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Rafi Karakachian- the role of Hezbollah

Civil war in Lebanon … Hezbollah … Hassan Nasrallah … You and I have the same right … Western media … People living together with equal rights … One-state country … With will and determination, any unfair situation will have to end.

Rafi and his family resisted the war by staying in Beirut! They were able to go anywhere since they have 3 passports/nationalities and lived abroad before the war which lasted for 13 years!

The initial plan of the Americans was to give Lebanon to the Palestinians and solve the Palestinian issue: to take Lebanon and forget about Israel and Palestine. So at one point, they came all the way to these towns here (above Beirut), which is Christian neighbourhood, with Christian headquarters in another village half an hour from here. So it became very scary, They were basically being able to invade the most critical areas of Lebanon in terms of Palestinians. At that point the Christian leadership asked Syria to intervene. To stop the plan. So the Syrians came in and they stopped the plan basically. So that was the first blow to Israeli-American plan. And The Syrians started pushing them back to where they were, to their camps and they invaded back all the area that Palestinians were taking control of.

And then, when that failed, the next step was for the Israelis to invade. So in 1982 they started. I remember that very very well, like today: 6th of June 1982. We were at the friend’s house in the mountains, having fun, barbecue, a big group of friends. On the way back on the radio we hear that Israeli invasion of Lebanon started. And we went home, you know it was like a shock and then few days later they were at the border of Beirut. And then we had a new elected president Bachir Gemayel, Christian militia leader, according to the Syrians, he was collaborating with the Israelis. So somebody assassinated him, they saying it’s the Syrians, but we don’t know for a fact. So when that happened, the Israelis came and invaded west Beirut, which is the Muslim area and then they went to east Beirut, which is the Christian part. But in the Christian part they were not invaders, they were guests. And there they were going to restaurants… So on the one side of Beirut they were invading it, on the other side they were having fun.

Then in 1982, when Israeli invaded and settled, there was no Hezbollah. It was resistance of all… all kinds of Lebanese wanted to resist. So they started organising themselves, and Hezbollah was one of these parties. And they started resisting. How? Like: they see military car, Israeli car going on the street, they throw a grenade. Soldiers die, one, two tree, four, five, every day, several times a day. It’s starting becoming a problem, the Israeli started pulling out. They pulled out of Beirut and they settled in the south. The Lebanese army was divided, so Lebanese army in the south became their collaborator. The Hezbollah – mostly the Shia – were also mostly in the south, and throughout Lebanese history they were neglected. Basically, Israeli used to come, and do things…I mean, nobody cared about them. Really. The political institution, the army, nobody cared about them. So they had to take care about their own safety… So they organised. And of course, they had the support of other countries – that time Syria, because Syria was also in Lebanon – so we had Israeli army, Syrian army and the Resistance, and the fighting militias. And they (Hezbollah) became very organised. Secrecy – until today they don’t understand how they operate and with the Israelis spying and all their capacities, they can’t locate where they are. Even Nasrallah who is their leader, they don’t know where he is. He’s underground, maybe it’s been for 10 years now.

So the Resistance kept going and then at one point it was becoming unbearable for the Israelis. Year 2000, sometime in the summer, overnight, without telling even their collaborators (the Lebanese), they (Israeli) pulled out. They left in one day. And that was the day of celebrations. And then we had several times many foreign armies coming as if stopping the war.

We (Rafi and wife Arda) lived the first 11 years and then we left to the States. The war between the Lebanese fighting fractions stopped in 1990. But Israel was still here, in the south. In 2000, after the Resistance succeed to push the Israelis out, and they started becoming very strong, in 2006 Israelis decided to invade Lebanon again, to get rid of Hezbollah. There still is a small portion, until today, which is not Israel, it’s Lebanese, but they (Israeli) are still there, and also the official borders are not very clear, whether it belongs to Lebanon or Syria.

And there were always clashes on the border between Israel and Hezbollah: they tried to go in, they do things, the Israeli fly almost every day, as tourists with their air force. So the problem was still there, because the Hezbollah proved to be effective and they started to be a model for Palestinians in Palestine. Reporting of that invasion, the western media – all of them, CNN, BBC, you name it, the western mass media – did a huge campaign to heavily demoralise the Lebanese.

The Israelis started heavily bombarding the south, like crazy, everywhere, villages… So Nasrallah had a speech, he said: all the civilians just leave, go out, wherever you are, let only the Resistance stay. The refugees were here, everywhere, in the mountains, in Beirut, they settled in schools which were opened for them. So the media bombarded us with fake news, bad news to demoralise us, and the point was that Israel is bombarding, destroying Lebanon because of Hezbollah: like we don’t want Hezbollah anymore, just give away your arms and let’s have peace. But fortunately that didn’t happen. And in fact, all the news was fake!

And Nasrallah at the time – they have a TV channel and the Israelis couldn’t find where this TV channel was spreading the news from, where the antennas were – went underground and every day he comes on TV at night and says don’t believe these news, we are advancing, they are retreating, and don’t believe anything they are saying. One day he came on the news and said:  OK, to prove myself, whoever is in Tyre, there is an Israeli boat in the sea,10 min from now go on the balconies, we will hit the boat, just to prove myself. People went out the their balconies and saw how they hit the boat.

I can tell you another story of western news mechanism: in 2006, one day the Israeli threatened to hit Beirut so Nasrallah came on TV and said: if you hit Beirut, we will hit Tel Aviv. Five minutes later I turned on CNN. Headline news, breaking news: Nasrallah in threatening to hit Tel Aviv. But the guy didn’t say that, he said if you hit Beirut, we will hit Tel Aviv. So of course, American public opinion: Nasrallah is going to hit Tel Aviv, he’s a terrorist, he will hit the civilians. This type of things we were witnessing every day, every minute, every moment. Anything what western media says, I believe the opposite, because that’s what we saw. The lying mechanism, it’s their expertise.

