On August the 3rd914, soon after the declaration of the First World War, mobilization was started in all parts of the country, by Imperial decree.
In Van, Kiazim Bey was appointed head of the newly instituted military tribunal and immediately declared martial law in all sections of the province of Van. The ten point declaration by the military staff at Van, the new taxes to be levied, as approved by the parliament and the senate were signed by Said Pasha, the Prime Minister, Enver Pasha, the War Minister, and Talaat Pasha, Minister of the Interior.
The military procurement committee started to work without delay. Large quantities of sugar, kerosene, soap, rice, grain, oil, canvas, leather and all sorts of manufactured goods were confiscated under the guise of military procurement.
To begin with, each county was required to contribute 200 tins of cooked meat (large tin cans, capacity 1,275 cubic inches), 600 pounds of butter fat, minimum of 10 sheep, along with wheat, barley, hay, fodder.
The wards in the old city each were to contribute 50 pairs of stockings, 50 pairs of gloves, 50 sets of undershirts and drawers, 50 vests, 5 felt covers, 3 carpets, 7 bedsheets and 1 bedspread; all pieces were either hand knitted or hand sewn. Also, those having cows were to contribute two day’s milk for hospital use. Large containers were placed at convenient points to receive the milk.
On August the 4th, the legal plunder of the market was started. Soldiers with fixed bayonets guarded the passages and the exits. Procurement agents loaded the contents of stores and shops into carts to be carried away. The owner was given a “receipt” which conveniently failed to show either the type, quantity or value of goods taken. Strict orders were posted, “those who try to transfer or to hide their goods shall be court martialed and officials found lax in the performance of their duty shall be discharged.”
On August 4th, the Military Command decreed the conscription of all of the male population between the ages of twenty and forty-five, regard to the status of their military training. The latter aspect of the decree caused great anxiety among the Armenians, in as much as all above twenty years of age lacked training, were totally unprepared for immediate induction into the fighting forces, and had paid legal exemption taxes. Yet in spite of this, all hastened to enlist. Twenty to twenty-five year olds enlisted in the regular army, the rest in the nearly formed “mobile” and “stationary” units.
Within the city the Armenian youth, led by Aram, formed a procession in front of the military headquarters during the second week of conscription, offering them for the defense of the common country. In the villages, peasants left their pressing summer work and hastened to enlist.
Normal life came to a standstill everywhere.
Thousands of tradesmen, carpenters, masons, tailors, blacksmiths, coppersmiths, tinsmiths, gold and silversmiths went to work for the army. Local government, taking advantage of the free labor, used them for other than military purposes. They built mosques, the municipal building, the military hospital, a school for Turkish girls and a club house for the ruling Ittihad party.
A large number of tailors worked for months, under Turkish supervision, to make uniforms and garments from confiscated materials. Armenian physicians donated their services unreservedly. Yet the Armenians in Van had to bear the brunt of the mobilization and military procurement with their attendant evils.
It was different with the Kurds. They did not have to be conscripted. Instead, they were issued more arms by the government. The notorious Hamidie Corps, created by Sultan Hamid II to oppress Armenians, was allowed to stay home, free of military duty and control.
Tahsin Bey, the Governor of Van, had succeeded in gaining the esteem of the various elements of the population before mobilization started. With all his shortcomings, both Moslems and Christians respected him for trying to be impartial and in attempting to end the brigandage and deprivation wrought by the Kurds. Even during the mobilization, he tried not to discriminate and refrained from being engulfed in the all encompassing task of war preparedness. Everyone felt the war was only days away. War news was being distorted to favor the Germans and the Turkish press was openly hostile towards the Entente Powers.
The two Germans battleships, Goeben and Bresslau, passed through Dardanelles into the Sea of Marmora on August 3rd, which were presumably purchased by the Turkish government for forty million marks. On August the 8th, all “capitulations” to European powers were abrogated.
Mr. Hoeff, appointed by European powers to supervise the carrying oat of reforms in the Armenian provinces, arrived in Van on August 17th and was received very coolly by the officialdom. On the 27th of the same month, he was recalled to Constantinople by order of Talaat Pasha, Minister of the Interior. On the 27th, the 11th army corps left Van for Toutagh at the Russian border. Soon came Naji Bey and other Ittihad leaders who organized brigands and proceeded to the Persian front. Some of the leaders went into Persia as war propagandists.
The preoccupation of the civilized powers with the conduct of war had removed all restraints. The Ittihad party, along with the government, thought the time had come to settle their internal problems, once and for all and to recast the Empire into one homogeneous people and one common religion.
We were fortunate to have among us, during these anxious times, Mr. Vramian, Deputy to the Ottoman Parliament from Van, who arrived on September 29th. Being also a very respected leader among Armenians he rendered valuable service as intermediary between them and the government. The situation, so far and in spite of the many hardships, was still bearable. Military commanders and civil officials expressed their appreciation of the Armenians’ willingness to serve and to sacrifice for the country. The following telegram was received from the army headquarters on the 7th of September: “Please express our appreciation to the Armenian people and to all others who seem to be competing in their readiness to sacrifice.”
Towards the end of August, rumors began to circulate about the replacement of Tahsin Bey by the governor of Bash Kale, Jevdet Bey, with very depressing effects.
The parting speech of Tahsin Bey is still fresh in my memory. He said, “I am leaving you with deep regret. I have desired and worked for the reconstruction of this province, for good-neighborly relations between the races and for their progress. My thoughts will always be with you. My successor, who is here, Jevdet Bey, though young, I am sure, will continue my efforts to complete the plans I was unable to finish. Goodbye my countrymen.”
Premonitions of a turn for the worse, of dark days ahead, had already gripped Armenians who knew Jevdet as a youth in Van. He had amused himself by committing atrocious acts at Vosdan, Pergri, Abagha, Nordouz and later at Bash Kale. He reveled in the monstrous pleasure of torturing people to death by branding them with hot irons, by horseshoeing, by the crushing of the testes and whatever other means his demonical mind would devise. What a contrast between his well-groomed exterior, his fine European garb and refined manners, and his Tartar-Albanian soul harboring the most horrid sins.