This photograph of Armenians surrounded by Turkish soldiers gathered at Van’s public bakery in the hope of getting bread was published in the first edition of the memoirs of former US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Sr. Morgenthau.
The caption for the photograph states: “Without warning, these people were evicted from their homes and driven into the desert. During the deportation, thousands of women, children, and men died not only from starvation and deprivation but also from inhuman cruelties of the accompanying soldiers.”
Van is one of the oldest capitals of historical Armenia. This Armenian city, which has more than three thousand years of history, lost its entire population during the Armenian Genocide.
In April 1915, when exterminations began in the Armenian villages surrounding the city of Van, as well as in other Armenian-populated areas of the Ottoman Empire, the Armenian population of the city organized self-defense and repulsed the attacks of the Turkish army and Kurdish irregular troops for about a month.
After the arrival of the Russian troops, the Van Governorate was created here. But in July, the Armenian population retreated from the city along with the Russian troops. During the fights that took place in the city, Van turned into ruins, and those who could not escape were killed.
“The quick march of our glorious heroes in off-road conditions and with scarce supplies brought them just in time to help the defenders of Van at such a critical moment when they lived out their last days. The cartridges were all consumed, there was no bread, while Djevdet Pasha who occupied the citadel of the city and received aid through Tadvan from the other coast of Lake Van was constantly bombarding the Armenians sitting behind the barricades.
There are no suitable expressions to describe that uplift of spirit and enthusiasm that captured the Armenian population of Van when our detachment entered the city. The troops were showered with flowers. The commander of the detachment was presented with bread and salt and the keys to the city. Salute from guns and the joyful cries of the population testified to the entry of our troops, deliverers from the historical enemy of Christianity.”
An excerpt from V. Shcherbin’s letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 20, 1915. Photo source: “Ambassador Morgenthau`s Story”, New York, 1918. From the catalog “100 photo stories about the Armenian Genocide”.