1915 Dispacement Through The Eyes of Turkish Witnesses
Eye Withnesses to Armenian Issue
Father's Name : Cimsid
Mother's name : Fatma
Place of Birth: Van
Date of Birth: 1901
The Russians were providing weapons for the Armenian bandits. With military assistance of Russia and encouragement of England, France and the United States -all had consulates in Van- Armenians increased their hostilities in the beginning of 1915. The Russians were secretly providing them weapons hidden in food supplies, which they sent to Russia through the port of Trabzon. Those supplies were transported by caravans to Van. The goods on the caravans were distributed in the centre of the old city, and the hidden ammunition was secretly distributed to the Armenian militants. The leader of the Armenian revolt in Van was Aram Pasha. But I don't remember the name of the Dashnaks’ leader. They all had land claims, especially in Van. The 11th squadron was assigned to Van, but went to Erzurum to be mobilised. The Armenian bandits increased their activities and started their terrorist campaigns against the Muslim inhabitants.
The militants were raiding the Muslim villages and neighbourhoods. The only thing we had to fight them with was a militia led by Imam Osman, composed of those either too old or too young to join the army.
Let me tell you a story which I will never forget. I went to a school located near the government mansion. Armenian children also studied at the same school. Some of the students in the Armenian underground went to get a Muslim student named Rustu from his home with an excuse of studying. They took him to the Isitma bridge near the industrial park. After insulting him, they raped and killed him, leaving his body for his family to find the next day. The family later composed a ballad to honour his memory.
I can remember the beginning of the skirmishes between the Muslims and Armenians. Our militia, which would meet in the Mahmut Aga barracks across the street from the Van State Hospital, was on duty, a day before the war with the Armenians started. The Armenians prepared the night before and positioned themselves. They dug holes in the State Mansion, and when our militia was preparing for morning prayer at a fountain nearby, the Armenians showered them with bullets. Many of our soldiers were killed. The fighting between local Muslims and Armenians began. There was a big confusion in the streets from both sides. Despite this, we got up and went to school. We had two teachers, one from Salonica, one from Edirne. They said "Come on kids, let's all forgive each other, we might not see each other again" and suggested we use the side streets to avoid Armenian bullets. I left school with some friends, but decided to take our regular route. We saw that weapons and ammunition were being distributed in front of a storage area for protection against the Armenians. We then noticed a few Armenians creeping up from behind, and notified the man distributing the weapons. He threw them down in his hand and fired on them, and they ran away.
The war started on April 2 and 3 in 1915. In 1914, the Russians were not able to penetrate the front line, but they surrounded our soldiers from behind by passing Caldiran-Bahcesaray, and established headquarters in the Molla Hasan village.
It was difficult to provide our soldiers with military supplies since the young students and elderly people carrying the equipment could not go further because of the cold weather. Many of them died.
We couldn't go anywhere. But in the spring the Armenians went completely crazy. On May 10, 1915, the Russians were moving towards Van. With Governor Cevdet's orders we evacuated Van, taking with us what we could carry. During the war, Armenian brutality reached a stage that no one, including the old, sick, captive, women or children could escape. The atrocities reached the degree that even the Armenians' main supporters, the Russians, were trying to prohibit their actions.
My grandmother Mihri couldn't flee with us because one of my uncles was paralysed from the waist down. Unable to speak because of the shock of what happened in our absence, she later learned to speak by sign in order to explain what happened. They shaved my uncle's moustache along with his flesh, and then took them to a house which they used as a detention centre and tortured him and the other captives until the Russians arrived.
When we became refugees there were 23 members of our family. We lost most of our family on the road to Bitlis and Urfa. Only two of us returned to Van. Our first stop on the road was Bitlis where we arrived in eleven days, and then went to Siirt, where we had relatives with whom we stayed for a few months. When we heard about the Russian advance, we again fled to Diyarbakir. Our convoy consisted of 250 people. We suffered from hunger and thirst on the way. We went through Kurtalan and Diyarbakir and the village of Kebir, where we did not stay long, and again took the road to return to Van. When we reached Kurtalan, we learned that the Russians had entered Van again and went to Siirt. In the spring of 1916, we went to Baghdad, but fled to Mardin when the English Army advanced. In 1917, we arrived to Urfa. The French who entered Urfa started tormenting the Muslims by bringing the Armenian of Aleppo to the city. This time we fought for twenty-two days.
We left Van in 1915. When we were finally able to return, only two people remained from the 23-membered family. Van was totally destroyed. The Armenians burned and demolished everything except for the Armenian houses. In fact, when the Turkish army entered Van, around 2.000 Armenian artisans, expecting retaliation for their repression of the Turkish population, sought refuge on the island of Adir. The Turkish government instead ensured their safe passage to Revan.
Father’s Name: Mirza
Mother’s Name: Hane
Place of Birth: Van
Date of Birth: 1883
The Armenians who revolted by the Russian assistance began to fight against the Muslims though they had lived together for many years. Their intention was to steal our lands and to establish an Armenian state. They had dugouts underground and they were easily hiding in them after they killed the Turks.
They tortured people especially in central Van and in the castle. Their leader was a man called Aram Pasha. We were defeated by them as they had rich ammunitions. Then we decided to migrate to safer places as we did not want to suffer more casualties.
Some people went to Bitlis by way of land and some went by sea. The ones who stayed were all killed. The refugees of Van were spread everywhere in country. From Bitlis to Diyarbakir, Elazig, Nazilli, Burdur... However, the Armenians undertook massacres in the villages of Van.
In those villages the Armenians and the Russians closed the roads. They killed all the men and raped all the women there. Later, Armenian bandits gathered in Van and carried massacres out there too. In short, it was like the doomsday. In Lake Van there were sailing boats. They really tortured so much that they got bored from killing people. They put the people into the boats and threw them in to the lake.
Those Armenians nailed our elders to the walls from their hands and foreheads. We resisted them as much as we could do and fought. We did everything necessary. But, we never touched any Armenian child or women; we just fought against men. Armenians were so cruel. After I returned from the Iranian Front in 1921, I found Van in a ruin. All the Turkish districts were burnt by the Armenians and the Russians; all the Muslim properties were plundered. But, the Armenian houses were still standing out. Van was empty. Later, the Muslims returned one by one. Everybody began to rebuild his house; we have rebuilt the city.
