Chapter XV

Letters And Documents


During the period from April 29th to May 19th, important correspondence took place between Jevdet Bey, the governor of Van, Mr. Spordoni, the Italian vice consul at Van, and Bishop Yeznig Nergararian, vicar of the Armenian Prelacy of the same city. Several of the letters are published here, accompanied by explanatory notes, to serve as valuable documents and shed their own light on the self-defense of Van and the criminal intentions of the Turkish government.

Governor Jevdet initiated correspondence by his first letter to Mr. Spordoni, dated April 23rd, 1915, the day after the destruction of the Hamud Agha barracks. It reads:

“Dear Mr. Spordoni;

“The troublemakers, who appealed to you for three or four days grace so that they could complete their plans, have accomplished their purpose. The guard at Hamud Agha was murdered Monday night, telephone lines were cut, and the telegraph office at Khach-Poghan was attacked by singing young men, wearing insignia on their arms. My detachments, always on guard, naturally returned the fire. For a whole hour, and at the risk of sacrificing my men, I forbade them to reciprocate the intensive fire. However, when I discovered that the disturbance was general, that the police force I had sent to the Armenian Prelacy were fired on, I gave the order... Now there is fighting everywhere. Those who betrayed the Empire in the hour of its involvement in such an important war will certainly receive due punishment. Armed villagers, especially brought into the old city, burned municipal buildings and set fire to the market last night. I have taken severe measures so that none of the criminals may escape. The same fate will be meted out to those accursed ones who dared to dynamite the Hamud Agha barracks. Thank God, the exploding charge did no other damage than to start a fire. They showed their jubilation at this by singing and playing music. Let there be no doubt, those that conspire against our existence shall be crushed.

“I regret it very much that some stray bullets have struck your building. I am convinced it is the work of those damned Armenians who, in their devilish ways, try to exonerate themselves before world opinion.

“You are aware we have no guards in your vicinity except at the British consulate building, and those poor, hemmed in guards always respected your flag. One or two of the guards were martyred by the rebels who also set fire to the building, as if this would do them any good.

“These traitors jeopardize their existence by distressing the government, hope to benefit by it, and I am sure, they are all satisfied. They took up arms, and as you see, the fight is going on with great intensity.

“There is but one way to put an end to these tragic disturbances; it is for them to deliver up all weapons and declare absolute obedience.

“These criminals took up arms hoping Russians would be arriving soon; let them know that Russians never again will overstep our frontiers. I am sorry that the people will, perforce, suffer.

“Due to lack of time, I cannot write at length. I desire an interview with you, but am fearful that Armenians will make an attempt on your life and blame it on my soldiers; therefore, better not to try it. I beg of you to have your flag flying at all times. In times of actual fighting, place flags in all windows. We have already identified your premises to our forces with proper instructions but, as you will appreciate, in the heat of fighting, it is necessary to have flags, conspicuously displayed. The attack is going to be extremely violent and decisive.

“Please take Mr. Agardine and his officials under your protection at the Consulate.

“The rioters burned down the building of the Public Debt, the bank, and the Regie. They even advanced as far as the government house by using bombs, but were forced to retreat on their bellies. We made an unsuccessful attempt to save the valuables at the bank as they set fire to the Public Debt building. Mr. Agardine does not have to worry, however, as the safe was empty.

“The traitors who attacked the government building at Shatakh, and killed officials, and the Moslem public, were largely annihilated by our fresh forces arriving on the scene. Those who took refuge in the church and other places, have been surrounded. I am momentarily expecting news of them being duly punished.

“From Bash Kale and Sarai our detachments are arriving. The insurgent’s attempt to block their arrival was overcome.

