PAPER: "Of Cars, Bridges, Rivers, and Borders: Syrian (Kurdish) Men in Naba’a." MESA

Paper: "Of Cars, Bridges, Rivers, and Borders: Syrian (Kurdish) Men in Naba’a." Panel: Cities & Histories at the Periphery: Borj Hammoud of Greater Beirut, 1970 - 2016. Middle Eastern Studies Association. Boston, Nov 2016.

This paper explores the neighborhood of Naba’a ethnographically through Syrian male migrant men, focusing on 2008-2013. The analysis centers on how this district became known as a Syrian/Kurdish/migrant neighborhood through notions of place making, and the strategies and tactics used by these men in the larger area of Borj Hammoud before the Syrian Crisis. 

Given that Naba’a was one node for receiving Beirut’s continual Syrian labor, part of this analysis centers on their living situations. Of particular interest are the networks through which they procured housing, as well as the processes of negotiation rent, and dealing with landlords in a neighborhood that is imbricated in the context of Lebanese sectarian politics. Also central to this inquiry were how/when/where these men were mobile in the larger municipality - especially during a time of sporadic events of street fights/violence (most often between (Syrian) Kurds & (Lebanese) Armenian). What ensued were increasing security: bike police patrols to coordinated sweeps “under the bridge,” an emergent border that divided the neighborhood in the late 90s, to coordinated army sweeps in the streets of Naba’a at night.

Many of these men were newer immigrants since 2000, due to an intensifying drought in NE Syria. Thus, it was not just the larger threat of the Syrian male body (common in Lebanon), but also the category of the “Kurd” that emerged in the larger Borj Hammoud municipality. How Kurdish men understood their own identity during this time becomes linked to an analysis of this neighborhood where a huge population of them found footing, community, and entry to Beirut. This analysis also considers the specificity of this location, a neighborhood part of Borj Hammoud, but in many ways bounded by the confines of a bridge, a freeway, and the wall of a river.

Cities & Histories at the Periphery: Borj Hammoud of Greater Beirut, 1970 - 2016

This panel brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars who will present historical and ethnographic work on Borj Hammoud, a working class suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. From the histories of sect-affiliated service provision and its impact on shaping ideas of sectarian identity and belonging; to the material, social and political connections between urban processes in Borj Hammoud and Beirut's southern suburbs; to the role of the 1958 civil conflict in reshaping political geographies in Beirut's eastern sector, to the politics of informality; and the role of mobile, expendable bodies, most often male, in maintaining failing infrastructures in often unexpected ways - this panel reveals the ways in which Borj Hammoud's human and material infrastructures are deeply enmeshed in wide ranging transnational movements and circulations and economic, social and political processes in Lebanon and beyond. Despite its longstanding status as an urban hub for rural and transnational migration, Borj Hammoud remains peripheral to urban studies of the greater Beirut region. Various waves of migration and displacement, from Armenian refugees of the Ottoman era genocide, to Palestinians after 1948, Shi'a from the south of Lebanon in the 1950s, and subsequent and continual movements of Syrian, Kurdish and other migrant workers, have frequently transformed the character of this highly diverse, densely populated commercial and residential district. The papers in this panel seek to explore the ways in which the histories and contemporary conditions of life in this suburb reveals frequently overlooked yet critically important political, social and economic histories of Lebanon today. In all four papers and discussion, scholars on this panel take up the materialities of place and space in the making and unmaking of broader political and social processes in Lebanon today, showing how this apparently "peripheral" space and the peripheralization of suburbs more generally, are highly productive of political and social inequalities, processes and movements in the Lebanese state, the region, and internationally. As is often the case, the periphery is not far from the center.

Narrating Beirut from its Peripheries: A View from Nab‘ah/Bourj Hammoud (1950-1975) by Fawaz, Mona

Of Cars, Bridges, Rivers, and Borders: Syrian (Kurdish) men in Naba’a by McCormick, Jared

The 1958 (Armenian) Civil War in Beirut by Nalbantian, Tsolin

The End(s) of Informality in Borj Hammoud by Nucho, Joanne