In March 1918, the Armenians of Van disappeared completely. Fiercely pursuing Armenian refugees fleeing from Vaspurakan to Persia, Turkish troops crossed the Turkish-Iranian border and invaded Atrpatakan.
The Van Armenians managed to get to Salmast (a city in Iran). The local Armenian military council announced a mobilization and urged 18-40 years old Armenians and Assyrians to join the fight and support the forces retreating from Van.
The Persian authorities promised to send aid troops to Salmast, but only the Armenian-Assyrian forces were destined to protect their lands and close the roads leading to Tabriz.
On May 4, 1918, the Ottoman army under the command of Ali Ehsa Pasha launched an attack in the direction of Khoi-Salmast-Urmia with the support of armed Kurdish troops. At the same time, two more Kurdish detachments arrived in Atrpatakan from the side of Khanasor and Julamerk.
Armenian detachments and local Armenian volunteers (about 4,000 in total, including those who had retreated from Van) together with an Assyrian detachment of 300 people successfully fought off several Ottoman attacks.
The situation was aggravated by the fact that the local Turks and Kurds supported the Ottoman army, attacking the Armenian-Assyrian self-defense forces from the rear.
Turkish troops failed to break the resistance of the Armenians, and, having suffered heavy losses, retreated on May 6. The Armenians managed to reach the Turkish-Persian border in the direction of Khanasor (a plain between Van and Iran).
On May 31, Armenian-Assyrian forces launched an attack in the direction of Khoi (a city in Iran) in order to defeat the left flank of the Turkish troops and reach the territory of the Republic of Armenia. The plan of the attack was developed by an officer of the tsarist army and commander of the Armenian-Assyrian detachment Colonel Tabure (Տաբուրե).
On the night of May 31, as a result of a surprise attack, a detachment of Van Armenians led by Levon Shaghoyan (Լեւոն Շաղոյան) captured important strategic frontiers, as well as a huge amount of ammunition. The surrounded Turkish squad was completely destroyed.
On June 3, the Ottoman army launched a counterattack. On the same day, the general commander of the Armenian-Assyrian forces Colonel Kuzmin arrived in Dilman from Urmia. Prior to his arrival, he gave an incomprehensible order of retreat to the Assyrian forces fighting on the right and left flanks. The retreat of the Assyrians put the Armenian troops under the threat of encirclement.
On the night of June 5, Armenian forces, having hardly escaped encirclement under artillery fire, left the battlefield, suffering heavy losses. The transition plan to the Caucasus failed.
Continuing the offensive, the Turkish troops captured Salmast, as a result of which the Christian population of the city was massacred.
The Armenian and Assyrian refugees retreated together with the armed units towards Urmia.
Famous English scientist Arnold Joseph Toynbee wrote that 850 decapitated bodies were extracted from the wells and reservoirs of Salmast. On the shore of Lake Urmia, the Turks tortured hundreds of Assyrians.
On June 7, the Armenian-Assyrian detachments and refugees with great losses reached Urmia. On the same day, the southern military march of Armenian commander Andranik began from Nakhichevan.
Having smashed a Turkish unit guarding the bridge of Julfa, the 4,000-men detachment of Andranik along with thousands of refugees crossed the Araks River and took the direction of Khoi.
Two days later, a battle took place near the village of Evoğlu, during which a detachment led by Sargis Chepejian (Սարգիս Ճեպեճյան) completely destroyed the Turkish troops and captured two howitzers. Andranik attacked the Armenian village of Seydavar captured by the Turks.
On June 10, the Battle of Khoi took place. Despite the fact that the Armenians managed to approach the walls of the city, the Turks, having received reinforcements, counterattacked. Andranik, unable to restrain the attacks of the Turks, ordered his troops to retreat.
The next day, the Armenian troops and refugees pursued by the Turks moved to the left bank of the Araks River.
Arsen Kitur (Արսեն Կիտուր), a well-known Armenian activist, commented on the events: “Our battling army was returning from the Khoi front. The local Turks hampered with the beds of the surrounding rivers and directed them towards the plain of Avarayr, turning the area into swamps.
Many of our warriors fell into these swamps and got trapped. They pitifully asked Andranik for death, preferring it to being captured by the Turks. It was a terrifying picture. Andranik did not want to look in their direction, gloomily plunging into bitter reflections.”
At a meeting near Urmia on the eve of the battle in Khoi, the Armenians and Assyrians decided to move south to join the British army. Learning about Andranik’s military campaign, they moved towards Khoi. But they retreated, being unable to break through the Turkish defenses.
On June 14, the Turks captured Tabriz. However, they would leave Tabriz as a result of the Treaty of Mudros signed on November 5, 1918. This treaty marked the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in WWI.
In June-July 1918, the self-defense of Armenians and Assyrians continued. In early July, Ali Ehsa Pasha put forward an ultimatum, demanding full disarmament from the rebels. In return, he promised to allow the Armenians and Assyrians to go to the Transcaucasia. The ultimatum was left unanswered.
After fierce battles, Turkish and Kurdish troops seized Urmia and massacred about 15 thousand Armenians and Assyrians who still remained in the city.
Numerous refugees headed towards Sain-Kale (a city in northwestern Iran). On July 21, the refugees met the frontline detachments of the British army.
On August 1, about 75 thousand refugees and units protecting them reached Hamadan with battles. In one of these battles, Armenian writer Hovhannes Tumanyan’s son Artavazd was killed.
At that time, Hamadan (a city in Iran) was under the control of British forces. The British disarmed the Armenian-Assyrian detachments. In the middle of August, the refugees along with their protectors were sent to the city of Bakub near Baghdad, where they would spend two years in tents. Here, 4,000 refugees would die from various diseases.
In 1921-1922, about 10 thousand of those Armenian refugees who had migrated from Bakub to Basra moved to Soviet Armenia. The rest scattered around the world.