Help someone in Armenia today by giving them a micro business loan!
Anjar is a town of Lebanon located in the Bekaa Valley. Population about 2,400, nearly all Armenian. In the summer, the population swells to 3,500 as members of the Armenian Diaspora return to visit there.
Formerly known as Gerrha, a stronghold built by Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid ibn Abdel Malek in the 8th century, the site was later abandoned, leaving a number of well-preserved ruins. The ruins have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Anjar during the Second World War
By Naira Der Kiureghian
The village of Anjar, Lebanon, was established in 1939 when 6000 Armenian inhabitants of Musa Dagh, in the then-Syrian province of Alexandretta, carried out a mass exodus from their historic homeland, under the auspices of the French. In the years preceding the outbreak of the Second World War with Adolf Hitler's invasion of Poland in September 1939, France ceded the Syrian Sanjak of Alexendretta to Turkey in the hopes of securing the former German ally as a partner against the new Axis threat. As a result, thousands of Arabs, Armenians, Circassians and others opposed to living under Turkish rule left their homes with the belief that they would one day return. Unlike the other immigrants, the inhabitants of Musa Dagh relocated as a community to Anjar, Lebanon, where they were cared for by the French authorities. Because of their close relationship to France and the assistance they received, the story of the Armenians of the six villages of Musa Dagh is a unique narrative of resettlement during World War II. French ties to the Armenian population of Alexandretta predated the Mandate era. During the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, the Armenians from the villages of Musa Dagh resisted deportation by waging a resistance movement against the Ottoman army. As a result, approximately 5000 Armenians left their homes and sought refuge in the mountain of Musa. The siege lasted nearly fifty-three days, at the end of which they faced near extermination due to lack of food and ammunition. After attracting the attention of a French ship, the Armenian population was rescued and taken to a refugee camp in Port Said, Egypt.
Shortly after the population had settled into refugee camps in Port Said, 600 Musa Daghtsi men volunteered for the French Foreign Legion as part of the Légion d'Orient, which was "composed overwhelmingly of former Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire." The participation of the Armenians in the Légion d'Orient was instrumental in winning the Battle of Arara in Palestine against the Ottoman forces in 1918.
After the establishment of the French Mandate in Syria and Lebanon, the Armenians returned to their homes in Musa Dagh in 1919. While under French dominion, the Armenians of Alexandretta experienced an exception to the vast majority of Western Armenian history. Having survived the Genocide, the Armenians of Alexandretta were able to return to their historical homeland and traditional communities. In contrast, over a million other Armenian subjects of Ottoman Turkey were expelled from their homes, initiating a new chapter in Western Armenian history characterized by poverty, immigration, alienation and diaspora. Furthermore, traditional elements of cultural distinction between different Armenian localities, (i.e. regional dialects) began to diminish as a result of the upheaval of the Genocide and the ensuing mixing of communities. In contrast, the Armenians of Musa Dagh were able to return to their villages and were spared, for the time being, the perils of immigration and resettlement.
During the French Mandate in Syria, the Turkish government was aggressively pursuing a claim for the province of the Sanjak of Alexandretta. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Turkey petitioned France for greater influence in the region, in the name of guaranteeing the rights of ethnic Turks of Alexandretta, and to secure the province's autonomy within Syria. With the passing of time, Turkey's demands increased and France succumbed by making concessions. In opposition to these Turkish advances, hundreds of Arab, Armenian, Alawi and Greek inhabitants of Alexandretta held a mass protest against Turkish acquisition of the region in Antioch under the leadership of Ba'ath Party founder, Zaki al-Arsuzi on January 8, 1937. Their calls for continued union with Syria were unheeded by the Mandatatory Power. By 1939, France's concerns centered on the rise of Nazi Germany and the French position in the Eastern Mediterranean. Thus, in an effort to keep Turkey as an ally, France consented to the final cession of Alexandretta to Turkey in an agreement on June 23, 1939. The agreement was clearly in violation of international law which forbade the Mandatory Power from altering the boundaries of the mandated territory. However, France provided the inhabitants of Alexandretta with the option of obtaining Syrian and Lebanese citizenship and relocating with all their "movable property to their new homes" within the first six months after the "entry into force of the agreement."
