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The Lost Lives in the Outskirts of Ararat: The Victims of I?d?r Plain

Review of ARMENIAN STUDIES, Number 4, Volume 4 - 2003

 ="justify">This paper narrates the excavation of the mass grave in Gedikli/Tavus village in I?d?r Province. In May 27, 2003, the archeologists accompanied by many Turkish and foreign scholars and journalists dug the dirt, which the archival sources pointed, and found the skeletons and bones of the Muslim victims, who were slaughtered by the Armenian bands in 1919. Like many of them exposed before, this mass grave also proves the Armenian atrocities in the region killing thousands of defenseless Muslim children, women and elderly people alike.


Armenian Atrocities against the Turks, Excavation of Gedikli/Tavus Mass Grave Site in I?d?r, Armenian Terror in I?d?r, I?d?r Plains, Mount Ararat.

After the excavation of the mass grave in the village we, consisted of many Turkish and foreign archeologists, journalists, and scholars, met in a hotel for a dinner. Almost all of the participants who joined the mass grave excavation were in the mood of sadness because of the bones and skeletons of the Muslim victims they had seen during the daytime.

When Kerstin Tomenendal, who joined the excavation from Austria, began to mention about what she had seen, she began to cry and said this: ‘I have two children and if I would have been in the place of the Turkish mother, I would have done the same thing: I would have hug my children and wait the time of the horror’.

The scene that Mrs. Tomenendal had witnessed was the sight of a Turkish mother who was butchered by the Armenian bands along with her two children.

 One of the last days of May, 2003, a crowd of people at Kars airport were taken by bus to take them to I?d?r. Soon, the number of people in the bus was reached to 40. The group was consisted of Turkish and foreign journalists from Egypt, France and Austria.

Most of those on the bus did not know each other. For the majority of the group, this was their first visit to Kars and I?d?r situated in the eastern part of Turkey. As they travelled on the right side of Aras River, they saw the Armenian border and the Armenian villages on the hilly area on the left. All on the bus were looking at there with inquisitive eyes. Later, they noticed an oval structure with three separate tombs in Armenia. A researcher on the bus from I?d?r was explaining: ‘That structure is Medzamor nuclear power station; this power station has been threatening both I?d?r and Yerevan for years. We are on the earthquake belt and the Angel of Death is sleeping or made to sleep on this belt…’

After a short while drive, Mount Ararat was seen with all its glory, and beautiful I?d?r plain on its skirts. A green plain…

The researcher from I?d?r was telling those on the bus: ‘You can take pictures of Mt. Ararat now. It is saluting you. Look, there is now cloud at the top, it is rare at this season…’

It took an hour to enter the province of I?d?r[1] called as the beloved city of Dede-Korkut O?uz. After resting for an hour, the group visited the saltern in Tuzluca. The saltern was like a large cave 270 meters below ground.

Ruj Gonzales de Clavijo, a Spanish ambassador was sent to Timur in Semerkand by the Spanish King in May 1404 told the following about the saltern in his book of travels: ‘We rested at Nadjov village on May 27 1404. We went on our travel along (the right side of) Aras River. The road was not good and mostly steep. The next day, we stayed at another village. There, there was a castle on the top of the mountain. Everywhere was cocered with salt rocks. People from neighbouring villages are said to take salt from here and use it in their homes’.[2]

The day ended with the visit of Alican frontier post.

The next morning, the group went to Gedikli /Tavus village, where the excavation of a mass grave was planned.


