A Village Remembered: The Armenians of Habousi - The Compatriotic Union of Habousi

Chapter 19:

On the Eve of the 1895 Massacres

There is no need to describe the horrible massacres of 1895 in order to comprehend their ferocity. Nor it is necessary to explain the reasons in order to understand the criminal intentions of the Turks.

Whatever we record here is but a fragment of the calamities of all Armenians in Turkey. We simply recall it with the purpose of bringing our share to the completion of the history of a terrible massacre and deportation.

Ever since Habousi was established, the Turkish government attempted to settle Turkish and Kurdish families there, but these families drifted away, unable to compete with the Armenians. The government also imposed heavy taxes on them. Tax-collectors were prudent oppressors. Enjoying the full support of the government, they often harassed the Armenian villagers over the slightest reasons, and received more than their lawful share by threats and beatings. Often thieves attacked the village and drove away the herds and destroyed the crops.

However, Armenians grew more keenly aware of their misery and found their lives intolerable in the mid-nineteenth century, after the cultural-educational movement and the arrival of the missionaries.

In the 1850’s, Turkish soldiers entered the village. First they poured cold water on Armenian men and then whipped them until their bodies were swollen. Then they put them in a barn, and left them hungry and with no care. Other villagers protested, but the protests went unheard.

In revolt, the abbot of the monastery of Abdel-Mseh advised some courageous women—Martha, Gadar, Nazig, and Tamam—to find another twenty to thirty brave women and to drive the soldiers out with sticks. Indeed, Armenian women succeeded in accomplishing this task.

Upon hearing of this incident, the government sent new soldiers to the village, captured the notables, investigated them, and then set them free.

This, in turn, motivated many young men to organize in order to prepare a united defense against thieves and kidnappers.

One of Habousi’s elders, Zadour (Dzadur) Agha, began to preach self defense and bravery as early as 1888, upon retiring from his position as chief of the village. His successor, Hampo Kehya, tried in vain to come to terms with the Turks.

Before 1895 there was an organized revolutionary committee in the village. A betrayer almost brought disaster to the village, when his treason was discovered and he was eliminated.

Due to unbearable conditions, no matter how kind and patient they were as Christians, the Armenian villagers had to revolt and think of self-defense. It was as if the approaching calamity was felt by everybody, and everybody was eager to obtain a gun.

Shortly before the massacres of 1895, forty-four people, mostly young insubordinates, gathered in the Armenian school for a meeting.

Boghos Varjabed adjourned the meeting by saying: “Habousetzies! Today is a significant day in our lives and the future of our village. This is not a regular meeting room, but a sanctuary and our pledge is sacred.”

Then he put the Holy Bible on a table and invited Krikor Bennanian (the teller of this story), who was then a teenager, to read the following speech:

Armenians and brothers,

We are gathered here for a confidential undertaking. Neither the Turkish government, nor the clergymen, who advise us to turn our faces to those who slap us, knows about this. The Turk hits us, the clergy calms us down, and the elders are indifferent. We shall be discreet and unforgiving to betrayers.

If you think that we can do this, let’s pledge to sacrifice ourselves; otherwise, let’s go back to our homes and await our fate.

But let’s not forget that the Turks will do what they know and what they already do. We also have to do what is necessary.

Immediately a committee was formed to supervise the activities: Boghos varjabed, president; Boyajian, secretary; Krikor Bennanian, treasurer. The following Habousetzies pledged and signed as members of the secret group:
    1. Boghos Boyajian
    2. Krikor S. Bennanian
    3. Garabed Boghossian
    4. Moushegh Khashalian
    5. His brother
    6. H. M. Bennanian-Bozoyan
    7. Hohan Kanedanian
    8. Hagop Kanedanian
    9. Marsoub Boyajian
    10. Bedig Najarian
    11. Yeghig Najarian
    12. Hovhannes Najarian
    13. Vasil Ajemian
    14. Khacho Kehya Ajemian
    15. Hagop Ajemian
    16. Tovmas Yeghigian
    17. Garabed Yeghigian
    18. Hagop Yeghigian
    19. Karekin Kassabian
    20. Papel Kevork
    21. Ghazar Antoian
    22. Movses Amoun
    23. Sarkis Antoian
    24. Toros Berberian
    25. Giragos Berberian
    26. Moushegh Berberian
    27. Hampartsoum Boyajian
    28. Vartan Donigian
    29. Haroutiun Boolodian
    30. Hovagim Boolodian
    31. Hovhannes Proodian
    32. Apraham Proodian
    33. Hagop Der Stephanian
    34. Boghos Der Stephanian
    35. Hohan Garoian
    36. Moushegh Najarian
    37. Nazar Garoian
    38. Yeghig Akmakjian
    39. Moushegh Kojigian
    40. Sarkis Kojigian
    41. Arout Minasian
    42. Minas Minasian
    43. Hagop Garoian
    44. Atam (no family name)
    The agenda items were:
    • Pledge on the Holy Bible
    • Raising funds by different means
    • Refurbishing the guns of the villagers
    • Purchasing new guns
    • Accumulating gunpowder and bullets
    • Establishing ties with other groups.
    Those present swore upon the Bible to dedicate themselves to the defense of the people. Moushegh Khashalian said: “My soul to Christ, my body to my nation.” Many repeated the words after him.

