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They may not have lived under Syria's three-decadelong occupation, but Utah's Lebanese-Americans know this much: They want the foreign troops out of their homeland.


"Enough is enough," says Victor Julian of Salt Lake City, who left Beirut in 1974. "Leave us alone and let us prosper."

Julian, 49, sits in Salt Lake City's Daghlian Oriental Rugs shop, across from store owner and friend, Raffi Daghlian, 52, who left Beirut in 1968 but visits often.

The two businessmen - among the nearly 2,000 Utahns of Lebanese ancestry - hope that growing world pressure will prompt lasting change and a return to better days in Lebanon.

"The march is on," Daghlian says of recent reforms in the Middle East. "And it's spreading."

To them, Beirut forever will be the "Paris of the Middle East." They are proud of their heritage, their homeland's beauty and the democracy, businesses and tourism that historically flourished in Lebanon.

Either one can rattle off names of famous Lebanese-Americans: Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, fashion designer Joseph Abboud and the late comedian Danny Thomas.

Estimates of the Lebanese-American population in the United States range from 2 million to 3 million.

The heightened call for change in Lebanon rang out in September, when the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1559, advocating the withdrawal of foreign forces, the disarmament of militias and a free and fair Lebanese presidential election, which is set for May.

But about 14,000 Syrian troops remain in the country - down from the tens of thousands who arrived in 1976 as peacekeepers during Lebanon's 1975 to 1990 civil war - and Damascus has largely dictated Lebanese politics ever since.

"If we can't govern ourselves, let the whole world blame us," says Julian, who dreams of moving back to Beirut. "But at least give us the chance. Let us try."

Last month's assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri - widely believed to have been orchestrated by the Syrian government - spawned a global outcry and a surge of protests.

The assassination ''is a sad ordeal,'' says Daghlian, who also owns the Cedars of Lebanon restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City.

"But on the other hand, I hate to say this, it's also a blessing because this is the first time the whole country has united - Christian, Muslim and Druse - to demand the withdrawal of Syria."

Not all Lebanese, though. Hundreds of thousands of pro-Syrian demonstrators gathered in central Beirut on Tuesday to decry foreign intervention and the growing movement to drive out Damascus' troops.

Julian and Daghlian agree that leaning on Syria may not be enough without added incentives - perhaps financial or a promise to Damascus of renewed negotiations with Israel. "You don't want to corner a cat," Daghlian warns.

Under a 1989 accord, Syrian troops were supposed to leave Lebanon by 1992.

"They're bleeding our relatives to death," says Lebanese-American John Anton, 85.

Although Anton was born in Salt Lake City and never has been to his ancestral home, he boasts, "Everything is better in Lebanon, and that's why they don't want to leave."

Daghlian and Julian say the Syrians have stayed to maintain a strategic position against Israel and to prevent the spread of democracy.

The Rev. Gebran Boumerhi, 51, of St. Jude Maronite Catholic Church in Murray, echoes the latter position: "They don't like to see democracy flourishing next to them because it might influence Syrians."

Boumerhi, who left Lebanon in 1983 and has been a priest in Utah for 18 years to mostly Lebanese parishioners, trusts that once Syria withdraws, his homeland will thrive again.

That's what Julian and Daghlian hope as well.

"Once we have stability, we can be stronger than before," Julian says. "And we'll know in the next month or two."