As their relics indicated, a number of civilizations had existed in I?d?r[3], a city to the east of Eastern Anatolian region. Archeological and prehistoric researches about I?d?r have demonstrated that the origin of the city is as old as the origin of human race and the area has become a cradle for many civilizations. Black obsidien stone tools and flint stone tools found in I?d?r plain prove that there was a settlement in the area in the Mesolithic Age. The first settlers of the area were Hurris. Following Hurris, such peoples as Mitannis, Kimmers, Sumerians, Subarians are known to have settled on the slopes of Mt. Ararat, on Aras river basin, and Eastern Anatolia. Later, the region was captured by Urartus, Scythians, Selevkos, Arsaks, Sasanids, Arabs, Byzantians, Seljuks, Mongolians, Çingizs, ?lkhans, Jelayirids, Karakoyunlus, Akkoyunlus and Safavids.[4]

When the Ottoman Sultan Yavuz Sultan Selim had beaten the Safavids in 1514 in Çald?ran War, the region was included in the Ottoman territory. After the Ottoman conquest of Revan (Yerevan) in 1583, the administration of I?d?r, Tuzluca and Aral?k towns were connected to ‘Aral?k Kazas?’ which was the sub province of the city of Revan. The region fell under the Iranian rule with the Treaty of ?stanbul, signed in 1736 and remained as Iranian territory until 1828. It was then included in the Russian territory after the outbreak of a war between Iran and Russia. The region remained as Russian territory until October 1917 Revolution. Afterwards, though the Turks recovered the province of I?d?r with the signature of Brest-Litowsk Treaty later they lost the province. When the Turkish Armies withdrew with the Mudros Treaty on 30 October 1918, I?d?r and the neighbouring area suffered from Armenian attrocities. At last, when 15th Turkish army corps under the command of Kaz?m Karabekir pushed Armenians to the north of Aras river on 14 November 1920, I?d?r and its neighbourhood was included in Turkish territory for the last time.[5]


Mt. Ararat, which Evliya Çelebi called it as Türkmen Yayla??[6], and Marco Polo said that it was impossible to climb the mountain when it was seen from a long distant. The top of Mt. Ararat has always white with snow. It is a friend of clouds in the sky. It also has a child under its wings: Minor Ararat.

‘Ararat’ is the international name for the mountain. It is wrong to think that it is an Armenian word. The term has no connection with the Armenian language. Historical sources reveal that the name was in use long before the Armenians came to the region. The name ‘Ararat’ in Urartu language is the name of the region around Mt. Ararat. It is also used as the mountain of Ararat region. When the Armenians realized this, they stopped using Ararat, which was adopted by themselves, and started to call Mt. Ararat as ‘Masis Mountain’. However, the word ‘Masis’ is not Armenian, but it is a Georgian word.[7]

Marco Polo, who said that Mt Ararat goes up to the sky like a pyramid, noted that: ‘The whole year its top is covered with snow, it is pure white, and cloudy. But the skirts of the mountain is green, covered with pasture, a unique place for Turks to graze their animals’.[8]. The mountain is situated at the meeting point of Turkey, Iran and Nahcevan. Since it is a large and high mountain, it can be seen from all parts of I?d?r and Nahcevan, and from most parts of A?r?, and from some heights of the cities of Van and Erzurum in Turkey. It can also be seen from the heights of Armenia and Iran.

Surp-Mari / Sürmeli (Karakale), built on the northwestern part of Mt. Ararat is said to have been the biggest and the most famous city of I?d?r plain. The city, built on dry soil after the big flood, is mostly believed to have been built by one of Noah’s sons.[9] It is said in a Seljuk document, Ahbarü’d-Devleti’s-Selçukiyye, that: ‘There were streams and gardens in that castle’. It is claimed that I?d?r castle was destroyed in an earthquake in 1664, and the residents built the core of today’s city of I?d?r on the plain. The existence of a town called I?d?r in an Ottoman document supports this view.

Spanish ambassador, Ruj Gonzales de Clavijo says that he came to I?d?r/ Sürmeli at around noon on Thursday, May 29, 1404. He notes that the first city built after the great flood was Surmari (Sürmeli), the city had a castle with strong towers at the gate, the castle had two gates, and it was possible to go to the valley from the gate of the city. He also noted that he came to Karakale on Friday, may 30, 1404, and this castle was commanded by a woman, who said that she was under Timur’s rule and protection and paid tax to him.[10] He says that formerly the castle was the home of terrorists who attacked and robbed passing caravans. Timur later captured the castle, killed the head of the terrorists and left the rule of the castle to his wife. Timur is said to have destroyed all the doors of the castle so as to prevent the castle from being the home of terrorists and banned the construction of doors from then on. Clavijo further says that there are large pastures on the skirts of Mt. Ararat, lots of springs run through them, he met a number of city relics and a number of houses built from large stones on the way, and people painted silk with red dye from some insects in the valley[11].

