Menacing events succeeded each other at an accelerated pace toward the beginning of December 1914. The Russian avant guard and the Armenian volunteer brigades had captured Sarai, Bash Kale, causing panic in the government at Van. On December 7th, the official archives were transferred to Bitlis. Prominent families and high officials set sail, in bitter winter, for Tadvan, and from there, to Bitlis.
For the first time, we were witnessing the terror caused by the approach of Russian forces and consequent total demoralization everywhere.
About this time, Jevdet Bey, escorted by several hundred militiamen, went to Bash Kale - Aghpag front, after having arranged the free distribution of arms and ammunition to all Turks willing and able to use them.
This atmosphere of agonizing suspense lasted until April, 1915.
A few days later, Naji Bey, representative of the Ittihad party, left Van to join Jevdet. Russian’s arrival was expected hourly. Their scouting parties and forward detachments were at Malahassan village which is only a few hours walking time from Arjag. Turks were fleeing pell mell. For rear guard, strong detachments were positioned at Aikesdan, the old city, and at various strategic points in the province.
However, the successful counter offensive at the Caucasian front by Enver Pasha forced the retreat of the Russian army on a wide front, extending from the Black Sea to Salmasd and Urmia in Persia.
The acting governor, Sherif Bey, issued the following proclamation on December 13th:
“By the efforts of our lion governor, the enemy has been thrown back. Let everyone go about his business as usual. The situation is quiet.” He was exhorting the Turks to overcome panic.
The combined forces of Jevdet and Khalil Bey crossed into Persia, occupied Salmasd, Urmia, Savouj-Boulak and were advancing in the direction of Tebriz. Massacres, pillages and beastliness were the inseparable companions to Turkish forces. December, 1914 marks the beginning of the unprecedented tragedy of Armenians in Turkey.
The retreat of the Russian army signaled the second phase in the relations between the government and its Armenian subjects. During this period, pretenses were dispensed with and alibis cast away. Massacres and persecutions became a daily occurrence.
For an extended account of events this period, the reader is referred to Chapters IV and V of part one of this volume.