhi Street No. 3. A courageous face, a proud Armenian profile, and kind eyes looked out from the portrait, filling our hearts with pride.

Here are some facts that characterize the personality of Arzas Ter-Gukasov:

  • Fearless in battle, he also exhibited the pure Spartan simplicity and the resilience of a Caucasian warrior, sharing all the hardships of the campaign with his subordinates.

General Ter-Gukasov, whom the troops were accustomed to seeing in battle at the most dangerous spots and resting under the same conditions right beside them, bore all the hardships along with his troops. Despite his status, he set an example by enduring hardships without complaint.

That remained the case in his new position; one night, when all had quieted down, Arzas Artemyevich, as was his custom, settled down on the bare ground in a light coat. Noticing a faint light nearby and learning that it was officers of the rifle battalion warming up some tea, he sent an orderly to request a cup for himself.

Upon receiving this request, the riflemen, full of the most sincere desire to please their esteemed commander, scrambled to find what they could offer. All they had were five pieces of sugar, which they sent with the tea to Arzas Artemyevich. He, in turn, shared this meager reserve with his adjutant.

  • The primary feature of this man, of course due to the nature of his activities, is the characteristic of a courageous warrior. It is courage in the strict sense of the word—reasonable, calm, and modest courage—that is his defining feature.

This courage gave him an extraordinary sense of calm, confidence, and steadiness, enabling him to never lose his composure and to make sound decisions in the most perilous situations.

In Russian military history, there are many illustrious names that have left an immortal memory. They garnered more laurels; their feats are more flashy, more vivid, and more captivating. Their names are well-known, surrounded by an aura of military glory. But there are also more modest figures who are no less brilliant.

Among these stands the hero of Bayazet, Arzas Artemyevich Ter-Gukasov. His life and deeds gained widespread recognition with the publication of the collection “Brotherly Aid to Armenians Suffering in Turkey.”

  • In this man, who grew up and lived amid struggle and dangers, under the roar of cannons and the groans of the wounded, an amazing softness and sensitivity of soul were miraculously preserved. This was evident both in his usual good-natured simplicity and in his relationships with the unfortunate and oppressed.

After a successful battle at Dram-dag, the general thanked his troops. Approaching the particularly distinguished soldiers from Stavropol, he removed his cap and bowed low, adding: “I have no other way to thank you, Stavropolians!” Ter-Gukasov always treated the wounded with the utmost warmth and care.

After the battle of Dayara, before retreating—a decision whose gravity he sensed—he would go around to the wounded, embracing and kissing them. “These aren’t just people,” he would say, “they are heroes, saints.”

For his distinction in the capture of Gunib and the capture of Shamil, Ter-Gukasov was awarded the Order of St. George of the 4th degree.

“In recognition of outstanding courage, exemplary bravery, and organizational skills demonstrated in actions against the Turks in June 1877 during the capture of Bayazet and during the liberation of the Bayazet garrison from blockade,” on July 22, 1878, he was honored with the Order of St. George of the 3rd degree.

In addition to the two Orders of the Holy Great Martyr and Victorious George, Arzas Ter-Gukasov was also awarded the Orders of St. Stanislaus of the 2nd degree, St. Vladimir of the 4th, 3rd (with a sword), and 2nd degrees, and St. Anne of the 2nd degree, as well as being recognized with the Golden Weapon “For Bravery.”

Recently, the world marked the 96th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. In this context, it is worth recalling one particular fact:

  • The best example characterizing the high moral traits of this man was his treatment of the refugees. As is known, as the Erivan detachment under Ter-Gukasov’s command moved through Turkish territory, a large number of Armenian families, fleeing Turkish atrocities, came under his protection.

These people tied their fate with the fate of the detachment, opting to endure all the hardships and dangers of the campaign and to resettle within the borders of Russia, rather than be left to the mercy of the Turks.

These refugees totaled about 3,000 (while the entire detachment consisted of only 6,000 people), primarily elders, women, and children. They also brought their belongings, complicating the detachment’s actions on difficult mountain roads, in the sight of the enemy. But the general did not abandon the refugees. All the displaced persons were delivered to the Russian border.

“Do you know where he is buried?” continued my grandmother, “in the courtyard of the Surb Gevork church.”

We would climb up again and again with small bouquets of flowers, ascending the old steps in the city center leading to the church. Here, behind the fence under huge black marble slabs, lie the graves of distinguished military leaders of the Russian Empire—Count Mikhail Tarielovich Loris-Melikov, Lieutenant-General Arzas Artemyevich Ter-Gukasov, General Bebut Martirosovich Shelkovnikov, and Adjutant-General Ivan Davidovich Lazarev.