The religious and mythical significance of Mt. Ararat comes from the belief that Noah’s ark landed Mt. Ararat after the great flood. It has a unique place from the viewpoint of history of religions. Mt. Ararat was given different names throughout history: O?uzlar called it as ‘Arkuri’ (The Mountain Beyond); Marko Polo (while passing through the region in1290) as ‘Akda?’; Katip Çelebi (in his famous work Cihannüma) as ‘Kül-i Arg?; Evliya Çelebi (in his famous work Seyahatname) as ‘Kül-i Arg?’, the Western world as ‘Ararat’, the Arabs as ‘Cebelü’l Haris’, Iranians as ‘Küh-i Nuh’, Armenians as ‘Masis Mountain’.[12]


During World War I, when Russians entered into the Ottoman territory from the east, with the voluntary Armenian troops formed by Ottoman and Russian Armenians, Armenians in the Ottoman army fled with their arms and joined Russian army. Those Armenians who could not reach Russian army formed gangs and revolted. Guns kept in secrecy in both Armenian schools and in churches were taken by Armenians, and then they attacked to military recruiting offices to get more guns. With the instructions sent by the armed bands, which said, that ‘If you want to survive, kill your neighbour first’; the Armenians attacked Turkish cities, towns and villages and started to commit massacres. Armenians who attacked the Ottoman forces from behind limited the motion of the army, blocked the support reached to the army, ambushed convoys carrying the wounded, destroyed roads and bridges and made it easy for Russians to occupy the cities which they lived. The torture of voluntary Armenian troops in the Russian army was so unbearable that Russian commanders felt it necessary to take some Armenian troops from the front to the back.

The massacre of Muslim population by Armenian gangs in and around the city of Kars lasted between the years 1915[13] and 1920.[14] Especially with October Revolution in Russia in 1917, Russian army began to retreat and the Eastern Anatolia hence fell in the hands of Armenians and Georgians. In this period, massacre of Turks by Armenians started in many parts of eastern Anatolia.[15]

Before the World War I, massacre of Turks took place in many places like Erzincan, Bayburt, Erzurum, Kars, Ardahan ve I?d?r[16] under the leadership of Armenians like Murat of Sivas, Antranik, known as the Sason devil, and Ar?ak, carrying out massacre in Mu?. The muslim population in the area faced the danger of extinction as the Russian officers were losing their control. Armenians, carrying on their activities in places under Russian occupation killed new-born babies, cut the abdomens of pregnant women, burned alive Muslims to death and tortured girls in an unspeakable way.[17]

Massacre of Turks by Armenians in Caucasia and Eastern Anatolia were done by the regular Armenian troops.[18]

In I?d?r, Tuzluca, and Aral?k numerous Turks were killed by Armenians regardless of children, young, or old. A report from 2nd Caucasian Army Corps to Third Army, dated 16 May 1918, indicated that Armenians kept their business on carrying out massacre and torture in the territory under their occupation. Besides, on 29 April 1918, the Armenians killed 3000 Muslim migrants coming with 500 carriages from Gümrü to Ahalkelek. In the same period, an Armenian troop with two canons and two machine guns attacked Muslim villages around Tuzluca and Yerevan, and killed women and children.[19]

Armenian gangs killed 50 Muslims in I?d?r, 242 in Tuzluca, 200 in Oluklu, 300 in Çilhane, and 800 in Hac? Halil only in April 1918.[20]

