Western Armenia, home to about three million Armenians during the second half of the 19th century, remained under the yoke of Abdul Hamid’s empire and the Muslim world. Here, barbaric social systems continued to dominate, and the Armenian people were on the brink of both moral and physical devastation.
People’s lives and property were in constant danger; daily killings, robberies, insults, and raids were commonplace.
Armed uprisings from the Armenian population in Zeitun in the summer of 1862, in the Mush province in 1863, and in the city of Van in 1872 served as a response to the Turks’ lawlessness. Russia’s demands for guarantees for Armenians living in Turkey, included in the conditions of the San Stefano treaty following the 1878 war, were annulled by the Berlin Congress.
Turkey explicitly declared that the Armenian issue should be resolved by eliminating the Armenians. In the summer of 1894, Turks ravaged Sasun, cutting down more than 10,000 people. In the fall of 1895, the Armenian population of Constantinople, Trabzon, Erzurum, Sebastia, Van, Bayazet, and other locations were subjected to slaughter.
The pogroms were carried out by both regular Turkish troops and bandit gangs. They mercilessly and savagely killed men, elderly people, women, and children, looting their property and burning their homes.
The heroic defense of Armenians in some areas (Zeitun, Van) saved tens of thousands of lives, but the horrific toll of the mass slaughter from 1894 to 1896 resulted in 300,000 dead Armenians.
Zeitun Uprisings 1877-1878, 1895
From the second half of the 19th century, the Turkish government took drastic measures to eliminate the semi-independent status of Zeitun. These actions led to a powerful uprising by the people of Zeitun in 1862.
The uprising in 1877-78 was ignited in response to increased taxes and heightened oppression from the Turkish authorities. Prior to the uprising, the people of Zeitun experienced unrest: in 1872 and 1875, Armenians expelled Turkish police from the city and proclaimed Zeitun’s independence.
The Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 prevented Turkish authorities from suppressing the Zeitun uprising. Armenians attempted to connect with Russian forces operating in Western Armenia to receive weapons, but no aid was provided.
After the war ended, the Turkish government concentrated troops against Zeitun, quickly suppressing the uprising of the Turkmen tribe of Kozanoglu, which wished to join the Armenians; then, Turkish troops occupied Zeitun.
400 rebels led by Prince Papik Yenitunyan (Norashkharyan) retreated into the mountains and continued their fight. The Sublime Porte, eager to prevent European countries from having new reasons to interfere in Turkey’s internal affairs, entered into negotiations with P. Yenitunyan.
The Turkish side acknowledged him as the city head, reduced the taxes levied on the Armenians, and freed the arrested Zeitun citizens held in the Marash prison.
By making these compromises, the Turkish authorities managed to pacify the people of Zeitun. The uprising of 1895 took place during a period when pogroms against Armenians began in Western Armenia and Armenian-populated areas of Turkey from 1894-96.
Defending their lives, honor, and property, the people of Zeitun resorted to self-defense in August 1895. The National Assembly of Zeitun decided to move the residents of surrounding Armenian villages into the city, expel Turkish officials, and prepare to resist Turkish troops.
A portion of the gavar’s population (about 10,000 Armenians) was concentrated in the village of Frnuz. In October 1895, following the massacre of Armenians in Marash, Turkish troops (50-60,000 soldiers) advanced on Zeitun.
The people of Zeitun (6,000 fighters), led by Prince Kazar Shovroyan and Agasi Tursarkisyan, stubbornly resisted the Turks for over two months, repelling their attacks.
Unable to seize Zeitun, the Turkish government was forced to send six foreign consuls to Zeitun to negotiate with the defenders.
An agreement was reached whereby Turkish troops left the gavar, amnesty was granted to the rebels, a Christian governor was appointed, and the population was exempted from taxes for five years.
Self-defense of Sasun
In the 1890s, Turkish authorities decided to end the semi-independent status of the Armenians of Sasun.
In order to have a pretext for a campaign against Sasun, the Turkish government instigated Armenian-Kurdish conflicts. In 1891-93, the people of Sasun repelled several attacks on Sasun by regular Turkish troops and the rabble that had joined them.
In 1894, the Turkish government took decisive actions to subjugate Sasun. A military zone was created around Sasun, and troops were concentrated. The overall command of the forces attacking Sasun was given to Zeki Pasha, who commanded the 4th Anatolian Army.
