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LEBANESE CONNECTIONS

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Author Anne Frandi-Coory

 

In 2010 I wrote a book ‘Whatever Happened to Ishtar?’ – A memoir and family history told in two books entitled  ‘Italian Connections’  ‘Lebanese Connections’ … My Catholic childhood filled with fear, abuse, and gross neglect.

“Give me a child for seven years and I will give you the [woman]”

Anne in convent clothes

Anne Frandi-Coory at 8 years of age – just removed from Mercy Orphanage for the Poor in Dunedin

 

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The theme running through the book relates to my passionate quest to find answers for generations of defeated mothers on both sides of my family tree. It’s about the brutal men in their lives, the endless pregnancies, and the women’s strict adherence to CathoIicism. In the end, the patriarchal Catholic Church betrayed their trust. Would Ishtar the Babylonian goddess have been a better role model and protector of female rights than the Virgin Mary turned out to be?

I know that in my mother’s case, if she had sought help from professionals rather than endlessly praying to her imaginary god, her life would have been far different.

I now live in Melbourne with my partner, Paul.

 

Anne blog

Anne Frandi-Coory 2010

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During the Royal Commission into Institutional Sexual Abuse of Children in Melbourne, hundreds of victims have come forward to give evidence. Now adults, their testimonies are heart-rending and difficult to listen to. What has made their journey into adulthood so precarious (many have committed suicide) is that at the time, nobody believed they were being abused by those in positions of trust. None of the perpetrators has ever said they are sorry, much less the institutions in which they were incarcerated as children.  Only now can they talk about their traumatic childhoods. They are finally being listened to and believed. How healing it is to have your abuser, or in these cases, your Church, apologise to you, showing genuine remorse.  The Catholic Church has by far the worst record of any institution for blaming the children for what has happened to them, and for protecting paedophile priests and Christian Brothers.

As George Pell, Cardinal, once stated: “We had no idea the sexual abuse of children would do so much harm”.

Another Catholic Church official at the Vatican stated: “A priest leaving the priesthood to get married, is a far worse sin than a priest sexually abusing children”

I can empathise totally with what these victims have endured over their lifetimes. If only once, even one member of my devout Catholic extended family had acknowledged my abandonment by my mother and the abuse meted out to her and me by them, it would have gone a long way to healing the wounds. Instead, I was not allowed to discuss the abuse, or if I did, told I was lying. It was to risk another beating if I dared to ask about my mother, or what happened to her. Many a time I was kicked  while on the floor, or had a swelling the size of an egg on my eyelid caused by a strap wielded by an aunt. Cousins often witnessed this abuse, but still, no apologies or acknowledgment.

Unfortunately, when you turn your back on an abusive family, there really isn’t any group you can join for support. You have to go it alone.

My childhood was filled with fear, abuse and gross neglect; some of it took place in institutions run by the Catholic Church, but most of it was carried out by my Lebanese extended family, herein called “The Family’. Not once has any member of The Family ever acknowledged my abuse and neglect at their hands, much less apologised. In the end, I decided to write a book Whatever Happened To Ishtar?; A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations Of Defeated Mothers.  There were so many different versions of my and my brothers’ fractured childhoods doing the rounds, I wanted to put the record straight. Not only for my mental health, but so my children could breathe in clean air and know the truth.  Neither I nor my two brothers appear together in any family photos.  In fact, I had to put the few childhood photos of us on social media because relatives were placing photos on the site, with our names on them, but who were definitely not us!

There is no doubt that The Family hated my Italian mother. They made her life hell, and my father, a weak man, did nothing to protect her. Two of his brothers preyed on her, and for this she was evicted from the Coory family home. Because she had to work, my mother could not look after two children, so my father placed Kevin and me, then 3½ and 10 months old respectively  in the Mercy Orphanage for the Poor in South Dunedin. My mother was then pregnant with my brother Anthony.

