This photography from 1885 depicts two Armenian women from Zeytun who have been forced to take up arms to protect themselves from the Ottoman bandits. Remarkably, the woman to the right, Yekhisapet Sultanian, is the grand-grandmother of Derek Sherinian, an American-Armenian keyboardist who recorded for Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Billy Idol.
By the end of the 19th century, Western Armenia occupied by the Ottoman Empire and populated by about 3 million Armenians has been oppressed by the Ottoman government. The life of Armenians and their property have constantly been under threat. Many Armenians have been murdered, robbed, and offended every single day. The rebellion of Zeytun in 1862, Mush in 1863, and Van in 1872 were the responses of the Armenians to the Turkish violence.
The Russian Empire’s demands of providing the Armenians with a guarantee of safety in accordance with the 1878 Treaty of San Stefano were nullified by the Congress of Berlin of 1878. Turkey openly announced that the only way to resolve the Armenian Question is to wipe out the Armenians.
Throughout 1885, the Armenians of Zeytun, as well as in many other towns and villages predominantly populated by Armenians conflicted with the Turkish officials, Muslims arriving from the Balkans and the Caucasus in large numbers, as well as with the Kurds.
Having collected the tribute, the Turkish officials frequently returned to Armenian settlements and extorted the already gathered tribute, threatening the locals with torture and arrests. The Armenian peasants were obligated to house nomadic Muslims for wintering, accept Turkish officials and their companions and provide them with room, as well as do unpaid construction work.
On the other hand, the representatives of the Turkish government haven’t been doing much to protect the Armenians from the offensives of the Kurds and Circassians. Moreover, the Turks have often been the ones behind the attacks on the Armenians. The armed women of Zeytun show the extreme degree of despair that the Armenians have gone through in the late 19th century.
In 1895 – 96, waves of mass killings occurred in Trabzon, Erzurum, Urfa, Bitlis, and many other cities and settlements. The Armenians of Zeytun managed to organize defense: a unit comprised of members of the Hunchakian party even defeated Ottoman troops, captured Ottoman officials, and also withstood the besieging of the Ottoman army. Both men and women have been demonstrating their courage in those days…
The Armenians laid down arms only after the intervention of European mediators. Several representatives of the Hunchakian party were exiled from Turkey. In exchange, the Armenians would be amnestied and freed from unpaid taxes. They also managed to achieve the appointment of a Christian official as the deputy of the governor of Zeytun.