On 21 August 1919, a report, sent to 15th Army Corps commander Kâz?m Karabekir by 9th Caucasian Division Commander, Colonel Rü?dü, noted that when the Kurds attacked the Armenians in Ka??zman on August 18, Armenians started massacres filling the Muslim population into the mosques, those who could escape from this massacre, 200 people, mostly hungry and naked women, asked Muslim military personnel on Çukurçam and Kükürtlü mountains to shelter themselves, said that if the massacre of Muslim population was not stopped, there would remain even no single Muslim person in either in Elviye-i Selâse (Kars, Ardahan, Batum) or around Aras, and they said that it was inevitable to take necessary measures.[21]

The report by the commander of the twelfth division, Osman Nuri, dated 21 August 1919, sent to the fifteenth army corps confirmed the situation. In addition, it was reported that the Armenian forces withdrew the Christian population in places they would massacre, for any reason, and by this way they attacked many villages around Ka??zman, I?d?r and Kulp by sudden attacks using cannon and machine gun, and as a result they massacred and plundered the Muslim population.[22]

In another report sent to the Ministry of War, these statements were recorded as in the following:[23] ‘Armenians swore the Muezzins who were calling to pray, and they tortured women and raped them. They forced the naked Muslim women to walk among them’.

On 17 September 1919, a group of Armenians went to Adbak village, six kilometers ast of Igd?r, and massacred all of the people and brutally killed the people of Ya?c? village, which consisted of three hundred houses one kilometer away from Abdak.[24]

On 4 December 1919, in a telegraph sent by Osman Nuri Bey to the fifth army corps, it was reported that ‘Armenians captured 3000 innocent people, mostly hungry, naked, and children, in the region of Kars, Sar?kam?? and Ka??zman’.[25]

On 11 March 1920, Armenian raiders suddenly attacked A?baba, Zardu?ad, ?üregel, Ç?ld?r(towns) and massacred the innocent people in these towns.[26] These Armenian raiders, in the region, massacred 2000 innocent people, mostly women and children, just in Zardu?ad and destroyed exactly 28 villages and distributed many Muslim girls whom they brought to the Armenian houses in Gümrü and in Kars. Showing the underwears of those Muslim women, they sold them, and also awarded one of the Kurdish heads, Davud, who had worked well during the attacks, giving him a great deal of money.[27]

A document dated 2 July 1920 manifested the other dimension of the massacres carried out by Armenians. In this document, it was reported that Armenians threw 1500 children in the stream in December, and drown them out and as a result, drinking water could not be available due to these numerous dead bodies.[28]

The letter of the ?mam (religious head) of the Ersinek village tells identical events: ‘Brothers, you are all aware of the situation, he who is captive. But this captivity and insult has never been witnessed. From the creation of the world to now such torture and massacre has never been done and cannot be seen. You cannot tell this by words. Just those innocent people know it. The scream of those innocent children and women reached the highest place. The people have given up all their goods, horses, and sheep or goats. There is not integrity any longer. As for the lives, just half of the Muslim people maybe one third is still alive’.

In another report dated 5 July 1920 it was noted that in Kars, Sar?kam??, Karakurt, I?d?r, and in their villages Armenian forces carried out massacre. In this report, it was stated that the Armenian forces commanded by General Obesyan was responsible for these massacres. In some villages innocent people were killed in an unbelievable way, and were burnt in houses, and they were thrown away to Aras River after being bayonetted, and many goods, animals, valuable things belonging to Muslim people were plundered. It was also noted that the number of the massacred Muslim people reached 25000 since 1918 in Kars and its surroundings.[29]

In an another report dated 25 July 1920, it was stated that Armenians committed massacres not only in the Muslim quarters but also in many Malakan villages. [30] The people of Muslim and Malakan villages[31] tortured by Armenians asked for help from the armed forces in the border.[32]

The Armenian raiders, from 1915 to the end of 1920, savagely massacred thousands of Muslim women and children in the regions of ?ahtaht?, Zenzegur, Nahç?van, I?d?r Serdarabad and in the hundreds of other villages.

As it can be seen in the archives that Antranik and Bapun raiders kept these villages under torture and attack for months, plundered their goods, captured their animals, and forced the survivors to immigrate.


According to the information drawn from the archives and from people who personally experienced the events, it was found out that Armenians had massacred nearly 150 muslims in Tavus/Gedikli village of Tuzluca in I?d?r.