Finally, with the intervention of Americans and then some other countries, they came and they claim a ceasefire. The war stopped…at the end they made this resolution, which was not to Israeli advantage. It was just something on the paper to stop the war. And to save faces. And Israelis pulled out, the second invasion didn’t succeed either. And from that point on Hezbollah started getting help from Iran, starting getting stronger and stronger. Their policy was  OK: we will start manufacturing our own weapons, our own missiles and everything that we need. And they’re doing that. In 2005 the Syrians pulled out, then Israelis went out, and Lebanon now is now Lebanon, with only Lebanon army.

And, to tell you about Hezbollah discipline: in 2000 when all people fled south Lebanon and came into Beirut, settled in schools, we were helping them, volunteering to help them, give them food and whatever. So when the ceasefire happened, Nasrallah came again on TV and he said: tomorrow, everybody goes back to their villages, we will take care of you. Even if you don’t have a place to stay, if your house is underground, don’t worry, we will take care of you.” And they did. The refugees were also in our school, the Armenian school (across the street of our home) and they left the next day. The next day they sent people from their party to clean up the school and give it back to us the way they took it. And they did this in every school…can you imagine? And they are called terrorists…?

Yes, this is the reality. And until today some parties in Lebanon they say  OK you did your job, bravo, Israelis are not here anymore, just give away your weapon…the only thing that is stopping the Israeli to do the same thing, is that. Because we (Lebanon) still don’t have an army. We have an army, very good army, but it’s like internal police. They cannot stop any invasion.

And they (Hezbollah) are gaining ground in the whole region. Because what happened in Lebanon, this Resistance, is now happening within Israel, not the West Bank. They decided, I’m saying that unfortunately, but they came to the conclusion that the only way these people will understand and come to the table and negotiate a long term peace, is arm struggle.

And now, there is this Mayadeen channel, which is very pro-Palestinian highly professional TV channel, with amazing journalists and amazing talk shows, with very global view on things and highly connected to centres of power resisting the Americans. If you watch that TV, they are so hopeful that even our generation will see the end of Israel. They are saying it’s coming. We hear things from TV like that in Israel, where Arab-Palestinians and a lot of Jews talk about one state solution: we have one state and we live together like we used to live. DđAnd do you know, there is an amazing Israeli journalist that writes in the Haaretz, he’s called Gideon Levi, he’s a very pro-Palestinian guy and he keeps writing in Haaretz, I don’t know how they allow him, well Haaretz is the leftist newspaper, but still, having the guts to say all these things… So there is an intellectual class in Israel that is with the one state solution, and they see it as the only solution, only logical and long-term solution. Real peace, you know…not with one dominating the other or having doubts on each other.

And also the Hezbollah channel, they have a program where they show the Lebanese people everything that Israelis – the politicians, the military – talk between themselves on their TVs about the situation…and it’s panic mode, they’re saying basically: we have no solution, what can we do? The same thing that happened in Lebanon is happening there now: the guys have decided we have nothing to lose, they’re strangling us. The only way the Israelis understand is “if you kill me I kill you, If you kill my child, I will kill your child, Eye for eye”. So: don’t kill me, I will not kill you. Let’s talk. But if you kill me, I will kill you, this is the only way we can deal with this situation. We have reached the point where we cannot throw stones and then you shoot us. This is over. Unfortunately, but this is it. Because they’re not stopping. You act peacefully, the Israeli act violently, and now they are in a panic mode nobody has seen it like this until now. Because it’s happening with Palestinians within Israel: the Intifada is everywhere and it’s armed.

Hezbollah is not the army, that’s their strength. They do trainings in all kinds of condition. And with “mental training” somehow religion helps: in their thinking you have the same right. You cannot take away my right. It’s religious, it is the message of Allah: you and I have the same right. You cannot step on my foot. I will not step on yours but if you step on my foot I will take care of you. That’s why they call them Islamic resistance – their ideology comes from the religion. They are defending themselves and they have a right to do it, internationally. So I cannot be against them, even if I’m not happy. If you’re defending yourself, and that is causing some problem to me, I cannot tell you not to defend yourself.

The regime in Lebanon is, as I said, the majority is still with the Resistance. So in the parliament they have a majority, And they will continue having; it’s not getting weaker, it’s getting stronger.

So the official government believe that with the Resistance, the end of Israel is close. And this is not analyses, because if you watch their TVs, what they’re talking – the Israeli, the politicians and the Mossad and the military, what they’re talking among themselves, you really feel that. I mean, in the panic mode, they’re saying: we don’t have a solution. The people in Israel are criticising their regime, the military being not able to do anything…it’s over, there’s no way to stop this. It’s what they are saying, so that’s why it’s very interesting and very convincing.

And the next step?…I think, it’s been a while they’ve been talking about two states solution. I think they will go for one state solution. And there will be one country, people living together with equal rights. Not a jewish state, islamic state, not a christian state, a state, let them call it the Holly land, Palestine, whatever they call it :), but they all have the same rights and they will live together, and the refugees, Palestinians, they have to return to their homes. This is an UN resolution, it’s not anything that’s not accepted by the world: UN resolution 425 from 1978 talks about that, about the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, not West Bank. This is an UN resolution, so why every UN resolution should apply to Syria and Jemen and Iraq and all that, and not to Israel? Why? Because the Americans veto it, that’s the only reason.