“My respects and salutations to the ladies, my dear.” [3]

(Sgd) Governor Jevdet

April 23, 1915


Mr. Spordoni, Italian vice consul at Van, answered Jevdet’s letter the following day, April the 24th, thus:

“Your Excellency:

“I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your letter of yesterday. I regret very much Your Excellency’s belief that I acted as intermediary for the Committee to gain time. May I assure you the only intent of my appeal was to serve the government and the people in putting an end to current incidents. During my conversion with Your Excellency, I had the honor of pointing out the possibility of regrettable events, such as the one mentioned in Herr Spori’s letter about the tactless behavior of the militia, who failed to comply with orders issued by Your Excellency.

“I am firmly convinced that your noble and humanitarian feeling, of which I have been aware for the past twelve years, you will be able to find grounds for agreement, which will prevent bloodshed. I entertain great confidence in your capabilities and experience. I am sure you will be able to come up with proposals that will meet with ready acceptance by Armenians.

“Regarding your demand that Armenians surrender their arms and themselves completely, I venture to state, in the present state of events, these proposals will not bear fruit.

“Armenians have resorted to arms because they believe the government, under the guise of conscription, intends to exterminate them totally and indiscriminately. Without waiting for or hoping for any assistance from Russians, they have firmly resolved to defend the lives of their families.

“I share your grief for the destruction of the British consulate building, as well as for the death of the gendarmes there, but according to information gathered by me, the gendarmes there opened fire first, without being attacked.

“I would like to inform Your Excellency of the fact that a shell struck the Russian consulate and exploded there. The dragomen and gendarmery stationed there had to leave. Five bullets struck my consulate; fortunately, only material damage was done.

“I am very pleased to learn that Your Excellency is going to issue necessary orders not to direct shell or rifle fire in the direction of my consulate.

“Conforming to your directives, I have placed the Italian flag at all conspicuous locations. I have the honor of informing you that I have offered shelter to my subjects, my officials, their families, and my proteges. However, as Your Excellency knows, my premises are not spacious enough to accommodate all, so I was forced to rent the two adjoining buildings. I will hoist the Italian flag on those two building, also.

“I will convey to Mr. Agardine the contents of your letter concerning him. He will write to Your Excellency himself. Due to the very crowded conditions, it is very difficult for me to offer shelter for him and the families which have taken refuge with him, I join him in entreating you to allow him to hoist the flag for protection.

“Mr. Lemin is at my house. Hussein Bey has already informed you that he is here with his family. It was necessary for me to do that after his home was shelled and burned. I beg of Your Excellency to protect the Rue family as well as Mrs. Sanfort (wife of the former French consul). The American mission informed me of the contents of your letter.

“According to reliable information, no armed persons are present either at the American or German missionary compounds; only women, children and sick men. I have been assured that not a single cartridge has been fired from either of these locations; therefore, I ask you to take necessary measures to protect them.

“Unable to find any other means, I had to impose upon the good offices of Dr. Ussher to have one of the convalescent Turkish soldiers serve as courier for this letter. The courier has voluntarily undertaken to come to the city for this purpose; I wish to assure Your Excellency that this was not done to make room for wounded Armenians. In order to prove the veracity of my statements, I beg to have this, as well as the other couriers, returned to the hospital for further treatment.

“In order to expedite the convalescence of these men and to obviate any misunderstanding, I beg of you to make it possible for me to get in touch with them.” [4]

The Italian Vice-Consul at Van


Van, April 24th, 1915


Herr Spori, the German missionary in charge of the German orphanage, wrote the following letter to governor Jevdet concerning the commencement of the struggle;

“His Excellency, Jevdet Bey

“Governor of the Province of Van

“My very dear friend:

“The reason for the interview of last Sunday was the expectation that existing crucial problems between the government and the Armenian people could be settled on mutually acceptable grounds. Unfortunately, our hopes were not realized, and the solution of the problems took a terrible turn. In the morning of April 20th, several women who had been pursued at Gouroubsh, attempted to seek refuge in the city by way of Shoushantz. They were forced to cross one of the cordons. One of the young women, a former orphan at our orphanage, was furiously attacked here. Since the declaration of the war, her husband has been in the army. She managed to escape by dropping her load and abandoning the donkey. Your soldiers opened fire, and soldiers from other lines joined in. We saw all this because it was taking place close to our mission. This grieves us very much. Last night we were subject to violent fire from above, and found ourselves face to face with great danger. Fortunately, nothing happened. Yesterday bullets penetrated our compounds. One of our teachers barely escaped with his life.”

