This is Monte Melkonian, the strangest, most interesting man of the late Cold War.

His story took him from suburban California through the Vietnam War, the Iranian Revolution, the Lebanese Civil War and French prisons to the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
We'll begin in the middle of the story, in 1982 Beirut.

Beirut, 1982: Zaki Chehab and Joseph Nakhla, two reporters for al-Hawadess, think they've scored an interview with leaders of the elusive Armenian Secret Army (ASALA).

Instead, Chehab and Nakhla are blindfolded and kidnapped at the meeting point.

The Armenian fighters apologize, as "the security precautions and the atmosphere demand this from us."

After a terrifying car ride, they finally arrive at the real safehouse.

Everyone in the safehouse is wearing a mask. Everyone, that is, except for the mysterious "Dimitri Giorgiu," who has just been released from a French prison.

Giorgiu was part of an underground network of French Armenians who took over the Turkish consulate in Paris.

Except Giorgiu wasn't French. And that wasn't his real name.

He was Monte Melkonian, born in 1957 in Vidalia, California.

And he was the last person you'd expect to find in a militant safehouse in war-torn Beirut.

Melkonian had an all-American upbringing as a Boy Scout and Little League player. He didn't think much about his Armenian heritage growing up in the sleepy San Joaquin Valley.

That all changed in 1969, when his family took a trip to Europe and Turkey.

Melkonian learned about the Armenian genocide during World War I, when Turkish forces exterminated 1.5 million of his people.

His ancestral town, Merzifon, had almost no Armenians left.

And at the time, Turkey was a U.S. ally while Armenia was a Soviet republic.

Melkonian graduated high school at age 15. He learned Japanese and traveled around East Asia to teach English and learn martial arts.

Along the way, he witnessed the end of the Vietnam War.

Melkonian returned to California to study archaeology at UC Berkeley. In 1978, he organized an exhibition of Armenian artifacts, but the Turkish consulate had the university censor his section on the Armenian genocide.

Instead of grad school, he went to the Middle East.

Melkonian arrived in Iran as an English teacher in 1978 — just in time for the revolution.

He was near Jaleh Square when U.S.-backed pro-monarchist troops gunned down protesters in a massacre known as Black Friday.

He joined the revolutionaries.

Melkonian first organized a teacher's strike, then joined the Kurdish guerrillas fighting both the monarchy and the post-revolution Islamic Republic.

He was rejected by Rahman Ghassemlou's Kurdistan Democratic Party, so he joined the communist Komala Party instead.

Their strength impressed him.

“I suggest that the Armenian struggle, if it is to succeed, requires at least as much commitment from every one of us,” Melkonian later wrote.

He continued to wear a Kurdish uniform later in life.

(If you have any photos, let me know!)

Melkonian then went with the Hunchak (Armenian Social Democrat) party to Lebanon, where there was a civil war raging.

The Armenians were caught between the Maronite Catholic-led right-wing forces and the Palestinian-led left-wing forces.

Along the way, Melkonian passed by the training camp of a small guerrilla group called the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The PKK later waged a decades-long insurgency/terror campaign against the Turkish govt, and saved the Ezidi people of Iraq from ISIS.

Melkonian helped the Armenians defend their neighborhoods in Beirut and translated for Japanese leftists.

There, he met the infamous Harutiun Takoshian, better known by his codename — Hagop "Abu Mujahid" Hagopian.

In 1975, an elderly Armenian Genocide survivor named Gourgen Yanikian got his revenge by murdering two Turkish diplomats in Los Angeles.

Yanikian's act sent shockwaves through the Armenian communities worldwide, and inspired Hagopian to found his Secret Army (ASALA).

Hagopian had fought alongside Palestinian guerrillas, and may have even helped Japanese leftists raid the Japanese embassy in Kuwait.

He used his military expertise to terrorize the Turkish govt, assassinating Turkish diplomats worldwide.

In 1981, with Melkonian's help, ASALA carried out Operation Van, their biggest attack yet.

Armenian militants stormed the Turkish consulate in Paris in Sept 1981.

The hostage crisis made the Armenian genocide into front-page news around Europe and America.

