This Week in Armenian History

Death of Hovhannes Bagramian (September 21, 1982)

Marshal Hovhannes Bagramian (Baghramian) was a famous Soviet military commander during World War II, when he became the second non-Slavic military officer, after Latvian Max Reyter, to become the commander of a Front. He was among several Armenians high-ranking officers in the Soviet Army during the war and widely regarded as a hero in the Soviet Union and Armenia.

He was born in Elizavetpol, the historical Armenian city of Gandzak (modern Ganja, now in Azerbaijan) on December 2, 1897. His parents were from the nearby village of Chartakhlu, which was populated almost entirely by migrants from the village of Maghavuz in Gharabagh. His parents could not afford to send him to the local gymnasium and enrolled him in a two-year school. After graduation in 1912, Bagramian went to the three-year railway technical institute in Tiflis, following his father in the tradition of rail work. He was slated to become a railway engineer, when World War I changed his life.

He entered the Russian Army as a volunteer and joined in 1915 the second Caucasus frontier regiment of the Russian Expeditionary Corps, which was sent to expel the Ottomans from Persia. After the Russian victory, Bagramian returned to Tiflis and attended the military academy for officers from February to June 1917. After the October Revolution, he enlisted in the newly formed Armenian army and fought the Ottoman army in Sarikamish and Kars in April 1918. He took part in the crucial victory at Sardarabad and remained in the regiment until May 1920, when he participated in the failed Bolshevik uprising. He was jailed and sent to work in the fields for several months but was allowed to rejoin the military with the outbreak of the Turkish-Armenian war. After the Sovietization, Bagramian joined the 11th Red Army, where he was appointed cavalry regiment commander. In 1922, he married his wife Tamara, who was the widow of an officer killed during the Turkish-Armenian war left with their one-year-old son. They would have a daughter and live together until her death in 1973.

He was the commander of the Alexandropol cavalry regiment from 1923-1931. He graduated from the Leningrad Cavalry School in 1933 and the Frunze Military Academy in 1934, and then served as chief of staff of the 5th Cavalry Division (1934-1936) and worked as a senior instructor and lecturer at the Military Academy of the Soviet General Staff in 1938-1940. In 1940, Bagramian, then a colonel, became head of operations for the 12th Army based in Ukraine. Within three months, he was appointed deputy chief of staff of the Southwestern Front, headquartered in Kiev.

In a move atypical for a Soviet officer, he joined the Communist Party late in his career, in 1941. After Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Bagramian took part in the great tank battles in western Ukraine and the defensive operation around Kiev. He was then appointed chief of staff to Marshal Semyon Timoshenko and was instrumental in the planning of two Soviet counteroffensives against the Germans, including the major push made by Soviet forces in December during the Battle of Moscow, and for this was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General.

In late 1942, he was appointed commander of the 16th Army, which was not called up to action until February 1943. Bagramian’s 11th Guards Army (the renamed 16th Army) was tasked to take part in the offensive in Kursk in July 1943. After the operation was successfully concluded, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel-General. In the following month, his forces took part in the large-scale tank offensives that forced Germany to remain on the defensive for the remainder of the war.

In November 1943, Stalin offered Bagramian the position of head commander of the First Baltic Front and promoted him to the rank of Army General. He had a key role in Operation Bagration, which was launched in June 1944 to eliminate a pocket of four armies of Panzer tanks. He was decorated with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for his achievements in the success of the operation. As commander of the Baltic Front, he participated in the offensives that pushed German forces out of the Baltic republics in July-August 1944.

After the war, he remained in command of the Baltic Military District. In 1955 he was appointed deputy minister of Defense with the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union. He was also head of the Military Academy of General Staff and commander of the reserve forces of the Soviet Armed Forces.

He served as deputy of the Supreme Soviets of Armenia (1955-1982) and Latvia. In 1961, he was inducted as a full member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He wrote articles in military journals about Soviet strategic operations and, most notably, co-authored the six-volume work The Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War (1941–1945). In August 1967, he accompanied General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin to North Vietnam, where he helped negotiate the transfer of logistics and arms to the country during the Vietnam War.

Bagramian retired in 1968 and published his two-volume war memoirs in 1971 and 1977. Based on these two volumes, he published My Memoirs in 1980, based on the previous two volumes. He dedicated a large portion of the book to Armenian issues, including the territories of Western Armenia, the Ottoman massacres of Armenians and the Armenian genocide, the Ottoman invasion of Eastern Armenia and the battle of Sardarabad, as well as other topics.

Marshal Bagramian was awarded numerous Soviet and foreign orders and medals for his service, including two Orders of Hero of the Soviet Union, seven Order of Lenin, the Order of the October Revolution, three Orders of the Red Banner, two Orders of Suvorov and the Order of Kutuzov.

Bagramian passed away on September 21, 1982, in Moscow, and was buried with full military honors at the Kremlin wall necropolis in the Russian capital. A town in Armenia, a military firing range, an Armenian army training brigade, and a subway station and central street in Yerevan are named in his honor. In 1997, the government of Armenia established a commemorative medal with his name, which is awarded to servicemen and civilian personnel who participated in World War II.

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