The Massacres and the Victims
It was a well-known fact that throughout their domination of Armenia, the Turks organized systematic massacres of the Armenians. This was done by inciting the Turkish and Kurdish population against their Christian neighbors and allowing them to loot and burn their properties, criminally attack their women, and to kill a number of them. Then, the government would put a stop to the killings and establish law and order.
But the massacres of 1895-96 were unprecedented in severity. They were to claim the lives of 300,000 Armenians throughout the Armenian provinces and Constantinople, and to burn and destroy whole villages, while Christian powers were more interested in concessions from the Sultan than in protecting Armenian lives.
It was fall, the beginning of October, when the atrocities began. Only those guarding the post of the Ajemian house were alert. Hagop Ajemian, the leader of the group, was a brave young man. When Kurds approached the house, Hagop fired his gun and killed a few of them. His comrades were shocked. They were not accustomed to using guns. Only Vartan of Perou was brave enough to fight. Realizing that none of their comrades would fight, Hagop and Vartan sent them home. They then dressed like Kurds and continued to protect themselves throughout the massacre, until it was over some twenty days later. During that period Turks and Kurds killed the villagers, burned and destroyed their houses, and robbed their belongings. Only the ceiling, the arch, and the walls of the Apostolic church were left standing. The Protestant church and school were burned similarly. The victims were numerous.
Vasil Ajemian, a wealthy person, was shot while jumping from roof to roof with a hundred pieces of gold under his arm.
Reyis of Yeghgants (Thomasian), a short and heavy man who condemned the Kurds for their evil work, was slaughtered like a lamb in front of his house.
Beadel Israelian, his wife, and their son were tied together, shot, and dumped in a well where wheat was generally stored.
Kassabian was murdered by the spring.
Among the large Antoian family, Vartan Kehya and the head of the family perished.
Hovhannes Mulkigian, his uncle Maghak, and his uncle’s brother Hagop were killed while riding a donkey.
Hagop Garoian, known for his strength, was shot in the back while trying to escape in a field.
At Margos Bennanian’s house, fifteen semi-burned and unrecognizable bodies were discovered. Marsoub Bennanian was also killed.
Bedros Boyajian, who had recently returned from Istanbul with some wealth, was killed. His son Antranig, a graduate of the French College, was one of the most educated people in the village. He was imprisoned in Ourfa and hung, along with the Primate of Ourfa.
At the end of the twenty days, more than a hundred Habousetzies had been killed and more than two hundred wounded.
Another Habousi stronghold was the house of Bennanian. It was reinforced by stones and bolts and was supposed to have been the site of major resistance by the young Habousetzies. But only one person, Krikor Bennanian, was there when the attack began. Relatives and friends convinced him to jump off the roof, because everybody else had abandoned their positions. He too abandoned the stronghold and together with twelve or fifteen friends decided to go to Mezre. Near Alisham, they were attacked by hundreds of Turks. Sarkis Boghigian tried to escape, and he was shot to death. The rest hid their guns. When the Turks did not find any guns, they took the young Armenians to their village instead of killing them.
Master Sarkis Bennanian was well known to the villagers of Alisham. He had found springs for them, and built their mosque and the best of their houses. Had not Sarkis been in the United States during the atrocities, he would have been killed like his brother Hagop, who was shot in Hussenig.
In those days a large number of Habousetzies went to Alisham, all victims of robbery.
One night Turks tried to decapitate Kehya Khatcho Ajemian. The wound was deep but the knife missed his throat. Friends wrapped a scarf around his neck and brought him home. He survived, but his neck remained bent.
Zadour Agha, son of Kojig, wanted to appeal to a Turkish friend. Krikor Bennanian, following Zadour’s instructions, and jumping from roof to roof, went and found the man. Afterwards, bundled in sheets like a woman, he and Zadour, with the help of Ukuz Hanem, went to meet their friend, Ahmed Effendi. The scene was touching. They held each other and cried like real brothers. Ahmed Effendi was a kind old man with a pretty house in a large garden. He had a big barn and hay-house. The barn and the hay-house were full of Armenians, as was part of the garden. Ahmed Effendi was against robbery. Armenian villagers did what work they could so as to not overburden the philanthropist.
Ahmed Effendi belonged to the Sunni denomination. His son, Husein Effendi, was cunning and silent. It was obvious that he was not a fan of his father’s deeds. Husein’s wife and daughters were philanthropists too, and they spoke some Armenian.
The extremists of Alisham did not give Zadour Agha peace of mind. Despite Ahmed’s hospitality, the Turks harassed him, threw stones on his property, and demanded that Zadour surrender. Although Ahmed was willing to protect Zadour, Zadour chose to walk out. The crowed rushed to kill him. Some influential Turks interceded until government officers arrived and saved the poor man.
Except Mezre, the Kurds plundered the whole region. Those who survived were forced to begin again from scratch. Despite the Sultan’s ferman (decree) to pardon Armenians, months later acts of harassment still occurred in the villages.
To pardon was an insult. It implied that the Armenians were guilty of acts that required pardoning. The Turkish government killed, robbed, and then pardoned! And why not, after all that it even offered compensation! The missionaries also offered money and clothes to survivors. The villagers survived until the following harvest. Fortunately, most of the seeding had been done before the atrocities.
Another fortunate thing was the mildness of the winter. It was a wonder that the people’s wounds healed without a doctor, or medicine.