However, I was the scapegoat child who as the only daughter paid dearly for my mother’s ‘sins’. The Family’s hatred for my Italian mother, and by default, me, was evident whenever my father took me to visit in that household. My mother was an ex Catholic nun and very naïve, so was an easy target. They ridiculed her constantly, the favourite word for her was “sharmuta” Aramaic for prostitute. As a very small child I didn’t understand what the word meant, but I knew by the way my aunts and grandmother spat it out, that it was nasty. I was totally devastated when I later discovered what it meant. My mother was never ever a prostitute, but after being sexually harassed and abused by two of my father’s brothers, to whom she had a son each, she was the ‘sinner’! My mother later developed bipolar disorder. Slowly over the years, with the help of occasional visits to a psychologist, I managed to live a mostly fulfilled life. You can never forget an abusive childhood but you can live with it. I still have panic attacks and suffer from periodic depression but I can deal with it by getting passionately involved in projects, like writing and painting. I married at 18 years and escaped Dunedin and largely turned my back on The Family. From time to time I have met relatives who persist in telling me to “get over it” or “move on”!  Funny isn’t it, how people who have had a loving mother and father, and a supportive family, can be so heartless!

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Anne in convent clothes

Anne Frandi-Coory at 8 years old -just removed from the Mercy Orphanage for the Poor in Dunedin

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Children who have been abused and abandoned during their formative years have exceptional memories. While most people remember episodes of their childhoods from about four years of age, victims of abuse and abandonment can remember vividly, events from their infancy. Memories re-surface throughout adulthood as isolated vignettes of violence and sexual abuse with no context in time or place. For instance, I can remember standing in a cot in a room with many other toddlers in cots squeezed in around me. My father had just visited and I was distraught. I saw him walk past a window and even though it was dark outside, I recognised him and the hat he always wore. Until many years later when I went back to the orphanage to gather evidence for my book, I didn’t know what I was remembering, or even if it actually happened.  As soon as I saw the abandoned nursery, I recognised the windows through which I had watched my father leave; contexts of time and place began a healing process.

Other recurring memories emerge from an incident which involved my mother collecting us two children from the orphanage and taking us to Wellington to live with her parents.  I was eighteen months old at the time. For years a memory kept resurfacing of my mother carrying me onto a small plane. Often accompanying that memory was another memory of me standing in a cot in a tiny room watching my mother getting undressed. The details were vivid. She was smiling at me, and I remember that my cot was pressed up against the foot of her bed. Earlier, I had seen a man holding a little boy’s hand leading him out through the bedroom door. It wasn’t until decades later when Kevin and I were reunited and had sat up all night until the early hours of a morning, talking about our childhoods apart, did pieces of the puzzle come together. I related these latter events to him and he immediately knew the contexts in which they occurred.  He was four and half years old at the time and he was the child holding our grandfather’s hand walking out of mum’s bedroom.  There is a rare photo of us at this time. Kevin is sitting in a little armchair he remembers well, with me sitting on the grass in front of him, in our grandparents’ overgrown rear yard.

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kevin & Anne 2 at grandparent's house in Wadestown

Kevin and Anne, Wellington

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Apparently, our mother’s parents didn’t want her and her three children (Anthony was a newborn) staying there, so they paid for the airfares for her to “go back to your husband!”  However, it was what occurred beforehand that seared the memories so vividly into my brain, although I don’t consciously remember the events. Kevin told me that while we were all staying at our grandparents’ house, there was a lot of screaming and yelling by our grandmother, at her daughter. This was a household that had seen years of domestic violence from the time my mother was a young girl.

One day, mum, Kevin and I were sitting on mum’s bed while she was nursing Anthony.  She gave birth to him while staying at her parents’ home. Our grandparents entered the room and in Kevin’s words, our grandmother was screaming at mum “enough to wake the dead” while our grandfather ( a very violent man) was belting mum around her head with his hand.  After these and other revelations, many of the fractured memories stopped recurring. It’s as if once they have been acknowledged and verified, they are filed away in the sub-conscious.

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A very rare photograph taken at St Kilda Beach, Dunedin of the The Three of Us together: Anne, Anthony, Kevin (image: Joseph Coory)

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I had to research the facts surrounding my childhood before I could write the book, and the truth was devastating, but also liberating.

