By JOSEPH PANOSSIAN
Associated Press Writer
ANJAR–Lebanon (AP)–As the Ottoman Turkish army was driving Armenia’s from their homes during World War I–people from six villages along the Mediterranean coast fled to the Musa Dagh peak and–with a few hundred rifles and provisions they dragged up the mountain–held off attacks by the Turks for more than 40 days.
Finally–surrounded by thousands of troops–the Armenia’s managed to flee in September 1915 by getting word to a French warship below. Their story–recounted in the popular novel "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh" by Austrian writer Franz Werfel–became a symbol of resistance by the Ottoman Empire’s Christian Armenian minority.
Ninety years later–many of the descendants of that epic defense live in the village of Anjar in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border. They are among an estimated 5 million to 6 million in a worldwide Armenian diaspora that resulted largely from the expulsions and massacres by Turks during World War I.
In Anjar–Vartouhi Sannakian–who was 7 when she fled Musa Dagh–remembers trekking down the steep slopes of the 1,335-meter (nearly 5,000-foot) mountain to a rocky bay–joining thousands of other villagers sailing into the Armenian diaspora.
Now bedridden–she speaks in short spurts of her escape from the mountain in southern Turkey called Musa Ler–or the Mount of Moses–in Armenian.
"We were hungry … we were thirsty. French soldiers came and carried us and said–’Don’t be afraid–don’t be afraid,’" she said. French warships took the fleeing Armenia’s to Egypt to wait out the war–and later the French returned them home. But when a 1939 partition put Musa Dagh in Turkish territory–France again stepped in–taking the villagers to Lebanon.
Around the world–diaspora Armenia’s have flourished in business–politics and the arts. Luminaries include former California Gov. George Deukmejian–American author William Saroyan–painter Arshile Gorky–Argentinian financier Eduardo Eurnekian–French singer Charles Aznavour–former French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur–and singer-actress Cherylyn Sarkissian–known to the world as Cher.
Though many have melted into their adopted lands–diaspora Armenia’s say they still want modern Turkey to recognize atrocities committed by its Ottoman predecessors. Armenia’s estimate 1.5 million people died in massacres or forced marches.
"Acknowledgment of truth in totality is the first concrete step toward a new beginning (with Turkey). Healing is generated primarily through truth-telling," Catholicos Aram I of the House Of Cilicia–the spiritual head of about 2 million Armenian Orthodox in the diaspora–said from his seat at Antelias just north of Beirut.
Anjar in the early 1900s was a stretch of arid land surrounding Roman–Byzantine and Omayyad Muslim Ruins. Now it is the only all-Armenian town outside the Republic of Armenia.
Most language in the town of 3,000–from street signs to store ads–is in Armenian–and the people speak a dialect few other Armenia’s understand. All three Armenian religious denominations–Orthodox–Catholic and Evangelical–have their own churches–schools and clubs.
In the summer–Anjar’s population more than doubles–with people returning for family reunions and ceremonies at a memorial for the 18 villagers killed in the 1915 fighting–according to Hagop Ainteblian of Anjar’s municipal council. Visitors share traditional herissa wheat and mutton soup–along with arak–an anise-flavored liquor.
The Armenian community throughout Lebanon once numbered 350,000–but it’s shrunk to about 80,000-100,000 after emigration during the country’s 1975-90 civil war. Among the largest Armenian communities worldwide are the 2 million living in Russia and former Soviet republics.