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The occupation of Western Armenia by the Russian Empire during World War I began in 1915 formally ended by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. It was sometimes referred to as the Republic of Van[1][2][3] by Armenians, because the occupation imitated in Van. Aram Manukian of Armenian Revolutionary Federation was the de facto head until July 1915.[4] It was briefly referred to as "Free Vaspurakan".[5] After a setback beginning in August 1915, it was re-established in June 1916. From December 1917, it was under Transcaucasian Commissariat, with Hakob Zavriev as the Commissar, and during the early stages of the establishment of First Republic of Armenia, it was included with other Armenian National Councils in a briefly unified Armenia.

This provisional government relied on Armenian volunteer units, forming an administrative structure after the Siege of Van around April 1915. Dominant representation was from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Aram Manukian, or "Aram of Van," was the administration's most famous governor.

Population distribution

During the Siege of Van, there were between 67,792 (according to the 1914 Ottoman population estimates) and 185,000 Armenians (according to the Armenian Patriarch's 1912 estimate) in the Van Vilayet.[6] In the city of Van itself there were around 30,000 Armenians, but more Armenians from surrounding villages joined them during the Ottoman offensive.

6 Armenian provinces of Western Armenia and boundaries between countries before World War I

6 Armenian provinces of Western Armenia. Patten, William and J.E. Homas, Turkey in Asia (with 6 Armenian provinces of Western Armenia), 1903.


Formation, 1915

The conflict began on April 20, 1915, with Aram Manukian as the leader of the resistance; it lasted for two months. In May, the Armenian battalions and Russian regulars entered the city and drove the Ottoman army out of Van.[7]

Departure from Van

In July, two months of self-government under the leadership of Manougian. The conflict turned against the Armenians. The Ottoman Army, under Pasha Kerim, launched a counterattack in the Lake Van area and defeated the Russians at the Battle of Malazgirt and Battle of Kara Killisse.

Ambassador Morgenthau's Story included a picture of the Armenian refugees at Van.[8]

The Russians retreated east. There were as many as 250,000 Armenians crowded into the city of Van.[9] These people were the escapees from the deportations established by Tehcir Law. Included many who broke away from the deportation columns as they passed the vicinity on their way to Mosul.[9] Armenians from this region retreated to the Russian frontier.[10]

During the counterattack, Manougian and Sampson Aroutiounian, president of the Armenian National Council of Tbilisi) helped refugees from the region to reach Echmiadzin.[11] As a result of famine and fatigue, many refugees suffered from disease, especially dysentery.[11] On 29 December 1915, the Dragoman of the Vice-Consulate at Van, according to the Armenian Bishop of Erivan and other sources, was able to procure the Caucasus refugees from the region.[12]

Origin 13 August
Echmiadzin refugees[11]
29 December
Caucasus refugees[12]
Van and surrounding region 203,000[11] 105,000[12]
Malazgirt (Muş Province) 60,000[11] 20,038 [12]
Regional Total 250,000[10] (from Narrative of Van)

Return to Van

During the winter of 1915, the Ottoman forces retreated one more time. Aram Manukian returned to Van and re-established his post.[12] The governor declared strict measures to prevent pillage and destruction of property in December 1915. Some threshing machines and flour mills resumed work in the district so that bakeries could reopen, and the restoration of buildings commenced in some streets.[12]

29 December Returned refugees[12]
City of Van 6,000

Expansion, 1916

The 1916 extension.

At the turn of 1916, Armenian refugees returned to their homes, but the Russian government raised barriers in prevention.[13] During 1916–17, 8,000 to 10,000 Armenians were permitted to inhabit Van.

One report said:

"Men are going in large numbers; caravans of those returning to the fatherland enter via Iğdır. Most of the refugees in the Erevan province returned to Van."[14]

1 March Returned refugees Expected[14]
Van district 12,000 between 20,000 and 30,000

The government confiscated Russian property, turning it into communal farms and dividing it among Armenian adult males. Over 40% of the population of Van left the city to go work on the farms. The Armenian government started a weapons and ammunition industry, and most of the formerly Russian mines were scrapped and used for building projects in Van. The Armenian government tried to impose taxes, but most people ignored the tax collectors.[citation needed]

The Near East relief brought relief to the victims of the war, organized in 1916 as Children's Home in Van. Children's Home helped children to learn to read and write and supported them with nice clothes.[15] Near East relief worked in Syria and "several hundred thousand" during the Caucasus Campaign.[16]

The area of Russian occupation of Western Armenia in summer 1916 (Russian map).

