Making Phoenician history accessible to all

Susan Velasquez
Newark City Guide Examiner

Salim George Khalaf, founder and author of the Encyclopedia Phoeniciana, has been sharing his knowledge and information on Phoenician history since 1996. Discovering an obvious lack of accurate historical information about his culture and background, he decided to put his own website together, and it is now considered one of the best resources for students and artists. He is now working with Dr. Nicholas Kahwaji at the newly formed Phoenician International Research Center.

According to their website: The center is a not-for-profit organization, which researches the history and contribution to world culture of the Canaanite Phoenicians and Punic people, from the dawn of history until present day. It supports ancient history student scholarships, disseminates information through phoenicia.org, builds international and domestic relations with similar centers, publishes books on the subject, creates electronic libraries and databases, and promotes the preservation and protection of Phoenician antiquities and historic sites.

The center is in touch with scholars in Italy to promote collaboration with Italian, Tunisian and Spanish centers and scholars that work in this field. Further, the center looks forward to signing collaborative agreements with Lebanese institutes, centers and universities that are interested in pursuing this subject.

The center also plans to compile information about museum treasures of the same, audio-visual materials, fund and promote archaeological digs, be a watchdog over Phoenician treasures from illegal trafficking, and monitor Phoenician and Punic sites from looting and destruction by working with international and domestic bodies to expose dangers that such sites fall prey to.

We spoke to Salim about how the idea for his website came about, how the historical information is gathered and his mission to clarify so many cultural misconceptions.

How did your idea to create this website come about?

For the past 14 years I have been working for a company that helps AIDS victims in Africa and Asia, and they wanted me to start a website. I never got to travel to those locations myself as I used to be in design and printing; so more of a technician doing the behind the scenes work. I then taught myself how to work in web pages, and I have been growing in that field since 1996. This was when not many people had websites so I taught myself everything by reading books and using different software and applications. My website is in 5 languages now but initially was in English, French, and Spanish. It is now in Arabic and Russian too. I was one of the writers for my company, publishing the medical material for them. My book for them was a compilation of what they had been doing the past 14 years. I wrote that book before 1996, when I started my own website, Phoenicia, which is totally my own work. The website is based on Lebanese history, which is Phoenician history. The subject of my ancestors was always taught to me in a very minor, childish or elementary way in school. It wasn’t anything in depth and when I went to university I didn’t find anything that taught me about the real contribution of the Phoenicians to world culture. I read and learned more, and then found out about some sort of conspiracy to cover up or ignore a major part of our history. I discovered that so many famous and historical figures are from Phoenician or Lebanese decent, but it is hidden and not taught in schools. An example of this is everything now says Pythagoras the painter is Greek, but he was actually Phoenician, from his father. Many philosophers, a saint, many popes, and people very critical in the history of Christianity were all Phoenicians. You can find out more about this on my website in the VIP section. Some Roman Emperors were Phoenician and even Saint Augustine who lived in the 4th century came from Phoenician origin.

I am American now but where I was educated, in my ex country, they want to stress Arab and Muslim influence in their teachings, and they don’t want to talk about anything else. Through my research I found out the first Christians were Phoenicians, as well as many queens. Queen Jezebel, who became Queen of Israel, was Phoenician as there was lots of mixing with Jews in that part of the world. So the first Christians were the Phoenicians and the first church in the region, which is Lebanon today, were all Christian as well. All their major cities and churches had bishops that were appointed by the Apostles. Then the Byzantines and eventually the Arabs came and the major churches of the East took over the region. The Phoenicians were killed, driven out or forced to convert. Later on the Christians were persecuted again and again and this led to more wars in the region. I found myself in front of a huge amount of information that was being ignored, and not being taught in the schools. People were claiming it for themselves, whether Arab or Israelis, and saying they were Phoenicians. Then two important people from National Geographic did scientific studies on the DNA of people in the region, to establish who was Phoenician. Further information on this can be found on the website. They took DNA samples from Phoenician Kings, and then they tested Lebanese people and others from all over the Mediterranean, including Malta and Spain. They found that in Malta 50% of people came from Phoenician descendants. So Phoenicians are still here and alive, even though we speak different languages or are different religions. I don’t have political or religious ambitions. I just want to tell the truth about our history. We have a center for scholarships, and we publish books that aren’t in print. Only 1-2% of all documentaries made are about the Phoenicians, but everything else is made about Egyptians or other cultures in the region, so there is almost no information out there about Phoenicians. Nobody supports me and I just want to make this information known to anyone who wants to know.

From which sources have you compiled all this history?

On my website there is a section called Bibliography and that shows all of the sources. There are more than 700 sources, many of which are historical books from the library. Every time someone writes a book about Phoenicians I will promote it for free, so that people know about the subject. If anyone wants to know more about the non-profit organization that we started called Phoenician International Research Center, just visit the website. They can read about the scholarships we plan to give students when we have the funds, and we also plan to protect the artifacts of the Phoenicians. We will also go to conferences and talk about the history of the Phoenicians. It is a tax exempt entity, which will help people donate money, so we can send students to learn more about their history.

Is a lot of your music inspired by the history that you study?

I studied music and I write some music, and some of my music is inspired by the history. An example of this is a Coronation March for the King of Byblos that I wrote. If you go to the music page you will find it. It’s an organ and percussion piece.

It seems you are looking to clarify a lot of the misconceptions about your country’s history with this website.

I haven’t been back to my country in 25 years, and I am not attacking anybody or saying anything bad about anybody. I am just writing about my history and telling the truth. If you search for Phoenicia on Google my website will come up immediately. It has been online for many years and it has become a resource for students and artists, and all sorts of people that want to write fiction for example. It is a center for inspiration and information. I didn’t publish a book on this subject as it would be about 1,900 pages if I did, and it is a lot of work for one person. I have no help whatsoever running my website, so I do what I can. I would love to have volunteers that can help me with such tasks as cleaning texts, and fixing spelling. I would like someone to help me with the graphics as I can’t do it all myself.

It is easier for me to do it in this country, as there is too much chaos in my old country and they wouldn’t like it. I was granted an award in 2008 by The World Lebanese Culture Union – a grouping of Lebanese immigrants from all over the world that run the union. This award was also given to the Prime Minister of Canada and appears on the first page of my website. Lebanon has immigrants all over the world so we are very well represented in this organization. I want my website to help people remember their history and culture.

To learn more about Salim and Phoenician history, visit his website at phoenicia.org

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