MOSTAFA MINAWI: Hello, everybody. Thank you so much for coming-- again, great turnout. I'm really happy to see you here, especially my students. Yay. Thank you for coming. This is the last talk of the series. The whole year, the theme has been World War I and the Ottoman Empire. And I think it's the perfect last talk to wrap up this series. And I'll tell you why.
First of all, let me tell you, my name is Mostafa Minawi. I'm an assistant professor in the Department of History. And I'm the director of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Initiative, OTSI.
If you indulge me, I would like to read a very brief quote from Eugene Rogan's brand new book. It just got reviewed in the New York Times over the weekend. Mazels.
I'll explain why I'm reading this paragraph. And it's from the preface. "The monument to the Turkish who are dead of what they called the Battle of Zigindere or Gully Ravine, came as a total revelation to me. While my great uncle's unit had suffered 1,400 casualties, half its total strength, and British losses had overall reached 3,800, as many as 14,000 Ottomans fell dead and wounded at Gully Ravine. The Nuri Yamut Monument is the mass grave of those Ottoman soldiers interred under a common marble tombstone inscribed simply [ARABIC], or 'Martyrdom 1915.'
All the books I had read on the Cameronians treated the terrible waste of British life on the day that my great uncle had died. None of the English sources had mentioned the thousands of Turkish war dead. It was sobering to realize that the number of bereaved Turkish families would have so surpassed the number of those grieving in Scotland.
I came away from Gallipoli struck by how little we in the West know about the Turkish and Arab experiences of the Great War. The scores of books published in English on the different Middle Eastern fronts reflect British or Allied experiences. Gallipoli was "Churchill's Debacle." Kut al-Amara was 'Townshend's surrender.' The Arab Revolt was led by 'Lawrence of Arabia.' It was 'Maude's entry' to Baghdad and 'Allenby's conquest' of Jerusalem.
Social historians came to break with official history's top-down approach probed experiences of the common soldier by reading the diaries and letters held in private paper archives in London's Imperial War Museum, Canberra's Australian War Memorial at Wellingtons Alexander Turnbull Library. After a century of research, we have a comprehensive view of the Allied side of the trenches. But we are only just beginning to come to terms with the other side, the experiences of Ottoman soldiers caught up in a desperate struggle for survival against powerful invaders."
The reason I read this quote, because it resonated a lot with me when we were trying to come up with themes for this year, for the Ottoman Turkish Studies Initiative, we thought that it is best to try and turn the spotlight on this 100th year anniversary of the beginning of the World War on the experiences that are rarely talked about, the experiences of both civilians and soldiers on the Ottoman front-- in the Balkans, in Anatolia, and of course, in the Arab world.
So this, today's talk, which I think is partially based or comes out of World War I, but it's a little newer than what is in the book. Am I right? We'll deal with the Arab experience of World War I, particularly in Beirut.
So let's [INAUDIBLE] a lot more than the speaker series, we had to come up with a World War I theme for Cornell community, as well as the community in Ithaca and universities close by. We partnered with Cornell Cinema, where we showed Gallipoli. And we had a little discussion. Ararat, and we had a little discussion.
We collaborated with the Olin Library for their Battlefields' Readings, where we read in Ottoman Turkish and Arabic from memoirs from the battlefield. We offered the senior center the World War I in the Middle East. And we had a very good speaker series of scholars that are working on new scholarship. Basically, the oldest scholarship is from 2012. So then '12, '13, '14, and of course, today is '15.
[INAUDIBLE] from MIT talked about the experience of Armenian women and children during and after World War I. [? Multi ?] [? Fuhrman ?] from [INAUDIBLE] University in [INAUDIBLE] talked about the connection between Turkish nationalism and German colonialism during World War I. [INAUDIBLE] from Richmond talked about the concept of sacrifice and manliness amongst our soldiers during World War I.
A couple of weeks ago, [INAUDIBLE] talked about the denial of violence of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey. And today, last, but not least, we have Professor Eugene Rogan joining us from Oxford to talk about the Arabic experience in World War I, particularly in Beirut.
