Chapter XII

The Spector Of Famine


The unexpected influx of more than fifteen thousand refugees from Arjag and Haiotz-Tzor into Aikesdan was a disastrous blow to our efforts of self-defense. Predominantly, Armenian, the comparatively well-to-do population of these two regions was expected to engage the enemy for as long as they could. Instead, they fled to Aikesdan at the very start of hostilities, releasing several thousand Turkish and Kurdish forces, to increase the already very large enemy forces in attacking Aikesdan. Utterly despondent, these refugees introduced the spirit of defeatism which could not fail to have a debilitating effect on the rest of the inhabitants. The insidious venom of hopelessness, vacillation and doubt reached into the ranks of our defenders.

From the beginning, this multitudinous throng was forced into begging. They counted upon the generosity of the people and knocked on their doors for food. The people of Aikesdan had barely enough for their own families and the fighting forces. Ever since the fall of 1914, grocery stores had been depleted and closed. To import food was impossible. It had been the custom, during normal years, to gamer sufficient foodstuffs to tide them over the winter and into the next harvest season. Conscription of manpower, commandeering of food stores by the government, and the cessation of production and commerce, had seriously reduced available supplies, causing widespread depression. Seventy-five percent of the people were penniless.

Sensing the danger, the Armenian population of mixed wards had already moved into the Armenian interior of Aikesdan before the commencement of fighting, creating a shelter problem. Now in a few days the beleaguered city was to accommodate the tremendous wave of over fifteen thousand refugees... The danger of epidemics became imminent; the warming rays of the sun could spark this type of disaster any time.

The dreaded, ghastly specter of famine was beginning to show its ugly face, and the people of Aikesdan, its leaders and defenders, had to brace themselves against the invidious threat, this fifth column of the enemy. Refugee shelters were set up at the Sandukhtian girls’ school and at the kindergarten of the Benevolent Society. The peasants from Arjag, mostly invalids, women, children, or oldsters were allocated to moderately well-to-do families. Their arms were confiscated and distributed among the more stout hearted. Two days later, the 27th of April, by arrangement of the Defense Command, part of the young men were sent to help Shirin of Kharagonis at Shoushantz and Varak. Some of them were to serve as reserves at defense posts and the rest were inducted into the labor brigades for which the need was very pressing.

The Supply Committee was instructed to catalogue all available materials and distribute them with meticulous care. Even the rations for the fighting men had to be reduced to minimum daily requirements.

A Relief Committee was set up to look after the needs of the refugees and the penurious natives of Aikesdan. Intellectuals and teachers offered their wholehearted assistance. People were urgently advised to be very frugal, to donate or to sell, at set prices, any foodstuff in excess of their requirements, especially grain. New bakeries were started up in different parts of Aikesdan. The lack of flour mills presented a problem. The existing mills, situated outside the city limits, had been taken over by the Turks. So, obsolete mills were repaired and new ones were built. To impress the people with the urgency of the situation, the Defense Command issued instructions to the fighting forces, on the 26th, stating;

“Hereafter, it will be necessary for each group to appoint an honest and conscientious member as supply agent, whose duty it shall be to provide on a daily basis from the Supply Agency, the minimum quantity of flour needed. Inspectors will supervise the equitable distribution. Severe punishment is in store for delinquents. Inform the Supply Agency of your agent’s name immediately.

“Loitering or the presence of unauthorized persons in and around defense positions is prohibited.”

Similar instructions were issued to the people of Aikesdan by the Relief Committee. Their help was requested in building up food stores, either by outright gift or by purchase at set prices.