During the fighting in the second ten day period, from April 29th through May 8th, the attacks were intensified. All our defenses were called into action on all fronts. Repeated attacks took place at all hours of the day or night. Well armed Turkish forces and Kurdish hordes arrived from various regions to reinforce the enemy. Besides increasing their numerical superiority, the Turks received additional pieces of artillery and ammunition from Bitlis. The past ten days of skirmishes had given them valuable experience in the type of guerrilla fighting peculiar to the terrain. They knew Armenians lacked both food and ammunition and that any outside assistance was out of the question. They realized, above all, that this was a fight to the death for Armenians.
Our defenses at Sahag Bey were once more their first target. Four cannons shelled the buildings all day long. Before noon the upper floor was reduced to a heap of rubble, and the position became untenable. The defenders had either to retreat or engage the enemy in hand to hand fighting. They chose the latter. Some hundred Turks had already starting towards our position and advanced with wild fanatical outcries (salavat). Ten of the defenders rushed out from the ruins and hurled their hand grenades. The enemy reeled back and more than ten of them were killed in the street. No amount of promises, or encouragement by the officers was able to stop them from taking refuge in their second line of defense. Cannons started to pound again, but our defenders again came out victorious in this first crucial test. They kept sniping at the enemy until nightfall when the labor corps arrived to build this historic defense for the fifth time.
The enemy kept up the shelling. As darkness fell, the labor force started to repair the damage and dig trenches around the blockhouse. Sensing what was going on, the Turks kept the position under steady fire all night. One laborer was killed and two others wounded, but the “devil’s” work, as the Turks called it, continued until the morning of April 30th, when the Turks saw the ramparts standing there stronger than ever.
Practically all the defenses of Aikesdan were subjected to artillery shelling during the 29th. Particularly severe was the fire directed against our defenses at Posward and Lavant Oghlou. Turks attempted an offensive attack here, were repulsed, and lost five or six soldiers.
One of our resistance squads in the Shoushantz area attacked and captured the nearby Tzorovantz village after a sharp skirmish. In their hurried retreat, the Turks left behind considerable stores of food and ammunition as well as grain stored in dry wells, but we were unable to transfer these to Shoushantz or Aikesdan.
The following day, April 30th, the tempo of attacks was further intensified. At dawn, our Sahag Bey and Tovmazian posts were peppered with rhythmic shelling and were ringed with cannon and rifle fire. After three hours of this vicious attack, our defenses were reduced to ruins and were rendered untenable. In groups of ten, and very cautiously, the Turks attacked both of the defenses at the same time. They advanced, wave after wave, under cover of shell and rifle fire. Secreting themselves behind heaps of adobe, the defenders awaited their approach. They came through the streets and orchards yelling the “salavat” to increase the bestial courage and savagery. When about twenty yards away, and on a signal from the leader, our combatants greeted them with hand grenades and salvos from their pistols. The Turkish commanding officer was shot and two militiamen attempting to retrieve his corpse were also killed, as were five other advancing Kurds. The thundering note of “Our Fatherland” played at a safe distance, could be heard above the din of fighting. Once more the Turks were defeated and retreated shamefully.
The situation at the Tovmazian defense was particularly desperate. Absolutely nothing was left standing; yet the defenders had to keep the enemy away until nightfall when the labor battalions arrived to reconstruct the ramparts.
The same day, our positions in the Arark region were also severely bombarded. Some three hundred soldiers from the Haji-Bekir barracks, assisted by artillery and machine guns, attacked the Armenian trenches. Ales Barsamian and his intrepid group stood up to the overwhelming enemy force. Suffering very heavy casualties, the Turks withdrew. The enemy’s attack against our “Dardanelles” post was likewise repulsed.
Simultaneously, some two hundred cavalry attacked our positions at Shoushantz and Varak. They gave up the attempt and retreated back to the barracks of Haji-Bekir after losing several men.