From July 1-23, 1939, 30,000 Armenians, in addition to 20,000 other Alexandrettans, began a mass exodus from their homes to Syria and Lebanon. Due to their unique relationship with the French authorities during the resistance of World War I, the Musa Dagh Armenians received special provisions from the French Mandate stating that they would be provided for with land and homes for a community of their own in Lebanon. Land in the Biqaa Valley purchased from a local Turkish bey by the French was to be appropriated for the settlement of the Musa Dagh Armenians. As a result, the Musa Dagh community was able to stay intact in spite of two migrations. This paper seeks to create an understanding of the experiences of this migration and the creation of the village of Anjar as remembered by those who lived through the events. Once the cession was ratified, the vast majority of the Armenian residents of Musa Dagh chose relocation instead of living under Turkish rule. The nine survivors interviewed for the purposes of this paper, ranging from ages five to 35 in 1939, did not mention any indecision, either on their part or on the part of their elders, concerning the choice to leave their homes. The interviewees did not consider living under Turkish dominion again to be a feasible option. They felt they "had to leave at any price," for fear of Turkish reprisals in retaliation for the Musa Dagh resistance of 1915. However, a limited number of families belonging to the Social Democratic Hnchak Party chose to stay. The interviewees, most of whom associate themselves primarily with the Dashnaktsutyun (Armenian Revolutionary Federation), attributed the decision of the Hnchaks to stay to political rivalries. On more than one occasion, the interviewees explained the actions of the splinter Hnchaks as an effort to defy the Dashnaks who were the dominant political faction in the region. The survivors remember leaving with the knowledge that the French authorities would see to their safety and resettlement in Lebanon and the belief that they would eventually return to Musa Dagh. The French provided no such assistance for the remaining 24,000 Armenians who left their homes in Alexandretta. When asked why the Armenians from areas other than Musa Dagh were not given assistance by the French, the interviewees responded by citing the volunteer service of 600 Musa Daghtsi men in the Foreign Legion and their contribution to the victory in Arara, Palestine as a justification for their special treatment. Interviewees emphasized the respect the French had for the Musa Daghtsis because of their "heroic fighting." In addition, the interviewees pointed out that the community believed its relocation was temporary and that they would return after the resolution of the international conflict. In July of 1939, 6000 Musa Dagh Armenians boarded camions with their belongings and traveled to Ras al-Bassit, north of the Lebanese-Syrian border, where they settled into a camp site and awaited their transfer to Tripoli. Although the accounts of the survivors concerning the duration of their stay in Ras al-Bassit range from one to six months, the general consensus points to a stay of approximately forty days. Several interviewees remember the situation in the camp as haphazard and chaotic: one man, age 13 at the time, remembers people using any material they could find, even "twigs," to assemble their tents. Food shortages, lack of water and heavy rains contributed to a decline in the health of the population. Dysentery became prevalent, particularly among young children. In response, the Armenian General Benevolent Union established a hospital in Latakia which admitted over 200 resident patients from this camp. Out of 6000 Musa Daghtsis, forty-five perished during their stay in Ras al-Bassit. During this time, news of the outbreak of World War II reached the Armenians, resulting in a widespread fear that the French would not be able to continue their assistance.
