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USF Libraries Exhibits

The Siege of Van, Turkey

Souren Aprahamian, Armenian Survivor

To begin with, in 1914, all the young men of military age were conscripted into Turkish army. So all those left behind were just men, women, and children. And when the war began, the Russians entered Iran and they were within forty miles of the city of Van. For some reason, they withdrew. The massacres of the Armenian villages was going on. Of all the villages around the city of Van, two were somehow saved. The governor of Van, Cevdet Pasha, said our village, Lezk, and the seaport town of Avantz were off limits to the plundering hordes.

And in the spring of 1915, fifty gendarmes came and established their headquarters in our house. We had a house over there, see. And of course my father, my uncles, and all of them had escaped to the city of Van, where the defense was going to take place. For thirty days the Armenians fought against tremendous odds in the city of Van, and when the Russian army and General Andranik with his volunteers, Armenian volunteers, approached, the Turks ran away. And we enjoyed -- this is the battle for Van.

The defense of Van began, if I'm not mistaken, on the fourth or fifth of April, and the Russians arrived on the fifth of May. Of course, when the Turks fled, we had independence. But that was short-lived. In July, for some unknown reasons, the Russians decided they would retreat. And then, for the first time in all the 3,000 years of our history, Armenians had to leave their homes. And we left our homes and migrated to Russian Armenia. No sooner had, perhaps, the last of the caravans of refugees reached Russian Armenia when the Russians recaptured Van again. So, back we go.

Well, in 1915, when we got to Russian Armenia, my father died there because of the fatigue, the change of climate, the spread of cholera, dysentery, and whatnot. My father was a victim of that; so was my uncle. Well, in 1916, my mother and I returned to our homestead. And again, the Russians retreated. Back to Russian Armenia we went. Three times we made this trip back and forth.