When I was ten years old, I was sexually abused in a car by the husband of one of my Lebanese aunts.  This episode illustrates the difference in childhood memories which occur after four years of age. I remember the context in which the abuse occurred, so my memory of it wasn’t fractured and it didn’t resurface as much as my infant memories did. I was very frightened of this uncle, but I was just as frightened of The Family, so I couldn’t tell them. I was too scared to tell my father, whom I adored because my uncle was a huge man and I thought he would kill my father; they argued all the time. The sexual harassment continued until I was eighteen and I left Dunedin.  After I published the book with this episode of sexual abuse in it, cousins laughed and said that he was just a “dirty old man”. Obviously, this paedophile was known by some members of the family.  Just recently, a cousin published many photos of the Coory family on social media, and this paedophile was in one of them. I was extremely upset and when I made the comment that this man was a paedophile, I was told once again to “get over it”!  As in the cases of institutional sexual abuse, unless we have zero tolerance for the sexual abuse of children in families, paedophiles will continue to abuse children and the child will continue to be told to “get over it” or will not be believed!  I thought I had managed to file away that particular childhood memory, but as always, it only takes a photograph, a look-alike person walking by or other stories of similar sexual abuse for the memory to flood back.

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Under the red crosses I penned years ago: the paedophile and the cruel aunt. That’s me at 14 yrs sitting on the ground on the left.

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An analogy comes to mind when talking about trying to live a normal adult life following an extremely traumatic childhood:

It is as though there is a deep black hole behind you in your past. Unless you find passions in life to keep you busy, or become a workaholic, frightening memories will invade your dreams and many of your waking moments. Often it’s like running on the spot to keep the black hole from dragging you into drug and alcohol addiction, depression, anxiety, suicide, and in some cases becoming the very adult in your memories that you’re running away from.  I can understand why many victims ‘drown’ in the black hole.  Life can be a difficult journey for those who’ve had a happy and loving childhood, but for many so abused, it’s a constant day to day battle.  I am one of the more fortunate.

Please don’t ever tell victims of child sex abuse, gross neglect, or abandonment, to “get over it, move on” You have no idea what you are asking unless you have walked in their shoes!
 

All text and images are copyright  To Anne Frandi-Coory All Rights Reserved 18 March 2015

From Author Halim Barakėt:…
We are a people who have lost their identity and their sense of manhood. Each of us is suffering from a split personality, especially in Lebanon. We are Arab and yet our education is in some cases French, in some cases Anglo-Saxon, and in others Eastern Mystic. A very strange mixture. We need to go back and search out our roots. We’re all schizophrenic…

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For more ……..https://frandi.wordpress.com/2011/06/30/understanding-the-arab-mind/

*****A short story *Immigration And The Promise*  Copyright To Anne Frandi-Coory – All Rights Reserved 17 January 2013*****

*****This page is copyright to author Anne Frandi-Coory. No text or photographs can be copied or downloaded from this page without the written permission of Anne Frandi-Coory.*****

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Anne Frandi-Coory’s paternal grandparents, Jacob & Eva Coory (Fahkrey) soon after they arrived in Melbourne c. 1897

…..But you should also be proud that your mothers and fathers came from a land upon which God laid his gracious hand and raised his messengers.From a speech by Khalil Gibran  I believe in you (1926)

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The first two paragraphs of a short story Immigration and The Promise by Anne Frandi-Coory,  published in

DRAGONS, DESERTS and DREAMS  January 2017

Jacob’s new business venture was all contained in the leather suitcase the Chinaman in Little Bourke Street had made for him. He said goodbye to Eva and set off down the stairs and out into a chilly winter morning. He planned to begin selling his wares to domestic households in and around the suburb of Fitzroy. All he had to say to customers in English was ‘Buy something lady?’ and ‘Thank you lady.’  All was going well until a policeman demanded to see his hawker’s licence. ‘Well, you must get a licence! A licence! No more knocking until you get a licence! Do you understand?’  Jacob just nodded and handed him the piece of paper Mr Kahlil had given him with his address on it and a rough map of city streets. Unbeknown to Jacob, the ‘White Australia Policy’ dictated that all non-Europeans were required to carry ‘Certificates of Exemption’ which enabled them to work temporarily as assistants to local merchants. In any event, Jacob continued with his door to door trade as the policeman walked away in the opposite direction. At dusk he decided to head back home, with his case almost half empty and a reasonable day’s earnings in his pockets. He then realised with alarm that he had given the street map to the policeman. He was so tired he lay down on a street sheltered by a building and took a little nap, resting his head on the suitcase. People had assured him, ‘There are no murderers or robbers here.’

