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Written by Marten Kehaian    Tuesday, 23 June 2009 08:19    PDF Print E-mail
Van resistance
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The Resistance at Van was an insurgency against the Ottoman Empire's attempts to eliminate the Armenian population in the vilayet of Van. Based mostly in the city of Van, it was one of the few instances during the Armenian Genocide when Armenians, in an act of self-defense, fought against the Ottoman Empire's armed forces. The fighting lasted from April 19, 1915 until May 4 of that year, when the Ottoman army retreated as Russian forces approached the city.


During the late Ottoman period, Van was an important center of Armenian cultural, social, and economic life. Khrimian Hayrik established a printing press in Van, and thereafter launched "Artsiv Vaspurakan" (Eagle of Vaspourakan), which was the first periodical publication in Armenia. In 1885, the Armenakan party was established in the city of Van. Soonafter, the Hnchak and Dashnak parties established branches in the city.

 Hamidian Massacres
Throughout 1895-96 Armenians in the Ottoman Empire suffered in a wave of violence commonly known as the Hamidian massacres. While Van largely avoided massacres in 1895, the Ottomans send a military expedition in June 1896. Armenians were initially able to defend themselves in Van, but upon agreeing to disarm in exchange for safety, massacres continued, culminating in the death of over 20,000 Armenians.
Despite this, Armenians continued to comprise a large section of the population in what is today known as Eastern Anatolia or Western Armenia). In Van province they constituted an absolute majority over the combined Turkish and Kurdish population. [Walker, Christopher J. "Armenia: The Survival of a Nation". London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1990. p. 206]

Tart of hostilities

With the start of hostilities against Russia in fall of 1914, the Ottoman Army under Enver Pasha embarked on an expedition north into Russian Armenia that led to the defeat at Sarıkamış in winter of 1914. However, this had not been the only defeat on the Caucasus front.

Jevdet's reign of terror

The most important change prior to the start of the war had been the replacement of the more moderate Hassan Tahsin Pasha with Jevdet Bey, as the new governor of Van. Jevdet's extremism towards Armenians was more open. A man of dangerously unpredictable moods, friendly one moment, ferociously hostile the next, was capable of treacherous brutality.

Massacres in Persia

To the south, Ottoman forces attacked Russian-occupied Persian Azerbaijan, and occupied its capital, Tabriz in January 1915. There was a large non-Muslim population in this district, consisting of Armenians and Assyrians. Many fled with the retreating Russian army, in a horrible winter trek to the Russian border town of Julfa. Those that remained endured a grim period of looting and massacre; many villages were plundered and destroyed.
The Turks were thrown out of Tabriz on 30 January 1915, but remained in occupation of part of Persian Azerbaijan. A campaign to capture Khoi, 160 kilometres north-west of Tabriz, ensued, led by Djevdet Bey, brother-in-law of Enver. After an unsuccessful attempt, Djevdet ordered the cold-blooded killing of about 800 people – mostly old men, women and children – in the Salmas district (to the north-east of Lake Urmia) in early March.

The massacres continue in Van

Upon returning to Van, Jevdet "instigated a reign of terror in the outlying villages of the province on the pretext of searching for arms." In the process, the Turkish gendarmes indiscriminately murdered Armenians. The Armenian leaders of Van in the meanwhile exhorted the people to endure in silence.

"Better," they said, "that some villages be burned and destroyed unavenged than give the slightest pretext to the Moslems for a general massacre."

Local Armenian leaders Aram Manougian, Vramyan, Ishkhan, and Armenak Yekaryan told the Armenian population to remain loyal to the Ottoman government and not to antagonize it. [Walker, p.206] On April 15, 1915, Hans Freiherr von Wangenheim, the German ambassador in Constantinople, reported "that the Armenians have given up their ideas of a revolution since the introduction of the Constitution and that there is no organization for such a revolt". [Wolfgang & Sigrid Gust, "The Armenian Genocide during the First World War", 2005]

In mid-April 1915, there was trouble in the village of Shadakh, not far from Van: a schoolmaster had been arrested, and there had been a local demonstration in his favour. At the request of Jevdet, several prominent Armenians from Van, led by Ishkhan [ Ishkhan – Nikoghayos Poghos Mikaelian (1881-1915), an active leader of the Armenian self-defensive movement. Opposing the Turkish rulers, he has defended the interests of the Armenians of Van, has given an impetus to education. He was killed on the eve of the self-defensive battles of Van in April by order of the vice-regent Djevdet pasha, went to mediate the dispute. Accompanied by Turkish guards of honor, they stopped midway in a village, where a feast was prepared for them. Here, on April 16, Ishkhan and his Armenian companions were treacherously murdered at the orders of Jevdet bay.

