1915 Displacement Through The Eyes Of Turkish Witnesses - PART 3
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 Diyarbakir. 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.
1915 Displacement Through The Eyes Of Turkish Witnesses - PART 1
1915 Displacement Through The Eyes Of Turkish Witnesses - PART 2