Close to midnight Jacob became aware of a man approaching. He jumped up and opened his case for the stranger to see the display of shirts, socks, hats, silks, towels and small items of haberdashery. He felt no fear when the man looked him up and down and intimated with words and gestures, ‘Hang on, I’ll get my friend, he might buy something as well.’ Jacob waited with a leather belt around his neck attached to the open suitcase ready for the two men to view upon their return. However, four men came back, one with a knife who deftly cut the belt from around Jacob’s neck and after the other three kicked and punched him, all ran off. Jacob called out for police but when he did find one, neither could understand each other. At 1am all the street lights went out and the moonless night smothered any possibility of Jacob navigating his way home. When he found suitable shelter in a doorway, he once again made his aching body as comfortable as he could. For the first time since he had departed his home country, Jacob had plenty of time to reflect on how immensely his and Eva’s lives had changed in only two months…continued in Dragons, Deserts and Dreams.

 

 

…This was just the beginning of Jacob’s and Eva’s journey into the 20th Century….

To buy  DRAGONS, DESERTS and DREAMS

 

 

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See Poem: EXILES

***This page is copyright to author Anne Frandi-Coory. No text or photograph can be copied or downloaded from this page without the written permission of Anne Frandi-Coory.***

Anne blog

Anne Frandi-Coory

Since I wrote ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’ in 2010, a tell-all book about life within immigrant Lebanese and Italian families, I have received thousands of hits on my blog. Some relatives’ views are critical of my baring family ‘secrets’ for all to read. Some refuse to read the book. Most descendants of the people, places, I write about, along with the photos that have come to light, are appreciative. The majority of readers say they empathise with what I have to say in the book; that it has influenced them to be more tolerant of mental illness, and to understand more deeply, the emotional harm that can be caused to children, when they and their mothers are constantly abused, vilified and demonised.

The very personal memoirs I write about, including my own, are told with heartbreaking honesty because sometimes you have to shock readers into the realities of life for those women and children who are abused, neglected, and who have no safe haven.

There are times in life, in every culture, when marriages fail, parents die or become ill, families fall on difficult times.  Everyone understands this, and we have to make the best of it. However, when physical and emotional abuse is meted out to innocent children by their own family, then that is entirely another matter.  The same is true when children witness that same level of abuse toward their mothers. The post traumatic stress that grips these vulnerable children, can be every bit as devastating as that suffered by children who have lived in the midst of a violent war.

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Anne's first year at St Patrick's

Anne Frandi-Coory at Catholic Mercy Orphanage for the Poor in Dunedin, New Zealand

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This is the premise of my book. Motherhood and childhood can be difficult enough, but when you are alone, with no family support, life is precarious. I researched my paternal Lebanese and maternal Italian family histories extensively for the book, but nothing could have prepared me for the soul destroying stories I uncovered; the brutality of husbands and fathers, the sexual abuse, the hypocrisy and heartlessness of the Catholic Church.  Not to mention the fateful abandonment of children by their mothers. But the most fundamental insight I gained from all the research, is that, like ripples in a pond, the ongoing psychological effects are transmitted down through succeeding generations.  As one of the reviewers of my book wrote:

 

What is ironic is that she [Anne] uncovers the rich cultural history of these families and the fact that such wonderful traits and traditions were all but lost to modern generations as her family tree fractures again and again.

 

Someone has to be brave enough to tell the truth. Powerful families can leave children they do not favour, on the scrapheap of life, with no prospect of being accepted into other good families within their community, either through marriage or friendships. They are ‘tainted’ goods, and have to break all family ties just to survive.  Few people who have not experienced this life event can comprehend the courage it takes to wipe all your extended family from your life, even an abusive family. It can take years for the emotional scars inflicted on such children, to heal. An adult deprived of a loving childhood has to learn how to play, to make lasting friendships, in effect, to be ‘socialised’ at the same time as healing is taking place. It takes enormous amounts of energy and soul searching. This is vital if they are to become a contributing member of the community they eventually choose to live in. Some of us make it, many of us don’t.