In the meantime, the massacres under the pretexts of an arms search continued. In self defense and retaliation, Armenians attacked a Turkish patrol to Jevdet's anger. Alarmed, Armenians in Van requested Dr. Clarence Ussher, missionary and representative of the United States, to mediate between them and Jevdet. Djevdet attempted to violate the diplomatic immunity of Ussher's compound by trying to garrison 50 Turkish soldiers inside. It became clear to Ussher that mediation attempts would be futile.

Order of general massacre, defense begins

At the same time, Jevdet demanded that the city of Van furnish him 4,000 soldiers immediately

under the pretexts of conscription.

However, it was clear that his goals were to massacre the able bodied men of Van so as there would be no defenders, as he had done in the villages under the pretexts of arms searches, which had turned into massacres. [Morgenthau, Henry. "Ambassador Morgenthau's Story". Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1918. Morgenthau would remark on Jevdets intentions as "when Djevdet Bey, on his return to his official post, demanded that Van furnish him immediately 4,000 soldiers, the people were naturally in no mood to accede to his request. When we consider what had happened before and what happened subsequently, there remains little doubt concerning the purpose which underlay this demand. Djevdet, acting in obedience to orders from Constantinople, was preparing to wipe out the whole population, and his purpose in calling for 4,000 able-bodied men was merely to massacre them, so that the rest of the Armenians might have no defenders. The Armenians, parleying to gain time, offered to furnish five hundred soldiers and to pay exemption money for the rest; now, however, Djevdet began to talk aloud about "rebellion," and his determination to "crush" it at any cost. "If the rebels fire a single shot," he declared:

"I shall kill every Christian man, woman, and" (pointing to his knee) "every child, up to here."

For sometime the Turks had been constructing entrenchments around the Armenian quarter and filling them with soldiers and, in response to this provocation, the Armenians began to make preparations for a defense."]
The Armenians offered five hundred soldiers and to pay exemption money for the rest to buy time, however, Djevdet accused Armenians of "rebellion," and spoke of his determination to "crush" it at any cost. "If the rebels fire a single shot," he declared, "I shall kill every Christian man, woman, and" (pointing to his knee) "every child, up to here." At the same time, the Turks had been constructing entrenchments around the Armenian quarter of Van and garrisoning them for some time. In response to this, the Armenians began to make preparations for a defense. They were protected by eighty manned and barricaded houses called "teerks" as well as walls and trenches. [Bryce, "Treatment".]

On April 19,

Jevdet issued an order throughout the Van province, which read:

"The Armenians must be exterminated. If any Muslim protect a Christian, first, his house shall be burnt; then the Christian killed before his eyes, then his [the Muslim's] family and himself."

[Clarence D. Ussher, An American Physician in Turkey (Boston, 1917), p. 244] . On the same day, Turkish soldiers attacked all Armenian villages in the Van province. [Ussher, p. 244]

April, 20
On the following day, shots were heard to the east of the city. According to American ambassador Henry Morgenthau, on April 20, 1915 Ottoman soldiers seized an Armenian women who wanted to enter the city. Two Armenian men that came to help were later shot dead. Morgenthau would remark that this act lead to the Turkish military forces to open fire upon Van with artillery, effectively laying it under siege.Morgenthau, Henry. "Ambassador Morgenthau's Story". Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1918. Morgenthau would remark that describing the events at Van as an uprising as misleading and false, stating "I have told this story of the "Revolution" in Van not only because it marked the first stage in this organized attempt to wipe out a whole nation, but because these events are always brought forward by the Turks as a justification of their subsequent crimes. As I shall relate, Enver, Talaat, and the rest, when I appealed to them in behalf of the Armenians, invariably instanced the "revolutionists" of Van as a sample of Armenian treachery. The famous "Revolution," as this recital shows, was merely the determination of the Armenians to save their women's honour and their own lives, after the Turks, by massacring thousands of their neighbours, had shown them the fate that awaited them."]
For the battle, Jevdet brought forth his self-proclaimed "kesab taburi," or butcher battalions, numbering some 5,000 men. [Walker. "Survival", p. 211.] As a supplement, Jevdet also had artillery under the command of Rafael de Nogales. To counter them, the Armenian defenders had 1,500 able bodied riflemen who were supplied with 300 rifles and 1,000 pistols and antique weapons. The defenders were essentially protecting 30,000 residents and 15,000 refugees in an area of roughly one square kilometer of the Armenian Quarter and suburb of Aigestan. Jevdet earlier had allowed Armenian survivors from the villages, now refugees to enter the city through his lines as part of his strategy to subdue the defenders with more ease.After easily fighting off the initial assaults, the Armenian defenders of Van with the leadership of Aram of Van, established a local provisional government dealing with defense, provisions, and administration – and foreign relations, to ensure that the neutrality of foreign property was respected. Judges, police and health officials were appointed. [Walker, "Survival", 207.]
Their supply of ammunition was not great, so they were very sparing of it and employed all sorts of devices to draw the fire of the enemy and waste their ammunition. They also began to make bullets and cartridges, manufacturing 2,000 a day. The defenders also improvised mortars and barricades, and made use of anything they could find.
As part of their strategy, they also attacked the nearby Turkish barracks, but besides this, they did not take many offensive actions. Their numbers were too few, and they were only fighting for their homes and families. Their conflict was with Jevdet, not the Muslim population of the city at large. [ Bryce, "Treatment"]

