Monday, December 31, 2012

2013: Bring it on!

Not one to look backwards, it is with great anticipation that I go into this auspicious-numbered New Year.
Number 13 can be a lucky number for some or synonymous with bad luck for others. It’s like the case of the glass being half full or half empty... So I say, come on in 2013 and show us what you have in store.
Looking ahead to the New Year, here are a few hopes and wishes for the 12 months ahead:
I hope, first and foremost, for family and friends to be in good health. They are what make my world go round and round.
I hope to remain employed. Work is good. I have been fortunate to always have a job I love.
I hope to read about less fatalities and sufferings in our turbulent region -- for those countries struggling against tyranny to witness a new dawn.
I hope rape and sexual violence will fade away -- that the rapist or assaulter is punished, not the victim.
I hope there will be less road victims, especially at the start of the year. Please don’t drink and drive, don’t use your mobile phones while driving. Stay safe.
I hope to be able to keep writing. Maybe, one day, Mich Café will go viral!
I hope to keep smiling and to remain positive… the rest is not important.
I wish my readers a Happy New Year. This blog is my passion and you make it all worthwhile.
May your hopes and wishes come true as well.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from sunny Dubai

It is cold in other parts of the world and either grey, pouring or snowing. But December in Dubai is one of our best months. The temperature is slightly cool in the mornings and evenings and just right during the day.
Christmas in the sun is what I always dreamed of when living in London. Luckily the dream came true and it is my seventh Christmas in the sunshine.
Although not with immediate family, I am fortunate to be spending Christmas Day with my adoptive one. There will be a bit of pool time, then a BBQ lunch in the garden, in the sun.
It is also a time to think of those less fortunate and maybe spread a bit of the cheer their way.
Merry Christmas to my readers and have a wonderful day.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tale of 2 visions: For and against women

Najia Siddiqi  (Photo via Women in Revolution)
On December 9, the UAE Cabinet made it compulsory for corporations and government agencies to include women on their board of directors.
On December 10, the date chosen to honor the UN General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Najia Siddiqi, Afghanistan's director of Provincial Women's Affairs, was assassinated.
While UAE women are increasingly recognized as active participants in society, their opposite numbers are getting ever more fearful for their lives in such Taliban-dominated countries as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Sheikh Mo's Twitter page

Sheikh Mo's announcement on Twitter
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al Maktoum, or Sheikh Mo as we fondly refer to the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced to his more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter: “We have also made a decision to make the representation of women, in all the boards of directors of companies and government entities, compulsory…
"Women proved themselves in many workplaces and today we want them to have a strong presence in decision-making positions in our institutions.”
The UAE joins the likes of Italy, Spain, Norway, Belgium and Iceland, which have introduced board gender quotas and regulations to ensure women are represented on boards of directors.
Prayers before Najia Sididqi's funeral (AFP photo via
Najia Siddiqi was shot dead by two unidentified men while commuting on Human Rights Day in a motorized rickshaw in Mehtarlam in Pakistan’s eastern Laghman province. Hanifa Safi, her predecessor at the Provincial Women's Affairs, was killed when a magnetic bomb attached to her vehicle exploded in July.
The Facebook group Women in Revolution says, “This attack, especially on Human Rights Day, shows that those who killed Ms. Siddiqi have no respect for human rights or the safety of the Afghan people… She was a brave woman and we salute her for her unwavering dedication to women’s rights. Her efforts are remembered particularly since today marks the end of the 16 Days campaign for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.”
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Women's Global Leadership in 1991. Participants chose the dates, November 25, International Day Against Violence Against Women, and December 10, International Human Rights Day, in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights.
Women in Revolution also feature Fareeda "Kokikhel" Afridi, a Pashtun feminist and women's rights activist in Pakistan who was also shot dead on her way to work in July.
On July 5, 2012, as Afridi left her home in the Khyber tribal area to go to work in Hayatabad a suburb of Peshawar, two motorcyclists, who later escaped, shot her once in the head and twice in the neck. She died in hospital.
Fareeda Afridi (Photo via Women in Revolution)
Afridi was born and raised in the Khyber tribal area, part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), an impoverished semi-autonomous region in Pakistan's northwest, bordering Afghanistan.
She graduated from university with a master's degree in gender studies. While still a student, she founded with her sister, Noor Zia Afridi, the Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA), a women-run NGO promoting women's empowerment in FATA. Afridi was critical of the Pakistani government, the Taliban, and the patriarchal nature of Pakistani society. In June, a month before her killing, Afridi told journalists she was being threatened.
Women in Revolution was initiated to support all people fighting for freedom from oppression. “Our guiding light is the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- the first three articles define these as the right to equality, safety and justice.”
Their motto is “We are not here to be silent.”
Their immediate focus is on Syria, intending to provide aid to the Syrian people: to help them survive the winter months first, and then rebuild their country after Bashar al-Assad’s fall.
This is not to forget two teenagers from a conservative and poor area of Pakistan, who have also felt the long arm of the fundamentalist Taliban.
Taliban gunmen shot Malala Yousafzai, 14, in the head on October 9. She survived the shooting and was airlifted to the UK for treatment and the long road to recovery. Hina Khan, 16, is also being threatened and a target.
Malala is a pupil from the town of Mingora in the Swat Valley. She is known as an education and women’s rights activist in the area, where the Taliban have banned girls from attending school.
Hina is also known as an activist for education and women’s rights.
The Khan family is originally from the same Swat Valley area of Pakistan as Malala. It was under complete Taliban control from 2007 to 2009.
Hina and her family were forced to move to Islamabad in 2006 after publicly criticizing atrocities committed by militants.
It is definitely a tale of two visions – one where a country embraces all its citizens and looks to the future; the other ignoring more than half their populations and making violent leaps into the past.
Related posts:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dar Bistro and Books, an oasis in Beirut