Near east relief besides Van opened other centers such as Bitlis. The Armenian refugees learning lace.

Russian plans

In April 1915, Nikolai Yudenich reported the following to Count Illarion Ivanovich Vorontsov-Dashkov:

The Armenians intend to occupy by means of their refugees the lands left by the Kurds and Turks, in order to benefit from that territory. I consider this intention unacceptable, because after the war, it will be difficult to reclaim those lands sequestered by the Armenians or to prove that the seized property does not belong to them, as was the case after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. I consider it very desirable

to populate the border regions with a Russian element... with colonists from the Kuban and Don and in that way to form a Cossack region along the border.[17]

The agricultural possibilities located off the Black Sea coastal districts and the upper reaches of the Euphrates were considered suitable for Russian colonists.[18] The Rules for the Temporary Administration of Turkish Areas occupied by the Right of War was signed on June 18, 1916, instructing a governorship under the established system of Aram Manukian.

However, the February 1917 Revolution deposed Tsar Nicholas II of the Russian crown, and the new establishment promised to reverse the policies in order to gain support of the Armenians.

The settlement, 1917

Approximately 150,000 Armenians relocated to Erzurum Vilayet, Bitlis Vilayet, Mush and Van Vilayet in 1917.[19] The Armenians began to build houses and till farmlands in preparation for the 1917 autumn harvest. The prospect of a new autonomous state seemed favorable for provisional governor Aram Manukian, with the administrative seat favorably located between Russia and the Ottoman Empire.

Although military front lines were relatively stable, 1917 marked the year of the Russian Revolution. Armen Garo and others asked for Armenian regulars in the European theater to be transferred to the Caucasus front, a move aimed to increase the stability of the provisional government.

Special Transcaucasus Committee

The Viceroyalty of the Caucasus was abolished by the Russian Provisional Government on March 18, 1917, and all authority, except in the zone of the active army, was entrusted to the civil administrative body called the Special Transcaucasian Committee, or Ozakom. Hakob Zavriev was instrumental in having Ozakom issue a decree about the administration of the occupied territories. This region was officially identified as "the land of Western Armenia" and transferred to a civilian rule under Zavriev, who oversaw districts Trebizon, Erzurum, Bitlis, and Van.[20] Each of the districts had their own Armenian governor, with Armenian civil officials.

National frontline

The Russian army in the Caucasus was organized along national and ethnic lines, such as the Armenian volunteer units and Russian Caucasus Army on the eve of 1917.[21] However, the Russian Caucasus Army disintegrated, leaving Armenian soldiers to become the only defenders against the Ottoman Army.[22]

The front line had three main divisions, led respectively by Movses Silikyan, Andranik Ozanian and Mikhail Areshian. Armenian partisan guerrilla detachments accompanied these main units. The Ottomans outnumbered the Armenians three to one on a frontline 300 miles (480 km) long, with high mountain areas and passes.

Retreat, 1918

The chairman of the Van Relief Committee (Near East Relief) was Kostin Hambartsumian, who, taking into consideration the general political situation, conveyed the one thousand five hundred orphans of Children's Home of Van to Gyumri in 1917.

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, March 1918

March–April 1918 Andranik Ozanian was the Governor

A new border was drawn by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed between Russian SFSR and the Ottoman Empire on March 3, 1918. The treaty assigned the Van Vilayet alongside the Kars Vilayet, Ardahan, and Batum regions to the Ottoman Empire. The treaty also stipulated that Transcaucasia was to be declared independent.

The Resistance, March 1918

The Armenian Congress of Eastern Armenians (ACEA) representatives on the Duma joined their colleagues in declaring independence of the Transcaucasus from Russia.