He had 12,000 Turkish soldiers at his disposal; also transferred from Diyarbakir were Osman Pasha’s infantry corps (3,000 soldiers), two cavalry regiments from Erznka, and an infantry regiment from Karin, among other forces, to which several thousand Turkish and Kurdish bashibozuks eager for loot joined.
To repel the enemy, the people of Sasun, led by Ambartsum Poyadzhyan (Metsn Murad), prepared for self-defense. The main Turkish strike came in July – in the area of the villages of Shenik and Semal, but, suffering significant losses, they retreated. In early August, the Turks repeated the attack in the same direction, but were repelled again.
On August 3, Turkish troops invaded Shatakh; Armenians, fighting fiercely, retreated to Geliiguzan, then to Mount Andok. The superior Turkish forces laid siege to the mountain and launched an offensive on August 13.
The Armenians resisted until August 27, but due to the exhaustion of ammunition and food, they retreated to the heights of Kepina and the gorges of Talvorik. Here, the people of Sasun were surrounded by superior enemy forces and massacred.
Women, fighting side by side with men, rather than fall into enemy hands, threw themselves off cliffs into abysses. Many heroes of the liberation struggle perished in the battles, including Grko (G. Moseyan). Gevorg Chavush was captured and delivered in chains to Mush.
Continuing their offensive, Turkish troops pillaged about 40 Armenian villages in Sasun, massacring their defenseless population (over 10,000 people).
The events of 1894 in Sasun received wide international resonance. Progressive public figures from several countries came to the defense of the Sasuntsis. The massacre in Sasun prompted the governments of Britain, France, and Russia to present to the Turkish government a program for carrying out reforms in Western Armenia (see
“May reforms.” 1895), provided for by the Congress of Berlin in 1878. The Sasun massacre of 1894 marked the beginning of mass pogroms of Armenians in Turkey at the end of the 19th century.
In the spring of 1904, Kurdish forces attacked the Armenian villages of Hiank and Hulb, but were repelled by Armenians, who already had the experience of self-defense from 1894. After that, a 10,000-strong Turkish and 5,000-strong Kurdish army under the command of Köse binbashi launched an offensive on Sasun through the villages of Kep, Semal, Hyzylagach, entered Aliank and Shenik.
The defense on this section was led by Ghrayr (A. Kazaryan). In the village of Tapyk, a unit commanded by Andranik was stationed, whose task was to prevent the enemy from advancing on Geliiguzan. Gevorg Chavush led the forces defending Ishkhanadzor and Talvorik, and the area called Chayi Glukh was defended by units commanded by Akop Kotoyan, Murad Sebastatsi, and Makar Spagantsi.
In early April, battles took place near the village of Shenik, in which the Turks suffered significant losses. After this, the Turkish command offered the Armenians to stop resistance.
In response to this offer, the Sasuntsi demanded assurances that the Turkish authorities would implement the program of reforms in Western Armenia (the so-called “May Reforms” of 1895). The fighting resumed.
On April 14-15, the Armenians forced the enemy to retreat in the area of the village of Merker. Turkish troops began to bombard Armenian positions with artillery, inflicting great damage. The defenders of Sasun and 20 thousand unarmed residents concentrated in Geliiguzan.
On April 17, the Turks attacked Armenian positions in this area, but were repelled. Two days later, under the cover of artillery fire, the Turks launched a new attack.
After several days of heroic resistance, the Armenians, having exhausted their ammunition supplies, left Geliiguzan and retreated to the heights of Aluchak. The unarmed population descended to the Mush plain, and the fighters continued to resist until May 14. The Turkish pogromists massacred about 8,000 Armenians, pillaged, and robbed many Armenian villages.
The heroic self-defense of the Sasuntsi and the intervention of the great powers forced the sultan’s government to abandon the extermination of the Armenians of Sasun. The Sasun self-defense of 1904 became a glorious page in the history of the national liberation struggle of the Armenian people.
World War I (1914-1918) provided the Turkish government with a convenient opportunity to implement a long-conceived program to suppress Sasun and completely annihilate its Armenian population.
Sasun and the Sasuntsi, who had rich traditions of liberation struggle, had long been hated by Turkish chauvinists. With the onset of the war, the Sasuntsi sensed the danger threatening their existence: Turkish authorities began to persecute the Armenian population, increased taxes, organized robberies, and murders.