Dar Bistro and Books
A two-week holiday in Beirut was truly too short to catch up with family and friends and take in all the new places that opened since my last visit 14 months ago.

My greatest pleasure when in Beirut is to walk everywhere and greet and be greeted left, right and center. Each time I am there, I notice new cafes, restaurants, shops and galleries sprouting in the city and the streets getting all the more busier well after midnight.
My discovery and favorite venue this trip was Dar Bistro and Books.
I heard so much about it that I went to check it out one afternoon with my cousin Lillian. And what a pleasant surprise it was!
Jasmine you can smell throughout the Dar garden

Dar is tucked away in a little side street in Wardieh Square, just after the petrol station. You can easily miss it if you don’t notice the signboard. It’s at the end of the cul-de-sac, in an old, traditional two-floor house set in a garden overflowing with jasmine and bougainvillea.
When you enter Dar, which is owned by Rima Abushakra, Dima Abulhusn and Ramzi Haidar, you leave the hustle and bustle of Hamra Street and step into a village house and garden.
I first heard about Dar on arrival in Beirut in mid-November, because it ran into some trouble recently and many friends thought it had closed down. It seems the BBC Beirut correspondent, who lives close to Dar, lobbied his political connections to shut it down.
Keeping the noise down
The reason for the dispute is the noise from Dar, which opened in July 2011. Dar has a music night on Fridays. The groups play indoors and usually stop before midnight. The problem is currently being sorted out, so out of discretion, I will not dwell into it.
The noise from cafes, restaurants and bars is one that residents all over Beirut are facing, including in Hamra, Monot and Gemmayzeh. It is all the more acute as patrons spill out onto the street and the outdoor seating areas since the no-smoking ruling came into effect a couple of months ago.
Dar is open, starting 8 a.m., for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As well as serving excellent food, Dar has a boutique bookshop, with a handpicked selection of titles, which I found very difficult to leave.
A couple of days later, we went back for dinner to introduce Dar to my sister Asma. The three of us enjoyed a yummy dinner, sitting outside in the garden, of four different plates that we shared. Riad, the manager, or Rima Abushakra, the owner, always greet you warmly.
The delicious meal we enjoyed...
... sitting outside
We had the Thai Beef Salad (shaved grilled beef, lettuce, shredded carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, cabbage, peanuts, with a tangy Thai ginger dressing, LL17,000); Musakkan (chicken wrapped in saj bread with spicy yogurt sauce, LL10,500); Halloumi sliders, LL13,500; and the Dar Goat Cheese Sandwich (goat cheese, oven roasted tomatoes, gilled zucchini with pesto on a baguette, served with chips, LL17,500). The service is excellent. Together with drinks and coffee it set us back $50, which is Dar’s price range of $10-to-$30 per person for a delightful meal.
The Dar bookstore
But that was not all. I went there again to take these pictures and stock up on books again. And I returned yet another time with Asma on my last day in Beirut for a morning coffee and a tête-à-tête.
I met Ibrahim Nehme and got a copy of The Outpost
Dar was always full of people planning, meeting, eating or visiting the current exhibition. You are always sure to meet a friend there. I ran into Ibrahim Nehme, the editor of the newly launched magazine, The Outpost, and was lucky to get my first hard copy, which I am still going through.
Dar Al Mussawir
