Chicago Commemorates May 28th

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The 97th anniversary of the First Armenian Republic and the victories of May 28, 1918, were commemorated at the Armenian All Saints Apostolic Church and Community Center in Glenview, Ill., on May 31, 2015. During morning church service, the blessing of the Armenian flag ceremony took place with special prayers of thankfulness followed by the singing of “Mer Hayrenik” (Our Fatherland). Members of the Chicago chapters of the Homenetmen, Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), and Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) accompanied ARF member Murad A. Meneshian, godfather of the flag, who carried the folded flag on a silver tray from the entrance of the church to the altar. The flag was then opened and blessed by Archpriest Fr. Zareh Sahakian. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Meneshian bowed before the flag and kissed it. The blessed flag was then once again folded, placed on the tray, and given to Meneshian to carry as he, accompanied by the above organization members, followed the priest outside, with the congregation following them, to the front of the church, where the flag was raised on the flagpole. On a nearby flagpole flew the American flag. As the red, blue, and orange Armenian flag waved in the wind, “Mer Hayrenik” was sung once more.

Godfather of the flag, Murad A. Meneshian, during blessing of the flag church service

Raising of the flag

Over the centuries, this flag that now waves high, and proudly, in Armenia and in Armenian communities everywhere, embraced a variety of shapes and forms, symbols and emblems, and colors during the various periods of Armenia’s history. Hovhannes K. Babesian, the author of Origins of the Armenian Flag (publication and date not available), writes that initially carvings were used, later fabric; images, such as eagles, lions, claws, crosses, were used, and some of the colors chosen were arbitrary. Some colors were based on the Armenian Church calendar, while some were inspired by the colors of the rainbow (for example, a combination yellow, red, and green, or blue, red, and green), and based on the belief that “God gave the Armenian flag on the very day when the colors of the rainbow bathed the Ark of Noah, on Mount Ararat…” In 1918, the government of the Independent Republic of Armenia selected the colors red, green, and yellow for the flag, but then decided on the colors of the last period of the Rubenian Dynasty—red, blue, and yellow. Noticing that the color orange merged easily and presented a more pleasing composition, the yellow was immediately replaced with the orange, thus the colors of the Armenian flag: red, blue, and orange.

Murad A. Meneshian during his presentation and slideshow.

Following the church service, raising of the flag, and coffee hour, Khajak Arakelian, chairman of the Chicago ARF “Christapor” Chapter, introduced the speakers of the day: Murad Meneshian and Dr. Berj Gueyikian. Meneshian’s talk and slideshow presentation outlined the military strategies and maneuvers used, and described the heroic acts of the men in the victorious Battle of Sardarabad—a battle that prevented the obliteration of the Armenian nation and led to Armenia’s declaration of independence. The following points were covered in his presentation:

The Declaration of Independence (Photo from Meneshian’s presentation)

In October 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution led by Lenin took control of the Russian government, which withdrew from its participation in World War I. In the same month, the Armenians in Russia formed the Armenian National Council to tend to the affairs of the Armenians, and in November, the Russian government began withdrawing troops from its occupied territories of Western Armenia. With Lenin’s abandonment of Western Armenia, the Armenians and the Armenian military leaders of the fallen Russian Empire were left to defend their land from Turkish invasion. As a result, they formed the Armenian National Corps in December 1917. The corps consisted of three divisions led by Michael Areshian, Movses Silikian, and Antranig (Ozanian), with Major-General Tovmas Nazarbekian as the supreme commander. Aram Manugian was appointed civil administrator of Yerevan, and expelled bandits, levied taxes, confiscated stores of material abandoned by the Russian troops, and conscripted hundreds of men. When Turkey invaded the abandoned Russian territories in February 1918, the three Transcaucasian nations of Armenians, Georgians, and Tatars formed the Transcaucasian Federative Republic to govern their regions and defend themselves against the Turkish invasion.

