Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaks

In the Zeytun and Sasun Armenian revolts, the Ottomans had learned that they needed to control internal disorder and that they cannot simply defend the borders. The Armenian Revolutionary Federations' plan of ferocious rebellions that provoked retaliatory attacks which would then be used to convince Europe that they should help Armenians achieve independence was about to be tested. Armenian authors argue that the rebellion was part of a self-defense against Ottoman troops which resulted in the Armenian Genocide, but how was it interpreted by British consuls?

To slow down Dashnak (ARF) recruitment, the Ottomans decided they needed to stop giving reason for Armenians to join the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaks), so they created roles in government for Christian officials in order to fix Armenian grievances. They created a "Christian Deputy Governor" position, and began to recruit Armenians into the Van police force and government. This began to take a toll on Dashnak recruiting, so the Dashnaks began to threaten and discourage Armenians who joined or thought of joining the Ottoman government.

The Security Problem

One problem was the Kurdish bandits and mobile tribes in the region who consistently took advantage of Armenian and Muslim villages. Sadettin Pasha became in charge of Van’s military force; he brought in new battalions and soldiers to protect the Van province Armenians.

A Kurdish Raid in March 30, 1896

Kurdish raiders attacked four Armenian villages on March 30th, 1896. Twenty-six Armenians were killed and much more wounded; the Kurds had stolen sheep and other livestock. [1]

Sadettin Pasha brought a battalion of troops and cavalry to the villages that were attacked, but sadly the Kurdish raiders were long gone. [2]

The Money Problem

Money was always a significant problem in the Van province, as taxes were difficult to collect and they also hurt the villagers who already suffered because of the terrible weather and agricultural conditions of Van. Paying the soldiers, was almost impossible, and the soldiers revolted several times because they were hungry (they were not paid for months).

Since the government could not even pay the soldiers it had, how could one expect them to pay for new soldiers that were needed to secure the large Van province. The Sublime Porte (Ottoman) government could not send much money. Sometimes the soldiers even sold their weapons to Armenian rebels.

The Van Revolt of 1896

British consul Williams noted that there were 400 members of Dashnak society in Van, and about 50 members of the Hunchaks. This did not include the recruits but the core members of the party. [3]

Consul Williams said the Dashnaks

British Consul Williams wrote:
terrorize over their countrymen, and by their outrages and follies, excite the Mahommedan population
to provoke them to attack Armenians.

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaks) began to distribute pamphlets and posters calling for revolution in Van. One post by the Dashnaks in March ended in this way:

Dashnaks wrote:
There can be no reconciliation; we will not put down our arms. We have a holy war, and it will be continued with greater savageness. Therefore let the Commission of the tyrant go to hell. Let there be no yielding to it. We are revolutionists, and this is our last word.
Death or Liberty!
Long live the Armenian people!
Long live the revolution!

Russian issue weapons were pouring in from smuggling routes in Iran and Russia. Although in Russia, the Armenian rebels had to bribe Russian border guards. Some Kurdish tribes attacked the Armenian Dashnaks to steal their weapons along the smuggling routes.

Van governor, Nazim Pasha reported to the government that

Nazim Pasha wrote:
all the Armenians [in the city] are armed, and they are hiding weapons.

The 1896 Van Rebellion began on June 3rd and the rebels planned to take the city and await reinforcements to pour in from Iran and hopefully they believed the Russian army would arrive to aid their Christian brethren.

On July 23rd, 1896, Sadettin Pasha prepared a report on the activities of the Dashnaks:

Sadettin Pasha wrote:

The rebels made barricades from trees… In this situation the Armenian [quarter of the city] became a fortified place that might have been designed by an army officer.

The report indicated that the Armenian Dashnak rebels were preparing for a rebellion months before, even informing the European consuls and diplomats so that they may report it to their media in hopes that it would bring military aid from Europe or Russia.

On the night of June 2nd and 3rd Armenian rebels began to fire on soldiers near the Armenian Garden District.

When news spread that soldiers were shot and wounded by Armenians, Kurdish tribes asked Sadettin Pasha to join the battle which would have created the massacres that would draw European intervention; hence, Sadettin Pasha ordered them to stay away from the city.

Sadettin Pasha was careful and did not want to immediately attack the rebel positions fearing a large loss of life of civilian population. Instead terms were offered to the rebels, and European consuls were requested to bear witness to the events so that rumors and false news of massacres would not be spread in Europe.

Unfortunately, the Armenians knew they could not last, especially after the Ottoman soldiers took over one outpost very easily and news from Iran that the Armenian rebel forces in Iran would not be coming to help them.

Eventually, the rebels slowly fled the city and as they escaped to Iran and Russia they attacked Muslim villages in the Van province.

Sadettin Pasha and British Consul Williams reported that approximately 340 Muslims and 219 Armenians had been killed. [5]

The Van Revolt Failed

The objectives set by the Dashnaks which was to spark violence in the city and spread news in Europe and Russia that Armenians were being slaughtered innocently had not worked very well in this particular incident.

The Dashnaks hoped that the rebellion would create enough casualties to spark European intervention to create a free and independent Armenia. This idea of sparking violence in hopes of large civilian casualties which would bring European intervention and thus sovereignty was modeled after the events in Bulgaria. In Bulgaria, a small group of Bulgarians had slaughtered Muslims, which caused large groups of Muslims to retaliate against Christian Bulgarians, and thus Russia interfered and Bulgaria was created. This had happened shortly before the Armenian revolution and the idea did eventually work, but the cost of life may not have been desired but the revolutionaries knew that civilian casualties were a necessity for a free Armenia.


  1. ^ The Armenian Rebellion at Van by Justin McCarthy (2006), p. 65
  2. ^ The Armenian Rebellion at Van by Justin McCarthy (2006), p. 65
  3. ^ The Armenian Rebellion at Van by Justin McCarthy (2006), p. 65-66
  4. ^ The Armenian Rebellion at Van by Justin McCarthy (2006), p. 65-67
  5. ^ The Armenian Rebellion at Van by Justin McCarthy (2006), p. 67