Before I properly introduce Professor Rogan, I would like to thank the co-sponsors. Of course, we have the Einaudi Center. Most of the programming that we were able to do was due to a generous grant from the Enaudi Center for International Studies, [INAUDIBLE] grants. Of course, for now, the for European Studies, which is the mother ship that OTSI he belongs to.
We also had great support from their Near Eastern Studies department, as well as from the German Studies department, and FGSS.
A quick mention of next year, 2015/16, the theme will be "Law in the Ottoman Empire," which will be in partnership with the law school. And we are holding a conference, OTSI Ottoman-- law school and Cornell Medical Center to discuss the current refugee crisis in the Middle East, and of course, in the Mediterranean. We're focusing on the health aspects of it. A lot of the refugees are in Turkey, which is why I'm involved.
But now, allow me to introduce Professor Eugene Rogan. Eugene is the director of the Middle East Centre at St. Anthony's College at the University of Oxford. He taught at Boston College and Sarah Lawrence College before taking up his post in Oxford in 1991, where he teaches the modern history of the Middle East.
He is the author of The Arabs-- A History. It came out from Penguin in 2009 which, has been translated into 10 languages and was named one of the best books of 2009 by the Economist, the Financial Times, and the Atlantic Monthly.
His earlier works include Frontiers of the State in the Ottoman Empire, 1999, for which he received the Albert Hourani Book Award of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and Koprulu Prize of the Turkish Studies Association. The War for Palestine, Rewriting the History of 1948, which came out in 2001. And, of course, it's printed on one. [LAUGHS]
Last but not least is the newest book, which is The Fall of the Ottomans, the Great War in the Middle East, by Basic Books, which came out really in March. So it's brand new.
I wanted to really give a warm welcome for Professor Rogan, because he traveled a very long and arduous way to get here. And the flight into Newark was fine. His other flight got canceled. So he had to stay in Newark overnight. His morning flight got canceled, so he had to drive. And he arrived about half an hour ago. And here he is giving a talk. So please, give him a warm welcome.
EUGENE ROGAN: Thank you, Mostafa. I know there's usually an adrenaline rush before you stand before an audience and deliver. But I've lived today in such a state of heightened anxiety--
--that just to be here with you and to see all of you here, I can just feel myself beginning to relax. So if I start getting soft around the edges, forgive me.
I am delighted to be here. This is, I hate to admit, my very first visit to Cornell. And yet, to mark the occasion, I was kind of excited about getting to speak here. And so instead of recycling one of a number of lectures that I've been giving over the past year, I wanted to do something new.
I think the first book I read on the First World War was Paul Fussell's The Great War in Modern Memory, and had been so struck by that part of the book he dedicated to exploring the lives and the work of the British war poets. And that seemed to me to be such a distinctive part of the British war experience, of the Great War. And what kind of war took literary geniuses like that and put them in the trenches until they fought themselves to death? I thought it was distinctly British.
One of the things that's been really exciting as I did the research for writing the book on the Ottoman Experience of the First World War was to see how universal the experience of trying to capture something so out of the normal as war in verse. It's almost as though Ottomans and Arabs and Germans and Britons and French faced with the magnitude of the horror found that prose failed them. And for those who had an education, poetry would've played such a big part in it, that whether they were good at it, most of the time, they were actually quite terrible at it. It's quite striking how many people on both sides of the trenches try to capture the experience in poetry.
And so I've been making the Arab and Turkish literary experience of the war a sideline of my research and something I wasn't able to work into the book. And tonight's actually comes from a play that I've read since completing the book. This is sort of a treat I gave myself. And so if you find me leaning on my text a little bit more than usual, it's because I'm refamiliarizing myself with my own reading of this play.
Now Hagel remarks somewhere that "'All great world historical facts and personages occur as it were twice,' Marx famously wrote in the preface to The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. He has forgotten to add, the first time is tragedy. The second is farce." Well, for two nights in 1919, the people of Beirut relived the tragedy of the Great War for the second time as melodrama.
