After their occupation of Shoushantz and Varak, the Turks concentrated their forces for attacks against Aikesdan and the old city, intending to crush the resistance with one massive blow. During May 9th and 10th they carried on the usual deployment of forces, and terrorized with cannonade and furious fusillade. In the afternoon of April 9th, the Turks attempted a pincer movement, in tight formation, against our defenses at Taza-Karez and Ourpat Creek. The purpose was to force the Armenians into the inner quarters of Aikesdan and thus reduce the size of the circle. The defenders valiantly stood their ground, yielding not one inch of ground. Simultaneously, the Turks bombarded our positions at Sahag Bey, Tovmazian, Sunatjian, and Toutlouzian. The Turks lost one officer, one gunner, and one private, attempting in vain to recover the officer’s body. Turks suffered casualties in their attacks on our Tavmazian, Zervantzian, an Murdian defenses and lost over a dozen at Taza-Karez and Ourpat Creek.
On May 9th, the Intelligence Service at Arark reported that our positions were shelled from the direction of Glor Dar, without damage. In the fighting that followed, the foe suffered important losses at our Glor Dar, Peotigian and Solakhian barricades. It was also reported that an hour before, the enemy drove women and children from Haiotz-Tzor and Ardamed to our positions by way of Arark. The next day, the Turks bombarded, with their two field pieces, all our positions in the Arark area, particularly our post at Sarkis of Dher’s house. Several dozen shells made shambles of the house; the defenders were deprived of any protection but continued to fight on. This obstinacy infuriated the Turks who decided to rush and capture them alive. They were greeted with a hail of murderous bullets from behind heaps of rubble. The Turks had to give up the attempt, with loud curses and imprecations, not caring even to recover their dead. As soon as darkness set in, the work of rebuilding the stronghold was started; by morning it was once more ready to face the shells of the enemey. At the Bneian and “Dardanelles” defenses, in the same area, brief skirmishes took place where several Turks were killed.
Turkish attacks on Aikesdan were renewed on May 11th with unprecedented intensity. They threw all their might and means into the battle. Having emplaced four pieces of artillery atop Toprak Kale, the Turks shelled all our positions at Taza Karez and Hanguisner from early morning, without let up. No adobe fortifications could endure the infernal shelling. At noon, one after the other, our defense postions at Der Khachadoorian, Shiroyan, Chantigian, Shegoyan and Tanner Khero were reduced to dust. Encouraged by the success, the enemy forces attacked our Chantigian post. The situation was extremely critical. Our defeat here could well seal the fate of the rest of Aikesdan. Under cover of furious shell and rifle fire, Turkish regulars, with bayonets gleaming in the morning sun, made quick and daring advances toward our post. For a moment, all hope seemed to vanish; the incursion of the enemy into the heart of Aikesdan seemed inevitable. Instinctively, the intrepid defenders dashed out to meet the enemy face to face, in hand-to-hand combat. There was no time or room for the use of rifles. They had to depend upon their Mauser pistols and hand grenades. Some of the peasant fighters from Vozm had only stones or the butts of their rifles to fight with. It was a bloody encounter and both sides lost heavily and neither side would yield.
Gregory of Bulgaria, Gaidzag, lightening Arakel, arrived on the scene in the nick of time bringing reinforcements and ammunition. The fate of the battle changed. The attacking forces were caught in the crossfire of the Armenian defenders. Fresh Turkish reinforcements, first hesitated, and then refused to enter the blood bath as other Armenian defenses nearby were now concentrating their fire on the attackers. The two hundred attacking forces were compelled to withdraw; they lost twenty-five dead and numerous wounded. Our losses were also heavy; two fighters from Vozm and three others were killed, besides four wounded. Victory was won.
Concurrently, Turks attacked our Murodian and neighboring posts. After the customary bombardment, a mixed force of some one hundred fifty Turkish regular and Kurdish irregulars approached the attacked Murodian post. At twenty yards, our fighters opened fire, but the enemy kept on coming. The situation became desperate. Here, too, the defenders threw themselves into hand-to-hand fighting using their pistols and grenades generously. After an hour of this, the Turks gave up and fled, leaving behind more than ten dead. Our losses were one combatant and two members of the labor force.
All of the Armenian posts were violently shelled on the 11th day of May. Two of these received more than eight shells. Here the enemy made a half-hearted attempted at attacking, but became disheartened and fled by the solid resistance of Armenians. The defenses at Sahag Bey, Tovmazian and Sunetjian were shelled at random, causing the death of two, and wounding one defender. Turkish attacks at our Aghanigian post were more violent. During one day, over two hundred fifty cannon shells were aimed at the two posts. The posts were demolished and reconstructed until darkness brought relief. In this desperate encounter Sahag of Mantan distinguished himself as the bravest of the brave. An unerring marksman, he had brought down three gendarmes and, as darkness fell, he advanced into the enemy lines, picking up three rifles with their cartridge belts and returning safely, in spite of the enemy’s fire. Emulating Sahag's valor, a youth from Der Khachadoorian’s post, scorning Turkish fire, rushed to grab the rifle and the ammunition belt from a dead soldier and returned safely. They were in critical need of these items.
Though the defense post at Mno’s and Vizviz were also bombarded, the enemy made no attempt to attack. At night our defenders invaded the enemy stronghold, killing one soldier, and forcing the Turks to flee. They returned with weapons after one hour.
The engagements of May 11th were continued through the night. From their north and westerly strongholds at Shan Tagh, Turks opened vigorous fusillade on our posts. At 9:00 P.M. that night the Armenians were successful in breaking through the walls of the Turkish stronghold and capturing several rifles and equipment. The same night a Turkish soldier in women’s garb was killed.
