The Forty Days of Musa Dagh

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh

infobox Book |
name = The Forty Days of Musa Dagh
title_orig = Die vierzig Tage des Musa Dagh
translator =

image_caption =
author = Franz Werfel
cover_artist =
country = Germany
language = German
series =
genre = Historical, War novel
publisher = Carroll & Graf
release_date = 1933
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback) & Audio book
pages = 817 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-7867-1138-8
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Forty Days of Musa Dagh" is a 1934 novel by Austrian-Jewish author Franz Werfel based around an event that took place on Musa Dagh in 1915 during the Armenian Genocide in Turkey. The book was first published as "Die vierzig Tage des Musa Dagh" in German in November of 1933. "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh" achieved great international success and has been credited with awakening the world to the evidence of the persecution of the Armenians. The novel is a fictionalized account based on the real-life defense of Musa Dagh's "Damlayik" by Armenians who were facing systematic deportations and massacres put into effect by the Committee of Union and Progress central government.

Although written as a novel, the historical background content of the book has generally been accepted as fact. In the 1930s, Turkey pressured the United States State department to prevent MGM Studios from producing a film based on the novel. As William Albig writes: “In terms of the present capital organization and system of distribution the foreign market is very important to the American industry. The good will of foreign exhibitors and publics is often sought by changing the content of films, deleting offensive sections. It is reported that production ... [of] The Forty Days of Musa Dagh was halted, in Turkey's interest.” [Albig, William. "Public Opinion". New York: McGraw-Hill, 1939] A filmed version of the story was eventually made independently and was released theatrically in 1982.

Plot introduction


Franz Werfel had served as a corporal and telephone operator in the artillery corps of the Austro-Hungarian military during the First World War on the Russian front. His experience of the horrors he witnessed during the war was said to have influenced him during the course of writing the book. His reasoning to write the novel is explained on the first page of the book:

:This book was conceived in March of 1929, in the course of a stay in Damascus. The miserable sight of some maimed and famished-looking refugee children, working in a carpet factory, gave me the final impulse to snatch from the Hades of all that was, this incomprehensible destiny of the Armenian nation. The writing of this book followed between July 1932 and March 1933....Breitenstein, Spring 1933. [Werfel, Franz (2002). "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh". New York City: Carroll & Graf ISBN 0-7867-1138-8]

Plot summary

Book One: Coming Events

The story begins with Gabriel standing near the cliff of Musa Dagh as he openly ponders the question of "where he came from". The first several chapters of Book I also reveal the background of both the main and minor characters. Gabriel is introduced as a dedicated Ottoman Army artillery lieutenant who had recently participated in the 1912 Balkan War and had distinguished himself for his heroism. He enlists for service as a reserve officer several months after the war breaks out. Juliette, her son, his tutor, and the town's major officials including the mayor, the community's head priest, Ter-Haigasun, and physician, Bedros Altouni.

The first signs which seem to indicate that Turkish authorities are planning to execute the deportations come when the city's officials report that they are being denied the use of their passports or "teskeres". Further indications arrive in the form of the chatter that Gabriel overhears amongst Turkish military officers who discuss what the central government is planning. Skeptical, Gabriel and the town's leaders ignore these warnings and attribute it to the necessity of the country's national security and mere gossip. However, this changes in the month of late April when the remnants of a refugee column arrive in the town bringing forward tales of a brutal death march from the town of Zeitoun. It is here where readers are introduced to three important characters of the book, Protestant pastor Aram Tomasian, his pregnant wife Hovsannah, and his sister Iskuhi. Detailing the accounts of mass murder, starvation and rape, they confirm the rumors that a systematic order is in place by the government to rid the country of its Armenian population.

