23 ապրիլ, 2014
Kesab and Anjar: A Tale of Two Villages
In Latakia, Syria, 45 minutes from Kesab, the Armenians of Kesab, deported, homeless, and rootless appeared to be characters in a story whose collective narrative was abruptly interrupted. The images, the people and their stories left an indelible mark -- their misery was now permanently under our skin. A familiar cycle of dispossession and pain, a rhythm of loss revealed itself to us in ways we never thought possible. My dreams were black that night.
While we thought the journey to Latakia was hard, we didn’t realize that some of the hardest moments were yet to come.
The following day, we woke up in Beirut to a torrential downpour, lightening and thunder that seemed to shake the earth. We began the 50 kilometer drive to Anjar, another historic Armenian village, this time to see the several dozen families from Kesab that had gone there in search of refuge and a promise of security. We drove up through the Mount Lebanon mountain range and back down to the fertile Bekaa Valley to reach the village.
I hadn’t been to Anjar in years. It seemed more beautiful, more pristine...the trees had grown more majestic, the homes were more gentrified, the streets cleaner, even the clouds in the sky were more special. Perhaps it was all of those things, I can’t say for certain. Perhaps I needed and wanted to see it that way in the face of the potential loss of Kesab, a historic piece of the lost Cilician Kingdom that had survived. Perhaps it was because my personal history was intertwined inextricably with both Kesab and Anjar. There was an innate and profound loss swirling in the air around me.
We arrived at the Howard Karaguesian Foundation branch located in the center of Anjar where the deported families from Kesab were invited to come to receive assistance.
People were milling around outside the center. Inside, others were sitting on chairs and benches, some were talking, most were silent. There was a quiet lingering ache in the room. And then the stories tumbled out, slowly, haltingly at first and then faster and harder. Conversations led to revelations of deep and rooted connections to one another and the land. I became part of the story, against my will at first and then willingly. I let them into my life and their narratives bled into mine.
The Armenians from Kesab who had come to Anjar appeared more desolate, they carried a pain that was not palpable in Latakia. The minute they crossed the border into Lebanon from Syria, they became refugees, they lost their life’s compass and were mere shadows of themselves. In Latakia, they could still feel Kesab, it was there, within their reach, waiting to be liberated to herald their return to their ancestral lands. In Anjar, the feelings of loss were more defined, deeper, sharper -- the minute they made the conscious decision to move forward and search for something more permanent, the magnitude of their loss seemed to knock them off balance.
They had come to Anjar not only to seek refuge but because of kinship and familiarity with the customs and dialect, because the Armenians of Anjar, descendents of the people of Musa Dagh, had suffered a similar fate; the symbolism didn’t need to be articulated, it hung in the air, heavy with meaning.
The peoples of Kesab and Musa Ler were now married by a cycle of deportation and loss.
Following their heroic 40-day battle against the Turks during the height of the Armenian Genocide, the Armenians of Musa Dagh were rescued by the French and then taken to Port Said in Egypt. With the end of the First World War in 1918, the Sanjak of Alexandretta came under French control paving the way for the Armenians of Musa Dagh to return to their villages. However, 20 years later, the Franco-Turkish Treaty of 1938 gave the region to Turkey. The Armenians of Musa Dagh were uprooted once again and after passing through Kesab and then Basit, Syria were eventually brought to Lebanon. Anjar became their new home. Some of the residents of the village of Vakif chose to stay and today Vakif remains the only ethnic Armenian village in Turkey.
About two dozen Kesabtsis who refused to be evacuated or who had been left behind, were taken to Vakif by the rebels who attacked their village. They continue to remain in Vakif, unsure of what their fate will be.
Kesab and Anjar represent two cradles of Armenian existence and life, two villages with so many connections and stories, two villages that are an integral part of my identity. After spending several hours with the Armenians of Kesab in Anjar, the village of my ancestors, after sharing stories and memories, shedding tears and after strong handshakes, we drove away, exhausted and spent. And now I am in Yerevan and I wonder what will happen to the Armenians of Kesab, I wonder about the fate of Anjar and the fate of Armenian communities in the Middle East. I don’t know what their future holds, but I do know that there is the Armenian Republic, where everything is not ideal or perfect or stable, but it must provide a promise of something better and a haven for Armenians everywhere.