The fighting on May 11th was costly to both sides. Turks lost more than one hundred. Armenian losses were also serious. Never before had the Armenian defense positions been so severely damaged. Hundreds of laborers renewed and rebuilt them again and again, so that, on this day, Armenians came out victorious, not yielding one inch of ground to the enemy.
The unprecedented intensity and violence of the attacks on May 11th were interpreted by the Defense Command and Aram as either indicative of serious Turkish reverses at the battle front, or as a way of expending the fury of their vengeance upon the Armenians in Aikesdan, or as the execution of Jevdet’s plans as revealed in his last letter to break resistance once and for all. Fresh reinforcements had already arrived and supported this view.
In contrast, the following day, May 12th, was quiet. The Turks seemed to be immobilized. Yet, in this stillness, one could hear the thunder of shell being showered against the Armenians in the old city.
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Numerous peasant women from Lower Shamiram and from the Armenian quarters of Arark freely congregated at the square bringing unbelievable reports. A women from the village of Aliur said she had been held by the Turks for the past fifteen days. “Whoever could manage it escaped; the rest of the male population was mercilessly slaughtered. Turkish militiamen gathered women and children and brought them to the city. Some of us disappeared, and probably were killed. Young and attractive women were distributed among them. Old women and children were sent in groups to Armenian quarters in the old city and Aikesdan, saying “Let them perish sooner and altogether.” I saved in the house of a Turk, tending his garden, milking his cow, carrying water, etc. This morning, while working in the garden, I noticed a great deal of commotion among the Turks. The master’s son came home, sad and crest fallen; soon his father began beating his head with his hands and repeating, “Moscoff, the infidel is coming.” Women and children started to lament and tear at their hair. I hid myself in the bushes for fear of being killed. Soon the scene repeated itself in the neighboring houses. They were all panic stricken, and starting to make dough for bread and packing their belongings. It looked to me as though the Turks were running away; I could plainly hear them say that the Russians were approaching from Bayazid, Sarai and Bash-Kale, that Turkish forces had been crushed, that Armenian volunteers (in the Russian army) headed by Antranig and Dro were massacring Kurds and Turks, and that they would soon be in Van. After hearing this, I took courage and ran away. On my way, I noticed Kurdish caravans coming from the direction of Khoshad; I was scared to death but, thank God, they did not recognize me.”
The reports of the other women were similar. The reports brought by the Assyrian refugees from the villages of Ermantz and Doniye corroborated what we had been told. Calmly, they told of the panic among the Kurds during the last four or five days. Almost every day Kurdish caravans of pack animals, and their women and children, travelled to Van by way of Khoshab. They had overheard Kurds saying, “Russians are coming, to aid Aram Pasha, and are preceded by Armenian volunteers.”
Similarly, refugees from Arjag, mostly women, said they had seen hordes of armed and unarmed Kurds fleeing headlong as though being pursued, and had heard the distant thunder of cannons.
This piecemeal information was supplemented by reports arriving from our defense points in Aikesdan. Quiet reigned on all fronts; our challenges had failed to evoke any reaction. They concurred in the opinion that Turkish strongholds had been partially evacuated. The “Dardanelles” post reported that Kurdish caravans were descending unhindered from the hills of Gouru Bash and, after a short stop at Haji-Bekir barracks, proceeded to Lower Shamiram.
Scanning the horizon by binoculars from the roofs of tall buildings, one could see a vast dark mass moving in the direction of Ardamed.
The sum total of these pieces of information justified the conclusion that there was real panic among the Turks. To obtain conclusive proof, the Defense Command issued the following directive to all defense leaders:
“We have learned from various sources that a state of panic exists among the Turks, and that they are deserting their strongholds. Stand alert at your posts but send out scouting parties of one or two men to verify the facts and make sure this is not another of the enemy’s traps.”
May 12th, 1915
The exploration carried out by a number of Armenian posts that night revealed the fact that, though reduced in strength, none of the Turkish strongholds had been evacuated. The scouting parties met with intense fire so that we were unable to capture any of the posts. The attempt by the Nalbandian defenses was of particular interest. They reported;
“Yesterday we were ordered to reconnoiter enemy positions. In order to avoid loss of life, we devised a trick. Some kerosene was placed in a tin can and tied to a dog’s tail by means of a rope. After igniting the oil, we chased the dog down Khach-Poghan. We made a big noise by firing our pistols and hunting rifles, yelling hurrahs and onward... The enemy, caught by surprise, responded furiously. In less than one quarter of an hour, they wasted over five hundred bullets. It was evident that the Turkish forces had been reduced, since barely a dozen shots were fired from Turkish posts confronting ours; most of the firing was from far away.”
The night of May 13, Turks attempted a counterattack against our “Hotel” post at Khack-Poghan. By coincidence, the defenders of “Hotel” were also planning a sortie and the two groups met. After a short and sharp skirmish the Turks fled; the Armenians did not suffer any losses.
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The Armenian community and the intrepid defenders did not forego the celebration of Labor Day on May 1st (Julian calendar) in spite of the ever present danger of death and destruction. They sang folk and revolutionary songs in the squares and orchards, accompanied by the orchestra. It was our misfortune to have to commemorate this Labor Day upon the ruins of our homes, threatened by Turkish shells and bullets, and forced to bear arms against the most despicable of tyrannies. Many eloquent and impassioned speeches were made on this occasion
On the 13th and 14th of May, our positions, particularly those in the Arark sector, were massively bombarded, as was the American mission where several women and children were killed. We lost Gasha, the Assyrian, who had fought at the side of Shirin and had been fighting at our defenses with unexcelled daring and devotion. He was interred with full military honors at Norashen cemetery.