Bagradian continues to express his skepticism and puts his faith in the Turkish government. Nevertheless, he asks for a meeting to be convened by the major town officials and warns Ter-Haigasun and advises that they remove and move to a new location a cache of rifles that had been buried near the church; originally awarded by CUP authorities during the 1909 Young Turk Revolution. The warnings finally climax in the book when the order is given by a group of Turkish military irregulars stating that the 6,000 Armenians living in Musa Dagh are to be deported by them south towards Syria for reasons vaguely alluded to as the empire's security.

Book Two: The Struggle of the Weak

Book Three: Disaster, Rescue, The End

After spending forty days on Musa Ler (Dagh), the Armenians are taken aboard three French warships and a British troop carrier that had seen the distress signals hung by the cliff. Jubilant that their prayers had been answered, the Armenians earnestly greet the landing party. The side of Musa Ler close to the sea is very steep, and, adding to the Armenians' difficulties, the ships cannot approach the land and thus it is necessary to construct boats to reach them. The process of getting on the ships is difficult and painful. Gabrial Bagradian in an attempt to make sure everyone is on broad the ships gets left behind he does not even try to signal for help. He continues back up the mountain and when he reaches his sons' grave he is shot by the Turks. The ships take the Armenians, who are already tired and starved, to a camp in Port Said in Egypt, after a long journey. After the end of the First World War in 1919, the Armenians go back to Musa Ler (the Armenian name of Musa Dagh) under French protection.

Characters in "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh"

Gabriel Bagradian

An Armenian man who, although growing up in his native village of Yoghonoluk near Musa Dagh, spent 23 years of his life living in France and Europe. He returns back with a French wife and a young son and becomes a decorated artillery officer in the Ottoman army during the First Balkan War. His family comes from a long line of wealthy merchants and he is a respected figure in the community. Although reluctant to take arms from the outbreak of the First World War to fight against the very French he once lived amongst, he dons his uniform and enlists as a reserve officer. After sensing that their lives are in peril, the Armenians take shelter on the mountain, and Bagradian is chosen to be their military commander and defense organizer.

Juliette Bagradian

Is Gabriel's French wife who is unaccustomed and sometimes oblivious to the traditions and culture of the Armenian people. She finds herself as a true foreigner in Yoghonoluk and spends much of her time decorating their house and educating their son, Stephan. During the military siege of Musa Dagh, Juliette falls ill and finds herself more and more estranged from her husband; seeking solace and comfort from another man.

tephan Bagradian

The young son of Gabriel and Juiette, Stephan finds himself different from the other Armenian boys of the community due to his French upbringing. Stephan however has a deep sense of pride in nevertheless being Armenian and in the early chapters of the book, he spends his time with his father learning geography and also firing a rifle on an open range, the latter of which proves to be crucial during the siege by Turkish troops. In the latter half of the book, Stephan undertakes a dangerous journey to find help for the Armenians who are holding out against the siege on Musa Dagh.

Chaush Nurhan

Is a battle-hardened Armenian soldier who had served in the Ottoman military as an "onbashi" or the equivalent of a corporal. Leaving his military career behind, he assumes the role of Yogonoluk's blacksmith. However, his military expertise comes into play as his role is more pronounced when Bagradian assigns him to be one of the military commanders organizing the defense and also smelting metal for use as rifle ammunition.

arkis Kilikian

Once a theology student at Ejmiatsin's seminary school, Kilikian drops his studies and works in the oil fields of Baku in what was then the Russian Empire. Jailed under false charges as a counterrevolutionary for the Bolsheviks, Kilikian was transferred from one Russian jail to another until he is brought to Turkey and serves in the Ottoman military during the war. Taking part in the Caucasus campaign during the Battle of Sarikamis, Kilikian proves himself to be an excellent soldier and a stalwart admirer of war. He deserts the Turkish military and soon finds himself in Yogonoluk where his extensive military experience, and his troubled behavior, become both an asset and a liability to the Armenians.

