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Lebanon’s dark days of hunger: The Great Famine of 1915-18 (By Rym Ghazal)

16 Apr

Lebanon’s dark days of hunger: The Great Famine of 1915-18

The harrowing images from Mount Lebanon as death stalked the streets in 1915. Courtesy Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

The harrowing images from Mount Lebanon as death stalked the streets in 1915. Courtesy Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

“My people and your people, my Syrian

Brother, are dead … What can be

Done for those who are dying? Our

Lamentations will not satisfy their

Hunger, and our tears will not quench

Their thirst; what can we do to save

Them between the iron paws of

Hunger?”

– From Dead Are My People by Gibran Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)

Almost 100 years ago this month, as the First World War raged across Europe and beyond, a dark chapter unfolded in what was then known as Greater Syria.

The first culprit: the relentless locust. Following a bad harvest caused by a drought, in April 1915 dark clouds heralded the arrival of swarms of locusts, descending to feed on plants, whether green or dry.

For over three months, the tiny but insatiable creatures devoured whatever had been left behind by the Ottoman authorities, who had prioritised food and grain reserves to feed their soldiers as part of the imperial war effort.

This marked the beginning of a period that is now often just a footnote in the history books: the Great Famine of 1915-18, which left an estimated 500,000 people dead. With a lack of accurate data, estimates range from 100,000 to 200,000 deaths in Mount Lebanon alone.

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Lebanese-Armenian Protesters Trap Turkish Ambassador in Beirut Theater (by Joey Ayoub)

19 Mar

Lebanese-Armenian Protesters Trap Turkish Ambassador in Beirut Theater

Lebanese-Armenian Protesters outside the movie theater. As the Daily Star reported, they were shouting slogans such as “Truth will triumph” and “We remember”. Image from AztagDaily

Lebanese-Armenian Protesters outside the movie theater. As the Daily Star reported, they were shouting slogans such as “Truth will triumph” and “We remember”. Image from AztagDaily

Around 60 members of Lebanon’s Armenian Tashnag Party trapped the Turkish ambassador to Lebanon inside a movie theater on Wednesday, protesting the Turkish Government’s official stance on the 1915 Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire. Ambassador Suleiman Inan Oz Yildiz was attending the premiere of “Son Mektup,” a Turkish movie set during the Battle of Gallipoli (1915-1916). The incident was also reported on the Official Centennial’s Commemoration’s Website.

The time chosen to promote a movie set during the same year as the Armenian Genocide isn’t being interpreted as a coincidence. Indeed, in a statement released online on Lebanese Armenian Daily “Aztag”, the Turkish government was accused of trying to distract the world’s attention from the Armenian Genocide Centennial, which will be commemorated worldwide on April 24th of this year.

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March 14 and the Myth of the Cedar Revolution (By Marina Chamma)

14 Mar

March 14 and the Myth of the Cedar Revolution

If March 14 2005 would happen again, I would be exactly where I was – in the middle of the chanting and exuberant crowds in Martyrs’ Square – when it all happened.  It was history and I was part of it, along with thousands of others who gathered there. The excitement of screaming Ya Bashar, ya *******, Tal’le Jayshak min Beirut (Oh Bashar, Oh [expletive], Get Your Army out of Beirut) straight into the face of a Lebanese soldier without the fear of arrest. The indescribable feeling of dignity restored, standing in an ocean of Lebanese flags singing along to Julia Boutros’ Ana Bitnaf’as Houriye (I Breathe Freedom). The emotion of seeing the sheer crowds gathered on one day, in one place, for some sort of hope for a better future, which few, if any, knew what would look like. At the same time, it was the implicit awareness, even in the midst of the protest, that such a sight of unity and the seeds of a possible revolution that may come with it wouldn’t survive.

march-14-2005-ap

But was it really unity? It is true that March 14, 2005 was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, demonstrations in contemporary Lebanese history, with an anti-Syria common denominator. However, people also had other reasons for being there. Some where there to mourn Rafik El Hariri and avenge his death, while others were there as part of their ongoing opposition to the Syrian regime (it being the prime suspect behind the Hariri assassination at the time). Others were there because they opposed the gathering of March 8 (the day in which pro-Syrian Lebanese gathered to “Thank Syria” for all it has done, a show of solidarity while it was being accused to killing Hariri). Others were there to call for an end to Syria’s occupation of Lebanon, while others called for a drastic change to the political system and its leaders, which until then, was nurtured and protected by Syria itself.

