Associated Press Worldstream
April 14, 2005 Thursday 8:37 PM Eastern Time

Diaspora Armenians flourish as they remember events of 1915 With
Helping Hand

by JOSEPH PANOSSIAN; Associated Press Writer

ANJAR, Lebanon


As the Ottoman Turkish army was driving Armenians 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 Armenians 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 Armenians 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 Armenians 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 Armenians
say they still want modern Turkey to recognize atrocities committed
by its Ottoman predecessors. Armenians 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 Armenians
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.

North America's Armenian community, about 750,000 - nearly half in
southern California - is the largest in the West. It also is the most
active in demanding Turkey recognize the events 90 years ago as
genocide.

Today, many Armenians see dialogue as a way to finally overcome
Turkey's long rejection of the genocide accusation.

"We must find a common language with the Turks. They are stronger and
more numerous than us," 66-year-old retiree Antranig Chokeklian said
in the Beirut Armenian neighborhood of Bourj Hammoud.