Monte’s Journey From The USA to Armenia
“I gave an oath and I belong to one person.
That person is the soldier who fights
for the freedom of the Motherland”.
In Armenia, you can quite often hear the following phrases: “If Monte was alive, everything would be different”, “Monte was a special person. People like him are born once in a thousand years”, “He was a unique personality”. I think he really was an exceptional person, but he did all he could and even more for us. Now it is the turn of our generation to continue his path and the path of others, who spared nothing in their turn.
I met Monte many years ago when I was a student and in one April morning decided to wander in the territory of Yerablur, a military Pantheon located on a hilltop in Yerevan. Yerablur means “Three hills”, translated from Armenian. It has become the burial place of the Armenian men of arms since 1988. Nowadays approximately a thousand soldiers rest at the Pantheon, the majority of whom gave their lives during the Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) war.
In fact, it is not quite correct to say, that I met him in Yerablur because only his body rests there since the soul itself continues to wander in those places, where Armenians need him the most. Just as Monte used to act during his entire conscious life spent on this earth.
Childhood and a National-Consciousness
On November 25, 1957, there was a happy commotion in the Melkonian family. The third child of Charles and Zabel Melkonian was born, who was given the name Monte. In Spanish and in Italian “Monte” means “a mountain”. Maybe his parents subconsciously knew that someday their beloved son would become a mountainlike man for their nation and motherland, would protect them and be loyal to them until his last breath.
Ancestors of Monte moved to the United States in far 1883. His parents were born and raised there and possibly that was the main reason, that they almost did not talk about their origins and even in those rare conversations about their homeland, they used to say “Old country” instead of “Armenia”. Still, if the universe needs to transform someone into a special person, it will find the way.
Two main events took place in Monte’s life during his childhood, which changed the course of his life because they influenced his essence.
Who am I?
In 1969, when Monte was 12 years old, his family took a one-year trip to Europe. When they stopped in Spain for a while, Monte started to take classes of Spanish. During one of the lessons, his teacher gave him the fatal question, which was:
– Where are you from?
– I am from California,- was his answer.
Then the teacher clarified the question:
– I mean where your ancestors came from.
That single question caused a whole bunch of questions inside him and the answers he found brought him to his Armenian roots. Monte started to research the history of Armenia and study the language of his ancient nation.
A Journey of A Lifetime
The journey of the Melkonian family continued and in the spring of the same year, 1969, the road took them to Western Armenia. Among many other places, they also visited Marzvan (modern Merzifan), a town and district in Amasia province in the central Black Sea region, where Montes maternal grandparents used to live less than a decade ago. They found their house, half-ruined, abandoned but still “alive”. Houses never die. First, they stand for the people living in them, soaking their energy into the walls. Then they stand to keep the memory about their inhabitants, and later – to pass all the energy and memories they have gathered to a proper person. After they become eternal memory themselves.
In Marzvan Monte and his family managed to meet a family with Armenian roots and Monte was very impressed by the truths he discovered during the conversation with them. Many years later he confesses to his wife Seda.
– I was never the same after that visit. I saw the place that had been lost.
I am Where I Need to Be
Once Monte realized who he was and where was he coming from, he already knew where to go and what to do. His whole life in later years was dedicated to the Armenian issue, to the protection of Armenians all over the world. He fought side by side with his congener in Iran and in Lebanon, became a member of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA).
He was twice arrested in France for having a fake passport and carrying a gun, for attempting an assassination of a Turkish diplomat and illegal activities of Armenian claimant nature. After the second arrest, he spent almost 4 years in prison and later was exiled from France. In the court he declared:
– All the Armenians have fake passports; French, American, and they will be fake as long as they are not Armenian.
It is significant, that Monte never stopped his pro-Armenian activities even from prison. After a series of clashes with the authorities in a French prison, he was able to obtain not only the literature he requested but also a paper and a pen, which were necessary to write articles for the French newspaper “Hay Baykar” (Armenian struggle), British “Kaytser” (Sparks) and American magazine “Sardarapat”.
This Is Not My Last Struggle
“If we lose Artsakh, we will turn
the last page of the Armenian people’s history”.
