Serob Aghbiur: The Leadership of Revolutionary Hero
Illustration: Anaïs Chagankerian
In 1893, a noted Armenian revolutionary who adopted the name Hrair-Dzhoghk (Armenak Ghazarian) went via Batum to Constantinople and on to Rumania to recruit Armenian volunteers. One of the men he recruited was to become Andranik Ozanian’s mentor, the famed Serob Aghbiur (Serob Vardanian).
Who was this man Serob Aghbiur who earned a great fame as a valiant and fearless fedayee (freedom fighter)?
Serob was born in 1864, the youngest in his family. He grew up in the village of Sokhort in the Akhlat district of Taron province. Serob often rode his horse and hunted on Mount Nemrut. One day when Serob was out hunting wild deer in the forested valleys of Nemrut, an incident occurred that changed his life. Two Kurds noticed Serob hunting and decided to kill him, steal his clothes, and take his horse. Serob raised his gun and killed one of the two Kurds; the other ran away.
Mekho, the eldest of Serob’s three brothers, was the village chief. Trying to avoid trouble, he asked his uncle to take Serob to Constantinople (this was in 1891). In 1892, Serob moved on to Rumania and settled in the city of Sulina. There he worked as a waiter in a restaurant and then in a coffeehouse. This is how Serob of Sokhort happened to be in Rumania when Hrair- Dzhoghk came to recruit.
In 1893, Serob left Rumania for Batum. After wandering in Transcaucasia for iwo years, he organized a twenty-seven-man fedayee group and made it back to his village, Sokhort, in the fall of 1895. Other fedayee groups had failed to cross the Russian border into Turkey.
Serob’s arrival in the Sassun district was a godsend, occurring just in time to prevent a bloodbath. The Turkish despot, Sultan Abdul Hamid 11, had ordered his Moslem subjects to take up their hatchets and swords, break into Armenian homes, and kill any and all Armenians on sight. All over Turkey the toll of Armenian lives lost in the “Hamidian Massacres” was about 300,000 innocent men, women, and children.
As soon as Serob arrived in his village, he took steps to organize the defense of Taron province. He dispatched his trained fedayeen two by two to distant Armenian villages to teach the inhabitants how to resist massacre at the hands of the Turks and Kurds. After Serob’s armed resistance measures took hold in these villages, Turkish and Kurdish armed bands soon learned that their gang violence would meet with stiff resistance. Sustaining some casualties, the bands would hastily retreat. With his courage and combativeness, Serob Aghbiur spread terror among the Kurdish clans that were the dominant minority in the eastern and southeastern provinces of Turkey.
The Heroic Exploits and Martyrdom of Serob Aghbiur
The situation in Taron, and in Turkey in general, had become desperate by 1895 when a group of young Armenians took up guns to defend the lives, basic human rights, family traditions, and honor of the Armenian peasants of Taron. Under the leadership of Serob Aghbiur, twenty-seven trained and dedicated revolutionaries from the Caucasus arrived in Akhlat in the fall of 1895. Because the Hamidian massacres were in full swing, Serob immediately began planning the defense of Taron. He sent his men out two by two in every direction to organize local resistance in distant Armenian villages.
Ruben’s and Garo Sassuni’s books contain detailed descriptions of Serob Aghbiur’s heroic exploits. A few of Serob’s accomplishments will serve to illustrate the outstanding example he set as the commanding officer and trainer of one of the greatest Armenian revolutionaries and warriors of all time, Andranik Ozanian.
The Turkish government knew that Serob was in Sokhort, the village where he grew up. Very soon soldiers, policemen, and Kurdish brigands surrounded the area and besieged it. The villagers resisted for a while and then took shelter in their huts. With ten of his men, Serob staged a violent counterattack. Several enemy soldiers fell. Seeing the tide turning, the villagers took heart and came out to fight. Very soon the combined enemy forces were routed.
During the following months, Serob Aghbiur and his men inflicted heavy losses on the enemy and defeated the Turks and Kurds in their joint assaults on Urtab, Khundzorik, Shamiram, Djerhor, Gzvan, and other villages.
Meanwhile, the Turkish authorities began employing agents and spies to secretly track down and arrest Serob, in order to have a free hand in dealing with the Armenians of Taron. In February 1897, a thick blanket of snow lay over Taron province. As the police searched one Armenian village after another, Serob remained safe in Sokhort until someone divulged his whereabouts to the Turkish authorities. Soon the village was surrounded by enemy forces.
Serob told the villagers not to get involved. He put on his snowshoes, took his gun and some provisions and left his home at daybreak, disguised as a villager going to work. At one checkpoint the police were suspicious. They wanted to stop Serob and question him, but he continued Walking at a faster pace. The police pursued him. He began to run. Gunshots were exchanged as the chase continued. With his snowshoes Serob was able to run faster than the policemen. Serob called back a challenge to the effect that he, after all, was Serob, and if they wanted to fight, they should come and find him.
A snowstorm started taking shape as Serob began climbing Nemrut Mountain. The police gave up the chase and turned back, certain that Serob would perish in the storm. But “the lion of Nemrut” reached the hot volcanic waters on top of the mountain, which provided a refuge for a few days. When he had nothing left to eat, Serob came down and hid in Shamiram. In the following months he trained his gun on noted Turkish murderers and assassinated many of them, as well as several Armenian informers and traitors.
