The Armenian Volunteer Corps entered Van on May 20th, 1915 from two directions. Hamazasb and Dro arrived by way of lower Timar, and Keri and Vartan by way of Arjag and upper Timar. Later the Russian army came commanded by General Nicolaeff. All the armed combatants of the city gathered at Avantz to welcome Dro and his volunteers. Dro gave a short speech, his men fired five salvos, and we answered with ten. From the top of the rock the cannons boomed fifty times as we made the triumphal entry into the city.
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General Nicolaeff was typically Russian, of middle age, and adorned with a white beard. He was rather lean and very active. His penetrating blue eyes and general deportment betrayed the seasoned military man in him.
He was greeted with enthusiastic ovations by the people. The cannons boomed the twenty-one gun salute. He established his headquarters in Aikesdan.
(See Part I for further details concerning the telegrams exchanged between General Nicolaeff and army headquarters at Caucasus as well as the appointment of Aram as governor of Vasbouragan.)
After visiting and studying points of interest in Aikesdan, in connection with the thirty days long struggle, the general expressed his high regard for the methods used, the inventiveness and the solidarity of the people under such trying conditions.
Later he visited the city, surrounded by an honor guard, and was met at the main gate by Bishop Yeznig, members of religious and political bodies, and others. He was entertained at the main reception hall of the Prelacy. On entering the hall, his attention was arrested by the crumbled coat of arms of the Ottoman empire. The prelate satisfied his curiosity in this and other matters through Mr. Siragan Dikranian, who had mastery of Russian language.
The general was interested in inspecting some of our defenses which we did on foot. At first he surveyed the position and height of the rock and realized the vulnerability of our defenses in general. Our defense at the procurement building looked no better than a heap of rubble. General Nicolaeff expressed a desire to see the inner workings. With us, he went through its dark and narrow passages examining by the light of a lantern its peculiarities. The walnut planking to reinforce the roof and the walls were of special interest to him. At the conclusion of the tour, the general wanted to meet the military experts who had engineered this fortification. “This reminds me,” he said, “of the fortification at Port Arthur, Manchouria.” We assured the general we had not experts of any kind, and that everything we had done was suggested by the character of the fighting. The general pondered a minute, shook his head and said, “No, that is not possible. I have noted the hand of the specialist in the interior reinforcements. How many of you have served in or are connected with the Russian army?” We assured him there were no trained soldiers among our ranks.
After a short silence, he turned to his men and said, “It is true that the defense structure we have witnessed here and the successful culmination of the defense seem to be at variance with accepted military planning and logistics. The combatants here have fought alongside their people, against the superior military forces of the enemy. They chose the honorable alternative to death, therefore they have prevailed. They have truly earned the victory being celebrated this beautiful May day on their ancestral lands.”
He cast a last lingering glance at the historical castle rock, of Semiramis fame, on top of which the Armenian flag was waving in the azure blue sky.
That evening the general returned to his headquarters at Aikesdan.