Armenian Heroes of the 1812 Patriotic War
The 200th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino is widely celebrated in Russia. Conferences and “round tables” are held, and thematic displays are constructed. Three books containing the biographies of the brilliant Russian strategists—Kutuzov, Barclay de Tolly, and Bagration—who led the Russian Army in the war against Napoleon came out in the “great people” series.
“There was a thunder of 2,000 cannons and 200,000 guns that shook the ground beneath our feet. It was spewing death with such hellish speed that any rescue seemed impossible,” Count Leo Tolstoy famously described in his novel War and Peace, bringing out the true people’s war with the feats of high-ranking noble officers and ordinary soldiers, Cossacks and unprecedentedly large forces of militia.
Armenians were among those who fought the French and shed blood on the field of Borodino: Generals Paul Airapetov and Theodore Akhverdov (the author of Description of the 1812 War), Captain Dmitri Akhsharumov, Prince Vasili Bebutov, Colonel David Delianov, brother-officers Ivan, David, and Alexander Abamelik, Captain Zoan Firalov, and Don Armenians volunteer flying squad’s valiant commander Nikita Abramov. Today the portraits of these heroes (their merits were highly esteemed with ranks and even knighthood by the highest order of the emperor) can be seen in the series of 333 portraits displayed in the War Gallery of the Hermitage Museum. There, the glorified military commanders of the 1812 Patriotic War look down on us with their handsome and brave faces “full of military courage,” as Alexander Pushkin described them.
In that row there is a portrait of Valerian Madatov (1782-1829), the lucky warlike hussar who won the admiration of everyone. He was born in the Karabagh Chanahchi (Avetaranots) settlement, not far from Shushi. At the age of 15 he arrived in Russia. An ambitious young man, he joined the military service in St. Petersburg. Soon afterwards he became the sword belt-ensign of the Preobrajensk Imperial Life Guards regiment. The first time he experienced fire was in General Bagration’s regiment during the 1806-12 Russian-Turkish War. At Rassevatom, Madatov, then 26, routed, with 2 squadrons of hussars, the 4,000-strong cavalry corps of Khosrow Pasha. After that battle, he was awarded the golden sword inscribed “for Bravery.” In the Chaushkoy village, Madatov was promoted to Major and received the St. George Cross for his second brave action when, with the squadron of hussars, he cut into the outnumbered enemy column, scattered them, and took their weapons.
The Patriotic War soon broke out. The Russian Army was retreating. Among the first who started to fight back against the French was Colonel Prince Valerian Madatov. An experienced warrior, he led the Alexandria regiment in several battles, except in the Battle at Borodino. There was no other colonel in the Russian Army who worked his way up the ranks so successfully, who had so many orders of the highest esteem and a golden sword studded with diamonds. Madatov received that award for his actions in Berezina in November 1812: The discarded Russian avant-garde was retreating when Madatov turned to his soldiers and said, “Hussars, look, I’m riding on the enemy. If you fall behind, I’ll be captured or die.” And without waiting for an answer, he rushed forward. Under the fire of 20 guns, the hussars followed their commander. In the bloody battle that ensued, the Alexandrians got their chance to restore the honor of Russian arms. Following that fight Marshal Dibich named Madatov “Russian Murat,” comparing him with the Napoleonic marshal.
During his service in the Caucasus, Madatov proved to be a skillful diplomat. For 11 years, beginning in 1816, he commanded the troops in Karabagh and neighboring Sheki and Shirvan khanates, helping general Aleksey Yermolov, the Caucasian Corps commander-in-chief, to subdue the Chechens and the Akushins. In 1826, a large Persian Army led by Abbas Mirza invaded Russia thus beginning the Russian-Persian War. Lieutenant General Madatov (he was promoted to this high rank by the new chief commander, I. Paskevitch), with forces nearly 10 times weaker, and with 2 battalions, 4 light guns, and a team of Karabagh riders, encountered the rapidly advancing Tiflis Persians at Shamhor River and on Sept. 3, 1826, soundly defeated them. That glorious military campaign ended with the occupation of the Shusha fortress and the signing of the Turkmanchay agreement. According to the agreement, the eastern part of Armenia, between the Khura and Araks Rivers, was transferred Russia. Soon Madatov appeared in the Balkan theater of another war, with the Ottomans. There, under the Shumla fortress walls, the hussars’ division commander attacked the heavily fortified Russian positions and saw the glory of “the Russian Murat” once again.