Father's Name : Yusuf
Mother's name : Gülnaz
Place of Birth: Van
Date of Birth: 1900
Q: Can you tell us what you can remember and what the Armenians did in Van and Gevas?
A: We lived in the same neighbourhoods with the Armenians. We were living in Norsin neighbourhood and got along well until the Russians intervention. In those days, the Armenian youth established committees by Russian encouragement, and started causing trouble. They killed the police superintendent and threw him in the park. They killed the postman in Hasbagi. They bombed a building, which is a bath now, and twenty people died in the explosion. When the constitutional monarchy was declared, the mufti and the priest shook hands and declared the brotherhood of Muslims and Christians. The Mufti cried as he shook hands, but events developed against us. The committee members became increasingly out of control and the rebellion began. We fought the Armenians for 29 days in Hasbagi. We had no weapons. When the division went to Erzurum we remained completely defenceless.
The Armenians who joined the army after the establishment of the constitutional monarchy used our weapons to shoot at us, and those who remained in the army shot our soldiers from behind. They also bombed the barracks. The young people and the elderly left in the Muslim neighbourhoods took turns guarding against the Armenians. Meanwhile, the Russians sent gold to Armenians to finance their effort.
This struggle lasted 29 days until the arrival of the Russians. The elderly Armenians didn't approve this fight because they were the wealthiest inhabitants of the area, and feared losing their standard of living. Armenians owned up to 1,000 stores and sold European cloth in the old part of the city of Van. When these events broke out, inhabitants of nearby villages and towns all fled to Van, and those stores disappeared within two days.
Later on, fifty vessels full of people left Van, carried wounded soldiers. Cevdet Pasha saw the passengers off at the pier. We went to Adir Island, where the Armenians were training underground. We stayed on the island for nine days. The waves destroyed some of the ships with wooden sails. The island had wells and two bakeries. No one brought any supplies from Van. We were hungry and perplexed. My elder brother was an officer and came back wounded from Erzurum. My brother realised that the Armenians would cut us off. He convinced his captain, and ten ships left the place but we couldn't go very far. Thank God that we stayed close to the shore. The next day, we reached Tatvan under difficult circumstances. The day we left Van the Armenians set everything ablaze. There were wounded soldiers from all parts of Turkey in Van, and the Armenians set the apartment buildings on fire used as a hospital where they were teken care of. That is why Van is a sacred place with martyrs from 67 provinces (in Turkey).
My uncle, Terren Aga, was very old, and we couldn't take him with us when we left Van. His wife, daughter, and two grandchildren remained with him. Armenian hoodlums beat my uncle and the children with an ax and killed them. His daughter was hiding in an abandoned American school. When the Armenians found her, they killed her by throwing her from the second floor.
We went to Bitlis from Tatvan where we stayed for nearly two months. When the Russians arrived, we set off on the roads again. We then went to Hizan and Diyarbakir. After we left, the Gendarme commander who was crying like a baby- brought my uncle (who was Deputy Governor Omer Bey) a report. A soldier named Mansur was also present in the room. When we asked him to explain what happened, he said that three days after Van was evacuated they went to pick up the bodies. Hundreds of elderly women were impaled on stakes. They still had their scarves on and looked as if they were sitting. When they got closer they saw that they were killed before being impaled. They saw a woman who was split into two parts and her unborn child was placed on her chest.
Muslims who witnessed these thousand of examples of inconceivable brutality tearfully reported the incidents to Omer Bey, who then told Mustafa Kemal. When the Russians finally arrived, they were displeased with the savageness which resulted in the destruction of four-fifths of Van. In addition to those massacred by the Armenians, many people also died as they were fleeing. Many collapsed on the road from hunger and disease. No one was able to take anything with them when they left Van.
When we returned to Van from exile three years later, we found the Muslim neighbourhoods destructed, but the areas owned by Armenians, were left undamaged. When we returned there were about 2,000 Armenians living in Van who fled to the islands when the Turks started returning. Two years later, the government sent them to Revan.
Q: Did you ever participate in the fighting or use a weapon?
A: No. I have never used a weapon. I didn't have a gum, plus they didn't give me one because I was too young and didn't know how to use it. Instead. I would bring food and water to the combatants.
Q: What kind of equipment were the Armenians using?
A: They had the latest equipment which was provided by Russia and England. They gave them weapons and had them fight against us. The Armenians couldn't do anything to us, but when the were armed, the balance was upset.
Q: Did many people die in these and other clashes?
A: Of course, thousands of people died. After fighting for 29 days, the then Governor Cevdet Pasha commanded us to leave Van when he heard that the Russian forces were approaching. Cevdet Pasha was actually a very courageous man, but we had neither guns nor ammunition. while the Russians were armed with top of the line weapons.
Q: Didn't the Ottoman State take any precautions against the Armenians arming themselves to this extent? Didn't a word get around?
A: People knew, and the government knew. Yet the military was on the fighting front, and only a few gendarmes were left in Van. They couldn't do anything about it.. The Armenians first shot Police Lieutenant Nuri Efendi, and blew up the Hamitaga barracks. Many soldiers were killed. Then they placed bombs in the Norsin Mosque and Haci Naci Hodja Mosque. They blew up Hafiz Hodja with his son using granedes. Our women were raped, and our children shot.
Q: How was the evacuation carried out?
A: We left this place on 50 ships. That day the weather was stormy and rainy, as if hell broke loose. The ships ran into each other. They were unable to approach the pier for a long time. The weather was not warm enough-I think it was April. We left before the Russians arrived. There were about 250 people in our group, and 60 died. Some died at the hands of the Armenians bandits, other from cholera, diseases, and hunger.
My uncle, his family and children, were all cut into pieces with a hatchet under a mulberry tree in our neighbourhood. They (Armenians) massacred all those who stayed behind when we left. We lived in Norsin neighbourhood at the time. They burned Van entirely. All was planned by the Armenian committees that treacherously manipulated the Armenian population.
Q: Do, you remember the names of those committees?