On May 1st, Turkish attacks became indiscriminate. More than four hundred shells, mostly of the explosive type, were fired at our defenses, into the streets and orchards, and into the American and German missionary compounds; one explosive shell burst inside the American missionary church. More than a dozen unfortunate people were killed in the streets. At night they maintained a veritable hailstorm of rifle fire, with the intent of breaking the morale and creating panic among the Armenian population. Both the populace and the resistance forces were by now inured to these threats and answered the enemy with only occasional fire, with brick bats, and the singing of “Our Fatherland.” As savage as the fighting of the last three days had been, they seemed to be only an exploratory and softening up operation for the attack that started on May 2nd. They seemed to be inordinately daring and resolute, now aiming to break the spirit of resistance once and for all. Nearly all of our defenses came under simultaneous and continued attack. The situation became pregnant with peril. It was critical.
Early in the morning on this day, our defense positions at Nalbandian and “Hotel” along Khack-Poghan were subjected to very severe bombardment. Quickly our barricades on the second floor were blown to bits; the position became untenable. But at this point and in plain sight of the enemy the labor battalion was pressed into service. They threw themselves into the thick of the battle, disdaining danger and death, to put up fresh barricades for their fighting brethren. Many lost their lives, while others rushed to take their place, and the work went on. In the afternoon the Turks figured it was time to take them by assault. They entered the streets with their usual horrid cries of religious frenzy, “salavat,” covered by cannon and rifle fire. Our men waited in readiness; only Dayi, the leader was busy picking off the enemy gunners. Suddenly, many hand grenades exploded and the Mauser pistols mowed down many of the enemy. Instead of the usual pellmell retreat the enemy took refuge in the shop buildings to the right of our defense, further aggravating the situation. Dayi, in vain, tried to snuff out the enemy which had already set fire to the carpenter shop of Nazareth. In turn, it set fire to our “Hotel” defense. For a moment our combatants panicked; in the meantime fresh Turkish forces began to advance on our “Hotel.” The hour of final reckoning seemed to be at hand; trapped between burning buildings on the one hand, and the enemy’s fire on the other, there appeared to be no hope for the men behind the pulverized defenses. At this crucial moment, however, combatants from Nalbandian defenses came to the rescue. They attacked the enemy in a wide encircling movement making lavish use of their grenades and ammunition. Eight of the militiamen lost their lives; the rest fled in disorder. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Dayi extinguished the fire by means of dust and water. Somewhat later, Turks repeated their salvos. Having regained their composure, the Armenian fighters stood their ground valiantly.
Concurrent with their attacks on the Khach-Poghan sector, the Turks encircled the western perimeter of our defenses. Khach-Poghan, Sahag Bey and the Arark sector were subjected to violent shelling and were reduced to heaps of rubble in short order. Our defenses at Sarkis of Dhers and nearby buildings in the Arark sector were totally demolished.
Having entrenched themselves in the orchards of Glor Dar and the Armenian church and school building at Arark, Turks bombarded our positions ceaselessly with the aid of four artillery pieces. The post of Sarkis of Dher became utterly untenable, when the walls and roof caved in. It seemed impossible to continue resistance. What about their vow not to yield one inch of ground to the enemy? How was the area leader, Nishan Nalbandian, the eminent philosopher-revolutionary, to extricate them from the critical situation? There was but one tried and tested answer; to endure, to keep the enemy from capturing their post until their faithful ally, darkness, came to their rescue. They crawled on their bellies from one mound of brickbat to another, picking off enemy soldiers and stopping their advance. The rest of the defense posts had not fared much better. Hundreds of construction laborers were needed to repair the extensive damage. Thanks to the bravery and endurance of the Armenian peasants, they were rebuilt and ready to meet the enemy attacks that were sure to come the following morning.
On May 2nd, our defenders in the Arark sector burned down the remainder of the police headquarters to retaliate, and to assist the labor corps.
Taza-Karez sector in the northeastern region of Aikesdan extended as far as the German mission compounds and, following the course of Ourpat Creek, ended at Hussian gardens. As in the case of the “Dardanelles” post at Arark, the defenders not only manned the many posts, Haji Malkhas, Kreshjian, Simon Tatoyan, Tanner Khero, Hatz Hamrogh, Dali Batman, Khiak Barsegh, etc., but fought the enemy in the orchards by digging trenches and using the clay wall fences as barricades. Two-hundred fifty defenders were assigned to this sector.
Along this extensive front, Turks had fortified themselves opposite of, and parallel to our positions. Artillery emplacements at Haji-Bekir on the south, and Toprak-Kale barracks on the north, offered a clear command of all of our defense posts. Further, Turks had fortified the heights of Zum Zum Mahgara (hand carved cavern of antiquity) and seized the village of Sikhga, placing them within striking distance of our defenses at Shoushantz and Taza-Karez.
