It was ten years ago - on June 12, 1993. In the early morning the self-defense forces of the Martuni region of Nagorno Karabakh began an operation to destroy the military strongholds in the villages of the Aghdam region ofAzerbaijan. Everything was going as planned. By noon the operation was over. Monte, Komitas, Saribek, Saro, Hovik, and Gevork entered the Marzili village riding in a Vilis. After examining the territory they were to determine the new positions. When they were approaching a crossroads they noticed an armored vehicle and stopped the Vilis. At a distance of 40 meters a group of soldiers gathered around the vehicle. Komitas, who was wearing an Azerbaijani military uniform, got out of the car and walked towards them. He called to them, “Are you Armenians?” They answered “No” in Azerbaijani. Komitas would later say that the moment he asked the question he knew they were enemy soldiers. He opened fire and retreated. The others jumped out the car and took positions, firing.
The vehicle’s large-caliber machine-gun joined the enemy’s submachine gunners. During the first burst of gunfire, the men were lying on the ground. Monte rushed towards the wall of the nearest house. The second machine-gun burst resounded. It hit the wall… A large fragment of a shell pierced Monte’s head. Four of the men were already wounded. Holding Monte, Hovik called for help over the radio transmitter - 00 is shot, 00 is no more… They took position around their commander and continued to resist. The relief forces destroyed the Azerbaijani detachment, and took a prisoner. The reconnaissance chief, Saribek Martirosyan, was bleeding profusely and died as soon as they reached the hospital.
It has never been possible to find out how the Azerbaijanis appeared in this section of thevillageofMarzili. Our troops had passed this place several hours earlier. Some people thought that the retreating Azerbaijanis had lost their way and didn’t know what to do.
Monte Melkonyan was born on November 25, 1957 in Visalia, California. In 1978 he graduated from UC Berkeley and left the United States. From 1980 he participated in the liberation movement in the Diaspora, joining the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA). Later on he left ASALA because of disagreements over policies and modus operandi and with a group of friends founded the ASALA- Revolutionary Movement. For years he worked underground and was imprisoned. From 1991 to the end of his life he fought for the liberation of Artsakh.
Peace is impossible without victory
On October 2, 1992 the self-defense forces of the Martuni region of Nagorno Karabakh liberated the region’s villages of Amiranlar, Mughanlu, and Kuropatkino. There had not been any civilians in these Azeri-populated villages for a long time. The villages had been turned into military strongholds from where the town ofMartuniand the adjacent villages were being bombarded every day. The military operation was led by the commander of the Martuni self-defense forces, Monte Melkonyan. The following is the interview he gave us the day after the operation.
- You scored a great victory yesterday. What is the military and psychological significance of the liberation of these three villages?
- You say it’s a great victory, but in fact an important part of our region is still in the Azerbaijanis’ hands. Their army reigns over these territories. The Soviet Army that used to be stationed here used to hold these territories. Before leaving they handed them over to the Azerbaijanis. For nine months they were continuously shelling us from these territories; we had many casualties. The population was restless, the economy completely disrupted. These villages had to be liberated at any price. But we must also understand that we took what belonged to this region. There are other territories still in their hands. Hence, we still have a lot to do. A month ago we entered Avdal-Giulaplu and liberated them. Avdur and Nor Shen had been incessantly bombarded from those villages. They are almost completely destroyed and now we want to restore them.
They have been attacking uninterruptedly from different directions over this last month. And each time we were able to beat them. Now we have taken these places. And we are expecting a counter-attack now. What is the military significance? They are very important for the defense of the region. Our positions are now dominant. They can’t shell us any more from this direction.
The psychological significance is important as well for the residents of the region, and our soldiers are more confident than ever. This is also a consequence of our soldiers’ fighting experience. I hope that this will influence the psychology of the entire population of Artsakh, the psychology of the Armenians as a whole. They must know that if they remain strong in their positions, fight, and then entrench themselves and stay in their trenches as opposed to what they did in Martakert, when they fought, advanced and then everybody said, “Our work is done,” and went away. We have had great losses because of such stupidity; we have given away a very important part of our fatherland - Shahumyan and Martakert. I hope that our victory and our modus operandi will influence everyone. That is - to fight, to advance, to entrench, to hold.
- You have been in combat constantly for the last month, How many tanks have you destroyed, how many weapons did you capture yesterday?
- We have destroyed 22 tanks and 11 armored vehicles. Yesterday we took one tank, -- we shelled another one and it blew up - 4 cannons, 3 anti-aircraft weapons, 3 machine-guns, 48 submachine guns.
- How many casualties did the enemy have?
- 50 or 60 were killed, there are wounded soldiers and three POWs. The corpses are scattered and we have to bury them before they decompose.
