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40 Days of Musa Dagh- Partial History and Customs

TODAY IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
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.

Armenians in China

The Chinese Armenian community is a very small community that does not pass the thresholds of 500 individuals. However Armenians have held historical presence in China for many centuries. More recently the Armenian settlement of Harbin is also witness to Armenian presence in China from late 19th century until the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

In his book about the English and the Russians in the Middle East, Henry Raulison talks about the presence of 300 Armenians in Ghachia, on the Chinese frontiers and part of the traditional route for commerce of silk from China to the Middle East and Europe.

The first Armenians in China to live there were those who settled in Manchuria during the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway (KVZHD), undertaken by Imperial Russia in 1898 and were few in number. Their main settlement was in Harbin.

After the Russo-Japanese War the number of Armenians increased, which necessitated the creation of an Armenian National Organization for the purpose of helping their needy countrymen and the preservation of their national heritage.

The Armenian National Organization was headed by the Board of Directors, whose President for many years was Dr. C. G. Migdisov, along with Mr. Ter-Ovakimov, an engineer with the KVZHD and Nr. Melik-Ogandjanov, an attorney.

The Armenian National Organization was founded in 1917. Its statute was approved by the local authorities in 1919. By 1923, they succeeded in building their own church and adjacent to it a social hall located on Sadovaya Street. Because most of the members of theArmenian colony lived in Harbin and had the only Armenian church in China, with residential quarters for their priest, Fr. Yeghishe Rostomiants, the spiritual leader of all Armenians in Manchuria, China and Japan, Harbin became the center of Armenians in China.

One of the main tasks of the Armenian Organization was to solve the problems of assistance to the needy members, such as the elderly, the poor, the orphans and generally all those who needed one or another kind of help in cooperation with Ladies Aid Group. The Board organized social events, staged national and literary plays, which was performed by the youth group in Armenian. On the national and religious holidays, tea parties were also organized. Classes to study Armenian language and literature also were held. The theatrical plays were performed at the prestigious Commercial Club and the Tchurin Club, where “Anahit” drama and Azerbaijani opera “Arshin-Mal-Alan “musical were performed, featuring the lead-singer, Karine Psakian.

Until 1918, the city of Harbin had an Armenian House of Prayer in the district of Noviy Gored. In 1918, the KVZHD (Chinese Eastern Railroad) granted the Armenian Colony a piece of property on 18, Sadovaya Street, corner of Liaoyang Street, where they began to build the Far-Eastern Armeno-Gregorian Church, which took several years to complete. The name “Far-Eastern” derived from the fact that Rev. Fr. Yeghishe Rostomiants and his family emigrated to Harbin from Vladivostok, where evidently his church was closed. The church in Harbin began officially to function in the 1920s. In 1925, the Chinese Authorities registered it as the Armeno-Grigorian Church of Harbin. The church was erected in memory of St. Gregory the Illuminator.

In 1932, Fr. Yeghishe Rostomiants died, leaving the church without a pastor and for several years thereafter the church and the premises were rented to the members of the Lutheran Congregation, who later built their own church. In 1937, thanks to the initiative and efforts of Mr. Ter-Ovakimov, President of the Armenian Organization, a priest was brought from Jerusalem – Rev. Fr. Assoghig Ghazarian. He had been educated in the monastery, after he was orphaned during the Armenian Genocide. At the time of his arrival in Harbin, he was only 27 years old. He was well-educated and spoke five languages. The Armenian Colony, numbering at the time about 350-400 people, felt very fortunate once again to have a pastor.

During the period of 1938-1950, Rev. Fr. Ghazarian had a building adjacent to the church enlarged and renovated, thanks to the financial backing of large contributors and businessmen. In 1950, Rt. Rev. Fr. Assoghig Ghazarian, who during World War II ended up in the concentration camp for British and American citizens in the city of Moukden returned to Jerusalem and the Armenian Church once again remained without a pastor.

Subsequently, during the following years, due to the mass-exodus of Armenians from Harbin, their colony dwindled down to a mere 40-50 people. In 1959, the building of the Armenian Church changed hands and became the property of the Chinese Government, which in turn used it for a textile factory. In August 1966, during the Cultural Revolution, all churches in Harbin were demolished and all the treasures of the Armenian Church including icons and elaborate vestments were destroyed.