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Where did Ardaschir disappear?

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 Message 25 of 117
16 July 2006 at 5:37pm | IP Logged 
I've enjoyed reading his posts as well.
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 Message 26 of 117
16 July 2006 at 8:17pm | IP Logged 
His posts have been absolutely inspiring...

Ardaschir, come back soon...
We all miss you and hope that you'll be alright!

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 Message 27 of 117
17 July 2006 at 1:43pm | IP Logged 
Kynes wrote:
The ultimate goal of the invaders is of course to make explicit HezbollahˇŻs link with Syria and Iran, and to get US to do the heavy lifting in Persia. American casualties would add to the motivation and may succeed where lobbying falls short.

In my experience, discussions of Middle East politics tend to be considerably more inflammatory than those of illegal immigration into the US or the Kosovo conflict. The latter two topics resulted in closed threads in the past, so in joining everyone else here in whishing Ardaschir and his family safety, I'd like to suggest leaving analyses of the kind quoted above for another site.

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 Message 28 of 117
17 August 2006 at 2:04am | IP Logged 
I received an email from Ardaschir this morning, he is back in the US:

By Alexander Arguelles

The war began on a Wednesday afternoon. There was no buildup, no warning whatsoever.

It was commencement day at the university where I teach in Beirut, and I was en route to the graduation ceremony when my frightened wife called to say there had been border clashes between Israel and Hezbollah. I promised to ask my Lebanese colleagues what they thought; I am American and I was sure they would have a better feel than I for how dangerous the situation was. In the changing room of the auditorium, all the professors were talking about the conflict as they put on their robes. They concluded that it was bad, but most believed that the fighting would be restricted to the south of the country and would not reach us in the capital. Somewhat mollified, I donned my own robes and took my place on the stage, gazing out at thousands of family members who cheered as speakers talked of the graduates' promising future.

Thursday morning, I was doing calisthenics on the front balcony of my seventh-floor apartment in the swank Ashrafieh district of East Beirut. At 6 a.m. I heard a loud explosion and saw a cloud of dust rising on the southern horizon. Stupefied, I stood watching until there was another explosion five minutes later in the same area.

Still not taking in the enormity of what was happening, I began to calculate whether I could keep this news from my wife, Hyunkyung, who was still sleeping. Then three more explosions went off simultaneously, and I instinctively ran to wake her. As our two young boys slept, we watched bomb after bomb fall.

Finally, I called Majd, my best Lebanese friend, and asked if he knew what was happening. ``They bombed the airport,'' he answered.

``They? Who?'' I asked.

``The Israelis.''

My wife and I dug our little-used TV from the closet, and I called members of the political-science faculty at my university, the American University of Science & Technology. Some said they thought the strikes might last over the weekend, others said they thought the bombing meant full-scale war. We soon learned that a naval blockade had been set up; with the airport already under siege, it was now clear that it was impossible to leave the country either by sea or by air.

The war was only 14 hours old and already our options for escape were being closed off. The TV reported that the highway to the north was jammed with people trying to flee to Syria. We considered joining them, but it was not clear that this was full-scale war, and we did not want to abandon our lives there just yet. We also knew such a journey would be especially hard with children; our youngest is just 1 1/2 and still nursing, our oldest is 3 1/2 and entering a temperamental stage.

If we had to leave, we hoped that we could join an official evacuation of foreigners. But so far, the American Embassy had not sent out a notice that it was planning to help people get out; the Korean Embassy had called my wife, who is still a Korean citizen, to say they were planning an evacuation, but had no details yet.

We decided to risk going outdoors -- which the United States was counseling against -- so we could get supplies we'd need for staying or for going. I went to the bank and took out as much as they'd let me.

Then, while my wife went food shopping, I began to pack our bags. In the worst-case scenario, we might not be able to take much besides passports, money and tickets. We also might have to run or walk carrying the children, so I filled a sturdy backpack with our vital papers, my laptop computer, a few small irreplaceable valuables, and a change of clothes for all of us. I filled another duffel with more clothes, diapers and a few books to read to my older son in case we were allowed to take more. Finally, we packed some food.

Toward afternoon, Majd -- who as a vice president at my university had good connections -- said he'd heard it would be best to move to a hotel north of the city. But my wife didn't want to go, and I didn't relish the thought of becoming refugees. I wouldn't say that was a mistake, but we certainly weren't prepared for what happened next.

