MUHAMMET RESIT GÜLESER
Father's Name : Abdullah
Mother's name : Habibe
Place of Birth: Van
Date of Birth: 1900
I was a young student at the (Teachers' training college) school, around 15 or 16 years old during the Armenian massacres, and remember what happened quite well. Before the First World War, we had good neighbourly relations with the Armenians (whose population was said to be approximately 17,000).
With the declaration of the constitutional monarchy in 1908, they started to exploit the principles of independence, equality, and justice to their benefit. Their leader in Van, Aram Pasha, was in the delegation that notified Sultan Hamit that he would have to leave his throne. The Armenians set up an underground organization in Van, and dug tunnels which extended from near the Great Mosque (Büyük Camii) all the way to the old section of town. It was even possible to go through these tunnels on horseback. One day some parts of the tunnel collapsed so was discovered by a guard incidentally. Aram Pasha was caught near the Great Mosque upon the intelligence of an Armenian but was released without punishment due to the political sensitivities of the time.
In short, the Armenians organized themselves very well and became rich financially in commerce. After the Armenians and Jews were permitted to join the military, some groups of Armenians, joined the military with their weapons during the retreat of the Van division. Our soldiers were carrying German-made primitive weapons which could only fire four shots and the fifth one would drop to the gound. According to what we had heard from Mr. Haci Latif and the others who later returned to Van, the Armenians in the Van division were shooting our soldiers in the back. There were also several cases of Armenian doctors and nurses poisoning our wounded soldiers who were treated in the hospitals in Van after returning from the eastern front.
As to the situation in Van, the Russians were approaching from three fronts, Muradiye, Özalp, and Baskale. The Armenians in the city were rebelling and continued an aggressive campaign against the Muslim population for 29 days. We had three barracks, Haci Bekir, Aziziye, and Toprakkale. Ten soldiers would guard each one. They attacked to these barracks and slaughtered the soldiers like sheep by cutting their throats off. Ali Cavus, our neighbour, was also slained there. While our weak militia were digging trenches to trying to fight, the Armenians made holes in the walls and were firing shots with machine guns, pouring cans of kerosene, lighting fires, and escaping through the deep tunnels. This brutal attack lasted 29 days. The decision of retreat was finally made so that the Muslim population would not suffer any more deaths. Those with carts used them; those without them were under desperate conditions, but we all joined the exodus. People left their children on the roads, others died from hunger and disease.
It should be remembered that the Armenians not only committed large massacres in Van, but in the villages as well. The homes in the villages of Timar, Bakale, and Özalp were stuffed with hay and set on fire. Those that tried to escape were killed with bullets and bayonets. The inhabitants of a few villages in Zeve got organized and fought against the Armenians, but almost all of them -from seven different villages- were killed. Mass graves are still being uncovered in these villages and a memorial was built.
Eight of the twelve ships carried the Muslim refugees from Van, four ships carried government employees and their families. All the sailors aboard the vessels were Armenians. The Armenian bandits by the help of these sailors, forced the four government employee boats to dock at the Adir Island, and killed all the passengers. As to the remaining other eight boats they were taken to another island near Tatvan where Armenian bandits were waiting, but they managed to escape with few casualties because they were armed.
When we left Van, we first went to Bitlis, and later to Diyarbakir. We witnessed the Armenian savagery along the way. Finally, I will tell you about what we saw and heard upon returning to Van. The Armenians applied all types of torture to the inhabitants, God bless their souls. They paraded Isa Hodja, who was over 100 years old, on a donkey through the village, raided and looted homes, and gathered women and girls into Mr. Ziya's home where they repeatedly raped them. They threw the bodies of the dead into wells, and even filled the well of our mosque with the bodies of victims.
When General Cevdet entered Van for the first time, he asked the gendarmes to escort 130 women, whose husbands were at the front, to Diyarbakir. They were in bad situation in Van because they did not have any transportation. About 30 of them stayed in our house. They spun wool to survive. They were also given military rations. They told us that there was no end to the torture and cruelties they suffered at the hands of the Armenian bandits. The Armenians skinned the men, castrated them, and raped the women.
We returned to Van four years later. In the beginning we stayed two years, but were forced to flee again when the Russians arrived. This time we went as far as we could go. Finally we arrived to Siirt. When we returned, 200-250 Armenian families were seeking refuge on the Carpanak Island. They were hoping that the Turks would leave, and that they would resettle in Van. Most of them were artisans. A short time later, a new decree was issued, and they were sent to Revan under the protection of the government. However, Van was raided seven times by the enemy, was completely destroyed except for the Armenian quarters. We rebuilt the city afterwards.