Karekin Njdeh: A Biographical Sketch

Karekin Njdeh in Goris in 1921

Karekin Njdeh in Goris in 1921


Karekin Njdeh is one of the most admired figures in Armenian history. His name epitomizes an unwavering commitment to the cause of justice for our people and an uncompromising struggle against our enemies. Njdeh’s heroic resistance against the combined Turkish, Azeri, and Bolshevik forces in Zangezur has earned him the love and the gratitude of the Armenian nation, and enabled the existence of the modern-day independent Armenia – something that would have been impossible without the backbone of the country, the region of Syunik. Despite this, few young people, especially in the Diaspora, have a good understanding of Njdeh’s role in our history and his many contributions to our people. Though it is impossible to paint a full portrait of a figure of this magnitude in this brief article, I will try to present to the reader some of the most important and interesting details from Njdeh’s biography and shed light on the work and the legacy of this talented statesman, diplomat, writer, orator, philosopher, military commander, and, quite simply, one of the greatest Armenians in history.

Karekin Ter-Harutyunyan (‘ Njdeh’) was born in the village of Kznut in the province of Nakhichevan on January 1, 1886, in the family of the local priest, Yeghish, whose ancestors hailed from Salmast, a region in northern Iran that was also home to the great Armenian writer, Raffi.[1] Having lost his father at the age of two, Karekin – the youngest of family’s four children– received his primary education in Russian schools in Nakhichevan and Tiflis, and briefly studied law in St. Petersburg.[2] In 1906, under the patronage of Rostom (Stepan Zorian), one of the founders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, Dashnaktsutyun), he enrolled in a military academy in Bulgaria.[3] While pursuing his studies, Karekin began to write poetry under the pen name ‘ Njdeh,’ (‘pilgrim,’ ‘emigrant’), which also became his nom de guerre in later years. In exchange for the training at the academy, the young revolutionary was required to commit himself to the ARF for five years. Upon graduation (1907), Njdeh was sent by the party to participate in the Persian Revolution (1906 – 1908). He arrived in northern Iran in November of 1907, and in the capacity of an assistant to an influential ARF activist, Samson Tadevosyan, helped protect the Armenian villages from attacks by Kurdish bands. Njdeh was also delegated the task of smuggling weapons across the border from the Russian Empire, an endeavor, which landed him in the hands of the tsarist secret police. He was arrested during a visit to his brother’s house in the village of Verin Aza in Nakhichevan on September 6, 1908.[4]

Karekin Njdeh

Karekin Njdeh

Njdeh spent the next three-and-a-half years in various prisons across Russia and the Caucasus on the charges of being a member of an illegal organization, Dashnaktsutyun.[5] He was one of 163 ARF activists who were arrested by the tsarist police on similar suspicions. From his fellow inmates, we learn about Njdeh’s conduct in the Russian jail. For instance, he insisted on sharing the food brought by his mother, Tiruhi Gyulnazaryan (d. 1938), and the stipend allotted to him by the government with five other inmates.[6] It was during his time in prison that the famous song, ‘Arazi Ap’in Tsnats Ênker,’ was dedicated to Njdeh by his admirers. In the early months of 1912, the court exonerated the young revolutionary, and Njdeh left for Bulgaria in order to join the liberation movement of the Balkan people against Turkish occupation.

By the time Njdeh arrived in Bulgaria, a number of local Armenians under the leadership of General Andranik had appealed to the country’s government seeking permission to form Armenian volunteer units and join the struggle of the Bulgarian people against Turkish invaders. When that permission was granted, Njdeh joined forces with Andranik and worked tirelessly to organize the Armenian volunteer corps, which fought alongside Bulgarian nationalists during the First Balkan War (1912 – 1913). Having earned a military rank in the Bulgarian army during his first stay in the country (1906 – 1907), Njdeh was appointed as the commander of the Armenian unit, which, at its peak, consisted of 275 soldiers of Armenian descent.[7] The two Armenian heroes played a key role in some of the most dangerous battles of the war and demonstrated courage and dedication to the cause of the Slavic people, which earned them the admiration of the Bulgarians and an Order of Bravery from their government. After the Armenian unit was disbanded (May, 1913), Njdeh received approval from Russian authorities to go back to the Caucasus. He returned in October of 1914, carrying with him an image of the great French emperor and dreaming about becoming the Napoleon of the Armenians.[8]

Njdeh’s opportunity to shine arrived very soon. As the Great War raged on the Caucasus front, he joined the national liberation efforts (October 13, 1914) and fought the Turks throughout Western Armenia (1915), first as the Deputy Commander of the Armenian volunteer units and beginning in April of the same year, as a chief officer in the armies of Dro, Keri, Vardan, Smbat, and Hamazasp.[9],[10] Despite the resistance of the Russian military leadership and its outright betrayal of the Armenians, the volunteers managed to liberate Van (June 5, 1915); however, they soon had to retreat in accordance with the orders from the Russian military command (July 16, 1915). During this retreat, Njdeh, in cooperation with other fedayis and fighters, organized the transfer of Western Armenian refugees from Shatakh and Moks into safety in Eastern Armenia. Njdeh was awarded the medals of St. Vladimir and St. Anna for exceptional bravery displayed during the battles of Berkiri and Sheikh Kara (May, 1915).[11] By September of 1916, all Armenian volunteer units had been disbanded by the order of the Russian government.[12]

After the February Revolution in Russia (1917) and the power vacuum that ensued in the Caucasus, the Armenian National Congress (ANC) was summoned by Russian Armenians to govern the affairs of the Armenian-populated areas of the region.[13] The ARF became the dominant force in the Congress, and Njdeh was elected to the Executive Council of the ANC in Alexandorpol.[14] The time he spent in Gyumri (April – July, 1917) was very productive. Njdeh helped organize local self-government, provided moral and educational support to Genocide survivors, trained the volunteer militia, and toured the city, giving lectures and inspirational speeches.[15] As the retreating Russian soldiers plundered Alexandropol, Njdeh organized an attack on their positions, took control of the city fortress, and distributed the seized arsenal to Armenian fighters, who were effectively left behind as the only real force countering the Turkish onslaught.[16] In the summer of 1917, Njdeh traveled to Javakhk and headed the training of the volunteer self-defense units of Akhalkalak.[17] During this difficult period, he also found time to write: his first book, the 21-page “Pantheon of Dashnaktstutyun”, containing brief biographies of revered freedom fighters, was published at the end of 1917 in Gyumri.[18] In the early months of 1918, as a commander and a participant of numerous battles around Ani (Alaja battles), he helped transfer the treasures found by Nicholas Marr’s team during the excavations in the medieval Armenian capital to safety in Yerevan.[19]

Njdeh’s most important contribution during these years, however, was the key role he played in the Battle of Karakilisa (May 24 – 27, 1918). On the eve of the May battles, panic among the soldiers and the population in the Araratian valley was widespread, and many were expecting terrible massacres after the very likely Turkish victory. Over the course of the preceding two months, Yerznka, Kars, and Alexandropol had fallen to the genocidal Turkish armies, and it seemed that the capture of the rest of Eastern Armenia and the subsequent extermination of the remnants of the Armenian population was simply a matter of time. Nobody seemed to want to fight, and even the head of the Armenian armies, General Nazarbekyan, had fallen into despair after the fall of Alexandropol. When Njdeh, who was effectively in charge of the Karakilisa front, asked him for instructions, Nazarbekyan replied: ‘I have no army; do what you can.’[20]

