Chapter XVIII

New Intrigues By Jevdet Bey

 

In spite of the additional fire power brought into play by the arrival, from Gavash, of new artillery pieces, Jevdet had again failed to carry out his threat of mass murder of Armenians in the city. In his letter to Signior Spordoni, dated April 30th, 1915, however, he boasted:

“The trouble makers in the city have been crushed. Most of them, we understand, have been brought in from villages. Some last ditch fighters entrenched in the church and the Prelacy building as well as one or two houses, will be subdued in a day or two.”

In desperation, Jevdet Bey resorted to one of his beastly trickeries on May 8th. Over five-hundred derelicts, surviving women and children of the massacred population of Timar, Manned, Aliur, Khaventz and several other villages, hungry and naked, were forcibly gathered together and driven to the gates of the city. Knowing full well that Armenians would never refuse to shelter and feed these unfortunates, he was introducing into the city the ravages of epidemics, the debilitating specter of famine, with panic and eventual surrender following as surely as night follows day.

The Armenian population of the city had increased from its original 2,500 to about 3,500 people by the influx of refugees from massacred Sarai, Aghpag, Aljavaz. A large number of people from Haigavank had also taken refuge in the city. Living conditions were intolerably crowded since only 100 houses were available and these were in constant danger of being wrecked. Every time a house was thus demolished, it also caused the death of some of the residents.

The danger of famine was making itself felt. Primitive hand mills and stone mortars were used for grinding grain. Rations had to be reduced and sicknesses became more prevalent.

We were confronted with a dilemma. To shut the door against our own would be tantamount to delivering them into the bloody fangs and the ravenous lust of the beastly foe; to admit them would mean to put in certain jeopardy the lives of the 3,500 people, without adding one iota of safety to newcomers. And yet. how could we witness the tortures, the degradations, the murders of our own flesh and blood without instinctively rushing to save them? Indeed, Jevdet had succeeded in inflicting upon us the sort of punishment many times worse than death itself. We saw these emaciated wretches searching for a blade of grass in the streets of the Turkish quarters, where the women, devoid of the milk of human kindness, refused them a scrap of bread from their well stocked larders. We saw beastly militiamen grab women by the hair, who struggled and beseeched God for help, as they were drug inside. After a while their defiled, exhausted bodies were thrown into the street and left to die. Some were fortunate to be shot to death. “We would sooner have had our eyes gouged out than witness these scenes.” We all agreed with the poet writing these words.

Later on we found out that some of the wells in the Turkish quarters were chock full of the bodies of these hapless, innocent women.

To take further advantage of the presence of these God forsaken women, Turks disguised themselves in their tatters and approached to set fire to our defenses. Confident we would never fire on women, they thus succeeded in burning the doors of our Der Boghossian defense on May 11th. While the “women” were busy setting fire, another group of soldiers rushed into the building and barricaded themselves there, under the cover of heavy rifle fire. Michael from Haigavank, sensing the gravity of the situation, sprang at them with his comrades; they killed four of the attackers. Michael himself was mortally wounded. Too weak to wield the rifle he handed it to one of his comrades saying, “Fight on, fight on, my brave comrades.” He lived three days to welcome the day of deliverance for which he so cheerfully laid down his life. A second casualty was Mihran Havagimian, who passed away in the arms of his comrades. But the situation was relieved.

To frustrate Jevdet’s new treachery, the refugees were warned not to approach our defenses, and were given some bread. Thirty-five among them were youngsters, 10-15 years old. Their feminine attire had saved them. They were pressed into our service as watchers and chore boys at the barricades.