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MONDAY, 21 APR 2014
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Stories of innocent lives lost begin to emerge
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BEIRUT: Largely outside the camera frames, seven families are grieving lost loved ones, collateral damage from the car bomb assassination of Mohammad Shatah last Friday. As the dead are buried, stories from the incidental lives lost are beginning to emerge. Among the fallen civilians is Kevork Takajian, a 75-year-old Lebanese-Armenian man who was in Beirut visiting from a town just outside Houston, Texas, where he lived.

The victim’s older brother, Sarkiss, said Takajian was a naturalized American citizen who studied engineering at a Los Angeles University in the early 1960s. The brothers, both lifelong bachelors, had lived together in an affluent Houston suburb called Sugar Land. They flew to Beirut on separate planes in early December, Sarkiss said; in case one crashed, the other would survive.

“When we were coming, they [friends] said, ‘Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go,’” Sarkiss recalled. “Bad luck – we came.”

While visiting friends Downtown Friday, Sarkiss said, his brother decided to walk down to Starco.

“He said ‘Let me go and buy a lotto [ticket].’ ... He never came back,” Sarkiss said, tears welling in his rheumy eyes.

“He died for nothing,” he added. “If he didn’t buy the lotto [ticket] he would still be alive.”

Sarkiss says he saw the explosion from nearby and searched for his brother for three hours. He only learned of his brother’s death after calling the American University of Beirut Medical Center.

Doctors told Sarkiss that Kevork was thrown into the air by the force of the explosion and died instantly.

“His heart stopped,” Sarkiss said.

Kevork was buried by family and friends Saturday.

“As a Christian, I am thinking this is the will of God,” his brother said, furrowing his brows.

The brothers were born and raised in an eastern suburb of Beirut and were the grandsons of an Armenian genocide survivor. Both Sarkiss and Kevork had lived in the United States for many years, and it had been over a decade since either brother had visited Lebanon.

“I came to visit here, tragedy happened, and now I am coming back alone,” Sarkiss said.

Sarkiss recalled his brother fondly, calling him a “jolly fellow.” He continued to “engineer things” for fun throughout his semi-retirement, living quietly and comfortably.

They enjoyed Christmas together and had planned to spend New Year’s Eve in Zalka with family. Now, however, his plans have changed.

“On the new year, I am going to stay here alone,” Sarkiss said.

Sarkiss and Kevork had originally intended to return to Houston on Jan. 5. Following the death and burial of his brother, however, Sarkiss said he hoped to stay for another month.

“After 40 days we are going to have a requiem in the church,” in keeping with the Armenian Orthodox tradition, he said.

In the meantime, Kevork’s death weighs heavily upon his older brother, who says he blames himself for suggesting the trip.

“I cannot eat, neither drink. I am lost,” he said, sighing. “We were so good together.”

Among those killed was also Tarek Badr, Shatah’s personal bodyguard. His brother Mustapha mourned Tarek as someone who had “every good quality you could find in a person.”

Badr described his brother as responsible and family-oriented. After Mustapha and his brother Maher left the country, Tarek looked after their parents, nursing their father through his final days and continuing to care for their mother.

“He loved to help and he loved his work,” Mustapha said, adding that Tarek was extremely close to Shatah and took his job very seriously.

“He loved him a lot; they were together all day, every day. [Tarek] died next to him,” Mustapha said. “I live abroad and I was always telling him to get out, to travel, but he said no because he loved his job.”

Tarek was about to be engaged and was looking forward to marriage and building a family before he was killed, his brother said.

Anwar Badawi, a taxi driver, was just parting ways with friends to head to work when the blast occurred. His friend and colleague, Mohammad Zeaiter, was standing just a few feet away when he said there was a flash of blinding light and a deafening boom.

“I didn’t realize what was happening,” Zeaiter said.

He recalled his friend Badawi, who is survived by a wife and three children, as lightheartened and loyal.

“Whenever we were at work and someone was upset about something, he would make a joke,” he said. “He talked about his children a lot, especially his daughter. He was always thinking about them.”

Zeaiter lamented Badawi’s passing, adding that while he was alive, he hoped for nothing more than to stay afloat amid deteriorating economic and security conditions.

“We are taxi drivers, we live day to day,” Zeaiter said.

Nanor Yezegelian, the manager of the taxi company where Badawi worked, described him as a gregarious man with many friends.

“I know when people die, no one ever says anything bad about them, but he really was loved by everyone,” she told The Daily Star. “He loved life, he loved going out, he was always saying, ‘Come on, let’s party.’”

“He loved to joke, but he was quick to anger as well,” she added.

Yezegelian went on to say that Badawi usually made the commute from his home in Hadath much later, but he decided to come down early Friday to have coffee with some friends. She resists the temptation to wonder what might have happened if he had stuck to his regular schedule.

“We can say that, but we don’t really know,” she said.

In the south, the town of Kawtharieh buried Mohammad Nasser Mansour, a Jordanian national who was working as a guard at one of the banks in Starco when the bomb struck. Mansour’s body was turned over to his family by the judiciary after the relevant examinations had been carried out. No national public officials attended, with all the mourners local townspeople. – Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 30, 2013, on page 4.
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