The urban-type settlement of Khotorjur was the center of Kiskim of the same-named province of the Erzurum region inhabited by Armenians. The 7.000 Armenians of this village were Catholics, hence its colloquial name “little Rome”.
By the order of the Turkish government, the deportation of Armenians from Khotorjur and neighboring villages to Mesopotamia was carried out in May-June of 1915. The population was divided into five groups for the deportation.
Groups from Khotorjur were subjected to massacres throughout the deportation process. The first group was almost completely killed at the beginning of the road near Gasapa and Baberd. Turkish and Kurdish rioters threw the corpses of their victims into the Chorokh River.
The second group was slaughtered and thrown into the gorge on the road between Gasapa and Erznka.
The third group set off on June 8, 1915, in the direction of Gasap – Baberd – Yerznka – Kemah – Malatia (where men were slaughtered) – Urfa – Aleppo.
The men of the fourth group were killed in the mountains on a route to Malatia. This was followed by the massacre of women, elderly, and children on the banks of the Euphrates River near the settlement of Samsat. Regular troops of the Turkish army took part in the massacre.
Manik Babasyan, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, described the massacre of women and children of Khotorjur on the banks of the Euphrates as follows:
“The river became a grave for many. But the terrible was ahead. During the crossing of the Euphrates River, ferocious policemen threw the sick into the water, claiming that the ship allegedly could not take all of them.
In addition, many healthy survivors and children were hacked with swords and beat up to death with sticks. The caravan from Karun and Khotorjur consisting of 30-35 thousand Armenians was destroyed. Only about 50 people were able to survive, hiding under the corpses…”
The fifth group was slaughtered in Diyarbakir near the village of Poshin of the province of Severek. On the path leading to inevitable death, women from Khotorjur did not give up their faith. Survivor Verzhine Zarifyan testified:
“When the Turks and Kurds offered women to leave with them in order to save their lives, ignoring and despising Turks and Kurds, they said: ‘We would rather die for our people and sacred faith than go with a Turk or a Kurd’.”
The pastor of Khotorjur Nazlyan wrote in his memoirs: “Devout Catholics from Khotorjur together with their priests were examples of the righteousness of a long and painful way.
Every day, they came to receive holy communion until they lost their mass as a result of the painful death of many believers. And women, in spite of all kinds of cruel tortures to which they were subjected and thanks to their persistence and patience, simply remained heroines.
When they reached Kemakh-Pokhaz, they faced a choice: throw themselves into the abyss or change their faith. After crossing themselves, the group threw themselves down into the abyss.”
An excerpt from the report on the Khotorjur massacre:
“The population of Khotorjur has remained faithful to its faith and the national ideal…
On their way, they remained themselves without breaking their vow, denying their faith, and insulting the values of their ancestors. All the people passed away voluntarily, initially knowing that they were sacrificing themselves for their beliefs.
From the roots of Chorokh River to the deserts of Syria and Arabia, the smallest groups that managed to survive the previous weeks of the death march showed the greatest feats of courage and dedication.
A man or a woman, an adult or a child, a priest or a layman – all with enthusiastic zeal preferred death to life, melancholy to rowdiness, exile to slavery… Neither threats, nor hunger, nor temptation, nor treachery could defeat the will of the women from Khotorjur.
They were slaughtered, tortured, thrown into the water, but in exile, they preferred poverty, hunger, hard labor, rags, but they were in no way inferior to the executioners and deceivers.”
Of the thousands of inhabitants of Khotorjur who were exiled to the Interfluve, about a hundred people survived the Great Massacre.
The Self Defense of Khotorjur
Before the war, the “Taik” alliance consisting of the residents of Khortojur (there were about 1.500 in the alliance, mostly men), set off to the Caucasus and Russia to earn money. Thanks to this, they avoided the massacre.
In the spring of 1916, the “Taik” alliance organized and sent detachments of young men to Khotorjur to protect the country and prepare food supplies. They hoped that at least some of the deported residents of Khotorjur would return to their homes.
In early 1918, after the Russian troops retreated from Western Armenia, Turkish troops, violating the truce concluded in Yerznka on December 5, proceeded on to occupying Armenian provinces. The inhabitants of Khotorjur – 110 people – decided to resist and began to prepare their self-defense. A Military Council headed by Ogostinos Mchanyan was organized.
On January 20, 1918, the Turkish army undertook their first attack that would last four days. Particularly stormy battles took place in Klahints in Handadzor where the Turkish army would be eventually defeated. Subsequently, the center of the resistance moved to the village of Verin Mokorkut that had naturally strong defensive positions.
Having resumed their offensive, the Turkish army utilized artillery, which complicated the ammunition issue of the besieged Armenians. Nevertheless, they managed to destroy the artillery.
Khotorjur resisted heroically and selflessly, but its forces and ammunition eventually ran out. The people of Khotorjur sent a messenger to Andranik Ozanian asking for help but were rejected. Andranik replied: “To free a hundred people, we have to sacrifice a thousand.”
The self-defense of Khotorjur against the superior Turkish forces continued until May 1918. Learning that the Turkish troops had captured Kars and that there was no hope for help, the Military Council decided to retreat in small groups.
The first group with great difficulty managed to reach Ardwin and then the Caucasus. The second group was captured by the Turks and imprisoned in Trabzon. After the defeat of Turkey, they were released.
The descendants of the survivors of the Khotorjur self-defense now live in Armenia, Tbilisi, and Abkhazia. Some families live in Iran, Italy, and the United States.
Author: R. Tatoyan, Researcher at the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute of NAS of RA