Levon Ter-Petrossian: First President of the Republic of Armenia

By Gevork Nazaryan

Levon Ter-Petrossian was born in 1945 in Syria. He is the son of Hakop Ter-Petrossian, a political activist who played an important role in the formation of the Left Wing political movement in Syria and as well as Lebanon. Levon Ter-Petrossian comes from a stock and a clan of proud and noble Armenians of Mousa Ler (Mousa Dagh, Mount of Moses), Armenians who for more than forty days fought against the onslaught of barbarous Turkish regular army during the horrible year of 1915. The Mousa Lertsis not only stopped the Turkish army into moving in and carrying out massacre in the Armenian villages surrounding Mt. Mousa Ler, but also rendered a heavy blow to the Turkish divisions in Cilicia. After more than forty days of heroic defense, most of the Mousa Lertsis, were safely transported to Egyptian and Syrian ports by a French battleship.

In 1946 during the Great Repatriation Ter-Petrossian family boarded the ship Russia and along with thousands of compatriot families (along with my fathers family), from Syria sailed to Soviet Armenia. The Armenian communist emissaries were promising the Armenians returning to their homeland, proletariat utopia of Workers State, equality, progress and happiness. Instead of open arms of fellow compatriots most of the returning Armenians, most of whom were overjoyed with the fact of living in their homeland, found the dreaded Stalinist purges, distrust and even jealousy from the behalf of their kinsmen. In 1949 a new wave of terror struck all over the Soviet Union, millions of former proletariats became bourgeoisie, agents and spies of Western powers (especially those who had previous ties and connections to non-Socialist parties such as ARF, which in itself was a Socialist party, with strong nationalistic tendencies, but at that time adopted an overall anti-Soviet and anti-Communist stance) and were sent to labor camps in Siberia, many were shot under the pretext of the enemy of the people. After the death of Stalin in 1953, the horrific purges and difficult tensions had seized and most of the new homesteaders began to slowly merge into the general public. The Republic had gained and learned a lot from the newcomers the advancement of republics wealth of the mind and knowledge, was enormous.

The hayrenatarts wave introduced new ways and advancements to the homeland. Levon-Ter Petrossian graduated from school and enrolled into prestigious Yerevan State University, majoring in history (particularly in early Armenian history, his dissertation and thesis was on the early relations between the Armenians and Nestorian Syrians, he spoke fluently Syrian as well as Russian, French and Arabic, along with other several languages). In 1965, upon the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Levon Ter-Petrossian participated in the Student Apprising as it later became known. Many students from different universities and institutes participated in a number of mass rallies and marches, clashed with the internal militia forces, burned buses and trolleys. The students showed their conviction in reunification of historical Western Armenia with the Armenian Republic.

The apprising was one of the earliest forms of showing the Armenian dissatisfaction with Soviet central policies. After receiving a degree (1968) in history from the YSU, Levon Ter-Petrossian transferred to a university in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), where he received his doctorate (1971) in the field of oriental studies (Syriology, not to be confused with Assyriology, study of Ashur). While in Leningrad in 1970, he married Lucia Ter-Petrossian. In 1972, after returning to Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrossian entered the Manouk Abeghyan Literature Institute of Armenian Academy of Sciences. In 1978, after more than 6 years of research at the Academy of Sciences, he became the senior researcher at the Matenadaran Depository and the Institute for the preservation, study and publishing of ancient Manuscripts. He remained and continued his work in Matenadaran until the year 1988, an eventful, crucial and significant year in the history of the Armenian nation.

In late 87 the Armenians of Artsakh, which for decades had been unjustly placed within Azeri Turk rule were collecting signatures and organizing for the referendum of Nagorno-Karabakh Supreme Soviet which would act within the framework of the Soviet Law and constitutionally make the decision of secession from the Soviet Azerbaijan and reunification to Soviet Armenia. The Azeris answered the just please and cause in a typical Turkic fashion. In February of 1988 in the city of Sumgait a huge blood thirsty Azeri scoundrel mob with utmost barbarity attacked and massacred tens of dozens of innocent Armenian civilians, old and young alike were beaten, raped and slaughtered, some cases reported the burning of looted and obliterated corpses. The massacres and the pogroms created an angry sentiment of revenge and retaliation in Armenia and as well as Artsakh, it was in this crucial period, when an organizing force of the masses was mostly needed that the Karabagh Committee was formed.

