Editor’s Note: In this Armenian Genocide Centennial Issue we provide excerpts from the soon to be published book “Memoirs of an Armenian Genocide Survivor From Hadjin,” by Asadour Chalian.
Petitions were made via the National Union to the French Government. However, these requests to send French forces to Hadjin, remained unanswered. Each day, telegrams from Hadjin were received expressing the close proximity of the danger. The petitions would be repeated to send aid.
I, along with Shemavon Posdoian, knowing with certainty the tired state of the Hadjintsi fighting forces, both with their physical and combat training, were opposed to send forces to Hadjin. (Given the massive Turkish forces involved, Hadjin would be in no state to defend itself.) With convincing proof, we worked to evacuate the city of Hadjin to Sis.
Eventually, along with the head of the National Union, Mihran Damadian,1 we went to French Governmental offices to submit our request for evacuation. Among those in the National Union and us, Mr. Damadian was the one who was the most against the notion of evacuation from Hadjin to Sis. He did not agree with our viewpoint at all. He wanted for Hadjin to resist the forces of the Kemal Turkish forces — “fight or die.”
However, the battle was inevitable. Mr. Damadian became convinced, and presented our request to the French Government. The representative of the French government, Colonel Mr. Bremond, agreed and accepted the evacuation up to Sis.
We immediately drafted and sent a telegram to Hadjin to prepare and evacuate. Shemavon and I were very happy, knowing that Hadjin, without a battle, was able to be saved by evacuation. There was no other way. Otherwise, people would die of starvation.
The next morning Mr. Damadian asked to see me and Mr. Shemavon. Upon our arrival, he communicated an official notice from the French Government, which criticized our request for evacuation and stated: “How can you demand independence for Cilicia, if you are going to run away from fighting like this? We, the Government of France, promise to arm and provide provisions to volunteer fighters recruited by you, and to send them to Hadjin. Therefore, you are to train and prepare 200-man units every two days, ready for deployment.”
We were surprised by this reversal. None of us accepted their promise of arming us, nor did any of us believe their promise of aiding us in the face of any eventuality. It was becoming abundantly clear that, in this manner, the French were going to bury Hadjin forever.
The French government’s catastrophic plan was diametrically opposed to our actual resources and capabilities in Hadjin. However, after discussions and counsel with the Compatriotic Union of Hadjin and with Bishop Sarajian, we were forced to accept the French government’s proposal.
The National Union composed a long telegram to be sent to Hadjin, outlining the way in which the French had promised assistance. They gave the telegram to me, so that after I translated it to the local Hadjintsi dialect, I would forward it on to Hadjin. In the Telegraph Office, with the facilitation of an Armenian employee named Mr. Mardigian, I sent the telegram. The Chief Telegrapher in Hadjin, Mr. Garabed Evikhanian, immediately confirmed receipt. Our attempt to ask Mr. Evikhanian a follow-up question was for naught because the town of Fekeh had cut the telegraph lines. For us, Hadjin was silenced forever, left to its own devices and its own fate.
The Kaimakam of Hadjin, the Armenian Mr. Armenag, who had long been the target of a campaign of Hunchag harassment, resigned from his post as Kaimakam and came to Adana. Thereafter, a Hunchag, Mr. Mateos Yeretsian, a well-known and high-ranking French governmental official, arranged for a member of our clan, attorney Mr. Garabed Chalian, to be sent to Hadjin as the new kaimakam, even though he had recently recuperated from an illness and was still weak.
This new kaimakam, upon his immediate arrival in Hadjin, set free 80 to 100 prominent imprisoned Turks from the villages surrounding Hadjin, seemingly to appease the Turkish population. Although in reality, the Hadjintsis, for their own protection, had strategically sequestered those prominent Turks, to use as leverage in case of a siege or other dangerous situation. The Hadjintsis were preparing for future threats on them that the Turks from Marash were planning. The fact that these Turks were set free by the Armenian and Hadjintsi kaimakam, left a very bad impression on the Hadjintsis.
