The night of April 23rd, the whole population of the nearby village of Shah-Baghi took refuge in Aikesdan. Three days previous to this date the Turkish authorities in the village attempted to carry out Jevdet’s plan by demanding the surrender of arms and the enlistment of all able bodied men into the army. The police were chasing and firing after an Armenian youth when other peasants intervened, and a fight broke out lasting a whole day. Six of the policemen were killed, two surrendered and were disarmed and freed. Armenians did not suffer any significant losses. In spite of the initial success, they realized their position was untenable, and it was decided that mass exodus into Aikesdan should take place. The following night, they moved out under the armed protection of some twenty-five defenders to the nearby village of Averag. The fact that Aikesdan itself was under siege was known to them and the risk of their being massacred in the attempt was very real, yet there was no alternative. The villagers of Averag joined them; all managed to arrive safely, passing between the villages of Sikhga and Shoushantz at night. They were housed among families sharing their hospitality as well as their anxiety and tribulations, and labors. Men possessing arms were allocated to defense positions by arrangement of the Defense Command.
Two days later, the 25th of April, a crowd of over ten thousand peasants from the villages of Arjag, Kharagonis, Mantan and the vicinity poured into the streets and orchards of Aikesdan. The leader of this modem day Anabasis was Shirin Hagopian.
The preconceived and well-prepared plans which Jevdet had ordered carried out on April 20th, included this area also. In the following letter Shirin described the tragic development of events:
“My Kurdish messenger and my personal friend Nooro revealed the fact that the government was preparing to massacre all Armenians. The ruler of Pergery, Zia Bey, had summoned Kurdish leaders and admonished them that if any asylum was offered to Armenians, the guilty person’s property would be burned to the ground and he and his family would meet with severest punishment.
“The following plan has been adopted; Jevdet Bey will take care of Van; Zia Bay of Pergery. Amar Bey (grandson of Gob Mahmad), and Fabro with his mounted forces, will take care of Pergeri and Upper Timar; Sharef Bey, Turkish ruler of Sarai, aided by Arif Bey with the military forces under his command and Kurdish clans of Tagoor will attend to Arjag and Lower Timar regions; Lagi, the son of Shakir will attend to Haiotz-Tzor; and the son of Hussein Pasha and the Kurdish clans under him will take care of Arjesh and Aljavaz areas. All have strict orders to carry out the massacres in one day. Later the regions of Nordooz, Shatakh and Gavesh would be taken care of in the same manner.
“They have already massacred one hundred fifty Armenian soldiers who were faithfully serving in the Ottoman army. Dr. Karageoxian was among these. By order of the governor of Sarai, several soldiers, or one or more prominent Armenians, were made to disappear daily and among these was Dr. Arisdagos, a dentist from Moosh.
“Having already heard of the arrest of Vramian and the assassination of Ishkhan, I avoided the trap of Turkish gendarmes who triad to induce me to accompany them to Arjag.
“A force of five hundred cavalry and about one thousand infantry, assisted by Kurdish forces, killed everybody they met in the streets of Arjag, the 19th of April. Armenians there resorted to self-defense. On the 20th a ferocious fight was in full swing. Sahag of Manta was killed.
“Priests Mardiros and Sahag of the village of Kharegonis, eyewitnesses to five days of fighting and retreat, have described the evens as follows:
“We and the villagers, unaware of the events, were planning the spring plowing and sowing of our fields. Mr. Shirin, the federalist agent who was generally absent, being occupied with government relations and communiity work, suddenly came on the 18th of April, 1915. Forthwith he summoned the men and organized a force of seventy armed men. Also he wrote letters and sent runners to all sections informing them of the imminent possibility of massacres and warning them to be ready. Mr. Shirin ordered men, women, and girls of the villages of Mantan and Arjag to come to Kharagois the same night. Now we had more than two thousand five hundred people in the village, (1,300 natives, 700 from Arjag, and 150 from Mantan, besides the 400 refugees from the Azaren and Boghaz Kessen villages who had been with us since last fall). The available number of armed men from Arjag and Mantan increased the number of combatants to eighty. Mr. Shirin assumed the command, organised the squads, indicated each group's defense position, exhorted and encouraged them to honorably discharge their patriotic duty by putting up a stubborn and daring defense.
“A number of armed Kurds arrived in the village that evening with intent to kill and plunder. They were repulsed and left several dead behind. The following day, April 20th, we were surrounded, at day break, by 500 mounted and 1,000 foot soldiers supported by a horde of Kurdish brigands. These were led by the governor of Sarai, Sharaf Bey of Khanasor, Arif of Shav, together with regular army lieutenants and second lieutenants. They also had one field cannon which they put to immediate use by shelling the village with explosives.