Two local theater troops, the Young Syria Company and the National Revival Drama Company combined forces in 1919 to stage a new play by a Maronite author named George [? Murad, ?] entitled Beirut on the Stage, Beirut [NON-ENGLISH], or Four Years of the War. The play was unabashedly Lebanist and pro-French. The author dedicated the work to [? Nahum ?] [? Bahus, ?] who he claimed served the four years of the war as the sole link between the French government and the Lebanese people. [? Bahus ?] allegedly had risked his life sailing between Syria and the French-held island of Arwad, or Ruad, as the French called it, as a liaison between the Maronites and their French patrons.
After the war, [? Bahus ?] made common cause with such Maronite luminaries as Émile Eddé, Michel Shiha, [? Beshar ?] [? Eljuri, ?] and Alfred [? Nachash ?] in founding the [FRENCH], the progress party, quote, "for Lebanon with France." There's the motto in the party. It tells you everything you need to know about the politics of these men. So the play by [? Murad ?] reflected the political leanings both of its author and of the man to whom he dedicated the work.
In a preface to the printed version of the play, which was published months after it was first staged in 1920, [? Murad ?] invites the reader to return with him "to past times whose consequences are still with us to turn together the bloody pages of a painful history that we might learn a lesson from the past." The play captured what [? Murad ?] claimed were "the ideas of the witnesses of that painful war that played out on the stage of Syria." So already this notion of Syria as a theater of war is taking this literary meaning of becoming the theater in which the war is replayed.
The play distilled the trauma of each year of the war into one act-- four years of war in four acts. To overcome the breadth of the subject and the limits of time, [? Murad ?] inflicted virtually every catastrophe of the first war upon a single family, [? Kamel, ?] his wife [? Salma, ?] and their two children, [? Haifa ?] and [? Jean. ?] Rather than fully developed characters, the main protagonists serve as vehicles to represent the collective experiences of the war. [? Kamel ?] and his family were passive victims of Turkish injustice and the misfortunes of war, not tragic characters whose lives were shaped by their own decisions.
So the play opens with a moment of celebration. On an unspecified day in 1914, [? Kamel ?] returns from Paris after a four-year absence and is greeted by his loving family. But their joy is short-lived. [? Kamel ?] returns with the grave news that war has been declared, and Turkey has concluded an alliance with Germany. Time has been compressed. And the events of 1914 unfold as if on a single day. The abolition of the capitulations, the closure of leading Beiruti newspapers, Djemal Pasha's appointment as governor-general of Syria, the Ottoman entry into the war, conscription and wartime requisitioning are all revealed on the day of [? Kamel's ?] return.
And to crown off the tensions, [? Kamel ?] is carrying a secret letter that will spell the family's undoing. Now here I'd like to make a digression and fill in a little bit of background here on the rise of Arabism. The unionist government, that is to say, the government of the Committee of Union of progress that came to power in the years following the 1908 Young Turk Revolution had adopted a number of policies intended to combat the centripetal forces that were pulling the Ottoman Empire apart and to help govern it more efficiently.
The rule of law, including such unpopular measures as taxation and conscription would be applied with equal rigor across all provinces of the empire without exception. And all Ottomans would be pressed into using Ottoman Turkish in their official interactions with their state. These centralizing measures targeted the Arab provinces in a bid to prevent the emergence of separatist movements, such as turn the Balkans from a toponym into a verb, the Balkanization of the Arab world is exactly what the Ottomans hoped to prevent by these measures.
Increasingly, after 1909, the Ottoman Turkish language just placed Arabic in schools, in the courtrooms, and in government offices in the provinces of greater Syria and Iraq. Senior government appointments went to Turkish officials while experienced Arab civil servants were left to fill lower level jobs, predictably. These unpopular measures drove many loyal Arab subjects, disappointed by the authoritarian turn of Young Turk rule, to form civil society organizations to combat what they called Turkification, and to promote Arab culture and Arab values within the Ottoman Empire.
Not yet nationalist, these Arabist societies called for greater Arab cultural and political rights within the framework of the Ottoman Empire. Arabist societies were established in Istanbul, as well as in the Arab provinces. Arab members of the Ottoman parliament played an active role in the meetings at the Istanbul-based Arab Ottoman Brotherhood Association and the literary club to debate cultural matters of common concern.