A: Dashnak was the most prominent one. There were others as well, but I don’t remember their names now. They received money and gold from Russia and Britain.
Q: Did the Armenians kill a lot of women and children?
A: The elderly didn't bother much, but all the young people were armed. They killed whoever they could catch. They killed them and threw them into the lake or onto the fire. For example, a woman was baking bread in a nearby village, and had her young child was at her side. The Armenians went into her backyard and asked her what she was doing. When she answered that she was baking bread, they insisted she needed a kebab as well, and pierced her child and threw him into the fire and burned him alive.
What else can I tell you? God knows the extent of what went on. During our escape, we took off on the ships, and stayed around the islands for four days. We couldn't sleep at nights because of the wails and screams we heard all night. These were the cries we heard from the surrounding villages: Zeve, Bardakci, Kalac, and Molla Kasim. I hope God ensures that we don't have to get back to those days again, ever.
Q: Where did you go after the islands?
A: From the islands we went to the Dervis village. It took us all day to get there. Ten ships were tied together at the edge of the lake. We were very frightened. In the morning we left toward Tatvan, and finally reached our destination. We were able to rest there, and later left toward Biths.
Q: Do you remember how many people were with you in your convoy?
A: There were between 10 and 20 thousand people in our convoy.
Q: Did many people from your convoy die in the exodus?
A: Of course.
Q: Could you tell us how they died?
A: The women could not take care of their children. Some would leave them in far areas. Hunger and disease were at its peak. For example, Omer Efendi wrapped his child in rags and left him alive under a tree as we approached the Bitlis creek. There were many other children like this thrown into the Bitlis creek or buried, then they died. But, Omer Efendi regretted what he did, and a few days later went to save the child and brought him back alive.
Q: How long were you a refugee?
A: Three years.
Q: What did you find when you returned to Van? How was Van, was there much damage?
A: I saw Van; it was completely destroyed and burned. When we were in Bitlis, the Deputy Governor Ömer Bey was there. He would regularly receive reports on the situation in Van. We would learn about the situation of the Russians there. One day a soldier, Mansur, came to Bitlis. He was from Aleppo and used to live near the Norsin Mosque. He was in tears as he told us the story of how they entered Van, and saw that the women were lined up in a row with their head scarves still on. As they approached, they saw that they were impaled and killed. They removed them and buried them. The soldiers left all their work and buried them. Later, they went to another location where the women had been raped and then killed. There was blood everywhere.
A similar incident occurred in the Amik village which is close here. The inhabitants took refuge in the castle and pulled up the ladder when the Armenians arrived. The Armenians approached and convinced them to let down the ladder because they were now friendly and there was no reason to be afraid of. As soon as they ascended the stairs, they separated the children and men and threw them down the hill. Some of the women threw themselves from the castle, while the others were taken to an unknown location.
Q: Did you hear about similar incidents at the time?
A: Of course I did, but what else can I tell you? Dignity, chastity, and integrity all was gone. We suffered so much, some people even ate flesh like cannibals. But we were so merciful that, when we found Armenians hiding on the island, we didn't do anything to them.
Q: Were they the Armenians who stayed when you fled?
A: No, they were Armenians remaining on the island. During the exodus they brought, many Turks to this island and killed them. The ship captains were Armenians. Many of our, people were maliciously killed in this way on the ships. As I told you earlier, we couldn't sleep because of the wads in those days. When we left, Van was burning, and it was still burning when the soldier Mansur came.
Q: Will you tell us about your situation in Bitlis?
A: When we arrived in Bitlis as refugees, they were angry with us because we abandoned Van. Initially the people of Bitlis were not very kind to us, asking us why we ran away and did not fight against the enemy. We answered that we had no other choice because we did not have guns or ammunition. Not long after, the population of Bitlis had to flee as well, and they understood our position. The heat was extreme. There was no food or water. Cholera and diseases were spreading out. Many people died. One day we saw some vehicles coming from Elazig. The army corps came with Armenian drivers to bring salt to Harput.
Q: Were the drivers Armenian?
A: Yes. Armenian soldiers who were carrying salt. There was a captain leading them and my brother approached him and asked him to stay and send a telegraph to arrange for a truck to carry us. We obtained permission from Mustafa Kemal Pasha and they started to transport us to Divarbakir. There was neither food nor water on the way. Many people died from diseases. At that time, there was a landowner named Mehmet. He later died, but he was a unique person. He gave food to the army and fed their horses as well. He also handed the keys of his stables over to the army. A year later Mustafa Kemal Pasha came, talked to him, and asked how much the government owed him. When he said "for what?", Mustafa Kemal explained that the army had depended on him for a year. He answered that “they are welcomed for the remaining food, as well”. Anyway, when he saw us, he gave the order to set up a feast table right away. Wheat, rice, lentil, and meat were prepared. Everyone ate.
Let me tell you another story. I saw many of the men who had been tortured by the Armenians with my own eyes. In some places they had no meat on their bones. From hunger they ate human flesh. There was a milkman called Faik whose father was carrying a child when we saw him. When I asked him what he was doing, he said if he didn't carry the child away, they would eat him too.
I hope God doesn't make us live through those days again. Hunger and disease left us with nothing. No dignity, chastity, no nothing
Father's Name : Dervis
Mother's name : Hayriye
Place of Birth: Van-Zeve
Date of Birth : 1897
When the villagers heard that the Armenians were coming, they took as many precautions as possible. They dug positions in the hills. The inhabitants of seven villages filled up our village. There was little room in the village to manoeuvre around the people and carts. on the day that we heard the Armenians had almost reached the village, the men ran to take their positions and began fighting.
We had no ammunition or weapons assistance. When the Armenians entered our village, some of our men died fighting; others were burned in their homes. I hid with my mother and some others in a barn further away from the fighting grounds I got under a large basket. The Armenians killed everyone they found and also fired at the barns. A bullet hit my mother's scarf, but she was not hurt. I know of only two other women who survived.