I believe there is a chance that things will change, maybe in my life, but it doesn’t matter. But eventually, whether now or in hundred years, this will happen…I’m starting to believe that I will see it. Definitely, I don’t mind not seeing 🙂 but if I see it, it’s a bonus 🙂

And the Palestinians they are determined and that’s the way things are evolving. We’re seeing it here very clearly, were seeing how the Israeli-American policy is not moving on, they’re failing everywhere. Because it’s not fair, as simple as that. And when it’s not fair and you have a will to resist, and you have a power to resist. The case is that resistance have the will and the power and capacity to do that. And it’s happening, we’re seeing the result.

Also, for Palestinians, one state solution is the only one. Like, what would you do with those refugees on Israeli land? And UN resolution says that have the right to return. The zionists are scared that if they go back to Israel, they will multiply much faster and demographically things will change over time…  OK, which is right, so what do you do? And these people have the right, acknowledge by the international community to return home, there is a resolution. Until when can the US do this, when there is a resolution?

During all the years between 1982 and 2000, when the Israelis were here and the Resistance was resisting, the ones who were not with the Resistance, they always kept saying: what are you guys doing, are you stupid, can you fight the Israeli army? Well, they could, this is a fact. At the end, if you have the will and the determination, any unfair situation will have to end. It cannot go on forever. It’s not sustainable. I mean, who can name one empire that has survived forever, starting with the Romans, ending with the British and the French and the colonialists and everything, and Hitler and Germany and Russia, Soviet Union.

Nasrallah, in many speeches he asks: “guys, do you believe that we’re happy with these situations that our kids are going and being killed, and resisting and being killed? Can a logical mind accept that we’re happy with this situation? Of course we’re not. Once this is over all this will go to Lebanese army. But until that happens and as long the Lebanese army is not allowed to be armed, what can we do? This is the only solution.” This is what says the guy, can you believe it? But the people who criticise them and their supporters, they don’t even listen to what he says, Nasrallah is evil for them, he’s a terrorist.

And why would I support him? I’m neither a Shia nor this nor that, I’m like watching from outside, then why would I support it? If I don’t find it logical? And why would more than half of the Christians support him? If he’s a Shia? That’s not a case, it’s a political issue.

Now there are some information, it’s rumours but most probably very true that the Pope is planning to come to Lebanon, soon. And there are rumours when he comes will meet the Hezbollah leadership. Which is a big big blow to the Christians who are payed by the Saudis and the Americans to discredit Hezbollah.

And the money that these countries threw in this Lebanese elections, which happened in the beginning of July 2022, to gain the elections against Hezbollah, it was unimaginable. And they failed. They were campaigning, like the Saudi ambassador, he was campaigning, openly. The American ambassador was going and meeting all these leaderships of the parties who are against Hezbollah, openly. I mean, diplomatically it’s not acceptable. And we are watching all this and they want us to say bravo, we are with you. And, they lost, they didn’t get the majority over Hezbollah! So I’m very optimistic.

And somehow, staying in Lebanon is my way of participating in this resistance. Because I can very easily leave, I have the passport, I have the citizenship, I can go.

Rafi Karakachian, more abour arhitecture

… in the past, people didn’t sit under the shade of what they planted. We’re losing this concept altogether.

All these buildings which are owned, but nobody is there…

 The issue of continuity

… Life … It’s not history, it’s evolution, and it’s change

… Architecture and architects… … Survival 

… vernacular architecture…

Nowadays, if I’m the client, I want my tree to look as an 80 year old tree, under which I will sit when the project is completed. And this becomes a way of life, which means that all the time that is required to grow a tree you detach from the process. That’s why you start wanting things that have nothing to do with the process that’s natural. This is a shame.

For me, nature is a process.

I would love to renovate what is there, to tear down what’s not good and then put trees there. All these buildings which are owned but nobody is there, they have no use, except money laundry. Would take them out. Of course, if there is a need for it, not. I also think that population growth is going crazy in the world, it should go back.

This issue of continuity…are you familiar with Krishnamurti? All these time related issues, continuity and all that which come with memory, is also very problematic. So in nature, the tree grows, but it’s not attached to the memory and it’s open to change… They live the moment. So if you live the moment, it means there is no time. And if you’re doing anything… OK, you only need memory for practical things, but we have overestimated it, in my opinion, and it has gained so much value that we are in the trap of memory and time and all that. So even archaeology and all that, OK, I know the value, history, tradition… There is nice funny definition of tradition. It says tradition is “peer pressure from the people who are dead”. History as an institution or as an education is new. Like primitive people, they have history, but they don’t think of history, they are history… The term “history” has certain connotations which is a problem. So all these worlds that we have created, I am starting to have issues with it, unless we just give them the right value, OK: history is good for this only. It’s good to be destroyed somehow, without attachment.

Also sometimes, if you go to primitive tribes which still exist today, the evolution there is extremely slow, if there is any. But they’re very natural people. Let me put it very simply: if I can live like an animal consciously, that’s what I’m aiming for. Like when I watch my cat, I’m learning much more from a cat than I have learned all my life through all experiences. Not getting bored.

Life… It’s not history, it’s evolution, and it’s change. It’s adapting to the present all the time, eternally. And present is never the same. Animals have a synchronicity which we have lost. So change and evolution in that sense make sense because it’s the nature’s way of being.

Architecture and architects… In what we do, the need and necessity are not in equation. Everything we’re doing is not needed, even the client doesn’t need it. They already have 10,000 houses. This is the 11,000th.

Survival. Unfortunately… Yes, I could cook. But even cooking, restaurants and all that, the logic is the same, it’s entertainment. And 99% of what we do is entertainment. Why don’t I go home and eat when I’m hungry? And when I’m hungry, I will eat with art, because that’s also part of me. That’s why I was saying: food for me is the highest form of art. Because it’s needed. It’s not that I’m against art. If you approach art with that kind of perspective, then even art would be a lot different. Even art is becoming an institution and it’s extending what we’re doing. Things would evolve and grow differently. But now it comes down to consumption. We’re consuming without thinking.

