Father's Name : Halil
Place of Birth: Van-Zeve
Date of Birth: 1903
I am from the well-known Zeve village, site of the most rampant Armenian massacres.
Q: How old were you when the Armenians rebelled?
A: I had just turned 11 at the time.
Q: Were your parents alive at the time?
A: Yes, they were.
Q: Were they subjected to Armenian atrocities?
A: I will tell you all about that later. I first want to try to explain the situation of the Armenians. We know how untrustworthy the Armenians and Russians were, and about their efforts to stab the Ottoman State from behind by forming bands of rebels. At that time, Russians were paying Armenians wages. However, the Armenians were paying the Ottoman State only one gold coin in taxes while those unable to pay that much, were paying five silver coins. There were certain changes during the rule of Sultan Hamid and Sultan Resad. They extended equal rights to the Armenians, declaring that they would be equal to Muslims, like brothers. They passed a law abolishing the tax imposed on them, and made them equal to us. There was jubilation in the streets. Armenian priests and our religious leaders hugged each other and kissed. At this time, it was also decided that Armenians would serve in the army with us and study in our schools. The Armenians were thrilled with these changes. As soon as they had the opportunity, they established committees and asked for money from France and England and arms from Russia. They figured they could co-operate with the Russians, receive military supplies from them, and attack the Ottomans while the Russians could advance from the outside.
What did the Russians do? They constructed storage bins out of the stove pipes and stove metal. These bins were three feet long and one and a half feet wide, and filled with arms and munitions. Some of our supplies including kerosene came from Russia at the time. The Russians delivered these military supplies to the Armenians by hiding them in the bins and covering them with kerosene containers. Having armed the Armenians in this way, the Russians sent a member of the secret revolutionary society from Russia. His name was Aram, and he was blind in one eye. A Russian Armenian, they named him Aram Pasha. Then they brought someone named Antranik to Mus, and called him Antranik Pasha. Plus, there was an Armenian revolutionary committee leader nicknamed Sahin (Falcon) in the Karagunduz village of the Ercek region. They would set up committee organisations and head for the Turkish borders. They crossed into the Turkish villages where they would attack and kill Turks, and then retreat. They carried weapons and bandits to Karagunduz on horseback.
Q: Do you remember the revolutionary committees in the region and the names of their leaders?
A: I named some of them a little earlier. I don't remember any other names. They armed themselves with the help of the Russians, and came on horses. They created storage areas in the Sisanus village, and moved to a lake village which was completely inhabited by Armenians who had moved into the village earlier. On the lake there were enormous ships which could carry 500-600 people. These ships would carry arms and ammunition to Adilcevaz, Ahlat, Ercis, and Gevas. Some would later be sent to Tatvan, Mus and Bitlis. The Armenians armed themselves well with these supplies, and started to form guerrilla groups. More specifically, they organised fighters and hid them on the Islands of Akdamar, Carpanak, and Kadin Tbese fighters later scattered throughout the area, insulting and provoking the public. After a while, they decided to get along with the Russians. After the Russians declared war to the Ottoman Empire, all of our soldiers left the area. Some went to the Caucasian front line, while others went to the Iranian front line. The Armenian soldiers accompanied our soldiers. After the two sides started fighting, our soldiers noticed that they were being shot from behind. The doctors could not understand why soldiers who should be hit from the front were hit from behind. Then they realised that Armenian soldiers would kill ours whenever the opportunity arose. We lost perhaps thousands of our soldiers in this way, but it was too late when it was discovered. Some of the traitors were found, while some joined the Russian fighters. This war lasted two and a half years. Our soldiers were in terrible shape, and were forced to retreat. The Russian military started to advance. When they arrived at the Caldiran plains, they came across the Hamidiye regiment which was formed during the reign of Sultan Hamit and was composed of tribes. The Russians used the Hamidiye organisation for their own means, telling them to provide soldiers to defend the area, while they would provide munitions and arms.
A soldier who heard that the Russians arrived in Caldiran ran to his village (Derebey) and told the village headman that it was futile to work in the fields since the Russians had already arrived in Caldiran, which meant they would be in the village either that day or the next. He told the villagers they would all be killed if they didn't flee. Hearing this, the villagers gathered together, took some food and whatever they could carry, and left toward Van. They first reached the Zorava village, which is Circassian. When the inhabitants asked them what was going on, they told them that they were headed to Van because the Russians had entered Caldrran and were advancing toward Muradiye.
Hearing this, the villagers in Zorava joined the refugees. Later there were eight villages which joined this caravan to Van; Hakis, Zorava, Derebey, Sih Omer, Sihkara, Sihayne, Hidir and Göllü. They had no idea that Van was emptied and that its inhabitants had migrated. When they arrived at the Everek plains, they saw some Armenians who asked them in Armenian: "Where are you mindless people going?" to which they answered, "We're going to Van. We will go wherever the inhabitants of Van go." To this the Armenians showered them with insults and added "Turks left Van over six or seven days ago, and are refugees. The administration of Cevdet Pasha was over long time ago. Aram Pasha�s Administration was formed. All of the wounded, hospitalised, women and children in Van were killed. Mosques were torched, barracks burned. We cut up all of the Muslims in Van. There were only 20-30 women remaining, and we gave them to Aram Pasha." To this, Circissian Ibo said that they would become prisoners, and proposed that they go to Zeve, which was very close to the lake. He suggested they could find a ship there and save the women and children.
