The pressure of Turkish attack was gradually increased from April 30th to May 4th. An average of not less than five hundred shells were fired at us daily. The top stories, along our lines of defense, were completely wrecked and the lower floors badly damaged, putting our defenses into semi-ruined condition. Every night the work of reconstruction was pushed on, relentlessly.
On May 3rd, Turks placed a cannon at Tolo’s house only fifty paces from our Der Boghosian and Gazoyan’s defenses. For four hours they shelled these posts, firing sixty times. Walls demolished, the fighters kept on firing and held back the enemy. A young Turkish officer was directing the shelling. Now and then he would attempt to start conversation with our men. He seemed well educated, judging from his language.
“Armenians” he would shout, “stop fighting. I want to talk to you on behalf of Jevdet Bey. Tell me your objectives. Let us stop this bloodshed. Let us put an end to hostilities. Now, what is your name?” he asked, addressing himself to one of the combatants, who happened to be Avo, at the Gazoyan defense. “You who fight so fearlessly, rise up, let us talk face to face; I would like to see you and swear upon my honor no harm will come to you.”
“Say what you have to say, it is not necessary to expose myself,” answered Avo. “You cannot be trusted, bullets are coming from every direction and you expect me to show myself. You are again trying your game of deceit and treachery. Go ahead and talk, we are listening.” “What is your name?” asked the officer.
“My name is Avo, from Shadakh. All your Kurdish chieftains know me by name.”
“I beg of you get up so I can see you, I swear by Allah, there is not the least danger for you.”
“You have destroyed our confidence, you are treacherous, you are inhuman. Did you not murder Ishkhan through base perfidy? Did you not, by deceit, carry away Vramian? Say your say. I will not show myself.”
“This conflict has gone for enough. What are your demands? Jevdet desires to reestablish peace and order.”
“If you are sincere, why are you talking to me? You know we have our leaders; go talk to the Prelate, to Aram and others. If you genuinely want peace, those are the persons you should talk to.”
“The Prelate, Aram and the others, yes, but you, yourself, what are you fighting for?”
“I am only a peasant; I do not understand terms and conditions. I only know I have taken up arms to defend our honor, not to let our women and children become victims of your bestiality and lust. Our leaders can tell Jevdet what we want.”
“Very well, then tell me what your demands are.”
“Since you insist so much, I will tell you. There can be no peace so long as Jevdet lives. I demand his head. Now, am I making myself plainly understood?”
At this point the diatribe was interrupted.
On May 4th, the magnificent cupola of St. Paul’s church was destroyed by concerted shell fire and while this shelling was going on, two Armenian old women aged about sixty, bearing white flags approached the Shahin Agha defense saying they had brought a letter from Jevdet Bey. The leader immediately brought the letter to the Defense Command. The letter read:
“To Bishop Yeznig, Vicar to the Prelacy of Van:
“The revolt that the Committee (Armenian Revolutionary Federation) started at Shadakh has spread to these parts. The guards at Hamoud Agha Barracks were fired on and some of them were martyred. Now fire has spread to every corner and much blood has been spilt. The inhabitants of all of Haiotz-Tzor, Arjag and the major part of Timar have been properly disciplined. As to the rebels who have taken refuge at Lim Island, I have promised to let them go free if they surrender willingly, and their women and children will not be destroyed.
“The day the disturbances started, I issued orders not to react to rebel fire. Later when I saw those rogues, led by a band, firing as they paraded in the streets, then did I permit my forces to reply in kind. As you know, we are being kept very busy controlling the rebels. Confident that through your intercession the city could be spared, I telephoned Burhaneddin Bey to post guards at the market, the Tabriz Gate, and at various points in the city. He also had criers loudly announce that the government would protect those who refused to take part in the insurrection. However, the guards were unexpectedly fired upon and several police and pedestrians were killed or wounded by shots coining from Marootian’s house. It was plain, then, that there was rebellion here also. We acted accordingly by firing back with shell and shot.
“Fellow inhabitants of the city, you have done, and are doing whatever is in your power to do. It grieves me very much that such valiant fighters are not imbued with feelings of belonging with the Ottomans.”
“I understand there are numerous peasants in the city. I am convinced they intend to attack the castle rock. They seem to be sure the Russians are coming. Such plans are plainly foolish.
“Armenian leaders are responsible before God and humanity. Later we will examine this question more thoroughly, of course.”
