Haigaz Sogomanian died joking about the suspicious package someone had left outside his coffee shop in Geitawi, Achrafieh on Friday, September 14, 2005. His 50-year-old son, Krikor, says that a neighbor had alerted Haigaz that somebody had left a bag in front of his shop’s door. But his father, who was playing checkers over some arak and arguileh with four of his elderly friends, only made fun of it.
"Haigaz, is this bag yours?" the neighbor had asked.
“We play cards here, not bags. Ask the taxi office [next door]. Maybe it's theirs," Haigaz said as he got up to check the suspicious package. That was when the bomb blew up.
The package had been left outside his shop’s door by a man who had been trying to place the bomb in Sassine Square, where the 23rd anniversary of Bachir Gemayel’s death was being commemorated. The man was unable to access the event and had to get rid of the bomb, so he simply left it outside Haigaz’s shop. “That’s what they said on TV that happened,” Krigor Sogomanian told NOW Lebanon in his parents’ house in Achrafieh.
Krikor, also nicknamed Coco in his neighborhood of Karm al-Zeitoun in Achrafieh, is tougher than he looks. He’s a dark, small man, but he is an army veteran who also fought in Nagorno-Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the 1990s. He is the youngest of the three boys Haigaz and his wife Mariam had in 50 years of marriage. He now lives with his mother, as she has trouble walking.
“My father was fun to be with. He used to joke a lot; he was more of a friend than a father to us. He chased my friends away once, as a joke,” he says smiling. “Once, my friends from the army came looking for me. I told them where the house was. I told them to knock on the door and ask for Coco. I was late.
When I came back, my father was sitting on the balcony playing his bouzuk [a mandolin-like instrument] with his arak by his side. He asked me why I was agitated. I told him I was waiting for my friends. He asked if they were army people. He told me that they had come and left. I said: Why didn't you let them in? He replied, ‘They asked me if this is Beit Coco [Coco's house]. I told them Beit Coco [a Lebanese village] is on the way to Bikfaya; this is Achrafieh, Karm al-Zeitoun. So they left,’” Krikor remembers, laughing.
His mother sits on the couch watching music video clips and giggles while her son tells stories about her husband. “Yes, he was such a fun man. He liked to dance very much. We had here in the club a group of girls, Scouts, he used to teach them Armenian dancing. And at parties he would get up and dance. And he used to play music.
Whenever there was a party in Beirut they would call Haigaz. We would all go; parties, weddings, engagements,” she says. “He was very fond of his bouzuk. He used to make them sit on the balcony to play,” she remembers.
A bomb blowing up in Beirut in 2005 was no surprise for the Sogomanians. “We had gotten used to Friday nights not going out, because every Friday, during Star Academy an explosion took place that year,” Krikor remembers. But he and his mother did not expect an explosion to take place in Haigaz’s coffee shop.
They saw the news on television, and Krikor left to see if his nephews and father were all right. But the shop was destroyed and surrounded by army soldiers. He remembers the soldiers telling him that there was nobody inside. “I ran in there. I got four old men out from the shop. The same age as my father. He was 77 when he died. They were nearly dying. They couldn't breathe. One of them died a week later. I went to the officer and I told him, ‘How can you say there was nobody in there? I want to go back in, my father is inside.’"
Krikor says he fought the soldiers in order to get in the destroyed shop to check if his father was there. The only person who helped him was a cameraman from a local TV station who followed him in with the camera lantern. “I was shouting ‘Haigaz! Haigaz!’ not ‘Father!’ He was more like a friend to me. I saw his hand under the rubble. We had to carry him for 200 meters to the ambulance, as the army wouldn’t let the car get closer,” he adds.
Haigaz Sogomanian was dead by the time they reached the hospital. Krikor says he has no information about the investigation into the bombing, and that no authority connected the family to give them news about finding out who had placed the bomb.
His mother received 25 million Lebanese pounds from the Higher Relief Council. He also says he never dared to ask because he feels poor people don’t stand a chance of receiving justice. “What am I going to ask? ‘We want the truth?’ Who are we to ask? Who are we? Justice is something, and if I would like to know who did it is something else. I would like to know. But how would I find out? I'll go file a lawsuit against an unknown person? Where would I file a lawsuit?” he says, shrugging.