Friday, October 30, 2020

Where Credit Is Due

39.Where Credit Is Due (29 October 2020)

A hotel clad in metal sheeting, similar to what Beirut’s
banks did to guard against protestors. But this has a
message. (28 Oct. 2020 - Downtown Beirut)
Here from crisis-ridden Beirut, as Maria and I look anxiously toward war-stricken Armenia and Artsakh (Karabagh), while living in a world reeling from a pandemic, while refugees flow unabated from their impoverished and unstable homelands like tributaries of a sorrowful river, and while second-class citizenship in “first-world” countries hangs like a cloud of fear over people of color, we struggle to comprehend how quickly we got mired in misery so early in this ill-fated century.

            They say that one should avoid speaking ill of the dead. Yet, it is impossible to avoid recounting the dead people who prepared this dish that this region is “eating” today. One of those dead people of course is Josef Stalin, who in the early 1920s tried to win the support of Turkey, as well as cut down the aspirations of the Armenians struggling to their feet after the Genocide, and perceived as a risk to the Soviets, capable of asserting themselves at some point in the future. Well, guess what? Here we are in that future, and the nightmare that Father Stalin and Beria (both Georgians, btw) cooked up for us has come true. Those two demons are peacefully decomposing, and we are struggling to exist. Their calculated act of “giving” historically Armenian regions to the rule of Turks or Turkic peoples set up the scenario that is playing out today.

Someone with a musical sense of
humor created a group that is
trying hard to cover up Beirut's
wounded heritage buildings before
the winter rains wreak their havoc.
(29 Oct. 2020 - Gemmayzeh, Beirut)
            To those who rely on others to think for themselves (including those who play at editorial roles), I am compelled to remind them that Stalin never gave non-Armenian lands to Armenians; it was always the other way around. (Please, please, don’t take my word for it; read some history for yourself to check what I’m saying.) The Azeris got Artsakh and Nakhichevan. The Georgians got Javakhk. The Turks got Kars and Ardahan. And Europe and the United States got their oil access.

            Oil access for the West plays such a central role in the sordid history of the Middle East, but is too often footnoted, ignored or denied. From a safe distance people (including Diasporan Armenians) shake their heads and say, “Why is there never peace in the Middle East?” Is it because Middle Easterners are wild and untamed people, unable to be as wise or developed as Europeans or Americans (or other regional allies)? Or, as history has shown, is it because the West has for at least 200 years been in a tug-of-war (emphasis on the “war”) over who will be able to benefit the most from the reserves of crude oil that regrettably exist in abundance underneath the surface of these lands? Figuratively as well as literally, oil lies under the surface of so much of the Middle East, but it is pumped out and taken away from our view, so that discussions of current events ever remain on the top layer.

Lots of banners in lots of languages, expressing
hope that Lebanon will overcome its
overwhelming difficulties (29 Oct. 2020 -
Gemmayzeh, Beirut)
            There was a recent interview with chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, born in Baku, Azerbaijan SSR, to an Armenian mother. He likened Stalin’s incomprehensible and unjustifiable assignments of Armenian territory to a chess game, which Stalin expected to end in stalemate, since of course the USSR was going to last forever. Stalin’s aim was also to bring Turkey to the Soviet side, but the West moved Turkey’s piece on the chess board, granting it concession after concession, including their promised protectorate of a Cilician Armenian homeland. If shame existed in western culture, those countries would be hanging their heads right now.

            But since Armenians have no natural resources for outside countries to exploit, it remains ever the pawn in these international playing boards. Realizing this fact is not defeatism but realism, and if fully comprehended can enable Armenia and Armenians to formulate their strategy – hopefully – in dealing with this “Game of Thrones”. It has brought about unprecedented unity among Armenians worldwide, though sometimes tainted by fervent devotion to one or another political party in their countries of residence. Armenians are hearing the war being waged against them in the Caucasus portrayed as a “conflict” between equal forces, a “dispute”, something that they have been going at for “a looooong time”, an action of “rebels” in a “disputed territory”, and the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure (residences, churches, hospitals, schools, museums, etc.) as either accidental or “Armenian propaganda”. Anyone with the ability and the will to think and dig deeply will see how preposterous these statements are.

For obvious post-blast reasons, Salaam
Sweets, our favorite Arabic ice-cream shop,
moved from its original location. About the
same distance from us, thankfully.
(24 Sept. 2020 - Mar Mitr, Beirut)
           Thinking for oneself is an uphill battle in this world, where people have access to so much information – true, false, partly true, blatantly but boldly false, or too nuanced to survive in social media feeds. My highly unscientific view ascribes this allergy to deep thinking to the lack of a reading public. No longer do (many) people have the appetite or patience it takes to read a book or an extended essay. If something can’t be grabbed in a short glance as you scroll down your devices, then it’s “very complicated”. Our reward for adjusting our human capabilities to the least common denominator is that we have leaders and followers who are apparently incapable of thinking of the common good, and pour their efforts into shouting down or shaming anything or anyone who says differently. For this, we must give ourselves the credit.

Refurbishing, refurbishing, refurbishing. One
day I will get back into my office. (28 Oct. 2020
- Geitawi, Beirut)
            We are viewing all of this in a Lebanese context. One year has passed on the “revolution” – a year largely of failures, and a few bright spots of hope. Those who might have taken a different tack and led the country out of its sub-sub-divisions into a common goal for the benefit of all were sidelined and ultimately rejected by the established parties and powers. So, to no one’s surprise, the prime minister who resigned a year ago at the start of the “uprising” is back, and working on forming a “new” cabinet.

            Taking a walk through the broken streets of today’s Beirut brings upon me a heaviness that is difficult to describe. I noticed this early on that I am viscerally affected by what I see, and I audibly wince as I look about. It puzzled me for a while, but it made me realize that this amount of destruction displayed before your eyes draws you into the pain of others. Add this to your own pain, and you have to express it somehow. My expression is audible. And mental. There is still no credible explanation as to whom we can give the credit for the ruination of Beirut, or of Lebanon.

LebCat 39: Pre-freshman enrollment
in the AUB "Cat Club" is now open.
(22 Oct. 2020 - Bliss St., Beirut)
Rarely in my life (so far) have my exhausted days and sleepless nights been so filled with the sorrows of existence. It has turned my heart with a renewed and urgent focus toward a scripture that was my favorite from childhood: “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46.1). If we experience any peace in this world or in our lives, the credit is due to the Lor
d.   [LNB]