Chapter XIV

Period Of April 24th To April 30th


Presumably exhausted by the previous day’s violent and fruitful assaults, the enemy started its attacks on April 24th rather late in the day. Our eastern front, including Shahin Agha’s, the Procurement building and the Khani Dag defenses bore the brunt of the attacks. Cannons at Haigavank and at Katerji mosque were again busy shelling the above defenses. In the meanwhile the Turks attempted to surround our Marootian defense by occupying Abro house, and the Gdoutz property, which they had discovered, were not defended.

The report caused great concern at the Defense Command inasmuch as Turks had penetrated the ruins separating Abro’s house from the city wall. Bishop Daniel and H. Gossoyan borrowed a few armed men from the Shishgo post and entered the Gdoutz property across the street. During that interval the Turks had succeeded in knocking out a hole in the wall of Abro’s house and were ready to crawl in when we opened fire. Mostly militiamen and gypsy brigands, they fled into the ruins. Marootian’s defense was alerted to watch the one gate through which they could escape. Increased shell and rifle fire indicated they had received reinforcements, but were caught in our cross fire. Finally they set fire to a pile of scrap wood and escaped through the smoke.

This skirmish lasted three hours. The attackers left behind four killed and several wounded. One of the corpses sprawled at the Tabrz Gate was clutching a rifle in his hands. The eyes of our men fixed on that rifle, but Armenag Sarkissian, a mere youth of sixteen, took the initiative. He crawled along the wall, with a sharp knife in his hand, to the spot where the corpse lay. With a quick volt and lightening fast movement of his arm, he cut the cartridge belt and, grabbing the rifle, ran back. Bullets whizzed about him, but he got back untouched. We all kissed him and told him he could keep the rifle, as we were certain he would use it with courage and honor.

April 25th marked the end of seven days of conflict and very valuable experiences were gained during that period. Our combatants were now trained soldiers, cool, daring, self-reliant and steeled against panic. Fighting became the norm of everyday living. Whenever attacked, the response was immediate and deadly. During the fleeting moments of leisure, though always watchful, we indulged in jokes, amusements, songs and even dance. A very close comradeship was created. Every defense unit was a family in itself. Young and old offered their best without the least sign of unwillingness or disagreement.

On the 25th and 26th day of April, the enemy attacked us with increased violence. It caused no great anxiety as our stratagem was working well. Some of the posts that were located outside the defense periphery were abandoned because, in the first place, they had already served their purpose and would be costly to maintain. One of these was the Marootian defense, already in ruins, another was Mirzakhanian post which, as important as it was, could not be saved when Turks burned down the entire market ensemble. During the two days, the Turks were busy destroying the market by fire. We withdrew our men from Marootian’s house and set it on fire.

A squadron of Turkish soldiers, led by officers, advanced along the Prison street. With the one cannon in their possession, they punctured holes in the wall of the building south of Marootian’s house. Soon after, artillery at the top of the rock concentrated its shell on the same target making shambles of the buildings. Nevertheless, our defenders were able to stop the advance. The leader ordered the men to take a bead on the gunners who were shot as they were moving the gun to a new position. The accompanying force had managed to approach within thirty paces of our position. Their officer, with pistol raised, gave the order, “Forward, let no one falter.”

The defenders were forced to draw back through an open space, while the Turks were barricaded behind the wall. Fortunately, the cannons could not be put back into service again. We sent reinforcements. The fight continued. Vahan, our intrepid grenadier, was killed. It was decided to burn down all usable buildings and move to new defenses. That night all buildings, including one mosque, was set on fire and the men moved to Shishgo’s house and adjacent posts. In spite of all our efforts, the Mirzakhanian building could not be saved. Being located at the market, it was devoured by the flames that consumed the rest of the market. The same night, before Shahin Agha defense was relinquished, the Katerji mosque was put to the torch. It was being used as a rallying point for frenzied mobs. After that no Moslem crossed its scorched threshold.

During April 26, 27, 28 and 29, fighting continued on a somewhat reduced scale. There was no let up in the use of artillery and some of the defenses were attacked vigorously. We had already completed our plans; the streets were barricaded with thick masonry walls, the enemy had been deprived of strategically important positions. We now could hold them back with a minimum expenditure of ammunition of barricades and underground passages was continued.

The entries in the diary for those four days note that Turks started their attacks late in the forenoon and carried them on somewhat sporadically till 9:00 or 10:00 P.M. Some 250 to 300 shells were fired daily. Every night, for three or four hours, the enemy maintained a vigorous fusillade and we were at a loss to know why.

We established safe communication, through underground passages, with two of our most forward positions. Gazoyan Aram’s house, though surrounded by Turks on three sides, and reduced to a mass of rubble, was able to continue the resistance to the end, thanks to these passages.

The situation at Abro’s house was just as critical. Three days ago we had been forced to abandon this post. We dug a tunnel from Shishgo’s house reaching underneath Abro’s house on April 28th. The first floor was pierced and our combatants penetrated into the building. Taken by surprise the Turks fled and the post was in our possession once more. This post proved to be one of our most important defenses. Through its walls were pulverized and the roof caved in, the post kept up its defense effectiveness to the end because of the subterranean passage.

This system of communication was proving so satisfactory that it was decided to tunnel to Marootian’s house, a distance of about 125 feet. From there we planned to join it with the subterranean aqueduct leading to Haigavank. This would enable us to emerge at Haigavank and attack the enemy from the rear. The success of this plan would also enable us to communicate with Aikesdan, an objective we had so far failed to attain due to the tightness of the Turkish siege of the city.

The work was started on the 29th of April. Mason Simon and his gang toiled ceaselessly for ten days making good progress. Two more days and our project would have been completed. Unfortunately, shell fire from the cannon at Tabriz Gate hit the ground directly above our excavation and its explosion uncovered the tunnel. We were forced to abandon the project.

Turks intensified their attacks on the 29th of April. Older type mortar were also brought into play for demolition. Three of these were of large caliber, two were of medium caliber. The heavy iron balls were filled with powder, fitted with a timing fuse and were shot upward in the air. Falling from great heights, and accelerated by gravity, they would penetrate the roofs and floors of building. The explosions caused great damage and loss of life among populace.

To counteract this menace, underground shelters were provided and proved effective. But after two days of use, this added weapon already had lost its terror; indeed, it became an excellent source for replenishing our supply of gunpowder. It was observed that the balls exploded from, 15 to 35 seconds after being fired. The young boys competed with each other in diffusing the explosives as soon as they fell. These ten to fifteen year olds, with sparkling black eyes, would follow the trajectory as soon as the ball left the gun barrel. Among them were, Hovhannes Azkaserian, Mardiros Keoloshian, Papken Isajanian, Vosdanig also known as Urus (Russian) Aslan Aslanian. They also served as messengers. In activities as risky as these, losses were unavoidable. Hovhannes Arkaserian, Mardiros Kelolshian, Yervant Maksoudian, and Hagopig Haidoodian, cheerfully, made the supreme sacrifice, covering themselves with glory.

Through the valiant efforts of these young boys, we obtained sufficient powder not only for our daily requirements, but increased our stock by over three hundred pounds.