November 25, 1957|
Visalia, California, U.S.
|Died||June 12, 1993
Merzili, Aghdam, Nagorno-Karabakh
|Service/branch||Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army|
|Years of service||1979—1993|
|Commands held||Martuni Detachment|
1979 Kurdish rebellion in Iran
Lebanese Civil War
1982 Lebanon War
|Awards||National Hero of Armenia|
|Relations||Markar Melkonian (brother)|
|Other work||The Right to Struggle (selected writings printed posthumously in 1993)|
Monte Melkonian (classical Armenian: Մոնթէ Մելքոնեան; reformed: Մոնթե Մելքոնյան; November 25, 1957 – June 12, 1993) was an Armenian left-wing nationalist militant, revolutionary, and commander. He was the leader of an offshoot of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) in the 1980s and the most celebrated commander during the Nagorno-Karabakh War in the early 1990s.
An Armenian-American, Melkonian left the United States and arrived in Iran in 1978 during the beginning of the 1979 Revolution, taking part in demonstrations against the Shah. Following the collapse of the Shah's monarchy, he traveled to Lebanon during the height of the civil war and served in an Armenian militia group in the Beirut suburb of Bourj Hammoud. In ASALA, he took part in the assassinations of several Turkish diplomats in Europe during the early to mid-1980s. He planned the 1981 Turkish consulate attack in Paris. He was later arrested and sent to prison in France. In 1989, he was released and in the following year, acquired a visa to travel to Armenia.
Melkonian had no prior service record in any country's army before being placed in command of an estimated 4,000 men in the Nagorno-Karabakh War. He had largely built his military experience beginning from the late 1970s and 1980s, when he fought in Lebanon with ASALA. Melkonian fought against various factions in the Lebanese Civil War and against the IDF in the 1982 war.
Melkonian carried several aliases over his career and was known as Avo to the troops under his command in Nagorno-Karabakh. The last years of his life were spent fighting with the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army. Monte was killed in controversial circumstances. He was buried at Yerablur cemetery in Yerevan and declared a National Hero of Armenia in 1996.
Melkonian was born on November 25, 1957 at Visalia Municipal Hospital in Visalia, California to Charles (1918−2006) and Zabel Melkonian (1920−2012). He was the third of four children born to a self-employed cabinetmaker and an elementary-school teacher. By all accounts, Melkonian was described as an all-American child who joined the Boy Scouts and was a pitcher in Little League baseball. Melkonian's parents rarely talked about their Armenian heritage with their children, often referring to the place of their ancestors as the "Old Country." His interest in his background only sparked at the age of eleven, when his family went on a year-long trip to Europe in 1969.
While taking Spanish language courses in Spain, his teacher had posed him the question of where he was from. Dissatisfied with Melkonian's answer of "California", the teacher rephrased the question by asking "where did your ancestors come from?" His brother Markar Melkonian remarked that "her image of us was not at all like our image of ourselves. She did not view us as the Americans we had always assumed we were." From this moment on, for days and months to come, Markar continues, "Monte pondered [their teacher Señorita] Blanca's question Where are you from?"
In the spring of that year, the family also traveled across Turkey to visit the town of Merzifon, where Melkonian's maternal grandparents were from. Merzifon's population at the time was 23,475 but was almost completely devoid of its once 17,000-strong Armenian population that was wiped out during the Armenian Genocide in 1915. They did find one Armenian family of the three that was living in the town, however, Melkonian soon learned that the only reason this was so, was because the head of the family in 1915 had exchanged the safety of his family in return for identifying all the Armenians in the town to Turkish authorities during the genocide. Monte would later confide to his wife that "he was never the same after that visit....He saw the place that had been lost."
Upon his return to California Monte returned to his education. In high school, he was exceeding all standards and having a hard time finding new academic challenges. Instead of graduating high school early, as was suggested by his principal, Monte found an alternative thanks to his father: a study abroad program in East Asia. At the age of 15 Monte traveled to Japan for a new chapter in his young life. While there he began making money teaching English which helped finance his travels through several Southeast Asian countries. This introduced him to several new cultures, new philosophies, new languages, and in several cases, like his travels through Vietnam, new skills that would become immensely valuable in his later life as a soldier. Returning to the United States, he graduated from high school and entered the University of California, Berkeley with Regents Scholarship , majoring in ancient Asian history and Archeology. 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 1915-23 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 following a campus protest movement. Monte eventually completed his undergrad work in under three years. Upon graduating, he was accepted into the archeology graduate program at the University of Oxford. However, Monte chose to forgo this opportunity, and instead chose to begin his lifelong struggle for the Armenian Cause.
