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Mr. Levon Ter-Petrossian - first president of the Republic of Armenia

By Gevork Nazaryan 

evon Ter-Petrossian was born in 1945 in Syria. He is the son of Hakop Ter-Petrossian, a political activist who played an important role in the formation of the Left Wing political movement in Syria and as well as Lebanon. Levon Ter-Petrossian comes from a stock and a clan of proud and noble Armenians of Mousa Ler (Mousa Dagh, Mount of Moses), Armenians who for more than forty days fought against the onslaught of barbarous Turkish regular army during the horrible year of 1915. The Mousa Lertsis not only stopped the Turkish army into moving in and carrying out massacre in the Armenian villages surrounding Mt. Mousa Ler, but also rendered a heavy blow to the Turkish divisions in Cilicia. After more than forty days of heroic defense, most of the Mousa Lertsis, were safely transported to Egyptian and Syrian ports by a French battleship. 

In 1946 during the Great Repatriation Ter-Petrossian family boarded the ship “Russia” and along with thousands of compatriot families (along with my father’s family), from Syria sailed to Soviet Armenia. The Armenian communist emissaries were promising the Armenians returning to their homeland, proletariat utopia of Workers State, equality, progress and happiness. Instead of open arms of fellow compatriots most of the returning Armenians, most of whom were overjoyed with the fact of living in their homeland, found the dreaded Stalinist purges, distrust and even jealousy from the behalf of their kinsmen. In 1949 a new wave of terror struck all over the Soviet Union, millions of former proletariats became “bourgeoisie”, “agents” and “spies” of Western powers (especially those who had previous ties and connections to “non-Socialist” parties such as ARF, which in itself was a Socialist party, with strong nationalistic tendencies, but at that time adopted an overall anti-Soviet and anti-Communist stance) and were sent to labor camps in Siberia, many were shot under the pretext of “the enemy of the people”. After the death of Stalin in 1953, the horrific purges and difficult tensions had seized and most of the new homesteaders began to slowly merge into the general public. The Republic had gained and learned a lot from the newcomers the advancement of republic’s “wealth of the mind and knowledge”, was enormous.

The “hayrenatarts wave” introduced new ways and advancements to the homeland. Levon-Ter Petrossian graduated from school and enrolled into prestigious Yerevan State University, majoring in history (particularly in early Armenian history, his dissertation and thesis was on the early relations between the Armenians and Nestorian Syrians, he spoke fluently Syrian as well as Russian, French and Arabic, along with other several languages). In 1965, upon the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Levon Ter-Petrossian participated in the “Student Apprising” as it later became known. Many students from different universities and institutes participated in a number of mass rallies and marches, clashed with the internal militia forces, burned buses and trolleys. The students showed their conviction in reunification of historical Western Armenia with the Armenian Republic.

The “apprising” was one of the earliest forms of showing the Armenian dissatisfaction with Soviet central policies. After receiving a degree (1968) in history from the YSU, Levon Ter-Petrossian transferred to a university in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), where he received his doctorate (1971) in the field of oriental studies (Syriology, not to be confused with Assyriology, study of Ashur). While in Leningrad in 1970, he married Lucia Ter-Petrossian. In 1972, after returning to Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrossian entered the Manouk Abeghyan Literature Institute of Armenian Academy of Sciences, in 1978 after more than 6 years of research at the Academy of Sciences, he became the senior researcher at the Matenadaran Depository and the Institute for the preservation, study and publishing of ancient Manuscripts. He remained and continued his work in Matenadaran until the year 1988, an eventful, crucial and significant year in the history of the Armenian nation.

In late ’87 the Armenians of Artsakh, which for decades had been unjustly placed within Azeri Turk rule were collecting signatures and organizing for the referendum of Nagorno-Karabakh Supreme Soviet which would act within the framework of the Soviet Law and constitutionally make the decision of secession from the Soviet Azerbaijan and reunification to Soviet Armenia. The Azeris answered the just please and cause in a typical Turkic fashion. In February of 1988 in the city of Sumgait a huge blood thirsty Azeri scoundrel mob with utmost barbarity attacked and massacred tens of dozens of innocent Armenian civilians, old and young alike were beaten, raped and slaughtered, some cases reported the burning of looted and obliterated corpses. The massacres and the pogroms created an angry sentiment of revenge and retaliation in Armenia and as well as Artsakh, it was in this crucial period, when an organizing force of the masses was mostly needed that the Karabagh Committee was formed.