I’m educated in this system. But when I started looking at things differently, even these needs that I had had changed. I don’t have the same needs anymore. For me now, sitting on my balcony and watching the sea, just watching the sea, has become as satisfying as an experience of doing something. It’s doing something else. It’s being. And then, I might do something. The process, the rhythm, the drive, they’re all different, they’re not the same. Before I needed to do something ten times, now once I year is enough maybe. That’s what I’m saying, and if we keep telling to ourselves that this is a need… Maybe it’s a desire. For me, a need is something that’s external, it’s within interconnectivity, it doesn’t depend on me. I have to eat, I need the light. That is need. Another thing is what I decide to do, it has nothing to do with you, the other. The need is about the interconnectedness. So if you live with that perspective, the desires, they are still there but they don’t impose themselves, they go with the flow, you know when to stop and when to leave them happen. Which are the spontaneity, the accidents in the nature. Unexpected things happen, maybe in the bigger picture there’s nothing unexpected. But something you were not expecting, happens.

So that rhythm, it’s there. If we live the way I was describing, if you look at things that way, you’ll still be creative, but in a different way, in a different rhythm. Now, everything has become an institution, as if they are sustaining themselves, it becomes raison d’être for every institution. They want to keep themselves before anything else, they forgot why they are there for. Unfortunately.

That’s why I like vernacular architecture; an architecture where there were no architects. Where things were done out of a need. You need a shelter. And no other parasites, egos… nothing. And you look at the result, it’s perfect. It blends with everything. You bring the architect and the signature and everything gets spoiled. This is what I’m observing. Of course, there are exceptions, I’m generalizing a little. But in general, that’s how I’m seeing it. Unfortunately. I know this is an extreme position, but…

I ask if building lives or doesn’t live for itself… When you see a building – is that the building or the architect behind the building? Or is that the teacher who taught the architect behind the building? So again, you go back to interconnectedness and everything. The building is the outcome of a process. It has a purpose, it serves a purpose, and its cause. It’s life, and you have to let it be that.

Without people? Well, it has its life because it’s there, but when you look at it, it has its life through you. They don’t contradict each other. It’s there, I did this and then I died. But it is still there and I’m under the ground. Building is still there and it has its own life until it disappears one day. But then, if another person comes and sits on this, it will have a life in relation to that person, and the person will have a life in relation with the building… So it’s all being, in different forms, an observer is there, another observer comes…

I have a problem of categorization. I know the logic behind it and I know the function of categorizing, but I should be aware of what categorization is for us. If it becomes the aim, then I have a problem. It has a function and I don’t want it to go beyond that function. And Krishnamurti says it very well: words, any word you say, it’s an abstraction. It’s not the reality. It’s an approximation and abstraction. So in any word… The word can be very tricky if you take a word as a thing. But if you’re aware that it’s just an abstraction to say something, then OK. But I guess, today’s society, we’ve forgotten all this, probably.


Vernacular architecture, OK, you go to these Greek islands, you go to the medieval cities where there was no architect. They just built because they needed to build. And for me, that type of architecture – forget the churches and all that, even if it’s the most beautiful, I don’t care, I would rather not have it, to tell you the truth – that type of architecture, which comes from the people and their needs, for me it’s so beautiful, so simple, with so little consumption. And there’s no name of any architect. Once you put the name, which is the ego and everything else, then it falls apart. Then you can produce an amazing gothic cathedral or renaissance whatever, Michelangelo… OK?

In my opinion, all this fall started in the Renaissance. Of course, in school we learn that the Renaissance was whatever of civilisation. Then, art was institutionalised. The tribes, they did art, but it was just direct expression of nature… Nature was creating through you. Now, with the ego, you are above it, you control nature. And science…

For me, if art is what the universe is doing through me, the creation through me or through anyone, that’s art. And that reads very well, very strongly. But when it’s the expression of your ego, then you might create beautiful marvels, which I don’t care about at all.

In the Neolithic, an object that today is called art was functional and was not called art. Now, you call it art and it gains authority… He’s an artist, he knows, he sees things that we don’t… The connotation that we have given to art and institutionalisation of art… You know, I go and study architecture, plus architecture I have no problem with it because it’s functional. But today’s architecture and architects – I have a big problem with it, including myself. So anything we’re doing today, architects and engineers, sucks, it is terrible. It’s destroying everything, because it’s done with this very low energy, it’s the expression of that. And all architecture that was done a long time ago, vernacular architecture – vernacular means coming from the people, the people’s architecture – which was built because of need, by the crafts, masons. If you study this architecture and you study our architecture, you cannot compare. That was extremely efficient, simple, beautiful, respectful, the guy didn’t even think he was respectful. Because he lived with what he had; with life, with environment, with nature, with the stars, with the sky, with the universe, because he was connected, he couldn’t do otherwise, he couldn’t not be respectful. Now, because of our egos, we are programmed to be disrespectful and they teach us to be respectful. And in our work – today’s architecture work – that’s so badly reflected. When I see an architect, I ask: if I take out the name from your building, would you do the same thing? Definitely not… All these star architects, the very famous ones today, all their buildings seek attention, wow, this is new… But if I take their name out and you don’t say “This is Bojan,” than Bojan wouldn’t do that because it’s not attracting any attention. Now I understand you have to put your name so people know. We do the same, I do the same, but I’m not proud of it, that’s the difference, I’m ashamed of it. And I tell everyone, not the client, I cannot, one day I will tell them all.

