Thursday, November 1, 2012

Death of Aghpiur Serop - November 1, 1899

Aghpiur Serop is today remembered as one of the noted names in the first generation of Armenian freedom fighters, in the last decade of the nineteenth century. 

His real name was Serop Vartanian. He was born in the village of Sokhort, in the district of Khlat (province of Bitlis), in 1864. His brothers were prosperous villagers; one of them was the head of the village.
In the 1880s, the deteriorating situation of the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Abdul Hamid and the rise of political awareness in the Armenian provinces had created the urge for self-defense against the violence and exploitation exerted by Turks and Kurds. The legend of the Armenian fedayees (the freedom fighters) would be born at this time. On September 3, 1901, Tumanski, Russian deputy consul of Van, would write to the Russian ambassador in Constantinople: “The fedayees are really people who have lost their patience. They have sworn to take revenge, somehow, from their oppressors.”

Serop was a hunter. In 1885 he married seventeen-year-old Sose, one of the beautiful girls of the village. One day he engaged in a fight with two Kurds who tried to take his gun. Serop killed one of his attackers and made the other flee. His uncle helped him escape the vengeance of the Kurds. He went to Constantinople to live with another uncle. There he entered the ranks of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. The police of the capital was informed that he was a wanted person in Khlat and Serop was forced to escape to Romania in 1892. He settled in the city of Sulina and opened a coffee shop; however, in 1893 a cholera epidemic compelled him to go out of business and move to the Caucasus. For the next two years, he lived in between the Caucasus and Western Armenia.
After the beginning of the massacres of 1895, he returned to Khlat heading a group of 27 fighters and organized the self-defense of the Armenian villages. The
people baptized Serop with the nickname aghpiur (“source”), meaning “the one who gives life.” His military actions had actually instilled new spirit in the population and taught the importance of armed defense against injustice.
Many fedayees who fought in his group, such as Mushegh of Bitlis, Balabekh Garabed and others, later became battalion commanders. The future General Antranig also became a member of his group.
In 1896 he organized new groups of self-defense and distributed them in the villages; he also obtained weapons from the Caucasus. He fought throughout the province of Bitlis in 1897. He wrote one of the heroic pages of the history of the fedayee movement on October 20, 1898. During the combat of Babshen, which lasted until late night, Serop’s group of 17 inflicted heavy losses to an entire Turkish battalion.
The Ottoman government put a price to the life of Serop. He left Khlat and found refuge in the mountains of Sassoun. His wife Sose and his two sons, age 12 and 2, joined him. On November 1, 1899, Serop and his comrades were surrounded in the village of Gelieguzan. An Armenian traitor poisoned Serop, and despite a desperate fight, most of the Armenian fedayees were killed. Serop, paralyzed and unable to fight, was beheaded by the Turks. Two of his brothers and his elder son Hagop were killed in the fight, while his little brother Samson was saved by Serop’s sister-in-law.
Serop’s head was paraded by the Turks around the city of Bitlis, and afterwards it was delivered to the Armenians, who buried it in the church of Surp Garmrak. His wife Sose had fought until she was taken prisoner. However, Turkish commander Ali, who admired her bravery, had her grave injuries cured and was later liberated. The Armenian traitor, Ave, was killed by the fedayees a few months later.
Sose, called Mayrig (“little mother”) by the people, moved to Van after the revolt of Sassoun in 1904 and later to the Caucasus. She finally settled in Alexandria (Egypt) in 1920, where she passed away in 1953. Her remains were moved to Yerevan in 1998 and reburied in the military cemetery of Yerablur.
Aghpiur Serop had become a living legend. Many songs and poems were written about him and his wife. Avetik Isahakian, then a 24-year-old young poet, in 1899 wrote his poem “To the memory of Serop,” whose first stanza says:
        Mount Nemrut has a thousand sources,
        All of them go down the plain of Moush,
        Only the source of Serop’s heart
        Goes into the heart of the poor people.