(Sgd) Spori


Two days later, April 26th, Jevdet answered Signoir Spordoni in the following short letter.

“Italian Consul:

“Signoir Spordoni:

“I was astonished at the contents of your letter. I did not mean to infer that you tried to gain time for the rebels. What I meant was that the insurgents, taking advantage of our friendship, posed as being the persecuted and declared their submission in order to gain three days; this is what I stated. However, thank God, they did not succeed in their plans. I have now ordered all roads, mountain trails and passed closed; the insurgents who have been opposing us have been mostly overcome and punished. I hope in the near future to put an end to the disturbances here also.

“Our gunners have received orders to fire on armed groups only and they are doing just that. Mr. and Mrs. Sanfort are at their house, safe and comfortable. The government is conscious of its duties. Your statement that they have been attacked is regrettable. Until and unless they surrender arms and declare absolute submission, I am compelled to continue the task of chastisement.

“The government cannot negotiate terms or make treaties with rioters. You appreciate this fact, of course. It is not permissible to hoist flags on any buildings other than the consulate. Let your neighbors know this.”

“Affectionately Jevdet”

April 26th, 1915


There was a lull in correspondence for a short while. It was resumed by Jevdet more eagerly after the 13th of April. Following is the third letter addressed to Signoir Spordoni by Jedvet:

“Mr. Spordoni;

“I have received your congratulatory letter on the occasion of the anniversary of Sultan’s accession to the throne. I thank you for it.

“Our squadrons advancing from Bitlis by way of Gargar are punishing those opposing their passage, while those of the villagers who pledge submission, are being protected.

“Similarly, our squadrons advancing from Timar have arrived at Aliur village after exterminating the rebels at Diramer. Aliur and some nearby villages vowed obedience and were taken under our protection. They must deliver all their weapons and the young men must join the army in order to prevent untoward events.

“The people of Avantz have shown complete obedience and are enjoying all sorts of favors and accommodations by the government.

“The stupid rebels who were digging trenches in order to obstruct the advance of our forces have been punished. The rebels at Darvan and Goghbantz villages will be duly punished today. The majority of the rioters in the old city, most of whom are known to be villagers imported from surrounding villages, have been overwhelmed. In a day or two, we will liquidate those entrenched in several houses and at the Prelacy, and the church. In spite of our repeated warning, these traitors publicly announced they were trying to help the Russian forces, which they expected to be arriving soon; naturally they shall all be properly punished today.

The allegation that one of our shells has hit the American missionary church is nothing more than a falsehood fabricated by them to assist the Armenian cause in any way possible. We have no doubts, unfortunately.

“The rebels attempting to penetrate the Moslem quarters were fired upon at Arark and Sahag Bey house. A general attack against these rebels is unavoidable. They are assisting the enemy and refusing to pledge submission. During the general assault we will attack, conquer and punish them wherever they may have fortified themselves, Including inside the American and German mission compounds. By help of the Almighty, we will settle this question.

“A large quantity of arms and bombs have been discovered at Diarbekir. The people, proving their fidelity, have pointed out revolutionaries. These sinister criminals were apprehended and put in prison, and peace was reestablished.

“But the natives of Van are working wholeheartedly for the benefit of the Russians and their revolutionary leaders. Consequently, they shall be severely punished.

“The sight of mutilated bodies, caused by our shells in the old city, naturally grieves us all. However, the government, conscious that they are plotting against its existence and the people, shall continue to fight until the rebels surrender and vow complete submission.