Njdeh’s main objective was to prevent the Turkish forces, which were moving in three directions (Sardarabad, Aparan, and Karakilisa), from joining at Sardarabad. After the military victories of Dro (Aparan) and Peroomian/Silikian (Sardarabad) in the early days of the May battles (May 22 – 24), he was tasked by Aram Manukian with holding the enemy at Karakilisa for three days until the Armenians could counterattack.[21] Njdeh, who had been working tirelessly to organize local self-defense, gave a moving speech in the Dilijan church, inspiring the population and the soldiers to stand up to the enemy. Though the Armenian fighters were facing a better equipped and more numerous Turkish armies (6,000 Armenian vs. 10,000 Turks), they emaciated the enemy to the point where no further advancement was feasible.[22] Njdeh’s units held the Karakilisa front long enough for Armenians to regroup, thus stopping the unification of the Turkish forces in the Araratian valley and their planned blitzkrieg to Tiflis. This, in turn, allowed for the final victory under Sardarabad (May 26 -28) and prevented the destruction of the Armenian people. There are multiple testimonies attesting to the fact that Njdeh played a decisive role in the effort that changed both the mood in Karakilisa and the outcome of the May battles in favor of the Armenians.[23] It is difficult to disagree with Njdeh’s own assessment of these events, found in his Autobiography: ‘without Karakilisa, there would be no Armenia or Armenians in the Caucasus.’[24] Vehib Pasha, one of the commanders of the Turkish forces, later wrote the following lines about the Battle of Karakilisa: ‘[This] was an exceptional battle in the war. At Karakilisa, the Armenians proved that they can be the best fighters in the world.’[25]­,[26] Njdeh was wounded during the battle and awarded a Medal of Bravery by the Armenian government.[27]

The existential issues facing the newly-born Armenian Republic (May 28, 1918 – December 2, 1920) did not disappear after the May victories. The country was plagued with deadly epidemics, economic collapse, thousands of refugees, and restless minorities. In particular, the Tatars, who made up about 40% of the population of Armenia, were inspired by Turkey and Azerbaijan to rebel against the government, proclaim independent shuras and massacre Armenian civilians.[28] During the next year, Njdeh was involved in putting down these rebellions and extending government control over various areas of Eastern Armenia (Ararat, Vedi, Garni, Avshar, Yeghegnavan), mostly as the commander of the Garnibasar military battalion (March – August, 1919).[29] In appreciation for his services, the government of Armenia elevated him to the rank of a Captain in August of 1919.[30] In August/September of the same year, he was tasked by the government to head the struggle of the population of Goghtan (S. Nakhichevan) against an Azeri-induced occupation and starvation campaign.[31] On his way to Nakhichevan, Njdeh stopped in Syunik and was asked by the locals to remain there and help protect the region against the constant attacks of armed Azeri invaders. Njdeh agreed. The two years that he spent in Zangezur, heading the local resistance movement, proved to be defining both for his life and the history of modern Armenia.

After the establishment of Azerbaijan (May 1918), the combined Tatar-Turkic bands attacked the south of Armenia (Summer 1919), aiming to gain control over Nakhichevan, Artsakh, and Zangezur, create a land bridge between the two Turkic states, and thus completely envelop Armenia.[32] Inspired by the 18th century heroic struggle of Davit Bek against Persian and Turkish invaders in Zangezur, Njdeh, who arrived in the region in September of 1919, began the formation of the Syunik self-defense units (October 1919). These units, which came to be known as davitbekyan ukhter, were trained and ready in time to meet the Musavatist Azeri forces, invading the region from the north and the east.[33] Njdeh organized and led the local population and even managed to provide support to the fighters in Artsakh (assisting Dro’s forces by attacking Dizak and liberating the region) and Nakhichevan, where he initiated the famous passage to Goghtan, one of the most daring military operations in the history of the First Republic, which saved the population of dozens of Armenian villages from starvation and massacres (March 9 – 21, 1920).[34]

Preparing for a long-term partisan war in Zangezur, Njdeh ordered the villages to dig trenches, and men, women, and children across Syunik participated in these efforts. To inspire the population, he established fortresses throughout the region, naming them after revered revolutionary figures.[35] One of Njdeh’s many contributions to the campaign was the creation of the analog of the ‘barrel bombs’ filled with explosives and shrapnel that were dropped down from the positions of Syunik defenders in the mountains on the aggressors underneath.[36] These had a devastating effect on the enemy. Throughout the campaign, Njdeh’s charismatic persona, brilliant oratory, and skilled leadership inspired the Armenian population to fight and instilled in them love and admiration for their leader. Though a detailed account of all events of this period is beyond the scope of this article, the fact is that the Azeris found themselves in retreat wherever his presence was felt. In appreciation for his efforts, Njdeh was promoted from the rank of a Captain to that of a General in a four-month period (February – May, 1920), an unprecedented event in the history of the First Republic and a rare occurrence in military practice.[37],[38]

The government in Baku, understanding the possibility of defeat, took decisive actions on the diplomatic front and, with the blessing of the Turkish Kemalists, aligned itself with the regime in Moscow. In exchange for the sovietization of Azerbaijan (April-May, 1920), the Bolsheviks promised to incorporate Nakhichevan, Artsakh, and Zangezur into the Tatar republic.[39] After the Armenian government, under pressure from the Soviets, ordered Dro to abandon Artsakh (May, 1920), the combined Bolshevik-Azeri bands invaded Zangezur (July 5, 1920) and occupied Goris (July, 1920).[40],[41] The Soviet regime used the false pretense of ‘preventing Azeri-Armenian clashes’ as an excuse for this aggression. On August 10, 1920, the Yerevan government was forced to acknowledge the three regions as ‘disputed territories’ and yield control over them to the Bolsheviks.[42] Njdeh did not accept that decision and refused to obey Defense Minister Ruben Ter Minassian’s order to leave Syunik.[43] Instead, having assumed the title of the Sparapet in a ceremony at the Kavart village church (August 25, 1920), he headed the struggle to compel the Bolsheviks to recognize Syunik as an inalienable part of Armenia.[44]

In the meantime, the Azeri-Bolshevik hordes were advancing toward Zangezur, engaging in a campaign of extermination and pillage of the population. Having reached an agreement with Moscow to divide Armenia, Turkey declared war on the country on September 23, 1920, and sent its 8th Army (totaling 1,200 men) headed by Javal Pasha to assist its allies.[45] The cruelty of the invaders was so astonishing that Njdeh compared their actions to those of the Young Turks. For instance, during its retreat from Goris, the enemy axed hundreds of ‘prisoners’ and subjected the population, including children and elderly, to rape, torture, and mass murder. [46] The looting that accompanied the killings was complete and unrestrained. After cattle, jewelry, furniture, carpets, and grain were taken, the Azeris stooped as low as to force more than 200 people in Goris to take off their shoes, which were also confiscated and sent to Baku.[47] This was a continuation of the centuries-old Turkic tradition of self-enrichment through killing the Armenians and plundering their property. Despite this, the movement of the enemy met little resistance, which was mostly due to the treacherous propaganda of Armenian communists, who worked hard to convince the locals that surrendering to the Soviets and their Azeri allies would bring peace and prosperity. Having occupied Kapan (September, 1920), the Bolsheviks presented Njdeh with an ultimatum: to concede Syunik and allow the unification of Nakhichevan with Azerbaijan, or face the combined Bolshevik-Azeri armies.

Njdeh, who had established himself on the slopes of Mount Khustup, responded by counterattacking the enemy and liberating Kapan, Sisian (October 9 – 14), and Goris (Battle of Yerablur, November 22).[48] Defeated and humiliated, the Azeris promised three million rubles to anyone who would kill the Azhdaha Pasha.[49],[50] During this campaign, Njdeh’s forces destroyed the 11th Soviet Army, killing over 12,000 Azeri-Bolshevik troops and taking more than 4,000 prisoners of war.[51] Njdeh lost only 28 men in the two-year struggle against the aggressors.[52] When he victoriously entered Goris, the soldiers presented their General with a gift that he cherished for the rest of his life – the gilded sword of Javal Pasha, the head of the infamous Turkish 8th Army, who was captured and killed by Njdeh’s forces after the Yerablur battle.[53]

While in Goris, Njdeh also penned one of his most famous works, the Calls of Khustup (1921).[54] Written in his succinct style, the book contained encouraging messages to the people of Syunik, calling on them to fight the enemy until the victorious end. These writings were quite effective in countering the destructive Bolshevik propaganda, which aimed at killing the morale among the fighters and encouraging desertions from the army of Syunik. Njdeh’s time in Goris was also the beginning of his career as a prolific writer: by the end of his life, the General had authored a number of books and a few dozen pamphlets, essays, and articles most of which were written during his exile in Bulgaria and his eleven year stay in Soviet prisons. Both these works and the letters (personal and political) that have reached us are characterized by impressive penmanship, structured composition, and rich vocabulary. Writing was indeed one of Njdeh’s greatest talents.

