The History of Anjar

Located in the Central Beka'a valley, about sixty kilometers east of Beirut, 'Anjar - as the inhabitants of the region call it, or Haouch Moussa - as it is officially designated, is a relatively recent settlement of Armenian refugees.

'Anjar is near the Beirut-Damascus international highway and the frontier-post of Masna'a, on the foothills of the eastern Lebanese mountains, near Ain Ghazayel - one of the sources of the Litani river. The total area of its territory is about twenty square kilometers . Its altitude varies be-tween 875 and 951 meters above sea level. The area of the settlement itself is divided into the following zones: the residential district near the foothills of the mountain-chain at the highest altitude of the area; the agricultural zone; and the industrial zone.

Made famous by Franz Werfel in his semi-historical novel Die Vierzig Tage des Musa Dagh (1934) , the inhabitants of 'Anjar were originally inhabitants of six villages located on the foothills of Mount Moussa (1000m above sea level) (between Mount Moussa to the West of Antioch, and the Orontes river - 'Assi, near the ruins of the Selucian port-city on the eastern Mediterranean), in the Sanjak of Alexandretta - Iskandaroun . (Prior to 1939, the Sanjak of Is-kandaroun was a province of Syria, and until 1918 Syria was under Ottoman domination. In the summer of 1915 the total population of the six villages of Mount Moussa amounted to 6811 inhabitants. During the Turkish deportations of the Ar-menian population, 2580 people obeying the orders left, and 4231 stayed to fight the Turkish troops. Those who stayed and fought were rescued by the French navy and taken to Port-Sa'yid in Egypt. After the first World War, they were returned to their homeland, only to be deported after twenty years, with the outbreak of the second World War, as a result of the annexation of the Sanjak of Alexandretta to Turkey, by France - who then had mandatory power over greater Syria and Lebanon, to safeguard the neutrality of Turkey.

In 1939 the French brought to the Beka'a valley 1068 families of the villages of Mount Moussa and settled them on land purchased from the feudal lord Rushdi beg.

The forced evacuation and the relocation of the inhabitants is described well by a native writer, Yetvart Boyadjian in Domar Darakri - (Book of Exile). The reader gets to feel the stress, the feelings of being at a loss...and the hardship of a hostile physical environment....the mosquitoes, the contaminated swamps...of the new location...

Artin (Haroutyoun) Sherbetjian (1922-2003), the mayor of 'Anjar during the time of my fieldwork, gave details too on several occasions of the hardship faced by the inhabitants of Mount Moussa. Long after my fieldwork inn an interview I had with him on June 22, 2001 at Glendale, California he again narrated the story of the up-rooting - of how in spite the 1938 referendum that expressed a consensus of all the Sanjak of Iskandaroun to be part of Syria, the French mandatory authorities gave the region to Turkey to insure its neutrality in the up-coming World War....

The result was the forced up-rooting of the Armenian population of the region. As has been narrated by the inhabitants in 1939 - via ship, the inhabitant of Mount Mousa were sent to Basit (Syria). There, they made temporary homes by bushes & tree foliage. Their domesticated animals were with them too. There was no sanitary system. There was lots of rainfall. The people got infected with diarrhea causing "dysentery" bacteria.

When moved to 'Anjar by military trucks, the people brought with them their digestive system infections. In 'Anjar the Armenian General Benevolent Union distributed tents. Make-shift toilets were made by wood. But the infectious "dysentery" along with the new malaria caused ravages. The houses were built by the participation of all adult males & a contractor. A French army medical doctor was brought in to help deal with the diseased population. A medical volunteer team made up of Anjarians helped distribute medical supplies. Quinine was forced on all. Later the /near East Foundation introduced a programme to fight the mosquitoes & swamps. The hygiene police taught the population to keep the premises clean & to paint the dwellings in white paint (chalk/calcium/ "gir").

The Karaguesian clinic for newborns till 13 year olds was established one year after the houses were built. In 1963 the Armenian Relief Society clinic started its operation.

The inhabitants felt like human lab. animals. All the inhabitants regardless of age or sex were forced medication without their consent. Many ended up suffering side effects of experimental drugs.

Sima Aprahamian, Ph.D.
Simone de Beauvoir Institute
Concordia University
Montreal, Canada