Monday, May 25, 2015

Opening of the Monument of Sardarabad (May 25, 1968)

Sardarabad, located 25 miles to the west of Yerevan, became the last Armenian stance against the advance of the invading Third Ottoman Army in May 1918. A defeat would not only open the door for their penetration to the rest of Eastern Armenia, but also the follow-up to the genocide of 1915-1916. Major General Otto von Lossow, German delegate to the Caucasus, had reported to his government on May 15, 1918 that the Ottomans intended to advance the border further to the east, monopolize the economy of the region, and bring about “the total extermination of the Armenians in Transcaucasia also.” Two days before his departure from Tiflis, on May 23, he wrote in his final report: “The aim of Turkish policy is, as I have always reiterated, the taking of possession of Armenian districts and the extermination of the Armenians.”

The Armenian victory in Sardarabad, from May 22-28, 1918, became the cornerstone of the foundation of the first Republic of Armenia. However, the victories of May 1918 and the first republic remained taboo issues in Soviet Armenia until the national awakening of the 1960s that led to the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the genocide in 1965. Afterwards, there would be a historical reassessment, although within the ideological constraints imposed by the regime.

Part of that reassessment would be the construction of the monument dedicated to the battle, inaugurated on May 25, 1968. Its author was talented architect Raphael Israelian (1908-1973), who had already built popular memorials such as the arch of Charents (1957) on the road to Garni and the first monument to the genocide, built in the courtyard of Holy Echmiadzin (1965). Other projects would be completed during his lifetime and posthumously.

The entrance of the impressive complex, which extends over some 50 acres, is guarded by gigantic winged bulls, which symbolize the victory obtained by the people. The steps take the visitor to a wide square, dominated by the 115-foot high bell tower. The nine-bell structure, built from red-orange tufa stone, is the focus of the monumental complex. It reflects the critical moment that the entire country lived and that called the people to the fight. As it is well known, Catholicos Gevorg V ordered all church bells in Armenia to sound day and night in the days of the three battles of Sardarabad, Gharakilise, and Pash Abaran. The bells sound every year on the day of the victory.

The bell tower square marks the beginning of the avenue, flanked by a series of eagles, leading to the 180-foot long Victory wall, which depicts the images of the battle, sculpted by Ara Harutunian and other artists. In 1978 the State Ethnographic Museum of Armenia was built on the end side of the complex, with an impressive collection. It also includes a section dedicated to the first Republic.

As the refrain of the famous song written by poet Paruyr Sevak exhorts, “Generations, know yourself in Sardarabad.” The monument to the battle is one of those mirrors that have helped know history for almost half a century.