An interviewee, aged 16 in 1939, traveled to Bassit on foot, independent from the camions. According to him, all those who wanted to bring their livestock to the new village walked with their animals to Ras al-Bassit along the Orontes River ('Assi Nahr). There they joined the population and traveled by ship to Tripoli, and from there they boarded trains to Rayyak. The final leg of the trip was made by camions to Anjar, where they built a campsite in the Umayyad ruins. The population would remain in this vranagaghak, or tent-city, until the completion of the construction of their houses in 1941. Upon the arrival of the Armenians in September 1939, the Armenian General Benevolent Union provided each family with a four-square meter piece of canvas and three sticks for the assembly of a tent. One survivor likened their arrival to the French "dumping" the people out of the camions like "garbage." Another woman remembered arriving at night in complete darkness, as a result of wartime orders forbidding use of lighting at night. The next morning, she awoke to find fields of grass taller than herself and was shocked by the complete lack of cultivated land. As a result of the physically exhausting process of relocation, exposure to new diseases and the wartime lack of supplies, the survivors describe the resettlement era as one of great hardship. In addition to having arrived almost naked at this swampy and disease-ridden area, they sacrificed a fourth of their numbers to malaria. The interviewees consistently stressed the devastation to the community caused by malaria which festered in the countless swamps of their new environment. They recall with detail the hapless winter of 1939, when the only available protection from the snow were their canvas tents. In response, the French established a hospital and a clinic with a permanent physician in the village. The heavy death toll during this time is so prevalent in the collective memory of Anjar that the interviewees used the same descriptions independently of each other. Phrases such as "The death knell would be heard all day," and "There were days when we had as many as seven burials" have become part of the oral history of Anjar.
In September of 1939, two months after the departure from Musa Dagh, construction of the homes began at the expense of the French. The village was designed by an Armenian architect by the name of Hagop Keshishian, making it the only village in the area built according to a preliminary design. Keshishian's design was in the shape of an eagle from an aerial view; in homage to the Musa Dagh resistance of World War I. The French hired all Musa Daghtsi men over the age of fifteen to construct the homes. According to one interviewee, the construction workers were paid fifteen ghurush a day. He added that despite the fact that women could not be hired to participate in the construction, families received fifteen ghurush for each female member over the age of fifteen, daily. In his opinion, this was a substantial sum to receive for building one's own home and was evidence of the generosity of the French. Because the health of the general population had been "disturbed" since Ras al-Bassit, the completion of the houses was delayed. As a result, Arab workers were hired from neighboring villages and towns as distant as Homs and Hama in Syria, to supplement Anjar's labor force. Interviewees remember participating by clearing rocks from the site to facilitate the project. The interviewees insisted that all those with the physical ability to work helped in the construction and that it was considered shameful for an able-bodied person not to work given the desperate conditions. The first homes in Anjar were completed in the summer of 1940 and priority was given to families with sick members and young children. Initially, each family was to receive a house with three rooms and one outhouse. Wartime conditions prevented the French from fulfilling this pledge. Instead, each family received a single-room house (4 x 4.5 square meters) and one outhouse on a 400 square meter plot of land. It was not until 1941 that all 1065 homes were completed.
During the winter of 1939, those especially vulnerable to disease, such as the elderly and young children, were given housing in nearby Arab-inhabited villages. Interviewees remember this as evidence of the kindness granted to them by their neighbors, signaling comfortable inter-ethnic relations. Several survivors, who were children in 1939, remember attending school in tents. Due to the lack of paper, bags of the cement mixture used in the construction projects were appropriated for schoolwork. Many remember being insufficiently clothed and suffering from the cold. One woman recalled, "We were barefoot in the summer and there were even some who were barefoot in the winter." The cold winter of 1939 propelled the Armenians to cut all the trees on the surrounding hills "from the root" to use as firewood. Despite the lack of food due to underdeveloped farming and wartime shortages, no interviewees remembered experiencing starvation. Interviewees recall a lack of vegetation in Anjar and emphasize the barren landscape which was to be their primary source of sustenance. This stands in sharp contrast to their romanticized memories of Musa Dagh, which are characterized by an abundance of fruit trees and fertile orchards. When describing the hunger she felt during the war, one woman remembered an episode when Senegalese soldiers of the Foreign Legion distributed bread to the children of the village and said that she still remembers the taste of that bread to this day. Another woman stated that French officials sold basic food items (i.e. flour, sugar) at subsidized prices and rationed quantities to each family. During the early part of the war, the population resorted to alternative crops for cooking. In addition to widespread poverty, a shortage in supplies also prevented the purchase and consumption of necessary items. One interviewee explained that in the absence of flour, bread was made using chickpeas as a base. The product was of an unusual texture and its consumption caused acute thirst. The interviewee added that his experiences eating chickpea bread during the war have rendered him unable to consume the legume heretofore. Barley, millet and potato were also made use of excessively during the war and fell out of usage afterward.