On the floor above the bistro and bookstore, Dar hosts exhibitions and Dar Al Mussawir, a center that deals with all aspects of professional and amateur photography. It’s there that professionals and hobbyists can work on their projects and encourage the spread of photography.
Some vintage photography equipment...
... and more cameras at Dar Al Mussawir
Dar Al Mussawir is a multifunctional and vibrant space for emerging and accomplished photographers to share ideas, develop community projects and explore various photography concepts. Regular activities being held there include workshops, training programs, seminars, lectures, exhibitions, etc…
Dar Al Mussawir provides learning opportunities as well as equipment. It houses a darkroom, photo printing facilities, gallery space, a library of books and material on photography, a studio, and a room for photography training workshops.
I was kindly offered a copy of Lahza...
... and a tour of the center by Ibrahim Dirani
Dar Al Mussawir was set up as a Zakira (Memory) initiative and follows the center’s two projects, Lahza (2007) and After Lahza (2009). Zakira – The Image Festival Association was initiated and launched by Rami Haidar, a photojournalist himself, in 2007.
In Lahza (Arabic for glimpse), 500 disposable cameras were provided to 500 Palestinian children aged six to 12, living in Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps, to capture their everyday lives. Out of 13,000 captured photos, Zakira published a collection of 141 photos in a book that I was very kindly offered while visiting the center. The photos by the children are some of the best I have seen of life in the camps.
After Lahza provided advanced photography training to 250 marginalized Lebanese and Palestinian aged 14 to 18, focusing on dropouts and undereducated youth. The aim was to introduce the various communities to each other and provide them with photography as a tool to earn a living.
I have never seen so many cameras in one space and felt awkward taking pictures with my little digital thing. But I got the grand tour by Ibrahim Dirani and will treasure my Lahza gift.
Samir Kansoe exhibition
On exhibit at Dar Al Mussawir was Lebanese painter Samir Kansoe. I bumped into him on the second floor balcony and we got chatting about his paintings.
Samir Kansoe with one of his paintings
Kansoe, from South Lebanon, is a self-taught artist who began painting in 1986. Nuns, monks and convents influenced him when in school, without the religiosity. He draws inspiration from their rituals, as well as from nature, music and theater.(See more of Kansoe's paintings here.)
He began painting in black and white, and is now at his 16th exhibit, most of which were in Arab countries. His November 15-December 1 show in Beirut was his first and a start in the Lebanese capital he had shunned because he thought galleries were in it to just sell rather than display the art and introduce it to the public.
Kansoe black and white paintings
The upstairs balcony at Dar...
... looking down on the garden
Kansoe chose Dar as the ideal venue because it allowed people to simply pass by or stumble upon the exhibit, as I did, and view his work. Patrons from the bistro come up, students spend hours discussing his paintings and others sit with him and chat. He sought exposure to a public that didn’t know him.
Kansoe still finds it awkward to make money out of putting colors on paper. He doesn’t always draw, collecting his ideas in his head and then executing them.
I look forward to my next cappuccino at Dar...
... and a tête-à-tête with my sister Asma
Dar Bistro and Books is certainly one of the places to keep an eye on because of the myriad of interesting events taking place there.
If you haven’t been yet, or if you are visiting Beirut, don’t miss it.
I wish Rima, Dima and Ramzi and their team good luck and can’t wait to go back.

