By Nuray Mert
27 April, 2015
I happened to be in Beirut last week. It was a good chance to catch up with Lebanese and regional politics and see friends. Besides, I could follow the Armenian Genocide commemoration. It was a sad week for Lebanon to mark two tragic events, since it also marked the 40th anniversary of the Lebanese civil war.
Beirut is home to a considerable Armenian population and most of them are the grandchildren of those who took refuge in Lebanon after fleeing Turkey in 1915. Besides, many Christians and Muslims recognize the Armenian Genocide, so the commemoration march was very crowded this year, which is the centenary of that terrible event. Moreover, the minister of education declared April 24 a national holiday for schools. I was told there would be some pro-Turkey protests in Tripoli against this decision and a denunciation of the genocide commemoration. I went to Tripoli to observe the reactions but fortunately it did not turn out to be a matter of tension and was confined to the activities of hanging a Turkish flag at some points and a declaration by a rather unknown “NGO” called the “Turkish-Lebanese Youth Friendship Association.”
Obviously the Turkish government was happy with this expression of genocide denial and indeed it is mostly the Hariri supporters who have been in a close alliance with the Turkish governing party for long. Nevertheless, it seemed as if Turkey was behind the protest and the coming “celebrations of the emancipation of Tripoli by Mamluk Turks” was seen in the same context. But what struck me most in Tripoli was a new statue which reads “Allah” and underneath reads ‘The castle of Muslims.” It seemed un-Lebanese, since this is a multi-religious/confessional country who suffered enough of sectarian politics. Tripoli has always been the stronghold of Rafic al-Hariri, but it seems that things are getting tenser after the war in Syria. Lebanon is accommodating two million Syrian refugees now and it further flames sectarian tensions since the majority of refugees are Sunnis against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whereas the Lebanese Hezbollah is fighting alongside the al-Assad regime in Syria.
In fact, two different political camps in Lebanon are being supported by two regional rivals, Iran and Saudi Arabia, but the whole story is more complicated since Hezbollah is also supported half by Christians, whereas the other half is allied with the Sunnis’ Hariri camp. Moreover, the Christians supporters of Sunnis belong to the Falangist party of the civil war, who fought against Palestinians and committed Sabra-Shatilla massacres in alliance with Israel.
Lebanon should distance itself from the ghosts of its troubled past, but it seems very difficult under the new regional circumstances. The title of a serial of cultural events to commemorate the genocide in Beirut was, “Still here, still bleeding.” Despite the bad omens, I need to hope the past tragedies of not only Armenians but also of Lebanon in general will not be here anymore, and will not bleed anymore.