“I have just been informed that the building across from Nalbandian's house was set on fire immediately after the Turkish flag was hoisted. It is my guess that occupants of the building desired to show their submission by this means and were burned out as soon as the rebels became aware of it. If the situation is as bad as I think it is, all hopes for peace have vanished. [5]

“I had mentioned that Mr. Algardi should visit me if he could; you have mentioned nothing about this. His house is in the danger zone and surrounded by mutineers. Do me the favor of informing him to leave. If he cannot cross over, he should stay with you.”

“Governor Jevdet”

April 30th, 1915


Signoir Spordoni’s answer follows:

“Your Excellency;

“I have the honor of acknowledging the receipt of your last letter; I deemed it helpful to communicate its contents to several parties.

“It is to be understood that the peaceful communities are afforded government protection and benevolence. Unfortunately, the news we have received reveals atrocities perpetrated on the unarmed population of our villages. This news has completely destroyed people’s confidence and compelled them to conclude that the government is planning general massacres; they are driven to self-defense.

“Regarding the American missionary church being hit by a shell, I felt it my duty to personally investigate the matter, and found the report to be true. Your Excellency may rest assured that they are maintaining absolute neutrality.

“J. Spordoni

Italian Vice-Consul at Van”

May 3, 1915


“P.S. Please inform me of the whereabouts of Miss MacLaren so that I may inform her colleagues. Also, please issue necessary orders that no shells or bullets are to be fired in the direction of the American missionary compound.”



[3] Mr. Agardine was an Austrian national and director of the “Regie Co-Interessee des Tabacs de I'Empire Ottoman.”

The courier was a fifteen year old Armenian lad who was left behind in the Turkish quarters. Turkish police escorted him as far as the last stronghold at Khach Poghan. Here they furnished him with a white flag and sent him ahead.

This letter of Jevdet’s contained most welcome information for the Armenians in Aikesdan who, since April 17th, had been insulated from the old city and the world outside. Thus, they learned that their brethren in the old city, far from being crushed or surrendering, were carrying on an aggressive and valiant fight.

Many unsuccessful attempts had been made to communicate with the old city. Finally on the 17th of May, messengers succeeded in arriving in Aikesdan. They stayed in Aikesdan a few days and returned with messages from Aram and the Defense Command. However, the siege was so tight they were forced to hide in the hills of Shah Baghi and Lesk until May 16th, the day of deliverance.


[4] Some two thousand people had taken refuge at the Armenian mission. These were women, children and old people who enjoyed the tender care of the mission staff, Dr. and Mrs. Ussher and Mr. and Mrs. Yarrow. While maintaining absolute neutrality in all matters of a political nature, it can be stated that their sympathies as well as those of Herr Spori and Signoir Spordoni were decidedly in favor of Armenians. Their neutrality however, was not strictly honored by Jevdet. Two children were killed, and one old women messenger was shot; the American flag was shorn by shell and Dr. Ussher's family barely escaped death. Signoir Spordoni, Herr Spori and others sent special reports to Caucasus, by Armenian couriers, emphasizing the dangerous situation of Armenians at Van. The messenger was a Turkish soldier, who like many others, was being cared for free of charge.


[5] The story of hoisting the Turkish flag, burning of the house, and submission, is a vile lie concocted by Jevdet.

Neither the people nor the Armenian Revolutionary Federation made any official or non-official appeals to the Russian government or the commanding officers before or during the struggle in Van. Several attempts were made to communicate with the Armenian volunteer Corps in Caucasus with the purpose of obtaining arms and ammunition. Only one messenger succeeded in getting as far as Persia. Not one cartridge was obtained until the advent of the volunteers.

There had been no resistance at Diramer, mentioned in Jevdet's letter, and not one shot fired. The unarmed peasants and hundreds of men in the labor corps were murdered by Jevdet's order.

It is true Avantz was spared: everything except the boats were confiscated. They were saved after the panicky retreat of the Turks. One hundred twenty five of these sailors transported most of the Turkish army to Tadvan, across Lake Van in their boats. As reward for this service, they were butchered.

The paragraph referring to the people at the old city is pure fabrication. They never were subdued; they never declared they were waiting for the coming of the Russians; and there was never an outsider among them.