You can view more pictures of my visits to Dar Bistro and Books here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Angelina Jolie, William Hague to fight warzone rape

Angelina Jolie with a Syrian refugee in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley  in September

The fight against warzone rape got a big boost this week. Actress and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague have joined forces to fight warzone rape, most notably in Syria.

Speaking exclusively to Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman, Jolie explains why she can’t stay silent on warzone rape as the UK prepares to send an expert team to Syria to gather evidence and support rape victims.

William Hague to Channel 4 News on why rape in conflict matters
Hague told Channel 4 News a British team will enter Syria shortly, to support the growing number of women who are raped as the country continues to fight the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

He said he wants to emulate his hero, anti-slave trade campaigner William Wilberforce, by embarking on a mission to stamp out sexual violence. "The team will first be deployed to help Syrian refugees, I won't say exactly where for their safety,” Hague told Channel 4 News.

"This is a team of 70 people, doctors, lawyers, forensic experts, psychologists and they will have their first deployment to help Syrians fleeing the conflict, which has included sexual violence and rape as a weapon of war, to train local medical experts to gather medical evidence that can be used so that prosecutions can one day take place."

Angelina Jolie talks to Channel 4 News on war, rape and her UN role

Angelina Jolie has campaigned against rape as a weapon of war for many years. She has visited Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and called for an end to the violence in Syria, now in its 21st month.

Speaking to Channel 4 News on Saturday, Jolie said: "I think it (the deployment of British experts) must be done.

"I work a lot with refugees and you meet the people and they immediately want to start talking, they want to know what's happening to their future. They want to participate and put on record what is happening in the country.

"They want things not to be missed, they want to know one day they will be able to go home and there will be accountability. It matters to them emotionally and it matters to the future of their country on a legal level that they will be able to find some justice and move forward and have their basic human rights protected."

Asked whether she was thinking of giving up acting, Jolie replied, "Of course. I think I'm going to have to give up acting as kids hit the teenage years because there is going to be too much to manage at home."

She added, "But I have enjoyed being an actress... I will do some films. I'm so fortunate to have the job. It's a very lucky profession to be in. But if it went away tomorrow, I would be very happy to be at home with my children."

Jolie said, "I wake up in the morning and turn on the TV like everyone else and I see what is happening in the world. I want to be a part of the world in a positive way."

Jolie conducted more than 40 field visits around the world for the UNHCR, starting as a Goodwill Ambassador in 2001 and now as a Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The total number of Syrian registered refugees and individuals awaiting registration is 465,823 as of November 29, according to UNHCR. They are now living in camps and temporary homes inside Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.
Jolie visited Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq in September and witnessed Syrians crossing into Jordan, becoming refugees before her eyes.
"The amount of innocent children that have been reported dead, the amount of innocent children I've met here who are wounded and unaccompanied -- with their parents being killed and now they're on their own -- it's impossible to imagine any mother standing by and not stepping up and doing something to prevent this," she said then.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

UAE at 41 makes history young again

Today is my seventh UAE National Day in Dubai.

It is with thanks and joy that I join in celebrating my host country’s 41st anniversary.

I arrived in Dubai just before National Day in 2006. Since, it has since been a day to mark both milestones and an occasion for nationals and residents to count their blessings in a country that is happy, refined, united and supportive of its leaders.

Sunday, December 2, marks the formal independence of the UAE from the United Kingdom and the 1971 unification of its seven component emirates – namely, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Al Fujairah.

The “Spirit of the Union” is derived from the vision and leadership of the father of the nation, the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. It lives on through UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and their five fellow members of the Federal Supreme Council – Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi (ruler Sharjah), Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammad Al Sharqi (ruler of Al Fujairah), Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi (ruler of Ras Al Khaimah), Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mualla (ruler of Umm Al Quwain), and Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi (ruler of Ajman).

I landed in Dubai on Friday afternoon after a two-week holiday in Beirut. I was greeted with black skies, thunder, lightning and torrential rain -- all signs of khair and baraka for National Day.

