Looking to the future on Syria Street

New project tells the stories of ordinary people affected by violence and poverty in the Lebanese city of Tripoli.

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    Looking to the future on Syria Street
    Fighting between Alawite Muslims and Sunnis along Tripoli's Syria Street has claimed 200 lives over the past eight years [Courtesy of ICRC/Brandon Tauszik/Al Jazeera]

    Over the past eight years, 200 people have been killed in clashes in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

    Exacerbated by the civil war in Syria, the violence between the Sunni neighbourhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh and the Alawite neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen was curtailed by the entrance of the Lebanese army in 2014, but tensions persist.

    Last week, visual artist Brandon Tauszik, in collaboration with the ICRC, released a portrait of Syria Street, which divides the two neighbourhoods. Using GIFs, still images, audio files and text, the Syria Street project aims to give the people of Tripoli a platform to tell their own stories.

    "I'd initially assumed that the cause of the fighting between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen could be boiled down to something simple and unambiguous," Tauszik told Al Jazeera. 

    Using GIFs, still images, audio files and text, the Syria Street project aims to give the people of Tripoli a platform to tell their own stories [Courtesy of ICRC/Brandon Tauszik/Al Jazeera]

    "However, as with urban violence in many places, I came to learn the causes are deeply complex and entangled. The security situation there is tied directly to concurrent events in neighbouring Syria, as well as local warlords, national politicians, sectarian tensions ... One thread that runs through all of these factors, though, is the chronic poverty that plagues the people of northern Lebanon."

    The GIFs, which sometimes show little more than a shadow moving gently across the screen or a wisp of hair in a breeze, "communicate a certain nuance and humanity", he said.

    "I focused on capturing subtle movements, hands fiddling, wind or clothing blowing in the breeze, rays of light streaking by," Tauszik said, adding that amid the recent slowdown in violence on Syria Street, "the complicated exercise in choosing a collective future is beginning for these people".

    Below are several of the people profiled in the Syria Street project.

    Nisrine: 'We don't hate each other'
    'We have always been living together and visiting each other. But now, politicians have played their part and the problems and wars have started' [Courtesy of ICRC/Brandon Tauszik/Al Jazeera]

    Nisrine is from Jabal Mohsen and has four daughters. Men from both neighbourhoods picked up arms to "protect themselves", but, she stresses, "we don't hate each other".

    "We have always been living together and visiting each other. But now, politicians have played their part and the problems and wars have started. We don't belong in Syria. We have our own country and Syrians have their own country. We are Lebanese."

    Poverty, she says, is a driving factor behind the violence.

    "They [fighters] can get money by carrying weapons. They don't mind as long as it feeds their families. I know a group who would carry weapons to feed their children. They don't care who may die or lose their homes.

    "In Tripoli, whether in Jabal Mohsen or [Bab] al-Tabbaneh, there are many educated people who have a lot to offer. But they don't have any opportunity because of the war."

    After each round of clashes, Nisrine has to cross Syria Street again.

    "They say 'Welcome back! Are you okay? How did you get by?' These people have nothing to do with war; they are as much the victims as us ... The leaders are the only winners."

    Nisrine hopes that Tripoli remains as calm as it has recently become, so that her children can continue to live in the city. Otherwise, she will consider leaving.

    "I hope my children live in safety and stability … I'm trying to make up for all the things I was deprived of in my childhood."

    Rami: 'Civilians are the victims'
    'It is a political conflict, not a sectarian one' [Courtesy of ICRC/Brandon Tauszik/Al Jazeera]

    Rami is from Bab al-Tabbaneh and says it is a misconception to label the Tripoli clashes as a "sectarian" problem. "It is a political conflict, not a sectarian one," he says. "Just get [the] politicians out of it and there will be no problem. Civilians are the victims."

    He agrees that poverty has fed the violence.

    "It is economic conditions that force people to carry weapons. If somebody has seven or eight children, he will do anything to get $100."

    And while the violence has subsided recently, the endemic poverty remains. Rami has been struggling to find work to help to support his family.

    "We are alive simply because we haven't died yet. We have no jobs. We struggle to get water," he says. "The truth is that both of these neighbourhoods have been neglected and deprived by the government, which then makes it easier to manipulate the youth here."

    Ahmed Ibrahim Ali: 'I was born here and I will die here'
    'The conflict erupts in Syria, but the consequences spill over here in Lebanon' [Courtesy of ICRC/Brandon Tauszik/Al Jazeera]

    Ahmed Ibrahim Ali is Syrian, but was born in Jabal Mohsen and has lived there all his life.

    "I was born here and I will die here. Lebanon is my home," says Ahmed, who sells vegetables and coffee. "Before 2008, I would almost live in Tabbaneh. I would consider it my home, but after the clashes, I don't have the courage to do that."

    Since the army entered, however, he says that it feels a lot safer.

    "I sometimes go down to Tabbaneh at 3am, but to tell you the truth, I wouldn't go there if it weren't for the army presence. It ensures security in the presence of troublemakers."

    Ahmed also disputes the idea of a sectarian conflict. Young men, he says, "were lured into carrying weapons".

    For his two adult children, Ahmed wishes for "them to have better days. I want them to get an education, a good life to enjoy.

    "Before this all erupted, I came up with a proverb: 'The seeds are planted there, the fruits ripen here,' meaning that the conflict erupts in Syria, but the consequences spill over here in Lebanon," he adds. "It became true. I just wish we could get rid of sectarian thinking and all unite."

    Hana Awad: 'Both sides have good and bad people'
    'We are trying to coexist and live alongside each other. We visit each other and our children play with each other' [Courtesy of ICRC/Brandon Tauszik/Al Jazeera]

    Hana Awad, from Bab al-Tabbaneh, is the mother of seven children. Her husband was injured in clashes in Tripoli and was forced to close his car showroom due to the ongoing violence in the city.

    "My husband fell into depression and stayed at home, so I wanted to leave the house," she says, noting that her children dropped out of school at the height of the violence in the city.

    After embarking on a cooking training course with Lebanese kitchen collective Souk el-Tayeb and working with the ICRC on another cooking project, Hana now works full-time, and her children are back in school or working.

    Of the violence between the two neighbourhoods, Hana says that sometimes it would erupt for no real reason, "like two children getting into a fight.

    "We are trying to coexist and live alongside each other. We visit each other and our children play with each other," Hana says. "There are kind people and both sides have good and bad people. We try to teach our children to overcome hatred and violence."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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