A Lebanese online archive chronicles Arab immigration to Latin America

Special Members of the Lebanese community marching and waving flags in downtown Sao Paulo. (AFP)
Members of the Lebanese community marching and waving flags in downtown Sao Paulo. (AFP)
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Updated 06 May 2022

A Lebanese online archive chronicles Arab immigration to Latin America

A Lebanese online archive chronicles Arab immigration to Latin America
  • Most of the migration occurred in the final decades of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th
  • Project of Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Jounieh highlights individual journeys of the Arab pioneers

SAO PAULO, Brazil: Although an estimated 18 million Latin Americans can trace their ancestry to the Arab region, little effort has been made to chronicle and conserve the writings, photographs and news clippings that document the history of their migration and settlement — until now.

Most of the Arabs who moved to Latin America did so in the final decades of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, with the majority of them traveling from Syria and Lebanon in search of fortune and a fresh start far from the Ottoman Empire.

To collect and highlight the individual journeys of these Arab pioneers and their contribution to the New World, an archive dedicated to telling their stories has been created by the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, also known as USEK, a private, not-for-profit Catholic university in Jounieh, Lebanon.

Inaugurated at the end of March this year, the collection currently includes about 200,000 pages from Arab newspapers and magazines, stacks of photographs, and other illuminating documents that help shed light on the diaspora’s presence in Latin America.

Brazilian-born Roberto Khatlab, director of USEK’s Latin American Studies and Cultures Center, or CECAL for short, conceived the project after spending several years working in the cultural department of the Brazilian embassy in Beirut and conducting independent research on Lebanese migration to Brazil.




Some of the documents that have been digitized and now are part of USEK's archive, including magazines Oriente and A Vinha. (Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce (CCAB) / USEK / Supplied)

“Over the years, I gathered lots of documents concerning that history,” he told Arab News.

During a trip to Latin America a few years ago, Khatlab realized a wealth of important historical material was at risk of being lost unless it could be properly collected and collated.

“Over time, such documents end up in the hands of grandchildren or great-grandchildren who do not speak Arabic and do not know what to do with them,” he said.

As a result, many people end up throwing away family collections or donating them to local libraries, which are not always equipped or qualified to adequately catalog them.

In addition, newspapers produced by early Arab immigrants were often printed on cheap, poor-quality paper that does not always stand the test of time, and so surviving copies can be extremely fragile.

“I have received 100-year-old newspapers which literally disintegrated as we tried to take them out of the envelope,” said Khatlab.

Syrian-Lebanese immigrants created the first Arabic-language Latin American newspaper, called Al-Fayha, in 1893 in the Brazilian city of Campinas.

In the local Portuguese language, its name was Mundo Largo, which translates as Wide World. As the author of several books about Brazil’s historical relationships with Lebanon and the wider Arab world, Khatlab recognizes the value of such historical documents for academic study and posterity.




Latin America has close to 18 million people of Arab origin, most of them in Brazil. (AFP)

“Under the Ottoman Empire, many intellectuals were not able to publish their ideas in the Arab world at the end of the 19th century,” said Khatlab. “In the nascent Arab press in countries like Brazil and Argentina, they found the space they needed.

“Many times, the articles published in the Arab press in Latin America by such thinkers were sent back to the Arab world and disseminated there in intellectual and political circles.”

Most of the early Arabic newspapers in Latin America were produced by Syrian or Lebanese migrants but there were also a number of Egyptian publications. Over the years, the Arab community launched newspapers that reflected a variety of viewpoints based around political ideologies, religious creeds, social clubs and the arts.

“Many poets and writers published works in the Latin American Arab press,” said Khatlab. “Some of them were renowned in the Arab world, while others disappeared. But their production and the ideas conveyed in their texts have great importance to Arabs, even now.”

The archive has attracted the support of institutions across Latin America that have connections to the Arab community and they have provided small teams who are helping to collect and digitize materials, using equipment donated by USEK.