From the spring of 1915, alarming news began to reach Sasun about the impending pogroms of Armenians in various areas of Western Armenia. This forced the Sasuntsi to prepare for self-defense.
They had only 1,000 rifles of old and new models, hunting rifles at their disposal. The defending units, commanded by Petara Manuk, Ishkhan Sharo, Mshetsi Mcho, Vaan Vardanyan, and others, took up positions at the most important points of defense.
In March 1915, Turkish troops and Kurdish gangs from the North and South invaded Sasun. In April-May, fierce battles took place in the areas of the villages of Khulb, Hiank, Ishkhanadzor, Arthunk. Despite heroic resistance, in which Turkish troops suffered significant losses, the Armenians were forced to retreat to Mount Andok under the pressure of superior enemy forces, which used artillery.
In June, the Turks launched an offensive in the Psanka area. Armenian fighters from Talvorik, who came to help their compatriots, delivered a surprise blow to the enemy, capturing important positions.
Nevertheless, the imbalance in strength was evident, and the Turks were increasingly tightening the siege. In July, Turkish forces launched a decisive offensive, captured Kurtik at the cost of heavy losses, then broke through to the foothills of Mount Andok, took over the populated points located here, cutting down their residents – mainly women and children.
In the mountains of Andok, Tsavasar, and Kepina, Armenians continued to resist until August 3. The Turkish pogromists killed most of the defenders, and only a few managed to break through the siege with a fight.
The heroic self-defense of Sasun had a tragic ending. Having broken the resistance of the defenders of Sasun, the Turkish pogromists killed a large part of the Armenian population – 45,000 out of 60,000 people.
The surviving Armenians scattered across the surrounding mountains and gorges, and only in the spring of 1916, when Russian troops and Armenian volunteers occupied Mush, a few thousand Sasuntsi came down from the mountains and were saved from the massacre.
The self-defense of Sasun in 1915 took its rightful place among the heroic self-defenses of Armenians during World War I.
The Self-Defense of Mush in June-July 1915
The Armenian population of Mush (Bitlis Vilayet) and the surrounding villages amounted to 94,000 people. With the beginning of World War I in 1914, the Turkish ruling circles began to exterminate the Armenian population, seeking first of all to finish off the Armenians of Mush and Sasun, who were known as important centers of the Armenian national liberation movement.
Following the instructions of the Turkish government, the local authorities, in conjunction with the military command, developed and began to implement a plan to exterminate the Armenian population of the gavar.
In the spring of 1915, Turkish regular troops and accompanying Kurdish squads invaded the gavar. The local Armenian population was not prepared for defense, and there was no consensus among the Armenian leaders of the gavar regarding the organization of resistance.
Turkish pogromists captured a number of Armenian villages of the gavar (Goms, Tsronk, and others), killing their inhabitants. The approaching Russian troops and Armenian volunteers, who were conducting an offensive in the course of military operations on the Caucasian front, saved the Armenians of Mush from total annihilation. Chasing the retreating enemy, they captured Bulanikh and approached Mush.
The situation for the Turks became severe. In these circumstances, the most resolute leaders of the Armenians of Mush (A. Kotoyan and others) considered it possible to proceed to active actions, to organize armed actions of the Armenians of Mush against the Turks. However, due to disagreements among Armenian figures, the moment was missed.
Soon the situation at the front changed, the Russian troops retreated, and the Armenians of Mush found themselves facing the threat of massacre again. At the end of June, Turkish troops launched an offensive against the people of Mush, intending to finish them off.
The situation for the people of Mush was dire, as the Turks had seized the heights of the city, placed their guns there; Turkish troops and police had surrounded the Armenian quarters of Mush.
A massacre of the peaceful Armenian population began. Under such conditions, the Armenians resorted to self-defense. Combat groups were hastily formed, armed with the available weapons, which were insufficient. Women also joined the combat groups. The rest of the population – children and elderly – supplied the defenders with food, provided medical assistance, etc.
On June 20-30, 1915, fierce battles took place between well-armed, numerically superior Turkish forces and the Armenian population of Mush. The Armenians defended stubbornly, fought street battles, fought for each house.
The Turks subjected the Armenian quarters of the city to artillery fire, destroyed many houses, causing fires. But the Armenians fought to the last possibility; hand-to-hand fights were not infrequent.
