This Week in Armenian History

Death of Murad of Sebastia (Sepastatsi Murad) (August 4, 1918)

Murad of Sebastia (Sepastatsi Murad) was a well-known Armenian freedom fighter (fedayee) during the Armenian national liberation movement in the Ottoman Empire.

He was born Murad Khrimian in 1874 in the Armenian village of Govdun, about 20 km east of the town of Sivas or Sebastia (from where he got his nickname, Sepastatsi) to a poor rural family that had recently moved to the village. After working as a shepherd and farm laborer during his childhood, he moved as a teenager to Constantinople, where he worked for meagre earnings as a porter. He joined the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party and in the 1890s participated in Armenian demonstrations against the second-class treatment of Armenians within the empire.

After assassinating an Armenian informer, he escaped to Greece and then to Egypt. He then became a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, joined fedayee bands, and participated in guerrilla activities in response to the Hamidian repression. In 1903, he arrived in Sasun along with the group “Storm,” under the command of Torgom. His feats and heroic actions earned him attention from everybody. He became a commander, but refused a proposal to be the general commander of the second uprising of Sasun. He insisted that Antranik was the natural choice: “Antranik is that leader and even if he is dead, his corpse must go on the front together with our flag, towards fight and freedom.”

His role during the uprising was legendary. After the fall of Gelieguzan on April 22, 1904, he broke through the Turkish blockade and reached Van. In the summer, after the famous meeting of fedayees on the island of Aghtamar, when they were surrounded by Turkish regular troops, Murad commandeered a Turkish boat and took the population and the fedayees securely to Persia. On the walls of the monastery of St. Thaddeus, Murad left an inscription, as the freedom fighters used to do: “We crossed through fire and water, and I will add, through blood, and we are going again towards fire and blood.” During the Armeno-Tatar conflict of 1905-1907, he was designated head of defense of the Zangezur region, and leading a group of 50 horsemen, he defended the Armenian population of Ghapan (Kapan) from the Tatar danger. Afterwards, he participated in the Fourth General Assembly of the ARF in Vienna (1907).

An amnesty following the Ottoman revolution of 1908 allowed Murad to return to the Ottoman Empire, where he settled in Sivas. In particular, he participated in the organization of a network of schools and charitable and female societies. He also taught physical culture and theatrical art at Armenian schools. He married in 1910. His godfather, the famous poet Taniel Varoujan, dedicated the poem “Pegasus” to him.

At the beginning of the genocide, Murad was in Sivas. After the order of deportation, in March 1915, Turkish gendarmes were sent to arrest Murad on the order of the Vali of Sivas. The authorities had promised the Armenian population that they would be excluded from deportations if they handed Murad over. Many Armenians, particularly the elders who did not want to leave their property and home, began to report to the Ottoman authorities about his whereabouts. Escaping capture, Murad and a small band of compatriots took to the hills and engaged in guerilla warfare against Turkish cavalry and infantry units sent to find him. In the autumn of 1915, he moved towards the Black Sea coast. In Samsun, joined by some Greek rebels, he captured a sailboat and escaped to the Russian port of Batum. He then traveled to Tiflis and joined the first Armenian volunteer battalion in the Russian forces. When in Tiflis, he gave an account of his adventures and the fate of the Armenian population of the Sivas vilayet that appeared in the report of James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee, “The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.”

He was with the Armenian volunteer battalion at the battle of Erzerum (February 1916) and in Erzinga he organized a fund that rescued hundreds of Armenian women and children being held in Turkish and Kurdish households. In 1918, after the fall of the Russian front in the Caucasus, Murad commanded the defense of Erzinga and organized the evacuation of the local Armenian population. Both him and another noted fedayee, Sebuh (Arshak Nersesian), went to fight where the need was crucial. The Ottoman troops and the Tatars (now renamed Azeris) were threatening the Armenians of Baku. Murad was killed leading a charge against Turkish positions during the battle of Baku on August 4, 1918.