Departure from home
Teaching in Iran
After graduating from U.C. Berkeley in the spring of 1978, 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 Tehran, and was in the vicinity of Jaleh Square 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.
Civil war in Lebanon
In the fall of 1978, Monte made his way to Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, in time to participate in the defense of the Armenian quarter against the right-wing Phalange forces. Monte was affiliated with the Hunchakian socialist party and was a permanent member of the militia's bases in Bourj Hamoud, Western Beirut, Antelias, Eastern Beirut and other regions for almost two years, during which time he participated in several street battles against rightist forces. He also began working behind the lines in Phalangist controlled territory, on behalf of the "Leftist and Arab" Lebanese National Movement. By this time, he was speaking Armenian – a language he had not learned until adulthood (Armenian was the fourth or 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 Persian and Kurdish).
In the spring of 1980, Monte was inducted into the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, 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 militant 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 criminal carrying a Cypriot passport bearing the name "Dimitri Georgiu." Following the detonation of several bombs in Paris aimed at gaining his release, "Georgiu" was returned to Lebanon where he revealed his identity as Monte Melkonian.
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, the shooting of Hagopian’s two closest aides at a military camp in Lebanon finally led to the open breach. This impetuous action was perpetrated by one individual who was not closely affiliated with Monte. As a result of this action, however, Hagopian took revenge by personally torturing and executing two of Monte’s dearest comrades, Garlen Ananian and Arum Vartanian.
Arrest and imprisonment
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 carrying an illegal handgun.
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 his girlfriend Seta. Together they spent year and a half living underground in various countries of eastern Europe in relative poverty, as one regime after another disintegrated.
On October 6, 1990 Monte arrived in what was then still Soviet Armenia. During the first 8 months in Armenia, Melkonian worked in the Armenian Academy of Sciences, where he prepared an archaeological research monograph on Urartian cave tombs, which was posthumously published in 1995.
Finding himself on Armenian soil after many years, he wrote in a letter that he found a lot of confusion among his compatriots. Armenia faced enormous economic, political and environmental problems at every turn, problems that had festered for decades. New political forces bent on dismantling the Soviet Union were taking Armenia in a direction that Monte believed was bound to exacerbate the crisis and produce more problems. He believed that "a national blunder was taking place right before his eyes."
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 lose [Karabagh]," the bulletin of the Karabakh 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 Karabakh, 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.
On September 12 (or 14) 1991 Monte travelled to Shahumian region (north of Karabagh), where he fought for three months in the fall of 1991. There he participated in the capture of Erkej, Manashid and Buzlukh villages.
On February 4, 1992 Melkonian arrived in Martuni as the regional commander. Upon his arrival the changes were immediately felt: civilians started feeling more secure and at peace as Azeri armies were pushed back and were finding it increasingly difficult to shell Martuni's residential areas with GRAD missiles.
In April 1993, Melkonian was one of the chief military strategists who planned and led the operation to fight Azeri fighters and capture the region of Kalbajar of Azerbaijan which lies between the Republic of Armenia and former NKAO. Armenian forces captured the region in four days of heavy fighting, sustaining far fewer fatalities than the enemy.
Death and legacy
Monte was killed in the abandoned village of Merzili in the early afternoon of June 12, 1993 during the Battle of Aghdam. According to Markar Melkonian, Monte's older brother and author of his biography, Monte died in the waning hours of the evening by enemy fire during an unexpected skirmish that broke out with several Azerbaijani soldiers who had gotten lost. Monte died in the arms of his closest and most trusted comrades.
Monte was buried with full military honors on June 19, 1993 at Yerablur military cemetery in Yerevan, where his coffin was brought from the Surb Zoravar Church. Some 50,000 to 100,000 people (some reports put the figure as high as 250,000), including Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, acting Defense Minister Vazgen Manukyan, Deputy Foreign Minister Gerard Libaridian, government officials, and parliamentarians attended his funeral.
In 1993 the Monte Melkonian military school was established in Yerevan.
Views and beliefs
- Political views
Melkonian was an Armenian nationalist and a revolutionary socialist. Throughout his life he sympathized with Marxism–Leninism, which was also the ideology of ASALA. Vorbach wrote in 1994 that his writings "expose him as an Armenian nationalist and a committed socialist of the Marxist-Leninist variety."