With the demise of the Republic of Armenia and its occupation by the Bolsheviks (December 2, 1920), the First All-Zangezur Conference, held in Tatev on December 25 – 27, declared self-rule for Syunik, adopted a constitution, and appointed Njdeh as Sparapet.[55] Syunik became an island of democracy in a region that was controlled by warlords and dictators, ruling vast empires from their seats in Moscow, Ankara, Tehran, and Beijing.[56] Despite being granted nearly unlimited authority, Njdeh respected individual freedoms, honored property rights, and did not engage in abuse of power under the pretext of war. He was able to lead because he had the support and the love of the people, who never doubted their commander’s commitment to them and the cause of justice.[57] Throughout this time, the General rejected various Soviet offers to surrender Syunik and worked tirelessly to lift the spirits of the population in anticipation of an extensive conflict with Azeri-Bolshevik aggressors.

Intimidated by Njdeh’s resilience and his successful counterattack in October – November of 1920, the Soviets agreed to negotiate in order to win time to regroup and fight back. However, the brutal murder of many Armenian freedom fighters, the continuous plunder of the country’s population, and the persecution of the intelligentsia and the military leadership by the Bolsheviks, convinced Njdeh to reject the Soviet offer to surrender Syunik (January 25, 1921) and to advance further to save the Armenian people from the repressive Bolshevik regime.[58] In February of 1921, the Zangezur forces liberated Vayots Dzor and by March, gained control over most of Artsakh.[59] On April 26, the autonomous Republic of Mountainous Armenia (Lernahayastan), encompassing a territory of 15,000 sq km, was proclaimed in the areas liberated from the Bolshevik-Tatar occupation.[60]

The events in Syunik, combined with unbearable living conditions in Soviet Armenia, inspired the February Revolt (1921), which was spearheaded by the ARF and served as one of very few instances of successful toppling of Bolshevik occupation among the territories under Soviet control. Though the rebellion was put down (April 2, 1921), the Bolsheviks adopted a more conciliatory stance toward Armenians and appointed more tolerant communists to leadership positions in Armenia.[61] The regime in Yerevan then began negotiations with Njdeh, but once again, the talks were broken off and punitive military operations were launched in Vayots Dzor and Syunik. Njdeh counterattacked in June, but in order to avoid further bloodshed, he sent a letter to the Soviet Armenian leadership, agreeing to stop his campaign if the Bolsheviks agreed to his main conditions (along with a number of secondary ones): to incorporate Syunik into Armenia and prevent Tatar resettlement in the area. Upon tacit Soviet acceptance of these terms, Njdeh crossed the Arax River and left for Persia on July 12, 1921.[62] He remained near the border village of Muzhambar for some time, threatening to return if the Soviets refused to honor their commitments. When the Sparapet became convinced that Syunik would remain Armenian, he began his journey to Tabriz, leaving behind his beloved mountains and his resilient people.

The liberation struggle in Syunik is one of the finest examples of military prowess in Armenian history. Syunik-Zangezur was the only area in the former USSR where the Bolsheviks were defeated, and that defeat was inflicted on them by a far smaller military force that had neither the training nor the weaponry available to the Soviets. To imagine the scale of the Armenian victory, it is sufficient to say that at any given time, the 9,000 to 12,000 Soviet-Azeri forces were facing a maximum of 700 soldiers of Njdeh, who were cut off from the rest of the country and the outside world.[63] In many areas, the Armenian heroes fought and defeated Bolshevik-Tatar bands that exceeded their numbers 50 to 100 times.[64] While the Soviets and the Azeris had a nearly inexhaustible source of reinforcements, Syunik, with its population of 60,000 people, could not match the manpower or the resources of the aggressors.[65] It is also important to note that throughout the campaign in Zangezur, Njdeh never authorized any killings or torture of Bolsheviks, as was claimed by the Soviet propaganda. All executions took place in accordance with the decisions of a military tribunal, which consisted of locals and operated independently of Njdeh.[66] Not only did the General beat the Bolsheviks through his unmatched leadership and organizational skill, but he also held the higher moral ground, refusing to employ brutal tactics that the Soviets were not shy to use against both his soldiers and the peaceful population. The campaign in Lernahaystan, which ensured the incorporation of Syunik into Armenia, is worthy of inclusion in world history books as an example of a genius military operation comparable to the ones conducted by Napoleon and Julius Caesar.

During Njdeh’s stay in Persia (July – November, 1921), the local ARF Supreme Judicial Body conducted an investigation into the events surrounding the incorporation of Lernahayastan into the Soviet domain. In his publications, Njdeh mentioned that these proceedings were largely orchestrated by Ruben Ter-Minassian, former Defense Minister of Armenia, who had a long-standing feud with the Sparapet of Syunik.[67] Of course, Ruben’s attempt to undermine Njdeh’s heroic struggle in Zangezur is ironic, especially given his own responsibility for the shameful surrender of Kars to the Turks in October of 1920.[68] The rift between the two former colleagues was exacerbated by the fact that Njdeh blamed Ruben for not providing proper assistance to Lernahayastan and purposefully delaying his efforts to liberate Vayots Dzor. In either case, at the end of September, 1921, the mentioned body recommended Njdeh’s expulsion from the ARF on the grounds that he had played a major role in the collapse of Lernahayastan. This decision was reversed by the ARF 10th Congress held in Vienna in 1925.[69]

Njdeh himself attributed the fall of Lernahayastan to the following factors: 1) the communist propaganda aimed at the local population; 2) the defeatist (and contagious) attitude of the thousands of refugees who fled Armenia after the Soviet occupation; and 3) the exhaustion of arms, supplies, and food in Lernahayastan, surrounded by the enemy and cut off from the outside world.[70] It is important to point out that despite the shameful investigation in Persia, Njdeh remained a loyal Dashnaktsakan, who respected the party, believed in its mission, and served it with courage and dedication. During the internal crisis that followed the collapse of the Armenian Republic, Njdeh strongly believed that the party leadership should be held accountable for its failures and mistakes, but maintained that the ARF could regain its positions by implementing structural reform, democratizing the leadership selection process, and upholding the bylaws of the organization.[71] He held that position and worked within the ranks of the ARF until his final break with the party in 1937.[72] After his resignation, Njdeh expressed willingness to cooperate with Dashnaktsytun on important national issues and even penned a letter to the ARF Bureau during World War II, offering his services to the organization.[73]

One of Njdeh’s main concerns after his departure from Persia (November, 1921) was the fate of the Armenian youth in the Diaspora, and his contributions in this area are also noteworthy. By the 1920’s, assimilation among the Diasporan communities was becoming a real issue, and there was no coordinated effort to deal with that problem. While traveling to Bulgaria and during his stay in that country (beginning in 1922), Njdeh authored a number of books, including the famous Struggle of Sons against their Fathers (1927), aimed at awakening and strengthening the spirit of young Armenians living in foreign lands.[74] During the ARF 12th Congress in Paris (1932), Njdeh proposed to organize the Diasporan youth on a non-partisan basis. The Congress agreed with his suggestions and sent him to the United States to carry out the task. On January 14, 1933, the AYF Tseghakron movement was established, although under the influence of the local ARF leadership, the requirement that it be non-partisan was later dropped.[75] The purpose of Tseghakron was to promote national awakening, fight against assimilation, resist Turkish-Bolshevik propaganda, and reclaim the rights of the Armenian people.[76] During the next year, Njdeh traveled around the US, establishing new chapters and giving inspirational speeches that motivated the youth to join the movement.[77] In July of 1941, the organization dropped the name ‘Tseghakron’ to prevent any speculation within the American society over its connection to fascism, and it has since been known as the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF). Despite this, Karekin Njdeh can be said to be the ideological father and founder of the AYF.[78]

