The battle of Sardarabad
& an independent Armenia
Armenian people experienced a political revival after World War I, when
the Czarist regime of Russia collapsed and the new Soviet government ordered
its army to return home. Thus abandoned and unprotected, the Armenians
were left to resist the advance of the Turkish army with their own meager
forces. This advance by the Turks had two objectives: to complete the massacre
of the Armenians, and to capture the oilfields of Baku. An independent
Armenia was born out of this struggle.
The First World War began in 1914
and ended in 1918. Until 1917, the Russian army was fighting on the Eastern
Turkish front and making advances there. Then, when the government fell
into Bolshevik (communist) hands, all the Russian soldiers stopped fighting
and went back home. This left only the Armenian volunteer divisions. General
Nazarbegian took command of this abandoned army and, with the help of Antranik,
stopped the Turkish army.
Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia came
together and formed a government - but then Georgia and Azerbaijan abandoned
the Armenians, who were forced to retreat before the Turkish forces. By
21 May.1918, the Turkish army had reached the fields of Sardarabad facing
the Armenian people.
Only a small area of Armenian territory
now remained unconquered by the Turks, and into that area hundreds of thousands
of Armenian refugees had fled after the Genocide. But it seemed only a
matter of time before that, too, would be overrun. The Turkish forces began
a three-pronged attack in an attempt to seize all that remained of Armenia.
In this encounter, known as the Battle of Sardarabad, the Armenian forces
finally hurled back the Turkish army and saved the eastern heartland of
Armenia from the Turks.
Two prongs of the Turkish advance
were aimed directly at Yerevan. Around Yerevan itself, the Armenian forces
were commanded by General Silikian. To halt the Turkish approach, General
Silikian formed a thousand-strong force of riflemen - this force held the
Turkish advance. Just a little way west of Etchmiadzin the third section
of the Turkish advance was held - at Sardarabad.
In this time of supreme crisis, they
had halted the Turkish advance and succeedE in throwing it back. As Christopher
J. Walker writes: "liad they failed, it is perfectly possible that the
word 'Armenia' would have henceforth denoted only an antique geographical
The Catholicos, Vishdagir, deeply
suffering because of the suffering of his people, ordered the bells of
Etchmiadzin as well as the bells of all Armenian churches to ring all day,
calling his people to come to the aid of their fighting soldiers and to
participate in the defense of their motherland. Yeznik Vartabed, himself
a good shot, took with him a group of young churchmen and members of the
congregation of Etchmiadzin and went to the front to fight the invaders.
Bishop Karekin Hovsepian (later Catholicos of Cilicia) rode on horseback
among the troops and eloquently encouraged and inspired the troops to fight.
Even the old men and women, and the young girls and boys carried water,
food, and ammunition to the front by foot, on donkeys and in ox carts.
Colonel Pirumian was commanding the
battle superbly, and the Armenians fought methodically and cooly under
his command. These united people fought for 48 hours until the enemey was
forced to retreat.
After the Battle of Sardarabad, the
Armenian representatives negotiated with the Turks in Tiflis and the independence
of a little Armenia was proclaimed. Armenia declared its independence effective
from 28 May, 1918. The Armenian government established its capital in Yerevan,
and on 1 August the tricolour red-blue-orange Armenian flag fluttered from
the top of the parliament. As Christopher J. Walker writes: "Increasing
autonomy was an ideal that Armenian political thinkers had been striving
towards for half a century, as they struggled to rid their people of the
imperial bureaucracies that encompassed theme They wanted to put the destiny
of the Armenian people into Armenian hands... Armenia independent, even
amid her war-broken misery and suffering, had entered a new category."
However, as soon as Armenia began
to make progress, the Turkey of Mustafa Kemal attacked - this was in 1920.
The Armenians put up a spirited fight, but the Turks were getting closer,
capturing towns and villages. The Armenian army suffered a disastrous reverse,
and the state was reduced to a tiny size, crammec with cold, starving,
ragged refugees. The Armenian leaders realised that they had to make peace
with Turkey, at any price. The only nation at all able to stop the Turkish
advance was Soviet Russia - the Allies made it clear that they would help
Armenia in no way whatsoever: none of them considered themsleves bound
by promises they had made to support Armenia which were made during the
First World War and the post-war period.
Armenia was now without food, without
warmth, and all but overrun by a ruthless foe.. In these somb·re,
grief-stricken days, the eyes of all Armenians were fastened on the north,
seeking salvation from the Russians.
On 29 November 1920, the Russian
communist army entered Armenia and took over power. As the Prime Minister
of Armenia at that time, Simon Vratsian, said: "Nothing remains for the
Armenians to do but choose the lesser of two evils." But if the hope of
an independent Armenia was dashed, at least the coming of the Bolsheviks
in Yerevan meant that Armenia would no longer suffer the dreadful shortages,
and the terrible uncertainty and political instability that had racked
the whole region since 1917 would be over. Few Armenians had any real idea
what Communism entailed - yet most were prepared, in December 1920, to
give it a try.