Sunday, October 23, 2011

The 40 Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel

Austrian writer Franz Werfel's epic historical account, written in 1933, of the heroic battle of Musa Dagh that took place during the Armenian Genocide is not to be missed. The story begins in 1915, when, after several months of pillaging, raping, and burning Armenian villages, the ruthless Turks embarked on an unprovoked systematic government led campaign to completely exterminate the Armenians and their culture. Gabriel Bagradian has just returned to his native village in Musa Dagh after living in Paris for 23 years with his French wife Juliette and their son Stephan, and he isn't sure where he belongs, or if he has made the right decision in uprooting his essentially European family. When he re-enlists but isn't called up to serve in the Ottoman artillery (he was an officer in the 1912 Balkan war), he begins to suspect that the profoundly disturbing rumors are true and that the Turks are indeed planning on 'deporting' the Armenians of Musa Dagh: rounding up everyone in the village, without prior notice, and sending them on a march to their death without food, water, or proper clothing until they collapse, dying from dehydration and abuse, while the Turks seize their property, move into their homes, and destroy any remnants of Armenian civilization. Rather than sit back and let it happen, Gabriel Bagradian organizes the six villages of Musa Dagh, and coordinates a resistance that is stunning in its scope and end result. TFDOMD has everything: suspenseful battles, romance, social injustice, underdogs, and a surprise ending. The novel reads like a film and, in fact, MGM studios purchased the film rights in the late 1930s, but the Turkish government successfully pressured the US into preventing production. Quentin Tarantino would be the perfect director for an adaptation (see Inglorious Basterds). Pair this with Peter Balakian's The Burning Tigris, Samantha Power's A Problem From Hell, and the Canadian film, Ararat, for a full study of the event that spawned the word genocide.