Monte arrived in Armenia at the beginning of 1991 with a fake Irish passport. That was his last forgery and last stop. Monte was an archaeologist, a graduate of the University of Berkley, and he was invited to work at the Armenian National Academy of Science in Yerevan. Monte spent there seven months, working on the book named “Armenia and neighbors”, but in September of the same year, he left his position at the Academy and left for Artsakh, where the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict had already turned into a real war.
People in Artsakh met him like a stranger. They could not believe that someone from abroad could come and protect them, fight for them, die for them, but that attitude did not last long. Soon, due to his sincerity, simplicity, and devotion, Monte became a favorite of all locals. People learned to trust him even more than themselves, they loved him and knew – if Monte was nearby, nothing threatened them.
“I am here today because I have no right to be anywhere else. Artsakh will decide the fate of the Armenians. If we lose Artsakh, it will have a very negative impact on the future of all Armenians and Armenia. We have no right to lose. We must realize this now and do everything to win”. This was his belief and slogan.
At the end of 1991, he was in the Shahumian region in the north of Artsakh, fighting for Erkej, Manashid, Karachinar, Buzlukh villages. In February 1992 he moved to Martuni as a regional commander. Everything has changed with his arrival. The protection of the region became organized, people became more confident and started to believe in victory.
Monte led the liberation military operations in Qelbajar (today Qarvajar) and Aghdam (today Akn).
He always used to say, that Artsakh was not his last struggle. Monte had a dream to liberate Western Armenia. And not only a dream: he had made a plan on how to do that.
How and why Monte Chose The Nickname “AVO”
Almost everyone knows, that in Artsakh Monte had a nickname “Avo”, but not all know how he got it. Here is the story.
After forming “The Patriotic Squad” in 1991, Monte asked Seda to compile a list of squad members. When she had already written down everyone’s names, Monte asked to add “Avo” next to his name. Seda knew that “Avo” was a short version of the Armenian name “Avetis” which meant “good news”, but she asked Monte to explain why he had chosen that name. Monte replied in his typical practical tone that it was a common name, short, and easy to be heard on the radio.
Jokes From Monte
Monte almost never wore a hat or a helmet. Once, when there was heavy rain, his friends suggested him to cover his head. Monte laughed, stroked his bald head and said:
– Let it fill my head. Maybe it will make my hair grow.
On April 4, 1980, Monte’s brother Margar visited Beirut for the second time. The first thing Monte showed him after entering the “apartment” was the kitchen.
– We have running water,- he said, pointing to a blue bucket. – You take this, run six floors down to the tank, fill the bucket, and then run six floors up. Did you understand? “Running” water.
Facts About Monte
• Monte spoke nine languages – Armenian, Spanish, English, Italian, Japanese, Turkish, Kurdish, French, and Persian.
• When he was 15, he was sent to Japan from his school, where he lived almost for two years, developed his Japanese, and gained a black belt in karate.
• Monte has finished his university program in Berkley in 2,5 years instead of four. He studied in the Department of Archeology and the History of Ancient Asian Nations. In 1978 he helped to organize an exhibition of Armenian cultural artifacts at one of the university’s libraries.
• His graduate speech was dedicated to Urartian rock-cut tombs.
• He was accepted to Oxford University, but instead of going to England, he left for Western Armenia, to study and measure the ancient rock-cut tombs and dwellings of Vaspurakan.
• Monte studied the history and life of Kurdish people, wrote articles about their origin, culture, habits, and struggle.
• “The art of war” of ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu was his deskbook. He was convinced that every soldier should be familiar with that work․
• The worst words were “abush” (idiot) and “esh” (donkey).
• His military pseudonym in Artsakh was “00”.
• Monte always gave his salary and new uniform that friends used to send him to the soldiers. He himself used old uniforms until they were completely worn out․
• Monte is recognized as a National hero of Armenia and a Hero of Artsakh.
• He had a wonderful sense of humor, a childish smile, and a humble nature.
• He could love deeply. Once he told Seda: “There are three billion women in the world, but I do not care about the remaining 2,999,999,999”.
• Monte has a beginning but has no end. His earthly life has ended on 12 June 1993, his soul is immortal.
Also Read: Soghomon Tehlirian – Operation Nemesis