Musa Dagh is an interesting story.
Short version: During the Armenian Genocide, several Armenian villages in southeastern Turkey retired up a mountain and dug in for a siege. The Turks sent a large force after them; the Armenians held them off. The siege lasted for 53 days. Then Allied warships evacuated most of the Armenians except for a rear guard.
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.
Eighteen years later, an Austrian author named Franz Werfel wrote a book about it: The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. The book was a bestseller, and has been in print ever since.
It's a hell of a story, and the Armenians are understandably proud of it. But it does raise some questions...
There are two museums in Musa Ler village. One is inside the monument itself, and it's a museum of the siege. The other is in a small building about a hundred meters away, and it's a museum of the villages... how they lived and worked in the years before 1915. Tools, furniture, old letters and photographs. Both museums are small, but both are well worth a visit.
Jacob and I had been walking around for some minutes when the three women approached us. "Muzei?" said the oldest one. Even I know that means "museum". So I followed her as she unlocked first one and then the other. I assume she was the keeper, curator, what have you. I don't know what the other two women were. (They didn't have any English, and my Armenian still hasn't reached the hundred-word mark.) I guess they live in the village but keep an eye on the monument, and stroll up the hill when someone shows up. Which, I must add, doesn't seem to happen too often -- the museums didn't look like they were getting a lot of custom.
But it was interesting. The museums were small, a couple of rooms each, but they'd obviously been set up with a lot of care even if they didn't get many visitors. The three ladies quickly relieved me of Jacob, and cooed and fussed over him while I peered at hundred-year-old sewing machines and inkwells in one room, rifles and maps and telegrams in the other. By the time we were done he had fallen asleep in their arms. (Jacob is a very trusting little boy.)
The survivors of Musa Dagh ended up in various places, and their descendants live all over the world. The two biggest groups are in Lebanon -- there's an all-Armenian village in the Bekaa valley -- and in the village under the monument: Musa Ler, just a few miles outside Yerevan. They can all stay in touch online, of course.
...questions. Okay, this touches a delicate topic. The Armenian Genocide is a big deal here. Well, the Turks wiped out roughly a third of all the world's Armenians. It's understandable that the Armenians are still upset.
But the presentation of it tends to be pretty one-sided, and it raises some questions.
For instance: how were the Armenians able to hold off several times their number of Turks, well supplied and equipped with artillery, for nearly two months? Mountain fortress, okay; fight-to-the-death desperation, sure. Still... one is left with the feeling of something missing.
Similarly, the rescue of the Armenians makes you go "hm". A French cruiser just happened to be passing by, near to shore, and saw the red cross and the sign they'd put up (in English!). That's not impossible, sure, but again...
Here's the thing. The Turks claim that the Armenians were rebels, guerrillas and saboteurs, rising up in concert with the advancing Allied armies in an attempt to kneecap the Ottoman war effort. The Armenians vehemently deny this. The Armenians were peaceful villagers; most were massacred outright, a few rose up in desperate self-defense.
I have the impression that the truth is closer to the Armenian version. (Though I'm still learning about this.) But it seems possible that the Armenians of Musa Dagh might have made preparations in advance. It also seems possible that the Allies might have been aware of the situation, and that the French ship's arrival might not have been an accident. I don't think either of these things, if true, would detract from the heroism of the defenders.
I've googled briefly for more about Musa Dagh, but the only scholarly article I found was this one from 2005. (Not available for free, alas.) That seems odd, and probably reflects my weak google-fu.
Anyway. It was a very interesting place to spend an hour on a quiet Saturday afternoon.
-- I took sleepy Jacob down the stone stairs to the car. After much nodding and "thank yous" in three or four languages, the three women sat on the top of the stairs and watched us go down the hill. I put Jacob in his car seat, then started to get in the driver's seat. Then I heard shouting. Looked up the hill: the three women were waving wildly at me! It took me a moment to figure out why -- Jacob had kicked a shoe off.
I picked it up, put it on him, then turned and bowed deeply to them. They laughed and waved. I got in the car and we continued on our way.