MONTE  AVO  MELKONYAN
While in Armenia for my brother’s funeral last summer, people asked me over and over again for more information about Monte. They wanted to know about the events of his life and the circumstances of his death, of course, but many also wanted to know more about his philosophical and political views. Few people were aware that the legendary military leader had in fact written voluminously on the subjects of the Armenian national question, recent Armenian history and military strategy. Over the years, some of this material has appeared in small journals, magazines and pamphlets published in half a dozen countries. Much of it, however, remains unpublished. I hope the present collection of essays, together with a number of other texts planned for publication in Armenian and English, will introduce a wider audience to his views. With regard to profile information, a biography may well appear before too long. In the meantime, the balance of this preface will answer some of the more frequently asked questions about Monte’s thirty-five and one-half years of life.

Early Years:
Monte was born November 25, 1957, in Tulare County, California. He was the third of four children born to a self-employed cabinetmaker and an elementary-school teacher. His maternal grandmother, Yemima, was born in the town of Marsovan, in what was then the Ottoman Empire. Her family members were among the first Armenians to settle in Fresno County, and she arrived there in 1883, at the age of three. Monte’s maternal grandfather, Misak, arrived in the U.S. in 1896, after fleeing Marsovan. (By the time he was thirty, Misak had been imprisoned by Turkish officials at least three times, apparently because of his involvement in what he referred to a "a secret Armenian Revolutionary society.") Monte’s maternal grandparents became small-plot table-grape farmers. His paternal grandfather, Ghazar, was an orphan and a shepherd from the village of Kharatsor, in the Kharpert region of what is currently eastern Turkey. Ghazar and his wife, Haiganoush, arrived in the U.S. with the oldest of their children in 1913. They became farm laborers in Fresno County. As a boy growing up in rural Central California, Monte’s early years resembled those of William Samoan's Arum. He even swam in the same Thompson ditch that Saroyan mentioned in at least one short story. He attended public school, played the clarinet and was a formidable baseball pitcher. His many pets-including rabbits, pigeons and tortoises-roamed freely in his parents’ garden. Like his parents, Monte encountered racism on the playgrounds and baseball diamonds of the San Joaquin Valley. Unlike his parents, however, he was a target of bigotry not because he was a "Fresno Indian" (a derogatory term for Armenians) but because he was mistaken for a Chicano. Despite the racism, however, he was popular, becoming the first class president of his elementary school. In addition to acquiring a strong curiosity about his ancestors, he also contracted a case of wanderlust. At the age of fifteen, he left for Japan, originally on a youth exchange program. Once there, however, he extended his stay to a year, studying martial arts and learning the language. (French journalist Charles Villeneuve reported that when he first met him in Beirut in the early 1980s, Monte was serving as a Japanese-French translator at a press conference for members of the Japanese Red Army.) From Japan he traveled on his own to southeast Asia, including Vietnam not long before its liberation. This trip also exerted a lifelong influence on him. In a videotaped interview in early 1992, he pointed to the Vietnamese national liberation struggle as a inspirational example for Karabagh. Returning to the U.S., he graduated from high school and entered the University of California at Berkeley, with an individualized major in ancient Asian history and archaeology. In 1978 he helped to organize an exhibition of Armenian cultural artifacts at one of the university’s libraries. The section of the exhibit dealing with the 1915-19 genocide was removed by university authorities, at the request of the Turkish consul general in San Francisco. The display that was removed was eventually reinstalled, however, as university officials reluctantly bowed to pressure from a campus protest movement. Monte completed his bachelor’s degree in less than three years, writing an honors thesis on the subject of Urartuan royal rock-cut tombs. Partly on the basis of this thesis, the department of archaeology at Oxford University sought him out for graduate work.

