Mgrdich Terlemezian-Avedisian: Travelers on the Road of the Great Dream

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Avedisian 4-11 1By Hagop Vartivarian

 

Van, 1861 – Surp Partoghimeos, June 10, 1896

Childhood

He was born in 1861 in Van. He received his elementary education in the parish school of Hangoysner. Afterwards, in 1879 he entered the Normal School (varzhabedanots) founded by the Araradian Society in Van, the principal of which was Mgrdich Portukalian. Unfortunately, this educational center only lasted one year. In 1880, Portukalian, with the aid of Van prelate Khrimian Hayrig and Gosdantin Gamsaragan, the Russian vice-consul of Van, founded the Haygazean Central School where Mgrdich Terlemezian continued his education, fortunately, under the supervision of Kalusd Aslanian.

Mgrdich, reared in the Armenian national, patriotic and revolutionary spirit of Portukalian, successfully graduated the intermediate section of the Central School, having fully mastered the Armenian, Turkish and French languages.

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Immediately a Teacher in Portukalian’s School

The newly graduated student received the duties of teaching the aforementioned languages, general history and geography, and soon turned into the favorite of the students.

At the same time, Terlemezian became concerned about youth who worked as craftsmen and were only semi-literate, so he formed a Sunday school. Over 150 youths began to attend this school on Sundays, which turned into a blessing for the Aykesdan suburb of Van and the means for Van’s artisan youth to learn basic knowledge along with classes on the ideals of good manners, friendship and patriotism, and, most importantly, revolution and freedom. Terlemezian and his classmates also dedicated themselves to educational service in other schools of the districts of Paghesh (Bitlis) and Van.

In a short period of time this young and industrious teacher turned into the idol of the youth, and—why not?—into a leader. He immersed himself in Armenian national and social work, struggling on the one hand, in those days, against obscurantist clerics, and on the other hand, the caprices and oppressions of notables and the rich.

 

Founds the Armenagan Organization

Khrimian Hayrig and Mgrdich Portukalian were definitively expelled by the Ottoman authorities from Van as instigators of dangerous national revolutionary movements. Terlemezian continued the work they had begun. In August of the same year, in his paternal vineyard, he founds the Armenagan organization with some likeminded friends. This turned into the first ideological and revolutionary political party with distinct social convictions.

In 1886, at the age of 25, our future greatest revolutionary began to wage battle practically and openly against Bishop Boghos Melikian, prelate of Van, and his Armenian sympathizers. Vasburagan was the scene for many years of a battle between the supporters and opponents of the prelate, who respectively came to be called Boghosians and Aboghosians. The latter were supported by Khrimian Hayrig’s circle. And it was thanks to Bishop Boghos that Khrimian was expelled from Van.

Terlemezian had a whole year to foster the Armenagan movement and inculcate liberal-revolutionary ideology. Unfortunately, as the result of an article he published in the Constantinople Armenian press calling for a struggle against the Boghosians, he was persecuted in 1886 and finally arrested on the orders of the Ottoman government. Fortunately, however, he succeeded in escaping from prison, but consequently had to leave Van.


Exile

He went to Salmas, in Persia, where his reputation as a modest revolutionary had already spread. Indeed, he was accepted with great sympathy by the Salmas Armenians.

Thanks to his efforts, Armenian schools were opened in the 12 Armenian-populated villages of Salmas district. Avedisian travelled to the Caucasus, Russia, and then, in 1888, to Constantinople, where he again appeared in Armenian circles as a revolutionary apostle.

He wrote a very severe article against the Turkish government in Portukalian’s newspaper, Armenia, about the kidnapping of Gulizar of Moush. It seemed as if this restless revolutionary again was acting as a political party leader. Garabed Natanian, Dr. Kalusd Aslanian and Karekin Isakulian agreed with his article, and they were betrayed by an Armenian policeman. All three were imprisoned in the Yildiz Palace. After interrogation Natanian and Aslanian were released while Avedisian and Isakulian were exiled to African Tripoli (the present-day capital of Libya).

One day Avedisian noticed a steamship at the shore of the sea, and immediately throwing himself into the water he swam to the ship and thus saved himself. The poet Krisdapor Tateosian wrote about this brave act the song Yerp alegodz dzovun vray, which quickly became very popular. Avedisian arrived in Marseille on this steamer.

 

With His Teacher Portukalian in Marseille

Visiting his great teacher, Mgrdich Portukalian, in Marseille was like a pilgrimage for the great revolutionary. Portukalian received him warmly. He had settled in Marseille after being exiled from Van in 1885, and published his weekly newspaper Armenia there for many years. Terlemezian had become a collaborator in this newspaper, and wrote serious and erudite articles on Armenian national and political issues. These articles attracted a great deal of attention.

