In March 1915, rebellion broke out in Van Vilâyeti. Armenian revolutionary forces gathered and organized. Armenian villagers then infiltrated the city of Van. Armenian villagers attacked Muslim villages and, in turn, Kurdish tribes attacked Armenian villages. On 20 April, Armenians in Van began to fire at police stations and Muslim residences. Armenian revolutionaries had secreted enough weapons in the town and surrounding villages to stage their revolution, and the Ottomans estimated that up to 4,000 Armenian fighters had entered the city. As the Armenians advanced and defeated Ottoman security forces, they burned the Muslim quarter and killed the Muslims who fell into their hands. By 14 April, the city was completely in Armenian hands, although under siege from Ottoman troops who arrived after the city had fallen. The Armenians held out in the city until Russian troops from the Caucasus could arrive, forcing an Ottoman retreat on 17 May. (The Ottomans regained what was left of Van on 22 July 1915, but it was lost again to the Russians the next month.) The massacre of Muslims in Van and neighboring villages continued. With few exceptions, the only Muslims who survived were those who managed to flee, primarily those who fled with the Ottoman army. The dead included wounded and ill Ottoman soldiers who had come to Van to recover. Zeve, Mollah Kasim, Șeyh Kara, Șeyh Ayne, Zorayad Pakes, Hidir, Amuk, Ayans, Veranduz, Haravil, Deir, Zivana, Karkar, and many other villages not identified by name were destroyed.
In Van, the first to be singled out for assassination seem to have been Ottoman civic and religious leaders and their families. This follows a pattern seen in the Balkans -- killing first those who might have organized opposition -- and indicates a degree of planning. However, the Muslims of Van were effectively destroyed long before they could have organized any resistance, and the hideous tortures inflicted on the notables could only have been the product of intense hatred. Everything Islamic in Van was destroyed. With the exception of three antique buildings, all the mosques were burned or torn down. The entire Muslim quarter was destroyed. When the Armenian work and the battle between Ottomans and Armenians were finished, Van more resembled an ancient ruin than a city. (In the entire old city of Van only a handful of buildings remained.)
When the Ottomans evacuated Van, many of those who had been able to flee were set upon by Armenian bands on the roads. Approximately 400 from one group were killed between Erçis and Adilcevaz. Armenians also killed three hundred Jews who tried to escape toward Hakkâri. Other refugees found their way blocked by Armenian bands and armed Armenian villagers, who attacked all Muslims passing by.
The stories told by Muslim villagers were all much the same. When the Armenians attacked Muslims' own villages or nearby villages, Muslims fled with whatever movable property they could carry. On the road, Armenian bands first robbed them, then raped many of the women and killed many of the men. Usually, but not always, a number of women and young children were killed as well. The surviving villagers were then left to travel to safety if they could, without food or adequate clothing. The villagers were unable to defend themselves either in their homes or on the road because most young Muslim males had been conscripted. Only very old and very young males and women were left. Armenian bands, however, were made up of young males who had never been drafted, were deserters from the Ottoman army, or who had come from the Caucasus.
The following are excerpts from some of the depositions given by refugees from Van Vilâyeti who found asylum in Mamuretülaziz:
[Abdi and Reșid Molla] After the evacuation of Gevaș and Van, a mixed detachment of Cossacks and Armenians 500 men strong, guided by the Armenians Hadjo, Kechiche-Serkis, Onnik, Mako, Parso of the village of Tab, assaulted the village of Karhar in Gevaș. They directed their fire at the houses, massacring men and infants and defiling the women so badly that many among them died. Only a few dozen villagers escaped with great difficulty.
[Yusuf Kenan and Abdul Hakim] On August 5 of last year [ 1915] a band composed of Russians and of Armenians of Gevaș and Çatak attacked Mukus. Those who were able to save themselves fled, leaving all their goods. The women, the elderly, and the children who were not able to flee were all massacred. One could distinguish among the band Krikor of the village of Pare; the schoolmaster Karabet, Vahan, and Artin of the village of Kinekai, Kevork of Mukus, Minto Sempat, Hayastan [sic], the blacksmith Naro, Katchik, Mouhik Dikran and Bedros. These bandits mainly attacked women, heinously defiling them.
[Ali son of Halid and Salih, of Serir] All the inhabitants of the Armenian villages of Surtenin, Varshekans, Mezrea, and Pars attacked the village of Serir early in the morning. Of 60 men, not 15 remain. The rest were killed, the women taken away, and the houses pillaged.
[Behloul son of Saad and Mahmud son of Kutas, notables of the village of Sukan] The village of Sukan had a population of 680 souls. The Russo-Armenians invaded the village one night. No one was able to stop them, because the Muslim population was not armed. The executioners set fire to the houses and a number of women and children perished under the sabres of the Cossacks and the daggers of the revolutionaries. At dawn they assembled the survivors of the previous night. The girls and young women were taken off in an unknown direction. At noon they set on fire the place where the villagers were interned. Only 21 miraculously escaped the carnage. [A list of those recognized among the Armenian attackers followed.]
[Șeyh Enver and Molla Reșid, religious notables of Alan] When they were told that 100 cavalry and a strong detachment of infantry were approaching the village, the population fled. But the inhabitants of the Armenian villages of Belo, Tankas, Azerkoh, and Peronz barred their way and assaulted the women. The Russian detachment had entered the village and the houses were in flames. Those who were little able to walk, such as the old, the sick, and children were mercilessly massacred. The Cossacks flung themselves on anyone who tried to escape. Only a very few managed to evade the butchery.
As seen above, Muslim villagers identified Cossacks as riding with the Armenian bands as they pillaged and massacred in villages. However, it is difficult to tell if the particular bands mentioned were, in fact, advance units of the Russian army, which used Armenian guides and Armenian bands as "shock troops," or whether Cossacks were operating behind Ottoman lines with the Armenian bands. In either case, the Cossacks do seem to have participated in at least some of the massacres of Muslim villagers and refugees.
At the same time as the Van uprising, Armenians in villages of the Pervari region gathered together in revolt and battled Ottoman gendarmes for three days. Muslim males of nearby villages were killed and young women abducted.