The answer isn’t just in education, although of course this is important. The answer lies in the memoirs left behind, the minutiae of everyday lives within abusive families, because if we don’t read our negative history, whether it’s family, country, or world history, how are we going to know what changes to make so that what happened in the past, isn’t perpetuated into the future.  Very often, personal stories can be the motivation to change behaviours and even laws. Because when we read these ‘survivors’’ biographies, we are in a way, walking in their shoes, reliving with them all the abuse and trauma. I know that it can take decades to change entrenched cultures. But even one person can make a difference, in one lifetime.

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© To Anne Frandi-Coory All Rights Reserved 8 March 2012……

……..https://frandi.wordpress.com/buy-a-signed-copy-of-whatever-happened-to-ishtar-directly-from-the-author/

Published in The Australian Writer issue #377 December 2012

Excerpt from ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?; A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations Of Defeated Mothers’ 

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***This page is copyright to author Anne Frandi-Coory. No text or images can be copied or downloaded from this page without the written permission of Anne Frandi-Coory.***

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Granddad Jacob, that’s an amazing spiritual journey….

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Jacob Coory (Fahkrey), my grandfather, as I remember him. (photo: Wendy Coory Gretton)

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My extensive research into the murky past, which was partly buried in the Aramaic language and ancient names, reveals how much I didn’t know about my paternal grandfather, Jacob Habib El Khouri Eleishah Fahkrey. Nevertheless, my limited personal contact with Jacob left a significant impact. I deeply mourn that he died before I ever had the chance to talk with him about our extremely rich genetic and cultural heritage. If only I’d known as a child that he was such a valuable resource for our Lebanese family history. But then, what child can really comprehend such a thing? That, beyond their narrow sphere of existence, a family history has been woven as intricately as any tapestry, replete with human drama, personal tragedy and war, set in countries at opposite ends of the world. As a child my whole world stretched no further than a few urban blocks in Dunedin – The Catholic orphanage at one end and the Coory family home at the other.

Jacob and my grandmother, Eva, both spoke a Semitic language, an ancient form of Aramaic. Jacob’s forebears most likely descended from an ancient tribe of Israelites originating in the ancient Canaan, now known as Israel and Jordan. From there, some Canaanite clans including, I believe, those of Jacob’s distant ancestors, migrated to the rich and ancient area in the plains of Mesopotamia, close to the life-giving Euphrates River. There is linguistic evidence the Semitic tribes first arrived in Mesopotamia around 4000 BCE. The Aramaeans (speakers of Aramaic)  were a nomadic tribe when they first encountered Mesopotamia. Over the centuries they gradually moved in a westerly direction then south down the Euphrates River, eventually settling in to form kingdoms. The consolidation of the Aramaeans into settled kingdoms allowed the re-establishment of the trade routes through Palestine (Philistine) and Syria, and allowed the temporary Israelite expansion. Some of the Aramaean tribes continued to migrate west across Mesopotamia, their fortunes greatly improved due to the relative stability of the settlements in the area.

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Jacob Fahkrey (Coory) on his arrival in New Zealand c.1898

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Early Coory Clan

L to R: Amelia, Jacob with Phillip on his knee, Michael, Joseph (Anne Frandi-Coory’s father), Elizabeth, and standing at rear is Eva holding Neghia

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The Bible mentions the Aramaeans and links the Israelite Patriarchs with them. The ancient Israelites had to profess their faith by pronouncing ‘my father was a wandering Aramaean’. It was probably during their settlement in Mesopotamia that the clans mixed with the seafaring Phoenicians, recorded there as early as 2300 BCE. The first key port of the Phoenicians was at Sidon in Lebanon. For the remainder of the pre-Christian period, around 300 BCE, Mesopotamia was safely in the hands of the Seleucids (Greeks) while the two-millennia-old Babylonian civilisation was dying. Since the turn of the millennium, both socially and linguistically, Aramaeans had been penetrating Babylonia; their tribal systems overtook the cities, and their language eventually superceded the ancient Akkadian.