INNUMBERS

Estimated Arab population by country

Brazil: 7-12 million

Argentina: 4.5 million

Venezuela: 1.6 million

Mexico: 1.5 million

Colombia: 1.5 million

Chile: 800,000

Source: Atlantic Council

One such institution is the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, or CCAB for short, which helped to collate full collections of magazines, including Revista Oriente (Orient Magazine), one of the most prominent publications produced by the Arab diaspora in Brazil during the 20th century.

“Different libraries and institutions had partial collections of Oriente,” Silvia Antibas, the director of CCAB’s cultural department, told Arab News. “Now, we managed to gather and digitize all of them for the first time.”

The Brazilian team also managed to assemble a collection of the magazine Al-Carmat, known in Portuguese as A Vinha (The Vineyard). It was edited for many years by a female Syrian-Brazilian author called Salwa Atlas.

The CCAB has also contributed to the archive an illuminating collection of photographs that provide a window on the social and domestic lives of the diaspora through the years.

“The pictures we collected show not only the community’s social events but also the architecture of houses, the fashion trends of those years, and how immigrants financially progressed and integrated into Brazilian society over time,” said Antibas.




The cover of one edition of A Vinha, published for years by Syrian-Brazilian intellectual Salwa Atlas, who was a pioneer among female intellectuals of the Syrian-Lebanese community in Brazil. (Clube Homs / USEK / Supplied)

The Jafet family — who ranked among the most illustrious families in Sao Paulo in the early 20th century — contributed a superb collection of photographs depicting the palatial homes built around that time by the city’s industrial bourgeoisie.

“Benjamin Jafet, my great-grandfather, came to Brazil in 1890 and worked as a ‘mascate’ (a word used in Brazil for an Arab door-to-door salesmen) for a few years in the countryside until he founded his first shop in downtown Sao Paulo,” Arthur Jafet, a 38-year-old lawyer and businessman, told Arab News.

Over the years, Benjamin and his brothers built one of Brazil’s greatest textile manufacturers and became wealthy leaders of the Lebanese community in the country.

As important philanthropists in Sao Paulo, the Jafets helped to fund not only Arab institutions such as the local Orthodox cathedral, the Syrian-Lebanese Hospital, and the Mount Lebanon Club, but also publications such as Revista Oriente.

“Their small palaces pointed to a rather European taste, with visible influences of the French neoclassical style but also oriental aspects,” said Jafet.

One of the photos in the collection shows Camille Chamoun, Lebanon’s president between 1952 and 1958, staying at one of the Jafet family’s opulent homes during a trip to Brazil.

As director of the Institute of Arab Culture in Sao Paulo and an adviser to the CCAB, Jafet is part of a new generation of Arab Latin Americans taking a renewed interest in their cultural origins.

Paulo Kehdi is the executive director of Chuf magazine, the in-house publication of the Mount Lebanon Club. He is among a number of Lebanese community leaders who launched Lebanity, a movement dedicated to encouraging Lebanese-Brazilians to rediscover their cultural roots.

“There has been a deliberate effort to reconnect Lebanese-Brazilians to their motherland, incentivizing them to obtain Lebanese citizenship, to visit the country and to help it during donation campaigns,” he told Arab News.




Lebanon's President Camille Chamoun with members of the Jafet family in São Paulo. He visited Brazil in 1954 and stayed at one of the family's palaces. (Arthur Jafet / Supplied)

The situation is similar in Argentina, which is home to an estimated 3 million people with Syrian or Lebanese roots.

For several years, Ninawa Daher, a journalist of Lebanese descent, hosted a TV show in the country devoted to reviving the interest among younger generations in their Lebanese origins. After her death in a car accident at the age of only 31 in 2011, her mother, Alicia, created the Ninawa Daher Foundation to continue her legacy, and it has partnered with USEK for the archive project.

