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Musa Dagh: seven year old Elmast and newborn Agnes


24, 2015 - Istanbul, Turkey (Photo by Rupen Janbazian)
24, 2015 - Istanbul, Turkey (Photo by Rupen Janbazian)

Photo: Rupen Janbazian

Musa Dagh resistance fighters
Musa Dagh resistance fighters

Photo: Rupen Janbazian’s archive

Agnes Janbazian in her Bakery in Anjar, Lebanon
Agnes Janbazian in her Bakery in Anjar, Lebanon

Photo: Rupen Janbazian’s archive

Agnes Janbazian in the bakery in Anjar, Lebanon
Agnes Janbazian in the bakery in Anjar, Lebanon

Photo: Rupen Janbazian’s archive

Agnes and Boghos Janbazian wedding photo
Agnes and Boghos Janbazian wedding photo

Photo: Rupen Janbazian’s archive


In April 2015, the month in which world marked the 100 years since the Armenian genocide, the Guardian asked readers in the country, and those in Diaspora, to share their stories of how the violence had affected their family history.

The project, led by the New East network, had a an overwhelming response with over 500 people sending letters, photos and testimony, some of which were used in the coverage of the centennial.

A year on and Mediamax have worked with the Guardian to revisit some of the stories, published here as we approach the 101st anniversary.



Rupen Janbazian, Canada


Agnes Janbazian (née Andonian), my paternal grandmother, was born in 1915. She was about six months old when the Armenians of the villages of Musa Dagh (Musa Ler) assembled and sought refuge on the mountain. There, as Ottoman Turkish forces converged upon the town, the populace, thwarted assaults and defended themselves for fifty-three days, until they were rescued by a French naval ship. The story was, of course, made famous by Austrian-Bohemian writer Franz Werfel in his 1933 novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. 

I was lucky enough to speak to my grandmother's sister Elmast in Anjar, Lebanon in 2004. There, she explained how at seven years old, she was responsible for carrying my six-month-old grandmother up the mountain during the defense. On three separate occasions, they decided to leave Agnes under a tree, since she would not stop crying and the trek became difficult. And on three separate occasions they returned to pick her back up.

I was lucky enough to live under the same roof as her for over twenty-two years. Though she barely had an elementary education, my Nene taught me more about life than any book or schooling ever could.

I traveled to Yerevan, Armenia and Istanbul, Turkey for the Centennial commemoration. It was important for me to be in both cities on April 24–to commemorate with Armenians from across the world who had come to Yerevan, and to go back to the city where the genocide began and to stand in solidarity with those who continue to remember in Istanbul, despite the Turkish government's pressure.

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