The Holy Armenian See of Cilicia in Antelias funded the construction of churches and schools in Anjar with donations from the Armenian community in Beirut. By 1943, there were three schools in Anjar: the Armenian National Secondary School, the Armenian Catholic School, and the Armenian Protestant School. On June 16, 1943, the Anjar branch of the Armenian Relief Cross, a women's auxiliary charity organization, was founded. Its programs included providing needy children with meals at school. Thus, contact between the established Lebanese Armenian community and that of Anjar existed in the form of charitable outreach. When asked about the treatment they received from Lebanese Armenians upon their arrival, interviewees affirmed they faced no discrimination and did not consider themselves to be "needy refugees." When the construction project came to an end, the men of the village had difficulty finding work. Some residents cultivated fields allotted to them by the French authorities, who divided the land into units of four or seven dunams (1000 square meters), depending on their access to free-flowing water. However, most Armenians avoided developing their own land because they believed that they would return to Musa Dagh after the war, just as they had following the First World War. For this reason, Anjar remained uncultivated and barren until the mid-1940s, when the population finally understood that it would not be able to return. During the war, the villagers were not willing to come to terms with not returning to Musa Dagh and resisted making lasting contributions to Anjar, refusing "to plant a single tree." Instead of working their own fields, men, women, and children worked in the farms of neighboring villages as wage laborers. According to eye witness accounts, this was the first time the women of this community had done farm work. Previously, they had enjoyed the luxury of working solely indoors. Once conditions improved after the war, women returned to the domestic sphere.
The Vichy military base in Rayak provided the local population with much needed work opportunities, which were in short supply after the completion of the construction project in Anjar. All male interviewees who met the age requirement of eighteen during the war found work in the French military, as did the brothers of several female interviewees. During the Vichy regime, Rayak served as an air force base for missions against the British in Palestine. An interviewee, who worked as a laborer for the Vichy military for three months before their defeat, remembered being taken with a dozen other workers to wheat fields outside Rayak, in the Biqaa Valley, and instructed to remove all rocks and stones from the area. At first, he did not know the reason for his orders, but he soon learned that the fields were to be used as runways for bomber planes on missions to Palestine. His unit was instructed to count the number of planes which returned from each mission and he remembered watching them return from different directions. According to him, the Vichy operated with the strictest discipline. Outside all military buildings was a box of wet sand which officers were expected to step in so that their superiors could verify that all the nails in the soles of their boots were in place from looking at their footprints. After the arrival of General de Gaulle, the interviewee was hired to work as a cook in the military hospital of Rayak and in the homes of high officials. The veteran interviewees seem to have had no particular allegiance to the Vichy over the Free French. They tend to associate the arrival of de Gaulle with a decrease in unemployment and improved living conditions. According to an interviewee, de Gaulle expanded Rayak into a more substantial airport and hired many men from Anjar to work as technicians and pilots. Another interviewee specifically referred to de Gaulle as being more "Armenophile" than the previous regime.
Interviewees who were children during the war remember air attacks by the British Royal Air Force as terrifying experiences. Residents were forbidden to use lights at night. Although the village was never harmed or attacked, the residents of Anjar were witnesses to bombings in neighboring Rayak. Older interviewees were not as traumatized by these bombings. An interviewee, born in 1934, recounted an anecdote which took place a few days after a night of heavy shelling by the RAF. While traveling in the fields surrounding Anjar with his friends, he came upon a dozen bodies of Senegalese soldiers who had been killed by air raids and whose bodies had been left in the open.