Njdeh at the founding of the Armenian Youth Federation (Tseghakron) in Boston in 1933

Njdeh at the founding of the Armenian Youth Federation (Tseghakron) in Boston in 1933

Of course, any attempt to link the Tseghakron movement to fascism is ludicrous.[79] Njdeh clearly stated that ‘Tseghakronutyun is a purely Armenian concept. It has no connection to any other [foreign] ideologies.’[80] In the late 1930’s, feeling the necessity to prepare the nation for the existential threats that were arising from the German-Soviet rivalry, he, in cooperation with a longtime friend, Haik Assatrian,[81] founded the Taronakan movement (1937-38), which drew inspiration from the ideological underpinnings governing the self-defense movement of the Armenian people under the Mamikonians during the 4th – 5th centuries.[82] Njdeh considered Taronakanutyun to be ‘the eternal weapon of our tribe, the spirit of Armenianness’ that would give our people the ability to resist external pressures and maintain our identity.[83] It should be pointed out that Njdeh was not an atheist who aimed to establish a new religion (nation-religion), as some claim.[84] His acceptance of Christianity and the respect for the persona of Jesus Christ are well-documented and can be found throughout his writings. Njdeh’s goal was to resurrect and enhance the Christian-centered Mamikonian ideas on national preservation and self-defense, which he successfully accomplished during his struggle in Syunik and his later work in Bulgaria and the United States.[85] As historian Lendrush Khurshdyan correctly points out, after Movses Khorenatsi and Nicholas Adontz, the largest contribution in the establishment of the foundations of the Armenian national ideology was made by Karekin Njdeh.[86]

The 1930’s also saw the implementation of the most controversial endeavor in Njdeh’s biography, which has also contributed to the myths linking Tseghakronutyun-Taronakanutyun to fascism – his cooperation with Nazi Germany. This cooperation, however, was prompted by the General’s concern that a German victory in the war, which seemed very likely in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, would result in a second Genocide of the Armenians – a plausible scenario, given the extensive anti-Armenian propaganda in the German press, labeling the Armenians as Semitic people (similar to the Jews) subject to extermination.[87] This propaganda was largely promoted and supported by the Turkish diplomacy.[88] Germany had signed a friendship treaty with Turkey in 1941, and the latter had concentrated 26 divisions of soldiers on the Turkish-Soviet border, preparing to launch an attack against the USSR, when the circumstances became favorable.[89] Hence, given the close relations between Ankara and Berlin, it was obvious that a German victory in the war would be catastrophic for the Armenians.

In order to be able to influence Nazi policy, Njdeh aligned himself with Germany and offered his services in exchange for putting an end to the anti-Armenian campaign in the German press.[90] In cooperation with Armenian intellectuals, he presented evidence proving the Armenian people’s Indo-European (Aryan) origins, and recruited Turkish Armenians, who were familiar with the geography of the Marmara Sea coast, to help the Germans in case of a war with Turkey. A quintessential diplomat, Njdeh wanted to make sure that regardless of the turn of events, he could either guarantee the security of Armenia in case of a possible Turkish invasion of the Caucasus or liberate Western Armenia if Germany attacked Turkey. In addition, through his ties with the Germans, he advocated for the release of more than 20,000 Armenian prisoners of war, who would have perished if not for the efforts of the General.[91] As always, Njdeh’s main concern was the safety of the Armenian people and the advancement of its interests, and his cooperation with the Nazis was a calculated step aimed at achieving those goals. When Hitler’s armies began to lose (Stalingrad, 1943) and the Turkish-Nazi threat to the Armenians disappeared, Njdeh ended his collaboration with Germany.[92]

As the Soviet forces advanced westward, there was excitement among the Armenians over the newly-opened prospect of regaining some of the occupied Armenian lands, specifically, the regions of Kars and Ardahan, from Turkey, a country, which despite its official neutrality, was known for sympathizing with the Nazis during the war. Various intellectuals and government officials in Soviet Armenia appealed to Joseph Stalin with requests to restore the rights of the Armenian nation.[93] Similar appeals came from Diasporan organizations, which also sent letters to other Allied leaders and the newly-formed United Nations.[94] Toward the end of the war, the Soviet dictator himself intended to push the border in the Caucasus back to the 1914 line, and it seemed that the events were working out in favor of the Armenians. As the Soviet Army entered Bulgaria (September 8, 1944), Njdeh wrote to the commander of the Third Ukrainian Front, Fyodor Tolbukhin, making himself available to the USSR in case of a possible attack against Turkey, repeating the same thing he had done 30 years earlier when he offered his services to the tsarist regime in hopes of liberating Western Armenia.[95] Njdeh knew that the Soviets were not going to be kind to him, but risked imprisonment (and possible death) in order to gain Moscow’s help in the effort to liberate Turkish-occupied Armenian territories.[96]

The Soviets seemed to be interested in Njdeh’s proposal and even asked him to visit Moscow to discuss its details. However, on October 10, 1944, the General was arrested in his home in Sofia on false charges of assassinating Bolshevik soldiers during the Syunik campaign and preparing to fight against the Soviet Union on the side of Nazi Germany.[97],[98] Njdeh was then transported to the USSR, where he was questioned and tortured in various KGB prisons. In October of 1946, the General was transferred to Yerevan while the Soviets continued to refuse to allow him to write to his family, deprived him of medical care, and spread false news of his death among the population.[99] Despite this, it seems that the real purpose of his transfer (along with that of many other Armenian activists) was to have him available in Armenia proper in the case of a war against the Turks. In fact, while in prison, Njdeh was asked by the KGB to draft a proposal on conducting military operations against Turkey.[100] Unfortunately, the reality of Cold War geopolitics and a renewed wave of Soviet-Turkish cooperation put off the resolution of the Armenian Question. On May 30, 1953, the Soviet Foreign Ministry announced that the Armenian and Georgian SSR have ‘rescinded their territorial claims against Turkey for the sake of preservation of good neighborly relations and strengthening of peace and security between the USSR and Turkey.’[101] Once again, Njdeh’s and the Armenian people’s dream of a united homeland was sacrificed on the altar of Russian-Turkish friendship.

Karekin Njdeh spent the last 11 years of his life (1944 – 1955) in various prisons across the Soviet Union, splitting his time between Moscow (1944 – 46), Yerevan (1946 – 48, 1952 – 53), and Vladimir (1948 – 52, 1953 – 55), with a brief interlude in Tashkent (September 1954 – September 1955).[102] It was a case of tragic irony that his 25-year prison sentence was announced on April 24, 1948; the verdict was rendered by a ‘special court’ in Moscow, which Njdeh never faced because he was being kept in a jail in Yerevan.[103] During the first ten years of imprisonment, he was not allowed to write to his relatives and was kept in the dark about the fate of his family.[104] As mentioned, Njdeh was also subjected to torture, both physical and psychological. He was exclusively questioned at nights, and when he was not being interrogated, the prison guards made sure to deprive him of sleep by asking whether he was awake every five minutes. Another form of punishment was preventing him from writing: the guards would often take away his glasses and refuse to provide him with paper and writing implements. On multiple occasions, Njdeh was threatened to have his tongue cut off and was told that both he and his family would be killed if he did not cooperate with the authorities. [105] Despite this, the General never accepted the charges brought against him and refused to acknowledge his guilt. Upon reviewing Njdeh’s criminal case, the office of the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Armenia did what the Armenian people had done decades before: it exonerated the Sparapet (March 30, 1992) and acknowledged his dedication to the cause of justice for his people.[106]

 Even though the information that has reached us about Njdeh’s family is scant, it is fair to say that his personal life was as turbulent as his career. Njdeh’s first marriage was to Gohar Dadayan (d. 1975), a daughter of a Dashnak mine owner, Poghos Melik-Dadayan. From this marriage, the General had a daughter, Lilya, who was born in 1919 and whom Njdeh never saw. When he left for Syunik (August/September 1919), Gohar did not join him. According to Njdeh’s granddaughter, Goharine Trdatyan, her grandmother (Gohar) stayed behind under pressure from her brothers, who were not fond of Njdeh and disagreed with his stance on various political and party issues.[107] During the Soviet period, Njdeh’s wife and her brothers were frequently questioned by the KGB, and the family lived under the permanent threat of being deported to Siberia. Gohar Dadayan was told that her husband had abandoned her, had become very wealthy and did not want to have anything to do with his family.[108] She rarely mentioned Njdeh’s name to Lilya and was forced to marry a man named Ashot Alaverdyan.[109] None of the 11 letters Njdeh wrote to his wife from Vladimir ever reached her. The only correspondence available to us are the letters exchanged between Njdeh and his daughter, Lilya, in 1955, during General’s last days, when he was allowed to communicate with his family. Some sources say that Njdeh saw his granddaughter while in Yerevan shortly before his death, but that information remains unconfirmed.