Particularly stubborn battles were fought in parts of the city called Verin tah and Dzori tah. The Turks suffered heavy losses, but their numerical superiority and predominance in weaponry played their part. The defenders of Mush retreated from Verin tah to Dzori tah, which became the last stronghold of the defenders.
The organizer of the Mush self-defense, A. Kotoyan, was wounded three times, but did not leave his position. About 700 of the defenders managed to break through the siege and retreat to the mountains.
After breaking the resistance of the Armenians, Turkish troops stormed into Mush, completely looted it, and massacred the inhabitants; barely 400 people escaped the massacre. This same fate befell the numerous Armenian villages of the region. In some places, the inhabitants put up desperate resistance to the pogromists (villages of Karnen, Alidjan, Avran, Vardenis, and others).
Fierce battles also took place in the area of the St. Karapet Monastery. The inhabitants of the surrounding villages of Mehti, Sortar, Poklan, Bahlou, Kvars, and others went up to the mountains and offered heroic resistance to the enemy. However, the majority of the defenders, as well as the peaceful residents of Mush villages, perished.
Urfa Self-Defense in September-October 1915
On the eve of World War I, about 35,000 Armenians lived in Urfa. With the beginning of the war, 1,500 Armenians from Urfa were mobilized into the Turkish army, predominantly young people, who were soon completely annihilated.
In the middle of the summer of 1915, representatives of the Central Committee of the “Unity and Progress” party, Ahmed Bey, and Khalil Bey arrived in Urfa, who were tasked with organizing the deportation of the Armenian population of the city. The most influential Armenians were arrested, and the authorities demanded that the Armenians hand over all their weapons within 48 hours.
On August 19, instigated by the authorities, a Muslim mob carried out a barbaric pogrom against the Armenians. These events signaled an impending massacre of the Armenian population of Urfa, so the Armenians decided to organize a self-defense.
A Military Council was formed, including Mkrtich Yotnehparian, Arutyun Rastkelenian, Khoren Kyupelian, Levon Egbeklerian, and others, and combat squads were formed. At the same time, food services, medical assistance, and a workshop for the manufacture and repair of weapons were established.
The Armenian-populated part of the city, located on a hill, was quickly fortified with barriers and debris; the line of defense was divided into 6 sectors with 32 positions. On September 29, 1915, the Turkish police attempted to attack the Armenian part of the city, but encountered strong resistance, suffered significant losses, and retreated. This day is recognized as the beginning of the heroic Urfa self-defense.
In the following days, the Turks repeatedly attempted to breach the line of Armenian defense, but each time their attacks were repelled by the defenders. Having encountered stubborn resistance, the Turkish government sent regular troops to Urfa (12 thousand soldiers, artillery guns) under the command of Fahri Pasha; a German officer was attached to the Turkish headquarters.
Surrounding the Armenian quarter of Urfa, the Turks began to subject it to artillery fire, inflicting significant damage on the defenders. By the end of the self-defense, barely 50 out of almost 2,300 houses that belonged to the Armenians remained undestroyed. However, even in these difficult conditions, the Armenians stoutly defended themselves, repelling the attacks of Turkish regular troops and numerous Turkish rabble.
Members of the Military Council visited the positions of the defenders, inspiring them by personal example.
Among the defenders were many women, girls, and adolescents, sharing all the difficulties of unequal combat with the fighters. Despite the stubborn resistance of the Armenians, the initiative gradually passed into the hands of the Turks.
The ranks of the defenders thinned, there was a lack of weapons, and the multiple numerical superiority of the enemy was felt. When it became clear that it was impossible to break through the siege, the Armenians decided to fight to the end, destroyed their property, houses, so as not to leave anything to the enemy.
On October 23, the Turks broke into the Armenian quarter of Urfa. The remaining survivors (predominantly the elderly, women, children) were brutally slaughtered. Most of the defenders of Urfa died in battle, some, not wanting to fall into enemy hands, committed suicide; among them was M. Yotnehparian.
The Turks committed a brutal massacre of the captured defenders; 120 of them were hanged. But even after this, there were separate foci of resistance in Urfa, which fell only in mid-November.
About 15 thousand Armenian residents of Urfa, mainly women and children, were driven into Deir ez-Zor and other areas; most of them died on the way.