By the time this group of refugees reached our village (Zeve), we saw that there were over 2,000 of them. When we asked them what happened, they responded, "We were fleeing to Van, but Armenians stopped us and told as that the inhabitants of Van had already migrated, so we came here to acquire a ship in the hope of saving our women and children."
It was spring and it was not easy to settle the refugees in our small village, but we did our best. We settled them in homes, tents, and barns. There were more than 2,000 of them, and they stayed with our villagers who numbered about 500. In addition, soldiers disbanded from the army came home to our village. You should have seen them. They had long beards, their uniforms were torn, they were full of lice. We settled them, too. One was my brother Necip, my cousin Mustafa, my brother-in-law Mehmet, my cousin Ilyas, Recep, son of Saban, Mustafa's son Seyyat, and Emrah's son Sukru. They were emaciated -just skin and bones. They took of their clothes and burned them and pulled of the lice. My uncle Yusuf was a good barber. After scrubbing their heads with hot water, he shaved them with a razor. Believe me, because of the lice, blood was dripping from their faces and eyes. They were somewhat more comfortable after that.
Two days had passed. On the third day, the village Hodja began his morning call to prayer. Those who wanted to pray and the others went to work, There was a river in the middle of our village. If flows all the way from the Iranian border, and becomes a lake in the spring when the snow melts. But we were never sure exactly where this water came from. One day we heard a woman's voice from the other side of the river calling for someone to carry her to our side. On hearing this, my uncle grabbed his purse, followed the sounds, and was suprised to see, Esma, the daughter of Ahmet, who married someone in the Molla Kasim village.
She promised to tell her story after my uncle helped her cross the river. He helped her onto the saddle and brought her to this side of the river. At this time the villagers had already finished their morning prayer and gathered around them. She told them to defend themselves that Hamit, Molla Kasim, and Ayanos had been killed, and that the perpetrators would be in our village any day now. The Hodja addressed the crowd with "Friends, we are Muslims. It doesn't fit our religion for us to die needlessly. We have about 60 weapons, 2 chests full of ammunition, and eight or nine soldiers with guns and bullets. Let's defend our village. My father's cousin, Hodya Osman who served with Cevdet Pasha had sent 60 guns and the ammunition."
There were hills near our village, below the bridge. There were plains on the top, and grasslands below. The villagers took their positions on the top part of the hills, and waited for the Armenians to advance. When the Armenians surrounded the village on three fronts and attacked, our villagers were prepared. They fought the Armenians until noon. When our side charged them, the Armenians were startled. Some of them fled to Mermit village, while other went to Vadar village. Afterwards they started to re-grouping. There were other Armenian villages such as the enormous Alay village comprised of 400 homes. They gathered together, all of the Armenians, and again started a battle which continued until the end of the mid-afternoon prayer. After the mid-afternoon prayer, there were up to one hundred horses speeding down Erzurum Street which originated in Van. The villagers thought that they were Ottoman soldiers who came to their assistance after hearing gunfire, but soon saw that they were Russian Armenians who heard the gunfire and came to the village. The fighting started again, and our villagers started to run out of bullets. The Armenians saw this as an opportunity and entered the village by killing the Turks who were guarding it. The village was burning, and herds of people numbering two or three thousand started to flee. The Armenians were throwing small children in the air and piercing them with bayonets or sticking them in the stomach with bayonets. The children let out shrill cries and foil to the ground like baby birds. In desperation, some of the women and young girls threw themselves into the river, while others lit fire to bails of grass and threw themselves into the bonfire.
They captured Corporal Seyat alive, laid him one the ground, undressed him, and skinned him alive. They also carved out his shoulders and carved into his sides, taunting him by saying that Sultan Resat promoted him and gave him a medal. The Armenians also set fire to the grass and threw some of our women and children into the fire and burned them alive. They sliced the throats of the rest of the survivors as if they were sacrificial lambs. Not one child survived. After massacring the entire village, they killed the five most attractive women; my cousin Sober, Esma, the headman's wife, a distant relative Hayriye, my aunt Aye, and Güllü. Then they left. I'll explain to you how I survived even though the Armenians vowed to continue the massacres until we were all dead. My father was very well known, and he had extended much kindness to the Bardakci village. My father had once saved the life of Kirbe, and his son Asvador was among the Armenians. Although at the time my father was in Iran as a reserve officer, Asvador came to us during the massacre. Asvador told the Armenians not to touch me, my mother, and one of my sisters and saved our lives. After the Armenians left, Asvador took us out of hiding. The wounded were moaning from pain, begging for someone to wrap their wounds or give them some water.