Njdeh met his second wife, Epimé Sukiassian (1902 – 1958), a daughter of a wealthy Armenian jeweler Sukias Sukiassian, during the Bulgarian campaign of 1913. Sukiassian provided financial assistance to the young revolutionary and supported him while he fought alongside General Andranik (1913). Njdeh and Epimé became engaged the same year.[110] They reconnected again in 1922, when Njdeh arrived in Sofia from Persia. Their marriage, however, did not take place until much later, in 1935, after General’s return from the United States. [111] From this marriage, Njdeh had a son, Sukias-Vrezh (1936 – 1997). After Njdeh’s arrest, Epimé, her mother, and Sukias-Vrezh were exiled to the city of Pavlikeni in northern Bulgaria (Spring, 1945). All of their moveable property was confiscated, and Epimé was later forced to sell the apartment in Sofia to take care of family’s basic needs. The Soviet and Bulgarian authorities forbade any communication between Epimé and Njdeh, and it was not until 1955 that the General was able to send his first letter to the family in Bulgaria. Epimé died in Sofia on February 24, 1958. Sukias-Vrezh was consistently denied employment during the Communist era, was shunned by the local Armenian community, and lived a difficult life until his death in the Bulgarian capital in 1997. [112]

 Despite the many challenges he faced, Njdeh never wavered in his commitment to his ideals and did not lose his moral compass. His prison guards from Yerevan and Vladimir attested to the facts that Njdeh did not curse, never lost his temper, and spent most of his time in prison reading or writing.[113] When he did not have the opportunity to do that, the General kept silent and showed no emotion. Njdeh’s stoicism was also manifested in his refusal to complain about his multiple ailments, which he endured with courage and patience. His mental and physical strength were so great that he survived eleven years of Soviet prison conditions that could have killed a healthy person within a few months. Of course, his principled nature and his selfless devotion to his nation were well-known even before his prison sentence. Throughout his life, the Sparapet had virtually no possessions (besides the few gifts received from his solders), lived an ascetic lifestyle, and sacrificed his health and personal happiness for the sake of his people. Njdeh’s life was dedicated to his country and he became a martyr for his people. In acknowledgement of his sacrifices and sufferings, the grateful sons and daughters of the Armenian nation organized a campaign (December 2005 – July 2006), appealing to the Armenian Apostolic Church to canonize Karekin Njdeh as a martyred saint.[114]

During the course of his entire prison term, Njdeh was promised amnesty if he agreed to write a letter to the government requesting a pardon. The General continuously declined to do so, stating that he had done nothing wrong and that all of his efforts were directed at helping his people.[115] His health continued to decline, however, and when Njdeh was finally allowed to see a doctor, it became clear that, given the plethora of illnesses plaguing him, he was not going to live for too long. During the last year of his life, the Soviet authorities gave Njdeh permission to write his first letter to his family (May, 1954), and even allowed his brother, Levon, to visit him in the Tashkent prison (May, 1955). While in Yerevan (1952 – 1953), Njdeh was taken on a car ride of the city, during which he asked to take some soil with him, so it could remind him of his Homeland in the far-away Russian prison.[116] Upon his return to Vladimir, the great Armenian hero succumbed to illness and died in his cell on December 21, 1955.

Since Soviet authorities refused to allow the transfer of Njdeh’s body to Armenia, he was interred at a cemetery in Vladimir. His brother, Levon, periodically sent money to a local Russian woman who took care of the great hero’s grave. In August of 1983, the husband of Njdeh’s granddaughter, Pavel Ananian, in cooperation with an intellectual Varag Arakelyan, secretly brought his remains to Armenia and buried parts of his right hand at the footsteps of Mount Khustup (October 7, 1983) and interred the rest of the body in the Spitakavor Church in Vayotz Dzor (May 8, 1987).[117],[118] After Armenia became independent (September, 1991), at the behest of various intellectuals and public figures, Njdeh’s remains were reburied in Kapan (April 26, 2005), at the slopes of Mount Khustup, in accordance with Sparapet’s wishes.[119] On December 24, 2001, a monument was unveiled at his resting place in Kapan. The following epitaph was inscribed on the khachkar placed at the General’s grave in Spitakavor (June 17, 2001): ‘Here lies a man who served as a living sword.’[120]

Karekin Njdeh’s legacy is rich and diverse. He was the savior of Syunik, and a hero who defeated the armies of one of the world’s most powerful empires. He was an extraordinary orator, and a writer who enriched the Armenian language through both passionate and beautiful speeches and the invention of dozens of new words. He was a courageous soldier, and a visionary leader, who epitomized patriotism and became a martyr for his people. He was a thinker and a philosopher, who left behind an ideology that can save a nation. Karekin Njdeh’s ideas remain as relevant today as they were during his life and they continue to inspire generations of Armenians, aiming to forge a better future for our people.


[1] Hambartzumian, Rafael. Karekin Njdeh: The Complete Biography («Գարեգին Նժդեհ. Ամբողջական Կենսագրություն»). Nakhichevan Publishing, Yerevan, 2007, p. 13

[2] Villari, Luigi. Fire and Sword in the Caucasus. Chapter VIII: Armenians, Tartars, and the Russian Government. London, T.F. Unwin, 1906. http://armenianhouse.org/villari/caucasus/armenians-tartars.html. Pp. 153,172. Accessed: December 2, 2015. Armenian schools were shut down by the Russian government in 1896 and did not

reopen until 1905.

[3] Arakelyan, Varag. Njdeh («Նժդեհ»). Edited and Published by Daniel Hakobyan. Yerevan, 1989, p. 9.

[4] Hambartzumian, Karekin, pp. 17 – 22

[5] Ibid, pp. 24 – 26, 28 – 29. Njdeh was kept in a prison in Jugha, Nakhichevan region (September 1908 – April 1909) until his transfer to a jail in the city of Nakhichevan (April 1909 – October 1910). He served the rest of his sentence in Rostov (starting October 1910), Novocherkassk, and St. Petersburg (no exact dates provided for the remaining locations). He remained in prison until February – March of 1912.

[6] Ibid, pp. 26 – 28, 31. A son of a priest, Njdeh was a member of the ‘aristocracy’ and received a pension from the government. The prison stories about Njdeh were shared by Martiros Abrahamian, a military officer from Garni and one of the five inmates mentioned.

[7] Ibid, p. 31. The Bulgarian law required that a commander of a unit be an officer in the Bulgarian army, and General Andranik did not meet that requirement. Thus, the position went to Njdeh.

[8] Ibid, p. 47. After the end of the war with the Turks (1913), the Balkan countries (Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria) began fighting each other in what came to be known as the Second Balkan War (June 29 – August 10, 1913). Since the Armenians refused to participate in this conflict, their unit was disbanded, and Njdeh left for the Caucasus.