During the Urfa self-defense, the Turks suffered significant losses (up to 2,000 killed). The heroism of the defenders of Urfa was highly appreciated by contemporaries. Norwegian scholar and humanist F. Nansen noted that the Armenians of Urfa perished after a fierce battle against a numerically superior enemy. The 25-day heroic Urfa self-defense is one of the glorious pages in the history of the Armenian people’s national liberation struggle.
In the Ashtarak region of Armenia, descendants from Urfa established the settlement of Nor Edesia, where a monument was erected in honor of the victims of the Urfa self-defense.
Van self-defense in April-May 1915
At the beginning of World War I, a mass massacre of the Armenian population was organized in the Van province. The Turkish troops, defeated on the Caucasian front and retreating, to which armed Kurdish gangs and Muslim rabble joined, under the pretext of “disloyalty” of Armenians and their sympathies for the Russians, ruthlessly slaughtered Armenians, plundered their property, and ravaged Armenian settlements.
In several districts of the Van province (Shatakh, Ayots Dzor, Aoçesh, Timar, Aljavaz, and others), Armenians resorted to self-defense, fiercely battling against the pogrom-makers. The most significant was the Van self-defense, which lasted for about a month.
On the eve of the war, 41 thousand people lived in Van, of which 23 thousand were Armenians, the rest – Muslims, mainly Turks. The city was divided into two parts – Aygestan and Kahakamech; the main part of the Armenians (20 thousand people) lived in Aygestan.
These parts of the city were located at a distance of 5-6 km from each other; Turks lived in the territory between them. By April 1915, over 70 thousand Armenians had accumulated in Van, having moved here from surrounding villages, which were attacked by the Turks.
Preparing to implement the monstrous plan to annihilate the Armenian population of Van, the Turkish government appointed Jevdet Bey as the governor of the Van province, known for his cruelty and hatred for the Armenians.
He organized the cunning murder of several Armenian leaders of Van – the deputy of the Turkish Parliament A. Vramyan (Onik Derdzakyan), Ishkhan (Nikogayos Mikayelyan), and others; then, having received reinforcements from Erzurum, he began to prepare for an attack on Van.
In early April 1915, Turkish troops besieged Aygestan, cutting off its connection with Kahakamech. The Armenian population took measures to repel the impending attack. To lead the self-defense, a single military body (“Military Body of Armenian Self-Defense of Van”) was formed, which included Armenak Yekaryan, Aram Manukyan, Kaytsak Arakel, Bulgaratsi Grigor, Gabriel Semerdjian, Grant Galikyan, and Panos Terlemezyan.
Services were created for the provision and distribution of products, medical aid, an arms workshop (where the production of gunpowder, weapons were established, two cannons were cast), as well as a women’s union (mainly involved in making clothing for fighters).
In the face of impending danger, representatives of various Armenian political parties (ramkavars, hunchakists, dashnaks) united. Against the superior forces of the enemy (12 thousand regular troops, a large number of bandit gangs, 12 artillery guns, ships of Lake Van), the defenders of Van had no more than 1500 fighters, who had only 505 rifles and 750 Mausers with a small supply of ammunition (The Military Body of Self-Defense issued an order to use ammunition cautiously, “to shoot only, for sure”).
Aygestan was divided into 5 defensive districts, in which 73 positions were built. Self-defense began on April 7, when Turkish soldiers fired on Armenian women moving along the road from the village of Shushants to Aygestan; the Armenians opened return fire, after which a general attack by the Turks on Aygestan began.
Aygestan was subjected to artillery shelling, which caused significant destruction. But the Armenians were not caught off guard; they were able not only to repel the first attack of the Turks but also to capture some of their positions, blow up the Turkish arsenal, the building of the police department, and so on.
Self-defense was also successfully organized in Kahakamach, although here the Armenians were in even more unfavorable conditions: they were cut off from Aygestan, the enemy had a numerical advantage, there was a lack of weapons and ammunition.
Here, too, a Military Body of Self-Defense was created, which included Aikaz Kosoian, Migran Toramanyan, Levon Galdjayan, David Sarkisian, Sarkis Shaginyan, and others. Although the Military Body of Kahakamach was considered a branch of the Military Body of Aygestan, due to circumstances, it operated independently.
The line of defense in Kahakamach was divided into 4 sectors with their own strongholds. On April 7, when the Turks went on the offensive, the defenders of Kahakamach managed to hold their positions, destroyed a number of Turkish fortifications, and inflicted losses on them. The first ten days of the Van self-defense passed under the sign of success for the defenders.