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Let me refresh your memory! (By Yeghig Tashjian

21 Jun

Let me refresh your memory!

Martyrs’ square, Beirut, 1982 (Source: Wikipedia)

“Study the past if you would define the future.” –Confucius

During my visit to Vienna in 2012, I was discussing Middle Eastern politics with some friends. The conversation then shifted to the history books of our respective countries; however, I became silent when it was my turn to talk about Lebanon’s history book. What was I supposed to say? That the history textbooks used in schools in Lebanon end with the withdrawal of the French troops in 1946? Or that the country does not have an accurate and unified history book that covers the country’s post-independence years? Normally, history textbooks are updated every 5-10 years, but not in Lebanon’s case.

Why should we care about having an unbiased and objective history book? And why is it so important?

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Artists colour a Beirut suburb scarred by suicide attacks

11 Mar

Artists color a Beirut suburb scarred by suicide attacks

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To fight the sense of dread that has gripped residents of a Shiite-majority Beirut suburb since it was hit by two suicide bombings in January, artists have gone on a mission to paint the neighborhood in bright, hopeful colors.

The “Bridge of Colours” festival, which took place Sunday, was just the latest initiative by artists in the suburb of Haret Hreik to lift the spirits of their neighbors. Dozens of artists, musicians and poets from all over the country joined them under a highway overpass for a day of art-making. The festival took place just a few hundred meters from two blast sites, where road barriers set up following these tragic events are gradually being painted in bright colors by local artists.

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Lebanese Jews in New York: Longing for Home (By Dalal Mawad)

28 Feb

Lebanese Jews in New York: Longing for Home

A general view shows the Magen Abraham Synagogue, currently undergoing restoration, in the Lebanese capital Beirut on 19 October 2010. Located in the former Jewish quarter of Wadi Abu Jamil, the synagogue was abandoned during Lebanon's civil war. (Photo: AFP - Joseph Eid)

A general view shows the Magen Abraham Synagogue, currently undergoing restoration, in the Lebanese capital Beirut on 19 October 2010. Located in the former Jewish quarter of Wadi Abu Jamil, the synagogue was abandoned during Lebanon’s civil war. (Photo: AFP – Joseph Eid)

As her brother drove her through the streets of downtown Beirut on a balmy January day, 76-year-old Suzette Sasson felt like a stranger in her own city. Captivated by the new places and unfamiliar faces, she failed to notice they had reached Wadi Abou Jamil, the neighborhood she had longed to return to for years. But when her brother stopped the car and pointed to a four-story building, Sasson was shaken out of her limbo. She stared, drowning in silence.

“Go up mama,” said her 40-year-old son Raymond, sitting behind her. “But what should I say?” she muttered nervously.

When a woman opened the door of the apartment on the third floor, Sasson told her in Arabic: “I grew up here, can I see the house?”

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A New Feminist Wave in Lebanon or the Path to Democratization (By Pamela Chrabieh)

24 Feb

A New Feminist Wave in Lebanon or the Path to Democratization

The study of Feminist/Women’s movements not only contributes to our understanding of women’s experiences of political and social change, but also helps to bridge the gaps between local activism and feminist theory. Feminist claims and organizations in Lebanon and most Western Asian countries are not new, and credit for the growth of new Feminisms must go to its pioneers, the women who first came to see their inferior status in society and to understand that such inferiority was not a divinely ordained fate that they were obliged to accept.

