Armenian resistance during the Armenian Genocide

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Armenian Resistance
Part of World War I
Armenian Resistance.png
Conflicts of 1915 (red stars)
Central-East-South Anatolia
Result Mass Genocide of civilian population of Armenia, some regions avoid murderous deportations and an establishment of the local provisional Armenian government (1915–1917)
Ottoman Empire

Armenian Militia of Armenakans(Ramkavars)

Hnchakians (Social Democrat Hunchakian Party)

Dashnaktsutiun (Armenian Revolutionary Federation)

Support by the Russian Empire
Casualties and losses
Massive genocide of 600,000 to 1,000,000 Armenians, perpetrated by the Young Turk militia.

The Armenian resistance is a name given to the military and political activities of the Armenians under the Armenian political parties of Henchak, Armenakan, Dashnaktsutiun against the Ottoman Empire during World War I, considered a struggle for freedom and resistance to the Armenian Genocide by the Armenian combatants, but high treason by the Ottoman Empire.[citation needed] These Armenian national organizations established Armenian fedayeen (Armenian: Ֆէտայի) generally referred to as Armenian irregular units and the Russian Empire formed Armenian volunteer units, which recruited Ottoman Armenians from behind the Ottoman lines.[1] During this period the Siege of Van on April 20, 1915, and consequent establishment of the Administration for Western Armenia were significant events. The Ottoman Minister of Interior Mehmed Talat Pasha considered the Armenian population a fifth column within the Empire, blaming the rise of the Armenian national liberation movement for the overall unrest inside the Empire in his order on April 24, 1915 that ended with arrests and murders of Armenian scholars, men in government leadership and scholars (Red Sunday).

The Ottoman parliament passed the Tehcir Law on 29 May 1915, which enabled the massive deportation the Armenians from their historic homeland. These deportations and massacres resulted in the deaths of about 600,000 to 1,000,000 Armenians,[1] and are referred to as the Armenian Genocide by most scholars of the period; official Turkish sources follow a denial campaign, often referring to an ″Armenian insurgency" and disputing the number of victims.


There were previous Armenian resistances within the Ottoman Empire. The Sasun resistance of 1894 (Armenian: Սասնոյ առաջին ապստամբութիւն) was the resistance of the Hunchak militia of the Sassoun region. The Zeitun Rebellion took place in 1895, during the Hamidian massacres. The Defense of Van was the Armenian population in Van defense against the Ottoman Empire in June, 1896. The Khanasor Expedition (Armenian: Խանասորի Արշաւանքը) was the Armenian militia's response on July 25, 1897, to the Defense of Van, where Mazrik tribe ambushed a squad of Armenian defenders and mercilessly slaughtered them. The Sasun uprising was the resistance of the Armenian militia in the Sassoun region. Mourat together with his companion, Sepouh, had fought at Sasoun, in 1904, and had taken part in the Armenian and Tartar clashes of 1905 and 1906 in the Caucasus.

Sassouni, a Tashnak, argues that the Ottoman Empire's fundamental aim was to resolve the Armenian question by massacring the Armenian people and the Armenian national liberation movement's achievement between 1908 and 1914 (what was named as pre-genocide period) was the preparation and organization of nationwide armed resistance for the targets which were only forces against Armenian Revolutionary Federation.[2]


Defenders of the Urfa Resistance

The Armenian irregular units (called fedayeen) were formed to engage with resistance to Ottoman Forces and were composed of Armenian civilian volunteers (kamavor).[3] Most of the leaders of the volunteers were also leaders and members of the Armenian national liberation movement. Some of the famous leaders were Murad of Sebastia, and Karekin Pastermadjian. Boghos Nubar was the elected speaker for the Armenian National Assembly who worked with French political and military authorities to culminate with the formation of the French Armenian Legion. Many of the Armenian volunteers for French Armenian legion were survivors from Musa Dagh.[4] Beginning with 1917, the Armenian National Congress (1917) asked the Armenian soldiers and officers scattered throughout Russia to be gradually brought together.[5] The plan was to mobilized Armenians of the Caucasus Front (Russian Republic) against the Ottoman Forces.[5] The call for arms by the Armenian National Congress also received response with some Ottoman Armenian fedayeens, such as Murad of Sebastia, who fought bravely with these forces and died at the battlefields of Baku.

The Ottoman Third Army was the major force in the Caucasus Campaign that acted against the Armenian volunteer units of the Russian Empire. Mahmut Kamil was the commander of the Third Army.[6] After the Armistice of Mudros, Mahmut Kamil was one of the Malta exiles.[citation needed]



Seventy year old priest leading Armenians

In July 1914, before the World War I, both the Russian and the Turkish governments officially appealed to various Armenian national organizations (the Armenian National Congress of the Russian Empire and the Armenian National Assembly in the Ottoman Empire, respectively) with many promises of self governance in order to secure the active participation of the Armenians in the military operations against each other. The Ottomans held talks with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation during the Armenian congress at Erzurum[7] The main of opposition in Ottoman Empire to Turco-German alliance were the Armenian people, who for four years and without an organized government or a national army, played the same role in the Near East by preventing the Turco-German advance toward the interior of Asia as the Belgians played in the West by stopping the march of Germany toward Paris.[7] According to Erickson, after the meeting in Erzurum the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) was convinced of Armenian—Russian links with detailed plans aimed at the detachment of the region from the Ottoman Empire.[8]

In August 1914, during the First Zeitun Resistance the Hunchaks resisted to the Ottoman army in the city Zeitun.

