Jenny October 18, 2012

When does a war end? And what about those things that don’t end, that stay unresolved? In Lebanon, more than 20 years after the civil war officially ended, many people continue to live, intimately, with what is not resolved from the war.

UMAM, a civil organization researching and documenting Lebanon’s war time history (a task that the government and political leaders continue to disregard), deals with exactly these questions. They have a space in Haret Hreik that’s very much worth a visit, and they arrange ongoing exhibitions and performances on the war and its consequences.

Last week, UMAM had put together a performance with former political detainees who spent time in Syrian prisons, as part of their comprehensive project “What is to be Done – Lebanon’s War-Loaded Memory”. One of the enduring issues that remain an open wound to those affected by it is the fate of these former prisoners.

The men had all spent time in Tadmor prison, one of the most tough detainments in Syria. In 1980, the execution of one thousand people (a conservative number) was ordered in one day. The detention center, which closed in 2001, was reopened last summer and is now housing people imprisoned during the current conflict.

The exhibit showcased items that were made by the detainees. Someone had made a football with using pieces of cloth and rubber gloves. There was also tiny rosaries, with elaborate patterns, made from olive pits and date seeds that had been shaped by rubbing them against the prison walls and decorated with small pieces of copper. Small heaters for heating liquid had been made by putting together pieces of wood with metal taken from sardine jar lids.

There was also a model of a prison cell in Tadmur. The city of Tadmur, more known as Palmyra, is a great ancient city and part of the grand historical heritage that is Syria. For too many though, the name will remain associated with suffering, not ancient grandeur.