Chapter XVIII

The Finale


May 16th was going to be the last day of this supreme struggle, the end of the Turk’s fanatical fury, the day of victory.

Starting early in the morning all our positions were bombarded with unusual fury. Twelve cannons spewed shells in all directions. The American missionary complex alone was struck by twenty-six shells. They caused consternation among the people, killing more than thirty women and children and unarmed men. The defenders, already injured, did not get disturbed. Some of them asked permission to attack enemy posts but were refused.

While at a conference at the Central Committee meeting, Aram received word at 5:00 P.M. from the area leader at Hanguisner, suggesting the only way to cut down the enemy was to counterattack. They said they were sure the Turks were making ready to flee that day.

Aram was undecided and preferred to investigate personally, accompanied by Gregory of Bulgaria. While on the way, a second messenger reported that Melkeset Eiynatian and his men had already initiated a counterattack at Hanguisner. A third messenger brought the news that Ales and his comrades were prepared to capture the barracks at Haji-Bekir. Panos Jamgochian, a member of the Committee, hastened to his post at Sahag Bey to prepare for attack.

Other messengers brought news of serious clashes between the Turkish garrison and the counterattackers at Hanguisner. Indeed, one could hear the sound of terrific rifle fire coming from that direction. Aram and Gregory hurried to the rescue. They had barely reached the Big Kenderchy (one of the many springs) when they heard the first mighty cry of deliverance. THE FOE HAS FLED!

Far from being the tumultuous roar of a mob, it was a victorious cry over a bestial tyranny; it dramatized the end of an apparently impossible undertaking; it symbolized the glorious culmination of the valor of the people, their stamina and their solidarity. Indeed, it was a divine, triumphal symphony, which no musical genius has, as yet, succeeded in creating.

The barracks of Toprak Kale that had been spewing explosive shells of destruction up to a quarter of an hour ago was now blazing. It was like a luminous crimson wreath over the heads of the brave Hanguisners and the victorious Armenians of Aikesdan. After a pitched battle of a half hour’s duration, Melkeset, Missak and Zaparian, from Hanguisner, forced the enemy to flee leaving behind the barracks with the cannons. The barracks were put to the torch immediately. This small group then pursued the foe up the slopes to Zum Zum cave; here was another small Turkish barracks. From this vantage point, all of Aikesdan, its streets and defenses could be seen as if on a map. Here, too, the enemy put up a determined resistance. The intrepid group, further inebriated with the heady wine of success, attacked the garrison, sparing neither ammunition nor lives; after half an hour of bloody hand-to-hand fighting, the garrison was subdued. The Turks seemed prostrate now, having lost two cannons and two garrisons at Hanguisner. The second barracks was set to the torch.

The barracks of Haji-Bekir, situated directly south and across the plain from Toprak Kale, continued to scatter shells aimlessly over Aikesdan. It was built on the side of a high hill. Ales Barsamian and a dozen of his men planned to destroy this den of tyranny with a little loss to themselves as possible. Secretly they proceeded half way and waited for the nightfall; they surrounded the building and after a brief contact, forced the enemy to flee, leaving behind about a dozen dead. Two artillery pieces, large quantities of shells, rifles, and stores, were captured and the empty barracks set on fire.

In the old city the defenders had noticed the burning of Toprak Kale barracks and were waiting for the Haji-Bekir barracks to go up in smoke also. Now they were ready to climb the Castle Rock to hoist the Armenian flag of victory and freedom at its summit.

A third group in the Arark sector attacked and captured numerous Turkish positions. Many Turkish guards surrendered.

Some of our best fighters, intellectuals and men without arms, had been concentrated along the defenses at Khach-Poghan. The Turks had deserted three or four of their strongholds, one after the other. Nothing was left except the still warm corpse of a soldier. Cautiously, the Armenians advanced as far as Jidechian’s house where the arch criminal, Jevdet Bey, had been staying. Across the street stood the police headquarters. They would either wait for the cover of darkness or make an immediate frontal attack.

Firing and yelling, they crashed the police headquarters but found it deserted. Once inside they were subjected to violent fusillade from Turkish homes adjoining the station. Treachery of this type was always expected and caused no panic. A quick search of the building uncovered a few old policemen with loaded weapons but frozen with fear; the food was still warm on the chief’s table and the samovar was still gurgling. Hats and coats were strewn here and there. The telephone was ringing...

Outside in the streets, both sides continued to fire away. The Turks began to retreat; the sound of their volleys could be heard coming from the historic battlements around the Castle Rock.

Someone shouted, “Did Jevdet escape?” “Oh, he escaped about an hour ago; why did you tarry?” It was the voice of the Armenian servant to Jevdet. He opened the door for the defenders who entered in grim silence, vengeance gnawing at their hearts for having missed the opportunity of avenging the death of Vramian and Ishkhan. They discovered a note written by Jevdet to Signoir Spordoni, containing the usual lies and threats, even at this last moment. He wrote:

“Dear Signoir Spordoni;

“I am compelled, through military exigencies, to leave town. It really is an ungrateful task to preside over a city in turmoil. We avoided nocturnal attacks in order to spare the children. The Russians took advantage of the situation. May God bring misfortune to the traitorous Komitajis (The Armenian Revolutionary Federation). From now on, there is going to be constant fighting, as the enemy is on our land. Greetings to Herr Algardin and all friends. Respects to the ladies.”

“Governor Jevdet”

May 16th, 1915