The deliberately slow advance of Russian troops on the Caucasian front in 1915-1916 along with their sudden retreat allowed the Turks to fully implement the Armenian Genocide in Western Armenia. Russians needed Armenia without Armenians.
In July 1915, one of the leaders of the self-defense of Van Aram Manukyan sent General Nikolaev, the commander of the Russian troops, a letter of the following content.
“We heard that for an unknown strategic reason, the Russian army is to retreat. Since we decided to stay, we ask you to leave us a sufficient amount of ammunition. Leave the weapons that you can’t take with you as well.” The answer was negative.
The Russian command did not leave any weapons and ammunition to the Van Armenians, as well as disallowed Armenian volunteers in the ranks of the Russian army to stay. Tumanyan and Andranik called the Russians’ unexpected retreat “the greatest treacherous step towards the Armenian people.”
On the evening of July 18, the order of the commander of the Caucasian Front of the Russian army was issued, stating that “if the population does not cross the border into Berkri within three days, the retreat route may be closed down.”
Panic started in Van on the same day. About three hundred of the finest houses in Van along with many shops were set on fire to keep them out of the hands of the Turks. And at night, the stampede of the Armenians of Vaspurakan into the South Caucasus began.
Speaking about the departure of General Nikolaev from Van, Tovmas Nazarbekov wrote: “I can in no way find peace because of the senseless and speedy retreat of General Nikolaev.”
Hovhannes Tumanyan, in turn, wrote about an unprecedented robbery by the Russian army. “Russian troops are still engaged in robbery in unprecedented proportions. Some officers say that they are ashamed of this. There was not a single retreating Cossack without a carpet on their horse.”
According to Russian parliamentarian M. Papadzhanyan, the forced migration of Armenians led to 40 thousand deaths. Papadzhanyan said that the administration did not take any appropriate measures to ensure a casualty-free migration. On the contrary, the paths that the refugees were directed along with complete indifference could have led to their imminent deaths. And the leaders of the Kurdish robber gangs not only were not punished but even encouraged.
The retreat of the Russians became crucial for the Armenians of Van-Vaspurakan. It led not only to enormous human and material losses but also, inflicting heavy psychological and moral blows, broke the morale of the people who had previously defeated the Ottoman forces.