As you cross the Beirut River and enter Bourj Hammoud, you are directly transported into another world. It’s a city within a city where the smells of its restaurants fill the air and stand side by side next to jewelry, home ware, and fashion shops. Getting lost in the maze of streets selling every kind of artisanal product, you can’t help but feel transported out of Lebanon and into Armenia with shop signs written in two languages, Armenian and mostly English. Lebanon is home to around 230,000 people of Armenian descent, the sixth largest Armenian population outside Armenia worldwide.
Bourj Hammoud was founded by survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and expanded mostly during the 1930s. When the sick and exhausted Armenians arrived in Beirut after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, they were given the right to construct shacks on the eastern banks of the Beirut River that was at the time swamps and marshy lands. They were then allowed to erect houses and buildings, which stand to this day. In 1952, Bourj Hammoud became an independent municipality. It has a population of 150,000 over an area of 2.5 km², making it one of the most densely populated areas in the Middle East.
Bourj Hammoud to me is a story of survival and hope, not merely evoking memories, but shaping one’s relation to the past and hopes for the future. As you walk through the narrow streets of Bourj Hammoud, you can’t help but be drawn to the amount of craftsmen that are there. They have built their community on skills inherited from their forefathers, making it a vibrant commercial and industrial hub. All kind of artisanal work can be found in Bourj Hammoud, from leather making, shoes, bags, belts, accessories, gold jewelry, tailor making, fabrics, beads, buttons, to crochets… It is a true haven for designers, and I am sure most of them have some kind of manufacturing happening there. Even as a place to wander, it offers a chance to soak in another culture. Its urban landscape of small buildings and very narrow streets with electrical wires zigzagging its skies, a vast contrast to the high rises that dominate most areas of Beirut, contribute to its unique feel.
Brick by brick it is built. Its Mortar made from anguish and tears, mixed by hand, labored in blood, and sweat. All of their loss covered over with new stones. Each of those stones composed of dreams of the future. Placing each of the new stones and tamping them down securely, they ensured that it was a home, a community they were building. Eventually, one brick became two, two became four. And so on and so forth, until their journey became a destination and a hope for a new future. This exodus led them to a home, to safety, to a future, to building a prosperous community out of nothing… To hope.
Because I love walking though the narrow streets of Bourj Hammoud and discovering a whole new world within my world, I #livelovelebanon and I will #fighton.