The Armenians went to Bardakci before they came to our village. My God, when we went out at night, blood, gunfire, mourning, and wailing filled the air. I saw them torturing people by cutting "pockets" out of skin while mockingly telling them they were decorating them with medals. When we approached the Bardakci village, I saw that on the other side of the brook, in the field near Mehmet's house they had tied the arms of five men together and were shooting at them. When they fell to the ground, they stabbed them with bayonets. My mother handed them all of her money and valuables so that we would not be hurt. They then brought us to Van, and tortured the prisoners in unmentionable ways. We stayed in the military barracks for four months. We later became refugees and remained as such until April 1918.
Father's Name : Hamid
Mother's name : Nigar
Place of Birth: Van-Kavunlu
Date of Birth: 1904
I was ten years old when we became refugees. Before we fled, Degirmen was an Armenian village which included 80 Armenian families and three Muslim Turkish families. One day the Armenians gathered the three families, cut them up, and tossed them into a well. They tortured and killed the young men by cutting "pockets" into their thighs and crucified them by nailing them to the walls by their foreheads. Roughly 30 young people died this way.
A woman whose father-in-law lived in the Degirmen village came to tell a cleric in our village what was going on in Degirmen. After this, conflicts arose with the Armenians living in our village, and a few Armenians were killed. After what happened in the Degirmen village, a weapon was distributed to every home in our village as a precaution. My father was the headman of our village. Since the surrounding villages were Armenian, the Muslim population feared that our village would be attacked, and gathered in the mosque. We filled sacks with sand and used them as barriers.
During this time, two young Armenians were locked into a home because our villagers could not stand to kill them. But they dug a tunnel under the house, and fled to Degirmen village carrying news. Then the inhabitants of three villages, Degirmen, Farih and another Armenian village raided our village. The fighting lasted for more than an hour. The Armenians controlled the bridge above the stream, and invaded Ziyaret as well. The stream overflowed with melted snow, and it was pure chaos when we tried to cross the stream. When my mother entered the water, it reached her chest. Naturally, people broke their arms, legs, or heads, while children were carried away by the water. It was hell, pure hell. The Armenians were throwing the dead bodies onto heaps of wheat. The bodies had piled up like hills. My father jumped on his horse and went to Van from Akkoprü. Since Sihke was an Armenian village, they didn’t give him permission to pass through. My father explained the situation to the governor of Van, Cevdet Pasha and asked for his help. One hundred soldiers came to our rescue, and the Armenians fled. We hid in the village of Dirandaz which was Muslim. After spending the night there, my father went to Van in the morning and asked those entering the city if we should return to our village. They said that we shouldn't, so we were forced to become refugees. My sisters and I wore men's clothing and hit the road.
We were going towards Edremit when the Armenians raided Van. The city was burning, and the houses were in flames, which reached to the sky. We reached Edremit, but they raided that too. We went from there to Bitlis, from Bitlis to Siirt, to Diyarbakir, and then to Siverek. We stayed there three years. There were eight people in our family who became refugees. On the way, my brother Ali was captured. The rest died on the road. Only my mother and I were able to return to Van. We were not the only ones affected. The inhabitants of Van, Edremit, and Van's Muslim villages all became refugees. Those that didn't run were killed at the hands of the enemy, while most of those that got away died on the road.
A few years later, my mother and I returned to Van, and could not believe our eyes! There were ruins everywhere, a few people, but they were all hungry, thirsty, and miserable. Neighbourhoods and houses were empty. There was no bread, wheat, or anything. We were compelled to return to the village of Coravanis. The wheat there was starting to mature. We cracked the bitter seeds, boiled them, and drank the water. The Armenians took furniture, goods, animals and everything they have found. They destroyed our houses as well. A man on a horse who saw us alone in the village told us that there was a grain storage area near the pier. My mother and I went to get 60 kilos of flour there, but it was later stolen. The Armenians had not yet withdrawn completely. There were bandits everywhere. One time my mother and I went to the Erek mountain to gather pieces of metal which we wanted to trade for bread with the soldiers. We ran into six Armenians who were going to kill us, but when it suddenly started to rain and hail, we ran away and hid in a cave. We barely saved our lives.
We suffered considerably. Three years later my brother died in captivity. We were told that the Armenians were going to kill him, but the Russians objected. They had made him build roads in Armenian villages by hand. We rebuilt our homes, planted our fields, and started a new life.
Father's Name : Ziver
Mother's name : Söhret
Place of Birth: Van Gülsünler
Date of Birth: 1901
I am from the village of Gulsunler, which used to be called Sihkara. We left the village when the Armenians raided the villages and started massacring the Muslim population. We were going toward Van, but the Armenians stopped us before we arrived. We had no choice but to return. About 300 people from the village gathered in Zeve, while an equal number returned to the village. We fled toward Hosap as a group. Turkish soldiers were in Hosap, and they told us to leave as soon as possible and get out of the line of fire.
In spite of the difficulties we faced, we went as far as Siirt. Many of the refugees suffered and died due to widespread hunger and disease. From there, we arrived in Diyarbakir, Mardin, and finally in Adana. We then went to Konya, because the French had occupied Adana. The government then sent us to Mersin, but when the Turkish military took back Van, we returned. But Van and its villages were completely ruined, burned, and destroyed. There, hundred people were martyred in our village. They gathered the people in houses and burned them alive. The inhabitants of Van fled, and those that remained were cut up by the Armenians. When we returned, not all of the Armenians had left. Some of the villages, such as Alaköy remained as they were, and the Muslims did not hurt anyone there. The government later sent the Armenians to Russia.
Many members of my family were martyred in this village including my mother, father, brother Mustafa and other relatives. Around 30-40 families fled with us, but only ten families returned. Those that stayed and those that went to Zeve were all massacred. I found the skeletons of nearly 200 Muslims killed by Armenians. I buried them here, but could not afford to provide headstones to be put in the graveyard. This includes the graves of my mother and father, as the Armenians had burned them alive.
Father’s Name: Mehmet Emin
Mother’s Name: Ayse
Place of Birth: Van-Saglamtas
Date of Birth: 1919
As I have heard from my father, the Russians invaded our country, but there were no phones, no radio so the villagers could not understand where abouts the enemy come from. My father had a cousin named Abdulkadir and my father had told to him “I am so sick and my son (my brother) is a soldier on the Iranian front, he fights against the Russians. Go and get information”. So Abdulkadir goes. There is a meadow behind those hills, when he climbs up the hill, he sees that the people of Ercis are running away. Abdulkadir comes to my father and says “All the people of Talat Aga are running away”. Then my father decides to leave the village. They immediately begin preparations.