On April 5, head of the Transcaucasian delegation Akakii Chkhenli accepted the Treaty as a basis for negotiation and wired the governing bodies, urging them to accept this position.[23] The mood prevailing in Tiflis was very different; the treaty did not create a united block. Armenia acknowledged the existence of a state of war with the Ottoman Empire.[23] This short-lived Transcaucasian Federation broke up. Once they were free from Russia control, the ACEA declared the Democratic Republic of Armenia. ACEA did not recognize the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and the Ottoman Empire struggled against the Democratic Republic of Armenia. The ACEA devised policies to direct the war effort as well as the relief and repatriation of refugees, passing a law organizing the defense of the Caucasus against the Ottoman Empire using supplies and munitions left by the Russian army. The Congress also selected a 15-member permanent executive committee, known as the Armenian National Council. The chairman of this committee was Avetis Aharonyan, and he declared that the Administration for Western Armenia was part of the Democratic Republic of Armenia.

The Ottoman Empire's War Minister, Enver Pasha, sent the Third Army to Armenia. Under heavy pressure from the combined forces of the Ottoman army and the Kurdish irregulars, the Republic was forced to withdraw from Erzincan to Erzurum. The Battle of Sardarapat, May 22–26, 1918, proved that General Movses Silikyan could cause an Ottoman retreat. Further southeast, in Van, the Armenians resisted the Ottoman army until April 1918. The Armenians in Van were forced to evacuate and withdraw to Persia. Richard G. Hovannisian explains the conditions of the resistance during March 1918:

"In the summer of 1918, the Armenian national councils reluctantly transferred from Tiflis to Yerevan to take over the leadership of the republic from the popular dictator Aram Manukian and the renowned military commander Drastamat Kanayan. It then began the daunting process of establishing a national administrative machinery in an isolated and landlocked misery. This was not the autonomy or independence which Armenian intellectuals had dreamed of and for which a generation of youth had been sacrificed. Yet, as it happened, it was here that the Armenian people were destined to continue [their] national existence."[24]

—R.G. Hovannisian

The Azerbaijani Tatars sided with the Ottoman Empire and seized the lines of communication, cutting off the Armenian National Councils in Baku and Erevan from the National Council in Tbilisi. The British sent a small military force under the command of Gen. Lionel Charles Dunsterville into Baku, arriving on August 4, 1918.

On October 30, 1918, the Ottoman Empire signed the Armistice of Mudros, and military activity in the region ceased. Enver Pasha's movement disintegrated with the armistice.[25]

Recognition Efforts

Summary of Wilsonian Armenia


Building the Great Armenia

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, between the Ottoman Empire and Russian SFSR, included the establishment of Armenia in Russian Armenia. The Administration for Western Armenia had a setback with the Treaty of Batum, forcing the Armenian borders to be pushed deeper into Russian Armenia.

The Armenian Diaspora argued that it was natural to extend the borders to Armenian control, since after the Russian Revolution the region was controlled by Armenian volunteer units, and later by Armenia. The Armenian provisional government used as an argument, "the ability to control the region".

The majority of the population was becoming Armenian, as the Turkish inhabitants of the region moved to the western provinces; this became a secondary argument. With the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, the triple Entente Powers tried to determine the fate of Anatolia.

During the Conference of London, David Lloyd George encouraged American President Woodrow Wilson to accept a mandate for Anatolia, particularly with the support of the Armenian diaspora, for the provinces claimed by the Administration for Western Armenia during its largest occupation in 1916. Wilsonian Armenia became part of the Treaty of Sèvres.

The realities on the ground, however, were different. This idea was blocked in both the Treaty of Alexandropol and the Treaty of Kars. The Treaty of Sèvres was superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne, and the fight for the "Administration for Western Armenia" was dropped from the table.

Today, as a continuation of the initial goal, the creation of a "free, independent, and united" Armenia including all the territories designated as Wilsonian Armenia by the Treaty of Sèvres — as well as the regions of Artsakh, Javakhk, and Nakhchivan — is the main goal of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.



