This photograph was published in the second number of the National Geographic magazine in 1919 and was attached to an article authored by Maynard Owen Williams.
The little heroes in the photo, the eldest of whom was twelve years old, without the permission of the guards of the unit “Artemis” reached Van, overcoming numerous difficulties. This photo was taken in 1915 immediately after Van’s self-defense and was later published in the American magazine.
“Wielding wooden rifles, they came to the Governor of Van Hambardzumiants to get real weapons because they were ready to fight to the last defending their relatives, some of whom they had already lost,” wrote the author of the article.
In several cities in Western Armenia in the years of the Armenian Genocide, self-defense units were organized to participate in defensive battles against the Turks. An example of this was the fierce battle for survival in Van that lasted from April 7 to May 6, 1915, and ended with the victory of Armenians.
Remarkable in its organization, the self-defense of Van was the longest and most decisive battle against the Turks. Well aware of the importance of protecting their own home and dignity, Armenians of Van – including women, children, and elderly – became the participants of the bloody battle.
“The Armenians serving in the Turkish army, according to the testimony of the Minister of Defense, bravely fought in the Dardanelles and on the Caucasian front against Russia. However, they were in reality mainly disarmed and used for the needs of the army as porters or construction workers.
Practically from all provinces came news that Armenians were forced into labor, taken to remote places, and killed by their Muslim “friends.” Besides, whole groups consisting of 80 – 100 people were shot by soldiers and military gendarmerie by the order of Turkish officers. Probably no one will ever know – at least until the end of the war – how many Armenians mobilized to the Turkish army were killed”.
Johannes Lepsius, a German missionary. Source of the photography – “National Geographic”, August 1919
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