When the Kaimakam of Hadjin and head of the Gendarmerie were newly appointed, the Turkish threat reached the final stage. They feared being subject to siege, which became a reality on March 7-8, 1920. The chains of communication were severed. Hadjin was left to its own devices, its fate was in its own hands, to live or die through battle.
The National Union of Adana (the governing authority) convened a joint meeting with Board Members of the Compatriotic Union of Hadjin. At that meeting, they decided to act in accordance with the French government’s proposal to come to the aid of Hadjin by recruiting volunteer fighters. Very quickly, the First Contingent of 200 volunteers was at the ready. Since I was not a member of the Board of the Compatriotic Union of Hadjin that year, they decided that I would leave with the first group to Misis, which was approximately an hour and a half from Adana by rail. There, I would be responsible for the difficult task of providing provisions — arms, food, supplies, and transit — for these first contingents heading for Sis. I thought long and hard prior to accepting this big responsibility. The Chairman of the National Union, Mr. Damadian, insisted, along with members of the Compatriotic Union of Hadjin, that I take the position. And, so, I did, with the promise that they would provide all possible assistance.
I departed for Misis. The French government, for this First Contingent, had already sent the military and other necessities there prior to my arrival. The first 200-man contingent of volunteers arrived under the command of an officer in the French Army from the Armenian Legion, Mr. Changalian, and Officer of the Gendarmerie, Mr. Boghos Toursarkissian, and other experienced group leaders. One day, after exercises and training in Misis, they left for Sis and arrived there. Two to 3 days later, the Second Contingent arrived and I sent them onward. The Third Contingent arrived in Misis under the command of Roupen Herian (who had saved Armenian orphans); Hagop Khachigian (a member of the French Army’s Armenian Legion, and one of General Antranig’s officers); and the well-known Garabed Efendi Geokderelian from Adana. This last individual was not only not a soldier, but he was entirely shallow and opportunistic. This man, contrary to the inconspicuous and secret nature of our work, directed our volunteer fighters to perform drills in the presence of the Turkish Mudir,2 in Misis thus inciting the Turks. This Third Contingent left for Sis two days later.
Mr. Shemavon and I considered sending incendiary material to Hadjin. We approached the French authorities, who promised to deliver our materials by air-drop. Pharmacist Haig Masdigian (now living in Egypt) procured for us potassium chlorate, bomb pins, medicines and first aid materials. According to the French, this material had been previously been delivered to Hadjin in the early days of the siege. After the fall of Hadjin, we confirmed that 1-2 cases of ammunition had been delivered by airplane. However, the same amounts had also been delivered to the Turks. A few days later, we transferred our second batch of explosive material to the French for delivery to Hadjin, however this time they had delivered nothing and would later return the supplies to us.
The French, due to the political conditions, relocated the Armenian population of Sis to Adana, along with our volunteer fighters. From Sis, on May 19, Asdour Sachian, in return for promised remuneration, had gone to Hadjin, returning three days later and relocated to Adana with the Armenian population. He may have been the last person who was able to go to Hadjin. It was through his experience that we found out that since March 10-15, Hadjin, under siege, had victoriously been fighting against stronger forces. The siege around Hadjin had been drawn tighter and they were in dire need of ammunition, food, and other provisions.
Sachian also came back with coded letters from the new kaimakam whose keys (decoding method) we had confirmed prior to his departure. In a letter to the National Union, the kaimakam wrote, “If you do not help us quickly, you will stand in shame before history… Those responsible for the deaths of 7,000-8,000 Armenians will be those who did not wish to help us…”
All the other letters received also expressed hopelessness. Their Commander Sarkis Jebejian, who was wounded, also sent a heart-wrenching letter pleading for help.
With his back and forth trips to and from Hadjin and his delivery of vital information, Asdour Sachian became a hero for us. I wrote an article about him for our Giligia newspaper, where I elevated him to the status of hero. To this day, despite his ignorance which was an embarrassment for us Hadjintsis, he remains “Heros Asdour.”