In October 20, 1914, a patrolling Ottoman unit in Köprüköy discovered Russian rifles cached in Armenian homes in Hasankale. The Third Army received reports of Armenians that served in Russian Army returning to the Ottoman Empire with operational maps and financial resources.[9]

On November 2, 1914, the Bergmann Offensive was launched. It was the first engagement of the Caucasus Campaign[10] The Russian success was along the Southern shoulders of the offense where Armenian volunteers were effective and took Karaköse and Doğubeyazıt.[11]

On December 29, 1914, the Ottoman Army was defeated at the Battle of Sarikamish [12] Armenian detachment battalions challenged the Ottoman operations during the critical times: "the delay enabled the Russian Caucasus Army to concentrate sufficient force around Sarikamish".[13]


On February 25, 1915, the "Directive 8682" was issued and distributed secretly in the form of a ciphered cable. The directive was received by the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Armies; the Iraq Command: I, II, III, IV, V Army Corps: and to the Jandarma Command, where the Armenian population was dominant. The title of the directive was "Increased Security Precautions". The directive began with summarising dissident Armenian activity in Bitlis, Aleppo, Dortyol, and Kayseri. The directive stated that the Russians and French had influence on activities in these areas. Finally, the directive ordered any ethnic Armenian soldiers should be removed from headquarters staff and taken out of command centers.[8]

According to Erickson, from February through July 1915 additional reports from provincial officials and lower level army units reinforced the pattern of allied intelligence gathering of Ottoman military activities. Talaat Pasha's (then Ottoman Ministry of the Interior) Intelligence Division noted that the Armenian Patriarchate in Constantinople was transmitting military secrets and dispositions to the Russians.[8] It was believed at this time that a seventy-year-old priest was leading Armenians[14]

On March 25, Hunchaks of the city Zeitun begun the Second Zeitun Resistance against the Ottoman army.

In April, around 30,000 Armenians in the city of Van, in addition to the Armenians from surrounding villages, defended themselves during the Siege of Van. The biggest achievement was the establishment of the Administration for Western Armenia headed by the Governor Aram Manukian, a Russian Armenian. Armenian irregular units kept the Ottoman army out at the cost of thousands of civilians killed. The initial armed resistance lasted for a period of less than a month. In May, the Armenian volunteer units with the Russian Caucasus Army entered the city of Van and successfully drove the Ottoman army out.[15]

On May 27, hundreds of Armenians were captured by Ottoman authorities in Urfa after the Urfa Resistance. At Urfa the Armenians repulsed the attacks of one division, but finally fell under heavy fire from artillery commanded by German officers. The Armenians destroyed all their property so that it would not fall into the hands of the Ottomans or Germans.

In July, the resistance of Murad of Sebastia and his comrades occurred at Sivas. When deportations were ordered gendarmes were sent to capture Murad, he defended himself with his compatriots for a year and a half.[13] On June 15, the Ottoman government hanged the famous 20 Hunchakian gallows. Armenians resisted for a month with Shabin-Karahisar uprising until Neshed Pasha left Sivas with three regiments and artillery to subdue them.

On August 19, Armenian defended the city of Van for a second time until the arrival of Russian Caucasus Army, when General Andranik Ozanian lifted the siege.


Resistance of Mourat and his comrades occurred at Sivas. Later Mourat led the volunteers at Battle of Erzinjan. Later died in at the Battle of Baku.[13]

In 1916, Murad moved to Samsun, with a sail-boat traveled to the Russian port of Batum. He led his volunteers to the Battle of Erzinjan.[13]


In May, there were fierce combats between the Armenians who remained firm and the Ottoman forces beginning with the Battle of Abaran. Between May 24–26, Armenians under Movses Silikyan defeated the Ottoman troops in the three-day long Battle of Sardarapat. Between May 24–28, the Armenian defenders at the Battle of Karakilisa managed to turn back being outnumbered by the invading Ottoman forces. After violent battle for 4 days both parties had serious losses and the Ottoman army had no more forces to continue deeper into Armenian territory.

In September, Murad of Sebastia and his volunteers were at Battle of Baku, where he died in the fighting.[13]

Art and culture[edit]

Armenian resistance has left a symbolic dish. The "Harissa (dish)" (Armenian: Հարիսա): is generally served to commemorate the Musa Dagh resistance. Current practice renamed the dish as "hreesi".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica: Armenian Genocide
  2. ^ Garo Sassouni, A Critical Look at the 1915 Genocide, 1930, page 40.
  3. ^ "Middle East Glossary". The Israel Project. Archived from the original on 2012-04-27. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
  4. ^ Walker. "World War I and the Armenian Genocide", p. 267.
  5. ^ a b (Pasdermadjian 1918, pp. 38)
  6. ^ Keith Neilson, 1983, Coalition Warfare, Published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press, page 49 ISBN 978-0-88920-165-1; W.E.D. Allen and Paul Muratoff, Caucasian Battlefields, A History of Wars on the Turco-Caucasian Border, 1828–1921, 311. ISBN 0-89839-296-9
  7. ^ a b (Pasdermadjian 1918, pp. 15)
  8. ^ a b c (Erickson 2001, pp. 98)
  9. ^ (Erickson 2001, pp. 97)
  10. ^ (Hinterhoff 1984, p. 500)
  11. ^ (Erickson 2001, pp. 54)
  12. ^ The Hugh Chisholm, 1920, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Company ltd., twelve edition p.198.
  13. ^ a b c d e (Pasdermadjian 1918, pp. 22)
  14. ^ (Pasdermadjian 1918, pp. 14)
  15. ^ Kurdoghlian, Mihran (1996). Hayots Badmoutioun (Armenian History) (in Armenian). Hradaragutiun Azkayin Oosoomnagan Khorhoortee, Athens Greece. pp. 92–93.