Reform societies were created in Beirut and in Basra. And the National Scientific Club opened in Baghdad. These societies met openly with the full knowledge of the Ottoman authorities and came under the full scrutiny of the secret police. One of the most influential Arabist societies was established beyond the reach of Ottoman censors and police. The Young Arab Society, also known as Al-Fatat, from its Arabic name [ARABIC], was founded by a group of Syrian Muslims in Paris in 1909. Al-Fatat sought Arab equality within the framework of an Ottoman Empire reconceived as a binational Turco-Arab Empire on the model of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire.
As [? Taufiq ?] [? al-Nathur, ?] one of the founders of the party, recalled, "all that we as Arabs wanted was to have the same rights and obligations in the Ottoman Empire as the Turks themselves and have the empire composed of two great nationalities, Turk and Arab." The unionists viewed the proliferation of Arab societies with mounting concern. At the height of the Balkan Wars, the Young Turks were in no mood to compromise with demands for decentralization and dual monarchies. When in February 1913, the Beirut reform society published a manifesto calling for administrative decentralization, the Ottoman authorities clamped down.
On April 8, 1913, police closed the offices of the Beirut Reform Society and ordered that organization to disband. The influential members of the society called for a citywide strike and organized petitions to the Grand Vizier, protesting the closure. Several society members were arrested for agitation. And Beirut entered a period of intense political crisis that lasted one week, until the prisoners had been released, and the strike brought to an end.
But the Beirut Reform Society never reopened its doors. And its members were forced to meet in secret, as Arabism went underground. Faced with mounting Ottoman opposition, the Arabists took their cause to the international community. Members of Al-Fatat in Paris decided to convene a meeting in the French capital to enjoy the freedom to discuss and debate politics without fear of Ottoman repression, and to raise international support for their demands.
Invitations were dispatched to Arabist societies across the Ottoman Empire. In Egypt, Europe, and the Americas, despite the best efforts of the Ottoman ambassador to Paris, to force the closure of the meeting, 23 delegates-- 11 Muslims, 11 Christians, and 1 Jew-- arrived in Paris to take part in the first Arab Congress, which opened before an audience of 150 observers on the 18th of June, 1913.
Now the Young Turks dispatched their Secretary General [? Midhak ?] [? Shukru ?] in a damage control exercise to try and engage Congress delegates in negotiations towards an agreed reform agenda. But the Ottoman mediators managed to conclude a reform agenda that went some way towards addressing the resolutions of the Arab Congress. The Paris agreement offered to expand Arab participation in all levels of bottom government to extend the use of Arabic language and confirmed that soldiers from Arab provinces would serve in nearby countries.
The port invited delegates to the Arab Congress to Istanbul to celebrate this agreement. The three delegates who accepted the invitation were given a warm reception in the imperial capital, where they met with the sultan, [INAUDIBLE], the crown prince, the Grand Vezier, [INAUDIBLE], and the ruling triumvirates, Enver, Talaat, and Djemal. They were hosting the lavish dinners and exchanged warm words of Turkish Arab brotherhood with men at the highest level of the Ottoman government.
But as Tawfiq al-Suwaidi, a delegate to the Arab Congress from Baghdad recalled, "Those familiar with the internal state of affairs in the Ottoman Empire were of the belief that these phenomena were nothing more than a stalling maneuver, and when the time was right, a means of bearing down on those who had organized the Arab Congress.
And as Suwaidi suggested, with the benefit of hindsight-- he wrote his memoirs a long time after these events-- the organizers of the Arab Congress were marked men. Within three years of the Arab Congress, several of their numbers met their death at the gallows for their Arabist policies, an event that will crop up again in the course of our play.
So let me return to Beirut on the Stage. Arabists in Paris entrusted [? Kamel, ?] the paterfamilias, with a letter addressed to the president of the banned Beirut Reform Society, whose offices, as I said, had been closed by the Ottoman officials in April of 1913. [? Kamel ?] asked his daughter's fiancé [? Fuad ?] to deliver the compromising document. And [? Fuad ?] agrees to the dangerous mission, rather than refuse a request from his future father-in-law.
On his way to deliver the letter, [? Fuad ?] learns that the Ottoman authorities had just seized the files of the French Consulate in Beirut. [? Fuad ?] knew that the French held letters that would compromise the members of the Reform Society and returned to [? Kamel's ?] home, the letter still undelivered. He finds [? Kamel ?] deep in conversation with [? Kamel's ?] brother [? Youssef, ?] who is also a member of the Reform Society.