“With Ninawa’s contacts, within a very short time we had already been able to obtain access to several wonderful collections of the community in Argentina,” Alicia Daher told Arab News.

The team has gathered stacks of newspapers, photographs and other rare materials, including two books written and autographed by renowned Lebanese-American writer, poet and visual artist Khalil Gibran.

“The Syrian and Lebanese people had a tremendous cultural impact in Argentina,” said Daher. “Now, more and more people and institutions are approaching us in order to offer materials about the immigration.”

In Beirut, meanwhile, Khatlab is hopeful the archive will continue to grow as the work on it expands to other Latin American countries and to include other types of documents, such as letters, film footage and even passenger manifests of the vessels that brought Arabs to the region.

Access to the archive is free and it is open to the general public.


Survivors ‘praying for miracles’ as Turkiye steps up quake rescue efforts

Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared a state of emergency for three months
Mesut Hancer holds the hand of his 15-year-old daughter Irmak, who died in the earthquake in Kahramanmaras. (AFP)
Updated 11 sec ago

Survivors ‘praying for miracles’ as Turkiye steps up quake rescue efforts

Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared a state of emergency for three months
  • Heavy rain and snow are hindering efforts to save thousands of people trapped under rubble
  • Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared a state of emergency for three months

ANKARA: Turkiye is praying for a miracle as the search continues for survivors of a massive earthquake that devastated southern regions of the country.

Heavy rain and snow are hindering efforts to save thousands of people trapped under rubble as the death toll continues to climb.

More than 5,000 people were killed and 15,000 injured in Turkiye and neighboring Syria when the magnitude 7.8 quake and a series of aftershocks struck in the early hours of Monday.

Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared a state of emergency for three months in areas affected by the earthquake, the most severe in the country for 80 years.

The death toll in Turkiye stands at 3,500, with over 22,000 injured and 6,000 buildings destroyed. More than 8,000 survivors have been hauled from the ruins of collapsed buildings.

Authorities warn the number of dead will continue to rise.

Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared a state of emergency for three months. (AFP)

Turkiye has announced one week of national mourning and allocated $5.3 billion in emergency aid, while Turkish Airlines has carried more than 11,000 volunteers to the quake zone.

Tens of thousands of aid workers and emergency personnel have been sent to the affected area as part of national and international humanitarian assistance, with more 70 nations offering help.

Firat Gerger, a lawyer in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa, drove his wife and children to their country house after surviving the quake before returning to the city center to join rescue efforts.

“I began evacuating guests from the hotel I own in the Haliliye district of Urfa. Then we noticed that the columns of the building next to my hotel were cracking. The building tilted to one side. We quickly surrounded the building with ropes and moved away nearby cars,” he told Arab News.

Thousands of buildings have toppled to the ground withthousands trapped inside. (AFP)

Gerger and his team climbed through a window into a veterinary surgery on the first floor of the building to rescue animals trapped inside.

However, their attempts to get a refugee family to leave their third-floor apartment ended in tragedy when the building collapsed shortly afterwards.

“We even threw a stone at their window to attract their attention,” he said. “The old building collapsed in seconds under a cloud of dust like in a horror movie,” he said.

The refugees were the only people to remain in the building after calls for evacuation. The bodies of five members of the family were found following the rescue operation.

Millions of Syrian refugees who fled the war in their country now live in the region.

Local people say that many buildings were not built to required standards to withstand earthquakes, and were never inspected properly.

New buildings, even those built only months ago, collapsed in the quake.

Serdar Ozsoy, a photojournalist who reached the port city of Iskenderun yesterday, was in the hard-hit Kirikhan district in Hatay province after the quake struck.

“It is one of the most affected zones. The damage is so widespread that rescue teams cannot be organized effectively. Today the humanitarian assistance seems much better than yesterday. I saw so many tents arriving for survivors. But the rain keeps falling and hampering rescue efforts,” he said.

