The Khanasor Expedition – No One Can Shed Armenian Blood Scot-Free

The Khanasor ExpeditionAt the end of the millennium, the “wheel of history” devastatingly drove over the Armenian Highlands, reshaping its political map and wiping out the half of the Armenian people. The other half survived, partly thanks to the appearance of certain fateful individuals.

About a century ago, Armenian oculist Kristapor Ohanian published his book named “Causes of blindness” in Baku. Ohanian had received medical education in Geneva. In 1887, he along with a group of Armenian students (Avetis Nazarbekian, Mariam Vardanian, Gevorg Gharadjian, Ruben Khan-Azat, Gabriel Kafian, and Manuel Manuelian) founded the Hunchakian Revolutionary Party. The mission of the party was the liberation of Western Armenia from the Turkish yoke and its unification with Eastern Armenia.

It wasn’t accidental that Kristapor was one of the founders of the Hunchakian party. As one of the party’s founders and leaders Ruben Khan-Azat would recall, Kristapor had attempted to join the national-liberation movement in his youth. His parents had managed to bring him back home to Shushi from Yerevan only thanks to the police.

In the late 19th century, the most active members of Armenian political parties sought to organize the Armenian hajduk (a type of peasant irregular infantry) movements occurring throughout Western Armenia. Some of the operations of the Armenian fedayis (Armenian militiamen – freedom fighters) became famous among the people. The Khanasor Expedition was one of the most courageous fedayi operations and one of the main pages of the Armenian national liberation movement.

The idea of the expedition belonged to Nikol Duman (Nikoghayos Ter-Hovhannisyan), a fedayi widely respected by the Armenian people for his deeds. The operation was tasked to the eastern bureau of the Dashnaktsutyun party. Their mission was to punish the Kurdish Mazrik tribe that had played a key role in the elimination of Armenian combat units during the resistance of Van.

Not everyone agreed with the idea. After prolonged arguments, it was finally decided to carry out the operation. Kristapor Ohanian was among those who supported the idea of Nikol Duman. Ohanian would also participate in the expedition.

On July 24, 1897, having taken a solemn oath, the 253-men group crossed the Iranian-Turkish border and sneakily surrounded the camp of the Mazrik tribe in Khanasor valley. Among the 250 tents, 3 belonging to Sharif Bek stood out with their whiteness. They suddenly became anxiously red from the rays of the rising sun: the blood of the Van brothers as if cried for revenge.

The battle lasted 12 hours. By the morning of the next day, every man of the tribe had fallen. The Armenians spared all the children and women, which allowed Sharif Bek dressed as a woman to escape. Having lost 19 men, the Armenian group retreated to Persia.

The Khanasor Expedition was an unprecedented event for the Armenian national liberation movement in the 19th century. In spite of the large scope of the operation, the Armenian group suffered only small losses. The expedition strongly influenced the nomadic tribes inhabiting the area of the Persian-Turkish border: they learned that no one can shed the blood of Armenians scot-free.

The memory of Kristapor – the cousin of my grandfather from the paternal line – has been passed from generation to generation, becoming more and more detailed. Recently, Hagob Manjikian, a historian from Los Angeles, kindly provided us with the diaries of Kristapor written during the preparation of the Khanasor Operation.

He also sent us photographs, in one of which Kristapor (first on the right-hand side) poses with a rifle and medical instruments on a stump. Maybe, someone recognizes their relatives among the people in the photo. Not many of our contemporaries owe their lives to these people, but maybe all of us can be thankful to them for the assertion of our national dignity.

 Vigen Ohanian, a retired colonel

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