Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Byzantine army

“Library Antoine, Lebanon”, Antoine Naufal, Kamal Ataturk, French mandate over Lebanon (1919-1946)

A biographical book, published in French, was undertaken by Nayla, one of the 4 daughters of late Antoine Nawfal (father of the Girls) who died of cancer in 1981. The book was written by Nadia Anid.

Antoine Naufal established in 1933 the first branch of “Library Antoine” in Bab Idriss (Beirut) during the French mandate. This branch was demolished during the civil war. Another branch was opened in Hamra,  and lately in Ashrafieh.

The Library initially catered for school books, and focused mainly on French publications during and after the French mandate.

Antoine had a tough upbringing: The family had to flee from Turkey (the city of Mersin) during the dictatorship of Kamal Ataturk and relocated several times before settling in Lebanon.

After WWI, Ataturk started his antics and forced the settled Levantines to immigrate, by burning the Christian houses…The father Selim of the Naufal family (three boys and two girls) grabbed the few gold coins they had and waited for the train (run by the Germans) to take them to Alexandretta (Alexandrina).

Alexandretta was part of Syria and under the French mandated power. The Levantines thought that they were finally at peace, but France reneged on its responsibility and handed over Ataturk the region of Alexandretta in 1936.

The Naufal family had relocated to Lebanon in 1930, under duress from the nationalist Turks, and settled in the town of Baabdat (north Metn district).  Baabdat had many families who lived in Mersin and had returned to Lebanon.

Selim, father of Antoine, was a master tailor who practised in Marseille for a couple of years, and the family owned factories for weaving cottons and other kinds of cloths, and were living the grand bourgeois life-style.

Selim could never adapt to his Lebanese surrounding and kept repeating: “These cucumbers are no match to the ones in Misrine…while sipping on arak and nibbling on the mezze of vegetable on the table”

It happened that both major relocations took place during Christmas nights, as the turkey was readied to be served, before the fires started in the neighboring houses and in the house proper. Selim vowed: “From now on, I don’t want to see any turkey in the house...”

Kamal Ataturk had declared that “Turkey is for the Turks” and conducted campaigns to kick out from Turkey the Levantines (people from Syria and Lebanon), the Greeks, the Armenians, and basically anyone who was not a Moslem…

And who are the Turks?

They are nomads from the current State of Turkmenistan and its neighboring countries (Central Asia). These nomadic tribes coalesced under the leadership of a Seljuk Khan and defeated a large Byzantine army around the end of the 11th century and settled in the more fertile land of eastern Turkey.

The Seljuk opted for Konia as Capital and conquered Syria, Lebanon, and part of Palestine. They were the main forces who battled with the crusaders for two centuries.

Before and during the WWI, many families from Lebanon had settled in Turkey, and mainly in the prosperous city of Mersin and in Adana. Families like Khawli, Lahoud, Sayegh, Khalil, Saad (Habib Basha Saad was the first president of Lebanon during the mandate)…

Antoine once said: “I was never a child. I never had an anniversary or received any gift on special occasions. I was never called Tony. I was always Antoine, the elder son with the responsibility of taking care of the family…”

Antoine started working very early on and couldn’t finish his high school. He found a job at a library in Beirut (Librarie du Foyer) owned by Ernest Chehab who wouldn’t sell book banned by the Catholic Church, the old and the current ones…

One day, he discovered that shops in Bab Idriss,  on Patriarch Hoyek Street, were for rent at modicum prices: The street was plagued with a taboo of unlucky stories of chain bankruptcies…Antoine mother handed him the 250 pounds from her secret savings, unknown to the family…

Antoine used to bike to the nearest library competitors (like Bsalti, Bugnard…) to buy the unavailable books ordered by clients, and would return while the clients are perusing the books and the magazines…

(I recall many such zeal from Lebanese overseas: Hopping to get the required spare parts from competitors not available in their initial store…)

Antoine received the French medal of Legion d’Honneur in 1964: only 20 of his family members were to be invited, and the family counted 21 members…

His mother-in-law Nazha separated from her husband after Antoine married her daughter Della (for Adel). Consequently, Nazha cut-off the head of her husband from all the picture and would never mention his name, saying only: “He was a woolf

Note 1: You think that this book is a biography of Antoine Naufal, and it turned out to be the story of Nayla… Too many tangent stories about Samir Jaber, Georginia, Rashid Khoury, George Khoury…, just to describe the life-style in Lebanon and who frequented the library.

This book could be separated into three volumes: one on Antoine Naufal,  the second tome on the many stories related to the library and what took place within the library…and the third called “The story of Nayla“…I expected more pictures of the family, the house, the celebrations, the garden… and less about the devastation of the civil war: We have too many of these kinds of sorry pictures…

Note 2: The Seljuk dynasty was demolished by the Mogul Genghis Khan in 1220 after he entered the richest city of Bukhara on the silk road and continued his progress to conquer Turkey.  Mogul Genghis Khan established the vastest empire in the world stretching from China to Turkey, including all central Asia.

The grand son of Genghis Khan, Hulago, descended toward Iraq and burned Baghdad, killing the last Abbassid Calif, and putting an end to the Arabic empire in the east. The Arabic empire of the west, mainly in southern Spain and northern Africa was thriving and producing the best scientific research in all fields.

In 1097, the Spanish King Alphonse entered Toledo (in central Spain) and acquired about 60,000 Arabic volumes and hundreds of highly literate people who translated the Arabic culture into Latin. At that period, the largest library in Europe contained at best 100 books, mostly of no interest whatsoever.




June 2023

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