Saturday, November 13, 2010

Canberra, Ankara and other 'fake' capitals

By Robert Fisk

"Just up behind my Beirut home is a narrow, shady laneway called Makhoul Street. And in Makhoul Street, there is a small shop with a rusting door behind which an Armenian sells ancient postcards of Beirut.

There is a picture of the port, the rear of a steam loco protruding from a small station. There is a tree-lined street with horses pulling a covered cart, Lebanese men wearing the old Ottoman tarbush, the distant roof of the St George Maronite cathedral. But it's the postmark that catches my attention, dated 11 October 1906. "Beirut, Syria," it says.

For of course, in the dying days of the Ottomans, Beirut was in a land whose regional capital was Damascus. True, the French were there in force under the political ruins of what were called the "capitulations" – French authorities ran the "Levant" post office – but the "Lebanese" regarded Damascus as their principal city. So what makes a city?.....

.... I guess, in the end, the capital is where you think it is. Beirut is now the capital of the totally artificial country of Lebanon. Politically, you might say its real capital is indeed still Damascus, in "sister" Syria. Some would say – after the recent presidential visit of the elected (?) leader of Iran – that Lebanon's "real" capital is Tehran. Tough one, that."

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