[9] Hambartzumian, Rafael. Karekin Njdeh: Brief Biography, Quotes, and Conduct («Գարեգին Նժդեհ. Համառոտ Վարք, Ասույթներ և Կենսագրություն»). Nakhichevan Publishing, Yerevan, 2008, pp. 10 – 11

[10] Hambartzumian, Karekin, pp. 51 – 52.These units were commissioned (by the Russian military) in October, 1914, and were led by Andranik (1st Volunteer Unit), Dro (2nd), Hamazasp (3rd), and Keri (4th). In May of 1915, three more units were formed under the leadership of Vardan (5th), Janpoladian/Avsharian (6th), and Arghutian (7th).

[11] Ibid, p. 468. He was also elevated in his rank and became a Lieutenant of the Russian Army.

[12] Ibid, pp. 62 – 64

[13] Hovannisian, R. G. The Republic of Armenia, Volume I: The First Year (1918 – 1917). University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles. 1971, pp. 16 – 18

[14] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 69

[15] Hambartzumian, Karekin (Brief), p. 11

[16] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 72

[17] Hambartzumian, Karekin (Brief), p. 11

[18] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 73

[19] “Nikolai Marr and His Excavations at Ani.” www.virtualani.org/marr/index.htm. VirtualANI. 2002. Accessed: December 2, 2015. Nicholas Marr (1865 – 1934), a Georgian-born Russian-Soviet historian and linguist. Between 1904 and 1917, he undertook annual excavations of Ani, the capital of the Bagratuni Kingdom. With the help of Njdeh, about 6,000 precious items were transported from the Ani Museum to Yerevan by the head of the 13th (last) expedition, the Armenian archaeologist, Ashkharbek Kalantar (1884 – 1942). These treasures are now stored at the State Museum of National History in Yerevan. Everything that was left behind was subsequently looted by the Turks.

[20] Hambartzumian, Karekin, pp. 89 – 91, 96 – 97

[21] Ibid, p. 98 – 100. Captain Gurgen Ter-Movsesyan, local priest Komitas Sargrsyan and Bishop Mesrop Ter-Movsesyan also played an important role in the Battle of Karakilisa.

[22] Ibid, p. 104

[23] Ibid, pp. 80 – 82, 86, 98, 105 – 107, 119, 128, 130 – 132. Avetis Aharonyan, Hovannes Kachaznuni, various participants of the battle (Irazek, Vakhtang Ter-Harutyunyan, Artavazd Harutyunyan, Sergey Torosyan), and many others (including General Konstantin Bagratyan) attest to this.

[24] Hambartzumian, Karekin (Brief), p. 5

[25] Hambartzumian, Karekin, pp. 101, 106 – 108, 130 – 132. Even though Njdeh was not the head of the Armenian forces on the Karakilisa front (that position was given to General Bey-Mamikonyan), by all accounts, he played a key role in turning the tide of events on that direction.

[26] Ibid, p. 87

[27] Ibid, p. 77

[28] Ibid, p. 133

[29] Ibid, p. 141

[30] Ibid, p. 472

[31] Abrahamyan, H.B. “Karekin Njdeh in Syunik (August 1919 – July 1921).” («Գարեգին Նժդեհը Սյունիքում (1919թ. Օգոստոս – 1921թ. Հուլիս)»). Herald of Social Sciences, Yerevan, 1991. Issue 3, p. 1. http://lraber.asj-oa.am/3286/1/1991-3(3).pdf. Accessed: December 2, 2015. Njdeh was appointed by the government of Armenia as the regional ‘comissar’ of Nakhichevan on November 30, 1918, and later, assumed the role of the commander of the Armenian forces in Kapan and Goghtan (August, 1919). He was 32 years old at the time.

[32] Ibid, p. 1

[33]Hambartzumian, Karekin, pp. 148 – 151. These ‘Դավիթբեկյան Ուխտեր’also became the prototypes of the «Ցեղակրոն Ուխտեր», established later in Bulgaria and the US. Davit Bek (d. 1728) was an Armenian military commander, who headed the Syunik resistance movement against the Ottomans and the Safavids in the 18th century. The official initiation of the «Դավիթբեկյան Ուխտ» took place on August 25, 1920 in Kapan, where the soldiers took an oath ‘to remain faithful to the cause of liberation of the country, their commander General Njdeh, and fight until the last breath’ (Armenian version: «հավատարիմ մնալ հայրենի երկրի ազատության, իրենց հրամանատար Նժդեհին եւ կռվել մինչեւ վերջին շունչը»).

[34] Ibid, pp. 161 – 162, 176 – 183, 473. He had to return to Syunik in March due to the deteriorating situation there.

[35] Harutyunyan, Sarkis. “The Pillars of Armenian Ideology.” («Հայոց Գաղափարաբանության Հենասյուները»). Noravank Educational Foundation, Yerevan, 2005. P. 31. www.noravank.am/upload/pdf/68_am.pdf. Accessed: December 7, 2015.

[36] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 153. The author also discusses other defensive tools invented by Njdeh.

[37] Hambartzumian, Karekin (Brief), p. 22

[38] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 175, 474

[39] The terms “Soviet” and “Bolshevik” are used interchangeably throughout the article, even though the Soviet Union (USSR) was not formed until December 22, 1922, more than a year after the end of the liberation movement in Syunik. This is done to avoid excessive repetition of the word ‘Bolshevik,’ which is more appropriate to use when discussing the events of this period. The same interchangeability pertains to terms Tatar and Azeri, Zangezur and Syunik, Goghtan and Nakhichevan, Gyumri and Alexandropol (Author’s Note).

[40] Abrahamyan, “Karekin”, p. 5

[41] Hambartzumian, Karekin (Brief), p. 40

[42] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 195. The Bolsheviks had aligned themselves with Turkish Kemalists, agreeing to partition Armenia and create a land border between them. On August 10, Boris Legran (USSR) and Arshak Jamalyan (Armenia) signed a ceasefire agreement in Tiflis, in accordance with which Armenia conceded Artsakh, Zangezur, and Nakhichevan to the Soviets and their Azeri allies. Ironically, this agreement was signed on the same day as the Treaty of Sevres.

[43] Ibid, p. 195

[44] Arakelyan, Varag. Njdeh, p. 28

[45] Ibid, p. 26

[46] Abrahamyan, “Karekin,” pp. 7 – 9. It should be added that there were hundreds of similar acts throughout Syunik during this time, and these are just a few examples.

[47] Ibid, p. 8

[48] Hambartzumian, Karekin, pp. 209, 221

[49] Ibid, pg. 175. This was the nickname given to Njdeh by his Azeri foes. The Armenians, who had come to admire their fearless leader, called Njdeh ‘St. Karapet,’ ‘The Prince of Syunik,’ and the ‘Second Davit Bek.’

[50] Arakelyan, Njdeh, p. 8

[51] Ibid, p. 276. According to Abrahamyan, the Bolshevik losses totaled 15,000 deaths and 7,000 prisoners of war (Abrahamyan, “Karekin,” p. 13).

[52] Hambartzumian, Karekin (Brief), pg. 42

[53] Arakelyan, Njdeh, p. 33. Yerablur is located between Goris and Tatev. Njdeh’s victory in the battle in this area opened the road to Goris.

[54] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 476

[55] Ibid, p. 222. In ancient and medieval Armenia, the ‘sparapet’ was the commander of the country’s armed forces. In the 4th – 5th century, this hereditary title was held by the Mamikonyans (Author’s Note).

[56] Ibid, pp. 222 – 223

[57] Ibid, p. 213

[58] Abrahamyan, “Karekin,” p. 12

[59] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 236

[60] Ibid, p. 239. For comparison, the current Republic of Armenia, inclusive of Artsakh and the rest of the liberated territories, is a little over 41,000 sq km (Author’s Note).

[61] Ibid, p. 245

[62] Ibid, p. 273

[63] Ibid, pp. 211 – 212. There is still considerable debate regarding the numbers of Soviet troops consistently fighting in Syunik throughout the two-year liberation struggle. Ashot Melik Musyan, the head of the National Assembly of Goghtan put the number at 9,000 while former Prime Minister Simon Vratsyan mentions 12,000.

