How to build a fire

This is a collaboration with Hrach Jinbashian, who provided the photographs from Lebanon. Currently in Armenia, he was present in Lebanon at the beginning of the protests. A warm thank you to him.

105 fires, a broken political and economic system, corruption x10000, a proposed tax on WhatsApp, 2 million+ refugees, 4 million citizens, and an enormous diaspora.

This is Lebanon. Where Armenia got a month long Velvet Revolution with people in the streets demonstrating in an organized fashion, Lebanon is getting a mixed gigantic melting pot: some violence here, there and strengthening at times, people in the streets demonstrating in a unified fashion, every religion present, no political parties (openly) present, keeping a vigil at night, garbage clean-ups every morning. Yesterday, a veritable human chain was organized from the South to the North.

Burn! Burn! Ablaze! Ablaze! Against city backdrop. Jal el Dib, October 2019 ©Hrach Jinbashian

Right now, it has been a little over a week but no one knows how long it will last, either the Revolution or the peacefulness. The fear of war breaking out again is real. However, social media exploded overnight Thursday, 17 October. Every moment is documented. Lebanese media are sharing and reporting 24/7. The movement had the army on its side, though there were orders for it to reopen roads last Tuesday.

The most important though: the power moving the revolution. Women have carved out a place in the protests. The many messages on citizenship for children, for example, have circulated. One woman protected protesters by kicking a politician’s bodyguard to avoid the gun pointed at bystanders. Another led a dabke dancing in the middle of the street. Whole groups were out on day 6 and day 7 in front of the army ranks. Several turned morning clean-ups into family outings. And there’s so much more.

It can only be described as beautiful though some last Monday, after the Prime Minister’s speech, felt they didn’t know what else to do. Because of the system’s instability, they want to think of its fragility.

But is this right? Is that a wise conclusion? Because, if we start thinking “oh well, I’m not going anymore because where is it going to lead?”, it is not good. Hope is unrealistic, they say, but when a revolution is half demonstrations, half “block party” (Yes. We’re going to call it that way), it means something. Armenia lived in fear of the future during the Velvet Revolution’s one month of sit-in protests among chess playing, dancing, car honking, and fireworks. Those fears continued for months. Fearing in the face of the unknown is all right. It’s human. If we know something, are so sure of it, then we all have a chance to push for it.

The Lebanese are no different.

“Liban, rouge, blanc, et cèdre”. Lebanon, red, white, and cedar tree. Many from the diaspora are coming back to Lebanon to join the Revolution. Beirut, October 2019 ©Hrach Jinbashian

They know, first and foremost, it’s living. You hear it in the diaspora; it’s all in the saying: we lived even during the bombs. Zeina Abirached wrote about the influence behind her first book Le Jeu des Hirondelles.

Vous savez, je pense qu’on est quand même, peut-être, plus ou moins, en sécurité ici.

This was her grandmother speaking to journalists in 1984 and the words must have been inspiring because they form the backbone of the book.

They echo still today.  Not only in Lebanon but also the diaspora. Because if there’s one diaspora bigger and bolder than the rest, it’s the Lebanese. As social media exploded that first Thursday, the diaspora moved quickly. By the first Sunday night, many around the world had participated in silent protests to bring solidarity to Beirut. And it continues. It will continue.

Day 12 of protests is ongoing. The only question, among the feelings of unity and feelings against the longtime running corrupted political class, is the one about tomorrow. What will happen tomorrow? Or next week, next month?

And lastly, will it last? How will it end?

There is no better way to sit. Beirut, October 2019 ©Hrach Jinbashian


Note: Zeina Abirached’s book Le jeu des hirondelles (Cambourakis, 2007) is translated in multiple languages. The English translation: A Game for Swallows.

A few recommended news outlets:

English language:

NPR, OpenDemocracy, Beirut Today, CNN, BBC.

French language:

Le Monde and Le Figaro. The best though is to keep with Lebanese L’Orient-Le Jour.

There are more. This is only a small list of media.

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