This event in Gedikli is mentioned in the archives as follows:[33] ‘A letter from a notable member of a tribe says that Armenians pillaged and looted the Muslim villages called Yukar?kat?rl? (Koturlu), A?a??kat?rl? (Koturlu) and Tavus, and they murdered nearly 150 villagers. Later Muslim people got some help from other villages and with this help they captured two cannons and a machine gun from the Armenians; but, as their ammunitition finished they demanded help. This was reported by the Head Officer of Karakilise’.

This event was reported in an another document too.[34] The document indicated the following: ‘...they destroyed completely the Tavus village whose population was 150...’

The place of the mass grave in I?d?r was found by the help of archieves and the information given by the dwellers of the surrounding villages. The statements of Hac? Esad Acar, an old man who was born in 1912 and witnessed the event personally, was one of the most important evidences which led to find the location of the mass grave. 

Hac? Esad[35] told the event as follows:

‘Our village is a mountain village of Tuzluca. Molla Kemer and Güllüce villages, which are neighbours to our village, were among the places where Armenians lived. Our village was considered to be a rich one compared with the surrounding villages. One day a group of notable Armenians came and said us the following: ‘we brought you food. Tell the villagers to gather, we will divide the goods that we brought to you. While we began to gather to take up the goods, the village was being surrounded by the Armenian soldiers. But we did not know what was going on at that time. We, around 70-80 people, came together in there. They suddenly forced us to go into a house and slaughtered most us with swords. Only I, myself, Abbas, K?l?ç and Muhsin were survived. We were covered with dead bodies.

The surrounding tribal villagers who had heard the news came to rescue us and after forcing the Armenians to run away from the village, they came to the house in which the Muslims were butchered by the Armenians. When they entered in the house they heard the moanings coming from under the dead bodies and they hence rescued us.

The massacre in our village happened during the harvest of wheat. I cannot still believe how I could survive. My friend K?l?ç was very badly wounded on several parts of his body. He soon died. The house in which the Armenians had brought us was Kelbay?(Kelday?) Celil’s. There were seven relatives of him in the house. Their names were Ahmet, Hüseyin, ?skender, Mehmet Ali, Me?edi Hüseyin, Mehmet, Hüseyin, and my sister Güllü. Armenians killed Güllü who was only six years old with six bayonet blows. Villagers who were able to escape when Armenians first came to the village, turned back afterwards. Some of them took the dead bodies of their relatives from the house and buried them. But many of them are still under the debris of that house. I learned, afterwards, that Armenians had murdered the wheat-harvesting villagers and filled them into water-wells’.

During our inteviews with people[36] whose relatives had been subjected to this massacre in Gedikli village, we learnt that Armenians had brought nearly 100 villagers (in Ottoman archives this number is 150)[37] in Celil’s house and slaughtered them with swords and bayonets. They stated that those who had been able to escape from this massacre turned back to their village later, but because of the strong smell caused by dead bodies they could not enter the house and they saw the house as their fathers’ and grandfathers’ grave. The excavation of the mass grave in Gedikli/Tavus village was conducted on 27 May 2003, before the eyes of a crowd of both Turkish and foreign scientists and journalists. The scene encountered at the very beginning of the excavation was of a kind that it can never be forgotten by either the native or foreign observers for a long time. This scene was consisted of the skeletons of a mother, whose head was cut into two pieces, embracing her two children three and seven-years-old.



