Self-Defense of Urfa – 1915

Self-Defense of Urfa – 1915The self-defense of the city of Urfa (Edessa) by the Armenian population occurred in September-October 1915. Before WWI, about 35 thousand Armenians lived in Urfa. Since the beginning of the war, 1.500 Armenians from Urfa, mostly young people, were drafted into the Turkish army where they would be all killed off.

In the middle of the summer of 1915, the representatives of the Central Committee of the Unity and Progress Party Ahmed Bey and Khalil Bey arrived in Urfa and were tasked with organizing the deportation of the Armenian population of the city.

The most influential Armenians of Urfa would be arrested first. The Turkish authorities also demanded that the Armenians surrender all their weapons within 48 hours. On August 19, at the instigation of the authorities, a Muslim crowd perpetrated a barbarous massacre of Armenians.

These events testified to the impending massacre of the Armenian population of Urfa, so the Armenians decided to organize self-defense. A military council was created, which included Mkrtich Yeotnekhparian, Harutyun Rastkelian, Khoren Kyupelian, Levon Egberlerian, and others. Military units were formed as well.

At the same time, food services, medical assistance, and armament facilities were established. The part of the city inhabited by Armenians located on a hill was quickly surrounded by fortifications and rubble. The line of defense was divided into 6 areas with 32 positions.

On September 29, 1915, Turkish police attempted to attack the Armenian neighborhoods of the city. Meeting strong resistance, the Turks suffered considerable casualties and retreated.

This day is recognized as the day of the beginning of the heroic self-defense of Urfa. During the following days, the Turks repeatedly attempted to break through the line of defense of the Armenians. But each time, their attacks were repelled by defenders. Having met stubborn resistance, the Turkish government sent regular troops to Urfa (12.000 soldiers and artillery) under the command of Fakhri Pasha. A German officer was seconded to the headquarters of the Turks as well.

Surrounding the Armenian quarter of Urfa, the Turks began to bombard it from artillery, causing significant damage to the quarter. By the end of self-defense, out of nearly 2.300 houses belonging to Armenians, barely 50 remained.

However, even in these difficult conditions, Armenians defended themselves firmly, repulsing the attacks of the Turkish regular troops and Turkish rabble. Members of the military council were at the defense line as well, inspiring the Armenian warriors. Among the defenders, there were quite a few women, girls, and teenagers who shared with the fighters all the difficulties of the unequal battle.

However, despite the stubborn resistance of the Armenians, the initiative gradually passed into the hands of the Turks. The ranks of the defenders were thinning out, and their armament was running out as well. The numerical superiority of the enemy was becoming more and more pronounced.

When it became clear that it was impossible to break through the encirclement, the Armenians decided to fight to the end. They destroyed their property and houses in order not to leave anything to the Turks. And on October 23, the Turks broke into the Armenian quarter of Urfa.

The surviving inhabitants (mostly old men, women, and children) were ruthlessly massacred. Most of the defenders of Urfa died in battle. Some, not wanting to fall into the hands of the enemy, committed suicide. Among them was Yeotnekhparian. The Turks cruelly killed the captured defendants. 120 of them were hanged.

But even after that, separate centers of resistance remained in Urfa until the middle of November. Eventually, about 15.000 Armenian residents of Urfa, mostly women and children, were driven out to Deir ez-Zor and other areas; most of them died on the way.

Over the course of the Urfa self-defense, the Turks suffered significant losses (up to 2 thousand killed). The heroism of the defenders of Urfa was highly appreciated by their contemporaries. Norwegian scientist and humanist Fridtjof Nansen noted that the Armenians of Urfa showed great courage in a fierce struggle against an enemy who vastly outnumbered them.

The 25-day heroic Urfa self-defense is among the glorious pages of the Armenian national liberation struggle in the Ottoman Empire. In the Ashtarak region of Armenia, the natives of Urfa created the village of Nor Edessa. There, a monument to the victims of the Urfa self-defense stands.

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