Despite the fact that Aygestan was subjected to fierce shelling, the enemy failed to break through the line of Armenian defense. Even a night assault organized by a German officer arriving from Erzurum did not yield results: the Turks, having suffered losses, were repelled. The defenders acted bravely, inspired by the just goals of their struggle.
Many women and girls fought among the defenders. 19-year-old Iskui Ambartsumyan, for excellent performance of a combat mission, was awarded the “Honorary Cross” established by the Military Body. Van’s teenagers not only brought weapons and ammunition to the fighters, but also bravely fought the enemy themselves. Many of them stood out: Babken (Isadzhanyan), Martiros (Gyulogyan), Aslan (Aglyanyan), Aram (Tovmagyan, future writer Ler Kamsar), and others.
In the second half of April, heavy fighting continued. The enemy, constantly replenishing its troops, attempted to break through the line of Van defense. The city was under continuous artillery shelling. Striving to involve the Kurds in active actions against the defenders of Van, Jevdet promised them rich spoils.
But the attack of the Kurds was also repelled with heavy losses for them. During the Van self-defense, the Turks raged in the Van district, cutting out the peaceful Armenian population and setting fire to Armenian villages; about 24,000 Armenians were killed by the pogromists, and more than 100 villages were looted and burned.
On April 28, the Turks launched a new assault, but the defenders of Van repelled it. After that, the Turks refrained from active actions, continuing to shell the Armenian quarters of Van. In early May, the advanced parts of the Russian army and units of Armenian volunteers approached Van. The Turks were forced to lift the siege and retreat.
On May 6, Russian troops and Armenian volunteers entered Van, enthusiastically greeted by the defenders and the population. The military body of self-defense issued an appeal “To the Armenian people”, in which it welcomed the victory of the just cause over violence and tyranny. The Van self-defense is a heroic page in the history of the Armenian national liberation movement.
During a month of fighting, Turkish troops suffered significant losses (about 1,000 people were killed); Armenian losses amounted to about 350 people, a portion of whom were civilians in Van.
The Van self-defense saved tens of thousands of Vaspurakan residents from imminent death, who found refuge in Van. The self-sacrifice and heroism of the defenders of Van served as an inspiring example for Armenians in other areas.
In the Ashtarak district of Armenia, a monument was erected in memory of the heroic Van self-defense.
Defense of Musa Dagh (Musa Ler) in 1915
A special place during the Armenian genocide in Turkey in 1915 is occupied by the self-defense of the Armenians of Svedia (Suedia) on Mount Musa (Musalér, in the Antioch gavar of the Aleppo vilayet, near the town of Svedia).
Around the mountain were located 6 Armenian villages: Kebusie, Vagyf, Khdrbek, Egonoluk, Haji Habibli, Bitias, the inhabitants of which (over 6,000) were engaged in agriculture. The villages had Armenian schools and churches. The population of these villages lived separately, almost without connection with other Armenian populated areas of the country.
In the spring of 1915, the Turkish authorities began to deport and massacre the Armenian population. The Armenians of Svedia learned about this from the preacher of the Protestant Church of Zeitun, Tigran Andreasyan, who escaped deportation and returned to his homeland (the village of Egonoluk) in July 1915.
Soon it became known that the deportation of Armenians began in the neighboring gavars as well. On July 29, a meeting of representatives of 6 Armenian villages was held in the village of Egonoluk, at which it was decided to resort to self-defense and organize it on Mount Musa.
However, not all residents complied with the decision of the meeting; a group of clergy and wealthy residents tried to convince the Armenian population that salvation lies in obedience to the Turkish authorities.
When the order for the deportation of Armenians followed on July 30, part of the Svedia residents complied with it (most of them perished on the way), and the rest – about 5,000 people took up arms, climbed Mount Musa, which was turned into a battle camp.
The Armenians who decided to resist created a special military body, which was led by E. Yagubyan. Petros Tmlakyan, Petros Tutaglyan, Tigran Andreasyan and others also played an important role. The majority of those who climbed the mountain were women and children; tents were set up for them, huts were hastily built. Defensive positions were built, blockages were created on roads and paths.
There were only 600 fighters in total, and the amount of weapons and ammunition was limited. The defense line of the mountain was divided into 4 districts, the positions of each of which were occupied by combat squads.