Dubai and the six emirates are set to celebrate National Day after a month-long buildup. Public roads, villas, apartments and office buildings, gardens, parks, cars… practically everything is decked out in the colors of the UAE national flag, under the slogan “Spirit of the Nation.” And, us expatriates, are giving thanks for having a home away from home. This has been profusely expressed on Social Media platforms.

In the words of our beloved Sheikh Mo -- His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai:One main reason behind the success of our Union is the one-team spirit, found in every citizen. The way forward is to strengthen this spirit. We are one nation, with one constitution, one flag, one army, and one president -- Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed. Everyone, everywhere, must work hard as one team, one spirit, with one vision, and unified effort. That is the true Spirit of Union.”

The late Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid
Sheikh Mo says on his Facebook page: “We continue today talking about Spirit of Union. Last year, I spoke about a meeting between Zayed and Rashid that eventually led to the Union. Sheikh Zayed told Sheikh Rashid: ‘We laid the foundation, now we can build the wall.’ I never forgot such words, and later I understood what they meant. Zayed and Rashid were not dreaming of power or positions. They wanted to build a nation, with an army, airports, hospitals and universities. They achieved their vision. This is the Spirit of Union -- to have a vision and the inspired energy to achieve it. This is how history is made.”

Sheikh Mo's post on his Facebook page
“…I would like to share some thoughts and ideas under the banner of Spirit of the Union,” Sheikh Mo added. “First, I say to the youth of our beloved nation, the story of UAE is not limited to 41 years only. Our history stretches back thousands of years. Read about Umm al-Nar Civilization that goes back to more than 2000 BC, Jalfar in the 4th century and the remains in Jumeirah from the Umayyad era. Read about the stories of heroism of our people while facing the foreign invasions in the past few centuries. Knowing our history is a key part of the Spirit that ties us together. The great stories of our people will continue well into the future…”

Sheikh Mo plants a "Union Tree"
Sheikh Mo launched a tree-planting campaign in the Spirit of the Union at Union House, on Jumeirah Beach Road, where the first UAE flag was raised 41 years ago. He said, “I hope we all use National Day to plant a ‘Union Tree,’ taking care of it and maintaining it just like our Union. I also hope you share with me, on Twitter, photos of the ‘Union Trees’ you planted with your families and friends in your homes or workplaces. We will share these images with each other online and show the world, how much we love UAE and our Union.”

On Sheikh Mo’s advice, I went in search of information about Umm al-Nar. I hadn’t heard of it before.

The island of Umm al-Nar, close to the capital, Abu Dhabi, has given its name to one of the major periods in the history of southeastern Arabia -- the Umm al-Nar Civilization.

It turns out the island, first excavated in 1959 by a Danish team and subsequently surveyed by archaeologists from the UAE and Iraq, yielded finds dating back to around 2500-2000 BC when it was involved in fishing and the smelting of copper, exported to the empires of Mesopotamia.

Archaeologists discovered a cemetery of about 50 above-ground tombs. Some are round -- 6-12 meters in diameter, several meters high -- and divided into chambers accessed through small, trapezium-shaped entrances. Each chamber was designed to contain several bodies. The ring walls of the larger buildings were sometimes decorated with carvings of Oryx, ox, snakes and camels. 

Much can be determined about the activities of the islanders from the objects found within the tombs and throughout the settlement area.

One of the tombs at Umm al-Nar
These include personal adornments – necklaces, jewelry, gold hairpins; copper weapons and imported red pottery vessels crafted and decorated with elaborate designs. Fish hooks and net sinkers clearly illustrate the people’s dependence on the sea for food.

Dugongs or sea-cows seem to have been a staple of the diet and the hide and oil were also used. Now a protected species, dugongs must have once been plentiful, for many of their bones have been identified from the organic material found on the site.