The season is spring, they leave the village with ox carts, but the animals are not ready for such a journey and they quickly get tired. They go as far as the hill standing on the southeast border of the village. But most of the villagers give up. The imam of the village asks my father “where are the Russians, where are the Armenians? Who are you running away from?” My father answers “this is not a clan war! This is the Russian war. We do not have cannons, rifles. We have to run away.” In the morning my father’s family and the Sheikh family set up again. However, people of the other thirty-eight houses stay.
The day after my father leaves the village; the villagers see that the Russians guided by the Armenians are coming. All the villagers begin to run through the stream, but the horsemen circle them and they immediately kill most of them. Later they gather the others in to a house on the hill. Two armed Armenians watch the door, and two Armenians kill all people with bayonets. Only a woman and a little girl are alive by remaining in silent among the dead bodies. As she told my father later that her name was Azime and the girls was Rusen.
As Ms. Azime told, she waited until the night in silence. She straightened out she called out if there was anybody who was alive. Only that little girl answered her. So she takes that girl and goes to Siirt passing through the mountains, which is a long and painful story.. Everyone knows the place of those martyrs. But, I don’t know under which ruin they are in. But, there are many other places as such. As I told you before, the Armenians passed through the hill by killing everybody they saw on the way.
My father’s family and the Sheikh family went to Diyarbakir, Farikin. When they arrived, they harvested the crops. Later on the government sent them to Konya because of epidemy where they stayed for three years. Later, they returned to our village.
* Cousin of Abdulbari Barlas, Abdulhamit Barlas showed the place where the Turkish villagers were killed by the Armenian bandits. He said that the villagers who migrated found countless human bones here. As those bones could not be collected under the circumstances of that time, they all disappeared. In this village, the Armenians killed 150-200 people.
MUHAMMET RESIT GÜLESER
Father's Name : Abdullah
Mother's name : Habibe
Place of Birth: Van
Date of Birth: 1900
I was a young student at the (Teachers' training college) school, around 15 or 16 years old during the Armenian massacres, and remember what happened quite well. Before the First World War, we had good neighbourly relations with the Armenians (whose population was said to be approximately 17,000).
With the declaration of the constitutional monarchy in 1908, they started to exploit the principles of independence, equality, and justice to their benefit. Their leader in Van, Aram Pasha, was in the delegation that notified Sultan Hamit that he would have to leave his throne. The Armenians set up an underground organization in Van, and dug tunnels which extended from near the Great Mosque (Büyük Camii) all the way to the old section of town. It was even possible to go through these tunnels on horseback. One day some parts of the tunnel collapsed so was discovered by a guard incidentally. Aram Pasha was caught near the Great Mosque upon the intelligence of an Armenian but was released without punishment due to the political sensitivities of the time.
In short, the Armenians organized themselves very well and became rich financially in commerce. After the Armenians and Jews were permitted to join the military, some groups of Armenians, joined the military with their weapons during the retreat of the Van division. Our soldiers were carrying German-made primitive weapons which could only fire four shots and the fifth one would drop to the gound. According to what we had heard from Mr. Haci Latif and the others who later returned to Van, the Armenians in the Van division were shooting our soldiers in the back. There were also several cases of Armenian doctors and nurses poisoning our wounded soldiers who were treated in the hospitals in Van after returning from the eastern front.
As to the situation in Van, the Russians were approaching from three fronts, Muradiye, Özalp, and Baskale. The Armenians in the city were rebelling and continued an aggressive campaign against the Muslim population for 29 days. We had three barracks, Haci Bekir, Aziziye, and Toprakkale. Ten soldiers would guard each one. They attacked to these barracks and slaughtered the soldiers like sheep by cutting their throats off. Ali Cavus, our neighbour, was also slained there. While our weak militia were digging trenches to trying to fight, the Armenians made holes in the walls and were firing shots with machine guns, pouring cans of kerosene, lighting fires, and escaping through the deep tunnels. This brutal attack lasted 29 days. The decision of retreat was finally made so that the Muslim population would not suffer any more deaths. Those with carts used them; those without them were under desperate conditions, but we all joined the exodus. People left their children on the roads, others died from hunger and disease.
It should be remembered that the Armenians not only committed large massacres in Van, but in the villages as well. The homes in the villages of Timar, Bakale, and Özalp were stuffed with hay and set on fire. Those that tried to escape were killed with bullets and bayonets. The inhabitants of a few villages in Zeve got organized and fought against the Armenians, but almost all of them -from seven different villages- were killed. Mass graves are still being uncovered in these villages and a memorial was built.
Eight of the twelve ships carried the Muslim refugees from Van, four ships carried government employees and their families. All the sailors aboard the vessels were Armenians. The Armenian bandits by the help of these sailors, forced the four government employee boats to dock at the Adir Island, and killed all the passengers. As to the remaining other eight boats they were taken to another island near Tatvan where Armenian bandits were waiting, but they managed to escape with few casualties because they were armed.
When we left Van, we first went to Bitlis, and later to Diyarbakir. We witnessed the Armenian savagery along the way. Finally, I will tell you about what we saw and heard upon returning to Van. The Armenians applied all types of torture to the inhabitants, God bless their souls. They paraded Isa Hodja, who was over 100 years old, on a donkey through the village, raided and looted homes, and gathered women and girls into Mr. Ziya's home where they repeatedly raped them. They threw the bodies of the dead into wells, and even filled the well of our mosque with the bodies of victims.
When General Cevdet entered Van for the first time, he asked the gendarmes to escort 130 women, whose husbands were at the front, to Diyarbakir. They were in bad situation in Van because they did not have any transportation. About 30 of them stayed in our house. They spun wool to survive. They were also given military rations. They told us that there was no end to the torture and cruelties they suffered at the hands of the Armenian bandits. The Armenians skinned the men, castrated them, and raped the women.
