Chapter XXII

The Exodus


On July 21st, 1915, the Russian command ordered the evacuation of Vasbouragan. The appeals by the people, the government, and the volunteer Armenian forces to desist fell on deaf ears.

For no conceivable strategic reasons, the Russian army started its withdrawal on a vast front, along Manazgerd-Akhlat-Aljavaz-Arjesh and Sorp-Gavesh-Van, destroying all military stores.

Within three days, the 200,000 Armenians had to file through Bergery to avoid being trapped by the enemy forces. Aram and the people of Van tried everything possible to avert this new tragedy being inflicted upon us by the perfidy of Russian politics. All efforts failed. The valiant people of Vasbouragan were forced to trek the torturous path of mass exodus.

They dragged themselves over one hundred fifty miles of arid and torrid lands. In the mountain passes at Bergery, tens of thousands were killed by Kurds. Deserted, exhausted, ravaged with hunger and thirst, they arrived at Igdir, Echmiadzin, and Erevan to endure further famine and epidemic diseases.

A black curtain descended upon the history of Vasbouragan. There could be no doubt but that this most ignoble treachery had been conceived and executed by Russian diplomacy. It was a policy of “Armenia without the Armenians” first promulgated by the cynical Lobanov. Irrefutable proof of this policy is the fact that while one wing of the Russian army was “retreating,” another wing of the same army was entering Van only two days later.

Neither the historic perfidy of the Russians nor the horrors of migration could dampen the irresistible desire among the people of Vasbouragen to return to their native land, to repossess and to reconstruct it. Innumerable difficulties and tribulations not withstanding, and in spite of direct and indirect obstacles created by the Russian military authorities, and in the face of the dissolution of the Armenian volunteer forces and the total response of Russian soldiery to Lenin’s call to “Come Home,” the people of Vasbouragan attempted, time and again, and in groups of many thousands, to return to their homes. At the sight of the ruined treasures and the fallow fields, they shed a tear, knelt and said a prayer, and immediately started to rebuild their homes, and recultivate their orchards and fields. They built new schools, established a new economy, new institutions, and a new defense force. In the spring of 1918 these people had their own government with its own currency...

And yet in spite of further and more sinister misfortunes that have befallen the Armenian race and its fatherland, and in the face of all the bitter tribulations meted out by a cruel fate, and though scattered in Erevan, Mesopotemia, Syria, Europe and the Americas, the Armenians of Vasbouragan treasure the living memory of the heroic struggle. The vision of their beautiful and historic homeland dominates their life. Armenians will gladly sacrifice their lives again for a chance to repossess and reconstruct a free fatherland.