The Feast of the Assumption of Mary celebrated in Turkey’s sole remaining Armenian village

More than 1,000 pilgrims and tourists descended on Vakifli, Turkey’s sole remaining Armenian village, 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. This year, Archbishop Aram Atesyan of Istanbul presided over the mass and sanctified the feast on August 12, Eurasianet reports.

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. Their saga was memorialized in Austrian novelist Franz Werfel’s 1933 “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.”

These days, there are few hints of those past horrors in idyllic Vakifli, a collection of stone houses nestled among poplars, Judas trees and olive groves, the scent of laurel infusing the air. A converted silk factory houses the town’s only church. Turkish authorities shut the Armenian school, where children once learned their endangered local dialect, eight decades ago.

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.

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