We returned to Van four years later. In the beginning we stayed two years, but were forced to flee again when the Russians arrived. This time we went as far as we could go. Finally we arrived to Siirt. When we returned, 200-250 Armenian families were seeking refuge on the Carpanak Island. They were hoping that the Turks would leave, and that they would resettle in Van. Most of them were artisans. A short time later, a new decree was issued, and they were sent to Revan under the protection of the government. However, Van was raided seven times by the enemy, was completely destroyed except for the Armenian quarters. We rebuilt the city afterwards.
Father's Name : Halil
Place of Birth: Van-Zeve
Date of Birth: 1903
I am from the well-known Zeve village, site of the most rampant Armenian massacres.
Q: How old were you when the Armenians rebelled?
A: I had just turned 11 at the time.
Q: Were your parents alive at the time?
A: Yes, they were.
Q: Were they subjected to Armenian atrocities?
A: I will tell you all about that later. I first want to try to explain the situation of the Armenians. We know how untrustworthy the Armenians and Russians were, and about their efforts to stab the Ottoman State from behind by forming bands of rebels. At that time, Russians were paying Armenians wages. However, the Armenians were paying the Ottoman State only one gold coin in taxes while those unable to pay that much, were paying five silver coins. There were certain changes during the rule of Sultan Hamid and Sultan Resad. They extended equal rights to the Armenians, declaring that they would be equal to Muslims, like brothers. They passed a law abolishing the tax imposed on them, and made them equal to us. There was jubilation in the streets. Armenian priests and our religious leaders hugged each other and kissed. At this time, it was also decided that Armenians would serve in the army with us and study in our schools. The Armenians were thrilled with these changes. As soon as they had the opportunity, they established committees and asked for money from France and England and arms from Russia. They figured they could co-operate with the Russians, receive military supplies from them, and attack the Ottomans while the Russians could advance from the outside.
What did the Russians do? They constructed storage bins out of the stove pipes and stove metal. These bins were three feet long and one and a half feet wide, and filled with arms and munitions. Some of our supplies including kerosene came from Russia at the time. The Russians delivered these military supplies to the Armenians by hiding them in the bins and covering them with kerosene containers. Having armed the Armenians in this way, the Russians sent a member of the secret revolutionary society from Russia. His name was Aram, and he was blind in one eye. A Russian Armenian, they named him Aram Pasha. Then they brought someone named Antranik to Mus, and called him Antranik Pasha. Plus, there was an Armenian revolutionary committee leader nicknamed Sahin (Falcon) in the Karagunduz village of the Ercek region. They would set up committee organisations and head for the Turkish borders. They crossed into the Turkish villages where they would attack and kill Turks, and then retreat. They carried weapons and bandits to Karagunduz on horseback.
Q: Do you remember the revolutionary committees in the region and the names of their leaders?
A: I named some of them a little earlier. I don't remember any other names. They armed themselves with the help of the Russians, and came on horses. They created storage areas in the Sisanus village, and moved to a lake village which was completely inhabited by Armenians who had moved into the village earlier. On the lake there were enormous ships which could carry 500-600 people. These ships would carry arms and ammunition to Adilcevaz, Ahlat, Ercis, and Gevas. Some would later be sent to Tatvan, Mus and Bitlis. The Armenians armed themselves well with these supplies, and started to form guerrilla groups. More specifically, they organised fighters and hid them on the Islands of Akdamar, Carpanak, and Kadin Tbese fighters later scattered throughout the area, insulting and provoking the public. After a while, they decided to get along with the Russians. After the Russians declared war to the Ottoman Empire, all of our soldiers left the area. Some went to the Caucasian front line, while others went to the Iranian front line. The Armenian soldiers accompanied our soldiers. After the two sides started fighting, our soldiers noticed that they were being shot from behind. The doctors could not understand why soldiers who should be hit from the front were hit from behind. Then they realised that Armenian soldiers would kill ours whenever the opportunity arose. We lost perhaps thousands of our soldiers in this way, but it was too late when it was discovered. Some of the traitors were found, while some joined the Russian fighters. This war lasted two and a half years. Our soldiers were in terrible shape, and were forced to retreat. The Russian military started to advance. When they arrived at the Caldiran plains, they came across the Hamidiye regiment which was formed during the reign of Sultan Hamit and was composed of tribes. The Russians used the Hamidiye organisation for their own means, telling them to provide soldiers to defend the area, while they would provide munitions and arms.
A soldier who heard that the Russians arrived in Caldiran ran to his village (Derebey) and told the village headman that it was futile to work in the fields since the Russians had already arrived in Caldiran, which meant they would be in the village either that day or the next. He told the villagers they would all be killed if they didn't flee. Hearing this, the villagers gathered together, took some food and whatever they could carry, and left toward Van. They first reached the Zorava village, which is Circassian. When the inhabitants asked them what was going on, they told them that they were headed to Van because the Russians had entered Caldrran and were advancing toward Muradiye.
Hearing this, the villagers in Zorava joined the refugees. Later there were eight villages which joined this caravan to Van; Hakis, Zorava, Derebey, Sih Omer, Sihkara, Sihayne, Hidir and Göllü. They had no idea that Van was emptied and that its inhabitants had migrated. When they arrived at the Everek plains, they saw some Armenians who asked them in Armenian: "Where are you mindless people going?" to which they answered, "We're going to Van. We will go wherever the inhabitants of Van go." To this the Armenians showered them with insults and added "Turks left Van over six or seven days ago, and are refugees. The administration of Cevdet Pasha was over long time ago. Aram Pasha’s Administration was formed. All of the wounded, hospitalised, women and children in Van were killed. Mosques were torched, barracks burned. We cut up all of the Muslims in Van. There were only 20-30 women remaining, and we gave them to Aram Pasha." To this, Circissian Ibo said that they would become prisoners, and proposed that they go to Zeve, which was very close to the lake. He suggested they could find a ship there and save the women and children.
By the time this group of refugees reached our village (Zeve), we saw that there were over 2,000 of them. When we asked them what happened, they responded, "We were fleeing to Van, but Armenians stopped us and told as that the inhabitants of Van had already migrated, so we came here to acquire a ship in the hope of saving our women and children."