[64] Ibid, pg. 208

[65] Harutyunyan, ‘The Pillars’, p. 28

[66] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 345

[67] Njdeh, Karekin. “Betrayal or Provocation?” («Մատնությո՞ւն, թե՞ պրովոկացիա»). Source: Selected Works («Հատընտիր»). Written in Sofia, Bulgaria, 1938. Published by the Republican Party of Armenia. Amaras Publishing, Yerevan, 2006, pp. 676 – 679. www.hhk.am/files/library_pdfs/31.pdf. Accessed: December 2, 2015.

[68] This topic has been extensively studied by many Armenian historians. Consult Gevorg Yazdjyan’s “The Real Reasons Behind the Fall of Kars.” www.religions.am/files/1215/library/historic/H054.pdf (Author’s Note).

[69] Hambartzumian, Karekin, pp. 359 – 361. The judicial body’s decision had to be ratified by the Congress to become effective, but it was not, and Njdeh remained the member of the ARF.

[70] Ibid, p. 334, 341. Over 12,000 people, including 5,000 soldiers, arrived in Syunik after the fall of the Republic. This sizeable population influx created a lot of problems in the region and contributed to the fall of Lernahayastan.

[71] Ibid, p. 366

[72] Ibid, p. 368. Njdeh’s resignation from the ARF was also largely due to his disagreements with R. Ter-Minassian. See his article called «Մատնությո՞ւն, թե՞ պրովոկացիա», where Njdeh discusses this issue. The ARF Bureau made an attempt to reconcile the two (1937), but it came to nothing (Author’s Note).

[73] Ibid, p. 384

[74] Ibid, pp. 368 – 370. This book by Njdeh was also a response to an article written by R. Ter-Minassian (“The Armenian-Turkish Wrinkle” («Հայ-թուրքական Կնճիռը»), Cairo, 1924), where the latter advocated rapprochement with Turkey, a position unequivocally rejected by Njdeh (same source).

[75] Ibid, pp. 372 – 373. Njdeh arrived in the US in the summer of 1933 and participated in the First Convention of the organization, held in Boston on June 1-3, 1934. The new organization brought together 40 various youth groups across the country (same source).

[76] Arakelyan, Njdeh, pp. 57 – 60

[77] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 382. Njdeh left the US for Bulgaria on September 29, 1934.

[78] Ibid, pp. 374 – 375

[79] Hakobjanyan, Karen. “About Ter-Petrosyan, Pro-government PR, and Tseghakronutyun” («Տեր-Պետրոսյանի, իշխանահաճո PR-ի և ցեղակրոնության մասին»). 7or.am. November 10, 2010. www.7or.am/am/news/view/12300/. Accessed: December 5, 2015. Such false comparisons have been made, in particular, by former Armenian President, Levon Ter-Petrosyan (1991 – 1998), who said during a rally in Yerevan on November 9, 2010: “Tseghakronutyun is nothing other than the translation of the word ‘racism’ into Armenian.”

[80] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 375. The original quote can be found in Njdeh’s article called “The Armenian Americans” («Ամերիկահայությունը»).

[81] Lalayan, Mushegh. “Haik Assatrian: Biographical Sketch.” («Հայկ Ասատրյան. Կենսագրական Ակնարկ»). Published by the Republican Party of Armenia. Yerevan, 2002, pp. 7 – 9. www.hhk.am/files/library_pdfs/30.pdf. Accessed: December 2, 2015. Haik Assatrian (1900 – 1956) was a political activist and the co-founder of the “Tseghakron” movement. He was one of Njdeh’s closest confidants, whose life largely mirrored that of Njdeh. Along with the General, he co-edited Tseghakron’s “Razmik” magazine. He, too, was a member of the ARF until his expulsion from the party in 1935. Assatrian was arrested in 1944 in Bulgaria and his family was exiled to Pavlikeni. Having spent 11 years in prison, he was granted amnesty in 1955 and died in Bulgaria the following year.

[82] Hambartzumian, Karekin (Brief), p. 47. The main difference between Tseghakronutyun and Taronakanutyun was that the former specifically pertains to the youth while the latter is an ideology applicable to the entire nation. Taronakanutyun was to become the new formula of unifying the Armenian people that was to replace the outdated national political parties (Author’s Note).

[83] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 388

[84] Harutyunyan, ‘The Pillars,’ p. 21

[85] Hambartzumian, Karekin (Brief), pp. 74 – 76

[86] Harutyunyan, ‘The Pillars,’p. 4. On this topic, the reader can also reference Lendrush Khurshudyan’s “Armenian National Ideology,” published in Yerevan in 1999.

[87] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 393

[88] Khurshudyan, Ruben. Njdeh: Prison Writings. Introduction. («Նժդեհ. Բանտային Գրառումներ»). M. Varandian Publishing, Yerevan, 1993, pp. 6, 8, 10. According to historian Alexander Dallin’s “Soviet Rule in Russia,” Georgian emigrants in Germany and, in particular, a political activist named Alexander Nikuradze (1900 – 1981), who had close ties to Rosenberg, also promoted the view that Armenians are Semitic people, and the only Aryans (Indo-Europeans) in the Caucasus are the Georgians.

[89] Harutyunyan, ‘The Pillars,’ p. 42

[90] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 394

[91] Ibid, pp. 395 – 396

[92] Hambartzumian, Karekin (Brief), p. 52

[93] Hambartzumian, Karekin, pp. 407 – 409

[94] Ibid, pp. 410 – 413, 415

[95] Ibid, p. 402

[96] Ibid, pp. 399 – 400. A month before his arrest (September, 1944), Njdeh wrote that he did not want to leave Sofia in order not to jeopardize the local ‘Tseghakron’ chapters and to offer his services to the Soviets in the possible war against Turkey.

[97] Ibid, p. 441

[98] Hambartzumian, Karekin (Brief), pp. 58 – 59. Both charges were false. Njdeh insisted that his soldiers not be sent to fight the Soviets during World War II since he intended to use them exclusively against the Turks. Halso never authorized any massacres of the Bolsheviks in Syunik. In fact, many Bolshevik soldiers, terrified of Njdeh’s ‘davitbekyan’ units, refused to fight and were executed by their own commanders, as it happened in Goris in 1920. In addition, all of the participants of the events in Syunik were given ‘amnesty’ during the negotiations on Syunik’s entry into the Armenian SSR (June, 1921). Hence, there were no legitimate grounds for arresting Njdeh.

[99] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 426 – 427

[100] Ibid, p. 419

[101] Ibid, p. 424

[102] Hambartzumian, Karekin (Brief), p. 54

[103] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 428

[104] Hambartzumian, Karekin (Brief), p. 10

[105] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 439

[106] Ibid, p. 442

[107] Stepanyan, Gohar. “ Njdeh’s Granddaughter Wants to Leave Armenia” («Նժդեհի թոռնուհին ուզում է հեռանալ Հայաստանից»). Interview with Goharine Trdatyan. January 20, 2005. http://archive.168.am/am/articles/771. Accessed: December 6, 2015.

[108] Aghekyan, Arsen.“Live, Fight, Write with Blood and Nerves.” («Ապրել, Կռվել, Գրել Արյունով և Նյարդերով»). Interview with Goharine Trdatyan. December, 2011. www.hayzinvor.am/9183.html and www.hayzinvor.am/9489.html Accessed: December 6, 2015

[109] Stepanyan, “ Njdeh’s.”

[110] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 20

[111] Ibid, pp. 428, 432

[112] Artsruni, Vruyr. “Story Told by Njdeh’s Son, Sukias-Vrezh Njdeh.” («Պատմում է Նժդեհի Որդին՝ Վրեժ-Սուքիաս Նժդեհը»). Interview with Sukias-Vrezh Njdeh. Original Source: Njdeh’s Relics by Artak Vartanian. Published: September 8, 2014. http://blog.mediamall.am/?id=41287. Accessed: December 7, 2015.

[113] Hambartzumian, Karekin, pp. 434 – 435

[114] Ibid, p. 447

[115] Ibid, p. 439. Many political prisoners were freed after Stalin’s death (March 5, 1953), but Njdeh both refused to acknowledge his guilt and was deemed especially dangerous by the Soviets, which made his release impossible, even though there were compelling medical reasons to free him, especially during the final two years of his life.

