A new mood of conciliation appears to be surfacing among the Christians tucked away here in the mountainous northern Lebanese hinterlands where feuds are traditionally more common than compromise.
There now seems to be a determination among the feudal clans to turn away from memories of past slaughters by rival Christian militias and seek solidarity with other Christians, who now see themselves threatened as a group with the loss of their decades-long political domination of Lebanon.
"I think it is time for us to communicate because the Christians need to be strong," said 18-year-old Boutros Franjieh, whose father, mother and brother were slain in the June 13, 1978, raid on Ehden by a rival Christian faction.
Among those killed that night was Tony Franjieh, son of the clan patriarch, Suleiman Franjieh, a former president of Lebanon, and Tony's wife and baby daughter.
In a recent interview at his summer residence in Ehden, Suleiman Franjieh voiced a desire for forgiveness and said, "I am ready for any sacrifices if it brings people back to their consciences." The former president regards Israel as the cause of most of Lebanon's problems and said he could not work with Lebanese who are still linked to that country.
He spoke against the backdrop of a rising challenge to the Christians' longtime political dominance of Lebanon.
Earlier this week, a coalition of Moslem and mostly Greek Orthodox Christian opposition leaders met in the central Lebanese town of Shtawrah to proclaim the formation of a pro-Syrian National Unity Front. The group denounced the trend to partition the country and urged an end to the allocation of political offices and legislative power according to religious affiliation.The presidency, Lebanon's top executive post, always goes to a Maronite Christian -- Maronites, affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, make up the country's largest Christian group. The premiership goes to a Sunni Moslem and the office of house speaker to a Shiite Moslem. The Army's commander in chief, the chief of military intelligence and the governor of the central bank are also Maronites.
The language of the Syrian-sponsored Shtawrah declaration was mild, but the intent was clear: The days of Maronite supremacy are over. Like Franjieh, who stayed away from the meeting and sent no one to represent him, most Maronite Christians boycotted the conference.
The wish to protect their remaining privileges has propelled Christians toward a forced solidarity, but they are not rallying behind Amin Gemayel, the country's Maronite president. Gemayel is increasingly isolated from both the Christian community, which considers him ineffectual, and from the Moslems, who doubt his ability to introduce reforms that will reduce the political influence of his own group.
Franjieh has repeatedly called Gemayel a "sick head that must fall," but he is not among the Gemayel critics who want to both unseat the president and radically change the Lebanese governing formula. The Shtawrah statement called for the distribution of political posts according to merit and for changes in the constitution, the electoral system and the citizenship laws.
Franjieh was president in 1975, when Lebanon's civil war pitted Moslems against Christians in a sectarian conflict fueled by discord over the governing formula that favors the Christian minority. Franjieh still considers the presidency a sacred right of Christian Maronites.
"To have the president from a sect other than the Maronites would be racing ahead of reality," Franjieh said. "The situation in Lebanon does not permit big strides but one step at a time," he added.
Franjieh's approach to changes in the Lebanese system remains conservative despite his dislike of Gemayel and Gemayel's closeness to Syria, which has ostensibly backed Moslem demands for a more balanced distribution of power. Commenting on Shiite demands to have the president elected by a popular rather than a parliamentary vote to accommodate the growing number of Lebanon's 1 million Shiites, Franjieh said, "No true Lebanese politician would make such a request."
Franjieh said that some of the points raised in the Shtawrah declaration were valid but added that they should be combined with certain elements raised in a "constitutional document" he drafted in 1976 with Syrian approval. A key point then was a call for a 50-50 representation of Moslems and Christians in parliament. Christians now have a 6-5 edge. Franjieh added that he backed moderate Moslem demands for equality.
On Shiite Moslem demands for a greater share in Lebanon's decision-making establishment and more rights, Franjieh said, "Naturally, man will ask for what he wishes. But what they are asking for should be based on a right that is not theirs alone or the property of a specific region. Every area, every religious group in Lebanon has the same rights."
Lebanon's Shiite Moslems, who live mostly in the south, complain of neglect and scarce village development funds.
Franjieh said all Lebanese villages receive all the services the state provides. But the well-paved wide highways leading to the mountain resort of Ehden contrast starkly with the pot-holed and tattered road network in southern Lebanon.
Franjieh complained that although the country was 42 billion pounds in debt, no money had been spent on northern Lebanon, one-fifth of the nation.
Asked whether negotiation was possible with such militant figures as Moslem Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who declared he has banned the Lebanese anthem and national flag in his areas, Franjieh insisted that discussions were necessary.
Franjieh's softening stand on Christian groups he once disclaimed indicates he is eager to see the Lebanon of old survive.
Franjieh said Lebanon's future could be "as white as snow" if politicians and officials had the right intentions. The ugly memory of the Ehden massacre has faded just as have the many portraits of Tony Franjieh glimpsed on the stone walls in the narrow lanes of Ehden's market quarter.