29 July 2014, 17:34
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Monte Melkonian and the Way of the Samurai – Changing Reality through Struggle

The name entered my life when I was inmy early twenties, long after Karabakh (Artsakh) was independent and the people had begun rebuilding their lives.

One day, I walked into the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF)central office in Glendale and found four copies of a red bookentitled The Right to Struggle by Monte Melkonian. I was curious as to who had left these books and asked everyone in our office. No one knew. Regardless, I was thankful.

As I started reading the book and dissecting the writing, I learned about Monte- beyond the folklore and stories from people who had seen him do this or that in Lebanon.

Yet, it was in another book written by Monte’s brother, entitled My Brother’s Road that I encountered a specific clue that allowed me to understand who Monte really was. There was a photo of a 15-year-old Monte, sitting on top of a Tatami rug that piqued my interest. Upon seeing this photo and inquiring about his Kendo practice, I sought out additional materials that allowed me to discover the real essence of the man.

Monte Melkonian followed the way of the Samurai. With his entire life as a dedication to the right to struggle, Monte had established his goal to Armeniathrough constant struggle.

“The question arises unintentionally: ‘Why should I die if it has no use. Why should I pay with my life for nothing?’ These are value judgments of an egoistic man. When you have to make a choice, don’t allow the thoughts about use or profit sway your mind. Since all of us prefer life to death, that preference in fact determines our choice. Think about the indignity that might befall you when you, laboring for profit, may suddenly fail. Think about the despicable fate of the man who continues to live while he hasn’t yet achieved his goal.”(Bushido: A warrior’s path)

From the outset, we learn about the way Monte lived: how he never held on to objects that had no use, his lack of care for luxurious food or a comfortable place to sleep. He had only one intent; the intent to struggle. All accounts testify to his high level of respect and politeness; how the elderly women he protected often gifted him with his favorite food of simple yogurt and how he lived in the same fashion as those around him.

“Do not sleep under a roof. Carry no money or food. Go alone to places frightening to the common brand of men. Become a criminal of purpose. Be put in jail, and extricate yourself by your own wisdom.” ― Miyamoto Musashi [1]

Whether in Iran, Lebanon, prisons in France, or Armenia, Monte fought for justice, the perseverance ofthe Armenian people and the strength of the Homeland. Through his struggles, he distinguished himself in a unique manner that follows in the tradition of the Armenian code of honor; he served a people and a homeland instead of a lord, as was customary in Medieval Japan.

Fight and offer your life for the Armenian World just as your brave forefathers did, consciously sacrificing their lives for this Homeland...as stated in the Armenian Military Code of Honor (4th and 5th century).

Monte also subscribed to another important rule; he wrote extensively.Whether in the middle of combat or locked in prisons, he never ceased to put his intentions into words. Through his writing, Monte essentially created a dialogue with the youth of the time who were concerned with the Armenian reality. Regardless of what ideas, beliefs or strategies were generated by whom, there was mutual respect and understanding was created through the discipline of communicating through writing.

“It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways.”― Miyamoto Musashi

Nevertheless, Monte’s greatest achievement was the realization of his ability. He became aware of his potential to change himself and, correspondingly, the world that he lived in.

In the Diaspora and in Armenia, I continuously hear the sad narrative that we have inadvertently subscribed to.The country is not a country, we have a decreasing population, there is rampant corruption, and we are quickly sliding downhill. Even our beloved Lake Sevan is completely devoid of its trademark Ishkhan trout.

Then the reminiscing follows. You hear people say longing for “the good old days…” It doesn’t matter if the “good old days” were in Lebanon, the Soviet Union, Syria, or Egypt. Essentially, if you enter any diaspora community into the adage and insert a timespan of roughly 50 years, the story always sounds the same - we were strong, the economy was great, we were well off, we had a strong community, we had ministers, and we had power. Yet, that generation is no longer with us, and this new generation is, as you know, considerably different. Then the wishing begins…

“Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate. Neither wisdom nor technique has a place in this. A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing this, you will awaken from your dreams.” ― Yamamoto Tsunetomo[2]

Monte was in Armenia right before independence. He was here during the war, and he was present when times were much worse than now. We remember with pride and revel in what the Armenian warrior spirit did at that time, while others thought of themselves, complained, or lost all hope.

We can all do our part for our homeland, from the greatest achievements to the most minimal tasks. The key is to not give in to destructive narratives that only hinder the significant strides that we have made thus far. We should embrace our differences and convert them into strengths. We should organize and realize our collective ability to effect change on an individual, communal, national, and international level.

“There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking.”―Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Armenia and the Armenian people do have their current challenges,both inside and outside of Armenia, just like any given nation throughout the span of history. Our generation has to do its part to navigate the storm and dismantle the obstacles.

Monte Melkonian was one man, but he learned the ‘way’ from the great men of the past and applied this teaching to his everyday life. By doing this he followed the ‘way’ and truly exemplified the right to struggle.

"The flower of flowers is the Sakura - Cherry Blossom. The Samurai is the man among men." -Japanese proverb

(Vrej Haroutounian and his brother Vahe operate Four Peaks Landscape + Architecture in Armenia. Vrej moved to Yerevan from California.)

[1] Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584 – 1645), was a Japanese swordsman and rōnin. He was the founder of the HyōhōNitenIchi-ryū style of swordsmanship and the author of The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho), a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today.

[2] Yamamoto Tsunetomo (1659 – 1719) was a samurai of the Saga Domain in Hizen Province. His commentaries were compiled and published in 1716 under the title of Hagakure, a word that can be translated as either In the shadow the Leaves or hidden leaves


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