Aram Manoukian - The Hero We Did Not Deserve

By Aram Tufenkjian - | Saturday, 30 May 2020

By Aram Tufenkjian

[Graphic by Patrick Azadian]

Let’s imagine for a second that there was a person in Armenia’s history that you could put your finger on and say that without their contribution to our nation, we would not have an Armenia today. Well, there is; and we don’t give him enough credit or remember him enough for his contributions to our nation.

Before the 100th anniversary of the Armenian independence, the only sizeable remembrance of Aram Manoukian in Yerevan was a shoulder height bust outside the police headquarters in. While there are full size statues of other important Armenians scattered around the city, there was none of one of our most important. In July of 2018, he finally got his statue, albeit with a questionable design.. There were even delays and talks about a relocation of the statue away from Nalbandian Street; just a few metres from the Hrabarag must have been too central for Aram.

We have a national cemetery, Yeraplur, which is the burial ground for many of our national heroes from Antranig to Sose Mayrig to Vicken Zakarian, that locals and tourists visit every single day to pay their respects to our past heroes. But Aram’s grave remains tucked away in a corner of Tokhmakh Cemetery with a gravestone so plain, that it would be missed entirely if you didn’t know where it was located. I remember visiting on my own in 2016, the cemetery is huge! Without a map, or any idea where it was I started looking around - surely there would be a sign, something to point you in that direction. None at all. I asked some locals who were working in the cemetery if they knew where our great Aram was buried. No idea. Aram of Van, the man who created the battle plan for the battle of Sartarabad, buried on his own; I daresay with hardly any visitors.

One of the ways that we remember our past heroes and explain the stories of their heroics is through songs or music. We sing about their bravery, we sing about their victories, we sing about their life and the impact they have left on Armenia. We sing at ‘barahanteses’, at schools, at ‘Badanegan’ and at Scouts; but who has ever taught them the song dedicated to Aram Manoukian? Who has even heard of the song dedicated to the Father of Armenia?

The city of Yerevan has been renovated to look like a proper European city. Northern Avenue, Cascade, Hrabarag even Vernissage markets have all been renovated or built relatively recently as tourism in Armenia grows gradually every year. Yet there is a building in the heart of the city that remains in tatters, untouched and even serves as a place to dump rubbish for some. The building is Aram Manoukian’s house of residence from 1917-1919. For those who have visited, the only thing remaining from the house is the ‘shell’ of the house itself, trees growing wildly inside, paint peeling off the front and rubbish dumped both inside as well as outside of the house. A small plaque at the front highlights the importance of the building but would be easily missed unless it is pointed out. There has been some positive news that has come out of Armenia in the last few days, that an agreement has been reached to finally restore Aram Manoukian’s house to a museum.

Until just over a year ago, one of our national landmarks – the balcony where Aram Manoukian stood and proclaimed independence in 1918 in the heart of Yerevan had been leased out to Tashir Pizza. Just under the exact spot where he spoke from, where our national hero against all odds spoke to the people of Armenia and told them that we were an independent nation – had the words ‘Tashir Pizza’ emblazoned across it. This should be a site that is visited by all, that is sacred to all of us because of the monumental battle that was held but instead had been allowed for marketing.

During the AYF Australia Youth Corps program in 2018, I ran an educational on the First Republic of Armenia. It doesn’t sound like the greatest idea to run an educational on Armenian history in Armenia, right? Conveniently, in the Nor Nork Agoomp, there is a portrait of Aram Manoukian that I could use as a reference during the educational. After asking the room of 120 local Nor Nork children who recognised the face in the corner – a maximum of 10 children put their hand up. Thats correct, no typos. 1. 0. Ten children that are growing up in the Armenian educational system could recognise Aram Manoukian – the man that gave up his life for our nation and secured the lives of these children’s grandparents.

Just over two weeks ago, Yerkir Media reported that the ARF had contacted the Yerevan City Council to erect a plaque in front of the statue of Aram with a brief biography. After being rejected; the ARF was told that no statue around the world has a plaque in regards to the person the statue is about, asking why the ARF wants to tie Aram down to a political party and possibly the worst comment that if tourists wanted to know more about the statue, they could ‘google’ it...

‘The Father of Armenia’, ‘Aram of Van’, Aram Manoukian is the hero we didn’t deserve.

He gave his all for the nation only for him to hardly be remembered or even worse, disrespected so many times. But a hero does not think in such ways, I am sure that if Aram was alive today and was aware of all the above, it would hardly even faze him. He would continue his work to ensure the Armenian nation returned to greatness, to ensure that the Armenian nation was free, united, and independent, that every single Armenian had the chance to live a good life. He did not dedicate his life to be remembered but because he simply had to. I’m sure he was quite a plain man, perhaps that is the beauty of his plain grave, scattered amongst all the other people of Armenia – probably exactly where he belongs and where he would want to be.

Upon reflection, Nikol Aghpalian made the following statement about Aram - “When the night comes, go into the room of your soul and talk to your conscience and ask if you work for the Armenian people as Aram did? Have you been self-sacrificing as much as Aram? Have you given all your life to the Armenian people just as Aram?...”

Have you?

We need to strive for the standards set by Aram. We need to idolise Aram's sacrifice, leadership, dedication and will to work. We need to want to give our all of like Aram did. But firstly, we need to remember him, remember his dedication, and remember his accomplishments.

- Aram Tufenkjian is the Chair of the Armenian Youth Federation of Australia Central Executive