DEAR LEBANON, WHERE IS MY FATHER?
The Daily Star, Lebanon
April 1 2014
April 01, 2014 12:23 AMBy Taline Satamian
The Daily Star
I come from an Armenian-Lebanese family that has faced hardship
and dispersion for at least four generations. Orphans, widowers and
My maternal great-grandmother, a native of Gurun in the Armenian
highlands, lost her husband and three sons in the 1915 genocide. She
was buried in Damascus. One of her daughters became my maternal
grandmother. She, too, was buried in Damascus.
My paternal grandfather, a native of Hadjin, in Cilician Armenia,
survived the genocide and found safe haven in Lebanon. He married
another survivor, only to lose her to a disease rampant among Armenians
in Lebanon's refugee camps. She bore him two sons in the 1920s, one
of them my father. I never found out where my paternal grandmother
was buried in Beirut. My paternal grandfather, however, repatriated
to Soviet Armenia and remarried. All five of his children from both
marriages were named after siblings lost in the genocide.
Finally, I lost my father when I was 14. Thirty years ago this year,
he was kidnapped during the Lebanese Civil War. Lebanon and much of the
Arab world played an important role in saving thousands of Armenians
from annihilation. However, the Lebanese Civil War, particularly the
disappearance of my father, began a new phase in the dispersion of
my family. For 30 years we have been mostly silent.
I have been silent, first and foremost, because I didn't know how to
talk about my father. How does one talk about a kidnap victim who was
almost certainly killed in the first days after his abduction? Yet
because no body was found, we never knew whether to speak of him as
someone dead or alive. Since I never knew with certainty, I chose to
The search for certainty and clarity drives my personality in almost
all aspects of my life. Usually, uncertainty brings me to a grinding
halt until I have a full grasp on a given situation. This trait made
it exponentially harder for me to find closure and to come to terms
with my father's kidnapping and murder. Does one ever come to terms
with such an event?
Family stories about my maternal great-grandmother reveal that,
after the genocide, she would jump whenever someone knocked at the
door of her dwelling in Damascus. She still held out hope that her
husband and three sons might one day return.
Because I could never confirm that my father was dead, despite the
near certitude of such an end, should I take a path similar to hers
and continue waiting for my father, who would have been 87 years old
this year? Or should I take the story of my father's untimely and
unexplained death and its impact on my family and share it with the
Lebanese and other Arabs?
But why would I do that? Am I not an Armenian, whose voice can be
easily silenced in Lebanese and Arab society? When I lived in Texas,
working for my graduate degree, I walked into a Middle Eastern store
one day and talked to its Lebanese owner. "Oh," she said to me,
"You're Armenian. You've been immune from any adverse impact of
the war," even as I had just finished telling her about my father's
kidnapping. "What about the loss of my father? Is that nothing?" I
responded, before walking out, deeply hurt and feeling dehumanized.
To add an extra level to my invisibility as an Armenian-Lebanese,
the nature of the crime to which my family was subjected is equally
hard to define. The consequences of the kidnapping and murder of an
innocent bystander in the chaos and violence that engulfed Lebanon
were sidelined due to their complexity and the political ramifications
for the country.
There are groups in Lebanon engaged in nonconfrontational efforts
to push for laws that would help bring closure to the families of
thousands of kidnapping victims. Full justice may never be attained
in these cases. But from my point of view, even incomplete measures
are better than nothing, particularly if the remains of my father
can one day be located and identified.
It's a simple, perhaps naive, dream. My family and I have suffered
enough. And all that I'm hoping for is a helping hand and an
opportunity to bring closure, so I can focus on the task of rebuilding
and reassembling my family. My hope is that after several generations,
my son, his children and his grandchildren can live again in the
warmth of a close-knit family.
I don't understand why Lebanon today, after having done such a
charitable act of embracing Armenian orphans, widows and widowers
nearly a century ago, has taken the path to self-destruction
and continues to shower misery and pain on its citizens. The
Armenian-Lebanese have seen enough destruction for generations and do
not wish it on anyone, least of all on the Lebanese who were so giving.
I have memories from the early '80s of my maternal grandmother, who
moved to Beirut from Damascus, sitting on her veranda in Dikwaneh each
evening and gazing at the mountains in the distance. "Im Beirutes
lav chi ga," she would say in Armenian: "There is no place better
than my Beirut."
For me, too, that's how Beirut started. It was my home, my childhood
home. But I've come to develop two extreme views of Lebanon, as both
the savior and punisher of my family.
Dear Lebanon, until a few days ago I sometimes dreamed that you might
truly embrace me one day and, hearing my family's and my story and
pain, feel yourself repulsed and disgusted by your own ways so that you
would undergo a transformation. That's how I had hoped to help, because
you too must be in great pain for causing agony to your own people.
Transformation? But the accepted, simplistic view is that people don't
change and that history repeats itself, especially in the Middle East.
And with the recent destruction of Kasab, one of the last remaining
corners of historic Armenia that had ended up in Syria, it's tempting
to accept this view.
It's tempting to just turn my back in disgust on my birthplace and
to finalize my departure from Lebanon and the region - leave both
physically and emotionally - even if that means abandoning my father.
But I can't. And I've tried. Rather, I hope to pursue my original
dream and attempt to bring you to your senses, Lebanon, for the sake
of our children.
Rather than gruesomely engaging in sorting out the bloodied winners
and losers of the latest conflicts, I appeal to you to find a moment
for me, for my father and for the likes of us who have nothing to do
with the conflicts in the region, yet are bloodied all the same. In
my case, kindly let me know where my father's remains are. Thank you.
Taline Satamian, an elementary school teacher at an American school
in Kuwait, has visited Lebanon on several occasions in an attempt to
find closure to the case of her father's disappearance in 1984. She
wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.