Friday, October 23, 2015

an-Nahar on Amioun's Special Relationship with Russia

Arabic original here.

Amioun Meets the Russians

by Roula Hamid

Building on the twin cities agreement between the towns of Amioun in Koura and Mishovsk in Russia, the Imperial Orthodox Lebanese Cultural Society is preparing to open its first Russian language class.

The twin cities agreement, which was signed between the two towns in 2013, provides for cooperation in culture, economy and tourism-- including religious tourism and pilgrimage.

The society's president, Jirji Barakat, former mayor of the municipality, says that his society has obtained 20 annual scholarships for students wishing to pursue upper-level specialization in Russia and the ground must be prepared for them by providing them with familiarity with the language before they move to Russia.

Russia has focused on the region in an attempt to promote its culture and language and has founded schools in various parts of the Middle East, the number of which has reached 114 schools-- including 35 in Lebanon-- with 15 thousand students. These schools have contributed to the development of the societies in which they are found by providing free modern education as well as the necessary books and supplies.

Amioun as a Model

Many regions of Lebanon have played an important role in interaction with the Russians and no region is without a Russian school. However, the town of Amioun in Koura is considered the capital of Lebanese Orthodoxy, as its residents are proud of saying, and has historically had the most interaction with Russia.

In recent years, some of the people of Amioun started to frequent Russian authorities and the Russian Cultural Center. With time, there awakened the relationship that has tied Amioun to Russia. "Our relations are friendly. Our mutual visits have established a close relationship between the Russians and us inspired by the relations that prevailed in the late 19th century between Amioun and the Russian Empire," as the former mayor of Amioun, Jirji Barakat, tells an-Nahar. He has contributed to reviving the relationship with the Russians by establishing in 2013 an "Amiouni" society with a group of his friends called the Imperial Orthodox Lebanese Cultural Society.

Barakat explains the development of these relations and says, "We started by exchanging ideas about the joint work that we could undertake through these relationships. The twinning between the city of Amioun and the city of Mishovsk in Southern Russia presented itself and the embassy helped with this. All the meetings have taken place through the embassy."

He discussed the dimensions of the twinning, saying that it "incorporates a large group of economic, artistic and sports relationships and various visits involving Russians and Lebanese in general, so that the Russians can learn about our civilization, our situation, and everything connected to our history and also so that we can get to know Russian civilization in its various aspects. The twinning has created a sort of friendliness and friendship between us, especially in the town of Mishovsk."

Barakat then talks about the pillars of the relationship, which he divides along three axes: "The touristic axis has investigated along with the mother society, the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society, about Koura and Amioun being a location for pilgrims who are coming to visit the Middle East."

According to Barakat, the economic axis pertains to "the agricultural produce of Koura in particular and Lebanon in general because the society exists at the level of Lebanon and the whole Middle East. At this level there is an agreement to export products, particularly olives, soap and olive oil products to Russia."

The third axis is cultural, which includes religion. Barakat continues, "In our being Orthodox and our being Middle Easterners, we feel a longing for Russian Orthodoxy, which contributed to the creation of a social and cultural renaissance in the late 19th century, when it adopted and ran the school in Amioun in 1895 and it took in 450 boys and girls."

Regarding further development of the relationship, Barakat says, "We have found great interest in our relationship with the Russians. Through Russia's entering Syria, we find that they would like to re-establish their role that prevailed in the past. There is no doubt that Russia's entry into the war in Syria is not temporary. It will perhaps last for a long period like the other major countries like America, Britain and France, which search for roles in the region. There is no doubt that the aim of the major countries is primarily economic, with gas lines being the main goal."

As for Amioun, he says, "We have the spiritual line that we believe is likely one of the reasons for bringing us together."

In closing, Barakat presents the trip made by a large group from Amioun and Koura which included about 70 people. During it, they visited the city twinned with Amioun during the celebration of the Russian victory over Napoleon, and concluded with a visit to the Kremlin, where the delegation was met by a representative of the Russian President Putin.

Barakat proudly quotes what Putin's representative said to the delegation: "We left the Middle East in 1914 and we thank Jirji Barakat who brought us back one hundred years later."

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