Armenag Yegarian

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Armenag Yegarian was born in the “Hanguysner” section of the city of Van, which was considered one of the oldest yet most developed sections in the Aykestan area. His parents sent him to the Normal School in Van, where he studied under Megerdich Portugalian. When the Turkish authorities closed the normal school, he too, like the other pupils, came under the tutelage of Megerdich Avedisian and Kalousd Aslanian in order to further his education. At the same time, he worked as a presser in a tailor shop.

Still in his youth, Armenag followed the liberation movement and became excited over the stirring efforts toward initial preparation by the Armenagan Party, especially since the “Hanguysner” section was known as a hotbed of the liberation movement. He formed his own group by assembling the neighborhood youths. In 1887, he, along with all the members of that group, joined the first Armenian political party.

During that period, Persian Armenia was a secure center for the natives of Van, because Armenian revolutionaries could operate freely there. After the Congress of Berlin, the prospects for a solution of the Armenian Question were so dim that the only option left to the provincial Armenians was to take up arms and defend themselves against Turkish oppression.

Seeing Armenag’s proficiency and readiness, the leaders of the Armenagan Party proposed that he depart for Persia and transport weapons to Van. Quitting his job and selecting Drbe (Manoug Vartanian) as his co-worker, he embarked on his new mission. Drbe knew Kurdish well and was familiar with all the secret roads leading from Van to Persia. On the Turkish-Persian border was an old abandoned Armenian monastery called Derig (Derek), which became Armenag’s first rest house; subsequently, Armenian revolutionaries of all stripes began to seek lodging there. Once Yegarian had crossed over into Persian Armenia, he obtained weapons in Salmasd. Owing to his prudence, he managed to transport them safely to Van, generally traveling in the dark of night. In a short period of time, Armenag became the most experienced gun runner of the Armenagans.

Meanwhile, the Turkish authorities were keeping a close and worrisome eye on the organizational efforts being carried out in Van. In 1892, Sultan Abdul Hamid II organized the irregular Kurdish troops named Hamidiye, after him. The Armenophobe named Nouri was appointed chief of police in Van, and he used the Kurds to make trouble for the Armenian peasants. When the Armenagans decided to murder Nouri, Panos Terlemezian and Armenag Yegarian took on this responsibility. Yegarian assumed the task of studying the police chief’s movements and, upon his suggestion, Terlemezian succeeded in killing Nouri in an Armenian neighborhood, when the latter was making his regular inspection there.

As a result of that murder, numerous Armenians were arrested and tortured in jail. In order to put an end to the atrocities, the Armenagan Manoug Shadvorian took responsibility for the murder and was hanged to death.

Nouri was succeeded by Abdul Hamid’s trustworthy adjutant, Saadeddin Pasha, who was instructed to organize the massacre of the Armenians in Vasbouragan.

This development caused the Armenagan Party to allocate its material resources mostly to the transportation of weapons, always through Yegarian.

Upon his return from Europe, Megerdich Avedisian, founder and leader of the party, settled in Salmasd, where the Armenagan Krikor Bozigian was already working as superintendent of the regional Armenian schools. Through frequent meetings, Yegarian kept them informed about the situation in Van. In January 1896, the data received made the outline of a gloomy picture. Avedisian decided to go to Van to make the necessary preparations. Bozigian and Yegarian remained in Salmasd.

Headed by Avedisian, the Armenagans prepared for self-defense. Yegarian embarked on another trip to transport guns but, this time, he was unexpectedly arrested by the Persian authorities. Even without the assistance he intended to deliver and without his presence, the heroic and successful self-defense of Van took place, which would become known in history as the Great Event and which would end with the martyrdom of Avedisian and his 800 followers, as a consequence of the combined treachery committed by the intervening powers and the Turks.

After the Great Event, Yeghishe Kondakjian, one of the founders of the party, took over its leadership, but ill fate put an end to this 40-year-old youth’s life in 1897. In the same year, Yegarian was released from jail and, with a 40-member group, returned to Van. While reenergizing the party, he continued efforts to stockpile weapons.

In 1898, Armenag got married and attempted to adopt a sedentary lifestyle by going into the rug business, specifically the buying and selling of Persian rugs. Along with conducting the business, he transported weapons to Van, together with rugs, after coming to an agreement with Kurdish tribal chieftains.

In 1903, Yegarian relocated to Urmia, continuing business as usual. The leadership of the Armenagans in Van was assumed by Kevork Semerjian, who frequently visited Urmia and stayed over at Yegarian’s house, which had already turned into a rendezvous for all the Armenian fugitives and travelers.

It was owing to the contacts established by Yegarian and Semerjian with Kurdish tribal chieftains, that General Antranig, together with his 70 comrades in arms, was able to cross over into Persia, and then the Caucasus, without incident. By this time, Yegarian had become the most authoritative national figure in Urmia and adjoining areas. His comrades called him Garo (Garabeg), while others referred to him as Armenag Agha.

The principal developments in the life of the Armenagans during those years were the incorporation of its members in the Balkans with those in Van, through Krikor Beozigian’s efforts, and, immediately thereafter, the formation of the Armenian Constitutional Democratic Party (ACDP) in Alexandria in October 1908.

In the spring of 1909, following the proclamation of the false Turkish constitution, Yegarian returned to Van with his family, expecting the beginning of a new period of better life for the Western Armenians.

While continuing the rug business, Armenag headed up the Constitutional Democrats of Van and engaged in regular contact with General Antranig, Krikor Beozigian (also known by the surname Shi-gaher), and with the Central Committee of the ACDP, in order to receive corresponding political directives from the latter.

At the beginning of 1915, Jevdet Bey succeeded in killing Ishkhan and Vramian, two of the Dashnak leaders in Van. Aram Manoogian was forced to take refuge with the Democrat Garabed Shadakhtsian. Yegarian also went there and consulted with Manoogian, following which it was decided to form a three-man military body headed by Yegarian and with the cooperation of Dashnak Bulgarian Krikor and Gaidzak Arakel. Meanwhile, the governor-general of Van had cannons situated by the Turkish barracks, and roving patrols had begun to mill about everywhere. It was clear that the Turkish government was pursuing a special plan. The first business of the military body was to gather up the weapons in the possession of Armenians, all 625 of them. Yegarian divided the city into sections, with corresponding defensive groups, at whose disposal were placed considerable quantities of weapons and ammunition. Created alongside the military body was a civil body, headed by Aram Manoogian and comprised of Kapriel Semerjian (ACDP), Panos Terlemezian (ACDP) and Hrant Kaligian (Social Democratic Hunchak Party).

The city of Van was already besieged by 4,000 Turkish soldiers. Their number would subsequently increase to 7,000, not including Kurdish bandits as well. They had various kinds of cannons and unlimited ammunition.

The Armenian self-defense was centered primarily in the Aykestan region, where Yegarian’s most reliable fighters, the group headed by the Democrat Hiussian brothers and the itinerant group of Nazareth Bournoutian.

On April 7, upon leaving their positions, two Democrat fighters, Yeghia Nakhshounian and Hagop Durzian, got caught in enemy fire and became the first victims of the heroic battle of Van. The enemy attempted to destroy the Armenian neighborhoods with its cannons. The Armenians did not lose a single man, because their homes had already been abandoned and their inhabitants had either taken refuge in the orchards or had gone, via the roads around the Turkish barracks, to the old city, where the fortress, which had been converted to a Turkish garrison, and the British consulate were located. Without suffering any losses, the Armenians succeeded in seizing the gar

Ara Aharonian Excerpt from: Heroic Figures of A.D.L. (C)2006