Russian relief

As food ran low, it soon became urgent to get a messenger out, to tell the Russians of their plight, and so several messengers with messages sewn in their garments were sent out. By the fourth week of the siege, the outlook was poor. Though enemy artillery was largely ineffectual, they had superiority in men and arms.

When word got to Yudenich, he sent a brigade of Trans-Baikal Cossacks under General Trukhin and some Armenian volunteers which two were Araratian volunteer brigade led by commander Sargis Mehrabyan, towards Van.
Then on Friday evening, 14 May, a group of ships sailed from Van, and more followed the next day. Turks were evacuating their women and children. On the 16th there was a bombardment of 46 shells to signal the retreat of Turkish units. When it came time to collect the dead, they numbered some 55,000.

The following day, Armenians had control of the entire town. Soon after, the advance guard of the Russian army, consisting of Armenian volunteers, arrived, [ Hovannisian, Richard G.,(1967) "Armenia on the Road to Independence, 1918." University of California Press] as Russian regulars followed. Once General Yudenich arrived he received the keys to the city and citadel and confirmed the Armenian provisional government in office, with Aram Manougian as governor. With Van secure, fighting shifted farther west for the rest of the summer.

Aftermath August 1915

However, this did not last long, and six weeks later, the Russian forces suffered reverses. In July, the Russian army moved from Van to the fortress town of Malazgirt in preparation for a new offensive into Anatolia. However, the Ottoman Army attacked the Russian Army at Malazgirt before the Russians could launch an offensive of their own. As a result of the defeat, the Russians had to evacuate Van. However, they offered to evacuate the Armenian population of Van, who followed the Russians in a harrowing trek to Russian territory north.
After this, the Ottoman Army was in the city for roughly a month. However, they had to retreat once more from defeats suffered on the field. Some Armenian residents returned to find a pillaged and destroyed town, and began to rebuild. For the next two years the front line moved farther west to Mush and Bitlis.

The last evacuation, 1918

The Russian Revolution of 1917 changed the situation in the region. Soon, with the disintegration of the Russian Army and new Ottoman offensives, the Armenian units of the Russian Army were forced to make a fighting withdrawal back east laden with terrified refugees.
Further southeast, in Van, the Armenians resisted the Turkish army until April 2, 1918, but were eventually forced to evacuate the city and withdraw to Persia.

* [http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/comment/morgenthau/MorgenTC.htm Morgenthau, H. (1918) "Ambassador Morgenthau's Story" Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company] * [http://www.ermeni.org/turkce/vkayutyunner.php?tp=ea&lng=eng Accounts of Armenian survivors from Van.] * [http://net.lib.byu.edu/~rdh7/wwi/1915/bryce/a00tc.htm#TC Bryce, V.(1916) "The Treatement of Armenians on the Ottoman Empire. II Vilayet of Van." London: Couston & Sons Ltd.] * [http://armenia-survival.50megs.com/index.htm Walker, Christopher J.(1990) "Armenia: The Survival of a Nation". London: Palgrave Macmillan] *Balakian, Peter (2004). "The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response." New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-0605-5870-9. *Hohanissian, Richard G. (1997) "The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times." New York. St. Martin's Press.* Ussher, Clarence D.(1917), "An American Physician in Turkey." Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company* Nogales, Rafael de, "Four Years beneath the Crescent"

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 25 October 2009 17:29 )


Hymns and Poems Through Which the Armenians Have Cried Out Against their Persecution

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IN this time of bitter grief among the Armenian people, readers of THE SURVEY may like to look into their thoughts and aspirations as revealed in their poetry. For among the people of many nationalities that have been flung into the American melting pot, the Armenians have one of the most interesting and heroic histories.


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