With the defeat of the Vichy Regime and the arrival of the Free French and British in the summer of 1941, life in Anjar took a turn for the better. Not only did bombardment from the British cease, but food and work opportunities were more readily available. In addition, steps were taken to bring an end to the malaria crisis. As part of the Spears Mobile Clinics program, doctors visited Anjar and administered free malaria vaccinations. Interviewees remember the entire community lining up to receive a white pill. Doctors and nurses kept close watch on the patients to make sure they did not covertly avoid swallowing the bitter pill. The interviewees also remember public works projects created by the British which hired the locals to drain the malaria pools in the area using DDT. During this part of the war, the community returned to a more orderly way of life and began to become more self sufficient. Food and work opportunities were more readily available and the community had begun to adjust to its new surroundings. Interviewees had few distinct memories from this part of the war and life seems to have settled into a less impressive routine.
French actions with respect to the Sanjak of Alexandretta in 1939 were in violation of its duties as a Mandatory Power. Its failure to take into consideration the wishes and "welfare of the native inhabitants" can be seen as "a step backward in the development of colonial administration." Having protected the Musa Dagh Armenians against persecution at the hands of the Turks, France ceded the homeland of its dependents to an authority it knew they were opposed to. By relinquishing its dominion over Alexandretta for its political interests, France was essentially forcing the Armenians out of their homes. However, the survivors of these events harbor no resentment towards France or the French Mandate. Instead, they are grateful for the assistance granted to them by the French and feel that they earned this benevolence by way of their participation in the Foreign Legion in World War I. Although they may recognize the injustices committed against them in 1939, they are understanding toward the French position in light of the international context of the time. They are not concerned with their rights as citizens of the Mandate and have a limited perception of France's duties and responsibilities towards them. Thus, life for the Anjar community during the Second World War is remembered in terms of extreme hardship. In addition to general wartime difficulties, the loss of property, exposure to new diseases, and relocation to an undeveloped region resulted in depravation and heavy loss of human life. However, the Anjartsis seem to have enjoyed good ties with the French authorities, their Arab neighbors, and the established urban Armenian community in Lebanon. The fall of the Vichy French brought an end to bombardments in neighboring Rayak, better access to supplies and work, as well as public works projects for the improvement of the country. At the end of the war, the community came to realize that it would never again return to Musa Dagh and accepted Anjar as its final home. Today, they are proud of the prosperity of their village and hold its distinctive history in high esteem.
Research based on: Tovmas Habeshian, 'Ainjare Yereg,' Chanasser No. 15-16 (1-15 August, 1970); Yessayi Havatian, Mousa LerAinjar; Richard Hovannisian, 'The Allies and Armenia, 1915-1918,' Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 3 No. 1; Majid Khadduri, 'The Alexandretta Dispute,' The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No.3; Vagharsh B. Oflazian, 'Hrashke Aanjari Metch,' Azdag, August 10, 1963; Shahantookhd, 'Aanjare Aiysor,' Ayk, August 25, 1967;Sisag Hagop Varjabedian, Hayere Libanani Mech: C Hador.
The Settlement of Musa Dagh Armenians in Anjar, Lebanon, 1939-1941
Friday, January 2nd, 2015 http://asbarez.com/130363/the-settlement-of-musa-dagh-armenians-in-anjar-lebanon-1939-1941/
BY VAHRAM L. SHEMMASSIAN
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Anjar, home to Musa Dagh Armenians situated in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley at an altitude of 950 m. along the Beirut-Damascus highway, near the Syrian border. What was the genesis of this unique Armenian rural town? What challenges did it face during its infancy (1939-1941)? These are the two main questions that this article addresses.
It all started in the Sanjak of Alexandretta/Iskenderun, an autonomous province within Syria between the two World Wars. Its inhabitants included a significant number of Armenian natives and refugees, among them the indigenous population of Musa Dagh. A political crisis beginning in 1936 shook Sanjak society to its core, as winds of change from the French mandate to Turkish suzerainty increasingly caused panic. The turmoil grew to alarming proportions for the Arabs, Alawites, and Christians when a farcical election in 1938 installed a Turkish majority in the Sanjak's legislature. A year later Turkey annexed the area. This was the final straw that compelled the overwhelming majority of Armenians, among other groups, to seek refuge in other parts of Syria as well as in Lebanon, apprehensive of Turkish rule. The exodus from Musa Dagh took place before the 23 July 1939 annexation. The refugees temporarily settled in the open at Ras al-Basit, between Kesab and Latakia, until a permanent home could be found for them.