I have recently published a book in Arabic on women’s status, experiences and situations in Ancient Western Asia (‘Womanhood in Western Asia, A Journey to the Past’, Beirut, Dar el Machreq, 2013), proving the long-existence of Patriarchal systems and mentality, but also, gender equality ‘spaces’ within ancient cultures and religions. Still, feminisms as social-political movements arose at the end of the nineteenth century, coinciding with that of the reformist movement. What those pioneering women achieved was not negligible, even if they focused on charitable work – except for Egypt with its Women’s Educational Society founded in 1881, and the Instructive Women’s Union in 1910, raising public awareness of women’s rights as a key objective. A second wave could be identified during the 1940s, a period marked by the resistance of Arab societies under imperialism, with most of the claims focusing on issues such as polygamy and women’s right to education. In Lebanon, the Lebanese Women’s Council came into being in 1943 and the Committee of Lebanese Women’s Rights in 1947.

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Lebanese women: time to wake up! (By Joumana Haddad)

12 Jan

Lebanese women: time to wake up!


Nothing compares to the Lebanese feeling of superiority. Except maybe the Lebanese power of denial. Try to tell a Lebanese man that Lebanon’s record of human rights is shameful; he would take your words as a tasteless joke (The imperishable myth of the Switzerland of the Middle East). Try to tell a Lebanese lady that the women who work for her, coming from Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, are much more valued in their respective countries than she is in hers; she would be utterly outraged. And yet, this is the glaring truth: Lebanon’s ranking in the gender gap report for 2012 is 122nd, while Ethiopia is 118th, Sri Lanka is 39th and the Philippines is 8th! The current Parliament of Lebanon has 128 deputies, carefully distributed between Christians and Muslims. However, there are only four women deputies (that’s 3%). As for the current cabinet, not one female has been deemed worthy of being appointed as a minister.

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An open letter to my Lebanese brothers and sisters (By Mohamad Bitar)

6 Jan

An open letter to my Lebanese brothers and sisters

I remember during the 18 year civil war in Lebanon, the hardship people had to go through to survive. I remember the shelters. I remember the deaths of friends. I remember the sounds of shelling. I grew up tolerating hatred, explosions, and sleepless nights. I grew up tolerating and accepting the fact that people die in vain.

As a teenager, I remember having to go East if West was being bombed and go North if the South was unsafe. I remember when the borders between East and West were unblocked, we had to spend few hours driving, stopped and harassed by check points just to attend a party in the East of Beirut. I remember going to the “safer” area to play while others were being killed on the other side.

As an adult, I was so proud of the Lebanese people and how we coped with this horrible war. We would still go out, we would still have fun. A friend died, but a day or two later we were back to our normal lives. That was the only way for us to live during the war, and to survive those devastating times.  So the myth started going global earning us the reputation that “the Lebanese know how to live”, “they party even under bombshells”, “they go on living in the worst of circumstances”, “and they are survivors!”

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Beirut, yet again… (by Marina Chamma)

29 Dec

Beirut, yet again…

This is how the ugly game of “politics” is played out in Lebanon.

Graffiti on a wall in the Lebanese capital Beirut shows of Disney character 'Snow White' holding a machine gun on October 30, 2013 © Joseph Eid, AFP

Graffiti on a wall in the Lebanese capital Beirut shows of Disney character ‘Snow White’ holding a machine gun on October 30, 2013
© Joseph Eid, AFP

The latest explosion on December 27 in Beirut – killing former Finance Minister Mohammad Chatah, his bodyguard, 16-year old Mohammad Chaar and four other innocent civilians who remain to be identified –  is a sad way to end a year already painted blood-red. With the ongoing violence and bombings in Tripoli, Dahiyeh, and the recurrent attacks on Lebanon’s border with Syria, 2013 was a tragic year, but in true Lebanese style, it could have always been much worse…

There is so much to say about what happened, yet nothing to say at all, in exactly the same way as when something like this happens in Lebanon, and it happens a lot. Because this is how the ugly game of “politics” is played out in Lebanon.

For as much as I know Lebanon and its people, we will carry on. We will “keep walking.” And I used to look at this as a sign of strength, but part of me now sees this so-called “resilience” with disdain, as a sign of indifference and complete and utter resignation to the status quo. But it is not the resilience in continuing to work, making a living and talking about the wonders of Lebanon despite its troubles that is the problem; it is the “resilience” in carrying on and ignoring the root causes of our misfortunes, pretending we cannot do anything to cure it, and believing we are condemned to this reality for as long as there is a Lebanon to speak of.

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