According to his brother he "had not always been a communist, but he had never been an ex-communist." Melkonian hoped that the Soviet Union would "reform itself, democratize, and promote personal freedoms" and did not abandon hope in Soviet Armenia until the end of the Soviet era appeared inevitable. Philip Marsden wrote that his career "reveals the profound shift in radical ideology—from revolutionary Marxism to nationalism." Marsden adds that in the 1980s his ideology came into conflict with a growing nationalism: "With ever greater difficulty, he squeezed the Armenian question into the context of left-wing orthodoxy, believing for instance that Armenia's independence from the Soviet Union would be a terrible error." In the 1980s he advocated for the Soviet takeover of Turkey's formerly Armenian populated areas and its unification with Soviet Armenia. In the 1980s, while in a French prison, he called for the creation of a guerilla force in eastern Turkey which would unite Kurdish rebels, left-wing Turks and Armenian revolutionaries. Vorbach summarized his views on eastern Turkey:
He was a revolutionary personality motivated by the vision of an overthrow of the 'chauvinist' leadership in Turkey and the establishment of a revolutionary socialist government (be it Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian or Soviet Armenian) under which Armenians could live freely in their historic homeland, which includes areas in present day Turkey.
Monte was also an internationalist. In an article titled "Imperialism in the New World Order" he declared his support for socialist movements in Palestine, South Africa, Central America and elsewhere. He also espoused environmentalism from an anti-capitalist perspective. According to one author his economic views were influenced by the Beirut-based Armenian Marxist economist Alexander Yenikomshian.
According to Vorbach Melkonian had become an atheist at the time of his revolutionary activities.
- Alcohol consumption
Monte is widely known to have forbidden his soldiers consumption of alcohol. He also established a policy of collecting a tax in kind on Martuni wine, in the form of diesel and ammunition for his fighters.
Monte had become a legend in Armenia and Karabakh by the time of his death. Due to his international socialist views and Armenian nationalism, one author described him as a mix between the early 20th century Armenian General Andranik and Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. Thomas de Waal described him as a "professional warrior and an extreme Armenian nationalist" who is "the most celebrated Armenian commander" in the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Raymond Bonner wrote in 1993 that Monte had charisma and discipline, which is why he "rapidly became the most highly regarded commander in the Karabakh War." Bonner added that he Monte was said to have led an exemplary life by not smoking and drinking. Historian Razmik Panossian wrote that Monte was "a charismatic and very capable commander." Armenia's Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan called Monte the most honest person in the world.
Monte Melkonian married his long-time girlfriend Seta Kebranian at the Geghard monastery in Armenia in August 1991. They had met in the late 1970s in Lebanon. In a 1993 interview Monte said that they had had no time to start a family. He stated, "We'll settle down when the Armenian people's struggle is over."
|Nagorno-Karabakh||Order of the Combat Cross of the First Degree||23 November 1993|
|Armenia||National Hero of Armenia||20 September 1996|
|Nagorno-Karabakh||Hero of Artsakh||21 September 1999|
- Vorbach 1994.
- de Waal 2013, p. 341.
- Dugan, Laura; Huang, Julie Y.; LaFree, Gary; McCauley, Clark (2008). "Sudden desistance from terrorism: The Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia and the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide" (PDF). Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict 1 (3): 237.
- Melkonian 2005, p. x.
- Croissant, Michael P. (1998). The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict: Causes and Implications. London: Praeger. ISBN 0-275-96241-5.
- "National Hero of Armenia". The Office to the President of the Republic of Armenia.
- Steinberg, Jim (20 September 2006). "Armenian Hero's Father Dies At 88". The Fresno Bee.
- "Commander Monte Melkonian’s mother dies at 92". PanARMENIAN.Net. 10 December 2012.
- Melkonian 2005, p. 4.
- Arax, Mark (9 October 1993). "The Riddle of Monte Melkonian". Los Angeles Times. p. 1, 2, 3, 4
- Melkonian 2005, p. 10-12.
- Melkonian 2005, pp. 12-18.
- Melkonian 2005, p. 344.
- "Հայաստանի հնագիտական հուշարձաններ, հ. 16 [Archaeological Monuments of Armenia, vol. 16], Yerevan, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences of Armenia, 1995"
- Melkonian, Markar (25 November 2011). "Which “Avo” was Monte?". Hetq.
- de Waal 2003, p. 208.
- "Commander Mourned". Armenian International Magazine 4 (5). June 1993. ISSN 1050-3471.
- Krikorian 2007, p. 242.
- Bonner, Raymond (4 August 1993). "Foreigners Fight Again in the Embattled Caucasus". The New York Times.
- Human Rights Watch (1994). Seven Years of Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (PDF). p. 113-4. ISBN 1-56432-142-8.
The most famous of them, Monte Melkonian of Vesalia, California, became a legend in Karabakh and Armenia by the time he was killed in fighting in June 1993; an estimated 50,000 people including the Armenian President, Ter-Petrosyan attended his funeral in Yerevan.
