The date of Oct. 30 in Turkey is known as the day the city of Kars was "liberated from enemy occupation". When the army under the command of Kazım Karabekir captured the city in 1920, Kars became Turkish soil and the city's fate changed for good. The parties that were affected the most during this process were the Armenians and the Yezidis.
In the wake of the San Stefano Treaty signed after the 1877-1878 Ottoman-Russian war, also known as the War of 93, Czarist Russia annexed the provinces of Batum, Çıldır, Kars and Bayezid. With the Berlin Treaty of 1878, the Ottomans were able to retrieve the province of Bayezid. Later, Russia retreated from what the Turks called the "elviye-i selase (three banners)", the remaining three regions, with the Brest-Litovsk Treaty signed in 1918, signed by the Bolshevik government which came to power in Russia as a result of the 1917 October Revolution.
Ottoman forces returning to the region caused a migration wave in the city, especially amongst Armenians. The book "Armenian Genocide", by Armenian historian Verjine Svazlian, features several memoirs from Armenians and Yezidis who escaped. One is from a landlord from Kars, Arshak Karoyan, who had been born in the Tsıpni village outside the city.
This is what Karoyan wrote: "The first migration happened in 1918, when Turks forced Armenians to leave their lands. (...) I remember our family: my father picked me and my older sister up, put us on the wagon and tied us down so we wouldn't fall off. Turks were firing at us on the road. We had no choice but to escape. (...) When we crossed to the other side of the Aras River, the river had flooded. Waters took away half of our people. I was on the wagon. The wagon was halfway sunk when we were crossing, we got it out by brute force. Our family had 23 members. After we crossed the Aras there were only a handful left."
Khanuma Cındi Calil, a Yezidi born in the Ğızılğula village of Kars in 1912, also had to flee. During an interview recounted in Svazlian's book, she spoke Armenian and stated that her family had been "intimate with Armenians."
"Our family consisted of 57 people. (...) I was the only survivor of that big family. (...) We migrated from Kars as Yezidis in 1918 together with Armenians. (...) Turks followed us on the migration route. They were tracking us and killing those they ran into. As Armenians or Yezidis, we ran, leaving many corpses behind. But there was a bridge I clearly remember to this day; there, Turks descended upon us and started killing both Armenians and Yezidis. At that bridge they shot both my father and mother dead. My uncle took me and his son Kamel, we walked all the way to Ashtarak," Khanuma Cındi Calil said.
The Ottomans recovered control of the region, though not for long. According to the Mudros Armistice of October 1918, Ottoman forces were to retreat back to 1914 borders. That marked the beginning of a new era for Armenians who began to return to lands they had just migrated from. That was the case of the Annıman Hambardzum Arakelyan family, born in the Tsıpni village of Kars in 1903.
"Word reached us that Russians took Kars back and sent Turks away from the city. Armenians returned, overcoming all difficulties, and saw that the Turks had beheaded a priest who didn't want to leave his village, nailing his head to the door of his house. Then we returned to Kars and to our villages in 1919," stated the Arakelyan family in the memoirs.
Yet this "new era" would be short-lived. In October 1920, Kazım Karabekir, an Ottoman general entered the region and forced Armenians to migrate once again. The Arakelyan family were amongst those who had to leave:
"We had begun to plow and plant our fields; but just when we were about to harvest, word came that Turks had recaptured Kars. We had to migrate once again. Turks raided our homes once again; looting and destruction started again. Seeing the Turkish army approaching, my aunt Varsenik jumped in the water with her two children and drowned. They then tied up and threw my grandfather Ağasi and my two brothers-in-law in the water and let them drown. My husband had seven uncles; they were all strangled. The migration tyranny started again. They drove us from Kars; we passed through Kağzıvan (Kağızman) during the night. My uncle's wife went for water; I followed her and got lost. Then she came back and found me among the refugees. We arrived in Leninakan after Kars. They placed me in the American orphanage. People from our village settled in the Tutulavan village in the Talin region."
A similar migration memoir was recounted by Parandzem Kostan Ter-Hakobyan, born in Kars in 1912.
"We heard that Turks were retreating. We went back to Gyumri in order to reach our homes in Kars. We found my lost sisters in Gyumri and walked to Kars. Our house was in ruins. But we went in and lived there from spring to autumn because we had no other choice. During the harvest season the Turks attacked Armenians again. The Turks had captured the Castle of Kars and stayed there. Armenians had no army. Dashnaks controlled the army but Dashnaks were nowhere to be found; they had fled and the army was without command. Turks had cut off escape routes, we couldn't run. Many members of our family got lost."
Most migrants coming from Kars moved towards East Armenia but death awaited them in Yerevan, too. This time the reason for death was epidemics.
"Our friends decided to go to Yerevan with us; there, my father was to perform his profession and take care of us somehow. All refugees in Yerevan were in the courtyard of the Surp Sarkis Church; we lived outdoors there. Typhus and cholera epidemics broke out. My father died along with hundreds of others. For entire days, they carried the corpses in wagons."