Some of the native Syriac dialects, as well as ancient Hebrew, merged with Aramaic, one of the Semitic languages which has been known since almost the beginning of human history. The Semitic languages, which include Hebrew, Arabic, Akkadian, Aramaic and Ethiope, were first glimpsed in ancient royal inscriptions around 900-700 BCE. The Aramaeans introduced their language to Syria when they settled there during the second millennia BCE. The Persians gave Aramaic official status, and throughout the Greek and Roman eras it remained the principal vernacular language. Babylonian and Persian Empires ruled from India to Ethiopia, and Assyrians employed Aramaic as their official language from 700-320 BCE, as did the Mesopotamians. The Aramaic script in turn derived from the Phoenicians, who most likely extracted it from the Canaanites. Writing derived from Phoenician, began to appear in Palestine around the tenth century BCE.

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National Geographic Map of Ancient Middle East

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There is general agreement among scholars that the linear alphabet had its beginnings somewhere in the Levant during the second millennium BCE. The Etruscans were the first among Italic Peoples to adopt the linear alphabet script and it spread rapidly throughout the Italian peninsula. The Phoenicians and the Etruscans had close trading and religious ritual links. These days, Aramaic is only spoken by small Christian communities in and around Lebanon, and in a small Christian village in Syria. The word Aramaic derives from the word Aram, fifth son of Shem, from which the word shemaya (semitic for ‘high up’ or ‘mountain’) is derived. Around 721-500 BCE, the ancient Hebrew language of the people of Palestine was overtaken by Aramaic, and much later the message of Christianity spread throughout Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia via this Semitic vernacular. Aramaic survived the fall of Babylon in 539 BCE and continued to be the predominant language. But Arabic spread and gradually took over as the lingua franca in the Middle East, around the thirteenth century CE. It seems reasonable to assume that, as speakers of this ancient language and in conjunction with their familial names, the Fahkrey forebears were originally members of a Judaic tribe, the Canaanites, who, over the centuries, mixed with other ethnic groups such as Hittites, Phoenicians, Akkadians, Greeks, and Macedonians to name a few. The word Fahkrey probably derives from the Aramaic word fagary, which means ‘the solid one’. There is plenty of evidence to support this, as Jacob and his descendants are of short, stocky build with strong arms and legs.

Many Canaanite menhirs (religious rock emblems) have been found in Lebanon and Syria. It’s interesting to note that at Baalbek, in the mountains of Lebanon, there is evidence of sacred ritual prostitution (male and female); a long-established Phoenician institution, associated with the cult of Astarte, the Goddess, also called Ishtar (Esther). Within the Phoenician realm, the great mother goddess Ishtar/Astarte was venerated in caves and grottos. A number of these sacred caves later evolved into sanctuaries dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Adoration grew into a cult, elevating Mary to the status of ‘Protectress of Lebanon’. My paternal family’s stocky build, soft round features and fairer complexion add a little mystery to their ancestry in a region where many inhabitants have dark features.

We have very little archaeological or written evidence, and so much of this history is conjecture. What we do know is that the Greeks overran and were prominent in the Levant from at least 1200 BCE. The Romans invaded in the first century BCE and Roman rule strengthened after this time. Judea later became a Roman province. And there were other ethnic groups which invaded the area from time to time in between. Ancient Damascus played an important role in the destiny of the Fahkrey tribe. Around the ninth century BCE, Damascus’s political and economic strength enticed both Palestinian Kingdoms , Israel and subsequently Judea, to seek alliance with it. At the time there was a direct and vital communication route between Tyre in Lebanon and Damascus via the Beqa (Bekka) Valley.  In 64 BCE Damascus had become part of the Roman Empire and thrived as a city-state, converting to Christianity very early on in the Christian era. The leaders of the Roman Empire would later see the infrastructure of the Catholic Church as a beneficial conduit of power for their vast empire and name it as their official religion…

During the 630s CE, Jacob’s distant ancestors were on the move again towards Damascus, ahead of the Muslim armies rampaging across the Arabian peninsula. Muslim armies attacked and eventually occupied Damascus in 635 CE, then converted Syria to Islam. Those tribes living in and around Damascus would have been familiar with the safe haven of Bcharre in the hills of Lebanon. Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world and was once a central sphere of  influence and prosperity. Around the fourteenth century our Fahkrey ancestors moved on from Damascus and up into Lebanon’s protective mountains…