It is almost certain the region underwent a significant climate change since there is no archaeological evidence of large stone buildings on the coast and islands off Abu Dhabi after around 2000 BC. The Bronze Age people could maybe not survive in the increasingly arid environment and developed a more nomadic lifestyle, returning to the islands only during the cooler winter season. This is supported by the analysis of the bones of birds no longer native to the region. These include the giant heron (Ardea bennuides), now extinct and known only from this site; the Darter (Anhinga melanogaster), now found no nearer than the marshes of the Tigris/Euphrates Delta; and Bruce’s green pigeon (Treron aff. waalia) which is found no closer than Dhofar in Oman. 

Since the late 1970s, Umm al-Nar has been the site of the UAE's first oil refinery, which refines crude from the onshore fields of the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO), for local consumption. Associated with the refinery is a chlorine plant, while there is also a major water desalination and power generation complex on the island. But the archaeological sites are carefully protected and preserved.

The Umm al-Nar Civilization expanded to settlements on the island of Ghanadha, between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In 1986, two burial sites were uncovered in Al Muwaihat in Ajman as well as evidence of the civilization in the village of Bidya north of Fujairah, Shamal in Ras Al Khaimah, Al Dur in Umm Al Quwain, Al Sofouh in Dubai and Maliha in Sharjah.

Some of the Tweets and Facebook posts
As one of the tens of thousands of expatriates who were lucky to land on the sunny, blissful and safe shores of the United Arab Emirates, I wish the country, its leaders and its people a Happy National Day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Armenian artist Galentz at Beirut Souks

Armenian artist Haroutin Galentz (Հարություն Կալենց
I am not much into art, unfortunately, despite a brother-in-law who was a painter and my avant-garde sister, Asma. But I tagged along with Asma and my friends Zepure and Yorki on Sunday (November 18) to a retrospective of the works of Armenian painter Haroutin Galentz at Beirut Souks.

Zepure grew up with the family in Tripoli, Lebanon, and was eager to see the exhibit and was also rewarded by a meeting with the painter’s son, Armen, who is in charge of the exhibit while it is in Beirut.

The retrospective is part of a travelling exhibition starting in Beirut before setting off to France and the U.S. next year.

It is being held at The Venue in Beirut Souks under the patronage of the Ministries of Culture of Armenia and Lebanon. It is sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of Armenia and organized by the Galentz Museum and Solidere in association with the Armenian Embassy in Beirut.

The retrospective, titled Two Lives, is the first by the Armenian painter. It offers a rare view of Galentz’ earliest drawings and covers the Lebanon 1930s and 1940s chapter, the Armenian period of the late 1960s and the connection between them.

Seashore Beirut - 1925 (oil on cardboard)
Armenia’s Minister of Culture Hasmik Poghosyan writes in a foreword of the exhibit’s catalogue: “…Haroutiun Galentz was one of those great and authentic artists against whom neither Turkish persecutors nor the Soviet authoritarian and tyrannical regime could fight. Moreover, those awful human and creative conditions gave birth to the incomparable art of Galentz, which had its great influence on the esthetical taste of the forthcoming generations…”

Wedding -- 1938 (gouache on paper, Galentz Museum)
Much of the details on the artist are from a chat with Armen Galentz and Alice Nersisyan of the Institute of Fine Arts and the National Academy of Sciences in Armenia and from the catalogue on sale at the exhibit.

The works on display include:
  • the early works of the artist dated 1926-1946 – the Lebanon period. There are bas-reliefs, sketches, caricatures, water colors, prints and oil paintings;
  • the bas-reliefs hall features those presented at the Lebanon pavilion at the World Expo in New York in 1933, among them the impressive and timeless seven-meter “Crafts of Lebanon.” Galentz was then awarded the Honorary Diploma of the High Commissioner of the Republic of Lebanon and the board of directors of the New York World Expo;
  • the 1942-1945 caricatures and posters showed for the first time. They were created for the French newspaper “En Route,” published during World War II; and
  • oil paintings from the Galentz Museum collection and some canvas from private collections in Beirut and Moscow.
Armen with 1959 oil on canvas of botanist Nora Gabrielian 
Galentz was born on Easter night -- March 27, 1910 -- in the small town of Gurun, in Sebastia vilayet of the Ottoman Empire, present day Turkey.