There have been hundreds of aftershocks. (AFP)

“The first day was critical to find survivors under the collapsed buildings. But now the chances to rescue people are diminishing, apart from miracle cases.”

Ozsoy said that he had talked to a survivor whose house had been ransacked while he was at the cemetery burying his mother.

“The thieves found a golden opportunity to break into his house and steal anything precious,” he said.

Rescue teams from Uzbekistan reached Kirikhan district early on Tuesday, while other international rescuers, including from EU countries, are working across the region.

Turkiye’s Red Crescent is also providing tents and blankets, along with mobile kitchens.

In Hatay, thousands of survivors are sheltering in their cars amid fears of further aftershocks.

“There is an urgent need for cash because there is no electricity and no ATM to draw money,” Ozsoy said.

For many survivors have been left without shelter in the freezing temperatures. (AFP)

In other cities, such as southeastern Gaziantep, stocks of essential items are running low.

Ugur Poyraz, general secretary of the IYI Party, said there is no bread because natural gas supplies to the city were hit by the quake.

“Some local people are trying to distribute soup to the survivors with their own facilities,” he said.

In Hatay, Ghanaian football player Christian Atsu, who made 107 appearances for English Premier League side Newcastle and is now playing for the Turkish club Hatayspor, was rescued from a collapsed building.

Damaged roads, a fire that erupted in Iskenderun port and a blocked airport runway have made access to Hatay province more difficult.

Duygu Duman told Arab News that her relatives could hear voices beneath the rubble of a collapsed building in the center of Hatay, where her grandmother and aunt were trapped.

“My grandmother is very old, she cannot wait for so long. It is a race against time,” Duman said.

Another survivor, Ismail Keser, rescued his sister-in-law from the ruins of a five-story building in Antakya.

“We cannot enter the house because of the aftershocks,” he said. “I’m still involved in rescue efforts, but we are running out of hope. There is a chaos here,” he told Arab News.

 


Jordanian aid plane jets off to Turkiye and Syria

Jordanian aid plane jets off to Turkiye and Syria
Updated 27 min 32 sec ago

Jordanian aid plane jets off to Turkiye and Syria

Jordanian aid plane jets off to Turkiye and Syria
  • A Jordanian rescue team, including five doctors, was also on the plane

AMMAN: Jordan’s first of several aid planes loaded with rescue equipment, tents, and logistical and medical materials for the victims of the earthquake in Syria and Turkiye, took off on Tuesday.
Aboard the plane was a team of 99 personnel from the Jordanian International Search and Rescue Team and five doctors from the Jordanian Royal Medical Services.
Jordan’s News Agency shared on Tuesday a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, saying the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization on Monday evening reached out to authorities in Syria and Turkiye in order to send aid to the areas affected by the earthquake and to take part in rescue operations.
The JHCO is the only entity in Jordan responsible for delivering aid, the statement underscored, and any cash or in-kind donations will be delivered through the organization.


UK activates aid for Turkiye, Syria rescue efforts

UK activates aid for Turkiye, Syria rescue efforts
Updated 07 February 2023

UK activates aid for Turkiye, Syria rescue efforts

UK activates aid for Turkiye, Syria rescue efforts
  • Development minister: ‘The aid budget is under very considerable strain’
  • The UK is sending 76 experts and specialists to Turkiye, as well as an emergency response team

LONDON: The UK is sending aid to Syria and Turkiye to support earthquake recovery efforts, The Guardian reported.

Development Minister Andrew Mitchell said although Britain’s development budget faces “very considerable strain,” there are reserve funds that can be activated to respond to severe humanitarian disasters.

Dozens of countries around the world, as well as hundreds of aid organizations, have committed to sending aid and personnel to Turkiye and Syria in the wake of the earthquakes, which killed more than 5,000 people.

The UK is sending 76 experts and specialists to Turkiye, as well as an emergency response team, Mitchell said.

