Seda Ghukasyan

Monte's Comrade-In-Arms on His Birthday: "He taught us to love"

Today, Monte Melkonian, a National Hero of Armenia and Artsakh, would have turned sixty.

To mark the occasion, Hetq spoke with Karo Tovmasyan, who served with Monte in Martuni during the Artsakh liberation struggle. Melkonian served as the regional commander of Armenian forces in Martuni.

“I met Monte on February 22,1992 in the village of Tchartar. We were clearing out the enemy's firing positions. It was the afternoon when we started to advance. I met Monte at the intersection of Martuni-Fizuli-Tchartar. I saw this guy who turned out to be Monte. [Karo laughs]. He was holding a map, trying to get his whereabouts. I approached him and asked what he wanted to know. He turned around and asked me who I was. I told him I was one of the guys from the Tchartar platoon. That’s how we got acquainted.

The fact that Monte was a hard taskmaster is backed up by those who traveled the same war road as him, and not only soldiers.

“He was strict, but just. If he gave you a task, you had to perform it. If you didn’t, oh boy, he’d show you his strict side. I’m not saying he’d hit you, but by slowly explaining and getting angry, the person would understand what he meant and not make the same mistake. Once, we had advanced and our tanks had wound up in the enemy’s minefield. We were caught in a dead-end. I went to assess the situation and reported back to him [Monte]. I told him it would take ten minutes for the guys to get the tanks out of there. He replied- I don’t believe it. I told him that if he didn’t believe it, let’s bet on it. He said – If they don’t make it out, I’ll break your head. We kept time. The tanks slowly made it out in time. Monte turned to me and said – You just saved your head.”

Tovmasyan says that he and the other soldiers learnt much on the battlefield due to Monte – military skills and other, human qualities.

“We were grown men. But he was able to instruct us and convey his values to us. He taught us to be more patriotic, to love one’s fellow human being, to appreciate beauty in general. He was always attentive to his surroundings. His glance never overlooked that which was beautiful.

“It was early spring. We went out to inspect our defensive positions. Before reaching them, he stopped and looked out at the fields. He said – What a beautiful position we have. I figured he was talking about our military positions and said – Well Avo jan, we try our best. He replied – I’m not talking about our military position but the fields, the flowers.”

 Tovmasyan didn’t want to talk about Monte’s negative traits. He said the commander didn’t have any. He could only think of one thing that came close.

“Perhaps his negative trait was that he placed the issue of starting a family on the back burner. He didn’t think about his personal life all that much. He never asked for anything from his friends who came from overseas. He only wanted what was necessary for a soldier on the battlefield.”

Tovmasyan assures me that there are those who continue the work of Avo [Monte’s nickname in Artsakh]. He cites the heroic Armenian soldiers who fought and died in the April “4 Day War” in 2016. He points to the former soldiers serving under Avo, who have now become army commanders themselves. Tovmasyan says they all try to be as fair-minded as Monte.

In Martuni, the people regard Monte as one of their own, even though he was born thousands of miles away in California.

Today, in Martuni, young and old alike will be celebrating Monte’s birthday. Those that knew him will be reminiscing about the days, terrible and triumphant, they shared. About friends left behind… 

Top photo (from left): Monte and Karo Tovmasyan