“The village was attacked from three directions and the savage fighting lasted until late in the evening. At noon, some of the most intrepid of our men made a sortie against the foe. Our unforgettable hero, Sahag of Mantan lost his life, but his brother, Toros, immediately filled the gap. The morale of our men was superb, they inflicted numerous casualties and forced the enemy back. Mr. Shinn's brother, Ruben, with two companions, rushed to the aid of the hard pressed squads, carrying fresh instruction and words of encouragement from the leader. That night we counted sixty-seven enemy corpses on the battlefield. No enemy was now in sight but we knew we were tightly surrounded. Each fighting man now had a reserve of from thirty to eighty cartridges.
“Under the circumstances, it was thought best to move the population to Gizilja village in the mountains, on the way to Persia. Shirin dispatched a group of eight armed and ten unarmed men from the village of Mantan to Persia to inform the Armenian Revolutionary Committee of the massacres and to ask for help. Samson and his men were to serve as vanguard with other groups were to protect the flanks and the rear. Mr. Shirin and ten of his mounted comrades went out to scout the environs with the idea of attracting the enemy’s attention to assure safe passage of the villagers. As there was no enemy in sight, Shirin ordered strategic positions occupied.
“The following morning the sun's rays found a deserted village. Only the very sick or the very old men and women were left behind, numbering two hundred. Mr. Shinn's sick wife, with her four children, were left in the village. The village was again surrounded by the Turks early in the morning. When Mr. Shirin heard of the fate of his wife and children it was too late to do anything about it.
“The retreating villagers arrived at the village of Gizilja and camped at the foot of the mountain. Immediately food supplies were put under control, a rationing system was introduced supervised by responsible men from each village. Mr. Shirin sent couriers to the Upper and Lower Timar to resist if they are able to, otherwise to take refuge in the islands of Lam and Gdoutz in Lake Van. Strategic points in the mountains were occupied the same day. Under cover of darkness Ruben and several of his mounted comrades attempted without success to enter the village and rescue Shirin's family. Later it was learned that the Turks had identified and butchered them.
“On the 22nd of April, four hundred enemy cavalry tried to skirt our positions by climbing the mountain. They were forced to withdraw leaving seven corpses. The following day they tried it again, approaching from the direction of Yalduzaghaj village, while thousands of infantrymen, aided by cannons, advanced from Napat village. Under cover of a savage barrage, they started to climb the mountain. The fight lasted until nightfall; the enemy was held at bay by the cool courage of our men. About one hundred men from the villages of Guzulja, Napat, Mukhguner, Ardavez, Kababig, Setibeg, Aghajveran and others participated in the struggle. Muno of Napat, a brave fighter, was killed.
“During the night the mass of villagers and their protectors arrived at the village of Averag. Before daybreak, ten thousand people from thirty-two vilages poured into Averag. Mr. Shirin was busy finding fresh fighters and settling the population. The enemy followed on our heels: they surrounded and attacked us on all sides and their two cannons peppered shells on the unarmed and unprotected peasants. The odds were overwhelming; our men fought valiantly, but the populace became panic struck and attempted to flee the village thinking the enemy had already pierced our defense. It was necessary to use force to bring them back. Of the four hundred that sought to flee, more than half were killed. The situation rapidly became desperate. Unable to stop for very long the violent attacks of the enemy's superior forces, we had to retreat back to the village of Gizilja. Manning the mountain positions were the three brothers of Mr. Shirin, Aram, Manasse, Gregory and others. Never for a moment did Mr. Shirin lose his calmness or equilibrium. Missak of Ardavez and Ruben of Godj and their men held the western front; Mihran of Gusnentz and his three comrades defended the northern approaches; Samson of Gizilja, with three other fighters, manned the eastern front while Shirin, his brothers Hrant and Ruben with Mardiros of Godj were defending the southern front. The last group succeeded in momentarily interrupting the cannonade by killing the gunner. Besides, they rushed to the aid of hard pressed comrades, and by their daring held up the morale of the rest, even though the barns in the village were all burning and hiding everything under a veil of dense smoke.
“In the afternoon, Ruben, Shirin’s brother, was mortally wounded in the chest. Then Hrant, Shirin’s other brother, was hit by a shrapnel. The same shell also wounded Shirin’s nephew, Hamazasb. But Mr. Shirin fought on and prevented the enemy from entering the village. As soon as night fell Shirin sent scouts ahead, along with fighters to act as vanguards. The oxen were divided among the nine thousand villagers and he conducted them safely into Aikesdan by passing over the mountains of Shah Baghi and between the village of Sikhga and the large pond of the same name.”