The Turkish Government asked the French not to install the Armenian refugees near the Syrian-Turkish border. The French obliged, and considered several options including, but not limited to, four possible settlement sites in Lebanon: 1) in the mountains overlooking Tripoli, especially around the villages of Sir and Bakhune; 2) in the district of Hermel, along the Orontes River; 3) in the west of Baalbek, around the villages of Shemestar, Hadith, and Budaye; 4) in south Lebanon, in the foothills of Hermon, between the cities of Marjaayun and Rashaya. Among those places Hermel was regarded as the most suitable one not only because of the available land, but also because the Armenians "would constitute a moderating element and a factor of appeasement, in a corner which troubles, permanently, the dissentions between Christians and non-Christians." But for various reasons, none of these places was selected.
The French High Commission of Syria and Lebanon ultimately negotiated with a retired Turkish military officer named Rushdi Hoja Tuma, who owned a 1,540 hectare domain at a place called Anjar in the Bekaa Valley. Although Rushdi Bey demanded a prohibitively-high price for his property, he was willing to accept, out of "patriotic sentiments," an "important reduction" if the Turkish government asked him to. The land was purchased at a reduced price.
The relocation from Ras al-Basit to Anjar took place from 3-16 September. The refugees were shipped to Tripoli and thence entrained to Riyaq, where a local Armenian reception team offered food, fruit, and refreshments. From Riyaq they were transported aboard trucks to their final destination of Anjar. This was an inhospitable terrain--rocky, swampy, and thorny, with scorching summers and freezing winters. But having no other choice under the circumstances, the Musa Daghians had to reconstruct their new community here.
The newcomers in early 1940 numbered 1,060 families or 4,521 persons originating from the following six main villages of Musa Dagh: Kheder Beg, 1,050 persons; Bitias, 915; Haji Habibli, 904; Kabusiye, 754; Yoghunoluk, 601; Vakef, 295. They huddled together within the contours of the ruins of an ancient city, a 250 m. by 200 m. rectangular area on the periphery of the future village site. The Armenian National Union in Beirut and the French High Commission provided them with tents, which sheltered as many as ten-twelve persons each.
The French High Commission's Public Works Service drafted the future village plan: an eagle-shaped layout with six distinct segments mirroring the ancestral villages mentioned above. The principal roads of Anjar would be 56 meters wide; the secondary streets 12 meters wide with 4-meter sidewalks; and the tertiary arteries 6 meters wide with 2-meter sidewalks. A central water reservoir would distribute water to springs (qastul) enclosed within octagonal walls and erected in the main squares. The location chosen for habitation spread across the last slopes of Jabal Anjar, a mountain separating Lebanon from Syria. The Public Works Service also sought an additional 50-60 hectares of land adjoining the Anjar domain upon which to extend part of the village. The area put aside for the village proper included separate spaces for the churches, schools, and auxiliary buildings of the three denominations (Apostolic, Catholic, Evangelical). An auction held on 19 September awarded the construction of houses to a French development company called Sainrapt & Brice.
The original plan was to build two rooms, a kitchen, and a restroom per house. Given the start of World War II, however, the French were compelled to cut their expenses. Consequently, the scheme was reduced to one chamber with an outdoor restroom situated on a 400 m² lot per family. In all, 1,250 dwellings had to be built by 15 December 1939. This proved an impossible task, for the following reason. Internally, the refugee community was to be governed by a committee chaired by Kevork Kalusdian and consisting of one representative from the six Armenian villages of Musa Dagh each. But since this committee did not muster enough muscle and prestige to impose its will, it was able to recruit only half of the 1,000 workers needed. The lack of the necessary manpower and discipline thus hampered the construction work. So that only fifteen houses were built by 15 November. The situation began to improve when the French asked Movses Der Kalusdian, then a lieutenant in the French Foreign Legion stationed at Baalbek, to put a chaotic house in order among his compatriots at Anjar.