[? Youssef ?] takes the letter from future son-in-law [? Fuad ?] and pockets it. Moments later, the police enter, find the compromising letter, arrest [? Kamel, ?] the paterfamilias, and his brother [? Youssef. ?] The curtain falls on the distraught family, who lose their head of house on the very day of his return from Paris.
Act 2 opens in 1915. [? Kamel ?] has been exiled to [? Jahan ?] in Anatolia, a fate that befell many Syrians and Lebanese of dubious loyalty to the Ottoman state. [? Kamel's ?] brother [? Youssef ?] is in yet more danger. He has been put on trial by military officials. And a tribunal convened in the Lebanese mountain town of Aley to judge Arabists charged with treason. And [? Kamel's ?] wife, [? Salma, ?] has contracted typhus, a disease that swept the Ottoman Empire right through the years of the war, and is bedridden, hovering between life and death.
Shortage stalks Beirut. Their daughter [? Haifa ?] can buy no flower in the markets. The government is forcing its subjects to convert their gold coinage into paper money that merchants refuse. Here again, you get the condensation of a whole year's events into a single day. But to a Beiruti audience, these hardships of war, no doubt, would have merged together in memory just as they had in the script.
The venality and the cruelty of the Turks emerge as a dominant theme in the second act. Do you want to have a seat?
No, I'm fine.
Are you sure? Because there's plenty of room up here. OK.
No worries. Health officials from the Red Crescent insisting [? Kamel's ?] wife [? Salma, ?] who's got typhus, be quarantined in hospital only relent when they're offered a bribe. Why didn't you speak to us in this language before, they asked [? Fuad, ?] who was acting on behalf of this fiance's family in making the bribes.
Another team of officials arrive, demanding the women of the house undertake forced labor, sewing sacks for the government. A group of surveyors then enter the house to advise the family that their property has been slated for demolition by the municipality to enable them to widen the street. They leave a promissory note for the assessed value of the house, which of course is only a fraction of its market value, and that only payable at the end of the war.
In a desperate effort to prevent the Ottoman officials, who've been flooding the stage as the act wears on, from carrying out their nefarious plans, [? Fuad, ?] the future son-in-law, draws a pistol on the authorities, who promptly arrest and conscript him into the Ottoman Army. So the second act ends with stretcher bearers carrying away [? Kamel's ?] wife [? Salma, ?] who actually dies of typhus in hospital quarantine. As the curtain falls, [? Kamel's ?] two children, [? Haifa ?] and [? Jean, ?] find themselves homeless and orphaned.
So here's time for a second digression on the nature of wartime suffering that the play is capturing here. Starting in 1915, the Ottoman authorities began to exile large numbers of Arab citizens of questionable loyalty. Djemal Pasha, one of the three ruling triumvirates took much of the credit for this policy. "'There are people I have personally exiled everywhere,' he once boasted with a smile to the Turkish journalist Falih Rifki." The primary targets were men suspected of Arabist leanings and Arab Christians whose churches had enjoyed the great power protection of Russia or France, with whom, of course, the Ottomans were now at war.
Unlike the Armenian deportations, exile in the Arab provinces was not a prelude to massacre or death march. Rather, it was a way of neutralizing the threat, an individual posed to the state, by disconnecting him from dangerous friends and associates. Men in exile were forced to live off their personal resources. And when these were depleted, were totally reliant on the Ottoman government. Their friends and family went to great lengths to demonstrate their loyalty to the Ottoman state to help secure the return of their loved ones from exile.
An estimated 50,000 people were exiled by the Ottoman authorities in the course of the war. Villages already depopulated by conscription were increasingly diminished by this new policy of exile. The impact on trade and agriculture was devastating, as shops closed and fields lay idle in farms worked by exhausted women, children, and the elderly.
Nature compounded the catastrophe of war when clouds of locusts descended on greater Syria. "Locusts are attacking all over the country," Ihsan Turjman noted in his diary in Jerusalem, in March 1915. "The locust invasion started seven days ago and covered the sky. Today it took the locust clouds two hours to pass over the city of Jerusalem," he wrote. "God protect us from the three plagues-- war, locusts, and disease, for they are spreading through the country."
