In Memory of Etel Adnan

In Memory of Etel Adnan


The Ahliah community bids farewell to Etel Adnan, one of the greatest women with whom the school crossed paths on many an occasion. A remarkable and talented woman who, through perpetual struggle for a humane world in harmony and at peace, turned initial obstacles into world renowned works of poetry, art, and writing. She excelled to the top in whatever her hands touched in the world of art. She exposed the ugliness and futility of war and violence through her abundant poetry and through her novel “Sitt Marie Rose, written in 1978 in the aftermath of a summary execution of a friend of hers in the Lebanese civil war. She identified all the global perpetrators, whether in Vietnam, El Salvador or the Middle East as criminals going from one generation to the other. Many of her poems were sung by famous singers across the globe and translated to many languages, and her novel, translated into 10 languages, is read in many schools in the USA and Europe. She never stopped the struggle, and as a university professor of art history, taught herself  to draw.  Her very colorful abstract paintings made her famous as a world artist at the age of 80, and on to the end. Her paintings are now exhibited in world famous museums. And she even has a book on colors!

To the world, Etel is “One of the foremost living poets and artists “, a “Universal figure”, with many prizes and presence in many museums and in songs, an advocate of peace, empathy, equity, and tolerance but to Ahliah, in addition, she is a guardian angel to the innocent children, victims of the reality of the day, for whom she funded and supported the establishment of the Etel Adnan Performing Arts Program with two equipped art rooms and a music room and recently started the largest endowed financial aid fund to ensure that the school maintains diversity, primarily socioeconomic, ethnic and religious. Her spirit will always live in the hearts of those who were inspired by her humanity and to whom she gave an opportunity to somehow follow her footsteps.

The bond Etel Adnan had with Ahliah School was immediate and, although she taught for two years, it became unbreakable. Whenever she came to Lebanon, she visited all her friends from Ahliah. Her tremendous support to Ahliah continues. Her relationship with Ahliah is best described by her own words taken from her message for the Centennial of Ahliah in 2016: “I went to Ahliah School in l947 when I was 22 years old, I taught French for two years. Those two years at Ahliah left a permanent impact on my life. Having recently acquired independence from the French, the country was somehow divided between people yearning for independence and self-expression and those that are fiercely pro-French. I had gone to schools run by French nuns in Beirut and sensed their near-arrogance towards the “natives” –towards the local culture, a strange situation, strange to me, at least. Unfortunately, this made me uncomfortable throughout my childhood. A product of a mixed marriage with a Muslim father, I suffered from being racialized. In contrast, at Ahliah, I found an administration, teachers, and students who were not “colonized,” who were at ease with themselves and others, both in a traditional and modern sense, and open to all religions and ethnicities on an equal basis. This was a revelation for me. It was fully what people want and hope to find in Lebanon: A genuine place for a friendly encounter between people from different religious and social backgrounds and even different countries. I did not yet understand what was is going on in the region, but I found an answer, a solution, a peace, in Ahliah. I encountered and found human empathy and acceptance at Ahliah. This saved me and gave me an inner peace that I felt I must be lacking. I discovered a new world, learning as much, and certainly infinitely more, than I was teaching. It was at Ahliah where I became aware of the beauty of the Arabic language. The world came to Ahliah, I had never discovered such a harmonious environment before this time and during my (long) life.“

Although Etel taught at Ahliah for two years, her footsteps left an imprint upon the hearts of everyone who knew her.  Her legacy lived on from one generation to another through her unbound fondness, commitment, and support to the Ahliah community with whom she shares visions, dreams and values. The eternal candle Etel lit will shine even brighter. The love Etel left behind has been weaved into the lives of everyone who was touched by her compassion and empathy.

Our thoughts and condolences go to her survivor and life-long partner Simone Fattal, a symbiotic partnership that energized both, and to all who shared her love and generosity. We pledge to continue the struggle for a humane world in harmony and at peace.

May Etel rest in Peace.

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