Mohamed Chebaro

When the Sunnis lost it

A trivial exchange of roles governs the lives of our confessional communities and sects

The Ottoman Empire represents you? (Abdul Hamid II depicted as the "Red Sultan" for his government

The Lebanese woke up on Wednesday morning to discover a new historical truth. Armenians, as we know, have been residing in Lebanon for around 100 years as a result of the massacre they suffered at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. They were forced to leave their villages and cities, and move to the land of the cedars. However, it has come to light that they arrived in Lebanon in an honorable and dignified manner after taking ‘five star’ flights. They then stayed in plush hotels, before ideal cities were built for them in Bourj Hammoud and Majdal Anjar with the Sunni sect’s money and on the Sunni sect’s land.


This truth is no fabrication of the mind. Over the past few days, numerous religious leaders affiliated with the Sunni sect have launched a counterattack against the 100 year commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. Their efforts have been accompanied by a campaign on social media which implies that the genocide is a matter of historical debate— according to the campaign, what happened was closer to a war than a systematic mass-extermination. The Ottoman Empire was pitted against Armenian gangs and militias, and both sides committed some “transgressions.”


At first, to some extent, debate remained within the bounds of difference of opinion. Then the issue was blown out of proportion when the Ministry of Education announced state schools would be closed on Friday, 24 April, the 100-year anniversary of the genocide. This infuriated some Lebanese nationals and sheikhs. The ensuing one-upmanship was topped off when Sheikh Hisham Khalifa, director general of Lebanon’s Islamic Endowments Authority, sent a letter to the Ministry of Education in which he condemned its decision and described a historical fact as “an incident” that was “a matter of historical debate.” This was followed by a similar statement from two Sunni historians: Hassan Hallaq and Issam Chebaro. So, some religious figures, historians and ‘citizens’ have decided to tear down established historical fact. Perhaps tomorrow one of them will call for the annulment of Martyrs Day, and cast doubt on the veracity of a historically-recognized atrocity in which a large number of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians were executed on public squares.


The many contradictions in the Hallaq-Chebaro statement only serve to confirm that the motivations for its release were purely sectarian. The pair, who are counted among Lebanon’s most important history professors, recognize the massacres commemorated on Martyrs Day, which the Ottoman Empire carried out against the Lebanese. However, their statement insists that the accepted account of the Armenian Genocide includes “a large amount of falsification, errors and exaggerations.” The statement goes on to detail the atrocities and executions carried out against the Lebanese by “Union and Progress leadership, which opposed […] Arabism,” and “Commander Jamal Basha,” but it does this without describing the latter using his usual title: ‘the Butcher.’ Despite the recognition of atrocities in Lebanon, these two men see the genocide as no more than a historical falsehood.


What has happened over the past two days is not limited to a simple disagreement. On the surface, it shows the extent to which the Lebanese have now mastered moral and humanitarian duplicity. Under the surface—and on what basis we don’t know—lies the demolition of all of history, or at least all history that belongs in the category of undeniable truth.


Among the comments and pictures published on social media websites, the phrase “the Ottoman Empire represents me” has appeared. So, as simply as that, some people now feel they are represented by an empire that all of the Lebanese rose up against because of its inhumane practices. Even the Sunni sect allied with ‘the English Satan’ for the sake of independence. As simply as that, ‘some people’ have come out and said that the Ottoman Empire represents them, and a few weeks ago the very same people flew into a rage over the dreams of the ‘Persian’ empire.


Today, the Sunni sect, through its sheikhs and historians, is playing the role of the hangman’s helper. That is the state Lebanese society is in today, with all its clans, confessional communities and sects. One mass-murderer is supported while the other is attacked, and it is this duplicity that legitimizes killing wherever it takes place. The same sheikhs and historians who have been angered by the Ministry of Education’s decision are continually making speeches and statements about the crime of the century: an oppressive sultan in Damascus is massacring the Syrian people. So did Abdul Hamid II have the right to do what Bashar al-Assad doesn’t?


These same sheikhs and historians speak out on a daily basis against the racism some people in Lebanon have shown towards the Syrian refugees who fled from Assad’s barrel bombs. Now they wish to remind Armenian refugees that land belonging to the Islamic Endowments Authority was given to them in Anjar out of “concern for their dignity, security and safety,” even though the Sunni community needed it!


Beyond this, we are now seeing the reiteration of narratives that have long been used by mass-murderers of various inclinations in Syria, Israel, Iraq and the Ottoman Empire. These are narratives that always place the blame on the oppressed and deny all responsibility. In this way, Israel has used the excuse of militants hiding themselves among civilians in Palestine and Lebanon to bomb civilian population centers. Bashar al-Assad employs the same logic to justify the hateful barrel bomb, saying that it is used against terrorists hiding among the innocent.


This doesn’t apply to the Sunni sect exclusively. It is true of the ever-crisis-stricken Lebanese in general, as well as populations all over the region, minorities and majorities included. Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq and Syria are all marked by the same duplicity. This also applies to Hezbollah and the Shiite sect’s support of a bloodletting criminal on the pretext of Shiite victimhood and resistance. Finally, there is the fact that most of the Armenian parties commemorating the genocide support Syria’s own Abdul Hamid, Bashar Assad.


Amid this all-encompassing celebration of insanity, some pro-Damascus Lebanese—most prominently the Free Patriotic Movement and its ministers—have done a free service for Bashar Assad. They have sought to make every political ‘cheap shot’ they can to hurt Turkey. In the meantime, Assad has lectured on virtue, despite his well-known history of offenses against minorities and majorities, from the Kurds to the Sunnis.


A trivial exchange of roles governs the lives of our confessional communities and sects—an exchange in blood. And in lands where blood becomes cheap, morals, humanitarianism and historical recognition count for nothing.


This article was originally published by Al-Modon and has been translated from the Arabic by Ullin Hope.

The Ottoman Empire represents you? (Abdul Hamid II depicted as the "Red Sultan" for his government's Hamidian massacres against Ottoman Armenians, on the cover of Le Rire magazine, 29 May 1897: Wikipedia)

On the surface, this shows the extent to which the Lebanese have now mastered moral and humanitarian duplicity. Under the surface—and on what basis we don’t know—lies the demolition of all of history, or at least all history that belongs in the category of undeniable truth."

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    But we the Lebanese sided with France and the Europeans against our so-called "ex-motherland" Ottoman Turkey. Are you (...) saying that we were traitors?

    April 26, 2015

  • يسترجي

    Ottoman Armenians should not have sided with Russia against their ex-motherland. Today, Lebanese Armenians should not stand with Hezbollah against 90% of the people in Levant and the Middle East... It is not a vote, it is not an opinion, it is not democracy, it is betrayal and treason and these things eventually cost the most.

    April 24, 2015

  • fadi c

    And this, yestarji, is your opinion.

    April 25, 2015

  • يسترجي

    It is also the truth.

    April 25, 2015


    These Ottoman Armenians that you refer to were not Ottomans by choice, rather a people just like Ottoman Greeks or Ottoman Arabs living on their ancestral homelands who were conquered by an invading Turkish tribe starting from the 14th century and dominated til the beginning of the 20th century, rather harshly. Armenians siding with Russia, Arabs with the English was the effect of the Ottoman's barbaric rule over these people. A motherland is very subjective!, depending on who you ask, the conqueror or the conquered. The banality of your argument stems from your "ethnic" or your "religious" background that feels threatened with today's reality on the ground and tries to seek comfort from the 'glories' of the past.

    April 27, 2015