To the enemy, the ethnarch of Taron’s Armenians had become Serob “Pasha,” indicating their respect, while the Armenian villagers sang his praises with deep emotion:
Nemrut Mountain has a thousand springs,
All of which run down to the Mush plain.
Only the aghbiur [spring] of Aghbiur’s heart.
Runs down into the hearts of the people.
For a life in freedom and days in the green,
It flows down to the heart of the motherland.
Seasons passed but the Turkish authorities were unable to apprehend Serob Aghbiur by direct means. By the summer of 1899, he was the leader of a large group of fedayeen who kept watch over every move of the Turkish government. Their vigilance was rewarded in the districts of Akhlat and Sassun, by the fact that acts of violence rarely occurred in those areas.
The architects of the Armenian Revolutionary Movement looked to Serob’s organization to form the nucleus of Turkish Armenia’s liberation army. Serob’s lieutenants were Andranik, Gevorg Chavush, Hrair-Dzhoghk, Makar of Subghank, and others with their men. Of all these assistants, Andranik was most admired and loved by the fedayeen because he was always ready to attend to the needs of the common freedom fighters, and he always repaired their guns when something went wrong with them.
Meanwhile the government found a Sassuntsi who was willing to inform the authorities about the movements of the revolutionaries. This traitor, Ave, from the village of Geghashen, became an instrument in the hands of the Kurdish chieftain, Bishara Khalil of the Kherzan clan. Bishara Khalil was a brutal and merciless killer who spread terror in the Armenian villages from Sassun to Mush. The Armenians were appalled by his beastly behavior towards them.
While Serob Aghbiur and his men were staying in Kelie- kuzan, he fell prey to Ave whose duplicity remained undiscovered. Suddenly Serob became very sick and his hair started falling out. His companions suspected that he had been'poisoned. His wife Sosse, his young son Hakob, and his two brothers, Mekho and Zakar, were taking care of him, and eight bodyguards were stationed in and around the house.
Commanding five hundred soldiers, the Turkish officer Alai Bey, together with Bishara Khalil and his men, spread the news that they were setting out from Bitlis that night to suppress the Kurds in revolt. Actually their purpose was quite different as they headed for Sassun. They arrived at Keliekuzan early the next morning and besieged the village. Alai Bey and Bishara Khalil marched directly to the house where Serob Aghbiur was lying in bed, half dead. By this time four of Serob Aghbiur’s bodyguards had also become strangely sick. The other four bodyguards tried to awaken the leader to help him escape to the mountains under cover of fire. Mekho and Zakar had hardly stepped out of the house, leading their brother Serob, when all three were gunned down by the enemy, waiting for them in ambush.
Bishara Khalil and his men ran up to Serob and cut off his head. Khalil spotted Serob’s son, Hakob, in the lap of his mother, Sosse. As Khalil slayed the twelve-օր thirteen-year-old with his sword, Sosse was wounded in the attempt to protect her older son.4 Serob’s two-year-old son Sassik was saved by Tato, the wife of Serob’s elder brother, Mekho. She snatched the baby and fled into hiding.
Taking Serob’s head as a trophy and Sosse as a hostage, Khalil and his men turned their horses back and hurried out of Keliekuzan only half an hour after they had arrived. Before the villagers awakened, the enemy was already on its way to Mush. The government had dispatched one hundred horsemen to Mush to escort Serob’s head—the precious symbol of its longawaited victory. Passing the head on the end of a stick, they paraded it through the streets of Mush. The same solemn procession was repeated later in Bitlis.
The Armenian prelate of Bitlis, Bishop Eghishe Chilinkirian, attended the funeral services for Serob Aghbiur in the city square. Following the funeral, Serob’s head was put in a basket and taken to the prelacy. At three o’clock in the morning, the prelate took a hoe and Serob’s head to the eastern courtyard of the church. Placing an ivory cross on Serob’s forehead, the prelate alone buried the hero's head under a mulberry tree.
In his memoirs, the prelate later wrote about the burial:
"It was a clear and moonless night. Thousands of stars were twinkling in the sky as witnesses to the terrifying and tragic burial ceremony, the likes of which are rare in the annals of the human race. That night I did not eat, and 1 did not sleep. Months later, Ali Pasha, commander of the Turkish forces in the area, sent Serob’s wife Sosse, escorted by an army captain, to me. One day I took Sosse to Serob’s grave. She knelt down, kissed the tombstone with tearful eyes, and prayed in silence for a long time."
After the Second Sassun Rebellion of 1904, Sosse Mairik (mother) went to the Caucasus with a number of fedayeen. When the First World War ended in 1918, Sosse traveled to; Constantinople and from there to Alexandria, Egypt. In 1935, she moved to Aleppo, Syria, and from there to Kessab, where she lived for some time. From Kessab Sosse Mairik returned to Alexandria, where she lived until her death on February 3, 1953.
The editor's note: Andranik Ozanyan, one of the most respectable fidains, revenged his mentor and friend Aghbyur Serob for his death, by cutting off the head of his murderer - Bishara Khalil.
Sourse: Andranig Chalabian, "General Andranik and the Armenian Revolutionary Movement"