“Heretofore on several occasions I sent emissaries to ask for your surrender. You answered with bullets and vile words. That has stiffened our posture. From now on we will be a lot harder to deal with. We did worry about the children before. Now we shall not overlook any means to bring this situation to an end.”
“If you will not heed my advice, I shall be forced to use the new artillery pieces, which arrived today from Gavash, to destroy the city to its foundations.”
“The brigands who attempted to seize the pass at Khosh Gadug were all massacred. 385 Armenian corpses had to be buried at Averag village. We have captured the villages, Darman and Goghbantz, where we subdued 123 armed rebels. In Aikesdan we already have occupied and burned to ashes the Arark section. I have ordered that the rebels not be attacked at Shooshantz and Varak for the sake of the women and children. Two brigades are arriving here from Sarai and stationed at Darman village. I am going to demand their surrender and if refused, will attack them by the combined forces from Gurubash and Darman villages.”
“Khalil Bey and his army Corps have cleared out the Russians and entered Khoy. This enables us to call back our forces at Godol.”
“Under these conditions there can be no possible escape for you. During recent years we have cherished your people and protected them like the apple of our own eyes. Instead you have repaid us with treachery and shall be punished. But why are the families to be blamed?
If you have no care for your own lives, at least have mercy on the poor innocents.
I therefore propose that;
1. You surrender all weapons.
2. Rely on the government's forgiveness and mercy and submit to it unconditionally.
“If you accept these conditions I am certain, by personal intercession, to obtain Imperial amnesty. Do not continue shedding blood in vain, have mercy upon your families. But if you persist, you will have only yourselves to blame. You shall be destroyed.”
May 4th, 1915 (331)
(See also Jevdet’s letter to Signoir Spordoni, the Italian Vice Consul, in Part I.)
The letter was carefully scrutinized word for word. The menacing overtones did not impress us. It was apparent the author was in a state of confusion and agitation. He was trying, perhaps for the last time, through his inexhaustible stock of tricks, to set a trap for us. It was decided, therefore, to initiate verbal negotiations for the sole purpose of gaining time and, if possible, to dispatch a messenger to Aikesdan. The two women carried our answer to Jevdet Bey the same evening. It read:
“His Excellency Jevdet Bey, Governor of Van:
We have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your letter. In reply, I wish to restate the truth that we are not in rebellion against the Ottoman Government. We have always obeyed the laws of the land and will continue to do so. Be kind enough to appoint two responsible persons with whom we can discuss your proposals in detail.”
Vicar to the Prelacy of Van
Suddenly at 4:00 P.M., the Turks stopped their fire. Our posts were informed of Jevdet’s letter, instructed to cease fire and stay on guard. In the evening the Defense Command and the combat leaders convened to formulate an answer to Jevdet’s letter. With unanimous consent the following points were agreed upon: Reject all calls for surrender and carry the fight to the last man; Armenians in the city shall not enter into any meaningful negotiations as separate units; demand that Bishop Yeznig be allowed to visit Aikesdan to consult with the leaders there under proper guarantees. Jevdet Bey would be asked to offer two acceptable persons as hostages as he could not be trusted.
Early next morning the two women were back with another letter from Jevdet.
“Yeznig Effendi (Mister):
“I am sending Kalousd Effendi Jidechian accompanied by Ahmed Bey. I have ordered cease fire. Talk with Jidechian Effendi and come with confidence; I assure you there is not one bit of danger for your person as long as you negotiate and arrive at an understanding. If you can persuade the people, well and good. If you fail, again you may return. But in the event of your failure and exactly one hour after your departure, I will order attacks to resumed, I promise you.”
May 7, 1915 (331)
Attached to this was a letter, in Armenian, by Mr. Jidechian which mainly reiterated Jevdet’s statements. The letter concluded they would be waiting to meet His Grace at the Turkish stronghold across from our Der Boghossian, Gazoyan defenses.
Jevdet’s emissaries were informed, through the women messengers, that Bishop Yeznig found it inconvenient to go to the designated place and that he requested their presence at the Shahin Agha post, where he was at the time.
It was deemed advisable to have Mr. Mirzahkanian, an attorney and expert linguist, accompany the Bishop, and that the interview should take place in the street, where it would be protected by our ramparts.
The emissaries arrived in half an hour. The interview started with a florid speech full of hypocrisy, by Sherif Bey, saying he had made himself available for this very delicate and dangerous responsibility for the sake of establishing peace in the land and sparing the people. If peace could be brought to the old city, he said he was sure the same could be done for Aikesdan and the rest of the province.
