Belfast Telegraph

The tragedies we miss underneath the Big Story

By Robert Fisk

They found part of a hand in Rue Ibrahim el-Mounzer, along with some intestines - no one doubted ownership of the thumb that was discovered, still pressing the button of a mobile phone.

But the little people of Lebanon remained forgotten, the bereaved and the wounded, all 38 of them, largely not photographed

Gun battles enshrined the streets of central Beirut after the nation buried Brigadier-General Wissam al-Hassan. But the bravest man in Lebanon stood in a church in the tired suburb of Bourj Hammoud: a young Armenian whose equally young wife was slaughtered in the same attack.

I suppose we scribes always go for the Big Story - the Lebanese intelligence boss blown to bits in the Syria-style bomb assassination. The cliches are essential, as is the assumption that Syria's war is 'slipping across the border'. But the tragedy of Georgette Sarkissian should be told.

Joseph Sarkissian's family came from Palestine and his grandparents were thrown out of Armenia during the 1915 Turkish genocide. He stood next to his 21-year-old daughter Therese, who was with her mother, Georgette, when she was killed.

In Lebanon, the big men get the imperial funerals, the little women are left to be buried. But the biggest man in Lebanon was Joseph Sarkissian, an insurance official, short dark hair, spectacles, no tears in his eyes.

"I can't tell you ... She is half my life. My daughter picked her up from the ground - she carried her in her arms because there were no ambulances and drove her to the hospital in her own car.

"From the first, my wife was in a coma, thanks to God, because her head was opened from behind by the explosion.

Part of her brain was missing. She is a treasure to me. You can't imagine ... There were so many flowers for her and for me - because everyone loves her."

Then there was the local bank manager in Rue Mohamed el-Mounzer who said Lebanon had endured "40 years of crucifixion" and that during the country's 1975-1990 civil war, "not a pane of glass had been broken in the street".

At the end of the road, I came across Lebanese ceramist Nathalie Khayat, bandages still covering the wounds to her back, who had been talking to her sons Noa and Teo when the bomb shredded Georgette's life and almost killed her. "The first thing I thought of was the civil war," she said. "I was looking at my son's homework. He is nine today. And I was nine when the civil war started in 1975."

The radios were talking of a gun and grenade battle between supporters of the 14 March alliance, the official opposition to the pro-Syrian government, and the Lebanese army which had come under fire during the night.

Abed, my driver, and I drove as we have so often these past decades to park near the museum, and I ran down the side street and stood next to the soldiers.

And here comes your reporter, clumping into his own story again. On this very spot, beside this very road, next to this very wall, I took cover from bullets 36 years ago.


From Belfast Telegraph