It was spring and it was not easy to settle the refugees in our small village, but we did our best. We settled them in homes, tents, and barns. There were more than 2,000 of them, and they stayed with our villagers who numbered about 500. In addition, soldiers disbanded from the army came home to our village. You should have seen them. They had long beards, their uniforms were torn, they were full of lice. We settled them, too. One was my brother Necip, my cousin Mustafa, my brother-in-law Mehmet, my cousin Ilyas, Recep, son of Saban, Mustafa's son Seyyat, and Emrah's son Sukru. They were emaciated -just skin and bones. They took of their clothes and burned them and pulled of the lice. My uncle Yusuf was a good barber. After scrubbing their heads with hot water, he shaved them with a razor. Believe me, because of the lice, blood was dripping from their faces and eyes. They were somewhat more comfortable after that.
Two days had passed. On the third day, the village Hodja began his morning call to prayer. Those who wanted to pray and the others went to work, There was a river in the middle of our village. If flows all the way from the Iranian border, and becomes a lake in the spring when the snow melts. But we were never sure exactly where this water came from. One day we heard a woman's voice from the other side of the river calling for someone to carry her to our side. On hearing this, my uncle grabbed his purse, followed the sounds, and was suprised to see, Esma, the daughter of Ahmet, who married someone in the Molla Kasim village.
She promised to tell her story after my uncle helped her cross the river. He helped her onto the saddle and brought her to this side of the river. At this time the villagers had already finished their morning prayer and gathered around them. She told them to defend themselves that Hamit, Molla Kasim, and Ayanos had been killed, and that the perpetrators would be in our village any day now. The Hodja addressed the crowd with "Friends, we are Muslims. It doesn't fit our religion for us to die needlessly. We have about 60 weapons, 2 chests full of ammunition, and eight or nine soldiers with guns and bullets. Let's defend our village. My father's cousin, Hodya Osman who served with Cevdet Pasha had sent 60 guns and the ammunition."
There were hills near our village, below the bridge. There were plains on the top, and grasslands below. The villagers took their positions on the top part of the hills, and waited for the Armenians to advance. When the Armenians surrounded the village on three fronts and attacked, our villagers were prepared. They fought the Armenians until noon. When our side charged them, the Armenians were startled. Some of them fled to Mermit village, while other went to Vadar village. Afterwards they started to re-grouping. There were other Armenian villages such as the enormous Alay village comprised of 400 homes. They gathered together, all of the Armenians, and again started a battle which continued until the end of the mid-afternoon prayer. After the mid-afternoon prayer, there were up to one hundred horses speeding down Erzurum Street which originated in Van. The villagers thought that they were Ottoman soldiers who came to their assistance after hearing gunfire, but soon saw that they were Russian Armenians who heard the gunfire and came to the village. The fighting started again, and our villagers started to run out of bullets. The Armenians saw this as an opportunity and entered the village by killing the Turks who were guarding it. The village was burning, and herds of people numbering two or three thousand started to flee. The Armenians were throwing small children in the air and piercing them with bayonets or sticking them in the stomach with bayonets. The children let out shrill cries and foil to the ground like baby birds. In desperation, some of the women and young girls threw themselves into the river, while others lit fire to bails of grass and threw themselves into the bonfire.
They captured Corporal Seyat alive, laid him one the ground, undressed him, and skinned him alive. They also carved out his shoulders and carved into his sides, taunting him by saying that Sultan Resat promoted him and gave him a medal. The Armenians also set fire to the grass and threw some of our women and children into the fire and burned them alive. They sliced the throats of the rest of the survivors as if they were sacrificial lambs. Not one child survived. After massacring the entire village, they killed the five most attractive women; my cousin Sober, Esma, the headman's wife, a distant relative Hayriye, my aunt Aye, and Güllü. Then they left. I'll explain to you how I survived even though the Armenians vowed to continue the massacres until we were all dead. My father was very well known, and he had extended much kindness to the Bardakci village. My father had once saved the life of Kirbe, and his son Asvador was among the Armenians. Although at the time my father was in Iran as a reserve officer, Asvador came to us during the massacre. Asvador told the Armenians not to touch me, my mother, and one of my sisters and saved our lives. After the Armenians left, Asvador took us out of hiding. The wounded were moaning from pain, begging for someone to wrap their wounds or give them some water.
Asvador brought us to the Bardaci village where we stayed for some time. My cousin Sema in Bardakci would swear to us that in the evening the Armenians would come and pick out ten or eleven women out of the 150, and rape them until the morning. The women were covered with blood, and after they dropped them off they were unable to sit.
Meanwhile a Russian government was established in Van and Aram Pasha became its leader. Aram Pasha's government proclaimed that any refugee who is in need of food or water is welcome to Van. My father at this time was in the Hacik village where he and my uncles were on Halil Pasha's boat. From there they went to a village in the Hosap region. When my uncles heard the proclamation they went to Van. They were shocked to see that the city was burned and completely destroyed. The city used to be at the foothill of the castle. Everything was completely destroyed: the buildings, barracks, mosques, bathhouses, and government buildings.
My father was from the Hacbahan neighbourhood where there were Armenian homes and stores. Coincidentally, Asvador ran into him on the street. After the customary greeting, my father asked him if he had any news about our village. Asvador responded that they had slaughtered all of Zeve, but that his younger wife, child and daughter were safe with him. He volunteered to hand us over to my father. My father acknowledged the favour by Asvador, but feared that the Armenians would kill him if he went to the village, so he suggested that Asvador bring us to him instead so that he could take us away. When Asvador came to see us that night, he told us that he ran into my father, and that we should prepare ourselves so that he could take us to him. In the morning he loaded us onto an ox cart, took us to Van, and delivered Lis to my father. We didn't stay long because the Armenians were raiding a village; many people were fleeing either towards Iran, Mardin or Diyarbakir to save their lives.
Q: Mr. Ibrahim, can you tell us about what happened in Van. Apparently the first revolt took place, where the castle was toppled by cannon fire, the city was completely destroyed, and an Armenian government was set up. Since you were in Zeve you may have seen the troubles in Van. Do you have any knowledge of the incidents in Van?