Levon Ter-Petrossian was one of the prominent and respected figures of the Karabagh Committee. His speeches and ideal mesmerized the nation. His iron will and determination in achieving total liberation and reunification of Artsakh with the Motherland quickly made Levon-Ter Petrossian the leader of the newly emerging democratic movement. The year of 1988 was marked with demonstrations (a republic wide work strike, organized by the committee was an unprecedented event and was the first in the history of U.S.S.R), mass rallies and pickets, with a peek of the movement a mass rally held in Yerevan in mid ’88, surpassed the mark of one million citizen demonstrators from all over Armenia and the Diaspora.

On December 7, 1988 one of the worst tragedies in the history of the Armenian nation, a powerful earthquake hit the Shirak and Lori districts. Cities such as Gyumri (Leninakan) and Spitak were utterly obliterated, with a minimum estimated toll of more than 25,000 dead and countless others injured. The earthquake, not only rendered a hit to the populace of the Shirak-Lori regions and paralyzed the economy, it was also a great blow to the Karabakh movement which by late ’88 had become a powerful political force in Armenia. The Karabakh committee made the rescue and relief efforts in the earthquake zone its first priority. Many volunteers, organized by the efforts of the Committee were sent into the disaster area and labored in the many different areas of relief works. The Soviet authority fearing the rapid growth of a new democratic force, gaining popularity and operating outside the Communist framework began a ring of arrests in the suspected list of “extremists”, “separatists” and “nationalists”. All of the 11 members of the Karabagh Committee among them popular leaders such as Levon Ter-Petrossian, Hambartsoum Galstyan, Raphael Ghazaryan, Vazgen Manoukyan, Ashot Manoucharyan and Khachik Stamboultsyan, along with more than 200 “collaborators” and “sympathizers” were promptly arrested and were reallocated to prison confinement in Russia. Ironically the Communist goal of destroying the prestige and the image of the Committee backfired. The members of the committee became the icons and the heroes of the new democratic wave that began in the Freedom Square of Yerevan was already beginning to spread to other parts of the Soviet Union and even to the Socialist block in Eastern Europe.

Almost mythical stories were reaching the mass rallies in Yerevan; Galstyan’s 16 day hunger strike and isolation cell confinement; Stamboltsyan’s spiritual counselling to convicted murderers; fundraising for the Armenian earthquake survivors among common criminals. In Yerevan a martial law was imposed and Soviet Internal Troops were sent in and began to patrol the streets and boulevards of Yerevan. In April of 1989 the supporters of the Committee reorganized and formed the Armenian Pan-National Movement (ANM), the struggle that began with the liberation of Artsakh turned into an All-Armenian movement. 

The Political prisoners and the members of the Committee were released on May 31, 1989. They returned and entered Yerevan in triumph, hailed as heroes they were literally carried on the shoulders of the supporters to the “meeting” of the tens of thousands of supporters at the mass rally in front of the Matenadaran, which became the symbol of the revival of Armenian spirit. The momentum of the political events quickly shifted in to the hands of the newly emerging democratic ANM block. Already by the end of 1989 the Soviet Union began to show signs of decay. 

On June 16, 1989, three hundred and ten delegates from the various national parties and organizations (amongst the largest represented were ANM, the environmentalists-Greens Union, National Self-Determination Union headed by the returned political exile Parouyr Hairikyan) met at Yerevan State University (YSU) to formalize the creation of the ANM and affirm the group’s dedication to “universal self-determination, social justice and democracy.” The Armenian Supreme Soviet officially recognized the movement on June 28, 1989. In August, four out of five candidates backed by the ANM won seats to the legislature in the special elections.

The ANM convened its first congress in Yerevan on November 4-5 of 1989, the first ANM conference concluded with the election of a 36-person executive committee (including Levon Ter-Petrossian with the other10 members of the Karabagh Committee) and the adoption of a statement outlining the movement’s goal and by-laws. As expected, the reunification of Artsakh with Armenia headed the ANM’s short-terms aims. Moreover, many of the pronouncements on national self-defense, economic autonomy, separate foreign policy, freedom of expression, and multiple forms of property ownership would find their way into the Armenian Supreme Soviet’s declaration of independence on August 24, 1990 (Although the official independence is considered September 21, 1991, the date of official, public independence referendum, Armenia was already de-facto independent by early 1990).

. On October 16th 1991 Levon Ter-Petrossian becomes Armenia's first democratically Elected president. In 1998 President Levon Ter-Petrossian was elected for a second term, but resigns in the same year. He was succeeded by Robert Kocharian, elected 2nd President of Armenia on April 1998.

Courtesy of
Armenian Highland - Armenian Enlightenment Chronicle 
Web site: www.armenianhighland.com
Updated 30 August 1999 ..
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