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The Value of Silence: In Memory of Monte Melkonian

By Seta Kabranian Melkonian

With the developments in Armenia in recent years, my friends often ask me.

- Why are you silent?

I know I'm not the only one who keeps silent. I have a noticeable group of close friends with me, and we are all silent…in awe.

On the evening of 12 June 1993, when numerous friends and acquaintances refused to give me the news of my husband Monte’s passing, General Haroyan, wounded in his leg, finally had agreed to take that responsibility. I sat at the table in our dormitory room in silence. My body trembled with anger. Within slowly passing hours friends and acquaintances began to gather. I fell silent. Family members called from far away countries. After a few words, I fell silent.

“This was too much for you darling. In April losing Dad and now Monte,” said my sister in the phone call from the other side of the world and sobbed. I fell silent.

It took days until my best friend Edik came to see me. I stared at him, and we both fell silent.

After the ceasefire of 1994, for years the whole nation silently endured the dark and the cold. In my dormitory room’s bathtub, the water froze. The kerosene smoke from the Iranian Alladin stove filled my room. More often under candlelight, bending over my desk, I worked on my dissertation.

“It would be a gift for Monte's birthday,” I thought. I knew how happy he would be when I graduated.

Our joys in those days were not easy to get.

Under the slogan, "One gram of gold", we all crowded the opera square. Poor people donated their wedding rings. Those who didn't have gold gave cash so our Armenia will come to life. Only so the light at the end of the tunnel will come closer.

During those days, only a handful of Diaspora Armenians remained in Armenia. Years later, when my friends and I reminisced about the old days, someone asked:

“Why did we stay?”

We all could have gone back to our countries and homes. I cannot speak for others, but I know that if I had left, all my life I would have felt guilty for not sharing the pain and suffering of my people. I already felt guilty for being in England during the 1988 earthquake. Although at the time, I volunteered till the wee hours at the airport or at other halls to help send aid for the victims.

Obviously, our standards were different in those days. We were ready for deprivation, for a modest life, for not having. Only to see the leadership of our country preserve the historical homeland that was offered to them on a platter. We were not naive and stupid. We noticed when the building of some government official had electricity while the city was in darkness. But our priorities were clear.

On 25 June 1992 Monte called me from the office of Artsakh Prime Minister, Oleg Yesayan, to congratulate me on my birthday and say sorry. Having been far from each other for years, we had agreed that we would always be together on occasions important to us. Now he was breaking that promise. Disappointed but calm, I spoke to Monte. To his repeated, "I'm sorry Seta, really, I'm sorry", I answered "okay" and did not say, "Don’t mention it". But when later he gave me the details, I felt guilty.

Days earlier in Martuni, Aram and Mirza Valo had gone for reconnaissance. They passed the defense line and, approaching the enemy, lay motionless, listening to their discussion of the plan. On their return, the men stepped on a land mine. Aram was killed immediately. Mirza Valo, who was taken to the hospital in critical condition, kept asking repeatedly,

“Did Aram speak to Avo (Monte)?

Avoiding emotional stress, his friends had told Mirza that Aram was fine. But when he later was told that Aram was gone, Mirza immediately demanded Monte.

“There will be an attack on June 26,” said Mirza Valo struggling through his throat injuries.

On June 14, the Armenian region of Shahumyan had fallen and the enemy was advancing toward Martakert. The attack on Martuni began on June 27. The enemy pushed twenty tanks and armored vehicles toward the village of Majkalashen. Throughout the frontline, all the way to the village of Garmir Shuka, the enemy infantry spread. Monte and his fighters remained in their trenches. With their handful of armored vehicles and extremely modest military supplies, they pushed back the enemy whose aim was splitting the region from north to south and reaching the capital Stepanakert. On June 28,  enemy forces across from the city of Jardar joined the attack. Monte and his fighters not only pushed back the fierce enemy, but also gave a big blow to their army.

Telling me about the battles of those days Monte repeated,

“Seta, it was a real Sardarabad,” a decisive battle in 1918 when Armenian forces halted the Ottoman army, preventing the destruction of Armenia.

The battles of that month were not the only new Sardarabads. Remarkable men and women contributed to those historical achievements. The indigenous people of the region finally regained their human rights. But for many years that followed, we took those achievements for granted and added nothing.

On 20 November 1988 Monte wrote to me.

“Without political clear-mindedness the people with the best intentions can do a lot of harm. In one of your letters years ago you remarked that I was a very demanding (խստապահանջ) person. Yes, at least in patriotic issues I am, because I take our people, our homeland, and our future very, very seriously. No one has the right to not be խստապահանջ.

…Our diaspora is in a terribly bad situation. Worse than we think at first sight. Despite all this we must find a way to push forward. We must create a hard-working positive trend that will overcome the difficulties one by one. It will be very hard, but we must do it.”

Today there is no such thing as being very demanding. Seems difficulties and hard work are incompatible with those who decide the destiny of nations. And in the face of this current capitalist world and the indifference of our own, words are impotent. However, silence does not assume indifference. It is a time to ponder: to consider what is lost and what can be gained as the push forward continues.

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