A map from The Guardian shows Syrian refugee populations abroad.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Lebanon has been the main destination for Syrians fleeing violence in their home country. According to The Guardian, Lebanon took in 844,021 refugees – the highest number compared to other host countries – as of January 2014. Due to its strong Sunni community, the northern city of Tripoli has attracted many Syrians.
For a Deutsche Rundschau article last year, I spoke to college student and Tripolitan Lulu Annous about changes in her town brought by the Syrian civil war. In a previous blog post, Annous shared insights regarding poverty, an increased military presence and her own experience with gunfire in the streets.
In the year since, an August 2013 bombing killed 42 people at two mosques in Tripoli, according to Reuters. Heavy fighting between warring neighborhoods Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen also left many dead, but the two groups forged a ceasefire in March that has so far put an end to large-scale violence in Tripoli.
In light of these events, Annous agreed to give an update on her city and experiences. Below, Annous discusses the situation on Tripoli’s streets, how she has kept herself safe in the face of unpredictability, and her own changing attitude toward the violence that, until recently, was part of her daily life.
Last year, you talked about the soldiers in the streets (of Tripoli) and homeless people. How has that changed?
(On) every street, we have two beggars. It’s too much. As for soldiers, it depends. It got really bad at one point, and worse than last year. But right now it’s fine, only at night they have checkpoints. And at night they always do a round trip just to check certain areas of Tripoli. That’s the main thing that’s changed.
A few months ago, we used to have a lot of soldiers in the street, mostly on Fridays. And on Fridays, I don’t know if they still do this, to be honest, but they block all the roads that are near mosques (because of the mosque bombings).
Western media has been reporting heavily on the extremist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. How do you view ISIS?
Are you talking about DAASH? (DAASH is an acronym for the Arabic name for ISIS, Dulat al-Islam fi al-Iraq wal-Sham.) Me and my mom would make fun of this group so much. They’re crazy, they’re not normal. Every time something would happen to my mom, I’d tell her, “DAASH is coming to chop off our heads.” I would tell her, “DAASH is coming for you!” We make a joke out of this.
Where do you think your casual humor about that is coming from?
(DAASH is) not Islamist, it’s extremist. They think that they need to implement Islam. And it’s not even a taste of what Islam is. They started in Syria, and a lot of killing happened, and women were not allowed to leave the house. People were decapitated (and) they would film it.
There began a rumor that they were going to come to Tripoli. And I remember me and (another friend) would talk about it. There was times where we would joke about it, and other times we were quietly: “Don’t say that name out loud.” We wouldn’t know why we would say that, but we would go, “Hey, mama, don’t say it out loud in public.” We got to a point where, when we thought they were going to actually come, we were thinking of leaving the country. Because we’re like: “We’re not going to live under this kind of rule.”
But then the threat went away. It was very temporary. Even in Syria, I don’t think they’ve been able to expand. But no, they haven’t entered Lebanon. But I remember, me and my mom used to laugh about it so much. That was funny.
How have you seen people in Beirut dealing with (the bombings)?
I don’t really know, because Tripoli is so isolated from Beirut. It’s an hour’s difference (driving), and it’s like two different social groups. The way they deal with everything, it’s completely different. From what (a friend in Beirut) tells me, she was in class one time when a bomb went off, like, 10 minutes away from her university. Everyone freaked out in class. But the teachers kept them in class and wouldn’t let them access their phones.
But otherwise, they quickly adapt. The next day, it was fine. So it’s always in the moment, you know? Within the same day there’s a big freak out, and then the next day everyone’s fine. Except for the people who lost people.
When 9/11 happened here, people didn’t just calm down the next day. They said, “We need to go to war.” So why don’t you think you’ve had that same reaction in Beirut?
There’s not an outer war because the war’s within Lebanon. It’s a civil kind of thing, but we have the outside (that) influences our politics and our groups. So that’s the problem. We’re nothing but isolated from each other, we’re fighting ourselves. I mean they say, “it’s the Syrians,” and we know it is, but yet we’re still fighting each other.
So last year April when we talked, you were afraid when you heard gunshots going off right by you. Why has that changed?
Habituation? You get used to it. It’s sad but true. It becomes a part of your daily routine. You take it into consideration as something going on – so what areas do I avoid, what time do I go out, what time do I get back home, and it becomes a lifestyle. It became really weird when everything was quiet (because of the cease fire). We could do whatever we want.
We actually miss the sound of bullets in the air and bombs. I swear, it’s psychological or something, because you just become addicted to that noise.
Ok, so it became habituation – so you knew at certain times that you wouldn’t get shot?
Yeah. You would know – we have a certain page on Facebook. It’s called Tripoli TwentyFour. When there is conflict, there are updates every minute, or every few minutes, on where the conflicts are going on. So you would know who’s shooting, where they’re shooting and why they’re shooting. That’s what helped a lot, I guess. So if you knew where it was going on, we wouldn’t be as frightened, or scared.
Tell me about the mosque bombings.
(Last August, a man) bombed two mosques while people were praying. A lot of people died, it was a disaster. And the thing was, as people were running out of the mosque after everything fell down, there were some soldiers that actually started shooting at the people running out. So ever since then, no one’s allowed to park anywhere near the mosques during Friday prayers.
And how do you feel about your male relatives going every Friday?
I don’t get scared for them. It’s weird, but – you would expect that people would be scared to go back, you know? And to pray in the mosques on Friday. But no, actually there are even more people publically went after that, just to make a statement! But no, I don’t feel like there’s a threat. I think it’s fine. And I believe that if it’s meant to be, it happens. And in this country, you can’t let people affect the way you live your life, because then you wouldn’t live your life at all.