- Doesn’t the other side want to take the bodies? Don’t they contact you to do so?
- They used to do everything they could to take the bodies. Now they don’t. 120 people were killed during the attack on Matchkalashen. The corpes were scattered, and they began to stink. We contacted them, and told them to come and collect their bodies. They said they didn’t want to. After that it became clear to us that they don’t want to collect their bodies anymore. The government ofAzerbaijandoesn’t want the people to know the number of casualties. Only individual families contact us sometimes and ask to take their children’s bodies. The government doesn’t want to because it’s a disgrace to send home so many corpses every day.
- What do you think about the cease-fire? An armistice was concluded. Is a truce possible today?
- We all know what that was. The cease-fire was supposed to take place at midnight on September 25th, according to the agreements. A week before that the defense ministers ofArmeniaandAzerbaijanhad signed the document.Azerbaijansigned the document for one reason - they had made great preparations to press us before September 25th. They had two main goals: one - to break through the Lachin road, the other - to enter the Martuni region, to reach the road and cut off Hudrut from Stepanakert. They decided to cut off our rear and then to start negotiations when the Armenians wouldn’t have enough strength. All their plans have been foiled.
They attacked on all the fronts and were stricken a great blow. On the Machkalashen front in one day we shot down 10 tanks, 2 armored vehicles. They had 120 casualties, the deputy commander of the Fizuli region was killed. On the Giulaplu front we shot down 6 tanks, 4 armored vehicles. During the attack in the Martuni direction we captured 3 tanks. We caused great damage around Berdashen. And they were unable to cut off the Lachin road.
When the time came they said: we cannot accept the cease-fire. There is no candor or seriousness on the part ofAzerbaijanfor establishing a cease-fire. And the war must go on. There is one thing they don’t understand. The longer the war continues, the more teritories we will take back. There is another thing. They send their children against us and we crush them. The Azerbaijani government doesn’t have the smallest respect for the lives of their soldiers. Their commanders calmly sit back and order the advance. Sometimes even without explaining where our positions are, what is facing them. The POWs we have captured don’t know where they are fighting, what is where. They bring them in and throw them into battle right away. And they are crushed. They say if they didn’t come they would be executed. And they are being shot. According to the POWs there have been many such instances.
- Where will our border be drawn?
- Let’s see... let’s see... Martuni is not completely liberated yet. There are still many territories in their hands.Armeniamust realize that we are at war. This war is serious. We have to do everything in our power to end the war soon. The slower we work the harder it will be, the more casualties we will have. We must put all our strength into this to win and that’s it. Peace is possible only through our victory. We understand that the economic situation inArmeniais difficult. But that’t the way war is. War is only hardship. War is not a pleasant thing. If people think that they can continue their ordinary lives and wage war at the same time, then they are very stupid. They must realize that they have to die, they have to not eat well, not dress well, not go to school. Without forgetting all this, we have to put all our strength into military science and win. And afterwards it will be good for all of us, for all of us.
Martuni, October 10, 1992
The most, most, most honest person in the world
At least for me, among the people I have met, Monte was the most, most, most honest person in the world. You can put many descriptive words next to his name - selfless, hero, fanatic. But the most powerful, outstanding color characterizing Monte’s personality was honesty. The commanders I have known in the war and after the war have led and now lead through their will, strength, coercion, the cogs of the system, etc. Monte subordinated and led his army through honesty. Just imagine - a 35 or 40-year-old fedayeen soldier, a soldier with great intelligence, with the honesty and naivet? of Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince. No one can touch an image like that.
It can lead armies. I wish that “Danko’s Heart” had not been written - the subject is spoiled. This character is very close to Monte. I wish that works about him had the power of my heart. Thank God that the author of this first book is not pretentious and is not making literature. He presents pictures from Monte’s life through the eyes of a brother-in-arms and ….You perceive it as you wish - there will be a lot written about him by worthy and, unfortunately, by unworthy pens whose goal will be to keep their colorless existence visible through Monte. Let’s be careful not to let them cheapen [his memory].
He wielded a wonderful pen. Monte’s letters already have not just historic but also great literary value. One day, probably after the war, all of us will collect these wonderful letters from the archives and publish them. I am confident that it will be the most truthful and best book about Monte. But for now the war is going on. And for now, mostly look for Monte in his closest brothers-in-arms - in Haroyan, in Neso, in Moso, in Martiros. Look for him in the amazing, startling General Ivanyan, who looks like he is Avo’s older brother, father, or Avo himself at age 70. But in general, the greatest monument, honor and perpetuation of the memory of Monte Melkonyan - Avo -- will be to victoriously finish his unfinished work.
May 27, 1994