October 25, 2015

Saturday in Anjar

Anjar, with the ruler's palace in the distance

Had to be in Anjar, Beqaa Valley, this afternoon, to drop off two puppies at an Armenian guy. Anjar has two main attractions; a never completed commercial/trade center from 700 AD and an Armenian enclave.
athe town also holds a slightly negative connotation for the older Lebanese; Anjar is where the Syrian secret police, the Moukhabarat, had its headquarters, run by the infamous Rustom Ghazeli.

Streets lined with arches, and hundreds of small shops on each side

I find the archeological Anjar a little bizarre. Rectangular, pre-planned, with a complete - and still functioning - infra-structure of water and waste disposal, it is set up so efficient and urban that it is almost impossible to imagine that this ancient shopping mall was built some 1,300 years ago.  It was on the trade route between Damascus in the East, Homs and Baalbeck in the north, and the south. 

But it was never really used, as that particular civilization came to its end before the place could make its mark on history, and the trade routes shifted. 
A bit like these shopping malls in Lebanon that were planned & built by someone, but somehow failed to attract any costumers, like that New Rauche Mall in Jnah (I don’t think the upper four levels have ever seen any other people other than the construction workers), or the Bou Khalil supermarket in Rauche. That one has an escalator going up an upper floor, but the escalator has never operated, and no shops have ever opened there.

The palace of Calpiph Walid I, with Walid standing in ti

 Anjar town has fared better. Strangely enough, that one was also pre-planned, with a socialistic idea in mind. The town is planned in a grid (like its ancient neighbor) and every house has the same plot of square land. The Armenian community, escaping from Turkish oppression in Syria,  got that plot of land in 1939, and it took them some time before it was shaped the way it still is. When you walk through the town, you have a distinct feeling you’re not in Lebanon. The set-up and the architecture are not Middle Eastern, but have European feel to it.

We dropped off two puppies, and the new owner, an old Armenian who’d lived many years in Colorado, Denver, gave us produce of his land in return; home-made apple vinegar, mint and thyme, apricot jam and egg plants. Everyone speaks Armenian in town; I don’t think there’s any non-Armenian living there. He gave us some history of the town (which you can read here) .

During part of the Lebanese war (1976-2005), the Syrian Moukhabarath, the notorious secret police, set up shop here. The word ‘Anjar’ was synonymous for ‘disappearing forever in jail’. Many a Lebanese that were transported to Syrian jails to never be heard from again, made their first stop in Anjar.  According to the Armenian man, living so close to the secret police during the Syrian occupation, had its perks. They were, of course, left alone by militias, and as such could live in relative peace. They also enjoyed 24-hours electricity, because if the Syrians stipulated that the electricity stays on, then the electricity stays on. Needless to say, if they were asked to hand over money, then they did. And they kept their daughters hidden.

This is probably not allowed, but I've visited the site numerous times, and am usually the only visitor

The rest of the Lebanese have few fond memories (can’t verify the authenticity of this account, but they are numerous) of those days. The fact that the last two heads of the secret police in Lebanon, Ghazi Kenaan and Rustom Ghazeli, both met a rather violent and untimely death (Kenaan reportedly committed suicide, although this is contested, and Ghazeli got beaten up so badly at the beginning of this year by the bodyguards of a political opponent that he died) must give those that believe in’ what goes around, comes around’ some satisfaction.

We walked around, enjoyed the views, pondered over the town’s history, dropped off the puppies, talked a bit, and drove home again. A good Saturday, all in all.

Sure sign of fall; pumpkins for sale in Anjar


Anonymous said...

Very happy to see Sietske get her groove back !

Anonymous said...

Sietske: Glad your writing/opining/educating/ranting and photographing! This fall has been so much better with your posts...even if everything else isn't. Keep on posting!