On August 2, 1862, the Turks failed to seize Zeytun in spite of their numerical superiority. The Turks lost 2,000 soldiers and abandoned a plethora of weaponry on the battlefield. The name of Markos Tashchyan would be inscribed in history: he was the one to destroy two Turkish cannons, significantly weakening the Turkish army.
Severe oppressions on religious and ethnic grounds carried out towards the Armenians naturally caused protests within them. Those protests would soon take the shape of a liberation movement and rebellions. The Western Armenian peasantry was the driving force behind the movement.
In the early 1860s, armed offensives of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian population against the Turks occurred in Zeytun, Van, and many other Armenian-populated areas. The rebellion of Zeytun caused great unrest and strongly contributed to the development of the Armenian national-liberation movement.
The district of Zeytun was located in the Marash Sanjak, the territory of which is occupied by the Kahramanmaraş Province, Turkey. At the time, approximately 30 – 35 thousand Armenians lived in the Zeytun district, most of them dwelling in the town of Zeytun, the heart of the province. Local Armenians were engaged in agriculture and a number of crafts. The mountainous environs of the district were quite isolated from the major trade routes of the Empire, making Zeytun’s economics more or less independent from the outer world.
The Armenians of Zeytun were semi-independent, resolving legal and religious issues occurring within their community themselves, having their own council, clergy, as well as four princes. The number of the nobles was dictated by the number of districts in the town of Zeytun. The Zeytun district was obligated to pay taxes to the governing body of the Marash Sanjak, though it often ignored their obligation.
Such an attitude couldn’t be left unnoticed by the Ottoman government for an overly long time period. During the first half of the 19th century, the Turks several times attempted to give an end to the partial independence of the Zeytun district through their punitive units. This happened in 1808, 1819, 1835, and 1843, but the people of Zeytun managed to fight back each time.
After another attempt of subjugating the district failed in 1860, the Ottoman government chose to undertake decisive measures in order to suppress the national-liberation spirit of Armenians in Zeytun.
In 1862, taking advantage of the emerged land disagreement between the Turkish and Armenian populations, the Ottoman government sent regular troops to Zeytun under the command of Aziz Pasha, the ruler of the Marash Sanjak. The Turkish troops would seize Armenian villages, plunder and ruin them, and wipe out their population. Those Armenians who managed to survive would find shelter behind the fortress walls of the town of Zeytun. In July, the Turks besieged the town.
The Zeytuntsi weren’t caught off guard as they were prepared to the attack of the Turks. All those who were capable of holding a weapon, including women and children, rose to the protection of their hometown. The defense forces were distributed between the four princes of Zeytun – Mkrtich Yagubyan, Asatur Yenitunyan, Nazaret Surenyan, and Ghazaros Shavroyan – who also determined the directions of defense. Thanks to the brilliant planning and the courage of the Armenians, the assault of the Turks on August 2, 1862, was doomed to failure.
The ruler of the Marash Sanjak was removed from his position. Instead, the Ottoman government appointed Ashir Pasha who was tasked to give an end to the rebellious Zeytun at all costs. The Turkish troops besieged the town again, preventing the Zeytuntsi from receiving any aid from the outside. Worst of all, the Armenians were running short of ammunition and food.
However, the Zeytun events had already received wide coverage. The Zeytuntsi had managed to send their representatives to Constantinople. They would inform the Patriarch of Constantinople about the events in Zeytun, asking him to address the Embassy of France with the issue. The Sultan government, fearing that the events of Zeytun could become a new pretext for European intervention, withdrew the troops from Zeytun.
Ensuing negotiations would eventually come to a peaceful end. A Turkish official was appointed to rule Zeytun. Besides, it was agreed that the district would pay the taxes in accordance with the law. However, the Zeytuntsis would retain their limited rights to the management of their community.
The Zeytun uprising is one of the many pages of the Armenian national-liberation movement in the Ottoman Empire. Zeytun became a symbol of courage, steadfastness, dedication, and an inspiring example for the upcoming generations of Armenians.
Armenian communities of Nor Nakhichevan, Moscow, and Tiflis ran fundraising campaigns for the participants of the Zeytun rebellion. Many Armenian newspapers in countries all over the world would widely cover the rebellion. Thereby, the events of Zeytun gained a nationwide significance.
Spikes of the Armenian national-liberation movement occurred after the rebellion as well. In 1863, the Armenian peasants of Mush came into unrest. This period also marked a new phase in the Armenian liberation movement, which was caused by the emergence of the Armenian Question.