Levon Ter-Petrossian was one of the prominent and respected figures of the Karabagh Committee. His speeches and ideal mesmerized the nation. His iron will and determination in achieving total liberation and reunification of Artsakh with the Motherland quickly made Levon-Ter Petrossian the leader of the newly emerging democratic movement. The year of 1988 was marked with demonstrations (a republic wide work strike, organized by the committee was an unprecedented event and was the first in the history of U.S.S.R), mass rallies and pickets, with a peek of the movement a mass rally held in Yerevan in mid 88, surpassed the mark of one million citizen demonstrators from all over Armenia and the Diaspora.

On December 7, 1988 one of the worst tragedies in the history of the Armenian nation occurred: a powerful earthquake hit the Shirak and Lori districts. Cities such as Gyumri (Leninakan) and Spitak were utterly obliterated, with a minimum estimated toll of more than 25,000 dead and countless others injured. The earthquake, not only rendered a hit to the populace of the Shirak-Lori regions and paralyzed the economy, it was also a great blow to the Karabakh movement which by late 88 had become a powerful political force in Armenia. The Karabakh committee made the rescue and relief efforts in the earthquake zone its first priority. Many volunteers, organized by the efforts of the Committee were sent into the disaster area and labored in the many different areas of relief works. The Soviet authority fearing the rapid growth of a new democratic force, gaining popularity and operating outside the Communist framework began a ring of arrests in the suspected list of extremists, separatists and nationalists. All of the 11 members of the Karabagh Committee among them popular leaders such as Levon Ter-Petrossian, Hambartsoum Galstyan, Raphael Ghazaryan, Vazgen Manoukyan, Ashot Manoucharyan and Khachik Stamboultsyan, along with more than 200 collaborators and sympathizers were promptly arrested and were reallocated to prison confinement in Russia. Ironically the Communist goal of destroying the prestige and the image of the Committee backfired. The members of the committee became the icons and the heroes of the new democratic wave that began in the Freedom Square of Yerevan was already beginning to spread to other parts of the Soviet Union and even to the Socialist block in Eastern Europe.

Almost mythical stories were reaching the mass rallies in Yerevan; Galstyans 16 day hunger strike and isolation cell confinement; Stamboltsyans spiritual counselling to convicted murderers; fundraising for the Armenian earthquake survivors among common criminals. In Yerevan a martial law was imposed and Soviet Internal Troops were sent in and began to patrol the streets and boulevards of Yerevan. In April of 1989 the supporters of the Committee reorganized and formed the Armenian Pan-National Movement (ANM), the struggle that began with the liberation of Artsakh turned into an All-Armenian movement

The Political prisoners and the members of the Committee were released on May 31, 1989. They returned and entered Yerevan in triumph, hailed as heroes they were literally carried on the shoulders of the supporters to the meeting of the tens of thousands of supporters at the mass rally in front of the Matenadaran, which became the symbol of the revival of Armenian spirit. The momentum of the political events quickly shifted in to the hands of the newly emerging democratic ANM block. Already by the end of 1989 the Soviet Union began to show signs of decay.

On June 16, 1989, three hundred and ten delegates from the various national parties and organizations (amongst the largest represented were ANM, the environmentalists-Greens Union, National Self-Determination Union headed by the returned political exile Parouyr Hairikyan) met at Yerevan State University (YSU) to formalize the creation of the ANM and affirm the groups dedication to universal self-determination, social justice and democracy. The Armenian Supreme Soviet officially recognized the movement on June 28, 1989. In August, four out of five candidates backed by the ANM won seats to the legislature in the special elections.

The ANM convened its first congress in Yerevan on November 4-5 of 1989, the first ANM conference concluded with the election of a 36-person executive committee (including Levon Ter-Petrossian with the other10 members of the Karabagh Committee) and the adoption of a statement outlining the movements goal and by-laws. As expected, the reunification of Artsakh with Armenia headed the ANMs short-terms aims. Moreover, many of the pronouncements on national self-defense, economic autonomy, separate foreign policy, freedom of expression, and multiple forms of property ownership would find their way into the Armenian Supreme Soviets declaration of independence on August 24, 1990 (Although the official independence is considered September 21, 1991, the date of official, public independence referendum, Armenia was already de-facto independent by early 1990).