The three cannons at Toprak-Kale and the two at Haji-Bekir shelled our positions for four hours. Our post at Tanner Khero and Hatz Hamrogh were thus demolished. The remainder were damaged in various degrees. The defenders preferred to do battle in the orchards using the earthen fences as barricades. Turkish shells destroyed these barricades one after the other. Trench fighting was the last resort. One part kept the foe occupied, while the other made vigorous use of shovels.
At noon the Turks deemed the situation ripe for mass attack. Two hundred mounted soldiers advanced from the direction of Sikhga, while another three hundred mixed force of Turkish regulars, Kurds and militia from Turkish positions attempted to pierce the Armenian defenses. This first wave of attack failed and the enemy recoiled, having lost ten men. Armenians had two defenders killed and one wounded. An hour later the enemy regrouped its forces and attacked with bigger forces and greater tenacity. They succeeded in approaching within twenty paces of our men. We met them with hand grenades and volleys of bullets from our Mauser pistols. The enemy lost twenty soldiers in this second wave of attack and again withdrew. A third wave of attack, led by a courageous colonel of the army, followed an hour later. Our combatants were already exhausted, their ammunition spent; they were in a quandary. Informed of the situation, the Defense Command sent its chief, Armenag Yegarian, and the veteran revolutionary, Gaidzag Arakel, to render assistance. Turkish forces were closing in on our posts and few of their cavalry had penetrated into the orchards. At the crux of this encounter, the Turkish colonel was killed and Armenian defenders were ready for hand to hand fighting when Yegarian and Arakel with their men arrived. The bloody and desperate struggle lasted another half hour. We lost one combatant and another was wounded. Turks lost over forty men and were forced, for the third time, into inglorious retreat. They relinquished the fortified posts they had been holding for the last twelve days. An orphan in the Catholic orphanage, a mere youth named Kiragos Kiragosian, distinguished himself by uncommon bravery. At the hottest point of the battle, he advanced and killed two Turkish soldiers by a hand grenade, grabbed their arms and safely returned. For this act of heroism, he was decorated by the Cross of Honor by the Defense Command.
That night the foe maintained a constant fire at our positions in order to prevent the labor force from carrying out its work of repair and reconstruction. Nevertheless, Armenians succeeded in this task; they also dug extensive trench work for safer communication between the various posts.
On the same day. May 2nd, our defense positions in the Hanguisner area were also attacked. The vigorous shelling of our barricades at Shahbenderian, Shaghoyan, Janoyan, Piroumian and Shiroyan was unusually effective due to the close range of the cannon fire from Toprak Kale. Following the shelling the Turks cautiously advanced through the dale of Sofou Dayna for a surprise attack. The resistance force held their fire. At the proper instant, they opened a concerted fire on the foe, causing the loss of between ten and twelve men and forcing them to retreat in panic.
Armenian defense positions at the village of Shoushantz were attacked three times on the same day; the dull thunder of cannonade in the west was a sure sign that our people in the old city around the Castle Rock were also being attacked. On this day, the Turks brought all the military might at their command to bear against the Armenians but to no avail. The latter proved themselves indomitable.
In this connection the Defense Command issued the following fly sheet;
“To all Defense Groups of Aikesdan;
“Our Comrades in Arms;
“Disappointed in the results of the past thirteen days of mad assaults, the enemy decided to attack us on all fronts and with all they had. Today’s battles prove two things; the enemy’s impotence, and our brilliant victories. Leaving more than forty dead, the foe ran away in panic everywhere, pursued by our bullets.
“This is the last desperate effort of the enemy. It is up to you to resist at all cost. We are confident you do not lack in valor.
“Comrades be courageous. Hold your positions with utmost vigilance. “Always aim at a target during fighting and be saving of your ammunition.”
Van, May 2nd, 1915
★ ★ ★ ★
During the duration of the defense struggle in Aikesdan, Turkish offensives on the third and fourth of May were unique in their fury and intensity.