★ ★ ★ ★
Word was received at the Defense Command on April 23rd that large forces of Turkish regulars and Kurdish clans were attacking Darman village for the purpose of pillaging and massacring the inhabitants. Darman is some 10 miles north easterly of Aikesdan. It was decided to go to their rescue. Armenag Yegarian, a member of the Defense Command, together with several experienced fighters had instructions to organize the defense and increase the food and ammunition supply by raiding enemy posts.
As elsewhere, the fighting in the region of Darman started on the 20th of April. The fear of pending massacres had driven the inhabitants of Vosgipag, Farouz, and Bakhezig into the village of Darman on the 20th. Armed men from Sevan, Zarantz, and Lim joined them the same day. The number of men possessing nondescript weapons was eighty; from Faruz, 15 men, from Bakhezig, 10; from Darman, 25; from Sevan, 20, and from Vosgipag, 7 men.
The following day, April 21st, Turks and Kurdish mobs, aided by field artillery, attacked the village. The fighting lasted all day; they attacked in waves but were repulsed with heavy losses.
Turks, simultaneously, attacked the nearby village of Goghbantz but failed to overcome the resistance. The defenders had to evacuate the village because their store of ammunition had been exhausted. The following day the bloodthirsty mob entered the defenseless village, where they murdered twelve men and women who had not managed to leave.
In another nearby village, Tzorovantz, Armenian peasants, relying on the promise of their Moslem neighbors, decided to stay but were massacred by the Turks from Zervandantz on the 23rd. Only seven men managed to escape. Twenty-seven were killed and young women and girls were abducted.
The fate of the village of Lim was no better. Here, also, Armenians depended on the promised protection of their Moslem neighbors. Thirty-five, including the priest, were massacred on April 25th. Some of the young men had previously escaped to Darman Village.
At Sevan village, the peasants were led by the subterfuge and treachery of aldermen Salih and Khalid, into the deep ravine near the village where one hundred-twenty men were butchered.
Similar massacres took place at Ermantz village where forty-four Assyrians were butchered; at Khno, seventy of them were killed. Sixty of them attempting to flee from their villages Akhjachai and Rashan into Persia were slaughtered on the way, with only three survivors. Their religious head, Shamasha Mushegh, was among those massacred.
Turkish attacks on Darman village, started on the 21st April, were continuing with increasing vigor. The situation was becoming increasingly desperate; when on the 26th of April, the Turks attacked again, their ammunition had been used up. Armenag Yegarian and his group arrived in time. They attacked the enemy unexpectedly, killing a number of them, and driving them away from the village. The group stayed there several days, organized the defenses, and left for Aikesdan.
★ ★ ★ ★
Hardly had the ten thousand refugees from Shahbaghi, Averag, Aijag and Kharagonis been sheltered when another stream started to come in from the region of Haiotz-Tzor, on the 26th of April. Early that morning, reports of intensive fire were heard from the direction of Guru-Bash, a village about four miles southeasterly of Aikesdan. On their way to Aikesdan a number of armed peasants from Haiotz-Tzor encountered the militiamen from Haji Bekir barracks, and, to cover their retreat to Mount Varak, resorted to vigorous rifle. Three lay dead and six were wounded; six of the Turks were killed.
Regarding the struggles and massacres in this extended area, the Defense Command received the following concise report;
Nor Giugh; the twenty gendarmes led by Siahhamdi and corporal Ali tried treacherously to massacre the Armenians of the village. The forty armed peasants put up resistance. A hundred and fifty other gendarmes stationed at Asdvandzashen village arrived as reinforcement. The battle lasted all day. One combatant was killed, the rest managed to take refuge in Varak mountain.
Hindustan; some one thousand survivors from Krel, Gasr, Pagakgiadeuk, Behantz, Agrag and Hurtug villages, in the region of Khoshab, had taken refuge in the mountains of Hindustan. On the 20th of April, ten armed villagers went to join them. Shlel-Uzabelli from Khoshab led his armed forces; Islam Bag and Khalil Ibrahim from Zernag, at the head of three hundred mounted fighters, attempted to seize the mountain. The resisting force consisted of twenty defenders from Hindustan, seven from Hurtug, and twenty from Krel. Though severely unmatched, the defenders kept the enemy at bay until night fall. Five men from Hurtug were killed. As soon as darkness fell, they descended to the village and escorted the population to Mount Varak. Here they found the badly mutilated bodies of the three bishops and their four servants, whom they buried.