The shelling began at 3:50 a.m. Friday. There were continuous blasts in and around the airport for close to an hour, and the sky was filled with the red streaks of anti-aircraft fire. Whenever a new bomb landed, the shock waves fanned the flames of a fire consuming an oil-storage tank that had been hit. Horrific pictures of bloodied Lebanese began to fill our TV screen. One showed mourners holding up the crumpled corpse of a young girl. My wife burst into tears. The shelling did not subside until about 5 a.m. Staying put no longer struck either of us as a good option.

I had brought my family to Lebanon two years before. I am a scholar of comparative cultures, and I wanted to live in the Middle East and study Arabic. I picked Lebanon in part because I believed the country might be safer than other politically unsettled Middle East countries. The civil war had ended in 1990, and Beirut was steadily being rebuilt as the ``Paris of the Middle East'' it had been before the fighting.

We had made ourselves a good life there. I had been somewhat worried about the possible renewal of civil war after the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, but none of my acquaintances had ever suggested that Israel might invade again.

Odyssey begins
• Family heads east and finds more bombs

After we got up Friday morning, a Korean-American friend called my wife. Her Lebanese husband was out of the country, and she was terrified. She asked if we would join at her in-laws' house in the mountains east of the city. We reasoned that anyplace outside Beirut was sure to be safer, and it sounded nicer than a hotel.

Making preparations was getting harder since my sons started picking up on our tension and alternately fussing or demanding to be held. Leaving my wife to handle the boys, I first went back to the bank to withdraw more money. The day before, I had had no problem taking $5,000 out of my salary account, but now they balked at letting me take more. I went to another bank where I kept the bulk of my savings. The teller said I could take only a small sum in cash, but as much as I wanted in a banker's check.

The day was so beautiful, it was hard to believe the city was under siege, and impossible to imagine that I would not be able to return later. I decided against withdrawing more money, a decision I now greatly regret.

As I tried to free up our money, I got a call from a colleague who works intimately with the military police. He strongly urged me to leave the city. He said that ``within the next few hours, the resistance is going to strike back at the invaders in an unprecedented way, which means that there will also be more punitive blows with more collateral damage.'' Within hours, Hezbollah hit an Israeli warship.

When I returned home, the electricity was off, a final sign that we should leave. We drove with our friend about 50 miles to her in-laws' house. But we had no sooner settled down on the porch, than we saw clouds of smoke from shelling over the hills. One of the neighbors informed us that the target was a nearby expansion bridge, part of a major artery into Syria, which the Israelis had been trying to hit since the previous day.

Soon after, there was a black puff rather than the previous white ones, and he said in an almost excited voice: ``They got it!'' The shelling ceased, but jets streaked across the sky throughout the day.

My wife got a call from the Korean Embassy saying that they were sending a bus with non-essential personnel and family members across the Syrian border the next day at 10 a.m. -- would we like to take it? Then, before we could make up our minds, the ride was canceled; the highway they were planning to take had been bombed for the first time.

When Majd heard where we were, he was worried; he thought heading north would have been safer since it was farther from Israel. After watching the shelling of the bridge, we didn't need much convincing, plus we now learned that any evacuation would start in Juniyah, which was north of Beirut and very close to the hotel Majd had suggested. Our friend's husband returned to Lebanon that night, and my wife and I decided to leave the country house the next day.

Day 2: Cornered
• More traveling, further violence

We took off in the morning and decided that since we had to pass our home, we would stop in to see if we had forgotten anything. This was a strategic error on my part. Once we arrived, my wife argued that no one knew where it was safe, so why not stay where we belonged? She decided she at least wanted to take a shower, a nap, and have lunch in her own home before setting off.

I kept trying to persuade her to leave soon, but she did not share my sense of urgency until the bombs began to fall in the early afternoon. Some of them made a screeching sound and shook the apartment building.

We got into the car and made it to the highway north to Juniyah. As we drove, we could see bombs falling behind us on Beirut. My older son, who had been crying at home as my wife and I bickered over when to leave, uttered a saying I often use when we have had a stressful time getting on the road but are finally on our way: ``We are a happy family, having happy fun together.''

After dropping off my beloved cats at Majd's family farm -- the hardest thing I'd had to do -- we arrived at the hotel in the late afternoon. Our room on the 11th floor had a magnificent view of the ocean. We barely got to enjoy the setting before we heard the fiercest and most protracted landing of shells so far, plus what sounded like machine guns firing in the distance. Majd sent this message to my cell phone: ``ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE. STAY PUT FOR NOW.''

