Dr: Jess Olson: The Yazidis and The Armenians of Musa Dagh
The crisis faced by the little-known religious minority, the Yazidis of northern Iraq, captured the attention of western humanitarians. Their capitulation to their pursuers, the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), whose strict interpretation of Islam regards the Yazidis as polytheists, would mean physical destruction. To escape, thousands of these practitioners of an obscure faith, who have dwelt in the Ninveh region for centuries, encamped on the desolate summit of Mount Sinjar, desperate for rescue by a foreign power.
A remarkably similar story was told a little over eighty years ago by German-speaking Jewish novelist Franz Werfel, in his blockbuster novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Virtually unknown today, the 900-page novel was widely read when it appeared. Just in time to serve as a prescient critique of Nazism, it was optioned by studio giant MGM in 1934 to produce an epic film starring a young Clark Gable, then on his way to winning an Academy Award for It Happened One Night.
Werfel’s inspiration was a footnote to the Turkish anti-Armenian atrocities of World War I. In June 1915, receiving news of mass expulsions and murder, the inhabitants of six Armenian Christian villages on the Mediterranean coast collected their few possessions and weapons, and fled to the summit of Musa Dagh, highlands on the coast of the Mediterranean, to escape the approaching Turks. The leader of the revolt, Moses Der Kalousdian, a European-educated Armenian gentleman, rallied the spirits of the villagers, held off assaults on their stronghold until, on the verge of capitulation, they were rescued by a passing French warship.
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