Among those Armenians being relocated by the French from Sis to Adana, there were many Hadjintsis from Hadjin proper, Kars-Bazaar, and other regions. With the evacuation of the Armenian population of Sis, the salvation of Hadjin became even more hopeless. Prior to the evacuation of Sis, we could sometimes entertain the notion of the Hadjintsis breaking through the siege and somehow finding their way to safety in Sis. But, now, that glimmer of hope had disappeared as well.
We — Mr. Shemavon and I — had our doubts about Mr. Damadian’s sincerity in regards to his efforts to aid Hadjin. From the beginning, he was a proponent of the continuation of battle and against the idea of retreat. It was believed that under the banner of aiding Hadjin, his purpose was the pursuit of the Cilician cause. This was the furthest thing from the truth, since French policy was opposed to such a stance. Secret negotiations were underway, in Ankara, between French Turcophiles and the Turks. Kemal’s nationalist forces had taken up strategic positions at Kurd Tepeh, near Adana, and were following the negotiations. Until the very end, Mr. Damadian supported the idea of continuing the battle, remaining opposed to any attempts at coming to an understanding between the Hadjintsis and the Turks.
Hasan Bey, a Circassian from Hadjin, was in Adana, and wanted to come to an understanding with the commander of the nationalist Turkish forces at Kurd Tepeh, to end the siege of Hadjin. We sent the American, Dr. Dodd, to Kurd Tepeh a few times with the full knowledge of Vali3.
Jelal Bey of the Adana province. This Vali was considered a friend to Armenians because of his efforts to prevent their deportation from the Konya province.
Our negotiations were close to ending under the following conditions: the Hadjintsis would remove the French flag and in its place the Turkish flag would be raised; arms and ammunition would not be surrendered; everyone would tend to their business peacefully; there would be no obstacles to the Turkish Army moving down towards Choukour Ova, etc., and the liaison to, as well as the representative of, the Armenians of Hadjin, would be Dr. Dodd. When the French became privy to these discussions, they had the Vali, Jelal Bey, stripped of his title and office, and had him sent away. They also made sure that the Iranian Consul at Adana, named Safa Bey, who had also expressed the desire to be of help to us Hadjintsis, was neutralized and could do nothing. This was all done to sabotage our efforts at saving Hadjin from destruction—efforts for which, the success, was not guaranteed to be in our favor.
Mr. Damadian, as well as the members of the Board of the Compatriotic Union of Hadjin, Messrs. Hagop Chamsarian, Hovsep Poladian, Sahag Kradjian, Garabed Medadzumian, and Hovannes Ouzounian, as well as others, decided to recruit 18-35 year old Hadjintsi males for a new volunteer corps.
Under the direction of Mr. Sarkis Jebejian from Hadjin, and under the Command of the militarily adept Mr. Sarkis Armaghanian, the new force began meeting in Akharja. They, once again, asked me to take on the heavy responsibility for logistics, including movement of arms, ammunition and general materiel, as well as inviting me to become a member of the Military Committee. They even offered to give me a monthly salary, which I declined. The members of the Military Committee were Messrs. Garabed Kirkyasharian (living in Paris), Yeghishe Keklikian, Haji Agha Jerian, poet Mardiros Voskian (killed by Turkish Chettehs while crossing at Deort Yol near the village of Najarli along with 3 or 4 others), and myself.
The French had prohibited the movement of arms and ammunition from Adana to Akharja. I was able to circumnavigate this obstacle through the facilitation of a friend named Levon Terzian, who was the watchman of the bridge and who was an employee of the French. Thus, I safely transported the munitions to arrive at Akharja.
I was now the armory depot chief and distribution supervisor for the Tashnags. I was provided a horse (which was later stolen and sold by some Hadjintsis). I also had a car to be able to help Hadjintsis and the Tashnag fighters in the plains of Adana, delivering necessary logistic and military supplies while they protected the region. The Tashnags had provided the car and the driver. The roads in the area were not safe. Near the village of Ji-Maal we had been fired upon by Turkish Chettehs whose rounds took the lives of some of those with me. God saved me.
1 Mihran Damadian was a Hunchag who had participated in the self-defense of Sassoun in 1894-1895.
2 Mudir is a Turkish word meaning administrator or director.
3Vali is the Turkish word for ‘governor-general’