We soon learned that the ports in nearby Juniyah and Tripoli had been hit, as well as the one in Beirut. Still, there was no updated message from the U.S. embassy. However, an acquaintance who must be some kind of CIA type said American officials were actively planning for an evacuation; the only detail he heard was that people were expected to pay for it.

Late that night, my wife had another call from the Korean Embassy: The evacuation bus was scheduled for 10 the next morning. The consul who called suggested leaving me behind since he was unsure if Syria would allow me entry.

Indeed, one reason we had not yet tried to leave was the persistent rumor that some Americans had been turned back at the border, while others were given entrance visas but denied exit ones. That meant they were trapped there, safe from the bombing, but presumably held as hostages against the looming threat of the expansion of the war.

Day 3: Escape
• Exhausted family drives to safety

Sunday morning, the CIA type confirmed that an aircraft carrier was coming for Americans, but it would not arrive for five or six days. Worse yet, he said the government could only guarantee it would take American citizens, which meant they might not take my wife. We decided it was time to get ourselves out and to risk a trip through Syria.

Majd arranged a special ``safe'' border-crossing taxi for us. I had to make some decisions about things I knew nothing about -- to go over the mountains (shorter, but being shelled more often) or via the coastal highway (only hit once directly, but near the target of Tripoli's ports). I chose the coastal highway to Syria; after that, we would head south to Jordan.

The taxi picked us up at 6:30 p.m. The sun was setting and we had a beautiful view of the ocean the entire way. The highway was almost completely deserted. Every time we passed potential targets, including a military airfield, I could feel a cold lump in my stomach. But as dusk fell, we arrived at the Syrian border crossing. Getting through the necessary paperwork took several nerve-racking hours, but by 11 p.m., we were headed toward Damascus.

We had made it out of a land upon which bombs were falling, but I didn't feel safe yet. The U.S. Embassy had, after all, specifically counseled Americans against trying to flee through Syria.

It also didn't help that we kept switching drivers. Majd hadn't mentioned this, and I found it unnerving since I was carrying so much cash. Each driver seemed to know who the next would be and where to meet him, but every time we changed I had to wake up my wife and children and hustle them to a new car. The most frightening moment was when one driver asked for our passports and disappeared at 2 a.m. inside a hut that looked nothing like a government building. As I sat staring at my sleeping wife and sons, I wondered if he was off selling our passports on the black market -- or worse. As it turned out, the hut was some sort of checkpoint, and our driver had been waiting for approval to move on.

In the end, our ride to freedom took 10 1/2 hours, and we arrived in Amman at 5 a.m. We were lucky; it generally took twice as long, but we hadn't hit long lines at the borders and our cab fare was just $666. Several days later, the cost of the journey had quadrupled.


After a week of waiting for travel agents to even get us wait-listed for the final leg of our trip to my parents' home in Berkeley, I took my laptop to an Internet cafe and began searching for unorthodox routes. It was the only way not to compete with the many other refugees now trying to leave the region. Ironically, the only flight I could find was through Tel Aviv. On July 22, 10 days after the bombing began, we left the Middle East through the country that was destroying our home.
ALEXANDER ARGUELLES was, until the war in Lebanon started, an associate professor and chairperson of the department of humanities at the American University of Science & Technology in Beirut. His family moved to the Bay Area when he was in high school, and he has returned here, to Berkeley, with his wife and two children. He wrote this article for Perspective.
From Mercury News
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 Message 29 of 117
17 August 2006 at 4:06am | IP Logged 
^ It's good he's alive. When I started reading the forums in July, naturally, I came across posts by Ardaschir. When I discovered he was based in Lebanon, I wondered if he'd survive the Israeli/US bombs. Fortunately he did (although thousands did not).

Edited by lengua on 17 August 2006 at 4:06am

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 Message 30 of 117
18 August 2006 at 11:27pm | IP Logged 
Hey, now he's only 30 minutes from me! I'm glad he and his family are safe.
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 Message 31 of 117
19 August 2006 at 5:08am | IP Logged 
What an unbelievably horrifying situation to be in, especially with a wife and young children.

AML wrote:
Hey, now he's only 30 minutes from me!

Why don't you pop over and have a chat with him?
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 Message 32 of 117
19 August 2006 at 5:40pm | IP Logged 
Man, that makes quite a story, if only it wasn't such a terrible and sad situation. As he says in the story, Lebanon definitely was one of the stable places in the Middle East. It's so unfortunate to see what's happened there and what people like he and his family had to go through. Of course the biggest problem in Berkely is probably just the culture shock ;)

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