Iskuhi Tomasian

A nineteen year old young woman whose brother, Aram, a pastor and his pregnant wife Hovsannah, arrive in Yoghonoluk from the town of Zeitun after a harrowing deportation march under armed Turkish guard. Sexually abused and suffering from physical injuries, she is housed and treated in the Bagaradian home where she is taken care of by Juliette who finds out that they have a medium to communicate with each other through the French language. Iskuhi soon grows more attracted to Gabriel and their relationship deepens during the siege.

Gonzague Maris

A Greek-American from the city of Detroit, Michigan, Gonzague is a visitor to the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian Genocide. Invited to Yoghonoluk by his friend, Krikor, the town's apothecary, Gonzague is initially given the chance to flee the town and freely leave Turkey due to his status as an American citizen. Sensing a much stronger need to remain, he joins the Armenian encampment but does not take part in any of the fighting. His stay on Musa Dagh draws him closer to Gabriel's wife, Juliette.

Johannes Lepsius

Based on the real life German pastor whose personal encounters with Enver Pasha are published in the book, Lepsius is a man who personally leads the humanitarian charge in preventing harm from being done to the Armenians. His personal pleas to Enver Pasha in the capital of Constantinople span a few chapters but are most prominently featured in Chapter Five of Book I, where he vainly attempts to reason with the Turkish commander to reverse the extermination order. [Much of the dialogue in the conversations between Enver and Lepsius was inspired by Lepsius' accounts which were written after the war ended.]

Agha Rifaat Bereket

An elderly Turkish man who was once a friend of Gabriel's wealthy grandfather, Avetis, Agha Bereket is a close friend and adviser to Gabriel and also a deeply religious Muslim. Shortly before the Armenians take refuge on the top of Musa Dagh, he gives Gabriel the gift of a golden coin which he says will bring him luck in the near future. He is a close friend of both Professor Nezimi Bey, a member of a secret Islamic order called the Thieves of Hearts and Dr. Lepsius.

Musa Dagh's Influence

Musa Dagh has often been compared to the resistance in the Jewish ghettos during the Second World War, one of those, the ghetto of Bialystok found itself in the same situation as Musa Dagh when in February 1943, Mordecai Tannenbaum, an “inmate” of the Vilna ghetto was sent with others to organize Bialystok's resistance. The record of one of the meetings organizing the revolt, suggests that the novel was often used in the Ghettos as a reference to successful resistance: “Only one thing remains for us: to organize collective resistance in the ghetto, at any cost; to consider the ghetto our Musa Dagh, to write a proud chapter of Jewish Bialystok and our movement into history” noted Tannenbaum. [Glatstein, Jacob. "et al." "Anthology of Holocaust Literature". New York: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969 ISBN 0-6897-0343-0] Copies of the book were said to have been "passed from hand to hand" among the ghetto's defenders who likened their situation to that of the Armenians'. [Auron, Yair. "Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the Armenian Genocide". New York: Transaction Publishers, pp. 303-304 ISBN 0-7658-0881-1] According to extensive statistical records kept by Herman Kruk at the Vilna ghetto library, this book was the most popular among ghetto readership, as is recounted in memoirs by survivors who worked at the library.

In addition to Bialystok, in 1942, many Jews in the Palestinian Mandate contemplated retreating to Mount Carmel and organizing a defense line due to prospects of a possible Nazi invasion of the region. Known alternatively as the "Northern Program", "The Carmel Plan", "The Massada Plan" or the "Musa Dagh Plan" , it was envisioned to serve as a bastion against Nazi incursions and to hold out against them for at least three to four months. Meri Batz, one of the leaders of the Jewish militias who had also read the novel, stated that the community wished to "turn Carmel into the Musa Dagh of Palestinian Jewry....We put our faith in the power of the Jewish 'Musa Dagh' and were determined to hold out for at least three to four months." [Auron. " Banality of Indifference", p. 300]

Werfel's novel has made him a revered hero among Armenians according to his biographer, Stephan Jungk. Citing Father Bezdikian, an Armenian priest living in Venice, Italy whose grandfather served and fought during the siege:

Werfel also wrote prophetically about the consequences of Nazi anti-Semitism; "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh" was labeled "undesirable" by Adolf Hitler's government and, although not banned outright, the book was sold and purchased secretly. Werfel was expelled from the "Prussian Academy of Arts" in 1933. In the Nazi-era German newspaper "Das Schwarze Korps", the publication painted Werfel as an agent who created the "alleged Turkish horrors perpetrated against the Armenians" and also denounced "America's Armenian Jews for promoting in the U.S.A. the sale of Werfel's book." [Fisk, Robert. "The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East". London: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. p. 331 ISBN 1-4000-7517-3] Nevertheless, the book became a worldwide bestselling novel in 1935 (it was one of John F. Kennedy's most favorite novels. [O'Brien, Michael. "John F. Kennedy: A Biography". New York: St. Martin's Press, 2005. p. 122 ISBN 0312281293] ) and was Time Magazine's December 1934 choice for its Book-of-the-Month Club. [Time. [,10987,930014,00.html Armenian Epic] Time Magazine. December 3, 1934] It was largely met with critical praise; the New York Times Book Review describing it as "A story which must rouse the emotions of all human beings....Werfel has made it a noble novel. Unlike most other important novels, "Musa Dagh" is richest in story, a story of men accepting the fate of heroes....It gives us the lasting sense of participation in a stirring episode of history. Magnificent."

The book was also widely praised by Jews who believed that the novel, though speaking about the Armenians, contained many allusions to Judaism and Israel in relation to Werfel's own beliefs. Werfel's famous line in "Forty Days" which reads "To be an Armenian is an impossibility" is also echoed in a similar circumstance that Jews faced during the era and it had a profound and positive impact upon many of them. [Auron. "Banality of Indifference", pp. 296-300]

After the first publication of Edgar Hilsenrath's novel "The Story of the Last Thought" in 1989 (in Germany) the critic Alexander von Bormann wrote in the Swiss newspaper "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" with regard to "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh" that was until then considered to be the most important book on the Armenian people in world literature: “But I think Hilsenrath's novel is significantly superior to Werfel's: it is a historic and poetic novel at the same time.”

The real Musa Dagh

The resistance held up at Musa Dagh lasted, contrary to the book's title, for 53 days. Jungk states that the change of the days by Werfel "called up biblical associations: the flood lasted forty days and nights; Moses spent forty days and nights on Mount Sinai; Israel's time in the wilderness was forty years." [Sourian. Introduction in "Forty Days", p. xii] The French warship, the Guichen accompanying three other warships including the French flagship Jeanne D'Arc, and a British troop transport ferried out the remaining 4,000 members left on the Damlayik, transporting them safely to Port Said, Egypt.

Werfel's Bagradian was inspired by the town's actual defense leader, Moses Der-Kaloustian. However, instead of suffering the same fate as Bagradian, he moved to Beirut, Lebanon several years after the war ended and lived there for the next 70 years of his life. Serving in Lebanon's government for several decades as a quiet and shy member of Parliament, Der Kaloustian died at the age of 99 in 1986. Esayi Yacoubian, another famous leader during the resistance was similar to other characters in Werfel's novel such as Chaush Nurhan and Sarkis Kilikian.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

After several futile attempts, the Forty Days of Musa Dagh was finally turned into a movie in 1982, directed by Sarky Mouradian with screenplay by Alex Hakobian, [ [] ,] but it was a low-profile production.Fact|date=March 2007Also:Parseghian Records/Parseghian, 1989.VHS videocassette (145 min.); 1/2 in.Director’s cut. Full length.

In 2006, Sylvester Stallone expressed his desire to direct a film about the heroic defense of Musa Dagh in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 based on Franz Werfel's novel "40 Days of Musa Dag" [Booth, Michael. [ Denver post Stallone's deft as Rocky in the Q&A ring] . The "Denver Post". December 16, 2006. Retrieved March 13, 2007.]


ee also

*Armenian Genocide
*Denial of the Armenian Genocide‎

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