Hurtug (Khoshb area); the women and children stayed in their homes. Kurds tortured them severely to have them disclose the location of arms caches. They branded Arme’s body in several places. They abducted the priest’s wife and six other women and girls and five male children.
Pagakgiaduke; April 19th. The notorious Kurdish brigands, Smgo and Avto, entered the village with their hordes. Alderman Sarkis was ordered to have the men congregate in front of his house. When this was done they proceeded to murder Sarkis, his wife Shoghig and their seven children, and eighteen other villagers. Three women and ten boys were abducted.
Doni, Havshasorig (Assyrians); the night of April 20th, having been informed of the massacres, the people of Aregh, Kheck, and Aradentz took refuge at Varak Mountain and entered Aikesdan later.
Angeshdantz; Lezgi, son of Shakir, and the notorious bandit Jango of Kalabalasan village, leading two hundred mounted Kurds, attacked the village on the 20th of April. The resistance consisted of twenty men only. In a few hours of violent fighting, attacking forces lost thirty-seven men. Aided by fresh reinforcements, the enemy succeeded in entering the village. They killed sixty males and subjected the women to indescribable tortures. These were beaten up, stripped naked, violated, and finally butchered. Only a handful of young men managed to escape to Varak.
The village adjoining Angeshdantz met with a similar fate. Only two men possessed arms, and they fought as only heroes can. They were martyred. The Kurdish mob invaded the village. Seventy of the men were put to the sword. Women and children were made victims of all the bestialities of a frenzied, savage mob.
Khosb; the bandit gang of Lezgi and Shakir murdered fifty people here, including the priest.
Bjengerd; Kurdish neighbors murdered the twelve Armenian inhabitants.
Geghzi; Major Ahmed Bey led the five hundred mounted and foot soldiers of Sadoullah Agha of Kharnoort, and Jihangir Agha of Bjengerd, and entered the village on the 19th of April. Under the guise of conscription for the labor corps, eighty young men were brought out while the rest of the villagers were ordered to stay in their homes. The new conscripts were all massacred. Some ten people of the village resorted to resistance. Towards nightfall their situation became hopeless; they set fire to their homes. Three of the men and fourteen women preferred death in their flaming homes to the indignities of the enemy. Only a handful survived by escaping to Varak mountain.
Asdvadzashen; April 19th, the Turkish governor of the region conscripted sixty young men and put them in the barracks. Later, they were taken out, led past the grist mills, and massacred. Four of the women folks made a desperate attempt to intercede and were shot dead. Two women were abducted. The rest of the women were gathered in the houses of Darmo and Margig, where they were subjected to indescribable tortures. They slashed pregnant women and picked out the unborn babes with the end of their swords...
Anggh; Turkish authorities here promised safety so long as they stayed in the village. This guarantee of security attracted large numbers of villagers from the nearby villages of Kem, Guzuldash, Turkashen and Khosb. On the 21st of April, Khalid Bey arrived with numerous reinforcements. A general massacre was immediately started. Three hundred forty peasants, of which one hundred thirty were native of Anggh, were killed.
Ishkhani-Gom; the Armenian Revolutionary Federation had an organizational committee here. Survivors from the massacres at Kem, Atanan, Kizil Dash, and White Monastery villages arrived the morning of the 19th and 20th of April. In addition, the entire population of Kharagantz, Mashdag, Muelk, and St. Vartan villages congregated here. Among these were the fifteen armed men from Anggh who did not put any faith in Turkish promises.
On April 20th, at noon, Khalid Bey of Gavash, commanding one thousand foot and mounted men, and assisted by field artillery, surrounded the village and started bombarding it. About one hundred armed peasants led by Rev. Jacob Moudoian (Protestant clergyman), prevented the attacking forces from entering the village. The stubborn fight lasted for seven hours. Their supply of ammunition practically exhausted by nightfall, they gathered together the thirty-five hundred villagers and led them to St. Vartan mountain. A group of five hundred with excort managed to arrive at Shoushantz by way of Berdag mountains and thence to Aikesdan. A group of women and children passing through Ardamed appealed to Turkish authorities for mercy and protection, but were severely beaten and outraged; others were killed.
Rev. Moudoian and forty of his men arriving at Aikesdan received a fresh supply of ammunition and left immediately for the region of Haiotz-Tzor where they were able to save over two thousand five hundred women and children stranded in the mountains. Several days later more than one thousand of these arrived in Aikesdan.