Revolution, Civil War and Prison:
After graduating from U.C. Berkeley in the spring of 1978, however, Monte traveled to Iran, where he taught English and participated in the movement to overthrow the Shah. He helped organize a teachers’ strike at his school in Teheran, and was in the vicinity of the square at Medaneh Jaleh when the Shah’s troops opened fire on protesters, killing and injuring many. Later, he found his way to Iranian Kurdistan, where Kurdish partisans made a deep impression on him. Years later, in southern Lebanon, he occasionally wore the uniform of the Kurdish peshmerga which he was given in Iranian Kurdistan. In the fall of 1978, Monte made his way to Beirut, in time to participate in the defense of the Armenian quarter against rightist attacks. At this time, he met his long-time confidante and future wife, Seta Kbranian. He also met economist and activist Alec Yenikomshian, who Monte admired greatly and from whom he learned much. Monte was a member of the Armenian militia in Bourj Hamound for almost two years, during which time he participated in several street battles against rightist forces. He also began working behind the lines in Phalangistcontrolled territory, on behalf of the "Leftist and Muslim" Lebanese National Movement. By this time, he was speaking Armenian-a language he did not learn until adulthood. (Actually, Armenian was the forth of fifth language Monte learned to speak fluently, after Spanish, French and Japanese. In addition, he spoke passable Arabic, Italian and Turkish, as well as some Farsi and Kurdish.) In the spring of 1980, Monte was inducted into the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenian (ASALA), and secretly relocated to West Beirut. For the next three years he was an ASALA militant and contributor to the group’s journal, Hayastan. During this time several Palestinian resistance organizations provided their Armenian comrade with extensive military training. Monte carried out armed operations in Rome, Athens and elsewhere, and he helped to plan and train commandos for the "Van Operation" of September 24, 1981, in which four ASALA militants took over the Turkish embassy in Paris and held it for several days. In November 1981, French police arrested and imprisoned a young, suspected "terrorist" carrying a Cypriot passport baring the name "Dinitri Georgiu." Following the detonation of several bombs in Paris aimed gaining his release, "Georgiu" was returned to Lebanon Where he revealed his identity an Monte Melkonian. During the Zionist invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982, Monte led a group of fighters who make their way by foot from southern Lebanon to Beirut, under heavy bombardment. There, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other young men and women who defended the civilians of that city against wholesale slaughter sanctioned and bankrolled by the very governments that regularly denounce "international terrorism." In mid-July 1983, ASALA violently split into two factions, one opposed to the group’s despotic leader, whose nom de guerre was "Hagop Hagopian," and another supporting him. Although the lines of fissure had been deepening over the course of several years, one event-the shooting of Hagopian’s two closest aids at a military camp in Lebanon-finally led to the open breach. This impetuous action was perpetrated by on individual who was not closely affiliated with Monte. As a result of this action, however, Hagopian took revenge by personally torturing an executing two of Monte’s dearest comrades, Garlen Ananian and Arum Vartanian. In the aftermath of this split Monte spent over two years underground, in Lebanon and later in France. After testifying secretly for the defense in the trial of Armenian militant and accused bank robber Levon Minassian, he was arrested in Paris in November 1985, and sentenced to six years in prison for possession of falsified papers and an illegal handgun. 

Armenia, at Last:
Monte spent over three years in Fresnes and Poissy prisons. He was released in early 1989 and sent from France to South Yemen, where he was reunited with Seta. He then spent another year and a half living under-ground in eastern Europe, as one regime after another disintegrated around him. Eventually, he made his way to what was then still Soviet Armenia. Seta and Monte were married at the monastery of Geghart in August of 1991. Finding himself on Armenian soil after many long years, he wrote in a setter that he found a lot of confusion among his compatriots. Armenia faced enormous economic, political and environmental problems at every turn-problems which had festered for decades. Unfortunately, new political forces bent on dismantling the Soviet Union were taking Armenia in a direction which Monte believed was bound to exacerbate the crisis and produce even worse problems. The leaders of these forces gained overwhelming popular support in the late 1980s, thanks to what in retrospect appears to have been an unbroken series of arrogant reactions, miscalculations and blunders on the part of Mikhail Gorbachev and his would-be reformers. As a result, Yerevan was swept up in an atmosphere of chauvinism and exasperatingly foolish illusions about the West. Under these circumstances, it quickly became clear to Monte that, for better or for worse, the Soviet Union had no future and the coming years would be perilous ones for the Armenian people. He then focused his energy on Karabagh. "If we loose [Karabagh]," the bulletin of the Karabagh Defense Forces quoted him as saying, "we turn the final page of our people’s history." He believed that, if Azeri forces succeeded in deporting Armenians from Karabagh, they would advance on Zangezur and other regions of Armenia. Thus, he saw the fate of Karabagh as crucial for the long-term security of the entire Armenian nation. Ever true to his convictions, he fought in the Shahumian region north of Karabagh for three months in the fall of 1991. Forces with which he fought helped to recapture several key Armenian villages from Azeri forces. In a video lecture recorded in early 1992, Monte stated that, within the coming year, Armenians would either establish a land bridge linking the Republic of Armenia with Karabagh, or the Azeri military would succeed in "solving" the problem of Karabagh once and for all, by deporting Armenians en masse. Sure enough, within a year, Armenian forces-including fighters Monte led-opened and overland corridor through the town of Lachin, thus linking the Armenian Republic with Karabagh. After a short stint helping to defend the Ichevan region in northeastern Armenia against Azeri attack, Monte accepted a position as commander of the region of Martuni, in southeastern Karabagh. There, he reorganized fighters into an effective and disciplined force, armed in large part with captured Azeri equipment. Under his command, his three to four thousand fighters and fifty tanks successfully defended a mountainous region of 200 square miles, populated by some 28,000 people, mostly peasants involved in agriculture and wine production. His fighters recaptured much land and won one battle after another. Monte’s forces also fought on other fronts, in Mardakert and elsewhere. In April 1993, he was one of the chief military strategists who planned and led the operation to capture the region of Kelbajar, Between the Republic of Armenia and Karabagh. Although vastly outnumbered, Armenian forces captured the region in four sleepless days of heavy fighting, sustaining far fewer fatalities than the enemy. Throughout these operations, Monte maintained respect for Azeri non-combatants. On one occasion, his troops evacuated Azeri residents caught in the fighting, delivering them to safety by armored personnel carrier. In Kelbajar he addressed enemy soldiers by megaphone, assuring them in Turkish that those who were to lay down their arms and pull back from the front would not be fired on. 