On October 16th 1991 Levon Ter-Petrossian becomes Armenia’s first democratically elected president. In 1998 President Levon Ter-Petrossian was elected for a second term, but resigns in the same year. He was succeeded by Robert Kocharian, elected 2nd President of Armenia on April 1998.

While in the 13th century the Armenians prospered in the Cilician Kingdom, those living in Greater Armenia witnessed the invasion of the Mongols. Later, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Armenia was divided between the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Iran. With the annexation of the Armenian plateau, the Armenians lost all vestiges of an independent political life. The Persian leader Shah Abbas I inaugurated a policy of moving populations of entire Armenian regions to his country to create a noman’s land in the path of the Ottoman advance, and to bring a skilled merchant and artisan class to his new capital, Isfahan. The Armenian community of New Julfa, a suburb of Isfahan, was held by Shah Abbas I in great esteem and became one of the economic bases of the Safavid state.

Persians ruled Eastern Armenia until 1828, when it was annexed by Russia. However, it was the Ottoman Turks who governed most of the Armenian land and population (Western Armenia). During the 19th century, Armenians under Turkish rule suffered from discrimination, heavy taxation and armed attacks.
As Christians, Armenians lacked legal recourse for injustices. They were taxed beyond their means, forbidden to bear arms in a country where murdering a non-Muslim often went unpunished, and were without the right to testify in court on their own behalf. During the late l9th century, the increasingly reactionary politics of the declining Ottoman Empire and the awakening of the Armenians culminated in a series of Turkish massacres throughout the Armenian provinces in 1894-96. Any illusion the Armenians had cherished to the effect that the acquisition of power in 1908 by the Young Turks might bring better days was soon dispelled. For in the spring of 1909, yet another orgy of bloodshed took place in Adana, where 30,000 Armenians lost their lives after a desperate resistance. World War I offered a good opportunity for Turks to “solve the issue.” In 1915, a secret military directive ordered the arrest and prompt execution of Armenian community leaders.

Armenian males serving in the Ottoman army were separated from the rest and slaughtered. The Istanbul government decided to deport the entire Armenian population. Armenians in towns and villages were marched into deserts of Syria, Mesopotamia and Arabia. During the “relocation” many were flogged to death, bayoneted, buried alive in pits, drowned in rivers, beheaded, raped or abducted into harems. Many simply expired from heat exhaustion and starvation. 1.5 million people perished in this first genocide of the 20th century. Another wave of massacres occurred in Baku (1918), Shushi (1920) and elsewhere.

The defeat of the Ottoman Turks in World War I and the disintegration of the Russian Empire gave the Armenians a chance to declare their independence. On May 28, 1918, the independent Republic of Armenia was established, after the Armenians forced the Turkish troops to withdraw in the battles of Sardarapat, Karakilisse and Bashabaran. Overwhelming difficulties confronted the infant republic, but amid these conditions the Armenians devoted all their energies to the pressing task of reconstructing their country. However, due to pressure exerted simultaneously by the Turks and Communists, the republic collapsed in 1920. Finally, the Soviet Red Army moved into the territory (Eastern Armenia) and on November 29, 1920, declared it a Soviet republic. Armenia was made part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic in 1922, and in 1936, it became one of the Soviet Union’s constituent republics.

The tumultuous changes occurring throughout the Soviet Union beginning in the 1980’s inevitably had repercussions in Armenia. In 1988, a movement of support began in Armenia for the constitutional struggle of Nagorno Karabagh (Artsakh) Armenians to exercise their right to self-determination. (This predominantly Armenian populated autonomous region had been placed under the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan by an arbitrary decision of Stalin in 1923.)
That same year, in 1988, Armenia was rocked by severe earthquakes that killed thousands, and supplies from both the Soviet Union and the West were blocked by the Azerbaijani Government fighting the Armenians in Nagorno Karabagh. Both of these issues have dominated Armenia’s political arena since the first democratic election held in Armenia during the Soviet era. In 1990, the Armenian National Movement won a majority of seats in the parliament and formed a government. On September 21, 1991, the Armenian people overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence in a national referendum, and an independent Armenia came into being.


No comments yet.

 Add your comment 

Facebook Page
Our Social Profiles