40 Days of Musa Dagh- Partial History and Customs

Tuesday, September 14, 1915
The New York Times reports the murder of 350,000 Armenians.
Tuesday, September 14, 1915
The survivors of Musa Dagh arrive in Port Said.

Starting in 1918, when Hatay province came under French control, those from six Armenian villages (Kabusia (Kaboussieh), Yoghunoluk, Bitias, Vakef, Kheter Bey (Khodr Bey), Haji Habibli) returned to their homes. On June 29, 1939, following an agreement between France and Turkey, Musa Dagh was given to Turkey.

Musa Dagh (Musa Ler in Armenian) was the site of the famed resistance during the Armenian Genocide. Of the hundreds of villages, towns, and cities across the Ottoman Empire whose Armenian population was ordered removed to the Syrian desert, Musa Dagh was one of only four sites where Armenians organized a defense of their community against the deportation edicts issued by the Young Turk regime beginning in April 1915. By the time the Armenians of the six villages at the base of Musa Dagh were instructed to evict their homes, the inhabitants had grown suspicious of the government’s ultimate intentions and chose instead to retreat up the mountain and to defy the evacuation order. Musa Dagh, or the Mountain of Moses, stood on the Mediterranean Sea south of the coastal town of Alexandretta (modern-day Iskenderun) and west of ancient Antioch.

With a few hundred rifles and the entire store of provisions from their villages, the Armenians on Musa Dagh put up a fierce resistance against a number of attempts by the regular Turkish army to flush them out. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Armenians had little expectations of surviving the siege of the mountain when food stocks were depleted after a month. Their only hope was a chance rescue by an Allied vessel that might be patrolling the Mediterranean coast. When two large banners hoisted by the Armenians were sighted by a passing French warship, swimmers went out to meet it. Eventually five Allied ships moved in to transport the entire population of men, women, and children, more than four thousand in all. The Armenians of Musa Dagh had endured for fifty three days from July 21 to September 12, 1915. They were disembarked at Port Said in Egypt and remained in Allied refugee camps until the end of World War I when they returned to their homes. As part of the district of Alexandretta, or Hatay, Musa Dagh remained under French Mandate until 1939. The Musa Dagh Armenians abandoned their villages for a second, and final, time when the area was annexed by Turkey.

In the face of the complete decimation of the Armenian communities of the Ottoman Empire, Musa Dagh became a symbol of the Armenian will to survive. Of the three other sites where Armenians defied the deportation orders, Shabin Karahissar, Urfa, and Van, only the Armenians of Van were rescued when the siege of their city was lifted by an advancing Russian army. The Armenians of Urfa and Shabin Karahissar were either massacred or deported. Musa Dagh stood as the sole instance where the Western Allies at war with the Ottomans averted the death of a community during the Armenian Genocide.

Nearly 250 men took part in the defense, fighting off Turkish armies in June of 1915. The Armenians had refused deportation and fled to the highest mountain in the vicinity, defending all through July to September of 1915, until French ships came to their rescue inadvertently. Vakıflı is the only remaining ethnic Armenian village in Turkey, with a population only 140 Turkish-Armenians. Those who left the Hatay in 1939 immigrated to Lebanon, where they founded the town of Anjar. Today, Anjar is divided into six districts, each commemorating one of the villages of Musa Dagh.

As the French squads came to the rescue of the remaining survivors, the chief priest was quoted as saying, “The evil only happened… to enable God to show us His goodness.”

These historical events later inspired Franz Werfel to write his novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933), a fictionalized account based on Werfel’s detailed research of historical sources. A movie of the same name was released in 1982. Werfel had told reporters: “The struggle of 5,000 people on Musa Dagh had so fascinated me that I wished to aid the Armenian people by writing about it and bringing it to the world”. The novel was originally published as Die Vierzig Tage des Musa Dagh in German in November 1933. It achieved great international success and has been credited with awakening the world to the evidence of the persecution and partial destruction of the Armenian nation during World War I.The Forty Days of Musa Dagh also foreshadows the Holocaust of World War II due in part to the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, which paralleled the novel’s creation. In Eastern Europe many Jews read Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh as a warning about their fate. During the Holocaust years, copies of the novel are reported to have been circulated as a source of inspiration and a call to arms in some of the ghettos to which the Nazis confined the Jews.

In 2012, the publisher David R. Godine issued a revised and expanded English translation of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh that incorporates virtually all of the material left out of Geoffrey Dunlop’s 1934 translation.

The monument symbolizing the victory of Armenian

s in the battle of Musaler stands on the right side of the highway to Etchmiadzin, the religious center of all Armenians. The memorial is an imposing building in orange color with moderate and severe style.
Now once a year the people of Musaler gather together near the monument which has become a unique sacred place for pilgrims and celebrate the victory of their predecessors. On the day of celebrations near the memorial you can see 40 copper pans in which people make “harisa”. Harisa is an Armenian national dish, a kind of porridge made of wheat and lamb meat which is boiled in pans all night long. People gather around the fire, camp in the surroundings of the monument and cheer up all the night. Then in the morning they distribute the porridge – “harisa” to the all assembled and continue the fete. By the way, there are only 14 families in the village that have destiny to prepare the festive “harisa” and this right is passed by succession from father to son.

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