Lebanon, from “refuge” to “bridge” to “exit gate”
Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/06/2007
I joined for lunch today a discussion group called Chrétiens de la Méditerranée (Christians from the Mediterranean). They are planning a summer workshop for 2008 in which they will be bringing French Christians and Lebanese Christians together. Their programme seems very interesting, and I hope to partake in it. While discussing the current events pertaining to Lebanon and the Middle East, I saw myself sketching a very bleak picture of the ethno-religious minorities of the Middle East. I was quite regretfully lecturing on the current political dynamics and identity politics in Lebanon and Syria, when a sentence slipped my mind: “Lebanon will in the future most probably be remembered as the exit gate of the non-muslim communities of the Middle East”. And I gave the example of the Mizrahi Jews and the Armenians who’s communities grew during the first thirty years of the Republic and who have dramatically shrunk during the past twenty years. Armenian and Jewish immigration to Lebanon was quite regular until the 1960s. Lebanon seemed to be the best alternative to immigration to the West (or to Israel or Armenia) for those who felt threatened in their countries but who didn’t want to sever ties with the Levant. And so they came to Beirut from Syria, Iraq and Egypt. But by the end of the 1960s, the trend started to change. Lebanon became increasingly unstable and when the war irrupted the numbers of Jews and Armenians in Lebanon started to deplete.
Most Lebanese were quite unaware of the near disappearance of the Jewish community in 1980s. And today they are unaware of the rapid decrease of the Armenian community. There are no longer Jewish authorities in Lebanon, and the Armenian authorities are very discrete about their depleting communities. But a quick look at the enrolment figures in Armenian schools, and the Armenian participation in elections will give you a good idea on the demographic shrinking of the community.
Interestingly enough, the other Christian communities, especially the Maronites, are quite vocal about immigration issue. Some people try to “dedramatise” the issue by saying that people from all communities are immigrating. This is probably true, but the only difference is that Christian immigration tends to be final. One can find many “objective” explanations to it (country of destination, integration, existing diaspora and relatives…). But why not look for “subjective” explanations? Why not compare this immigration to that of the Jewish community (that started in the late 1960s) and the Armenian community (that started in the mid 1970s)? Could they be asking themselves “what are we still doing in this land”, “what future do my kids have in a land increasingly hostile or foreign to them”?
Lebanon has been depicted as the refuge of Middle Eastern communities, is it now becoming their exit gate?