Chapter XII

Public Participation


During the initial three days of the struggle, the entire responsibility for self-defense rested upon the shoulders of the Defense Command and the combatants manning the barricades. These had to fight the enemy, improvise new defenses, repair damaged barricades. There was no time for sleep and hardly any time for a hurried bite to eat. They never complained, never demanded and never disobeyed an order.

The public was bewildered, petrified with fear or tormented by the specter of wholesale massacres. Few of those were capable of cool reasoning, who could subscribe to the only sane policy, “If die we must, then let us die bravely and with honor.” On the third day of the struggle, a group of men presented themselves to the Defense Command saying, “We have left our homes, our families in order to assist you, to fight along side of you, to die together if fate so wills.”

The spontaneous offer of assistance was more than welcome. It served to subside and subdue a spirit of hopelessness and tendency to panic. The hellish cannonade and the mad assaults in the morning of April 21st had struck terror in the public. They stampeded to the Prelacy building for shelter, thinking Turks had already smashed the resistance and were entering the Armenian quarters. Those at the Prelacy were asked to be calm, were offered tea, and were told there was no cause for alarm. They were also told everyone could pitch in and help instead of idly standing by. All listened intently, but stoically. Here and there, one could detect the trace of a smile.

In the afternoon, four aged men presented themselves to ask the Defense Council for permission to form a procession carrying the Holy Cross, now resting at St. Nishan. We have started to collect contributions for sacrificial offerings and will hold services at night hoping God will have mercy upon us, and pour water on this fire, they said.

The request was extremely oppressive and disheartening. They were told that we had no jurisdiction in religious matters. They parted in disappointment.

Three days of successful resistance were sufficient to eradicate the tendency to servile fear and to cowardice which six centuries of unparalleled persecution had implanted in them. On the fourth day, they were eager to sacrifice their life, ready to assist in any way possible to their everlasting credit and glory, these people never avoided or spared any sacrifice from the fourth day to the end of the fight, thus assuring the victorious outcome of the struggle.

The Defense Command busied itself on the 22nd of April by drawing up the following plans for auxiliary committees:

1. Reconstruction and Repair. Men of experience and ability were detailed for the task of reinforcing, repairing, and rebuilding of defenses, providing communication through underground passages, to building walls to barricade streets, etc. They were to be at their assigned posts day and night. The responsibility was shared by twelve men.

2. Provisions. To supply ingredients and prepare food for combatants and auxiliary groups. They were given a list of foodstuff that included flour, sugar, shortening, meat, etc. for which the people made regular contributions. A committee of twelve was assigned to this task.

3. Medical. There were no qualified medical doctors in the city. In view of this, interested and qualified men had been asked to enroll in the medical-surgical classes at the American mission's hospital in Aikesdan. A small quantity of drugs had been secured. Isajanian’s house was converted to an improvised hospital. Women and men attended the wounded.

4. Repair Shop. Isajanian's house, being comparatively safe, also housed the repair shop. Rifles, Mauser pistols, hand revolvers and any other weapons were repaired here. Over the duration, some 12,000 cartridges were refilled and recapped.

5. Relief. To care for the refugees and the poor residents of the city. The committee in charge received about one ton of barley and one and one half tons of wheat. This committee worked in close cooperation with the provisions committee. Families of combatants received their daily share.

6. Tailor Shop. The dry goods found in the Military Procurement building were turned over to a group of tailors for making clothing and undergarments for the fighting men.