Russian Retreat in July 1915 – Intent or Necessity?

Russian Retreat in July 1915 – Intent or Necessity?Who could have most likely saved the Armenians from the Turkish massacres? No one except the Russian army. However, we saw that it became a spectator and that the Kurdish leaders (beys) who were committing pogroms were the honored guests of the Russian commanders.

In the middle of July 1915, the Russian troops marched victoriously to Bitlis and Mush. The Turkish troops, retreating under the onslaught of the Russian army, worked off all their rage on the Armenians. A terrible massacre began in the Mush valley: 100 thousand Armenian inhabitants of the local villages were massacred.

The Russian troops at that time reached Mount Nemrut, and they had only half a kilometer to cover to reach Mush. Had they arrived in Mush, they would save tens of thousands of Armenian lives. But the Russian army did not go ahead, and the landmark Mush valley, dubbed the “Armenian House” and known for its major cultural role from historical times, completely lost Armenians.

Almost immediately, the incomprehensible retreat of the Russian army from Van and Manazkert to the Russian borders began. This retreat remained mysterious: no one saw any appropriate or serious reasons for it. Therefore, this retreat was very suspicious to everyone and seemed to have been made with a concealed intention.

The Russian retreat was unexpected. In Van, it was announced on July 16, 1915. In order to find a way out of the current situation, the Armenians had only a few hours left. The suddenness and haste of the Russian retreat caused the death of those Armenians who were trying to save themselves in the territories previously captured by the Russian military.

In spite of being miserable, half-naked and barefoot, hungry, and filled with horror, those who were still able to move rose and ran after the retreating Russian army. The Russian command paid no attention to these exhausted people who, walking along the road of suffering, eventually fell dead on its both sides. There was no one who could have helped these unfortunate people – they were not even allowed to bypass the Russian troops.

Only about a hundred thousand refugees reached Igdir. Here, in the Ararat land, their number began to further decrease due to hunger and typhus. Armenians of Turkey were dying.

Less than two weeks after their retreat, the Russian army commenced a new campaign against Van and Manazkert, meeting almost no resistance. But who needed such moves from the Russians?

During the retreat, rumors spread that fresh Turkish divisions were heading for the northern shore of Lake Van in order to cut off the retreat route of the Russian army. But these mythical divisions did not appear anywhere.

And the Armenians began to spread the opinion that this pointless retreat was intended to plunge the Armenian population into such a disastrous situation.

Leo (Arakel Babakhanyan), “From the Past”, chapter 5. ԼԵՈ (Առաքել Բաբախանյան), «Անցյալից».

In conclusion, it should be noted that the command of the Russian army banned the provision of assistance to the Armenians of Taron. Even the Armenian volunteers were forbidden to help their compatriots. Russia needed Armenia without Armenians.

Arshaluys Zurabyan

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