[1] ‘I?d?r is the name of one of the clans of 24 Turkish-O?uz family’. See, Nihat Çetinkaya, I?d?r Tarihi, (Tarih,Yer Adlar? ve Baz? Oymaklar Üzerine), (?stanbul: 1996), p. 125.
[2] Çetinkaya, I?d?r..., pp. 75-76.
[3] For the history of I?d?r and its surrounding see, Fahrettin K?rz?o?lu, Kars Tarihi, Vol. I, (?stanbul: 1953); Fahrettin K?rz?o?lu, Yukar?-Kür ve Çoruk Boylar?’nda K?pçaklar, (Ankara: 1992); Fahrettin K?rz?o?lu, Selçuklular’?n An?’y? Fethi, (Ankara: 1970), Fahrettin K?rz?o?lu, Dede Korkut O?uznameleri, I. Kitap, (?stanbul: 1952); Fahrettin K?rz?o?lu, Osmanl?lar?n Kafkas Ellerini Fethi (1451-1590), (Ankara: 1993); Fahrettin K?rz?o?lu, An? ?ehri Tarihi, (Ankara: 1982); Mehmet Eröz, Do?u Anadolu’nun Türklü?ü, (?stanbul: 1975),Yusuf Halaço?lu, XVIII. Yüzy?lda Osmanl? ?mparatorlu?u’nun ?skân Siyaseti ve A?iretlerin Yerle?tirilmesi, (Ankara: 1998); Akdes Nimet Kurat, Rusya Tarihi, (Ankara: 1992); Veli Orkun, Sürmeli Çukuru-I?d?r Tarihi Co?rafyas?, (I?d?r, 1955); Ali Sevim, Anadolu’nun Fethi, Selçuklular Dönemi (Ba?lang?c?ndan 1086’ya Kadar), (Ankara: 1988); Faruk Sümer; O?uzlar (Türkmenler), (?stanbul: 1980); ?eref Han, ?erefname, Vols. I-II., (?stanbul: 1970).
[4] For more information see, Çetinkaya, I?d?r..., p. 70.
[6] Evliya Çelebi Seyahatnamesi, Translated by Mümin Çevik, Vol. 1. (?stanbul: 1985), p. 639.
[7] Çetinkaya, I?d?r ..., p. 70.
[8] Marco Polo Seyahatnamesi, by Tercüman 1001 Temel Eser, p. 21.
[9] The story of Noah’s Ark is not scientifically proven.
[10] Çetinkaya, I?d?r..., p. 126.
[11] Çetinkaya, I?d?r..., pp. 76-77.
[13] Ottoman Archives-Political Section related to the Great War, Document No. 110 / 12-1, 2 (hereafter quoted as BOA. HR. SYS.HU).
[14] The massacres committed by the Armenians against the Muslim people mostly took place in the years between 1918 and 1920.
[15] ?enol Kantarc?, Kamer Kas?m,, Ermeni Sorunu El Kitab? (Ankara: 2002), p. 36.
[16] BOA. HR. SYS.HU, Document No. 110 / 12-1.
[17] Abdurrahman Çayc?, Türk-Ermeni ?li?kilerinde Gerçekler, (Ankara, 2000), pp. 75- 77.
[18] BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2877/71.
[19] Muammer Demirel, ‘Osmanl? Belgelerine Göre I?d?r ve Çevresinde Ermeniler’in Müslüman Halka Yapt?klar? Katliam’ I?d?r Tarihi Gerçekler ve Ermeniler Uluslararas? Sempozyumu (24-27 Nisan 1995) I?d?r, Bildiriler Kitab?, (Ankara:1997), p. 66.
[20] Demirel, ‘I?d?r...’, p. 66.
[21] BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2877/73.
[22] BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2877/75, 79.
[23] BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2877 / 77.
[24] BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2602-1/219, 223 –230.
[25] BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2878 / 8.
[26] BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2878/18,21.
[27] BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2878 / 22.
[28]BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2878 / 42.
[29] BOA. HR. SYS., Document N: 2878 / 43.
[30] BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2878 / 30.
[31] The Armenians also attacked Novoselim Malakan village looting all of the villager’s goods and animals. See, (BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2878 / 38).
[32] BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2878 / 34.
[33] BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2878 / 78. (For the original document see appendix).
[34] BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2877 / 70.
[35] For the picture of Hac? Esad ACAR, see appendix.
[36] For the pictures related to interview, see appendix.
[37] BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2877 / 70; BOA. HR. SYS., Document No. 2878 / 78.
* -
- Review of ARMENIAN STUDIES, Number 4, Volume 4 - 2003
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