Asvador brought us to the Bardaci village where we stayed for some time. My cousin Sema in Bardakci would swear to us that in the evening the Armenians would come and pick out ten or eleven women out of the 150, and rape them until the morning. The women were covered with blood, and after they dropped them off they were unable to sit.
Meanwhile a Russian government was established in Van and Aram Pasha became its leader. Aram Pasha's government proclaimed that any refugee who is in need of food or water is welcome to Van. My father at this time was in the Hacik village where he and my uncles were on Halil Pasha's boat. From there they went to a village in the Hosap region. When my uncles heard the proclamation they went to Van. They were shocked to see that the city was burned and completely destroyed. The city used to be at the foothill of the castle. Everything was completely destroyed: the buildings, barracks, mosques, bathhouses, and government buildings.
My father was from the Hacbahan neighbourhood where there were Armenian homes and stores. Coincidentally, Asvador ran into him on the street. After the customary greeting, my father asked him if he had any news about our village. Asvador responded that they had slaughtered all of Zeve, but that his younger wife, child and daughter were safe with him. He volunteered to hand us over to my father. My father acknowledged the favour by Asvador, but feared that the Armenians would kill him if he went to the village, so he suggested that Asvador bring us to him instead so that he could take us away. When Asvador came to see us that night, he told us that he ran into my father, and that we should prepare ourselves so that he could take us to him. In the morning he loaded us onto an ox cart, took us to Van, and delivered Lis to my father. We didn't stay long because the Armenians were raiding a village; many people were fleeing either towards Iran, Mardin or Diyarbakir to save their lives.
Q: Mr. Ibrahim, can you tell us about what happened in Van. Apparently the first revolt took place, where the castle was toppled by cannon fire, the city was completely destroyed, and an Armenian government was set up. Since you were in Zeve you may have seen the troubles in Van. Do you have any knowledge of the incidents in Van?
A: They used cannon fire to burn the castle. At that time we were in the village of Bardakci, and could see the fire in Van from there. Mosques, buildings and barracks were burned. After capturing the castle, they aimed some of the cannon fire downhill. The mosque near the castle also was burned and destroyed, as well as the Hamitaga barracks. They butchered almost all of the Muslims there -only a few women survived. After the Russian government was established, these women complained Armenians to the Russian authorities, and asked for protection because they trusted the Russians more. The Russians had the women guarded and did not violate their virtue, but the Armenians raped our women and massacred the children and the elderly.
Q: Mr. Ibrahim, is it possible that one of the reasons that the Russian soldiers did not touch your women was the possible presence of Turks in the Russian army?
A: Yes. There were Crimean and Caucasian soldiers and officers. They protected our women because they too were Muslims. In fact, they even sent them back to their villages including the Molla Kasim village. During the massacres they could only send 30 of the 150 women. They planned to stay in the Molla Kasim village until the Ottoman military arrived. However, they were subject to even further hardships. When the Russians retreated, the Armenians stayed behind. The Armenians suggested that the Russians leave their weapons, ammunition, cannons, and supplies, so they could fight the Ottoman government. When the Russians left all of their equipment to them, the Armenians became even more ruthless and continued the massacres. When our army starting arriving from Bitlis to Gevas and clashing with these Armenians, the Armenians headed to Van toward Muradiye and Kars. They ultimately went to Russia and Iran. Only a handful of Armenians remained behind. They stayed on small islands in Lake Van such as Carpanak.
Q: Were there any Armenians in yourk Zeve village?
A: No, none.
Q: Where were you at the time that the Armenians established an Armenian government with the Russians?
A: We were in Zeve at the time.
Q: How many people from Zeve survived?
A: Including to myself, six women were saved from Zeve, and that was only because of a good deed my father had done earlier. Everyone else was murdered, including many women and children.
Q: They say that a mosque near the Van castle was burned. Was this mosque in Van or Zeve?
A: It was in Van, but mosques in Zeve were burned down as well. In Van they burned other mosques such as the Kayacelebi, Ulu, and Hüsrev Pasha, as well as many smaller mosques. You can still see all of their traces.
Q: Were there any people inside the mosques in Van when they were burned down?
A: Without a doubt.
Q: How about in Zeve?
A: Many had gone into the mosque for protection. Among them were uncle Hamza, Dervis, and Derebeyli. I don't remember the names of the others except for a great personality in Zeve whose name you may have heard; Sultan Haci Hamza. He built the first dervish lodge in the area.
Q: Isn't it true that during the massacres the Turks sought refuge in the lodge thinking that they would not be killed?
A: They sought shelter in the tomb, not the lodge.
Q: They say that the Armenians burned down the tomb, is that right?
A: It is true. They set fire to the tomb too, and threw everyone inside killed, but three people survived. Unfortunately, mosques, tombs made no difference to them. They burned them down with everyone inside. I hope God will protect us from similar events in the future.