That battle was the last in his life. Madatov died of longstanding illness, not of a severe wound, on Sept. 7, 1829. He had avoided death on the battlefield, but within a few days consumption took a brave man to the grave. The Turks opened the gates of the fortress and allowed for Madatov, who was always merciful to the enemy and to the civilian population, to be buried in the cemetery near the Armenian church. Later by the will of the Russian Tsar Nicholas I, his remains were transported to Russia and reburied at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg, next to other prominent Russian figures. Now you can catch up with Prince V. Madatov in Shumen, the old Bulgarian town; in May 2007, a monument made by famed sculptor Georgiy Frangulyan was inaugurated there.
Poll results show that almost a third of Russians (31 percent) do not know who Russia fought in the war of 1812. The 31 percent is made up not only of pensioners older than 80 (48 percent of whom know the answer), but of 60 percent of 18 to 30-year-olds. This sad statistic is reinforced by the mind-warping publication titled “Contributed to the Russian Victory.” For these writers, only individuals of Russian-origin contributed to the victory. However, they may have forgotten that “Russia” meant not only the Russians. For, 200 years ago, when freedom and independence were at stake, people of all ages, origins, and social status called “the Russians” rose not to contribute but to support the Russian Army’s combat strength, eventually allowing it to force the Napoleon invaders out of the country. On the field near the village of Borodino, which is at present an open-air historical memorial complex, it is hard to imagine that this verdurous area was once a battlefield, that heroes once stood there, at the general N. Rajewski artillery battery in dust, smoke, and confusion, that at any moment one could be shot by a cannonball. In the memory of generations, it has remained a “Redoubt of Fame.” In 1837 M. Lermontov romanticized the bloodiest single day of action of the French invasion in his famous poem. But very few know that very Uncle’s prototype, accessed by the poet, was Russian general Paul Melikov (Boghos Melikyants), of Armenian origin, who proved a hero and lost his right arm at the terrible Battle at Borodino. His stories inspired Lermontov to write a poem.
Maghda Neyman, an outstanding historian and an expert of the 19th-century reports, writes: “In 1060 the Armenians accepted the invitation to the Grand Duke of Kiev and settled in the metropolitan area. They provided the principality with significant service both in the war with the Poles and in developing different crafts.” And thus the historiography of Russian-Armenian mutual relations began, and are now approaching the millennium mark. But who besides the Turks remembers that the Armenians were the only non-Slavic people that participated in all 11 of the Russian-Turkish wars for 44 years? And always on the Russian side. And who now recognizes that an ethnically Armenian woman, the daughter of an Orthodox priest, Ashen Ter-Manukova, gave birth to the great Russian commander, Generalissimo A. Suvorov? She is buried in Moscow in the Armenian cemetery in Vagankovo. According to Russian and European historians, the Armenians gave Russia many brave and skillful officers. Madatov has been lauded as one of the main heroes of the 1812 Patriotic War, and the 1826-29 Russian-Persian and Russian-Turkish military campaigns. One-hundred and thirty years later, in World War II, 2 of his legendary Karabagh-compatriots, marshals Hovhanes Bagramyan and Hamazasp Babajanyan, 64 more Armenian generals, 1 navy admiral (I. Isakov), 1 air marshal (S. Khudyakov), and thousands of other Armenian warriors followed him and demonstrated heroism on the battlefield.
Armenian-Russian relations are a subject of constant attack and criticism; the accurate understanding of historical events are crucial for both peoples with passing time and changing political situations. For that reason it would not hurt to refresh the national historical memory, to do justice to a true time-tested friendship. They say that heroes remain alive for as long as they are remembered. Two centuries have passed and the Borodino Battle with all its heroes continues to stir admiration and reverence. And it can work as an effective reminder and stimulus for enthusiasm in both nations.
Georgiy Saakov is the editor in chief of the “Depi Apaga” Uzbekistan-Armenian magazine. He also contributes to the Armenian Weekly.