The slow progress of the construction work in the face of the approaching winter and the spread of contagious diseases compelled the French authorities to relocate about half of the refugees - especially the women, children, and the elderly - to other villages in the Bekaa Valley. Although the lodgings were requisitioned without indemnity to their owners, no incidents occurred. The Armenians were distributed among sixteen localities, as follows: Mreijat, 215 persons; Majdal-Anjar, 400; Taalabaya, 169; Kab Elias, 180; Karak, 79; Ablah, 26; Forzol, 53; Jdita, 300; Zahle, 340; Istable, 70; Marje, 70; Chtaura, 50; Saadnayel, 30; Bar Elias, 60; Maallaqa, 80; and Haouche, 10; for a total of 2,192 persons. They returned to Anjar in the spring of 1940, that is, when the weather improved.
The remaining refugees stayed in Anjar under very adverse conditions to work on the construction sites. By 11 May 1940 a total of 259 houses were "regularly occupied" by the workers and their families as follows: Vakef, 26; Haji Habibli, 57; Kheder Beg, 49; Kabusiye, 25; Yoghunoluk, 45; Bitias, 57. Another 159 houses were finished but not yet occupied. But the development company was reluctant to relinquish the houses before the completion of the entire project. It accordingly asked the French authorities to order the evacuation of at least those houses whose wooden support beams had not yet been removed and the freshly-poured concrete to cover the roofs had not yet dried. The problem dragged on to some extent until the beginning of March 1941, when the refugees finally entered their "homes." By then, 1,065 houses were built instead of the 1,250 originally planned.
Serious health concerns ran parallel to the housing crisis. A certain Dr. Boyajian managed the sanitary service until 15 October 1939, when he was discharged for "grave professional negligence" and replaced by Dr. Prudian from Riyaq. The latter as of 1 November functioned under a French military doctor. The number of sick people was very high. One could hardly find a tent without several anguishing souls. More than 300 grave cases underwent examination daily. As many as fifty-six persons died from 8 September to 31 October alone. Typhoid, malaria, gastrointestinal diseases, and trachoma constituted the main culprits. The lack of hygiene coupled with the refugees' exhaustion and feebleness after a long, arduous journey from Musa Dagh to Anjar contributed to the spread of those maladies. The most urgent need was to tackle typhoid fever caused by ubiquitous mosquitos; it was largely checked within fifteen days after the vaccination of the population by three Armenian doctors from the American University of Beirut (AUB). Some of the measures that could eradicate malaria and gastrointestinal complications included the sweeping of filth; the keeping of animals outside the encampment, or their selling; the controlling of butcheries; the checking of edibles sold by peddlers; the disinfecting of potable water; the drying up of swamps, and so on.
A tent-infirmary established on the spot was too small to be effective; it was replaced by a more spacious Bedouin tent. Other health facilities were needed. Accordingly, a former café and a nearby garage at Deir Zanoun situated in the Anjar domains were transformed into a health facility with capacity for thirty-five beds. Attending the sick sheltered in the surrounding Arab communities posed another difficulty. Hence new medical centers were opened in some of them. This arrangement also lessened the burden on certain hospitals in Beirut, where the more acute cases were transferred. Unfortunately, despite all the efforts, the lack of sufficient funds failed to fully achieve the desired outcome. Health thus remained a major problem in subsequent years as well.
In farming, the total area set aside for cereals for 1940 amounted to 500 hectares--400 hectares for wheat and 100 hectares for barley. The remaining cultivable land of 800 hectares would be distributed to the settlers in 1941. Each family would receive an irrigable plot of equal size. Families with four-six members would additionally get a non-irrigable plot, whereas families with seven members or more would obtain a third plot, also non-irrigable. Title deeds would be issued only after five years to ensure the good use of the allocated farmlands with hard work.