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The Roman Catholic Church aligns itself with the Maronites  (the religion of my grandparents) in the mountains of Lebanon:…

More Here: THE MARONITES IN HISTORY

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More…..Walking Around Lebanon With 2Famous

Excerpt  from ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?; A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations Of Defeated Mothers’ 

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***This page is copyright to author Anne Frandi-Coory. No text or photograph can be copied or downloaded from this page without the written permission of Anne Frandi-Coory.***

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[My paternal grandfather] Jacob Habib Eleishah El Khouri Fahkrey tells us in his diary that he was unhappy about going to live in his grandfather’s house when he was seven years old. His grandfather, Eleishah,  had great expectations of him for the future. Eleishah was a very holy and hard-working man who was attached to the [Roman Catholic] Saint Simon Monastery. Even within the peasant classes, selected men could become priests and marry as well. Eleishah’s status afforded Jacob the heredity right to anglicise Fahkrey to Coory (guttural Khouri meaning ‘priest’)

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Anne Frandi-Coory’s paternal Lebanese grandparents, Jacob and Eva Coory (Fahkrey)

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Eleishah’s education of Jacob included teaching him to read and write in four languages and he planned to later school him in the art of translating Assyrian into Arabic. In his first years, Jacob bent to his grandfather’s wishes, working hard at his studies and fully expected to become a priest. The languages he studied were French (his second language) Latin and Greek, and under his grandfather’s dedicated tutelage, Jacob wrote and spoke fluently and eloquently in the ancient Syriac language, Aramaic, Bcharre’s native tongue. This language was, at that time, spoken mostly by Syrian peasants. The religious ideas of the Syrian and Italian peasantry were similar, confirmation of the integration of ideas and beliefs along the charted trade routes between Italy and the Fertile Crescent. Later, once Jacob had emigrated, he made the effort to learn English. The Arab world was a multicultural mix of language and peoples; Jacob’s heritage and talents reflected this. In retrospect, it’s sad to think that Jacob could have achieved so much more for his family and descendents if he had moved out of his cultural and priestly comfort zone.

In any event, Jacob changed his mind about following in The Family tradition of priestly services, but, cautiously at first, made the announcement that he would like to marry. It was not until his marriage to Eva (Khowha) Arida that he told his grandfather he did not wish to follow him into the priesthood, which made his grandfather very angry. Eleishah did not speak to him for sometime afterwards. Jacob’s rebellious change of heart may have had something to do with his frequent sojourns into Beirut with friends, in which he experienced the forbidden fruit of city life away from his grandfather’s strict philosophical and priestly instruction.

Other events transpired to influence Jacob’s fateful decision. When Jacob was twelve years old, his father, Habib, and uncle Tunnous El Khouri, visited Australia and New Zealand. His uncle eventually returned to New Zealand and bought a vineyard there. The family talked often about the exploits of this adventurous uncle and the young fertile country he had travelled to.

…The Fahkrey family in Bcharre must have been heartened then, following their earlier disappointment, by Jacob’s acceptance of their choice of a bride and the wedding was arranged to take place on a Sunday. Within a few months of their betrothal, the young couple had secretly planned to set sail for New Zealand after their wedding. This plan was obviously instigated by Jacob. I don’t believe that Eva fully understood what she was getting herself into, because her early life had been very different to Jacob’s. Eva had spent her early life cooking, cleaning, and praying, and was only 15 years old on her wedding day.

Jacob and Eva’s wedding ceremony was performed by Eleishah Fahkrey, who was still unaware of his grandson’s intentions to abandon his religious training and emigrate. Eleishah spoke after the ceremony, saying how proud he was that he would soon have a priestly grandson. The wedding ceremony lasted fifteen days, truly reminiscent of the pagan love feasts which so scandalised the early Christian Church. There was much celebrating and drinking, and many guests spent the nights sleeping under trees. Soon after the wedding celebrations had ended, Jacob and Eva continued with their plans to migrate to New Zealand to make their fortune, hoping to then return to Lebanon.

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