Farewell to Fouad Al Turk

Today, Fouad Al Turk bids us farewell, yet we refuse to reciprocate. Today, Fouad Al Turk stands still and silent, on the hills overlooking his beloved hometown of Zahle, yet unrecognizable from his usual dynamic and eloquent self. Today, Fouad Al Turk refuses to admit that he is among the few who embodied the very essence of diplomacy and the best of Lebanese diplomacy, yet we know all too well that his is a breed that is slowly fading away…

To know Ambassador Fouad Al Turk was to know a man from Zahle, who took its humor, wit, joie de vivre, appreciation of the earth and its bounties, as well as the pride and dignity it embedded in each of its children everywhere he went. But he also was a man from Lebanon, who represented it with great pride during over 30 years of diplomatic service, embracing its history, taking strength from its diversity, believing in its potential, and remaining faithful to its cause and what he thought best for it until his last breath. Nobody could have described it any better than himself, when he noted in one of his most famous statements, “All my life I worked as a missionary with Lebanon as my one and only boss.”

In fact, that is one of the reasons, he joked, that left him single.  I like to look at it differently however, seeing him as having chosen to marry Lebanon, whom he charmed with the ease in which he recited the literary marvels of his friend and poet Said Akl. Lebanon was as a sweet but cunning lady, sometimes lovely, sometimes ugly, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, a moody and stubborn wife that he was never able to let go of.

The goals that his diplomatic career didn’t give him the time nor means to achieve, he sought to accomplish after he retired.  Most notably,  his untiring attempts to promote Lebanon as a hub for the dialogue of civilizations, as well as a second career in politics, running for office to represent Zahle in the 2005 and 2009 parliamentary elections following the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Having the needed dedication, broader perspective acquired after years of living abroad, and unparalleled experience as a representative of Lebanon gave him no better tools to serve his country and community from within. The game of politics is dirty, however, and in Lebanon even dirtier.  Zahle’s politics, mirroring national and regional politics, stabbed Al Turk in the back, with its pettiness and fraud, with the arrogance of those who have paid their way into politics and the arrogance of others who believe a seat in parliament is their hereditary right. The biggest loser, however, was his own hometown, for failing to give him the chance to serve it, and Lebanon, for failing to take advantage of everything he learned after years abroad, to the benefit of the country as a whole.

The political and security instability in Lebanon, coupled with the fast deterioration of the situation in Syria may have temporarily distracted those who didn’t really know Fouad Al Turk from his passing and what it means for Lebanon.  Yet for those who knew him well, nothing has clouded our ability to realize what we will miss. To those he was related to and those that were his friends, those he saw regularly, and those who saw him only once, these were his family, those for which he always had a smile and a nice word to say. To those in whose lives he made a difference, those he inspired, those he consoled in their sadness and shared in their happiness, and more importantly, those he believed in.  I am one of those he believed in, as he encouraged me to pursue a career in writing almost 20 years ago.  I am one of those he believed in, in what he thought was my ability to serve Lebanon in ways I had never thought I could or would.  But he believed.  As such, myself and all those who knew him in whatever time and circumstance, will be the ones that will carry on his legacy and help in our humble ways to make Lebanon into the place he dreamed of, the place we all dream of.

For this, dear Fouad Al Turk, we do not reciprocate your farewell, because you will still remain amongst us in one way or another…

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