As the refugees during 1939-1940 were not yet in a position to engage in sowing and harvesting, Lieut. Malod on 13 June 1940 reached an agreement with Samuel Ibrahim, a threshing entrepreneur from nearby Chtaura, concerning the first year's wheat crops of Anjar. The contract included thirteen articles. Articles I and II referred to the types of tractors and crushers that had to be utilized. Article III specified 25 June 1940 as the starting date. Article IV allowed for six Armenians from the camp to work on the project, and indicated the need for the "necessary SACKS" for collection. Article V allowed for a maximum of 10 percent margin for wheat damage. Articles VI and VII stipulated that the French High Commission had to pay Ibrahim 90 piasters per harvested quintal and that those installments had to be made per each 1,000 harvested quintal. Article VIII gave Ibrahim the right to opt out in case of a "force majeure" such as the "total absence of fuel in the local market" and the impossibility to replace damaged machine parts. Articles IX-XIII dealt with arbitration should the need arise, and other details. The wheat and barley ultimately reaped (no amount mentioned) were distributed evenly among the populace.
During the period under study some initial measures respecting the planting of fruit and other sorts of trees were also taken. Lieut. Riaucou, who had replaced Lieut. Malod as the Special Services Officer in charge of Anjar, on 16 November asked the Director of Agriculture Service of Lebanon whether he could provide 3,000 fruit trees and 1,500 ornamental trees and at what price. The answer came from the Director of the Lebanese National Economy: his Department was "disposed" to provide 3,000 fruit plants of "2nd choice" from the government nurseries of Hammana and Chtaura for the flat rate of 30 Lebanese piasters per tree. Those fruits included apples, pears, prunes, cherries, and peaches. Ornamental trees, however, were not readily available "at the moment." Thus began the greening of Anjar.
The French also distributed small amounts of money for the refugees to purchase food and other sundries. Food and other necessities were additionally donated by various Armenian and non-Armenian organizations and entities. The Association of French Women, the Lebanese Armenian Relief Cross, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Catholicosate of Cilicia at Antelias, Jacob "Papa" Künzler and his Swiss missionary organization, the Armenian National Union, the US-based Howard Karageuzian Foundation, the Harach newspaper of Paris with its fund drive, special committees formed in Zahle, Beirut, Damascus, and Aleppo, and the Musa Dagh Compatriotic Association in the United States, all made important contributions. These included clothing, bedding, kitchenware, powder milk, corn, sowing seeds, etc., in addition to pecuniary gifts.
Despite the enormous difficulties experienced by the refugees in their new, inhospitable milieu, the churches and schools resumed their activity in tents until the actual sanctuaries and classrooms were built by the second half of 1940. But communal life was far from being tranquil. Political conflicts besetting Musa Dagh society during the interwar years were now transposed to Anjar. For example, unwilling to live under the domination of Armenian Revolutionary Federation/Tashnagtsutiun, some 35-40 families from mainly the rival Social Democrat Hnchakian camp left Anjar by April 1940 and relocated to Ras al-Ayn, near the southern Lebanese city of Sur/Tyr, where another camp for the Sanjak refugees existed. Similarly, the French authorities as of October 1939 crushed "latent" communist propaganda at Anjar by expelling the ringleaders. Last but not least, gambling must have become quite worrisome to warrant the issuance of a stern warning by the local Armenian committee for those who engaged in it.
To conclude, the tribulations for Anjar did not come to an end with the close of 1940; they continued in various forms and intensity. All along the settlers entertained the hope of returning to Musa Dagh should Turkey lose in World War II. But that dream did not materialize, forcing the former highlanders to fashion a permanent life for themselves in the present verdant, vibrant, and symbolic rural Lebanese Armenian town of Anjar.
|This article contains text from a source with a copyright. Please help us by extracting the factual information and eliminating the rest in order to keep the site in accordance to fair use standards, or by obtaining permission for reuse on this site..|