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COLUMN ONE : The Riddle of Monte Melkonian : Family and friends wonder how a Visalia Cub Scout with no interest in his roots ended up as a terrorist and Armenian war martyr.

October 09, 1993|MARK ARAX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"We actually have won this war so far thanks to Avo," said Warrant Officer Grayer Girgorian in an interview in The Times this year. "He turned our army from a bunch of Rambos into an army of discipline, valor and bravery."

Armenians have a saying that every man's destiny has been carved into his forehead. It was Melkonian's insistence on always being on the front line that put him in death's way last June. When the Azeri cannon shot finally whizzed by, a piece of shrapnel tore right through his forehead.

Back home in Visalia, after three months of funeral Masses and memorials, his parents watch videos of Melkonian on the war front. One tape is a pitch to Armenians abroad for arms and cash, and he is talking like the professor his parents imagined he would have been. They have turned their den into a shrine cluttered with his photos and bloodstained military jacket.

"My son chose not to sit in an armchair," Charles Melkonian said. "When you're on the front line for that long, sooner or later there's going to be a bullet with your name on it."

His mother remains haunted by the image of her son as a killer. "In Belgium, the child of a Turkish diplomat was killed," she said. "We didn't ask. Maybe we were naive. We didn't ask. We never asked because Monte wouldn't answer a thing."

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