Գարեգին Նժդեհ | ON THIS DAY

ON THIS DAY in 1886 (1 Jan) Garegin Nzhdeh was born. He was an Armenian statesman and military strategist. As a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, he was involved in national liberation struggle and revolutionary activities during the First Balkan War and World War I. Garegin Nzhdeh was one of the key political and military leaders of the First Republic of Armenia (1918–1921), and is widely admired as a charismatic national hero by Armenians.

Born in Nakhichevan as Garegin Ter-Harutyunian to a local village priest, he lost his father at a young age before continuing his higher education in Tiflis. At the age of 17 he joined the Armenian national liberation movement. The word nzhdeh in Armenian means “pilgrim” or “emigrant”. Shortly after, he moved to St. Petersburg to continue his education in a local university. After two years of studying at the Faculty of Law, he left St. Petersburg University and returned to the Caucasus in order to participate in the Armenian national movements against the Ottoman Empire.

In 1906, Nzhdeh moved to Bulgaria, where he completed his education at the Dmitry Nikolov Military College of Sofia and got a rank of Lieutenant in 1907. In the same year he returned to Armenia. In 1908 he joined the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and participated in the Iranian revolution along with Yeprem Khan and Murad of Sebastia. In 1909, upon his return to the Caucasus, Nzhdeh was arrested by the Russian authorities and spent 3 years in prison. In 1912, together with General Andranik Ozanian, he formed an Armenian battalion within Macedonian-Adrianopolitan Volunteer Corps of the Bulgarian Army to fight against the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan wars, for the liberation of Thrace and Macedonia.

Prior to World War I, after an amnesty granted by the Russian authorities in 1914, Nzhdeh returned to the Caucasus to prepare the formation of the Armenian volunteer units within the Russian army to fight against the Ottoman Empire. During the first stage of the war, in 1915, he was appointed as an assistant-commander to Drastamat Kanayan of the 2nd Armenian unit. Later on, in 1916, he commanded the special Armenian-Yezidi military unit.

Nzhdeh played a key role in organizing the troops for the defense of Karakilisa in May 1918. He managed to mobilize a population of despairing and hopeless locals and refugees for the coming fight through his inspiring speech in the Dilijan church yard, where he called the Armenians to a sacred battle: “Straight to the frontline, our salvation is there.” After the declaration of the independent First Republic of Armenia, Nzhdeh was appointed governor of Nakhijevan, and later on, in August 1919, commander of the southern corps of the Armenian army.

The Soviet 11th Red Army’s invasion of the First Republic of Armenia started on 29 November 1920. Following the Sovietization of Armenia on 2 December 1920, the Soviets pledged to take steps to rebuild the army, to protect the Armenians and not to persecute non-communists, although the final condition of this pledge was reneged when the ARF was forced out of the country. The Soviet Government proposed that the regions of Nagorno-Karabagh and Zangezur should be part to the Soviet Azerbaijan. This step was strongly rejected by Nzhdeh. A convinced anti-Bolshevik, he led the defense of Syunik against the rising Bolshevik movement and declared Syunik as a self-governing region in December 1920.

On 18 February 1921, the Dashnaks led an anti-Soviet rebellion in Yerevan and seized power. The ARF controlled Yerevan and the surrounding regions for almost 42 days before being defeated by the numerically superior Red Army troops later in April 1921. The leaders of the rebellion then retreated into the Syunik region.Following the declaration of independence of the Republic of the Mountainous Armenia from Soviet Armenia, he was proclaimed Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.

In 1933, by the decision of ARF, Nzhdeh moved to USA along with his partisan, Kopernik Tanterjian. This movement led to the foundation of the Armenian Youth Federation, the youth organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, in Massachusetts. In 1946 Nzhdeh was arrested and imprisoned by Soviet authorities. In 1947 Nzhdeh proposed an initiative to the Soviet government. It would call for the foundation of a pan-Armenian military and political organization in the Armenian diaspora for the liberation of Western Armenia from Turkish control and its unification to Soviet Armenia. Charged with counterrevolutionary activities, he was ordered to be executed in the summer of 1953.

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