When the Turkish forces invaded and occupied Erzerum on March 12 and Kars on April 25, the Armenian fighters and the population retreated toward Alexandropol (present-day Gyumri). Hoping to prevent further Turkish advances, the Transcaucasian Republic agreed to meet the Turkish demands at a conference in Batum, starting on May 11, 1918. However, unable to halt the Turkish advances, they acquiesced to their demands. As a result, Nazarbekian withdrew his 1st and part of the 2nd division from Alexandropol to Karakilisa (Vanadzor), while Silikian and his remaining 2nd division retreated toward Sardarabad and set up his headquarters at the Etchmiadzin seminary. (Antranig and his men had left the battlefield when the Turks occupied Erzerum.) Five days later, after the withdrawals, Turkish divisions moved toward Sardarabad, Bash-Abaran, and Karakilisa, and on May 20, the Turks captured Bash-Abaran. Meanwhile, on the same day, the Turks captured the Sardarabad railroad station. The following day, Silikian’s forces, under the command of General Daniel Bek-Pirumian, retook the Sardarabad station and the village and pushed the Turks north to the Araks station. On May 22, the Turks captured Hamamlu (Spitak) and Karakilisa and blocked the communications and transportation lines between Yerevan and Tiflis (Tbilisi). Nazarbekian was forced to retreat to Dilijan. On the same day, a large Turkish force moved to retake Sardarabad, where Silikian faced a Turkish force of 10,000 troops and 2,000 Kurdish irregulars. He consulted with his officers Daniel Bek-Pirumian and Kristapor Araratian and came up with a radical and surprise action to outmaneuver the advancing Turkish army. The plan was risky, but there was no other choice because the Karakilisa and Bash-Abaran fronts were retreating. After taking a few moments to think through his plan of action, Silikian decided to go ahead with the plan.

Dr. Berj Gueyikian during his presentation

On May 23, at daybreak, the battle began just north of the Sardarabad rail station. Later in the morning, Karapet Hasan-Pashayan’s artillery, which had moved to its position at night, attacked the left flank of the Turkish advance guard. The Armenian cavalry attacked the Turkish right flank and took prisoners and supply trains left behind by the fleeing Turks. Pirumian ordered his 6,000-man force to attack. The Turks panicked, abandoned their position, and scattered helter-skelter. Pirumian’s forces pursued the Turks along the railroad line. Soon after, General Silikian received a telephone call from Colonel Alexander K. Chneour announcing, “The Turks are running!”

On May 24, 1918, the Armenians broke the Turkish resistance and routed the Turks, who fled from Sardarabad north toward Alexandropol and west across the Akhurian River. Silikian sent word of the victory (by portable wireless) to Nazarbekian and dispatched a cavalry regiment to assist Dro (Drasdamat Kanayan) in halting the advance of the Turkish 3rd division toward Ashtarag. The battle was won! However, since the communication lines had been severed between the Nation Council and the battlefields, the National Council was unaware of the victories on the battlefields. Meanwhile, truce had been concluded in Batum, and Alexander Khatisian and Hovhannes Kachaznuni were negotiating for peace.

On May 29, members of the various ARF bodies and the National Council met and decided to proclaim Armenia a republic ruled by a coalition government, and on May 30, 1918, the National Council declared independence. Also on May 30, the Armenian delegates accepted the Turkish terms in the name of the Armenian Republic.

On June 4, 1918, unaware of the Armenian victories at Sardarabad, Bash-Abaran, and Karakilisa, Khatisian, Kachaznuni, and Michael Papajanian signed the 1st international act on behalf of the Armenian government. Thus, Turkey became the first country to recognize the Republic of Armenia. The Turkish negotiators informed the Armenian delegates that the Armenians had defeated the Turkish forces at Sardarabad. This was the first time that the Armenian delegation and the National Council heard of the Armenian victories at Sardarabad, Bash-Abaran, and Karakilisa. According to the treaty, Armenia was allowed 4,500 square miles of territory. In this small area, there were 300,000 Armenians from the former Russian Empire, 300,000 refugees from Western Armenia, and 100,000 Tatars.

On June 6, 1918, the National Council delegates arrived in Tiflis, and a few days later the National Council formed the First Armenian Government.

Following Meneshian’s presentation, and a question and answer period, ARF member Dr. Gueyigian briefly recapped the events leading to Armenia’s declaration of independence—the first in the history of the Armenian people—and presented biographical sketches of some of the statesmen who had accepted and created the first government cabinet of the newly formed independent republic. Chosen for the mammoth task and under the most difficult of times—war, famine, and disease—were Khachadur Karjikian, attorney, minister of finance; Hovhannes Hakhvertian, military commander; Hovhannes Kachaznuni, architect, first prime minister; Alexander Khatisian, physician, acting prime minister during Kachaznuni’s travels abroad; and Aram Manugian, educator, minister of the interior. Berj Gueyikian detailed the difficulties each had faced during the Turkish invasion while acting as either Armenian National Council members, delegates to the Batum Conference, or military leaders. A brief question and answer period followed Gueyikian’s presentation, thus concluding the May 28th commemoration.


“Native home and Fatherland of all past and future generations

is the golden matrix of their souls.”

—Avedis Aharonian

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Source: Armenian Weekly
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