A: They used cannon fire to burn the castle. At that time we were in the village of Bardakci, and could see the fire in Van from there. Mosques, buildings and barracks were burned. After capturing the castle, they aimed some of the cannon fire downhill. The mosque near the castle also was burned and destroyed, as well as the Hamitaga barracks. They butchered almost all of the Muslims there -only a few women survived. After the Russian government was established, these women complained Armenians to the Russian authorities, and asked for protection because they trusted the Russians more. The Russians had the women guarded and did not violate their virtue, but the Armenians raped our women and massacred the children and the elderly.
Q: Mr. Ibrahim, is it possible that one of the reasons that the Russian soldiers did not touch your women was the possible presence of Turks in the Russian army?
A: Yes. There were Crimean and Caucasian soldiers and officers. They protected our women because they too were Muslims. In fact, they even sent them back to their villages including the Molla Kasim village. During the massacres they could only send 30 of the 150 women. They planned to stay in the Molla Kasim village until the Ottoman military arrived. However, they were subject to even further hardships. When the Russians retreated, the Armenians stayed behind. The Armenians suggested that the Russians leave their weapons, ammunition, cannons, and supplies, so they could fight the Ottoman government. When the Russians left all of their equipment to them, the Armenians became even more ruthless and continued the massacres. When our army starting arriving from Bitlis to Gevas and clashing with these Armenians, the Armenians headed to Van toward Muradiye and Kars. They ultimately went to Russia and Iran. Only a handful of Armenians remained behind. They stayed on small islands in Lake Van such as Carpanak.
Q: Were there any Armenians in yourk Zeve village?
A: No, none.
Q: Where were you at the time that the Armenians established an Armenian government with the Russians?
A: We were in Zeve at the time.
Q: How many people from Zeve survived?
A: Including to myself, six women were saved from Zeve, and that was only because of a good deed my father had done earlier. Everyone else was murdered, including many women and children.
Q: They say that a mosque near the Van castle was burned. Was this mosque in Van or Zeve?
A: It was in Van, but mosques in Zeve were burned down as well. In Van they burned other mosques such as the Kayacelebi, Ulu, and Hüsrev Pasha, as well as many smaller mosques. You can still see all of their traces.
Q: Were there any people inside the mosques in Van when they were burned down?
A: Without a doubt.
Q: How about in Zeve?
A: Many had gone into the mosque for protection. Among them were uncle Hamza, Dervis, and Derebeyli. I don't remember the names of the others except for a great personality in Zeve whose name you may have heard; Sultan Haci Hamza. He built the first dervish lodge in the area.
Q: Isn't it true that during the massacres the Turks sought refuge in the lodge thinking that they would not be killed?
A: They sought shelter in the tomb, not the lodge.
Q: They say that the Armenians burned down the tomb, is that right?
A: It is true. They set fire to the tomb too, and threw everyone inside killed, but three people survived. Unfortunately, mosques, tombs made no difference to them. They burned them down with everyone inside. I hope God will protect us from similar events in the future.
Father’s Name: Tevfik
Mother’s Name: Rukiye
Place of Birth: Van-Göllü
Date of Birth: 1901
I am from the Gollu village. The Armenians revolted when the army in Van retreated towards Erzurum. The Armenians killed all our parents. My father was a gendarme sergeant and he was among those who were killed. The villagers in Mollakasim, Amik, Sihayne, Gollu, Hidir, Kurtsatan, and Koprukoy were also murdered. Some of our villagers were hidden in Zeve and were later killed, but we were able to escape.
Armenians tortured and practiced all types of cruelties on the people they kidnapped. They cut up pregnant women and removed the unborn children with their bayonets. They raided and burned all of the Muslim villages, murdering men, women, children and the old. The Muslim population, which fled from the villages, I mentioned, tried to escape by crossing the bridge on the Ablengez River. The Armenians demolished the bridge, and threw the bodies of their prisoners into the river. In the spring when the snow melted, the bodies were carried away into the lake. During the day time, my mother, my two sisters, and I stayed in the hills. We knew that if the Armenians found us they would kill us. My mother died before we reached Diyarbakir. I later lost my two sisters, and was left all alone. I stayed in Diyarbakir for three years, and returned to my village the fourth year. Van and the Muslim villages were all burned and destroyed, we settled down in an Armenian village since they remained intact. We later returned to our villages which we rebuilt with our own hands.
Words cannot express the torture we suffered at the hands of the Armenians. We lost our homes, families, and possessions. After losing my mother, father, and two sisters, I also lost my cousin and other relatives who were trying to escape to Tatvan by ship with thousands of other people. All of the passengers on the ship were brutally slaughtered by the Armenians near the Parket village near Adilcevaz.
Mother's name : Emine
Birth Place: Van Province Ercis District
Birth Date: 1898
I am living in Ercis since I was born. The Armenians revolted a Friday and planned to kill the Moslems in masses. When this was heard our man got together and killed the Armenian leaders by swords. I mean the only leader males, because our religion prohibits the killing of children, women and innocent and armless people.
Later when the Armenian priest was together with the Armenian Nishan Subgovernor, he said "It is a pity that you did not allow us, we should have killed them one week earlier." Then became spring, we migrated from the Armenian tyranny. We escaped but the majority stayed. The Armenians captivated them and put them inside the barns and killed them. Just because we migrated early, no one from my family was killed by Armenians. However several Moslems were slaughtered and burned by the Armenians. We first moved to Diyarbakir and then to Urfa.
We stayed there for three years. From there, we moved to Antalya. As we were not in peace with Italy, the governor did not allow us to the city, so went to Denizli and stayed there for eight years. Finally we returned back to our hometown Ercis. They had already burned and destroyed most of the houses. We worked for years and rebuilt them.
Father's Name : Osman
Mother's name : Hanim
Place of Birth: Van-Ercis-Haydarbey
I am from Haydarbey village. We became refugees when the Armenians revolted and the Russians came. We moved to Urfa, where my mother, father, and brothers died of the famine occurred that year. When the Russians retreated, Armenians took over the place, but the Turkish army pushed them back to Revan. We returned to our homes, and found Ercis, the Muslim village and our village completely burned down and demolished.
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