Friday, June 06, 2008

The family history...

My previous post got me interested in my family history, so I thought I would relate some of what I know of it. In many ways, it is the story of the Middle East, of migrations, different peoples, mingling and mixing together. From my father's side, they were Ottoman Turks and I have spoken of that already. Interestingly, my great grandmother was Christian, though she and my great grandfather divorced after the children grew older for whatever reason. All of her family had emigrated to Argentina and none remain in Syria, but she remained to raise my grandfather and his brother. She died many years later after an accidental fall from her balcony, in an old house that my father pointed out to me was where they used to live in Damascus. That area has now been torn down. One of her sons became a politician and member of parliament (I need to ask which government it was), imprisoned briefly during the "correctional movement", the other, my grandfather, had an interesting life as, first, a chief of the Damascus fire brigade, then as an officer of some sort in the police. A keen sportsman, I was surprised to see he had taken part in competitive body building when I saw a black and white photo of a muscular, oiled up man in speedos smiling candidly to the camera. It surprised me because my grandfather had also been a deeply religous man. He was also captain of the fire departments football team (Goal keeper) and had apparently once trained a Syrian rowing team to go compete in competitions in Egypt. Syria, with no rowing tradition and no rivers which can match the mighty Nile, defeated the strong Egyptian team and won the gold apparently. He married my grandmother, who bore him eight children, and remained with her till he passed away in the year 2000. He had retired from the police shortly after the "correctional movement" when it transpired that someone had been handing out leaflets calling for the overthrow of the government. Under house arrest for a year, he resigned as soon as he was reinstated, saying "this time it is house arrest, next time you might hang me...". My fathers fondest memory is of being with him at the police station when news broke out of the split in the U.A.R. A mob had gathered round the station to take down the flag and my grandfather had faced them down. He fired his pistol in the air and said that the first person who comes near the flag gets it. The mob quickly dispersed. I remember that he was a tall man, broad shouldered, fair skinned with greyish eyes and a broad smile. He was also a hard man, according to my family, and extremely strict yet just.

Yet while my grandfather was stern and didn't like socialising, my grandmother was bubbly and gregarious. Her father was even more so and it is said that he married over seventy times in his long life. He used to boast to my father and his brothers and sisters that he had never had a woman in 7aram (out of wedlock) and that once, on a boat trip to Egypt, he had married a woman legitimately with an Imam and two witnesses, then divorced as soon as they landed in Egypt. I don't know if that is true but it is highly amusing. He was also extremely industrious and used to get kids to pay a few franks (Syrian) for a quick ride on the 7antour (carriage) he owned even if he was running his own errands. A firm believer in "every little helps".

From my mothers side the story is just as interesting. My maternal grandfather's roots are from the Arabian peninsula. Some time in the late 19th century, three brothers separated, not knowing if they would ever meet again. One remained in the Hejaz, the second moved to Hama in present day Syria and the third moved to Istanbul, then the capital of the Ottoman empire. They were traders and merchants but in what, I don't know. There is a quaint family history I heard, that his grandson, my great great grandfather, had discovered a cache of gold jewellery and coins in several very old jars. He never shared this secret with anyone, apart from a great aunt of mine who told her nephews and children that as a child, they were all being given a bath, but that she had snuck away and had seen him in a room with the jars. He told her to come to him, he let her try on some of the beautiful jewellery and to look at the coins. He then told her not to tell a living soul about this, ever. That this gold, neither them, nor their children, nor their childrens children will ever lay a finger on. Bizarre, yet it turned out to be true. The house they lived in was destroyed in the "events" of Hama in 1982 and if these things were hidden, they have surely been either looted or lost forever now.

My maternal grandmother is a Circassian and her great grandfather had left the Caucasus in the late 19th century as well. He had fled the ethnic cleansing and genocide perpetrated by the Czars soldiers as they invaded, fleeing to the Muslim Ottoman empire. He and his sister made their way down through Turkey towards Syria, where they were waylaid by bandits. His sister was captured and after a desparate attempt to look for her, had to make his way on without her, he never saw her again. He settled in the area known today as Marj al Sultan (the Sultan's meadow) where there is a thriving Circassian community and eventually managed to buy a piece of land.

Anyhow, enough of my ramblings, I'm sure you all really wanted to know this..

11 comments:

Karin said...

You bet!! It's fascinating - I am always very fond of tracking down one's roots!

Personally I am not THAT lucky though concerning the details. My paternal side is deeply rooted in Munich, Germany - at least for three generations, maybe more, I don't know. Needless to say I consider myself a patriotic Bavarian ...

My dad passed away 10 years ago.

My maternal side is more complex. Born some 300 km north of Munich not far from the former tschechoslivakian boarder, my mom came to Munich in 1950 ... and stayed there ever since. I dont know much about her family.

She's going on 85 now, sharp like a whistle, interested in politics and everything else going on around her and in the world ... and up and around as well as downtown every single day! She's fantastic and I am VERY VERY PROUD of her!!

Im a native of Munich ... and so is my sister.

That's it - in a nutshell!

Thanks for a GREAT post! :-)

Ibn Bint Jbeil said...

i truly enjoyed reading it... you truly are diverse in your roots.. as opposed to me, who is 7/8 bint jbeili and 1/8 persian, but all 8/8 of my great grandparents lived in bint jbeil. ha ha! i guess they didn't like to travel much out of their little village back then.

poshlemon said...

Wassim,

yes it was enjoyable :) And as IBJ said, you are indeed quite diverse in your roots and that's very enriching. Unlike you, my paternal origins are from a Greek Orthodox village in Mount Lebanon, although I've never been there ever. My mother's parents are from the mountain villages of North Lebanon, also Greek Orthodox. Mind you, I am very secular. This whole religious thing is very cultural for me. If I had to associate myself with any religion, I'd say I am an amalgam of my own version of Greek Orthodoxy and my own modest understanding of Islam.

Okay that's about it. I'm not sure if you really wanted to know all this...

Wassim said...

Thanks guys! It is amazing the richness of the stories we all carry inside us. I always enjoy people telling me things that happened a long time ago in their families. It brings to life something which happened long ago and fascinates me.

Hisham said...

Absolutely fascinating story... I don't think I have that much drama and excitement in my own family history but I have to admit I never really searched the matter.
I think there is the potential for a good book!
Has the idea of a book ever tempted you Wassim?

Lirun said...

so u are settlers?

Wassim said...

Lirun,
It is telling perhaps that you, as an Israeli, can only understand this post in terms of settlement and colonialism. Truly, you can judge a tree by its fruit.

qunfuz said...

an excellent post, Wassim. Really fascinating. You should find out more and one day write us an even more detailed installment.

Lirun said...

wassim

it is telling that you can only see an israeli when i write.. that when convenient you call me a jewish arab.. other times im a european colonialist and today im plainly israeli..

in your eyes i will never be me.. just a dart board for your poisonous hatred to whatever you have been brainwashed to hate..

doesnt bother me ya habibi.. :)

taamarbuuta said...

You are lucky to know so much! Of my father's side, which goes back over four hundred years in the U.S., I know a lot. There are streets named for his family all over my home state. But my mother is of a much newer generation to the U.S. and I sadly don't know much about her family at all.

taamarbuuta said...

It's probably worth adding that I don't know much because the spelling of her family name was changed when they arrived in the States.