Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
*Musa Dagh (mew-sah dag). Mountain in eastern Turkey to which Armenian villagers retreat to resist the government’s deportation order; the mountain becomes their ark of salvation. The view from the mountain peak is dramatic, with the Mediterranean Sea to one side and the ancient city of Antioch, dear to Armenian Christian tradition, lying to the other. On this holy mountain, Armenians make their stand for life, freedom, and the survival of their apostolic Christian church. Before their eventual rescue by Allied ships, they must endure trench warfare against the vastly more numerous Turks, along with disease and near starvation. Although the historical siege of Musa Dagh lasted fifty-three days, the novel reduces it to a more symmetrical forty days, thus linking the resistance thematically with the many biblical events that transpired over the same mystical length of time.
Despite his occasional use of artistic license, Franz Werfel based his narrative on authenticated documentation of the siege, and his book has been recognized as a tribute to the Armenians who suffered in the calamity, as well as a celebration of the survival of the Armenian nation itself. When the novel became a best seller, its success alerted millions of readers to what has been called the “forgotten genocide.”
*Armenian villages. Seven villages around the base of Musa Dagh figuring into the novel have exotic names: Yoghonoluk, Wakef, Kheder, Begt, Azir, Bitias, and Kebussiye. In contrast to the cosmopolitan ambiance of Antioch’s bazaar, life in the villages faithfully adheres to Armenian custom and style. On Sunday evenings, after religious observance, the streets are filled with people happy to be alive, old women gossiping, young mothers exchanging advice, and girls teasing their suitors. The Turkish peril seems vague and far away, while the orchards and vineyards flourish and the sound of the tar, the Armenian guitar, fills the streets. The skilled crafts of the villagers demonstrate Armenian energy and creativity: silks, woodwork, religious carvings from ivory. These villages provide glimpses of what Paradise must have been like, Werfel seems to suggest. For here, along this very Syrian coast, are found the four rivers near which tradition locates the Garden of Eden.