At  lost having  laugh after capturing Kelbajar
 Kelbajar is free of Azeris Kelbajar is in Armenian hands 

And in an interview videotaped not long before his death, he lamented the lack of regard Azeri leaders have shown for their own fighters: "It’s a shame that they send them against us, with so little preparation, to be killed like that.

 

" In the early stages of fighting in Karabagh, small groups of volunteers FEDAYIS, or "brigades" (jogadner) played a major role in the fighting. Monte was a member of one such group in the Shahumian region. He quickly became disenchanted with them, however, for a number of reasons: their tendency to emulate the Azeri practice of executing captured prisoners; their adoption, in more than one case, of the aesthetic trapping of fascism: and their military inefficiency, compared to more professionally organized and disciplined regional. For these and perhaps other reasons, he set out to curtail the activities of the "FEDAYIS" in Martuni. Monte never wore a pistol; he never smoked; he swore very rarely; and he never drank liquor while in military uniform. When he participated in the traditional toasts, he would raise a glass of yogurt. He handed his monthly salary over to cooks, cleaning women and the families of wounded soldiers, and time and again he turned down privileges, preferring to live under the same conditions as the fighters under his command. He established a policy of collecting a tax in kind on Martuni wine, in the form of diesel and ammunition for his fighters. One night in January 1993, he personally stopped a truck smuggling contraband wine to Stepanakert, and dumped the entire tank load onto the road. A couple of weeks before his death, he incurred the wrath of local Mafia bosses in Karabagh-and defied the advice of close friends-by burning a large field of cultivated cannabis plants. 

Monte’s activities in Martuni were not limited to the military field. He supported the operation of a cooperative bakery in Martuni; he visited reactivated elementary schools and hospitals; and at the time of his death, he ant Seta were planning to set up a worker-owned carpet manufactory, to employ local women who were skilled weavers. In a country with a rigidly patriarchal culture, Monte discouraged discrimination against women, chiefly setting an example for men to follow in the conduct of their daily affairs. He washed dishes, appealed to women to fight on the front lines and considered female staff in the radio room and the kitchen at headquarters to be fighters on an equal footing with uniformed soldiers on the battlefield. His reputation for modesty and directness earned him the affection of the civilians he defended. Knowing that he had a special weakness for yogurt, women would press jars of it into his hands as he passed through their villages in his jeep.