Turks shelled our defenses from the southeastern comer of the Armenian cemetery at Arark. The guns were silenced for a while when we killed the gunners; throughout the night our positions were raked by vicious rifle fire. Already familiar with Turkish stratagem, our combatants saved their ammunition. We suffered one wounded.
Our positions at Sahag Bey and Tovmazian received over one hundred explosive shells. Our defenders held the enemy back with hand grenades. One grenadier, a carpenter by trade, was killed due to inexperience. The defense at Taza Karez and the Hussian’s orchard withstood the shelling well. Thirty militiamen from Lavant Oghly barricades attempted to invade our Eghigian post but were driven back and lost three men.
Turks again attempted to set fire to our “Hotel” defense at Khach-Poghan but gave it up and fled leaving one dead.
The night of May 3rd, all of Aikesdan was subjected to rifle fire with infernal fury. To those watching from Shoushantz, it appeared that Aikesdan was in flames.
The following day, May 4th, was to be marked as the day of the most stubborn fighting throughout the resistance. At 3:00 P.M. Turks shelled our defense at Amirkhanian's in the Hanguisner sector, demolishing most of the building. Then the enemy attacked. Our combatants left their ruined defenses, came into the street and, shielding themselves behind a wall, battled the enemy for hours. With a dozen casualties, the Turks fled along the river bed. An hour later the attack was directed at our Shahbenderian defense in the same area. After the customary shelling to soften us up, two army officers led the Kurdish mob into the orchard. Barricades being of little use now, the combatants, to avoid capture, came out into the street. With the help of God, and liberal use of ammunition and grenades, they killed some twenty of the invaders forcing them to retreat. We lost two defenders from Vozm. No sooner had the orchard been cleared than Turks began to bombard the position once more. It became apparent they were covering for the retrieval of the bodies.
Turks had emplaced one cannon on the premises of the Dominican Fathers, to shell our defenses at Pos Tagh, Vizviz, Baidar Khachig and Mno.
After a temporary quiet, fighting broke out at the Hanguisner area at Molaji Marker’s defense post. Here, too, with the barricades demolished, the defenders had to fight the enemy any way possible. The attackers left about ten killed, and then retreated.
To forestall Turkish attacks at Hussian’s orchard the defenders took the initiative by attacking Kurdish mobs entrenched there. This proved costly. We suffered three wounded, not serious, while the Kurds lost four. Soon after Turkish forces attacked our Der Khachadoorian post. It was a hand to hand fight. There were losses on both sides. Darkness forced the Turks to withdraw to their fortified posts.
Every one of our defenses in the Arark sector were heavily shelled. The fighting was especially heavy at the “Dardanelles” trenches, but Ales and his valiant comrades pinned the enemy down at their posts. Sahag Bey and Tovmazian defenses were again destroyed and again repaired.
The Information Service issued its communique as follows:
“We met with glorious successes yesterday. The enemy carried out its most vehement attack against our northeasterly defenses, penetrating into the orchards. The struggle lasted all day. Heavy casualties forced the enemy to withdraw. According to our reconnaissance reports, enemy losses were fifty to sixty dead; the number of the wounded could not be verified.
“At Shahbenderian’s defenses, a heroic drama was unfolded yesterday. A young man named Aram Boumazian ascended the stairs three times, and from that vantage point killed an enemy each trip. In spite of all the entreaties by his comrades to the contrary, Aram insisted on going up once more for yet another kill. Turkish gunners had spotted him. A shell shattered his thigh and arm and he fell back mortally wounded. His last request was that his comrades take good care of his mother and sister from the proceeds of selling his Mauser pistol.
“One of the cannons, atop Toprak Kale, which had been shelling our positions with explosives, suddenly burst late in the afternoon. It was noticed both from Aikesdan and Shoushantz. The explosion killed four of the gunners. Soldiers from the barracks below rushed to carry away the bodies, one of which was placed in a stretcher, indicating his high rank.
“We have been informed by our branch in the Arark area that yesterday, the enemy again shelled our positions from emplacements in the Armenian church grounds. The damage was slight. Our sharpshooters silenced the cannons.
“It was noticed that the Turks were carrying away someone in women's garb, yesterday.
“Last night at 3:00 o’clock the enemy continued its senseless fusillade at our defenses. They were seldom answered.
