If you tell a taxi to take you to the Beirut neighborhood of Gemmazeh, they’ll drop you at the start of the Rue Gouraud – the main bar, restaurant and club packed street running through this noisy neighborhood, which somehow manages to be grungy and upscale chic at the same time. I love it! You can spend entire nights hopping from cafe to bar, from bar to club, and never get bored or run out of new places to try.
But anyway, I’ve been curious for awhile now about the street’s namesake ‘Gouraud.’ I wikipedia-ed that shit and here’s what I found: Henri Joseph Eugene Gouraud was born in France in 1867. For one of the plethora of reasons that inspire young men to take up arms for their country, he joined the French army and began to bump his way up the ranks. He actually lost his right arm while he was commanding French forces during the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. Like Cervantes in the Battle of Le Panto! Although, that was his left arm. Ha! History NERD in the house.
You know the Battle of Gallipoli – World War I, fought on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. British and French trying to capture Istanbul from the Ottomans and failing miserably. Tons of people died on both sides – honestly doesn’t sound like it was worth it. Oh, and they made a movie about it in 1981 – which in today’s pop culture world is probably more well known than the battle itself. The film was directed by Peter Weir and stars a very young Mel Gibson and Mark Lee as two hopeful, promising young Australians who join ANZAC (The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – a branch of the British Army during WWI) and then get butchered in Gallipoli. It’s a great film but obviously very depressing.
ANYWAY, I digress. So the reason why they care about this General in Lebanon is that from 1919-1923 he was a commander of the French army of the Levant (Levant = the eastern Mediterranean countries in general – specifically, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Israel and sometimes Iraq and Saudi Arabia) and played an important role in the creation of the French Mandates of Syria and Lebanon. From what I’ve read, the locals in the region had mixed opinions of Gouraud and the French presence, but apparently he had enough of an impact to merit a street being named after him!
I actually found an article in the archives of the the NY Times, written in 1922, entitled ‘Gouraud Doubts Turks Want Syria: French Policy, the General Says, Is Merely to Carry Out Mandate Helpfully.’ I love the internet
Some background info: So in 1916, you get the Sykes-Picot Agreement (s0 called because it was negotiated by François Georges-Picot of France and Mark Sykes of Britain) between France and the UK that defined who would get control of the different territories in the Middle East after the Ottoman Empire fell. But this agreement was secret and didn’t become official (although it was enforced all the while) until after the end of WWI, in the 1920s by the League of Nations. So in 1920, in the Treaty of Sevres (peace treaty between the Ottomans and the Allied forces), France was official granted control of Syria. The Syrians were pissed, understandably and actually from 1919 (French presence already in Syria but yet to be officially granted power by the League of Nations) until 1921 you get the Franco-Syrian War, with the Syrians trying to oust the French. The Syrians lost and the French remained in control. Quelle surprise.
So when this NY Times article was written in 1922, the French presence in Syria (Lebanon had yet to be created as it’s own country and was just a state in Syria – in fact the article is written from Beirut, Syria not Beirut, Lebanon) was established but Gouraud and his troops were still facing small attacks from different groups in Syria who hadn’t given up on their goal of evicting the French. Syrian grievances against the French included French suppression of Syrian newspapers, political activity, and civil rights and the division of Greater Syria into six different states (Gouraud actually headed this division of Syria, one of the states being that of Greater Lebanon, which eventually became the country).
In the article, the author interviewed Gouraud who was trying to set the record straight about the French influence in Syria, explaining that the French were trying to restore stability in the region, reduce their presence in Syria and were generally liked in the region despite the recent attacks – “He was sure the Syrian people were beginning to realize the generous motives behind the French mandate and the elevating influence of French efforts in Syria, and he was happy to be able to say that the French were now meeting with ready and cordial cooperation.” He also explained that he felt the Ottoman’s would not try to retake Syria and insisted that the French were “…on excellent terms with the Turkish authorities.” So interesting. Wish I had a Syrian article written at the same time on their perspective, but given that the French were suppressing Syrian papers, that might be more difficult to come by.
Gouraud returned to Paris the year after this article was published, in 1923, where he worked as Military Governor until his retirement in 1937, and eventually died in 1946.
Well, anyway, there you go. A brief sum up of the man behind the street name in the party district of Beirut.