1,000 pilgrims and tourists arrived in Turkey’s sole remaining Armenian village, Vakifli, in August to mark the Christian holiday of Asdvadzadzin, or the Assumption of Mary, and the blessing of the grapes, an ancient rite that celebrates the first fruit of the harvest, Eurasianet.org says in an article.
The village endured the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century and was reborn in a staunchly nationalist republic. Today, the inhabitants battle far different pressures that threaten the community’s survival.
The event also pays homage to the six other Armenian villages that once occupied the slopes of Mount Moses, or Musa Dagh in Turkish, which stands north of Vakifli. The night before the mass, villagers light fires beneath seven cauldrons to prepare harissa, a stew of beef, wheat and salt that evokes the provisions their forebears survived on during exile to the mountaintop to escape the Armenian Genocide in 1915.
The extraordinary story of the Musa Dagh resistance, and Vakifli’s perseverance a century later, are rare examples of survival among Turkey’s Armenians. Subject to massacres during World War I in which up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed, Armenians have mostly disappeared from the lands in Turkey they occupied for millennia. Scholarly consensus holds that the killings amounted to a genocide, a judgment the Turkish government continues to reject.
Vakifli’s 130 residents farm 50 acres of land, raising citrus fruits, walnuts, and honey. Women jar fruit and sell homemade jams and pomegranate syrup to tourists who flock here for the cool breeze in summer – and a window into Turkey’s multicultural past.
Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city with an estimated 15 million people, is home to about 1,000 Vakifli natives, among a total population of 60,000 Armenians. Others have moved to Europe, Canada and the United States.