Civil affairs

  • May 1917 – Dec 1917 Hakob Zavriev

Civil Commissioner


  • April 19, 1915: Fire in the powder stores of the Van armoury.
  • April 20, 1915: Armenians in the city of Van, the countryside, and small towns begin a local uprising.
  • April 24, 1915: Ottoman governor asks permission to move the Muslim civilian population to the west.
  • May 2, 1915: Ottoman Army moves close to Van, but withdraws because of the presence of the Russian Army.
  • May 3, 1915: Russian Army enters Van.
  • August 16, 1915: Ottoman Army besieges Van; Battle of Van.
  • September 1915: Ottoman Army is forced out by Russians.
  • August 1916: Ottoman Army moves to the west of the region (Mush and Bitlis), but is forced out within a month.
  • February 1917: Russian units disintegrate. Armenian volunteer units keep formation.
  • September 1917: The Armenian Congress of Eastern Armenia merges Armenian volunteer units into a single militia under its control.
  • February 10, 1918: The Duma of the Transcaucasus convenes.
  • February 24, 1918: The Duma of the Transcaucasus declares the region to be an independent, democratic, federative republic.
  • March 3, 1918: The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk gives Kars, Ardahan, and Batum regions to the Ottoman Empire.
  • March 4, 1918: The Administration for Western Armenia condemns the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
  • March 9, 1918: The Administration for Western Armenia presents its position to the Ottoman Empire.
  • May 22, 1918: Battle of Sardarapat; Armenian militia fight against the Ottoman Empire.
  • May 28, 1918: The Armenian Congress of Eastern Armenia declares the formation of the Democratic Republic of Armenia and its independence from the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic.
  • August 4, 1918: General Lionel Charles Dunsterville leads a British expeditionary force into Baku and becomes the city's military governor.
  • October 30, 1918: The Ottoman Empire signs the Armistice of Mudros, agreeing to leave the Transcaucasus.


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  2. Aya, Şükrü Server (2008). The genocide of truth. Eminönü, Istanbul: Istanbul Commerce University Publications. p. 296. ISBN 9789756516249. 
  3. Onnig Mukhitarian, Haig Gossoian (1980). The Defense of Van, Parts 1-2. Central Executive General Society of Vasbouragan. p. 125. 
  4. The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times: Foreign Dominion to Statehood, edited by Richard G. Hovannisian.
  5. Robert-Jan Dwork Holocaust: A History by Deborah and van Pelt, p 38
  6. "The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-1916" by JAMES VISCOUNT BRYCE, London, T. Fisher Unwin Ltd., 1916
  7. Kurdoghlian, Mihran (1996) (in hy). Hayots Badmoutioun (Armenian History). Hradaragutiun Azkayin Oosoomnagan Khorhoortee, Athens. pp. 92–93. 
  8. Morgenthau, Henry (1917). Ambassador Morgenthau's Story. Doubleday, Page & Company. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire" pp.314-316,
  10. 10.0 10.1 A.S. Safrastian "Narrative of Van 1915" Journal Ararat, London, January, 1916
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Arnold Toynbee, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916: Documents Presented to Viscount, p. 226.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 Arnold Joseph Toynbee "The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916: Documents Presented to Viscount" the section : "MEMORANDUM ON THE CONDITION OF ARMENIAN REFUGEES IN THE CAUCASUS: ..."
  13. Garegin Pasdermadjian, Aram Torossian, "Why Armenia Should be Free: Armenia's Rôle in the Present War" page 31
  14. 14.0 14.1 Arnold Toynbee, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916: Documents Presented to Viscount, "Repatriation of Refugees: Letter, dated Erevan, March, 1916."
  15. Memories of Eyewitness-Survivors of the Armenian Genocide GHAZAR GHAZAR GEVORGIAN'S TESTIMONY Born in 1907, Van, Armenian valley, Hndstan village
  16. Jay Murray Winter "America and the Armenian Genocide of 1915" p.193
  17. Gabriel Lazian (1946), "Hayastan ev Hai Dare" Cairo, Tchalkhouchian, pages 54-55.
  18. Ashot Hovhannisian, from "Hayastani avtonomian ev Antantan: Vaveragrer imperialistakan paterazmi shrdjanits (Erevan, 1926), pages 77–79
  19. The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times: Foreign Dominion to Statehood, Richard G. Hovannisian, ed.
  20. Richard G. Hovannisian, The Armenian People From Ancient To Modern Times. page 284
  21. David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, Reforming the Tsar's Army: Military Innovation in Imperial Russia from Peter the Great, p. 52
  22. The Armenians: Past and Present in the Making of National Identity, ed. Edmund Herzig, Marina Kurkchiyan, p.96
  23. 23.0 23.1 Richard Hovannisian "The Armenian people from ancient to modern times" Pages 292-293
  24. The Armenians: Past and Present in the Making of National Identity, p. 98, edited by Edmund Herzig, Marina Kurkchiyan
  25. Fromkin, David (1989), A Peace to End All Peace, The parting of the ways. (Avon Books).

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