Chapter XVI

Attempts To Communicate With Aikesdan


Immediately after the outbreak of hostilities, the old city was sealed off hermetically. Communication with Aikesdan, or with any part of the province, was impossible. We lived in absolute ignorance of the events outside. Had Aikesdan been successful in sending messengers to Caucasus and to Persia? Was there any hope of succor for the beleaguered Armenians? And above all, how were our brethren prepared for continued self-defense at Aikesdan? Ominous thoughts crossed our minds as we observed, through binoculars, the burning of monasteries at Varak and at Garmirvor. We saw Turks digging trenches around the village of Shooshantz.

Altogether four desperate attempts were made to contact Aikesdan.

The first attempt was made on April 24th while we were still in possession of Marootian’s house. Starting at this point, Vahan, nicknamed foxy, and Gaspar crawled along the foot of the rock as far as the gypsy quarters. Sentinels were everywhere. For one-half hour they waited in a safe place for a chance to proceed, but were detected by a passing patrol. Forced into headlong retreat, they arrived safely, though pale and panting, having escaped the many bullets fired at them.

A second attempt was made the following night, April 25th. Hagop from Bairak, mule driver by trade, had embraced the Islam religion to save himself during the massacres of 1896. He was given one of the fastest horses, acquired from the police headquarters when it was occupied by us. Two copies of a short message were handed to him, one to be carried on his person, the other to be placed in the saddle bag. He galloped away. Immediately the Turks opened fire. Did he escape? Was he killed....we wondered. Six hours later, in the early dawn he returned to Shishgo’s house without his horse. On his way he was again subjected to rifle fire. He reported that he had galloped along Push street, as far as the village of Shah Baghi. “Cautiously, I entered to investigate. No Armenians were left there, only Turks and Kurds. I heard wailing and groaning from one house, but was afraid and decided to return. On the way back, my horse was killed and I barely got through, as you see.”

His report had all the earmarks of a fabricated tale, but was minutely scrutinized. He could not produce either of the copies of the note entrusted him. He was tried and condemned to death for treason.

A third attempt was made on the 28th of April. The candidate was a fifty year old, an inveterate fighter named Setrag from Arjesh. He too had accepted the Islam faith during the massacres. Later he had moved to the city and engaged in pottery. He was one of the best combatants at the Gakavian post.

Armed with a shepherd’s crook and a small revolver, he tread stealthily through the burned ruins of Jidechian building; as he proceeded some dogs, busy devouring the cadavers left in the streets, sensed his presence, and started to bark and attack him. Turks at Kaya-Chelebi mosque were thus alerted, and opened fire in that direction, forcing Setrag to return. Undaunted, he proposed to try again, that same night, choosing another route. This time he managed to sneak through the ward of Masman Fountain, pass through Turkish quarters, cross the trench and the wall, and reach Haigavank. He crossed the square, vaulted a wall to find himself in a field of alfalfa fenced in by mud walls. Turks had set up tents here, and sentries were patrolling outside the walls. A voice barked, “Who are you? Halt.” “I am one of you,” answered Setrag, in fluent Kurdish, and kept on going. “Halt,” cried the Kurd, “I have to be sure.” He approached with his finger on the trigger. As the Kurd came close enough to see his face in the dark, Setrag hit him in the eye with his crook, grabbed his rifle and fled while the Kurd was calling for help. “The hail of bullets missed me. I was able to climb over the wall opposite Turkish ramparts. The noise had excited everyone outside scanning the night. They spotted me as I climbed to the top of the wall. “Who are you? What is going on out there?,” they asked. “For God’s sake do not shoot, I am a Turk, Giavours (Infidels-Christians) attacked us,” Setrag replied. “While they rushed to open the door, I darted across, and here I am. Here is the rifle with nine cartridges inside.” As Setrag was telling of his odyssey, one could notice a trace of a smile of pride on his face.

We all congratulated him warmly and told him the rifle was his to keep.

The fourth and last attempt was made the night of May 5th. Two men offered themselves. Harootian, the canvas maker, 35 years old, and Krikor Tashdoyan, of the same age and shoemaker by trade wanted to be given one Mauser pistol each with plenty of ammunition.

Their shoes covered with heavy stockings to dull the noise, they started off from the west side. They disappeared into the darkness without incident. We later learned that they had managed to cross Turkish lines unnoticed, enter the swamps near the slaughter house, cross the fields to Avantz and enter the village Lezk at day break. The village was under military surveillance but one of the villagers took them in. The following night they passed Sighga village and on the third night arrived in Aikesdan by way of Goghbantz village. Unable to return sooner, they left Aikesdan on May 15th, the night preceding Turk’s retreat. They were bringing with them an account of the heroic resistance of the people of Aikesdan and news of the approach of the Russian army.

We were already celebrating the victory by the time our messengers were able to reach us.