His father, Tiratur, owned a wool-dying factory, which left a profound impression on young Galentz with its vats of bright colors. The family was rather well off and the first five years of his life were those of a happy childhood.

In 1915, during the Armenian Genocide, Galentz’ father was arrested by Turkish soldiers. He was never seen again. Galentz, his three brothers and mother joined the March and escaped to Aleppo. A few days after their arduous trek into the Syrian city, Galentz’ mother died of starvation and fatigue. Galentz would later describe it as “the death march through the desert, with sore and bloody feet, in tattered clothes, famished, miserable and barely alive…”
Garbage collectors -- 1926 (pencil on paper, Galentz Museum)
Galentz and his three brothers were sent to an orphanage for Armenian children. After the first three years, he left the orphanage and settled with his paternal uncle and became an apprentice at a calligrapher’s shop. He cultivated his passion for art and was encouraged by one of the orphanage sisters. He often escaped the orphanage to roam around the Aleppo markets and paint.
Galentz says Onnig Avedissian, an Armenian artist who for a couple of months taught the 13-year-old boy the basics of painting, was his only teacher.
In 1927, the artist moved to Tripoli, Lebanon, where his two older brothers then lived. There he met French artist Claude Michulet, his teacher at the Beirut Academy of Fine Arts, where he taught painting until 1939. They were devoted friends until Michulet’s death in 1942.
Kurdish women -- oil on canvas, Galentz Museum
In 1930, Galentz settled in Beirut. He contributed to Beirut’s artistic life, held solo exhibitions and received commissions from companies and individuals, which culminated in the bas-reliefs for the 1933 World Expo.
In 1938, he took into apprenticeship Armine Paronyan. They married in 1943. Armine became a prominent Armenian painter alongside her husband. They had a son, Armen, who I met at the exhibit.
But in 1946, despite his growing success in Beirut, Galentz decided to return to Armenia as soon as Diaspora Armenians were able to repatriate.
The first 10 years in his motherland were difficult and challenging. After being feted and recognized in Lebanon, the family received a plot of land on a rocky hill outside the city and Galentz had to build his own house. He found himself among hostile locals for whom the repatriates were strangers. He also had no clue about the Soviet reality. He was lonesome and poor.
Self-portrait with pipe -- 1942, Galentz Museum)
For many years, he had to make a modest living from occasional commissions and working for himself in his studio. He had no solo exhibition. Between 1946 and 1949 his works were exhibited only twice. The Union of Artists deemed his paintings formalistic and cosmopolitan and they called him a Western artist – labels which were akin to a death sentence under Stalin. He was expelled from the Union of Artists but readmitted in 1951.
His life changed in 1956 when famous physicist Artem Alikhanian, a prominent and influential founder of Armenia’s schools of physics, became a devoted friend, patron, admirer and relentless promoter of his art.
His only solo exhibition during his lifetime took place in 1962 at the Union of Artists in Armenia. Solitude and oblivion gave way to vivid interest in the unique artist. His paintings, studio and home became the center of gravity for creative people. Among his closest friends were Eleonora Gabrielian, a biologist; Levon Mkrtchian, a philologist; and Hayk Vardanian, a scriptwriter. Scientists, authors, actors, art critics from all over the Soviet Union and other parts of the world visited him.
In May 1967, at his artistic peak, Galentz died of a heart attack on a bright sunny day. He was posthumously awarded Armenia’s State Prize in 1967.

Galentz’ house in Yerevan is now a museum. His paintings are also in the collections of National Museum of Armenia (Yerevan), Republic of Armenia’s Cultural Ministry as well as private collections in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tbilisi, New York, Paris, Vienna, Beirut, Aleppo, Cambridge, San Francisco, Los Angeles to list a few.
In 2010, Galentz’ renovated museum opened its doors in Yerevan to celebrate his centennial and I heard much about it from my cousin Lillian who had recently visited Armenia.
If you are in Beirut, I strongly recommend you spare an hour to go down to Beirut Souks and visit the exhibition. It is touching, compelling but soothing, vibrant and extremely impressive. You won’t regret it.
You can view more of the artists pictures at the exhibition here.