Rafi Karakachian, about Lebanon 

Lebanon is the warmth of the people … A life where people don’t fear each other … I’m attracted to smiles … We are free people, it’s in our nature … I want to unlearn everything and relearn it my own way … “Lebanon is a message” … A coexistence in the universal sense, not just between humans … Our minds have to change … Zionist ideology … The system has to change … New laws … Go back to human scale … Future architecture and its redefinition … Bring need and necessity in the equation … Vernacular architecture … By talking together, a new formula will have to come out … It’s tricky, but we shouldn’t be afraid of it … I want to challenge …

For me, Lebanon is mostly the people and the warmth of the people, which is very specific for me in general. in the sense that I have never found that kind of warmth elsewhere, anywhere else I travelled. So when I say Lebanon, it’s different from other places by this factor: the warmth of the people… Besides other things, of course. But this is what strikes me.

In school, they teach us history and geography, and for some reason, I… OK, it’s interesting, but for some reason that never meant that much to me, because personally, for me what matters the most is the relationships between human beings. The rest, I forget to tell you the truth. […] In fact, looking back, anything I learned has become problematic. So I want to unlearn everything and relearn it my own way. After all these years.

Why Lebanon? Why did you choose Lebanon to live in?

I have chosen Lebanon to live in because first, I was born here, so I’m part of it. Before the war, we had a beautiful life, wonderful life. I never wanted to leave the country, but then the situation got quite bad and I was somehow forced to leave Lebanon. And then, when I went out, the qualities of Lebanon came out much stronger. I realized what I was missing when I was living abroad. That quality was so important to me that it pulled me back and I decided to come back. And although there are many problems, political, economic – you name it – but somehow, as I said, there is something I couldn’t find elsewhere: this human warmth, relationship between people and their resilience and their love for life and that energy. And that is what matters to me, this is what I’m looking for in life… To have that is a priority, besides everything else. And as long as I can make a living here, I will not go anywhere else.

I could choose not to come back. Being in the States… I’ve told you the story of what triggered my return: Varak (one of my two sons) was in third grade, seven years old, and one day he came home from school and he said that they taught them if someone gives them something in the street to reject it, not to take it. So at that point, I understood that I’m living in a culture where they’re teaching fear at school, institutionalized fear. And at that point, I realized that in Lebanon, even during the war, people didn’t fear each other. Ok, it was dangerous, there was danger but, no fear of each other. The danger was physical – bombs, shells, whatever, it was a war situation, but people didn’t fear each other. And living in the States, I realized at one point that fear is part of education. They teach us to fear the other. And I have never seen that, it was very foreign to me, so I decided to come back for my children to see that other side of life. That there is a life where people don’t fear each other, they don’t see each other as a challenge, a competition. 

The Armenian passport came latter. At the time, I had Lebanese and US passports. But even Armenia… OK, I like it, historically I’m connected, I’m Armenian by origin, but I still feel that this (Lebanon) is where I would choose to stay. I have no problem, I can live anywhere if you want. But if I have to choose, I still choose Lebanon. And as I always say, if I can make a living here, that’s the determining factor. Even in this chaotic situation, I still prefer to stay here than to go anywhere else. And it’s not just a matter of being attached to the land and this and that… It’s not just physical. It’s more than that. It’s human relationships. And the smile on the people’s faces… Smile is very important to me, I’m attracted to smiles. And I can find a smile here on everybody’s face, no matter what the situation is.

In my opinion, Lebanon is so much in the focus of the world because people in this region – Syria, Palestine, Lebanon – with a mix of religions like Jews, Christians, and Muslims, this makes it such a special place, where all cultures, all different cultures come together and they coexist in a very beautiful way. And if they leave us alone, this place can become a message. And that is felt somehow in life. We have all kinds of differences, but they coexist very nicely. And yes, It’s not just Lebanon, it’s all the region, basically, where all Western religions were born and they coexisted. And I think that is also the future if we get there. If we don’t destroy ourselves, one day, that fact of coexistence will I guess come back: coexisting with others peacefully.

I think the turning point in this coexistence being present was the creation of the Israeli state. Before that were the Worlds Wars, of course, there was turmoil in the world in general, but I guess in terms of people living in the area, big problems started after the creation of Israel, with Zionist ideology. And I believe that all religions, Jews, Christians, Muslims, if we take out that element, that ideology, we can coexist together again very nicely, very peacefully. And it can really become a model.

We have gone through this crisis. So if this crisis gets resolved, of course, it’s a jump forward. We will have what we had before plus the fact that we learned something from this crises. And hopefully not repeat it. So that probably we will coexist also consciously now.

I’ve learned from this crisis that no one can impose himself on the other. We are free people, it’s in our nature. So we cannot somehow accept someone coming and imposing himself on others. You should respect the differences and then coexist. So that imposition in this case – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – or of the existence of Jewish state imposing itself on the people of other religions in the area, has proved that it’s not a sustainable and viable formula. So once people realise that and they get over it, I guess things will prosper, things will become extremely radiant. 

It could be a message. When Pope Jean Paul II, I don’t remember which year, was in Lebanon, that’s what he said about Lebanon: “Lebanon is a message.” Well, Lebanon and the region in general (Syria, Palestine, Israel).

