In 1904, the Ottoman government determined to exterminate the Armenian population of Sasun, an Armenian-populated district in the former Siirt Sanjak in Bitlis Vilayet. In spring, Kurdish groups attacked the Armenian villages of Khiank and Khulb but were repelled by Armenians.
Thereafter, 10,000-men Turkish and 5,000-men Kurdish troops marched through the villages of Kop, Semal, and Kızılağaç towards Sasun settlements Aliank and Shenik.
On this direction, Hrayr Dzhoghk (Hrayr the Hell, born Armenak Ghazarian) was the one to command the Armenian defensive groups. A unit under the command of Andranik Ozanian was deployed in the village of Tapyk. Andranik’s task was to intercept the Turks on their way to Gelieguzan. Gevorg Chavush commanded the forces defending Ishkhanadzor and Talvorik. An area named Chayi Glukh (Seagull Head) was defended by the units of Hagop Kotoian, Sebastatsi Murad, and Makar Spagantsi.
The first clashes occurred near the village of Shenik on April 11. Having suffered heavy losses, the Turkish command proposed the Armenians to cease the resistance. In response, the Armenians of Sasun demanded from the Turks to implement their “May reforms” project designed in 1895. Those reforms would significantly improve the situation of Armenians throughout the Ottoman Empire. However, the Turks refused to give in to the demands.
The battles resumed on April 14 – 15. Armenians forced the opponent to retreat towards the village of Merker. Turkish troops resorted to artillery, which severely weakened the positions of Armenians. The defenders of Sasun and over 20,000 unarmed civilians grouped in Gelieguzan. On April 17, the Turks attacked the Armenian positions nearby Gelieguzan but were thrown back once more.
Two days later, the Turks undertook a new attack under the cover of artillery fire. After several days of heroic resistance, Armenians ran out of ammunition and left Gelieguzan to retreat towards the heights of Aluchak. Civilians went on towards the Mush plain, while the soldiers continued their resistance up until May 14 before retreating.
The Turks massacred approximately 8,000 Armenians and pillaged many Armenian villages. The events of Sasun received wide coverage in international media, which forced the Ottoman government to temporarily cease their persecutions of Sasun Armenians.