Batroun village remembers its own Titanic victims
HARDIN, Lebanon: The fictional story of Jack and Rose on the ill-fated Titanic has been known to millions ever since the 1997 Hollywood blockbuster movie came out, but for a village in North Lebanon, the tragedy at sea was real – and it involved native sons Antony Yazbek and Selini Dagher.
Sunday’s mass in the Batroun village of Hardin will be different from those held the rest of the year because it will mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, which resulted in the deaths of some 1,500 out of the 2,200 people on board and became one of the most famous events of the 20th century.
Among the passengers were 93 people from Lebanon, says Bakhos Assaf, the mayor of Hardin, who recalls that his village had the largest share of Lebanese passengers, with a total of 20.
While the village of Kfar Meshki in Rashaya is believed to have lost 13 of its residents, Hardin lost 11 adult men, while one man and eight women and children managed to survive.
“I want to shed light on the story of director James Cameron,” says Assaf, claiming that the director of Titanic based the love story of the film’s protagonists, Jack and Rose, on the story of a girl from Hardin, Seleni Dagher.
Selini had not yet turned 16 when she married a Lebanese-American boy, Anthony Yazbek, in the village, says Assaf.
Three weeks after they were married in the village church, the newlyweds set out on their journey to America, first stopping in Marseille.
The mukhtar of Hardin, Hamid Dagher, and his brother Joseph, are relatives of Selini, who was their paternal great aunt.
“She [later] sent letters to Lebanon about her new marriage and new life and family,” Hamid says, and these letters contained the details of her tragic loss of her husband Antony.
As the ocean liner began to sink, Selini was placed in a life boat. She tried repeatedly to leave the boat to rejoin her husband and finally in succeeded in doing so – but the sailor in command of the life boat refused to let them both of them board, and managed to drag only Selini into the craft.
Mayor Assaf chokes up as he relates a tale known widely in the village.
“He cut the rope, dropping the boat into the icy waters below. She fainted, only to regain consciousness to discover she was alone,” he says.
While it’s known that two groups of musicians played onboard as the Titanic sunk, the passengers of Hardin, according to the mayor, launched into their own performance.
“While she was sinking, they were holding each others’ hands, forming a dabke circle and singing a traditional dabke song and dancing. Other passengers looked on in amazement at their joy,” Assaf says.
“They were all calling out to [Hardin native] Saint Neamatallah Hardini, until they were swallowed by the sea.”
Only one male adult passenger from Hardin survived – Deacon Mubarak Assi, who served under Patriarch Elias Howayek, and went on to live for another 40 years.
The deacon had a lovely voice and was singing as the ship was sinking, says Assaf, prompting the women from Hardin to hide him in a life boat. After the ordeal, he told his relatives that Howayek had warned him against making the voyage.
The Hardin villagers were traveling at the invitation of their relatives, who had emigrated to the U.S. in the 19th century and established communities in Pennsylvania.
Some of the Titanic survivors from Hardin lived for over 60 years in America. During the last parliamentary elections, the names of a handful of survivors who were small children when the Titanic went down were still on the village’s voter lists, the mayor adds.
Meanwhile, more than 20,000 people in the U.S. can trace their roots back to Hardin, Assaf continues.
But as Sunday’s commemoration approaches, Assaf laments that government officials haven’t played a role in marking the anniversary, which affected Lebanese beyond the borders of this northern village.
“It bothers me that an invitation was addressed to me from Ireland, to attend a conference that was held on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship,” Assaf says.
“The invitation was sent in honor of three Irish citizens who died. What did the [Lebanese] Foreign Ministry do for our people?” he asks.
“We haven’t seen any action from the government,” Assaf continues. “Sunday, we’re holding a mass in Mar Shaina Church at 11 a.m. and will observe a minute of silence for the souls of the villagers who were lost on the ship. With that, we will be sharing the commemoration with the community of people from Hardin in the United States.”
By Antoine Amrieh
(The Daily Star)