This famine will cause between 100,000 and 300,000 deaths in Mount Lebanon, or between a third to half of the population, then estimated at 500,000 people. No Lebanese family will be spared and our elders still evoked us a few decades ago, this period when many became orphans. A duty of remembrance is imperative, something that the Lebanese authorities have only recently taken into account, with the inauguration of a monument – the work of Yazan Halwani – in memory of these victims which will not be erected until 2016. .

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Described as being “the sick man of Europe” geostrategically because of its economic and military weakness, the Ottoman Empire very early joined the axis of the Austro-Hungarian and German empires, more commonly called Triplice, during the First World War, by the signing of a secret alliance on August 2, 1914, only a few days after the start of this conflict, on July 28, 1914. On November 3, France and the United Kingdom declared war on the Ottoman Empire.

The interest of the Ottoman Empire in the making of an alliance lay in an attempt at revenge especially on the Russian Empire, for its part a member of the Triple Entente with the France and the United Kingdom. Russia had indeed annexed a number of Ottoman territories in the Caucasus during the conflict of 1877 to 1878. He For the Axis forces, the aim was to weaken the Russian troops in order to to be able to concentrate on the Western front and in particular vis-à-vis France.

The Moutassarifiah Prologue

Lebanon had until then lived under the Moutassarifiah regime, with an Ottoman governor but belonging to the Christian community, the last being Ohannès Kouyoumdjian said Ohannes Pasha (1856-1933), Armenian Catholic. This particular diet had like capital Beiteddine and Baabda.

This autonomous regime had been put in place at the end of the intercommunity conflict between Druze and Maronites in 1861 and which had already ended with the French military intervention and the political pressure from Great Britain, Russia and Prussia on the Sublime Porte to stop the massacres.

During this political regime, the Mount Lebanon will experience a considerable economic boom with the establishment a real hub for world trade provided by the Port of Beirut. Its economy was also mainly agricultural with tobacco, olives and the production of derived products such as soap and the breeding of silkworms which will allow the establishment of a small textile industry.
Faced with this economic boom, an important social evolution will take place. place with the appearance of a petty bourgeoisie in the cities – which will be more claimant of rights to a certain political autonomy for the region – and a small and medium peasantry. Lebanon is also more open on the world by its port facilities, many subjects considered of the Ottoman Empire but originating from Mount Lebanon will emigrate to Brazil or to USA from where they will be imbued with a democratic culture.

The will of the Ottoman Empire: to avoid the revolt of minorities present on its territory

During the conflict of the First World War, the Ottoman authorities then wanted to take a series of measures to avoid any revolt on its territory supported by England as was the case in 1840 and France in 1860. This concerned more particularly the territories where resided important religious and ethnic minorities whom the Sublime Porte accused of collaborating with its enemies. These were in particular the Arab territories of his empire – and rightly so as we can see following the action of Laurence of Arabia with the Sherif of Mecca, Emir Faycal, – but also Armenian and Assyrian territories. or those where there is an important Christian community, more particularly in Lebanon.

Jamal Pasha, known as the Butcher or Jamal the Bloodthirsty. He is considered responsible for the Armenian genocide and the Great Famine of Lebanon
Jamal Pasha, known as the Butcher or Jamal the Bloodthirsty. He is considered responsible for the Armenian genocide and the Great Famine of Lebanon

Thus, in 1914, Sultan Mehmed V appointed Jamal Pasha at the head of civil and military affairs in the Middle East, who would bear the nickname of Boucher or be called Jamal Pasha the Bloodthirsty. The latter will suspend the Moutassarifiah regime in 1915.

Serial disasters, at the origin of Famine

From December 1914, the forces Allies establish a maritime blockade of the Levantine coasts, with the aim of to prevent the supply of food from Egypt, the breadbasket of the Ottoman empire.

In 1915, the Ottoman authorities decide to requisition food reserves as well as crops to feed their troops there. To the maritime blockade of the forces of the Entente Troop joined by Italy, plus a land blockade imposed by Jamal Pasha and the German troops present there.

At the local level, the situation will be aggravated by an invasion of locusts which will decimate the skinny harvests between April and June 1915. According to the accounts of the time, what will become Lebanon was “plunged into the darkness of this cloud of orthoptera”, putting endangered the population.

From 1916, a misfortune not sufficient not, the Ottoman Empire decides to replace the Turkish Lira in gold with the issue of paper. Thus, the territory will experience a rapid increase in prices. According to the chronicles of the time, food prices will be multiplied by 27, well beyond the financial capacities of many people.

Also in 1916, since abroad, the Lebanese diaspora is trying to mobilize asking for action in particular from the USA which was still neutral at the time. In a letter to Mary Haskell, Gébran Khalil Gébran will accuse the Turkish authorities by name of having planned famine.
“80,000 have already succumbed by the end and thousands are all dying days. The same process that takes place with Armenian Christians affects the Christians of Mount Lebanon ”.

However, both the British responsible for the maritime blockade and who fear its diversion that the Turks refuse that food aid to the Lebanese population can be transported from Egypt where diaspora committees were formed.

To the food crisis, Then there are diseases like Typhus and Malaria.

According to the testimony of the time, thousands of corpses were collected to be buried in false towns. Others report acts of cannibalism within families. Any means was then good to survive.

In its misfortunes, the population Lebanese will win brothers of misfortune with the arrival in Lebanon of a great Armenian community which was practically decimated on the territories Ottomans.

Hunger will end with the victory of the allies and the arrival of French and British troops in Mount Lebanon. However, the situation will not normalize until the beginning of 1919.

This famine will impact the modern history of Lebanon, since during the creation of Greater Lebanon, the then Maronite Patriarch Elias Hoayek, demanded that the new state could be enlarged in place of the Bekaa and Akkar, which could serve as an attic. wheat in the event of a new famine.

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