Chapter V

Aikesdan And The Citadel City


The heroic defense in Van started on the morning of April 20th, on two distinct and separate fronts. Aikesdan and the citadel, or walled city, were separated by extensive wards of exclusively Turkish population. The conflict in Shadakh, which erupted on the 14th, was in progress when Jevdet precipitated the clash in Aikesdan.

The old city is the legendary city of Van built at the foot of the massive rock. Extensive inscriptions in cuneiform on its southeasterly face tell of the exploits of Assyrian and Urartuan kings. The crowded homes skirt narrow streets hemmed in by massive battlements, and is about one and one-half miles from the lake. Aikesdan, meaning garden or orchard city, lies east of the old city. Its wide streets are lined with poplar and willow trees and beautiful orchards and gardens surround the homes. Its central and easterly areas are inhabited by Armenians, and the remainder by Turks.

Strategically, its wider streets, clay fences and multitude of trees offered advantages. The defense perimeter looked like a distorted triangle against which Turks had established their strongholds supported by the barracks of Toprak-Kale and Hamud Agha on the northeastern flank. The other line was through orchards and open fields, anchored at Haji-Bekir barracks and the Turkish wards of Shabania.

The more extended defense line at Aikesdan required a large number of combatants, adequate weaponry and ammunition. A great deal of work had to be done to insure safe communication between the defense posts and the defense command. The very rugged landscape on the east, starting with Mt. Varak offered the possibility, as a last resort (not contemplated) to break through the Turkish lines and escape into Persia. Jevdet, at the start, lacked the minimum seven thousand men to encircle and crush them.

In the city, Armenians occupied the eastern and the Turks the western section. Our defense area resembled a rectangle, flanked on the north by the castle rock. From its elevated position, the Turks had the advantage of bombarding any one of our defenses at close range and render traffic in the streets impossible through rifle fire. The market was located in the south section along with all government establishments and offices. The remaining three fronts, Turkish barracks, mosques and fortified houses, adjoined this southern section. For the enemy it was possible to encircle us with a small force. The situation required larger defense capability in men and weapons. To break through Turkish lines was unthinkable. It was a matter of either do or die.

The population in the city, previous to the conflict, numbered 3,750. Of this number, 2,500 were Armenians and 1,250 were Turks. Here were located the Armenian Prelacy, the school for boys and girls, the Kindergarten, Hairigian Library and seven churches with a rich collection of valuable manuscripts and religious paraphernalia. The American mission maintained one church, one school and one kindergarten.

Merchant houses, stores and shops were concentrated in the market in the old city along with the following:

1. Government palace

2. Police headquarters

3. Courthouse

4. Central Prison

5. Municipality Building

6. Agricultural Administration

7. “Regie”

8. Public Debt

9. Sanitation

10. Ottoman Bank

11. Post and Telegraph

12. The Azizie barracks

13. Headquarters of the Army Corps of Van

14. Armory

15. Cavalry barracks

16. Gendarmery Headquarters

17. Military Procurement

18. Sultanie School

19. Normal School

There were also 15 large and small mosques. Among these the most imposing were Topji-Bashi, Kaya-Chelebi, Khosrofie and Ulu mosques, ammunition depots, and artillery pieces on the western slopes of the rock.