In 1890, a booklet by Terlemezian entitled Tiurkiayi hayere yev nrants tratsiner [The Armenians of Turkey and their Neighbors] was published by Portukalian’s Armenia press (42 pages of small type). Avedisian only signed it with his initials (M. A.). Having already been persecuted, he did not use his real last name. Instead, he turned his father’s name into a last name, Avedisian, in order not to invite suspicion. He became famous later in our revolutionary history with this paternal name. There were similar situations with other Constantinople Armenian intellectuals and revolutionaries.

 

Exile Continues

Terlemezian-Avedisian went to various European centers with large Armenian populations, and then visited America. In New York he founded the first Armenian library. He spread the ideas of revolution and liberty everywhere, and through his fiery speeches, wise thoughts, and patriotic passion he left a great impression. The exodus from the Armenian homeland to America had already started to gain momentum at that time. Leaving home and family behind, Armenian youth came to the shores of the Atlantic to work and send money to their families. Avedisian’s arrival was welcomed with profound patriotic enthusiasm.

 

Now with Khrimian Hayrig

In the summer of 1893 when the newly elected Catholicos of All Armenians Khrimian Hayrig traveled to Echmiadzin from Jerusalem via Europe, Avedisian joined Khrimian’s retinue and arrived in Echmaidzin. There, moved by great emotion, he kissed the right hand of this other great Mgrdich, his teacher and a revolutionary in his own right. On the advice of the catholicos, Avedisian immediately went to Salmas and applied himself to educational and revolutionary work. It should be noted that historically Iranian Adrbadagan (Azerbaijan) was always a diocese subject to Echmiadzin until the tragic church conflict of 1957.

 

Salmas (Adrbadagan)

In Salmas Avedisian reorganized the local schools, regularizing their revneues and forming a group of teachers from local knowledgeable youth. He simultaneously formed revolutionary fighting bands in Haftvan village under the Armenagan banner. This province of Iran, Adrbadagan (Iranian Azerbaijan), had great significance for the Armenians of Vasburagan, and especially for our revolutionaries of Van. Its geographic proximity, as the closest neighboring land, made the transport of weapons, munitions and money easy.

Upon the request of the prelate of the Armenians of Adrbadagan, Bishop Sukias Barziants, Avedisian accepted the position of regional director of the Armenian schools of Salmas, Urmia and Khoy, and worked for some two years as such (1893-95). Some of Avedisian’s letters sent to Persian-Armenian intellectuals of the time are still extant, and reveal the full extent of his pedagogical activities.

During these years, Krikor Beozigian (Shigaher) and Armenag Yegarian, his comrades from Van, were his collaborators. Yegarian always was preoccupied with the transportation of weapons to Vasburagan.

 

The Hamidian Massacres

The 1894 massacre of Sasun had created much anxiety not only among Armenians but throughout the world politically. Van due to its unique position was not touched during the 1895 general massacres. However, as Van’s governor-general, Nazim Pasha, was considered incompetent by Sultan Abdul Hamid II (soon to be known as the Red Sultan, or Bloody Sultan), and was removed from his post, the sultan sent in his stead one of his bodyguards, Ferik Saadeddin Pasha, to organize and incite a Turkish and Kurdish mob in Van and its environs against the Armenians.

When the menace of the Armenian massacres organized by the sultan in 1895 (or more precisely, the first attempt at genocide) first was felt in Van, Avedisian foresaw the coming danger and resigned from his educational work. He formed a detachment of fighters that summer in Salmas and left with the group to Van with the intent of organizing self-defense efforts there.

Armenagan Ardag Tarpinian later wrote in his memoirs that “the Armenagans, guessing at the intentions of this unusual inspector of the sultan, naturally while implementing all possible means of self-defense, were going to try not to give any pretext for the excitation of Turkish fanaticism.”

 

The First Defense of Van

Mgrdich Avedisian, newly returned from Salmas, undertook the leadership of the self-defense of Van. He was aided by Bedo (Agheksantr Bedrosian of Alexandropol) of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and Mardig (Mardiros Sarukhanian of Shushi) of the Hnchagian Party. For the first time these three political parties consolidated their forces. On June 3, 1896, Monday morning, Turkish troops and a Muslim mob attacked the Armenian quarters. The specter of massacres turned into reality in the spring of 1896 for Van on June 5.

