The Execution of the Armenian Generals in 1937: from the Distinction of Heroes to the Status of Offenders
The October Revolution of 1917, which resulted in the establishment of Soviet power, became a judgment for millions of people. Those who considerably suffered, were the prominent representatives of elites. The nation was threatened: it might become an orphan. Most of the killed people are heroes, whom the Armenian nation owes its existence today, however those names were banned from the end of 80s up to the beginning of 90s of the XX century.
There are still people who are not familiar with the names of such prominent generals as Movses Silikyan, Christapor Araratyan and others. These are the heroes who saved Armenia and died in December, 1937.
Christapor Araratyan, Movses Silikyan and their companions became central figures in the Armenian history as the battles against Turkish army in Sardarabad and Bash Aparan regions and the fate of the whole Armenian nation, crippled by wars and the Genocide, depended on them.
History has proven that small nations have to earn the right to life with their blood.
The Armenian nation which suffered from the Genocide, had to bring itself together and to confront, as it was the war on death that was expecting it.
On 15 May 1918 Turkish troops invaded Eastern Armenia. The enemy was moving towards the Ararat plain and the next day took control of the station Araqs, which was 10 km far away from Sardarabad. Turks were exceeding Armenians both by their arming (the Armenian side had only 18 old cannons, while the Turkish side had 40 new ones) and the number of soldiers. Besides, the Turks enlisted the support of Germany.
These were those conditions where the generals had to act. They could no longer retreat or push back. Maybe, this very tensity encouraged the commander of the second division Movses Silikyan and the commander of the artillery Christapor Araratyan.
“Had the Armenians lost this battle, it is perfectly possible that the word Armenia would have henceforth denoted only an antique geographical term” - writes the English historian J. Walker.
A decision was made to anticipate the enemy and attack the first in order to create a sensation of quantitative superiority. The first order, given to the artillerists was the following: “Fire on from all the batteries”. The talented commander’s military strategy resulted in the taking of 12 cannons. General Movses Silikyan hugged Araratyan and said: “Glory to you, Lord of Sardarabad, glory to your brave artillerists…”
The commanding in the important battle in two directions – Sardarabad and Bash Aparan- in fact, was in the hands of Silikyan. He was the commander of the detachment that was blocking the road to Yerevan. He managed to defeat 13.000 Turkish troops with his scarce forces and that was a really unprecedented victory.
“I have never been so happy as I was on 25 May 1918” - writes Ch. Araratyan.
As you can see, only due to victories in the Sardarabad and Bash Aparan battles the movement of the Turkish troops to Yerevan was prevented. Thanks to it, on 28 May 1918 the first Republic of Armenia was established.
The military success encouraged the Armenian commanders to continue the struggle for liberation of the Armenian lands, however politicians intervened. During the negotiations in Batumi, the Armenian delegation had not been aware of military achievements in advance. As a result, all the regained territories were passed to Turks again. Because of politicians’ performance, the Armenian nation had to refuse from its native lands, hence the independence was declared only on a small piece of land, surrounded by enemies.
In 1919, upon Movses Silikyan’s advice, Christapor Araratyan was appointed as the Minister of War of the First Republic: “He should be nominated a title of General. He is passionate, blunt and in addition to Armenian, he is proficient in the language of commanding. It’s up to him…”
Soon, a new opportunity for the correction of harsh consequences of the agreement was created: Turks, being persecuted by the troops of England and France, left Kars. On April 1920 Silikyan arrived in Kars which was left without a fight. Araratyan, for his part, refused from his new position in the Government of Armenia and went to Kars in order to take part in the defense of the town. This time, the success of the Armenians was prevented because of shifts in the foreign policy priorities: Turks reoriented and went over to the Bolsheviks. The Armenian politics failed again. Kars was shamefully passed to Turkey. Araratyan, together with other commanders, was kidnapped and remained caught for a year.
The victims of Stalinist repression
On the eve of establishment the power, Movses Silikyan was dismissed from the army. Soon, it was decided to exile him, however his case was reviewed in 1921 and he was returned home. Silikyan passed his last days by playing chess with friends and thinking of good war years. Those authorities of the First Republic, who migrated from the country, were often mentioning his name in their memoir. This, probably became the reason of his second arrest. Silikyan’s son writes: “After taking Father the last delivery on December 1937, my mother returned a bit sad. Father ordered in the note to wash the cuffs of his shirt better. Naively, if not stupidly, we understood nothing. Only when Mother brought the purple lump left in the cuffs of the shirt, we realized that Father had been trying to warn us about something”.
Christapor Arartyan also was shocked by Silikyan’s arrest. After remaining caught for a year, Araratyan started living in the homeland, already Sovietized. Having said nothing to his family, he went to The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs in order to know the reasons of his friend’s arrest. He was told that he could leave as his turn also would be soon. During the Soviet times, Araratyan was the commander of the Armenian infantry division and the head of the Military Department in the Yerevan State University.
Here is a note from the memoir of Christapor Araratyan’s granddaughter: “I examined the archive and read their questioning. I read what they had said and I found out that everybody was refusing from the accusations. They were accused in organizing fascist groups against the Soviet Union. This is nonsense. The people, who were the heroes of great Sardarabad, were simply executed”.
On 10th December, at 5, a group of former military men was brought to the Norq valley. These were the generals Movses Silikyan, Christapor Araratyan, Dmitriy Mironov and the colonels Aghasi Vardanyan, Stepan Hovhannisyan, Hakob Mkrtchyan, Harutyun Hakobyan. The checkists wanted to put blindfolds on. All of them refused:
- Shoot! It is not the first time we have looked death in the eye.
Armenia lost its key saviors in a moment. What a Turk did not manage to do in the field, the Soviet regime did make it in peacetime!
Illustration: Anaïs Chagankerian