We assured the Turkish emissaries we fully shared their desire for peace, but could not see any good reason for singling out the city when the entire province was in flames. Bishop Yeznig spoke, “In my capacity as the prelate of my people, it is my duty to strive for the well-being of the whole province. I am willing to offer myself as sacrifice; allow me to visit Aikesdan in order to consult with the religious and national councils there; let the government assist me in visiting all areas, every village of this province, trying to bring peace, to stop the horrors of bloodshed and fire. How can I wholeheartedly participate in a basic plan, involving all the people of the city to lay down their arms while their relatives, friends and loved ones face death in Aikesdan. Is this possible? Please explain this to the governor and inform him we demand permission to contact the people of Aikesdan, in person. It will be necessary for the governor to provide two prominent Turkish officials as hostages. You have my word of honor, these will not be harmed in the least,” concluded Bishop Yeznig.
Time and again Sherif Bey repeated his former statements, always receiving the same answer. The Director of Education, Sherif Bey, suddenly brought up the question of Turkish prisoners, saying, “It is reported that you have put them to death through horrible tortures and incinerated the bodies by pouring kerosene over them.” He was assured these incriminations were unfounded, that they were being cared for as well as any Armenian, adding, “If the Bey cared, one of them could be brought here for his questioning.”
One of the women prisoners was fetched. In answer to Sherif Bey's questions, she responded that they were grateful for the care and protection they were receiving: The group left at once to report to the governor, promising to return with the answer as soon as possible.
We were discussing the choice of hostages, in the event Jevdet agreed to it, when envoys returned. The interview was short. Jevdet curtly refused to accede. They returned with our final statement saying that there is no way to assure us of the sincerity of Jevdet Bey’s desire for peace. We were convinced it was not his wish to quench this all consuming conflagration. We found further continuation of these negotiations both meaningless and portentous.
The public and the combatants received the following report:
“Jevdet is trying to deceive us. He rejected our demand to contact Aikesdan, as a means of establishing peace. We are ready to continue defending our rights, our honor and our life. We will know definitely tomorrow. Be ready for any eventuality.”
The respite of one day and two nights was utilized in mending our defenses, and sending a messenger to Aikesdan.
In the afternoon the women brought Jevdet’s last letter addressed to us.
If you and Daniel Effendi cannot succeed in establishing peace in the city, you are not going to have better success in Aikesdan. I have presented my demands to them through Spordoni Effendi. Complying with your request I sent Sherif Bey, Director of Education to discuss the situation with you. You understand there can be no lengthy agreements between the government and its subjects. I offered to intercede if you surrendered, relying on the mercy of the Sultan. I also promised that, failing to surrender, I will have the very last of your combatants destroyed. I will be waiting for your final decision until tomorrow, the deadline is 6:00 A.M.”
May 5th, 1915 (331)
The answer to above letter follows:
“Your Excellency, Jevdet Bey:
“I invited a number of well informed people in the city to meet me. We discussed all possibilities and arrived at the conclusion that I will not be able to get any results here in the city because these people have brothers, fathers and family either in Aikesdan or the villages. No amount of persuasion is going to persuade them to lay down their arms. Also, in spite of our long standing record of faithfulness and sincerity, you have in the present instance, labelled us as rebels, rendering the show of mercy by the Sultan very doubtful.
“Your Excellency knows well that I lack power of persuasion both in my official capacity and as a person. If it be your aim to save this country from its present difficult circumstances and spare the lives of innocent women, children and others, then trusting in my honesty, allow me but twelve hours to consult with my people in Aikesdan.
“Great men are wary of the kind of record they leave on the pages of history. You have the power to alleviate the situation. As for myself, I aim willing to sacrifice my life for the sake of improving the lot of this half ruined land; let God be my judge. I am confident that our proposals, if practiced, will reestablish the rule of law and order. On these points I have gone into detailed explanations with Sherif Bey and Jidechian Effendi who can further inform you.
“In closing, I appeal to your magnanimity and assure you of my respects.”
Bishop Yeznig, Vicar to the
Prelacy of Van
Our forces were informed of the termination of negotiations as Jevdet had refused to yield at all. The Imperial amnesty, promised by Jevdet was declined as being a shameful ruse. The fighting will be resumed at 6:00 A.M. according to Jevdet. Be ready and do not spare the enemy.
The night was quiet in the city. We could hear the savage fusillade going on in Aikesdan. We sent out messengers that night.
About 7:00 A.M., May 6th, the attacks resumed, and they continued until May 17th, when the enemy fled from victorious Vasbouragan.