[116] Ibid, p. 434. The Russian prison guards in Vladimir did not allow Njdeh to keep the soil.

[117] Vartanyan, Vahan. “How the Remains of Karekin Njdeh were Secretly Transferred from Vladimir to Yerevan?” («Թե ինչպես Գարեգին Նժդեհի աճյունը գաղտնի կերպով Վլադիմիրից տեղափոխվեց Երևան»). Interview with Pavel Ananyan. Published: November 21, 2012. http://lurer.com/?p=56545&l=am Accessed: December 5, 2015.

[118] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 443

[119] Hambartzumian, Karekin (Brief), p. 65

[120] Hambartzumian, Karekin, p. 444


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  1. Perouz said:

    thank you, David Arakelyan, for this amazing, detailed, and much needed writing about one of our greatest heroes.
    My father fought under Nzhdeh’s command in the April 1921 Bolshevik attack you have noted in this paper. You are correct that there were far fewer than 700 of our men against tremendous odds in that battle. My father was one of them. Here is what he has written about it, taken from Resistance: a diary of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1922 by Misak Seferian page 228.

    Garegin Nzhdeh arrived with a group of soldiers the second day after we reached Ghapan. He gathered us around him and delivered a fiery speech. He suggested sending a group of three hundred Daronian foot soldiers, headed by Moushegh of Sasoun, to the region of Koghtan. He told us that he had arranged to have bread brought from the villages to distribute to us the following morning. Before going to Koghtan, we would each receive enough food for two days.

    Early the next morning, we left from the water source at Ghapan and went to Ghakhachour, at the edge of Koghtan Mountain. Before daylight, we received the two days of food promised by Nzhdeh. Led by Moushegh, our group of three hundred Daronians began climbing Koghtan Mountain. At the hour of noon, we reached a place in the mountain that was covered in thick snow. We were frequently at such high elevations that when we looked down the precipice into the abyss below, we suffered vertigo. We somehow finally reached the summit of the mountain.

    It was a clear, bright day, and the awe-inspiring beauty of Armenia surrounded us. Mount Ararat faced us, its summit piercing the sky. To its north, Alakyaz stood in Syunik’s mountain world, its Tavit Peg-like fortress inspiring hope and patriotism in us. Daron and Vasbouragan were on our right, now covered with a light blue veil of fog. They were the Armenian revolutionaries’ bridge, linking Ararat and the mountains of Persia.

    Two of our men were lost during this perilous climb up Koghtan Mountain. One of them was from Khnous, the other from Moush. Both slipped, lost their footing, and tumbled into the deep abyss.

    Before daylight, it was clear to us that several groups of Bolsheviks had already reached the region of Koghtan. We were sent to Koghtan to fight against the Turks of Chrtoupat. We were also to go up to Julfa and defend the bridge there, so that the many thousands of exiled Armenian refugees fleeing to Persia would be able to pass over it.

    Predicting our intention to go to Koghtan, the Bolsheviks invaded the region before our arrival. Hearing this, we turned back and occupied positions against a probable attack. At dawn, two Moushians, who had been living in Akoulis since 1918 when Antranig was in that region, confirmed that the Bolsheviks had already invaded Koghtan. They also warned us that the Bolsheviks had put machine guns on two sides of a valley barely fifteen miles away from us, in hopes of leading us into a trap.

    As soon as the darkness of night brought us all in, and weapons were no longer heard, our leaders ordered us to advance and occupy the positions at our front. Infected by Bolshevik propaganda, some of our soldiers refused to go, arguing that they had been in battle for twenty-five hours. They were hungry and sleepless, and they refused to battle in the freezing-cold, hail-mixed rain.
    Most of the soldiers in our regiment were from Daron. All Daronian soldiers worshipped their leaders. We knew that if they had bread, our leaders would not be able to eat alone; if they had clothing, they would share it with us equally, like brothers. We knew with certainty that when we fought in the front lines, our leaders would never think of saving their own lives ahead of ours. Because of this, ten Daronian soldiers would willingly fight against a hundred of the enemy.

    • David Arakelyan said:

      Thank You for your feedback and your post. I am glad you agree on the importance of featuring Njdeh and his deeds for the edification of our public, especially the youth.

  2. David Karamian said:

    Thank you so much! I was aware of Njdeh as an Armenian hero but didn’t know the extent of his involvement in the Armenian geopolotics and the role he played in Syunik. I am convinced that due to his efforts we’ve been successfully able to split the barbarian Turks to the east and west of Armenia. Otherwise, they would eat us alive from all sides. I appreciate the masterful writing of this article and hope that I can find a book about this greatest of Armenia’s hero’s.

    • David said:

      Thank You for your comment and your interest in Njdeh. You can find books about the General at the Sardarbad bookstore in Glendale (225 S. Glendale Ave).

  3. Joseph Dagdigian said:

    A few years ago we visited both Spitakavor Vank and Njdeh’s grave and monument in Kapan. Our driver, who grew up in the Soviet school system in Yerevan, after reading the signs and banners at the site said “In school they taught us that Njdeh was very bad. But now I can see that he was a very good Armenian.”

    • David said:

      The driver is right. There is a lot we have to unlearn first if we want to learn the truth. Thank You for your feedback and for reading the article.

  4. Lucine said:

    Baron Arakelyan, thank you for this elaborate account of Njdeh’s life. I will read it many times to grasp all of the details you have provided.

    A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Esfira Drtadian in Yerevan. Esfira is the granddaughter of Karekin Njdeh. Esfira, with her colleague, Gayane Nersisian, gave a comprehensive lecture and tour of the Njdeh Museum — a one- room space residing within a local public school named after him. Both women are extremely dedicated to and knowledgeable about Njdeh’s legacy, and we spoke at length about the role that Njdeh’s philosophy plays in the well-being of Armenia.

    There has been renewed interest in Njdeh and his ideals in today’s Armenia, especially among the youth. As the year 2012 marked the 125th anniversary of Karekin Njdeh’s birth, the Republic of Armenia issued a postage stamp of him to mark the occasion:

    This comment is to propose that our community organizations join hands to assist in what I believe are some feasible initiatives that can honor this great hero of the Armenian nation, give Njdeh’s ideals greater exposure to ROA natives and visitors alike, and have long-lasting effects.

    · That the AYF-WR/ER (whose founder was Njdeh) consider arranging for each group of AYF Youth Corps volunteers who serve in Artsakh or Javakhk to visit the Njdeh Museum while in Yerevan and receive a guided tour. The venue — located near Yerevan’s Karekin Njdeh Square — contains artworks, sculptures, photographs, letters, historical documents, books and more.

    · That our organizations consider helping to expand the Museum. Currently, it operates as best it can with no budget from the state and solely thanks to volunteer efforts. Njdeh deserves to have a bona fide museum space in Yerevan.

    · That our community organizations consider helping to erect a statue of Njdeh in Njdeh Square. Currently, a statue of Spendiarian resides there! There is no statue of Njdeh in Yerevan.

    Ultimately, these proposed projects could help the AYF and our community organizations amass Njdeh supporters who can apply his ideals to our collective national aspirations, boost AYF membership in Armenia, and help to raise the morale of our people by reminding or educating them of Njdeh’s uncompromising national devotion and the sacrifices he underwent for his beliefs.

    For more information and to contribute directly to such programs, please contact Njdeh’s great grandson, Garegin Chichyan, at: garegin dot chichyan at gmail dot com

    • David said:

      Dear Lucine,

      Thank You for your feedback. All three proposals you have listed sound wonderful. I will relay the Youth Corps suggestion to the AYF and will try to get in touch with Garegin Chichyan to speak about the museum and the possibility of helping them with something. The issue with the statue is a good one too, though the AYF in Armenia would probably be a better choice for an organization that can handle that. In either case, I appreciate the information you provided and will see if I can do anything about it. Thank You. David.