On August 7, the Turks launched the first attack, throwing 200 soldiers against the defenders of the mountain. A stubborn battle ensued, during which the Turks suffered losses and then retreated to their original positions.
On August 10, the Turks repeated the attack, this time sending about 5,000 soldiers and artillery into the battle. The position of the Armenians was difficult, but they did not falter, did not leave their positions. After a prolonged battle, the Turks retreated, suffering significant losses.
In the battles, Akop Karagezyan, Sarkis Gapagyan, and many others distinguished themselves. On August 19, the enemy launched a new assault, throwing 9,000 soldiers of regular troops and bands of robbers against the defenders of the mountain.
The fierce battle lasted for two days, in several areas the Turks managed to break through the Armenian defensive lines, but they did not achieve decisive success. Suffering huge losses (up to 1,000 people), the Turks retreated.
This time, the Armenians captured trophies. But the ranks of the defenders of Mount Musa thinned: there were many killed and wounded. Failing to break the resistance of the defenders, the Turks temporarily refrained from new attacks; they gathered a lot of troops around the mountain (up to 15,000), cut off all paths, blocked the Armenian camp, trying to break them with the threat of imminent starvation.
The situation of the defenders of Mount Musa became increasingly difficult, food and ammunition supplies were running out. It was necessary to rely on help. The leaders of self-defense hoped that help could come from the sea, where allied ships could appear.
To attract their attention, the defenders raised 2 flags made of sheets on top of the mountain, on which red crosses were drawn and written: “Christians in danger”. Fires were lit on top to attract the attention of ships passing by the shore.
In addition, in case of the appearance of allied ships, one of the defenders of the mountain (Movses Grkyan) was supposed to swim to the ship and deliver a letter previously written in English, which described the events that had occurred and contained a request for immediate assistance. There was no sign of the ships for a long time, and the Turks repeatedly offered the Armenians to surrender.
The defenders of the mountain rejected these offers, sending several people to Aleppo and Alexandretta in hopes of establishing contact with the allies. But these hopes were not met.
Finally, on September 5, the French corvette “Guichen” appeared in the sea, from which a boat was sent to the shore. Upon learning of the Armenians’ situation, the ship’s command ordered an artillery bombardment of Turkish positions, after which the ship left; the French promised to provide help.
On September 9, the commander of the Turkish troops demanded the Armenians to surrender immediately, otherwise, he threatened to start an attack and kill all the defenders. After shelling the Armenians’ positions from cannons, the Turks went on the offensive.
The Armenians repelled the enemy’s onslaught, themselves went on the counterattack, turned the Turks to flight. On September 10, 2 French warships approached the shore and began shelling the positions of the Turkish troops. Then it was reported to the Armenians that the French government had decided to transport Armenians to Port Said.
From September 13 to 15, the defenders of Mount Musa were taken aboard the ship “Jeanne d’Arc” and other French ships and transferred to Port Said. About 4,000 people were saved, a significant part of them were women and children.
The defense of Mount Musa entered the history of the national liberation struggle of the Armenian people as one of the most heroic pages.
This epic is described in the novel “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” by Austrian writer Franz Werfel, which has been translated into many languages.
After World War II, the surviving Musalerians and their descendants repatriated to Soviet Armenia. They founded the village of Musaler in the Echmiadzin district, where a monument to the heroes of the Defense of Mount Musa was erected.
Self-defense of Adana in 1920
After the Armistice of Mudros in 1918, when Turkish troops left Cilicia, about 8,000 former residents of Adana returned to the city. In 1920, the Kemalists managed to negotiate with France about the withdrawal of French troops from Cilicia.
Taking advantage of this, the Turks occupied the cities of Urfa, Aintab, Marash, Sis, massacred the population. Sensing the looming threat, the residents of Adana, led by their leader, lawyer Karapet Chalyan, formed the Supreme Council of Self-Defense of Adana, the chairman of which became the spiritual leader of Adana, Petros Sarachyan.
Sarkis Chepechyan was appointed commander of the defense, and his deputy was Aram Terzyan. Four companies were formed, a squadron of 60 riders was established, and the Red Cross organization and other defense support bodies were created.
Men aged 16-50 capable of carrying weapons (about 1200 people) were given 132 rifles; later, 300 more rifles and 200 bombs were obtained.