The important steps in this crisis… OK, we’re getting into politics… That’s good, that’s fine. The fact is that the state of Israel, with the Zionist ideology, is an expansionist state. And they like to dominate. And they have United States supporting all this, for several reasons: Israeli lobby… Whatever… But this is a fact. Since 1948, when the Israeli state was created, from that point on, they started to expand… West Bank… They occupied Lebanon, they went to Egypt, Sinai… You name it, they did it. And this expansionist mode of doing things was not accepted at one point. Some people decided they cannot go on like this and they have to resist this expansion. And unfortunately, the only way to resist was not the negotiations or peaceful way of doing this – talking to each other. It had to be done by force. And that started and then at one point it succeeded, and again, it became a model of how you can resist this situation. And it proved itself, it proved successful. And it’s giving its fruits now. I’m not really happy with it, I would rather see it resolved peacefully. But it seems that the Zionists are not very sensible to doing things peacefully, and people were forced to go to arms struggle. And that’s what’s happening now. It will at least stop the Israelis; to think again and probably be forced to negotiate the settlement. And from what I know, I think there is a good number of Israelis, Jews, who are for a one state solution. And in Israel, there are these “pockets”, these groups that want that. They also say that’s the only sustainable, viable solution. I mean living together through division is basically temporary, you can’t go on like that. And it’s forced, it’s fake. Because the Palestinians are everywhere. Like the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, they’re Palestinians from Israel, not West Bank, a lot of them. And they want to go back to their homes, so they will eventually live with the Jews in the same place. So you cannot impose Jewish state upon them, that cannot sustain. And the Palestinians don’t want that. They reject that. That’s known. So the only solution would be to accept to live together under one umbrella. Now what you call it, what the state is called, that’s a detail.

So I guess it’s the decision to resist this occupation, all this ideology, and to resist military, that is going to make a difference.

I see it visible in the future, yes :)! I now have a feeling that the resistance is determined to continue, and I also see the signs that Israel as a state cannot stop it and they are really now in panic. Because that’s how they left Lebanon. They couldn’t stay here anymore. And that’s now happening in Israel. I mean what happened in Lebanon is happening in Israel, with the Palestinians, from within, not from the outside. The Palestinians who are living there, not only in the West Bank but also in Israel, it seems they have made their decision that this cannot go on like this anymore. Which I think is a good thing. It will go through violent period, most probably; that unfortunately seems to be the only way as the Israelis have chosen to go that way. Whenever you try to solve something peacefully, they’re just not interested. I mean they abuse your good intentions. You want to do it, they say, “OK, they’re doing it peacefully, so we can prolong it and in the meantime, we build the colonies and all that and we try to strangle them so they leave the country.” So they’re abusing your good intentions, unfortunately. I wish that it didn’t happen; even if you listen to those who are resisting, military, they too are not doing this with love, they don’t like it, all of them would prefer to negotiate, to come to a peaceful solution. But the other side is not responding.

For Lebanon in the future, I think if things get resolved, if this political situation changes, which I believe it will, then this coexistence of differences will again come to the surface. And then, with more awareness. Plus because of global changes, environmental changes, all this survival issues globally… With all that in mind, I think this area of the world can also be a model in that sense. So, coexistence between religions, between different ethnicities, and that being a message which means it’s a universal. The other global and universal issue, which today is environmental issue, even in that sense, the region can provide a model. Because the nature of the land is such that you can have a model of proper agriculture, of forestry, we have a lot of water. It has the potential of becoming a message in that sense as well… All of this, if that awareness bears its fruit, and if we don’t fall in another trap or some powers don’t abuse our diversity again, in some other way, which is happening all the time in this region as well. There are powers interested in this region, they have ambitions that they call interests. So if they leave us alone and if things get resolved, I guess it has a lot of potential in many ways. Besides cultural and religious coexistence even in a way of life that can radiate and then become a model in that sense: a coexistence in the universal sense, not just between humans. And as you’ve noticed, it has started, even in this mess, you have people who are doing certain kind of agriculture, even restoring historical dwellings, places… Also because during the war, I was telling you this, in my opinion, the ugliest destruction, physically, was by building, by constructing buildings. So they destroyed the city and the country by building. And now we have to somehow take that away again, physically. What was built without respect for the physical and the cultural environment. It was built out of self-interest without respect for anything, just pure interest, during the chaos period because of the war. Some people abused that, benefited from that, and that destroyed the physical environment. A lot of people are aware of that, so there is a strong reaction to it, they want to change that. So probably, like in other parts of the world, after the war there is a period of reflection, looking inward, trying to see how to change that and what is the proper way of doing that. So I hope – this are all wishes – or I see there is potential in that, and I hope that we see that happen.

Let me explain a building issue in Beirut. During the war, Beirut was dangerous. People moved out, and that’s how these suburbs around Beirut grew. Before, this was all forest, green, nature. So people went out of Beirut and in that period, whoever had money built buildings the way they wanted, where they wanted. They were sold to this people who were leaving Beirut and moving outside. And a lot of people migrated. But then, there were others factors: when there came peaceful time, after 1990 when the war ended, people invested in building, and the Lebanese from abroad bought apartments, many wealthy people built for investment or for hiding their money, whatever… They kept building. So you have towers, all sold out, without any inhabitants. You see like 30 stories and only 2–3 floors inhabited. So that was investment, not a need.

I go to downtown Beirut and I see all these buildings. I see seven, eight towers next to each other, each one 30 stories high, and then I see couple of floors inhabited, that gives me a sense of how much of it was needed. Those buildings are not needed. And what’s also unfortunate, they’re destroying nature, they’re taking up space, which is needed as space for the people who are living there. So I can imagine, if those buildings were not build, and we had green spaces in their place, it would have been the most beautiful city in the region.

In general, I have a personal look on future architecture: in my opinion, the need and necessity are out of architectural formula these days, everywhere in the world, not only here. Today’s environmental situation tells us, in my opinion, that we shouldn’t build anymore, it is not needed. So we should bring the need and necessity into the profession of architecture and not put two stones on top of each other if it is not needed. And if it’s needed to take stones, to bring these buildings down, which I think it is, we have to go that way. There shouldn’t be any space in the building that is not inhabited. Ideally we should go into renovation and rebuilding what’s there, rehabilitating what’s there instead of building new stuff. But that’s much of a bigger issue because it’s related to how the economy works, etc. It’s not an easy thing to do. But if we go on doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep destroying. 