The inter-political party military council instructed Shigaher, Manug Vartanian (Derbé) and Armenag Yegarian to go to Persia to collect money and weapons for the future. The plan failed since the Persian authorities arrested our revolutionaries. Meanwhile during a week of self-defense battles in Van, many revolutionary comrades from all three parties were killed.

The successful resistance of the Armenians did not only make the Ottoman government anxious—it also had its effect on British vice-consul Major W. H. Williams at Van. The British government feared that the Armenians’ resistance and self-defense could be used as a pretext by the Russian Tsarist government for attacking Turkey. Saint Petersburg had been interested for a long time in reaching the warm waters of the Mediterranean by means of Armenian territory. Therefore, Great Britain attempted to halt this crisis by means of its experienced diplomatic cunning.

Indeed, it succeeded in this mission. Negotiations were begun, and, taking into consideration the Armenians’ lack of military supplies, the Armenians were asked to send the fighters away from Van to Persia. In return they would be promised by the Ottoman state that there would be no pursuit of the fighters during their withdrawal, while the Armenians of Van and surrounding villages would be left alone. Great Britain guaranteed this agreement. Armenian notables of Van held a meeting and decided to accept the offer.
Toward Surp Partoghimeos Monastery

At night, around 1000 fighters assembled at Mt. Varak. The Armenagans, around 600 men led by Mgrdich Avedisian, planned to cross the frontier to Persia via St. Partoghimeos (Bartholemew) Monastery of Aghpag. The ARF members and Hnchageans, around 50 armed men, waited several more days on Mt. Karahisar’s slopes to see how events developed, were to cross via a different route to the same destination.

Meanwhile, as Van and the Armenian-populated Aykesdan quarter were defenseless, the Turkish and Kurdish mob again attacked, and massacred 6-700 innocent Armenians. Saadeddin Pasha was in seventh heaven. In the end, the city authorities by making the Armenian youth leave Van remained in control of the city.

The Armenagans who left with Avedisian, who were the elite of the intellectual youth of Van, began to be harassed by eight to ten thousand Turkish soldiers and Kurdish Hamidiye cavalry members even at the outskirts of the city, contrary to Ottoman promises and English guarantees. At the pass of Rukh and Guzel Dere, the group succeeded in breaking through a line of siege after 24 hours of unequal battles and advanced toward Aghpag. Several of the fighters were killed. During this period, approximately 40 fighters also made it back to Van.

The group, increasingly tired and persecuted, succeeded in arriving in front of Surp Partoghimeos Monastery, which was not far from the Persian border. The Armenagans attempted to take refuge in the sturdy monastery but failed. Not only the monastery, but all strategically important points in its surroundings had been previously occupied by the enemy. A battle of one against ten began, the description of which has not reached us unfortunately. We only know that after a bloody and fatal battle the Armenians were all slaughtered. Approximately 800, including Avedisian, died.

The members of the ARF and Hnchagian group, who separated from Avedisian’s group earlier, waited a week at Mt. Varak and then decided to cross to Persia. However they too on the way were all killed with Bedo and Mardig by Kurds.

Popular songs were dedicated to their memory. Avedisian’s student Vazken (Dikran Deroyan), wrote the following lines in memory of his teacher.

 

Like a lion you fell wounded to the ground,

You roared in your powerful and ferocious voice;

Oh you foe, merciless lawless foe,

You took your vengeance in this base manner on the Armenians.

 

…Oh when you took rest in the bosom of the earth

You renewed the bitter wound of our hearts;

We swear from this moment not to forget you, your name,

Until a new hope dawns for us—salvation.

 

And when spring arrives with its sweet gentle breeze,

We will assembly around your tomb in a group,

We will weave a wreath, dedicate songs to your name

We will cover your grave completely with flowers.

 

With this irreplaceable loss, Van entered a defenseless period without its young fighters. They were a group of promising youth, raised on the inspirations of Portukalian and Khrimian. Now only a few Armenagans, such as Panos Terlemezian, Krikor Beozigian, Karekin Pagheshtsian (Manugian), Mikayel Natanian, Rupen Shadvorian and Krikor Ajemian, were left. The loss of these intellectuals cost Vasburagan and all Armenians more than the actual massacres of Van proper.

Mgrdich Terlemezian-Avedisian was a pioneer of our bloody liberation struggle. With his Armenian national and revolutionary activities, he has earned a place of respect and honor in modern Armenian history. The remains of Avedisian and his Armenagan cubs rest in the hills near Surp Partoghimeos Monastery, under piles of stones. Their graves were places of pilgrimage for Armenian travelers up until fifty years ago.

Today it is desolate there. Their souls, yearning for Armenians, wander about these hills and plains, far from their birthplace of Van.

(Translated from the Armenian)