“We have a report from Dardanelles which states, ‘The militiaman from Karashar-Dar entered the lowlands around, and east of, Ourpat Creek, one by one. They waited in ambush this morning. The enemy advanced closer to the road during the day. At three A.M., we were subjected to heavy firing coming from the canal of the flour mill, south of Haji-Bekir barracks. We had no casualties and the foe did not attempt to invade our position.
“The Chantigian defenses at Hanguisner report: ‘Yesterday we killed two of the attacking enemy and their night attacks were met successfully. One of our men is wounded. Yesterday, from the armory on the hill, the enemy sent sixty shells at our posts. Then Kurdish hordes penetrated the orchards at Der Khachadoorian’s and Zervandantz defenses. We stood our ground and killed six Kurds. They managed to remove the corpses under cover of heavy fusillade. Our morale is excellent.’
“Password for the night is flower.”
★ ★ ★ ★
The tempo of savage fighting subsided after the 4th of May. Sporadic assaults took place at several of our positions, and Armenian defenders made several attempts at attacking the enemy. Everything was quiet on the fifth, except that during the night, they continued an infernal fusillade and random shelling all over Aikesdan. The Information Service figured that the Turks burned over ten thousand cartridges per hour. May 5th was quiet again. At 3:00 P.M. our defenses at “Dardanelles” and Deve-Boyoun in the southeastern frontier, were subjected to severe rifle fire. The Turks did not attempt to attack. Later the same afternoon, from their emplacements at Glor-Dar, the Turks shelled our defenses in the Arark area. One Turkish gunner was killed.
Armenian defenders had made preparations to set fire to Turkish Adaloukh and Hamza strongholds across the street from our Sahag Bey post. Combatants were instructed to attack the fleeing Turks after the conflagration started. Master well diggers completed the tunneling, while three intrepid young men, Vagharshag Shirvanian, Hovhannes Aiyazian, and Berberian, equipped with incendiary grenades, started fires. The project was carried out without a hitch and flames started to devour Turkish strongholds. Many of the fleeing enemy were killed and stores of arms, ammunition, and foodstuffs were seized by our men. Next to be destroyed was the Turkish Hamza stronghold. In their zeal for quick victory, the daring young men bypassed the safe but slow subterranean passage for frontal attack. Turkish bullets were flying in all directions and one struck down Hovhannes Aiyazian. The other two rushed towards Turkish positions using hand grenades. Unfortunately, the grenades did not carry the day this time. The initial tendency to panic had subsided. The enemy, entrenched behind their barricades, was pouring volleys of bullets at the daredevils. Having used up their supply of grenades, the two young men fell back on their Mauser pistols and fought the enemy for over one hour. Berberian was hit in the leg, so Vagharshag shouldered his wounded comrade and returned to Sahag Bey. Due to his wound, Berberian died in a few days and both he and Aiyazian were buried with full military honors.
Only light skirmishes took place during May 6th. The usual fusillade during the night proved harmless.
According to reports from Shoushantz and other observation posts, Turks were busy transporting troops along Haji-Bekir, Gouroubash and Haiotz-Tzor line. A similar transfer of troops, two to three hundred strong, was being made along the Toprak-Kale, Shah Baghi, and Khosh Giaduk direction.
Men at the “Dardanelles” defense ascertained that barely twenty to twenty-five guards were left in the Turkish trenches. They also reported that some sixty to seventy cavalry and foot soldiers had left the barracks and were going to the city carrying something, on the 6th of May. On the following day “Dardanelles” reported the passage of some one hundred unarmed Kurds followed by twenty mounted men heading for the city and carrying loads.
Another post reported the passage from the Semiramis ward of multitudes of burden carrying women and children.
Mysterious movements were observed on Lake Van. One sail boat left for Gavesh on the 6th while another was arriving from Tadwan. On the 7th of May, three sail boats left for Arjesh.
These movements aroused deep suspicion among the resistance leaders. Being positively isolated from the rest of the world and encircled by the unrelenting enemy fire, it was impossible for them to arrive at exact conclusions. Some conjectured that having met with major reverses, Turks were retreating. Others, while recognizing this possibility, suspected a fresh Turkish ruse. Both conjectures proved to be correct. It was learned that on May 7th Turkish forces had surprised and overwhelmed the defenders at Shoushantz, and that the Turks had been badly mauled at Diliman at about the same time.