The Cross: in Lebanon, the Independence Day is celebrated in a very special way this year. Why ?
Nayla Hamadeh: The celebration of the independence of Lebanon commemorates the end of the French mandate, November 22, 1943. It is traditionally translated by a large military parade on the Place des Martyrs, in the city center of Beirut, that many Lebanese look at the television, with bitterness, wondering what "independence" is being talked about.
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However, it turns out that Martyrs' Square is the one chosen by the demonstrators as the main venue for their gatherings. The crippled statue of the bullets of the civil war that occupies the center of the square is symbolic: it recalls the revolt of a small group of Lebanese nationalists against the Ottoman occupation in 1916.
Because the square is occupied by protesters for more than a month now, the Lebanese army has preferred to organize a modest military parade at the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense. And it is the Lebanese who really celebrated independence with a "civil parade".
Lebanon also celebrates, this year, the centenary of its creation, the 1st September 1920. Why is this celebration so complicated?
N. H.: In September, President Michel Aoun announced a year of celebration, from September 2019 to September 2020. His opening speech was very badly perceived by the Turks, especially when he said that "Ottoman state terrorism against the Lebanese, especially during the First World War, claimed hundreds of thousands of lives".
In some Lebanese, the fear of the unknown
More deeply, the Lebanese are divided on the very need to celebrate this event. Some regret that Lebanon was created by the Europeans, whereas, according to them, it should have been part of Syria. Others find it useful to recall the conditions under which the country was founded, fixed within its borders. Others regret that the original project did not work … The controversy should last, while many Lebanese would have wished that this anniversary is an opportunity for a rapprochement between them.
Difficult, definitely, to make history in Lebanon, so much differs the memory of each other, whether Christians, Shiites or Sunnis …
N. H.: On the afternoon of October 17, the day the protests began, we were reunited with a dozen other partner organizations at the "yellow house", this building located on the demarcation line during the Civil War, now a showroom. . We have launched a book project on "Memory, the future".
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It seemed important to us, as part of this centennial, to work on how we manage our past, with the desire to encourage history teachers to address controversial issues. At present, and because the experts have never been able to agree, the history textbooks end in 1943, following a program conceived in the 1940s at the time of the French mandate. Our students know nothing about independence, that the man went to the moon, that there was a Cold War, and that it was finished.
All, we had the desire to move to a new stage, to speak more frankly of the past. When we went out on the street, we saw a lot of people and traffic jams. The revolution had just begun.
Does the revolution seem likely to advance the reconciliation of memories?
N. H.: For a month now, we have been seeing economists, sociologists, political scientists, historians, and historians on television trying to explain what is going on in the country. Until then, all expert reports were systematically stored in drawers.
The theme of education is constantly coming up in the conferences and debates organized under the tents of the Place des Martyrs. We are aware that history is a delicate subject. Since our experts have not been able to agree on a single story, perhaps we have to accept textbooks by presenting several, as has existed on both sides of the German border.
At this famous meeting, on October 17, we all expressed the wish that the Lebanese finally revolt against the silence imposed on the civil war, that they finally start talking about it in order to throw this past behind them and to build a common future. The movement gives us back this hope.
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