To really help ourselves, we have to bring these two factors in the equation – need and necessity. And be guided by that. Which means a whole different way of teaching architecture; it’s a big thing that should happen. And there is also awareness when it comes to redefining architecture: it has become an aesthetic thing, it has become an ego driven thing, like in most professions. So we should take away that ego and really do what’s needed. And tear out what’s not needed.

I want to be hopeful that this transition happens, but before anything else, it’s transition in the mind, it will not happen if we continue with the same mindset. The transition has to happen in the mind, the rest will be just a natural outcome of that. Revolution has to happen in the mind. That’s how I see it.

It is already happening in the pockets, in populations, but if we don’t do it (also professionally), nature will take care of it: if we don’t do it, we’ll be self-destructive, and then, when life comes again, it will happen. So we have the choice, either we do it or we destroy ourselves and then we start from zero again… Not zero, we’ll start with a new situation where things are destroyed and new rebirth happens. I wish we don’t get to that point and we realise our minds have to change.

My role in this sense :))… By doing the opposite of what everyone is doing, because, yeah, I can’t go on with this mindset. I have made my – it’s not even a decision – I feel I cannot go on like this and my mind is starting to change, I’m seeing things differently. I’m not interested in what I’m doing, because as I said, in general, when it comes to profession (architecture), is mostly doing something that’s not needed.

The only thing I can do, I can talk about these issues. And not be proud of what I’m doing. Because we’re proud of what we’re doing aesthetically, if we get good article in a magazine we feel happy, we feel proud… In fact, to tell you the truth, I’m ashamed of what I’m doing.

In the projects we’re doing at the office, I cannot directly implement these thoughts. It has to be a totally different project. I mean, I cannot keep on building for people who have already a dozen of houses or apartments, and do additional one. I can try to pass legalisation that no apartment should be left empty. Because there are many people who need places and don’t have it. So that’s one way of doing architecture for me. Ok? Passing new laws. Ok, let’s say passing a law that doesn’t allow a person or a family to have more than a certain number of square meters in the world, not only in Lebanon. So one family cannot own more than X square meters. Do whatever you want with it, but this is your limit. OK? And every family has the right to have a minimum of square meters. This is legalisation. So for me now and changing the mind, we’re start there, not by building but by seeing how to develop from this point on. And if we do that, everybody will have a shelter and then probably it will even be more than needed so then we can start taking away things. Plus the scale of things, energy consumption, right? If you have a 30 storey building, you need elevators. But if you have a 3 storey building, you can walk. So you don’t need electricity, you’ll use your own energy. So we should go back to human scale… But again, this is big big change. 

And architecture is just one part of it. But we can have an input in that sense. This course has to start at the university level, at the education level, which is very rare today ,that type of discourse. Still, if you go to the Architecture Biennale in Venice, for me it’s a disaster what I see there. What I see there depresses me. And then you see all this star architects going in and coming out… They’re blown up, with their egos, they’re going to explode. And they write articles, they brag about biennale, it’s the biggest architectural event in the world. For me, this is a shame. And with all this nice clichés… And that’s why I keep giving the model of vernacular architecture which was the architecture that came out of need and not power, not ego. You didn’t have the name of the architects, their egos were not carved on the stone or their names written in the magazines. If we can go back to that, then we’ll be on the right track.

By talking together about it, a new formula will have to come out. In general, like the professionals, they’re very proud to be architects today. And it’s aesthetic driven, ego driven, and I’m really ashamed of the profession. I’m just doing it because I’m in it, that’s what I’ve studied, and I have to make a living, and at this age for me to start from zero… I’m just waiting for my retirement. Whenever I can, I will do that, but also keep on talking about it. It’s not that I’m going to stay passive. I’m going to confront people, to face them, and give my opinion… I’m not saying what I’m saying is right, but I want to challenge…

In my office, they know my opinion, of course. And Vladimir, I don’t know how he tolerates me :), he knows my opinion very well, for sure. But with newcomers, I’m careful. We do it through our projects. Like when we do a project, we say that “it’s better to do it this way”. Definitely, if I talk to my colleagues the way I talk now, at one point they might lose interest in what they’re doing. But… It’s a tricky thing… If we get a project, let’s say, which I’m not proud of, definitely :), even the Philharmonic project in Belgrade – because there is something more important than to build a museum which is an empty space – OK, it has a history, but there is something more than history: you go out of the museum and there is a beggar at the door. Which one is more important? To have that museum or to feed that guy? So that museum becomes irrelevant to me, I’d rather take that beggars and put them into the museum, to have a roof under their heads. We have reached that point. So when we get a project, it’s going to be done anyway, so I rather do it in a slightly better way which is less damaging, and in parallel, show people how I feel about it. Not address the issue directly, through the project, but generally, in terms of how we should approach things, how legislation should be, talking about “the museum and the beggar,” OK, not specifically, because Vladimir is also afraid of that. He’s afraid that if I keep talking about this openly, people might lose their interest. OK. But I’m also telling him I’ve lost interest but I’m still giving you my best. That’s also possible: I have to do this so I’ll do my best, I’ll give you my best, although I’m not proud of it. Because I have to make a living. The change will take time. And it will be a product of this not being happy, but not also having the illusion that you can live out of the system. I mean, you’re in the system, the system has to change. I’m living in this world, not somewhere else. So I mean it, I’m part of it, but I want to change. So I have to keep talking about change in a way that’s productive, not destructive. So even if I’m not interested, I’m still giving him my best. And Vladimir is happy with what I’m giving. It’s tricky, but we shouldn’t be afraid of it. Otherwise change will not happen.