The Syrian lands had suffered from locust plagues in the past. But the invasion of 1915 was unprecedented in modern times, in both its intensity and its geographic extent. In a desperate bid to halt the infestation, the Ottoman authorities ordered all citizens aged between 15 and 60 to collect 20 kilos of locust eggs each week to be delivered to government depots for destruction.
I haven't quite got my head around what that means. I don't know how big a locust's egg is that one could reasonably collect 20 kilos of the stuff in the course of a week. But this is, by all accounts, what the Ottomans demanded of their subjects in the Arab provinces, or else they would face a stiff fine.
The people of Jerusalem, at any rate, took the levy seriously. Six weeks after the locusts first appeared, Ihsan Turjman, whose diary I just quoted-- this is from Salim Tamari's Year of the Locust, which is available in a wonderful English translation, one of the few documents we have from the Arab Ottoman experience of the war-- anyway, six weeks after the locusts first appeared, Turjman noticed that the shops in Jerusalem were closed, quote, "since most people were out collecting locust eggs." Again, 20 kilos of eggs. I'll bet the shops were closed.
Government measures were totally inadequate to contain the locust threat. Clouds of the insects continued to ravage farms and orchards through the summer months and deep into the autumn. Harvests were ravaged, with regions of Syria reporting losses ranging from 75% to 90% of their crops. What survived the locusts, of course, went to feed the army, or was hoarded by the fortunate few. The inevitable result was a critical food shortage. Hunger began to spread across the towns and villages of Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon.
By December 1915, there was no flour in the markets of Jerusalem. "I haven't seen darker days in my life," Ihsan Turjman recorded in his diary. "Flour and bread have basically disappeared since last Saturday. Many people have not eaten bread for days now." He witnessed crowds of men, women, and children jostling for scarce flour near the Damascus Gate. As their numbers swelled, inevitably, the mobs broke into fights. "We have, so far, tolerated living without rice, without sugar, and kerosene. But how can we live without bread?" And of course, the short answer is you cannot live without bread.
We resume with Act Three. In the third act, the play moves from the relative comfort of the interior of [? Kamel ?] and [? Salma's ?] middle class home overlooking the sea to the open air of Beirut's central square, known since the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 as [ARABIC], or Union Square. It's 1916, and the events of Act Three will see the place renamed Martyrs' Square. It's still known by that name in Beirut today.
The act opens with two Arab officers in the Ottoman Army discussing the breakdown of order in Syria. Desperate women and children are besieging the bakeries in hunger. Theft is on the rise. And government officials prove the biggest thieves of all. As Arabs in Ottoman service, the two men resent the privileges reserved for Turkish and German officers. The corrupt Turks and Germans provide comic relief in a play with very few light moments.
A Lebanese street trader buys contraband from a pair of Germans who speak pidgin Arabic interspersed with German words, all, of course, written in the Arabic letters. It made for some challenging reading till I got used to what it was that the playwright was doing here. When the hawker tries to pay for his goods with counterfeit paper money, the Germans refuse. So the hawker takes out a better quality of faked bank notes to conclude the deal to everyone's satisfaction.
Two street urchins observing the transaction manage to steal the hawker's goods from under his nose. A comic scuffle erupts between the man and two boys, which is resolved by an Ottoman connoisseur who expropriates all of the contraband to his own benefit. Enter [? Jean ?] and [? Haifa, ?] the two children, dressed in rags and emaciated. They have endured a year of homelessness, compounded by personal tragedy.
"'Our sorrow is complete after my father's exile, my uncle's imprisonment, and the death of my mother,' Haifa reflected. 'They drove us from our house and gave us this valueless deed in compensation.'" But Haifa cannot dwell on the past. [? Jean ?] is clearly starving. And she finds herself warding off the unwanted attentions of a lusty Turkish sergeant whose offers of money she declines. "'Take it for my sake,' [? Jean ?] pleads. 'I'm hungry.'"