Fallen in Battle:
I have read several inaccurate accounts of what took place in the abandoned Azeri village of Merzuli in the early afternoon of June 12,1993. There were unfounded reports that Monte’s body had been mutilated, and rumors that he was killed not by Azeri soldiers but by Armenian mafiosos. Seta and I spoke with the survivors of the battle who were in Monte’s jeep, as well as with a young Azeri soldier captured the day of Monte’s death. The story we pieced together is as follows: Monte and his fighters rose long before sunrise on the morning of June 12, to mount an operation against Azeri artillery positions in the Aghdam region. By about noon, the operation was successfully completed. At the conclusion of the battle, Monte was informed by radio that his fighters had captured a T-72 tank in Merzuli, on the plain just below the ridge from which they had launched their attack that morning. In keeping with Monte’s policy of personally inspecting all captured equipment, he, his devoted driver Komidas, and four other fighters climbed into the jeep and headed down from the mountains toward Merzuli, which they believed had been abandoned by enemy troops earlier that day. Riding with Monte and Komidas ere two young officers named Hovig and Saro, a senior light-tank commander named Saribeg, and another fighter named Kevork. They approached and intersection near an old tractor station on the outskirts of the village at about 1:20 p.m. There, they noticed a BMP (an armored personnel carrier with a light turret-mounted canon) parked perhaps thirty meters away, on the road perpendicular to the direction in which they were driving. Believing the BMP to be manned by their own fighters, Monte’s driver parked in the intersection and approached it on foot. Komidas, who was wearing an Azeri military uniform, asked the occupants of the BMP if the were Armenian. Although Komidas speaks fluent Azerbaijani Turkish, he asked the question in Armenian, which many Azeris from the area speak. When the answer cane in the negative, the occupants of the jeep jumped out of the vehicle and ran for cover under hail of automatic weapons fire from BMP. The Armenians returned fire with their light arms. (At the time of his death, the thirty-round clip in Monte’s rifle contained only twenty or twenty-one rounds. Since he habitually reloaded at every opportunity, it is likely that he fired nine or ten rounds at this time.) Komidas, Hovig and Saro were all hit in their legs, an Saribeg was wounded gravely. The BMP fired a first canon round, but it missed its target. Monte, who dove to the road to avoid being hit, drew himself up and began running to take cover behind a stone wall on the side of the road. As he neared the wall, the BMP fired a second canon round which hit the wall and burst, wounding Saro again and sending a large piece of shell causing into Monte’s forehead, just above his right eye. He fell to the road on his side and died either immediately or within several seconds, with his eyes half closed and a peaceful expression on his face. The BMP then accelerated through the intersection to make its escape. Hovig cradled Monte in his arms and called in reinforcements by radio. According to more than one account, the reinforcements caught up with the Azeri fighting group, killing several enemy soldiers and capturing at least one. The BMP and its occupants, however, escaped. Meanwhile, Monte’s body and his wounded comrades were evacuated to the village of Martuni. There, Saribeg died, leaving his five children without a father, and his impoverished family without a breadwinner. It is still not clear to me why the Azeri BMP remained behind in Merzuli. It might have been on a reconnaissance mission, or it simply might have lost its way. In any case, what seems to have happened at that intersection on June 12 was a chance meeting between enemy forces. And in this confrontation, the Azeris had the advantage of armor and a turret-mounted canon.

Less than a month after Monte and Saribeg were killed, the town and region of Martuni were officially renamed ‘Monteapert’ ("Monte’s Fortress"). And not long after they were buried, Armenian forces advanced well into the Aghdam region. Once news of Monte’s death spread, most of the adult population of Monteapert tuned out to pay their respects to their beloved "AVO," the person they associated with pushing Azeris beyond GRAD-rocket range of their village. Many Monteaepertsi’s demanded that he be buried in Karabagh, some even to the point of physically obstructing attempts to load his coffin into a helicopter bound for Yerevan. In the end, however, they bowed to Seta’s wish to airlift the body back to the Armenian capital for burial.



burial

 Monte was buried with full military honors on June 19, 1993. According to one estimate, some 15,000 people filed past his open casket as it lay in state at the Officer’s Hall in Yerevan. Among the dignitaries present were Levon ter-Petrossian, President of the Republic of Armenia, high-ranking Armenian and C.I.S. military leaders, and members of all the major political parties in the country. Friends and comrades also came from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, France and the United States. According to published reports, between on hundred and two hundred fifty thousand people turned out to attend the funeral. (I’m not sure how these figures were arrived at: it would have been very difficult to count the thousands of mourners who thronged Republican Square to view the caisson which bore the casket, filled the streets leading to Zoravar Vartan Church were final rites were held, lined the road to the cemetery, and stood for hours under the hot sun at the grave site.) Monte was buried at Yeraplur, overlooking the Ararat Plain. In the distance, Mount Ararat rises above the horizon, just beyond the Turkish frontier. Some authorities in the Armenian Ministry of Defense had wanted to bury him at Tsitsernakapert, on the hill above Yerevan where the memorial to victims of 1915-18 genocide is located. Since 1988, several people had been buried there-among these, one or two individuals with whom Monte had little in common politically, philosophically or personally. Monte’s widow refused to allow this to take place, insisting instead that her husband be buried alongside other comrades who fell in Karabagh.