Adana and the surrounding areas were divided into 4 defensive districts, trenches were dug, fortifications erected, roads taken under observation. Representatives of the French military authorities promised to provide the defenders with weapons and ammunition, but only gave out a few hundred rifles; moreover, they informed the Turks about the organization of self-defense.
After the Turks began to attack the surrounding Armenian villages, the residents of Adana sent a delegation to the French authorities in Cilicia on March 9, asking for help and weapons. The French authorities responded that they were unable to assist.
After occupying the surrounding villages and massacring their population, the Turks advanced on Adana. On March 12, the commander of the Cilician group of Kemalist troops stated that their goal was to remove the French, and the Armenians would be suppressed only in case of resistance.
On March 17, the commander of the Turkish troops issued an ultimatum to the leaders of Adana’s defense: to hand over the former volunteers who were in the city, 1000 rifles with ammunition. The residents of Adana rejected the ultimatum.
On April 1, the Turks began offensive operations; on April 3, the city was almost surrounded. But the Turks’ attacks were not successful. Changing the direction of their strikes, the Turks continued to attack the city. After fierce fighting, the Turks managed to occupy the St. Hakob Monastery, but the city, completely surrounded, continued to put up heroic resistance. Fierce battles took place on April 30, May 20-23, June 8-9 and 25, and July 11-13.
In July, the Turkish command tried to trap the defenders through negotiations, but did not achieve their goal. On August 5, about 200 volunteers led by Kaytsak Aram (Terzyan) stealthily approached the Turkish positions, destroyed the combat cover, captured a heavy gun, dragged it to the square of Adana and from there opened fire on the Turks.
Regrouping their forces, the defenders of Adana launched a counterattack, inflicted heavy losses on the enemy and on September 20 took the village of Rumlu. However, the situation of the defenders was getting more difficult.
The Turks, having received reinforcements, guns and ammunition, were tightening the siege ring. On the order of M. Kemal, the Turkish troops launched a new offensive on October 14. The city was subjected to artillery shelling, houses and positions were destroyed. Hundreds of defenders fell on the battlefields.
On October 15, the Kemalist troops and the chetniks captured Adana, burned it, massacred 6 thousand Armenians, sparing neither children, wounded, elderly, women. Only 365 defenders of Adana managed to break the encirclement and escape.
The self-defense of Adana is one of the heroic pages of the Armenian people’s struggle against Turkish pogrom-makers.
Self-Defense of Aintab 1920-1921
After the Mudros Armistice in 1918, when Turkish troops left Cilicia, a part (about 10 thousand) of the Armenian population of the city deported in 1915 returned to Aintab, as well as Armenian refugees from Sebastia (8 thousand).
However, the Turkish nationalist movement that unfolded in Aintab in the fall of 1919, and the duplicitous policy of the French authorities occupying the city, created a very anxious state for the Armenian population. Armenians began to prepare to repel possible encroachments.
At the National Union – the local Armenian authority in Cilicia – a center was created, a military body led by A. Levonyan and A. Galemkaryan, which took inventory of weapons and ammunition, organized the manufacture of bombs, established night surveillance. One of the prominent organizers of Aintab’s self-defense was Priest Nerses Tavugchyan.
Taking advantage of the fact that the French troops had left Marash, and some of them had also been withdrawn from Aintab, the Turks attacked the Armenians and the remaining French garrison in the city on April 1, 1920.
The Armenians resorted to self-defense. The defense of the city was divided into 11 districts, a squad (up to 750 people) was created, which established a connection with the French troops. The fighting continued until the end of May.
According to the Franco-Turkish armistice signed in Ankara on May 30, 1920, French troops were supposed to leave Aintab, leaving the Armenian population at the mercy of fate. Seeing that they could not rely on the French forces, the Armenians decided to maintain armed neutrality in the event of further Turkish-French clashes.
However, the resumption of military operations between the warring parties on July 29 and Turkish encroachments against the Armenians of Aintab forced the latter to resort to self-defense again, which continued until February 8, 1921.
But after the treaty signed in Ankara between Turkey and France on October 20, 1921, the Armenians of Aintab were forced to leave their native city and move to other countries…
Thus, in different years at the beginning of the last century, poorly armed, and often unarmed Armenians in Western Armenia resisted the state policy of Genocide of the Turkish government. But the forces were unequal…
And what later humanity will call the Genocide happened!
by Alexander Bakulin
Translated by Vigen Avetisyan