Garegin Nzhdeh (Ter-Harutyunyan), Armenian National Hero, Commander and Philosopher

Garegin Nzhdeh (Ter-Harutyunyan), Armenian National Hero, Commander and Philosopher

“If you want to see the future of a nation, look to its youth.”

Who he was

Of the military leaders in the heyday of the Armenian national liberation movement, Garegin Nzhdeh stands alone. His military savvy is only surpassed by his role as an author and a thinker whose collective works helped shape a national ideology and continue to influence the mindset of Armenian thinkers, politicians and leaders to this day. 

Born in Nakhichevan, he left his study of law in St. Petersburg to return to the Caucasus, where he participated in battles as part of the Armenian liberation movement. He then returned to his education and completed his studies at the military institute in Bulgaria. Returning to Armenia, he led an Armenian-Yezidi division in the Russian army against Turks in the Battle of Gharakilisa (modern-day Vanadzor). He was subsequently put in charge of newly independent Armenia’s southern armed forces. 

When the Bolsheviks entered Armenia, they wanted to pass ownership of Syunik and Artsakh (Karabakh) to Azerbaijan. Nzhdeh fought vehemently against the proposition - and the Bolsheviks - and was able to secure the independence of Syunik and parts of Karabakh and the Nakhichevan region in what would become the short-lived but historically significant Republic of Mountainous Armenia. Although it did not last long, it preserved the region as an Armenian land that would become part of Soviet Armenia and, eventually, part of the newly independent Armenian state. 

He left Armenia after the country was subsumed by the Bolsheviks and would go to the United States and establish the Armenian Youth Federation, one of the oldest youth organizations in the Diaspora. 

Besides his martial exploits, Nzhdeh was a prolific writer, penning letters, books and hundreds of aphorisms that described his observations of modern Armenian psychology and society, as well as the principles that he believed would allow Armenians to achieve lasting national liberation. 

While living in Bulgaria, he continued working toward the fulfillment of Armenia’s national goals. The Soviets invited him to a meeting where they would negotiate, but it was a trap. Nzhdeh was arrested and sent to Vladimir prison in Russia, where he was questioned and tortured. After spending some time in a prison in Yerevan, he was sent back to Vladimir, where he died.

A few years before Armenia’s independence, his body was returned to Armenia through the efforts of several Armenian intellectuals and, according to his wishes, eventually reinterred on Mt. Khustup, a mountain in the southern Armenian province of Syunik.

Interesting fact

“Nzhdeh” was Garegin Ter-Harutyunyan’s nom de guerre, not his given name; “nzhdeh” means pilgrim in Armenian.

Learn more about him

Garegin Nzhdeh [1886–1955] - Hairenik