Vladimir Djurović : Montenegro project

Montenegro project … like being at home … bringing together people that touch and inspire … a foundation … wild pomegranate … following the goats … the right place to build a house

To bring those special energies together, that’s number one in the Montenegro project. And what is set also for sure for me, is I want people to come all year around to be there. With me, without me, I want it to be lived experience. And what people: people that touch me, I mean, that do special things in this re-awakening, in this new place we have to build, environmentally, nature wise… Anything that inspires you that they’re good people… And I have a lot of people that I love and they don’t even know it… So the first part is for those people to come together.

And then, of course, we will have the food, the farm and the sea, all this stuff should happen there, and because there is nobody eating organic food in Montenegro, food alone is one chapter. Those people coming should be eating from the land – 90% of their diet has to come from our land there. And then, in the future, after a few years, I have these other structures at the bottom, that’s where we will do this Plan B Foundation.

So, let’s say you invite David Attenborough and… Someone very special, totally different, from a different background. Nobody will pay a penny, you’re invited, it’s like you’re at home and then you leave. If you’re interested when you’re coming down – because this foundation is at the bottom of the land, at the public side; it will be us and the community – I’m gonna do one of the houses just as an open house and you can sit and give a lecture or talk, etc. And then, I have friends here in Lebanon, they do the most amazing videos you’ve ever seen; also winning awards all around the world. They go to people that had a very very difficult life and they do a 3-minute video about them and how they found joy of life again and what’s their mission now, after they went through this hardship. Very powerful videos, very short. So imagine when these people come, and capturing the essence of this very informal, not planned, not structured happening. And then you have a website or whatever so people can come and see those people at that moment at that place. And they contribute this way.

And the foundation will have many more things, there’s a big program for it. For that to happen, I brought Salim and I told him when I’m 60, the company has to run without me a little bit, because I need to spend a lot of time and be in Montenegro, feel it and see it.

And we’re working, I’ve told you, all these years with Aga Khan Foundation and Gulbenkian Foundation now – very special relation with all of them, the president, all the board members, 50 year old building project; timeless, incredible project. And the foundation nurtures it in a way that’s spectacular. So imagine inviting them, the board members, they do this quarterly meetings: come one time and be alone in Montenegro and do it. And one day I will ask one of them, show me, help me make a foundation, because I have no idea how should we set up a foundation, what do we need… But then, you have somebody driving it.

The symbol of the project now is the wild pomegranate. I want to rewire the whole area and plant thousands of these trees and what grows around with them.

All the people in Montenegro will tell you “sok od nara” (wild pomegranate juice) is the most powerful drink you’ve ever seen: you squeeze the wild pomegranate and if you drink this much in the morning (half to 1 dcl) every day, no cancer. In Montenegro, I’m going to make this drink, everyone that comes will take a bottle with him, “sok od nara”.

So this wilderness is everything to me now. Why now? If I connect the story to Wadi Rum, it’s because it’s untouched by men. And Wadi Rum got me. I realised the damage we are doing everywhere and the power of something that is virgin somehow. Pomegranate for me now became a symbol of the project. And now I keep discovering more and more that this is linked to what I’m doing at work: it feeds the work. Because there, now I’m proposing these things in a way. So it’s all like somehow it’s all coming together. Look, what really disappoints us with clients, it’s you always have to compromise somewhere. So you prevent the big vision. They do 60–70%, they never go all the way like you want. Because they have other interests. Like, no, Vladimir, this is a university, we need to do this, we need to do this, we have women coming with heels, we cannot have natural grounds, who’s gonna clean it if it rains? They don’t see the benefits, for example, of the rain soaking… Without buildings, you just let the ground soak, yes, a bit of maintenance, but zero costs, zero whatever. But at the end, you always end up compromising. I realised that in the end, if I want zero compromises, and I want to do what I feel should be done, it has to be our project, not the client’s, I’m the client.

The goats are designing the Montenegro project. I walk all of the walkways, and to discover the place, I follow the goats. And they show you the way to go everywhere.

We have a contractor who’s very very conservative and old-fashioned, and very beyond basic… And Rafi would marry him… He’s so… He built the whole project. I came and I saw the wood ceiling he made, I said I wanted to meet the carpenter, where’s the carpenter? He looked at me and said what, what do you mean carpenter? I said the man who makes the wood. He said, “I made it”. I said who built the floor, the stone floor? “I did the floor”, he said. Who did… I did it. Who’s doing…? I’m doing it. Everything him! He’s amazing. But old old old-fashioned, and you know, everything by hand, everything is simple, basic, nothing can go wrong, and if it goes wrong, it is very easy to fix, there’s nothing sophisticated.

And do you know how the Montenegrins decide where to build a house? When they find the land they want to build their house on and live on, they walk around it for a long time, with the sheep, with the animals, whatever, and then they do two things. They discover where the animals like to be, and then of course, the orientation, wind, sun, etc., plus what they feel. So it’s a possibility here, or here, or here, maybe: three places where we can build our house and live our life. So OK, what do they do, where do they build the house? They bring three pieces of stone, they put one big piece of stone in every place and they leave it for a year. They come back one year later, they flip the stone, the one that has a lot of life under it, this is the one. They build the house there. The one where there is no insects, the energy is not good. And they don’t build here or here. And no machines, no nothing, look how beautiful, though. Because I remember from your childhood, sometime you move the stone… Where it’s not appropriate, you find nothing. The Montenegrins are never in a hurry, you know, we want everything tomorrow, now now now now now now now… But they take their time, without any machines, without anything. For me, it was like… The contractor keeps impressing me, this guy. First, we had his father, until 1995, and he was working with his father until 1995, when unfortunately his father passed away. And now he continues, he’s like 55, but took everything from his father and learned a lot. And that’s all he does.