Melkonian was arrested by French police, carrying a Cypriot passport w/the name "Dimitri Giorgiu."

He was released after ASALA carried out more bomb attacks.

Journalists accused the ruling Socialists of France of making a secret treaty with ASALA
ASALA's attacks became a menace for the Turkish govt, which was losing diplomats *and* popularity in Europe.

They also inspired copycat groups, like the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide, founded by the Dashnak Party of anti-Soviet nationalists.

Melkonian returned to Lebanon, where he gave the interview to Chehab and Nakhla.

That summer, things took a darker turn.

In response to cross-border attacks by Palestinian guerrillas, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon.

The Israeli forces helped Turkey eliminate the Armenian and Kurdish militant presence. A young Netanyahu helped arrange this: https://doi.org/10.1080/14672745.2018.1483342

(Sept. 1982 edition of Serxwebûn magazine, written by Kurdish prisoners in an Israeli POW camp in Ansar, Lebanon)

ASALA was forced to rely on Syrian intelligence and the psychopathic Palestinian militant Abu Nidal for protection.

Things really went downhill, which led to the militants losing Armenian community support and Melkonian leaving ASALA.

In particular, ASALA carried out deadly attacks on civilians in Turkey in 1982 and in France in 1983.

"More than a million of us died, what does it matter if 25 of you die?" the 1982 attacker shouted.

Armenians reacted with disgust, and Melkonian split from Hagopian.

Melkonian was arrested again, in France. This time, he got a six year sentence for false papers and gun possession.

He had a lot of time to think, and wrote essays on left-wing nationalism, posthumously published as The Right To Struggle.

At the time, some of historic Armenian land was a Soviet republic. The rest was part of Turkey, and had been ethnically-cleansed of Armenians.

Melkonian saw 2 options: the land could “be integrated into Soviet Armenia” or “revolutionary Turkey and/or Kurdistan”

ASALA had been very pro-Soviet.

In his interview with Chehab, Hagopian said he wanted the USSR to help win "the liberation of occupied Armenia from the Turkish regime and the establishment of a socialist society in liberated Armenia."

Melkonian was a little more ambivalent.

In addition to the "structural political changes…needed to truly liberate the potential of Soviet citizens," there were millions of Kurds and Turks living on the lands ASALA claimed for "Liberated Armenia."

Melkonian wrote that “establishing the presence of our people in our homeland does not automatically necessitate an independent Armenian state apparatus.”

He believed that a multiethnic revolution in Turkey would allow Armenians to live alongside Turks and Kurds.

Of course, this dream was never realized. The Soviet Union began to break up, and with it brought ethnic conflict.

Armenians in the Soviet Azerbaijani province of Karabakh protested to become part of Soviet Armenia. Azeris carried out pogroms against Armenians.

Melkonian got out of French prison in 1989. (He had been arrested in 1985.) He traveled to Soviet Armenia as the ethnic violence was picking up.

"If we lose [Karabakh], we turn the final page of our people's history," he warned.
Melkonian helped lead the Armenian guerrilla force in Karabakh, which became the Artsakh Defense Army in 1992.

He planned the famous April 1993 four-day offensive on Kalbajar, which linked Karabakh with the rest of Armenia.

Melkonian was killed in an ambush during the Battle of Aghdam on June 12, 1993.

The war in 1994 with Armenian forces in control of Karabakh. Both sides committed horrible crimes, and over 1 million people were displaced by the war.

ASALA is hated in Turkey and controversial among Armenians, who have rejected its tactics.

Melkonian is more fondly remembered in Armenia. He is considered a hero of the Karabakh War, which has just restarted after a years-long ceasefire.

So the ghosts of the Cold War are still with us in ways you wouldn't expect.

This was adopted from my undergrad thesis at Columbia, bibliography on ASALA below.

Also see this source: https://komun-academy.com/2018/11/30/arabs-kurds-armenians-memoirs-of-an-armenian-in-the-bekaa-valley/

Oh, and how could I forget!

Melkonian, Monte. The Right to Struggle: Selected Writings of Monte Melkonian on the Armenian National Question. 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Sardarabad Collective, 1993.
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