- Krikorian, Robert; Masih, Joseph (1999). Armenia: At the Crossroads. Routledge. p. 44. ISBN 978-9057023453.
- Zürcher, Christoph (2007). The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict, and Nationhood in the Caucasus. NYU Press. p. 177. ISBN 9780814797099.
- "Հերոսի հիշատակը հարգելով. ուխտագնացություն դեպի Եռաբլուր". Hetq (in Armenian). 13 June 2011.
- "Այսօր Մոնթե Մելքոնյանի մահվան 20-ամյա տարելիցն է". Yerkir (in Armenian). 12 June 2013.
Երախտապարտ Արցախում նրա անունով են կոչել Մարտունու շրջկենտրոնը` վերանվանելով Մոնթեաբերդ
- "Մոնթե Մելքոնյանի անվան վարժարանը նշել է հիմնադրման 21-ամյակը". 1tv.am (in Armenian). Public Television of Armenia. 15 November 2014.
- de Waal, Thomas (9 February 2011). "More War in the Caucasus". The National Interest.
...Californian-born Armenian nationalist commander Monte Melkonian...
- Afeyan, Bedros (4 April 2005). "Review of two books about Monte Melkonian". Armenian News Network / Groong. University of Southern California.
- Hasratian, Senor (2007). The fighter for the idea. Stepanakert: Sona. p. 7. ISBN 9789994158232.
...throughout his lifetime Monte Melkonian sincerely sympathized with the theory of Marxism-Leninism.
- Gore, Patrick Wilson (2008). 'Tis Some Poor Fellow's Skull: Post-Soviet Warfare in the Southern Caucasus. iUniverse. p. 19. ISBN 978-0595486793.
ASALA was Marxist-Leninist and one of its leaders, the Armenian-American Monte Melkonian...
- Vorbach 1994, p. 178.
- Marsden, Philip (12 March 2005). "Road to revolution: PhD? I'd rather be a terrorist". The Times (London).
- Vorbach 1994, pp. 178-179.
- de Waal 2013, p. 220.
- Krikorian 2007, p. 241.
- Simonyan, Anahit (15 November 2013). "Հայաստանն օտար ներդրողների համար դարձել է համեղ պատառ". Asparez (in Armenian).
- Vorbach 1994, p. 181.
- Melkonian, Monte (1993). Melkonian, Markar, ed. The Right to Struggle: Selected Writings by Monte Melkonian on the Armenian National Question (2nd ed.). Sardarabad Collective. p. xvi.
- Panossian, Razmik (1998). "Between ambivalence and intrusion: Politics and identity in Armenia-diaspora relations". Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 7 (2): 149–196.
- Asatryan, Gevorg (December 2010). "Մեր Մոնթեն [Our Monte]". Hay Zinvor (in Armenian) (Defense Ministry of the Republic of Armenia).
- Loiko, Sergei; McWilliam, Ian (15 June 1993). "Fresno-Born Karabakh Commander Dies on Battlefield". Los Angeles Times.
- "Liberty by Joel Condon". Bobby Sands Trust. 4 December 2011.
- "Remembering Monte Melkonian". CivilNet. 20 June 2013.
- "Մոնթե Մելքոնյան [Monte Melkonian]". mil.am (in Armenian). Defense Ministry of Armenia. 6 July 2015.
- de Waal, Thomas (2003). Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War. New York: New York University Press.
- de Waal, Thomas (2013). Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War (2nd (revised and updated) ed.). NYU Press.
- Melkonian, Markar (2005). My Brother's Road, An American's Fateful Journey to Armenia. New York: I.B. Tauris.
- Melkonian, Monte (1990). The Right to Struggle: Selected Writings of Monte Melkonian on the Armenian National Question. San Francisco: Sardarabad Collective
- Krikorian, Michael (2007). "“Excuse me, how do I get to the front?” The Brothers Monte and Markar Melkonian (Los Angeles)". In von Voss, Huberta. Portraits of Hope: Armenians in the Contemporary World. Berghahn Books. pp. 237–242. ISBN 978-1-84545-257-5.
- Vorbach, Joseph E. (1994). "Monte Melkonian: Armenian revolutionary leader". Terrorism and Political Violence 6 (2): 178–195. doi:10.1080/09546559408427253.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Monte Melkonian|
- The Monte Melkonian Fund is a non-profit charity established in 1995 and is dedicated in Melkonian's honor.
- Gallery of Monte Melkonian on the Melkonian Fund Website include photos of his youth, years spent in Lebanon and Karabakh.
- Monte Melkonian Video
- on YouTube, including an interview with his wife (Armenian)
- 2 part documentary video about Monte, including rare interviews, on Google Video: Part 1 and Part 2 (Armenian)