Armenians were accustomed to a harsh life. Some had stores of corn in their basements, others borrowed what they needed, and some had relatives and close friends in the United States who assisted them.
Naturally, Habousetzies rebuilt their houses—just like sparrows that build new nests out of destroyed ones. They began to grow again in number and wealth. They rebuilt the churches and the schools. Young people returned to their studies. Babies in cradles filled houses with screams of joy. Songs and sounds of joy began to echo like the old times during weddings. But Habousi still suffered from problems in transporting their goods on the roads, so some notables appealed to the government for fatherly protection.
Hence came ten lolos, Kurdish militiamen, who settled in the stronghold on top of Najar Spring. What kind of protection was that? The house was theirs now, as was the village they were supposed to protect! To complete the picture, it is worth mentioning that the villagers’ labor was also theirs.
If someone stood up to them, they would take him to a barn and beat him with sticks and then levy a ten to twenty penny tax on him. The daring person would be set free only after Khacho Agha’s interference. If someone walked in the neighborhood late at night, the procedure would be repeated. If two Armenians had an argument, both were equally punished and taxed.
One day a bride went to bring water from the spring. A Kurd wanted a kiss. The bride went home complaining. Four men went to voice their concern. The result? They were beaten and taxed four gold coins. Complaints were worthless.
The situation became intolerable. Hagop Ajemian and Krikor Bennanian appealed to the notables, who finally agreed to write a strong letter of protest and to collect signatures. Hagop Ajemian left for Mezre, submitted the letter of protest to the authorities, and returned home. Soon after, the Kurds were asked to leave the village.
Remaining in the village were two Turkish robbers hired to protect the fields. They were from Zartarij, as were the pastors.
One day, the Habousetzies noticed that Turks from Zartarij and Ichme had piled the Habousi flails on donkeys and were leading the donkeys out of town. The Armenians were scared to death. Who wouldn’t be, after all the losses and suffering during the massacres? Instead of attacking the thieves, they shouted and pleaded for help. They soon understood that the two Turkish guards had been bribed to not intervene. Hampo Kehya shouted for help, and many answered loudly by saying, “Here we come, here we come,” but no one made a move. The thieves felt sure that they could rob the Armenians without resistance.
But there was one person who, although not paid, waited for the thieves to appear on the only road they could use to enter the village. And suddenly, with a threatening voice, that person shouted, “Surrender your arms and the flails.” Then slowly yet clearly the same voice said, “Surrender; otherwise bullets will come.” By the third warning, one thief was downed by a bullet. The rest immediately found refuge behind the donkeys and fired their guns in the direction of the first shot. Hagop Ajemian took the Turks by surprise, disarmed them, handcuffed them, and returned the flails to the village, after placing the wounded thief on a donkey. Some villagers were happy. Some were very nervous and afraid of the repercussions of these actions. Hampo Kehya told Hagop: “Did you like what you did? These poor villagers have suffered a lot and survived death; they are scared of even a breeze. What will happen if the government hears of this incident?”
Taking the flail that belonged to him, Hagop replied, “I’m taking my flail. If you want, let the Turks take yours.”
The villagers set the thieves free, including their limping friend.
Another evening, voices were heard from the west of the village asking for help. Three Turks entered the watermelon gardens. Hagop went to the roof of the Bennanians and said, “Cousin! Give me your gun and let me see who’s there.” Taking the gun, he ran toward the screams, asking his cousin to follow him. The thieves had taken the guard’s knife and gun, and they had piled all the watermelons on donkeys. Hagop arrived with his gun. The thieves grasped the edge of the gun and both sides pushed each other for quite a while. Villagers, instead of helping Hagop, advised him to give up his gun in order to avoid complications. Suddenly Krikor showed up and threatened the thieves with his revolver: “Give up, or else I’ll fire.”
When the three thieves saw that two people were now resisting, they left the stolen watermelons behind and fled the village in the opposite direction. Hagop and Krikor, too, returned to the village where they saw a group of Turks by Khacho’s door. The Turks invited them to join the group. They were waiting for the dawn in order to take the wheat that belonged to the government to the city. They were the same Turks who tried to rob the watermelons. Recognizing them, Hagop stepped back and warned them not to come closer.
Hagop (known also as Ago) was well known in neighboring villages. He was not afraid of anything even when alone.
Villagers heard the loud argument between Hagop and the Turks. Some of them stepped down from their roofs. The notables tried to convince Hagop to surrender his gun to the Turks and end the incident. Hagop, with a sudden jump, appeared at the bottom of the hill by the school, and yelled: “Let the bravest amongst you come and take my gun.”
The Turks were angered. They cursed and threatened. They accused the Habousetzies of protecting revolutionaries in the village and said: “We’ll let the government know about this.”
Hagop was experienced and he insisted: “I won’t give you my gun willingly. If you’re brave, come and get it.”
Hagop was a descendent of the brave Ajemian family.
No matter what language the notables used with Hagop, he kept his gun and the Turks finally left.
Hagop went to his uncle Vasil. Krikor was there already. Then they went to Hagop’s house to have some squash wine.
The Bennanians and the Ajemians were close relatives. The latter’s family name was changed during a period of official registration in the government books.
The following lists those Habousetzie families who survived the massacres of 1895:
Kelhagopian (Hagopian and Ohanian)
Mulkigian (Kachadorian and Melkonian)