Beırut Letter Tripoli –An Ottoman City in Lebanon
Dr. Mohamad Sultan (GJC Lebanon Representative)
Tripoli Lebanon is an Arabic city with Ottoman leanings, many civilizations passed by this city, many conquerors, many voyagers and scholars. This city, located on the Mediterranean Sea, is witnessing regional conflicts to control or to gain access to its natural resources. The coast of the Mediterranean Sea is a region which had known never ending wars, under different labels. Tripoli Lebanon is influenced by the history and the present of the targeted region and fire is not far from this city which didn’t know peace and tranquility since the independence of Lebanon, with the political sectarianism that rules the country, although people with different sects and religions live in harmony and love. In the near term, with the regional changes and the international agreements that contribute in drawing a future map with the priority of the maritime relations between the countries located on the Mediterranean coast, Tripoli stands out because it has a Mediterranean view and a good advantage in navigation, trading, and maritime transport. Before turning into the present form with its present geographical boundaries, this city used to extend to different regions and places according to the governors who ruled it. Tripoli al-sham founded 700 years BC was the capital of Phoenicians 300 years BC, it was the union of three Phoenicians cities and that’s where the Greek origin of its name “Tripolis”, which means the three cities, comes from however historians did not agree on the origin of its name. This city had witnessed many eras like the Assiryan, Persian, Greek and Romanian which made its civilization grow, prosper and spread to many current Syrian cities like Jabla, Latakia and Tartous. When the Islamic conquests began to expand and headed to Sham, Muslims were obliged to control the coastal cities and that wasn’t possible without conquering Tripoli, one of the last castles of Byzantines, they had to control it because it was Threatening their earnings, especially that Muslims were not suited for sea combats, while their Byzantine enemies own fleets with better experience and efficiency to manage war. Tripoli was so important economically. It has an important port for merchandise disposal and export. The city was hard to conquer or to be trapped, with such an unattackable castle because it had a sea port that supplies it with food. So, Muslims decided to build a bastion face to it in order to trap it and watch its coasts from the coastal cities they controlled. After few months of siege the Muslim army finally dominated the city. The city captured the attention of the Umayyads during the rule of Muawiya bin abi Sefyan who built a Muslim fleet that won the battle “Zat sawari” and defeated the Byzantines. Then come the Fatimid who stayed in Egypt, thus Tripoli became more important because of the easy sea access to it, and it was famous for being the house of science. The city was again taken by the crusaders until the Mamelukes conquered it and made it their capital. Then come the ottomans who considered Tripoli al Sham as a state beside Aleppo and Damascus states and, according to this division, Tripoli included 27 districts extended from Kesrouan in the south to Latakia in the north and Hermel in the east, and it was the economic lung and the natural port of Homs, Hama and the Syrian interior. With the ottomans, Tripoli knew an urban renaissance for environmental and health reasons. They started a large development and construction of the city, Tall-square in the heart of Tripoli is a witness of ottoman buildings, they also were interested in culture as they founded 360 mosques and schools. After that, Tripoli was placed under the French mandate who found it as a good location to build an oil refinery and then a railways station to connect it to the Lebanese coast, mountains, the Bekaa, Damascus and Europe passing by Aleppo and Turkey. They also upgraded the port of Tripoli to be the most important port in Lebanon due to its maritime nature and its convenience to receive huge ships. But all this was just to serve their projects and their greed, and when people rose up because of the separation between Tripoli and Syria they bombarded the city. Tripoli faced the colonial projects until the independence but after that it was affected in the sixties by the political and financial feudalism. The Lebanese civil war hit Tripoli badly, it was a very bad sectarian war, there were severe battles between different political parties, and then the city was neglected economically. Historically Tripoli was very important commercially politically and economically because of its distinguished geographical location and its port and that’s what make many regional countries focus on it. The port of Tripoli received the biggest ship since it was found, the Chinese containers ship “ Nerval”, and in her report about the importance of Tripoli port in the reconstruction of Syria, the Financial Times mentioned that Chinese companies signed significant contracts with the port including estimated 58 million$, and Beijing had sent six cranes to enlarge and deepen it. The port receives now 2 million tones of merchandises and has a carrying capacity of 60%. The port administration is expecting to receive 200000 containers. And due to its existence on the Mediterranean coast it has a big value to all the surrounding countries, so their next aim will be to control the goods of this region and all of them are racing to take the place. The U.S. geological survey estimated in 2010 that the eastern Mediterranean sea contain more than 3.5 trillion m3 gas reserves and 1.7 milliard barrels of oil. All of this exists in Sham basins which includes Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. The primer surveys indicate that the big gas reserves are located in the Lebanese territorial waters, and Tripoli is one of the Lebanese coastal cities. All these numbers had been a stimulator for all the involved countries to be present on the Mediterranean map just to profit from the energy sources. For example Russia took its part by forcing its existence in Syria and controlling its Mediterranean ports, and Israel is trying hard to prevent Lebanon from oil exploration while the problem of border demarcation is still present. Turkey also is trying to intervene in the development of eastern Tripoli as the Turkish ambassador, HAKAN ÇAKIL, said last September that their country will offer development services for Tripoli and all the Lebanese towns to contribute in the economical improvement of this country. Also Turkey is really interested in Tripoli due to the similarity of customs, traditions and the family’s relationships, as Turkey had previously proposed to rehabilitate the historical train station and had repaired the Tall clock, the Hamidi mosque and the Mawlawi hospice.