Li Beirut, source of inspiration

Li Beirut, source of inspiration

Have you ever listened to “Li Beirut” by Fairuz? Speaking of the times when Beirut became a source of inspiration.

Probably I was a small kid of 11 years old or so. Turkish Cypriot settlements in those years were not at all like today’s northern Cyprus.

There was poverty! To earn a livelihood by selling bricks, cement, iron, or window glass wasn’t quite possible as well. It was under prohibition even in the Turkish quarter, Nicosia, arising from a fear that they might get used by the resistance movement.

There were ferry services between Famagusta, former Greek Cypriot rule, and Latakia. Though customs were strict, and most items could be imported but charged heavy customs duties, and most of the time, it would take a day or two to complete import formalities. Shopping in Latakia or Beirut was quite popular among Turkish Cypriot vendors. These vendors were selling good quality products that they bought in Lebanon.

My primary school graduation award was an “Oris” gold plated watch my grandfather ordered from one of those vendors in Beirut. Before he could give me that watch as a present, my grandpa died of complications arising from a wound. He was a resistance commander. During the years, I carried that beautiful watch on my wrist.

Beirut transformed from the “Paris of the Middle East” into a civil war, with Muslim and Christian Lebanese fighting each year and devastating all the wealth accumulated over many decades. 

Years later, when the civil war ended and peaceful situation settled in Lebanon and Beirut, as a young journalist, I found it as an opportunity to visit. To me, it was a cultural shock. Despite the war and all the damage on the city, the Christian section close to the sea and the port were still far advanced than most Turkish cities, and of course incomparable with either the pre or post Turkish intervention on Cyprus.

Even at that time, it was apparent that though the civil war has ended, the cedar tree of Lebanon was not free from existing threats, headed by animosities between religions, ethnicities… Beirut was severely damaged but yet a beautiful city from its core.

In the subsequent years, I visited Beirut many times, mostly on short trips, accompanying a minister or to attend a conference. As the years passed, though the beauty of the city nurtured, new problems were cropping up and becoming serious. The Palestinians, Hezbollah, growing later decreasing influence of Syria as well as the old interracial, intercultural, interreligious, and ethnic problems continued to haunt the city.

Still, Beirut has never received such a serious blow compared to the port explosion. Irrespective of whether it was a work of a foreign country, domestic conspiracy, or just an accident, it was a product of sheer ignorance. It looks like the 2011 Mari military base explosion in Greek Cyprus, which marks a declaration of impotence in governance. Mari explosion was the product of ignorance where tons of Damascus-bound explosives confiscated in 2009 off the island in an operation that was kept open under the roasting Mediterranean sun, while the Beirut blast was because of a 2,750-ton stockpile of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical often used as fertilizer, that somehow exploded. Ammonium nitrate was confiscated from a Russian ship six years ago…

How can a port administration, minister in charge of such issues, or the government allow 2,750 tons of such a high explosive cargo remain in the heart of Beirut for full six years despite many security reports stressing how deadly and destructive an explosion might be?

Beirut will rise back! Once again, it will be a dream city that everyone will want to visit – hopefully, once the pandemic is over.