Four Armenians who served the glory of the Russian crown are buried on Georgian soil. A difficult fate for Armenians… Peace to your ashes!

By the way, the Cathedral Church of St. George (Surb Gevork) was built from bricks by Prince Umek in 1251. It has been rebuilt many times since. It is considered the oldest among the currently active Armenian churches in Tbilisi. Buried within its walls are the notable 18th-century poet Sayat-Nova and the prominent artist G. Bashinjaghyan.

The general’s entire military life stands as a high and instructive example of a Christian warrior, a warrior who protects and saves. Is the selfless act of saving several thousand defenseless people not more esteemed than bloody victories that dress their heroes in such a glowing halo?

History, unfortunately, often overlooks such facts, focusing more frequently on military exploits that leave behind piles of bones. But a sensitive human heart will more readily respond to this act of peace and love, even if it is not adorned with military laurels.

Ter-Gukasov rightfully earned the fame of a valiant commander, but even greater honor and glory belong to him as a warrior-human, who kept in his chest the loving heart of an Armenian.

Arzas Artemyevich Ter-Gukasov passed away on January 8, 1881. Fate spared him from bullets, but the heart of the old warrior could not endure.


P.S. Reference:

The future Lieutenant General Arzas (Arshak) Artemyevich Ter-Gukasov was born in 1819. He received his education at the Corps of Engineers of Communication Routes. In 1852, he was commissioned as a Major in the Apsheron Infantry Regiment, with which he participated in many Caucasian expeditions.

In 1859, he was appointed the commander of this regiment, and soon afterward, leading its 1st and 4th battalions, he advanced to the village of Gunib and after heavy fighting, seized the enemy’s barricades near this village.

From 1868, Ter-Gukasov managed the middle department of the Terek region, and a year later, took command of the 38th Infantry Division, along with a promotion to Lieutenant General.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, Ter-Gukasov remained in the active Caucasian Corps and commanded the Erivan detachment. On April 18, 1877, he occupied the abandoned Bayazet with his division, left a small garrison in the fortress, and himself advanced toward Erzerum, dislodging the enemy from the Alashkert stronghold along the way on May 28.

On June 9, Ter-Gukasov’s detachment engaged in battle near the village of Dayary, where they were attacked by significantly superior forces led by Mukhtar Pasha. Mukhtar Pasha aimed to take advantage of the main forces of our Caucasian Corps, which were left near Kars, seize the Deli-baba pass, and thus block Ter-Gukasov’s path to Erzerum while delivering a decisive blow to him.

The battle commenced at 2 p.m. with artillery fire from both sides, causing more damage to the Turks than the Russians. At 4 p.m., the enemy advanced in attack, directing their main effort against the right flank of Ter-Gukasov’s detachment, but were repelled on all fronts; by 10 p.m., the fighting ceased without clear outcomes.

During the night, Ter-Gukasov received orders to retreat due to the setbacks suffered by our main forces near Zevin. Despite the difficulties of the path and the enemy pursuing them, the retreat was carried out in an orderly manner, and the Turks soon ceased their pursuit.

Heading back to Bayazet, Ter-Gukasov arrived just at a critical moment for the Russian detachment there. Shortly after Ter-Gukasov’s departure to Erzerum, the small force he left in Bayazet (about 1600 men) was besieged by a 25,000-strong detachment led by Ismail Pasha and Kazi-Magomet, who took the outer town and laid siege to the fortress.

For more than 20 days, the besieged garrison bravely repelled the enemy. On June 28, Ter-Gukasov approached the fortress and, after a battle, forced the besiegers to flee.

On October 28, Ter-Gukasov, together with Lieutenant General Geiman, inflicted a decisive defeat on the Turks at Deve-Boynu, a strong mountain position from the front and flanks, where Mukhtar Pasha had concentrated all his forces.

Ter-Gukasov, joining forces with General Geiman, attacked this position on October 28 at 4 p.m. After a fierce battle, the Russians captured the key point of the position, the Uzun Ahmet height, and soon after forced the Turks into a hasty retreat. Almost all the enemy artillery became our spoils.

After the end of the war, Ter-Gukasov was appointed commander of the 2nd Caucasian Corps, a position he held until his death on January 8, 1881.

Sources: “Russian Invalid,” 1881, No. 12. — “Encyclopedic Dictionary” by Brockhaus and Efron, 1st edition, Vol. 32, St. Petersburg, 1901, p. 947. — “Materials on the Description of the Russo-Turkish War of 1878-1879,” published by the Military Historical Commission of the General Staff. {Polovtsov}

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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