Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, has not had an easy time. Once destined for a great future, the city is now plagued by poverty, corruption and violence. When Tripoli is mentioned, it is usually to highlight the fighting between the city’s Sunni and Alawite militias, which has increased dramatically this year as the civil war next door in Syria has continued and turned more sectarian. In my latest piece for the International Herald Tribune, I took a look at Tripoli’s once-promising past and where the city ended up instead:
The neglect and decline seen here at the renamed Rashid Karami International Fair mirrors that of Tripoli. Once the seat of Crusader, Mamluke and Ottoman provinces and a major port serving Syria, Tripoli is no longer known for its meandering souks, its commerce or its culture: Modern day Tripoli is known for its widespread poverty, high levels of corruption and repeated bouts of violence.
“I don’t understand why Tripoli is like this,” said Mira Minkara, 33, a tour guide from the city. “It’s a city that has a lot of potential — if it was developed in the right way it would be a great city.”
While Beirut still had its problems after the civil war, there was at least an effort to rebuild and develop the city. Tripoli, a city of half a million, was left to its own devices, abandoned in the eyes of many.
Tripoli’s militias were at it again last week. This year, both the frequency and intensity of clashes has increased dramatically. In the latest round, munitions were hitting downtown, raising fears that the fighting could spread. Check out my story from Monday’s New York Times below.
TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Clashes between Sunni Muslim and Alawite militias have killed at least 17 people here recently in perhaps the worst spillover of violence from the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Read more in NYT here
In September, I traveled to northeastern Syria’s Kurdish-majority Hassake province to get a firsthand look at the role the Kurds are playing in the country’s civil war.
The 30 million Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran represent the world’s largest ethnic group without its own state. The Kurds seem to get little attention, though their role in the region is growing.
In Syria, after decades of mistreatment and marginalization under the ruling Ba’ath Party, Kurdish groups have taken advantage of the chaos of the civil war to take control of many Kurdish-majority areas. Many want autonomy in one form or another, but it’s not that easy. Recently, Kurdish groups began fighting with the rebel Free Syrian Army and, of course, there’s the issue of all the oil that they are sitting on top of.
Next door in Iraq, tensions between the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad continue to rise over oil revenues and the role of the Kurdish military force, the Peshmerga. In southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq’s Qandil Mountains, there has been an uptick in fighting this year between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK) and Turkish forces.
For the region’s Kurds – and especially Syria’s – the stakes are high in these interesting times.
Below are some articles by me that dive into all this a little bit more
The Lebanese civil war was perhaps inevitable. In the mid 1970s, Lebanon was primed for conflict, just waiting for that final spark. The spark could have been anything, but it turned out to be this bus, which was carrying Palestinian passengers from Tal Zaatar refugee camp to Shatila refugee camp in south Beirut when it was ambushed by Christian gunmen belonging to the Phalange Party. Fifteen years of hell followed.
Today the bus is parked in south Beirut and looked after by a very interesting historian/activist/curator named Lokman Slim. For this month’s issue of Esquire Middle East, I took a look at the history of the bus and talked with Lokman about its significance and the country today.
These days, tensions continue to rise in Lebanon over the war in neighboring Syria. Some groups are arming up, others are looking for an escape. During the “incidents” as they are called here (such as after last month’s assassination of Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan) the guns come out, the balaclavas go on and the country braces. Lokman said it best:
“We are living in a kind of country which is filled with civil war triggers, where everything – every object, every word – could become a bus.”
From The International Herald Tribune, May 31, 2012
While many in Lebanon are warily eying the possibility of Syria’s conflict spilling across the border, potentially explosive issues facing the country’s large Palestinian refugee population have yet to be resolved. Next month will mark the five year anniversary of the battle at Nahr al-Bared, where the Lebanese military laid siege against radical Fatah al-Islam militants, ultimately destroying the camp. Today, the camp has yet to be rebuilt and the episode has scarred Lebanese-Palestinian relations. Additionally, the kind of environment that allowed Fatah al-Islam to operate in Nahr al-Bared still exists today. Last month, the Lebanese government uncovered an Abdullah Azzam brigade cell within the military’s ranks that was planning attacks. Some have called for the Palestinian camps – particularly Ain al-Helweh where the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and several other Jihadi factions are based – to be forcibly disarmed and for wanted men to be turned over to the authorities. But in the fragile patchwork of Lebanon and the camps, there are no easy solutions to such problems.
Check out my story regarding security issues facing the camps for the International Herald Tribune here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/05/world/middleeast/05iht-m05-lebanon-camp.html