    Then Hagop Boghossian added: “Words are worthless with no work. Better not to talk if we won’t work.” Then, putting a gold coin on the table for himself and for Krikor Bennanian, he invited everyone to donate something. All shouted “Long life to you!” Boghossian had never step ped on an ant in his whole life.

    Moushegh Khashalian pledged ten pots of wheat for himself and his brother. Then pledges for gold, wheat, and barley followed each other, and in the end the men had raised more than one hundred gold coins and two hundred pots of wheat and barley. A special committee was formed to raise funds in other places.

    It was decided to clean and refurbish personal guns. Since the organization didn’t have guns, one of the goals was to arm the villagers. The committee hoped to find and purchase guns as soon as possible, and to convince the villagers to carry arms. In some instances the group lent money to villagers. Also it was decided to purchase gunpowder and bullets, disseminate them to villagers, and accept payment from those who had the means to pay.

    The organization didn’t have a name. There were no political party members in Habousi. People had only heard the name of Armenagans and Hunchakians. Those who signed the pledge considered themselves revolutionaries. Their aim was to protect the village.

    * * *

    Habousi had only begun its strategy for defense and had not collected enough guns or ammunition when the signs of the approaching calamity became clearer and clearer.

    Turks and Kurds were armed at full strength. Almost every day an incident of theft occurred. The government was indifferent, and Turks and Kurds were spoiled by that indifference.

    It was imperative for the villagers to find guns, by any means.

    The village was divided into six posts, and twenty people assigned to each.

    This arrangement was made six months before the massacres occurred. Villagers guarded the strongholds at night, communicating with each other with whistles.

    The posts were located at strategic corners in the village at points on the roads leading into Habousi from outside.

    The first post was located at the house of Khachadour Kelhagopian.

    This house looked out over the Najar Spring and had a clear view of three major roads: the main avenue that stretched to Kharpert, Palu, and Garin; the road to Ichme (a village famous for its marvelous weather and water. Ichme’s population was a mixture of Armenians and Turks. The Armen ians there were famous for their trades and the market was under their control); and the road to Zartarij (a village with an Armenian, Turk, and Kurd mixed population). Close to Zartarij was another village with a mixed population, called Gdasig.

    The second post was at the school, adjacent to the Armenian Pro testant church. It overlooked the main avenue, the road to Aghntsig, and the roads to Alisham, a village mainly populated by Turks. Aghntsig was a small, totally Armenian populated village until the late 1800’s, when some Turks built mansions there. The village was located southwest of Mount Taurus.

    The third post was in the house of Boolodian, close to the second. It served similar functions.

    The fourth stronghold was the house of Nanigian, located at the intersection of the roads to Alisham and to Mughur Oghli.

    The fifth post was the house of the Ajemians, which overlooked the roads to Akhor and Mughur Oghli.
    The Yeghigian’s house was the sixth front. It functioned similarly to the Ajemian post.

    Mughur Oghli was a small village populated primarily by Armen ians. All were Apostolic Armenians occupied in agriculture. It was close to the Murat River, about a half an hour from Habousi. Akhor was forty-five minutes away from Habousi, to the northwest.

    The six strongholds would have been able to protect the village had the Habousetzies had sufficient ammunition, but when the Turkish attack came they had only one hundred guns!

    Some high quality gunpowder and some bullets were obtained from a visitor named Moushegh; a few chakhmakhle (flintstone) guns were obtained from the Kurds, and in addition a few guns were stolen from a Kurdish gendarme.

    An impostor, named Dilo Nigol, was paid fifty gold pieces to bring the Habousetzies guns, but he cheated them. A few young Habousetzies caught him and forcibly took his arms and the ten gold pieces he was carrying at the time. According to Moushegh, the villagers planned to execute Dilo Nigol, but he escaped and found refuge in Iran.

    The government policies towards Armenians shifted dramatically. The situation became more and more difficult. Habousi notables attempted to bribe the Begs or get help from the missionaries but to no avail. The grip of tyranny tightened.

    Roads became insecure. Twenty days before the massacres many villagers were robbed.
    One day three Habousetzies were going to Aghntsig when they were attacked. Najar Bede, knowing how to use his gun, survived and returned home. His companions were killed.

    Another day, Habousetzies met robbers at the lower part of Ichme. They also survived after showing the thieves their guns hidden under their coats.

    Turks abused and raped the Armenians. They robbed them of the fruits of their labor, made fun of their religion, and set up traps to confiscate their belongings.
    At the same time, the Turkish government tried its best to collect arms from the Armenians, who often obligingly handed them over.

    Finally, five notables went to ask the government for troops to protect the village from these everyday attacks. Delegations from other Armenian villages also applied for protection. All heard the same answer: “Give up your guns, pay your taxes, and the Sultan will take care of you in a fatherly manner. Go back to your homes and behave.”

    This is how the massacres of 1895 were initiated.