A Teacher by Example Monte-or Avo, his nom de guerre in Karabagh-was many things to many people: To an Azerbaijani embassy official in Washington DC, he was "terrorist with a criminal background"; to prosecutors in Paris he was a malfaiteur; to the U.S. State Department he was a "threat to national security"’ to more than one village woman in Karabagh, he was a "saint"; to a French wire service reporter he was a "legende vivante"; to and unnamed Armenian quoted by a New York Times correspondent, he was "the best god we ever had," and to the mothers of Monteapert, he was the first person to thank for the fact that their children no longer had to huddle in basements for fear of rocket attacks. Monte was a cheerful comrade, an indomitable adversary, a brilliant strategist and a gallant fedayi. Above all, perhaps, he was a teacher who taught by example. In the example of this life, he still offers us lessons-lessons about what is important in life, and about the possibilities available even to the most outgunned and beleaguered victims of aggression. He taught us that it is possible to be and intellectual without being an elitist, a patriot without being a chauvinist, and a warrior without being a warmon-ger. Now it is up to us to ensure that the next generation learns from example of Monte’s life.

The First Edition of this book, which I edited under a pseudonym, was prepared despite unrealistic time and budget constraints. In retrospect, the small print run of several hundred copies might have been a blessing in disguise, in view of Monte’s reservations regarding the First Edition (expressed in "A Word from the Author on the Second Edition," above). Most of the material for the First Edition of The Right To Struggle arrived in San Francisco in four brown-paper envelopes with Yugoslav postmarks dated June 12 1989. Monte had arranged the material in chapters and sections, generally corresponding to its present form. Several articles included in the First Edition have been omitted from the Second Edition at he author’s request. The Epilogue, "Imperialism in the New World Order," was appended to the Second Edition, with his approval. The only text of Monte’s that appears here without his explicit approval in his "Letter from Shahumian," included here in Chapter Five, because he felt strongly that information about the fighting in Shahumian should be disseminated. Some passages in the following pages appear moot today, if viewed narrowly from the prospective of Monte’s immediate political aims. From this perspective, of course, his repeated opposition to Armenian secession from the soviet Union is particularly dated. It should be noted, however, that by the winter of 1990 at the latest-judging from the evidence of his personal correspondence and conversations-Monte had concluded that secession was inevitable. Since then, he had many opportunities to omit these "moot" passages, yet he chose not to. I believe this is significant. Monte had learned, through bitter experience in Hagopian’s ASLA, how dangerous it is to allow oneself to be swept up by fashionable slogans of the day, rather than thinking for oneself. His argument against Armenian secession from the Soviet Union was the result of independent thinking. Apparently, he believed that his argument remain-ed valid, even after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. (Indeed, much of his argument applies equally to Armenian membership in a stronger and better-defined Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.)) Perhaps this is why he did not have the "moot" passages deleted from the Second Edition of this Book, even at the risk of appearing to be hopelessly out of step with popular opinion and subsequent political developments. Heartfelt gratitude is due to Maile Melkonian for her tireless work copy editing a rough manuscript under a tight deadline. I would also like to thank Mr. Mark Nahabedian, without whose generosity the Second Edition of this book would not have seen the light of day. It should be clear, of course, that any errors that may remain in this text-despite careful work-are not the responsibility of the above individuals. I regret that Monte did not have the satisfaction of seeing the Second Edition of this book in print. Those of us who knew Monte and loved him, however, can find some consolation in the in the knowledge that a generation yet unborn may benefit from his writings and the example of his life.

By Mrkar Melkonyan

 

 

Nagorno-Karabakh Republic / Public Affairs Office
September 1999

On September 2, the Nagorno Karabagh Republic celebrated its 8th anniversary. Since early morning and throughout that day tens of thousands of people visited the Stepanakert memorial complex for those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the country, as well as the many memorials in the regions of NKR. The NKR President Arkady Ghoukasian decreed to award the title of "Hero of Artsakh" and the Order of Golden Eagle to Monte Melkonian (posthumously), the President of Armenia Robert Kocharian, and Defense Minister of Nagorno Karabagh Seyran Ohanian for their contribution to defense of the Karabagh people.