Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Expedition of Khanasor (July 25, 1897)

The Armenian massacres of 1895-1896 ordered by Sultan Abdul Hamid II were executed with the active participation of Kurdish tribes. This extended also to the aftermath of the self-defense of Van in early June 1896, organized by the three Armenian parties (Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Armenakan, and Hunchakian). The fight ended after a truce brokered by the British consul, Major W. H. Williams, who guaranteed the safe passage to Persia of some 1,000 people who had participated in the self-defense. However, the retreating group, badly armed, was attacked by the Kurdish Mazrik tribe. More than 300 young people, headed by Bedo (A.R.F.), Mgrdich Avedisian (Armenakan), and Mardik (Hunchakian) on their way to Persia, were killed by the Kurdish bandits.

Less than ten days after the massacre, on June 18, 1896, a regional assembly of the A.R.F. decided to take punitive measures against the Kurdish groups that had become a tool in the hands of the Turkish government, and particularly against the Mazrik tribe.

There were discrepancies about the feasibility of such a strike. However, these were overcome after the fall of 1896, when a regional assembly of Tiflis passed a resolution that approved the expedition. Afterwards, Nigol Tuman, one of the A.R.F. military chiefs and a main proponent of the attack, went to Baku and secured the necessary financial means.

The group was composed of 235 foot combatants and 40 horsemen. The expedition group was commanded by Sarkis Mehrabian (he would be later known as Vartan of Khanasor), with Hovsep Arghutian and Nigol Tuman as his assistants.

The Mazrik tribe settled in the plain of Khanasor, surrounded by hills. The group crossed the Persian-Turkish border near Salmast on the night of July 24, 1897, passed through the Araul mountain and surrounded the plain from all sides.

Some 250 tents were spread in the plain. The attack started at daybreak. The Kurdish tribe practically lost most of its male members; some estimates claim between 1,200 and 1,500 casualties. Women and children, however, were spared, following the directives of Nigol Tuman. Sharaf Bek, the Kurdish chief, took advantage of the circumstance and escaped, wearing female clothing.

The Armenian force suffered 19 casualties, including Aristakes Zorian (Garo), the brother of Rostom (Stepan Zorian), one of the founders of the A.R.F.

Neighbor Kurds and Turkish regular forces came over. In order to avoid being surrounded, the military council of the expedition decided to leave the plain and to fall back to the mountain. The enemy was unable to stop the organized retreat of the Armenian fedayees, who fought the whole day in the mountain and in the night, when the Kurds stopped the attack, crossed the border back to Persia, and later returned to the Caucasus.

The expedition of Khanasor, besides its military success, was also a moral success, as it showed that Armenians had the necessary spirit to fight back against the Kurds and stop their attacks. The song composed by one of its participants, Dervish Toros (Kalust Aloyan), summarized that spirit in its first stanza:

Hail fell over the plain of Khanasor / The fedayees of the A.R.F. took revenge in the valley...