“The aid budget is under very considerable strain. But Britain always carves out a certain amount to cope with humanitarian crises,” he told Sky News.

The death toll from the series of earthquakes, which measured at magnitude 7.5, could rise to more than 20,000, the World Health Organization has warned.

“There’s continued potential of further collapses to happen so we do often see in the order of eightfold increases on the initial numbers,” said Catherine Smallwood, the WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe.

“We always see the same thing with earthquakes, unfortunately, which is that the initial reports of the numbers of people who have died or who have been injured will increase quite significantly in the week that follows.”


Egypt to send urgent relief aid for Syria, Turkiye quake victims

Egypt to send urgent relief aid for Syria, Turkiye quake victims
Updated 07 February 2023

Egypt to send urgent relief aid for Syria, Turkiye quake victims

Egypt to send urgent relief aid for Syria, Turkiye quake victims

Cairo - Egypt is to send urgent relief aid to Turkiye and Syria following Monday’s earthquake that killed thousands of people in the two countries.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry offered condolences to his Syrian counterpart Faisal Al-Miqdad, informed him about the Egyptian aid, wished success for the rescue efforts, and a speedy recovery for the injured.

Shoukry also passed on his country’s condolences to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Ahmed Abu Zeid, spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, said the consular sector in the ministry was in constant touch with the Egyptian embassies in Ankara and Damascus to monitor the situation for Egyptians affected by the quake.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit sent messages to the foreign ministers of Syria and Turkiye expressing “sincere sympathy for this great affliction,” and wishing a speedy recovery for those wounded in the earthquake.


Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers

Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers
Updated 07 February 2023

Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers

Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers
  • Rescue effort hampered by freezing conditions
  • White Helmets rescuers seek international help

AMMAN: Time is running out to save hundreds of families trapped under the rubble of buildings brought down by Monday’s earthquake, the head of the Syrian opposition-run civil defense service said on Tuesday.
Raed Al-Saleh told Reuters urgent help was needed from international groups for the rescue effort by the organization known as the White Helmets in rebel-held northwest Syria, where hundreds were killed and injured.
“Every second means saving lives and we call on all humanitarian organizations to give material aid and respond to this catastrophe urgently,” he said.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Turkiye and Syria early on Monday, toppling apartment blocks, wrecking hospitals and leaving thousands of people injured or homeless.
At least 1,444 people were killed in Syria and about 3,500 injured, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue workers in the northwestern region controlled by insurgents.
Rescue teams worked early on Tuesday to free people trapped in the rubble of buildings in southern Turkiye as the death toll in that country rose to more than 3,400.

 

 

In areas hit by the earthquake in northwestern Syria, rescue efforts were hampered by lack of equipment and freezing conditions. Rescuers cleared piles of debris using makeshift tools and their hands.
“There are a lot of efforts by our teams but they are unable to respond to the catastrophe and the large number of collapsed buildings,” Al-Saleh said.
Syria’s Emergency Response Team, a non-governmental organization that operates in the rebel-held enclave, said snow storms had closed roads within makeshift camps that house tens of thousands of displaced Syrians.
“We have great difficulty in getting heavy equipment because of the large spread of places that were affected,” said Salamah Ibrahim, a senior rescuer operating in the city of Sarmada, where a whole neighborhood fell to the ground.
The rebel-held enclave in the northwest of Syria is a refuge for around four million people, many of whom have been uprooted by a Russian-backed Syrian government assault that turned the tide in favor of President Bashar Assad during the more than decade-long Syrian conflict.
“Most of the hospitals are full and the situation is catastrophic. We are in need of medicines urgently to cover the needs,” said Zuhair al Qarat, head of the health authority in Idlib city.
Damage was also widely seen in government-held Aleppo city’s eastern sector, whose buildings bore the brunt of intensive aerial bombing by Russia and the Syrian military to push out rebels in 2016, according to rescuers and aid workers.