Where is Moussadagh located and Who is the Moussadaghian?
It is impossible to talk about Anjar and its population without mentioning Moussadagh and Moussadaghians. But where exactly is Moussadagh located?
Moussadagh is situated on the Mediterranean coastline, 18 km to the west of Antioch. Moussadagh’s Armenian villages as Yoghun-Olouk, Khederbek (Idder), Bitias, Haji Habibli, Vakef, Keboussik and smaller villages like upper Azzer, lower Azzer, Tchavlik, Magharadjek, Soultoumou, and Amadj have been on the coastline for centuries. But, it is hard to determine the exact date of their existence. However, it is clear that northern Assyria was among the first regions where Armenians were settled in the 3rd century B.C. The number of Armenian emigrants settled in that region increased in the 1st century B.C., during the reign of Dikran the Great, who occupied the region down to Palestine.
The Armenian community was in constant change during the following centuries, its number always varying depending on the circumstances governing the region. But, the number of Armenian emigrants increased from the 11th century onwards, during the Seldjouk-Tatarian invasions into Armenian lands and administratively well-organized communities were born. After the fall of the Cilician Kingdom, the local community was weakened and regained its vivacity only after the 17th century, in Moussadagh, Kessab and in certain neighboring villages as Aramou, Yacoubieh, Ghenemieh, etc.
In the early 20th century, Moussadagh’s Armenian villages drew attention due to their organized life both nationally and culturally. Soon, they represented a threat to the Ottoman Empire by becoming the center of the resistance movement. But, how did Moussadagh and Moussadaghians manage to become so famous? The answer is provided by Franz Werfel’s epic novel “The Forty Days of Moussa Dagh”, which shows how a small number of Armenians went up the mountains and courageously fought against thousands of Turkish soldiers during Moussadagh’s historical and glorious battle. An unbelievable battle took place indeed in Moussdagh, during the most atrocious exterminations of Armenians in 1915 in all parts of the Ottoman Empire.
After struggling for forty days, Moussadaghians were rescued by French battleships, as they detected by chance the red-cross-flag on the top of the mountain. The French transported the surrounded villagers to Port Saaid in Egypt. Moussadaghians stayed there for four years, where they built a temporary city. Then, in 1919, after the decline of the Ottoman Empire, they returned to their homeland invaded by the Allies.
Moussadaghians are known to be stubborn and robust. When they returned, they found their villages in total ruins and plundered. But, they rebuilt an lived there until 1939, when they were once again forced to leave their homes and villages.
The Evacuation of Moussadagh’s Armenian Villages
Considering the fact that the region of Sanjak would be permanently annexed to Turkey on the 23rd of 1939 (according to the French-Turkish treaty signed in Paris), the local inhabitants were obliged to evacuate the “Turkish” lands within the week preceding that date.
The emigration from Sanjak had already begun in 1938, when Turkish forces entered the region. Between the fall of 1938 and the winter of 1939, 70% of the Armenians had already left the region.
The evacuation of Moussadagh began on the 17th of July 1939. The painful memory of their previous emigration was still engraved in their minds, when Moussadaghians were once again forced to be separated from their own villages and mountains. All villagers were first gathered along the roadside and then, within hours and under Turkish police surveillance, they were transported to Syria and Kessab by cars. Heavy loads were sent to Syria on small boats.
On the 23rd of July, the villages of Moussadagh were totally evacuated, except a few families who remained in the village of Vakef and decided to stay there. These villagers survived in the region and in 1998 they built their new church.
Until the 23rd of July 1939, 35,000 Armenians and 20,000 Arabs and Circassians from Sanjak (Moussadagh and Kerek Khan) left the region and settled in Syria or Lebanon.
Bassit, 25 km to the south - west of Kessab on the coastline, became the temporary residence of Moussadaghians, until the French authorities arranged their final settlement in Anjar (in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon).
Life In Transit (Basit)
The Moussadaghians stayed on the Bassit seashore for fortyfive days. Small huts of mud, sheets or branches were the only protection against the bitter cold of the nights. Morale was low. Hunger, separation, and the unhealthy conditions at Bassit made many people sick. Water was the main reason of dysentery. The AGBU aid central committee established a field hospital in Latakia town (30 kms to the south of Bassit). More than 200 patients were treated there. Severe cases were transferred to Beirut. More than five thousand Moussadaghians had to endure the terrible days in Bassit. They had to dance, in pitch darkness to keep their wet bodies warm due to heavy thunderstorms. Sixteen Moussadaghians lost their lives at Bassit. In spite of dysentery and the loss of homeland, the Moussadaghians did not give in to despair. They were ready to endure the harsh realities of life rather than live under the cursed Turkish law!
Exodus From Moussadagh (1939)
The Franco -Turkish Treaty of Paris in 1938 had conceded the Turkish Sanjak vilayet to Turks and the Armenian population had to leave the area based on the terms of this treaty. On July 14, 1939, the Moussadaghians started packing and leaving on trucks via Kessab (Syria) to a seemingly pleasant Syrian seashore, called Basit. Large groups of Moussadaghians followed to the same seashore by walking through dangerous Turkish villages. Some basic goods were loaded on cargo ships and unloaded at Bassit. On July 23, 1939, all the mountain villages were empty of their inhabitants. Only a handful of Moussadaghians stayed in Vakif. They are still surviving there and built a new church in 1998.
The Moussadaghians chose to forgo their homeland, their earthly wealth, made out of decades of hard work. Freedom of thought, belief, and culture were worth more than their precious homeland.