Chapter XIII

Violent Clashes - Strategy Deliberations


April 23rd was noted for the unusual ferocity of the attacks. After the comparative calm of the previous day, the Turks started the attacks early and steadily increased its tempo. All our defenses were being assaulted. Shells were pouring down from above the rock while three other cannons belched deadly missiles from the east, west and south. That day, Turks introduced a large force into the city. The mob plundered the market and set the torch to it.

This type of all out assault taxed the courage and endurance of our combatants to the limit. All were asking for reinforcements, rifles, ammunition. “The fighting is terrible at our post; rush bombs and a few men with rifles or Mauser pistols.” This was a typical written request from all positions for that day. All available reserves were distributed but we were far from filling the demand. The situation at Marootian and the Ambar area seemed to be desperate.

At this juncture, Bishop Yeznig was asked to take temporary charge of the Defense Command while Bishop Daniel and Haig Gossoyan hastened to the aid of the defenders at Marootian and Shishgoyan positions. Vartan Der Vartanian, with three companions went to help at the Ambar front.

The situation was critical indeed. The combined shelling from the castle rock and Haigavank had completely demolished the top floors. The defenders were unrecognizable as they were covered with soot and dust. They had to fight in a choking atmosphere of gunsmoke and floating dust. It was decided to move to the first floor which was still tenable. Alert to the change, Turkish arsonists, under strong cover, began to set fire to the doors and other combustible parts of the building. The enemy’s vicious fire rendered ineffective all our efforts to put it out. If forced to retreat, we would have seriously weakened our defense potential and would have to sacrifice a number of the combatants. In a last desperate move, we got the fire fighters ready for action, increased our fire, and threw a bomb among the attackers. Its tremendous explosion shook the building, the Turkish arsonists fled, the fire was put out and we enjoyed a short respite.

The situation at the Ambar defense was even more critical. The Defense Command had been asked permission to withdraw or else send immediate reinforcements. The area leader was asked to spare four men who accompanied H. Gossoyan. However, before their arrival the Karageozian and Ateshkiar posts had already been abandoned and the men were fighting from houses in the rear. Vartan Der Vartanian, who had been sent to aid them, found the two positions cut off by the Turks. Rather than risk the lives of his comrades, he dashed through the hail of bullets to reach the barricades, but was hit in the head and the chest. His death caused the defenders to panic and to withdraw.

The situation was fraught with gravest consequences. Our second line of defense lacked facilities for sustaining resistance. Far worse than this was the fact that now the gates to Ambar were within the Turkish zone and had they been allowed to entrench themselves on the roof of this fortress like building, the fate of our people would have been sealed.

It was, therefore, decided to prepare makeshift defenses around the deserted one. A strong force was stationed across the entrance to prevent the foe from occupying the building. There still remained eight anxious hours of daylight. Were we going to be able to stand the enemy pressure til nightfall? From positions deserted by us, the Turks set fire to the building, which allowed us time to establish ourselves in the new defenses. The fighting continued long after darkness fell. Over one hundred shells were fired at our position that day, with devastating effect. We had lost two of our best defense positions and one of our best fighters. The Turks lost several dozen soldiers. Most corpses were left, where they fell, in front of our barricades.

Certain changes in our defense structure were suggested by the day's fighting: (a) redistribution of our forces based on the frequency and intensity of Turkish attacks, (b) establishment of a second line of defense, (c) efficient means of repair and reinforcement of defense positions, (d) stricter discipline, better military instructions, (e) contact with Aikesdan.

The leaders were asked to convene that night to deliberate on these and allied subjects. It was a solemn spectacle watching these haggard, taciturn men who had been through the baptism of blood and sweat, march into the Prelacy hall where a single candle cast a dim, spectral light. Bishop Daniel, who, forced by circumstances, had become a comrade in arms, was present, as was Bishop Yeznig, who had assumed responsibility for the relief of the indigent families. Also present was lawyer Jirair Mirzakhanian, who in the past, had been advising us constantly to go slow, to be careful, etc. and now exclaiming, “Bravo, men! Today I discovered in you what I never suspected was there.” It was the forth consecutive day the men had not had any sleep. Their voice was muted and some could hardly speak. All were on edge and ready to dash to their posts as the rifle fire became threatening.

Among other things, it was decided to wall off all 14 streets to prevent intrusion by Turks into Armenian quarters, to reinforce lower floors by duplex walls and the ceilings by heavy timbers, to erect a number of walls at each stronghold to serve as successive barricades, rather than move from one house to another, when the first one proved untenable, and to brick in doors facing Turkish positions to stop enemy attempts at setting fire to them.

Handwritten copies of the following instructions by the Defense Command were distributed to the posts that same night:

“It is already the sixth day of our valiant fight against the enemy who has been frustrated in his attempt to crush us by his artillery and thousands of rifles. The struggle will undoubtedly go on with unforeseeable developments, but, come what may, we have resolved to defend our lives, our honor and our rights. So far it has proved a shameful debacle for Jevdet’s efforts. You are all witnesses to this fact.

“In order to endure and to render the resistance more effective, we exhort all of you to be calm, well disciplined, sparing of your life and your ammunition and to refer to your military regulations and instructions. Those who fail to comply will be held responsible. We have emphasized and repeat it now, be thrifty, economize, save your life, and conserve your weapons and your ammunition. These are the factors which will enable us to keep up our resistance and the longer we resist the greater is the hope for eventual success.

“Be brave, but not rash, be circumspect to protect your life. Use your ammunition sparingly. Let the enemy burn his ammunition freely. Answer them with restraint. Let each bullet find its mark. We need ammunition for days to come. Let us be protective of ourselves and uphold military discipline. Let these be your motto.”

Sunday, April 25, 1915

Defense Command

Armenian Revolutionary Federation


Instructions for Military Discipline:

(1) All defense positions with the combatants are subject to the area leader whose orders are compulsory and final.

(2) It is the duty of the area leaders to direct and supervise defensive action, to allocate combatants to barricades, appoint leaders, insure adequate supply of arms and ammunition. Matters like change of position, counterattack or invasive actions and other important questions shall be referred to the Defense Command for final disposition.

(3) Each post has one leader in command of the combatants. He is responsible to the area leader. It is his duty to carry out orders by the area leader or by the Defense Command.

(4) No combatant may absent himself from his post without the leader’s permission and, no leader may absent himself without the area leader’s consent.

(5) It is absolutely forbidden to change defense positions without permission from the Defense Command.

(6) No combatant is allowed to carry his arms with him when leaving the post.

(7) No leader or combatant has authority to go to the rescue of another post, neither can help be requested from another post. The Defense Command has exclusive jurisdiction in these matters.

(8) Area leaders and leaders of important defense positions may communicate with the Defense Command in writing.

(9) Unless specifically allowed, no post is to be abandoned, under severest penalty.

(10) No one is allowed to loiter at defense posts.

(11) Always use the same messenger. Put your requests in writing and sign.


The Defense Command