Kerdz; April 20th and 21st; there was an influx of peasants from Bltentz and Atanan villages and a portion of the people from Gizildash. This village was not molested until the 3rd of May due to the existence of a small resistance force under the guidance of Dikran of the same village. Hussein Agha of Bukhvan, at the head of five hundred militia and police force, attacked the village on the 4th, but were unable to penetrate its defenses. Some twenty women and children lost their lives during the clashes. Under cover of darkness, the entire population was escorted, over the Ardos mountains, into Pesandasht. Over fifteen thousand peasants had already been concentrated here under the protection of Levon Shaghoian, a very capable Federalist leader. Only a small portion of the villagers from Kerdz crossed over into Aikesdan by way of Varak.
Turkashen: Armenian families here sought asylum at the properties of the famed Nassir Agha. Many others from nearby villages did the same. But Nassir Agha picked out thirty-two young men and had them shot; their loved ones who rushed to mourn their death were also shot.
Ardamed; a mixed group of some sixty armed and unarmed men, fearing massacres, had already left the village for Varak two days before. After the massacre of the village of Anggh, the Turko-Kurdish mob arrived at Ardamed to massacre forty-five natives of the village and eighty peasants from Ishkhani Gom. Only women and children were left in the village, who were allowed to remain under intolerable conditions. After ten days, and by orders from Jevdet, this starving and wretched group was driven into Aikesdan.
Berdag; the peasants from Dzv Sddan, Gentanantz, Sevagrag, and Vochkharantz villages converged on Berday after hearing of the assassination of Ishkhan and the arrest of Vramian on the 20th of April. The same day, Gaspar of Mashdag and his twenty armed men arrived there. The following day, the entire population was safely led to Shoushantz. The unarmed population proceeded to Aikesdan while the armed men stayed in Shoushantz and in the mountain of Varak.
Gouroubash; following the example of the peasants of Berdag, these villagers with the exception of a few armed men, also moved to Shoushantz and then into Aikesdan.
Lamzgerd and Sighga; the peasantiy here moved into Aikesdan on the eve of hostilities.
Shoushantz; the unarmed villagers were moved into Aikesdan.
Lezg; a few of the armed and unarmed people from Lezg left for Aikesdan. The Turks sent one officer with twenty men into the village. They arrested seventy young men as hostages and had them imprisoned in the village of Avantz.
★ ★ ★ ★
Since the beginning of the siege, it had proved impossible for the people of Van to get accurate information about events taking place in Shatakh and its environs. Several attempts at sending couriers from Haiotz-Tzor and from Aikesdan had failed. On the night of April 27th, two old men from Shadakh arrived in Aikesdan via Haiotz-Tzor. They had passed through Pesandasht and had news from Levon Shaghoian: they also had visited Kerdz and talked to Dikran. They handed letters to Aram and the Central Committee of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. It was learned that during the last two weeks, the valiant folks of Shadakh, with singleness of purpose and indomitable will, had been successful in repulsing all enemy attacks. The inimitable leaders, Samuel Mesrobian and Dikran Baghdassarian, were in the forefront. Not a single defense had been relinquished in spite of repeated assaults of the overwhelming enemy forces. During the fighting, the Turks had suffered crushing losses, as against accidental losses suffered by Armenians. Hovsep Choloyan was greatly missed by the people of Shadakh, and especially by his comrades now conducting the struggle. With the intent of depriving Shadakh of its favorite son and capable leader, the Turks had him insidiously arrested prior to the outbreak of hostilities, and had him shot to death at its outset.
Yet the situation was otherwise tragic. Refugees had thronged in, and these hardy people who had to eke out a livelihood from the granite mountains, now stared starvation in the face. Also, as had happened often elsewhere, some peasants had Austrian made rifles; once the ammunition was consumed they became useless. Yet, in spite of these adverse conditions, in spite of the overwhelming superiority of the enemy in manpower and weaponry, in their stirring note addressed to Aram, Samuel and Dikran pledged to carry on their unequal and hopeless struggle. They were determined to bring it to a successful conclusion or to give the last drop of their blood in the attempt.
The heartening reports brought by these messengers regarding the situation at Shadakh, Pesandasht and Kerdz created great rejoicing among the people of Aikesdan. After three days rest, the messengers returned, taking with them token assistance in arms and ammunition, a detailed report by Aram on existing conditions, copies of proclamations, communiques, etc., issued by the Defense Command, and recommendations to be on the defensive and never to abandon the people. Above all, they were exhorted never to doubt eventual victory. It was learned they had returned safely, visiting Dikran at Kerdz and Levon at Pesandasht.