Tension mounts with the Sergeant seizing [? Haifa, ?] the virtuous young woman repelling her assailant and [? Jean ?] screaming in hunger in the background. The crisis is only resolved when the Sergeant relented, seeing an Ottoman officer approach.
For my third digression, I'd like to talk a bit about the famine, which is really what is being acted out on stage in the year 1916. By 1916, hunger had turned to starvation. Locusts, war requisitioning, and hoarding, compounded by failures in the transport and distribution of food combined to create a famine that claimed between 300,000 and 500,000 civilians in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine between 1916 and the end of the war.
In the Syrian lands, the famine and other wartime hardships came to be synonymous with the war and were called [TURKISH], by the local population, [TURKISH] being the Turkish word for general mobilization. It's the word the Turks used to announce conscription.
The Great War was [TURKISH], that series of misfortunes that began with general mobilization and led inexorably to crop failure, inflation, disease, famine, and death among noncombatants on an unprecedented level. A Syrian émigré, on a clandestine mission for the French, traveled through Syria and Lebanon in April 1916, where he witnessed the suffering at firsthand. He met survivors who had fled dying villages in search of food. He found countless skeletons of victims of the famine left unburied where they'd fallen by the roadside.
In conversation with a disillusioned Arab officer in Damascus, he accused the Ottomans of deliberately provoking starvation as a way to purge the state of its disloyal Christians. They put the sword to the neck of the Armenians as they intend to annihilate the Christian Lebanese by starvation so that they never trouble their Turkish masters again.
Enver Pasha, one of the ruling triumvirates, had a different take on events. "'It's the Allied Naval blockade imposed in the opening months of the war,' he claimed, 'that is responsible for this famine.'" British and French vessels refuse to permit any ships to enter Syrian ports, even those carrying humanitarian assistance.
Enver reportedly approached the Vatican with a proposal to distribute food aid in Syria and Lebanon. Speaking to the papal envoy in Istanbul, Enver acknowledged the Ottomans did not have enough supplies to feed both the Army and civilians in Syria. He urged the Vatican to persuade the British and French to allow at least one ship to deliver food each month to be distributed by any agency the Pope chose to appoint for the task to reassure the Allies that they weren't giving food that would go to feed Ottoman soldiers.
But nothing came of Enver's papal initiative. Like many Ottomans, Enver believed the Allies were deliberately starving the Syrians to weaken resistance to invasion or to encourage rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. And of course, the British and French had a real interest in doing both.
We return to Act Three. The poor flood the stage, telling horror stories of the famine. One has been surviving on lemon peel. He has gathered from refuse heaps. This is a theme that Michael Gilsenan picked up on in his Warlords of the Lebanese Marches and his chapter on [INAUDIBLE], the idea that one was reduced to eating the peel of the food, rather than the food itself, as a sort of trope that captured the irony of agriculturally rich Lebanon reduced to starvation in the course of war.
Another tells of women arrested by the authorities for slaughtering and eating their own children. But the worst is yet to come. The authorities are clearing Union Square of all the homeless in advance of the entry of the men convicted by that military tribunal in Aley. So now we resume with another digression of the martyrs of Union Square. In April of 1916, the Ottoman military tribunal in Aley concluded its deliberations. Dozens of defendants were convicted for, quote, "treasonable participation in activities of which the aims were to separate Syria, Palestine, and Iraq from the Ottoman sultanate and constitute them into an independent state."
Well, everyone knew that treason carried the death penalty. Many of those convicted came from prominent families and had held high office as members of parliament or in the Ottoman Senate. It seemed unthinkable that the government would hang such prominent citizens like common criminals. But without warning, 21 men were hanged in the predawn hours of May 6, 1916, in the central squares of Beirut and Damascus. Even the Turkish journalist Falih Rifki, who witnessed the hangings in Beirut, had sympathy and admiration for the courage of the condemned. Writing in his memoirs, Rifki noted, "Most of those hanged in Beirut were young nationalists. They went from their cells to the noose with their heads held high, singing the Arab hymn.
Later that day, Rifki traveled to Damascus, where seven men had been hanged before sunrise. He was astonished to see the notables of Damascus proceed with a banquet in honor of Djemal Pasha, 15 hours after the Arabists had faced the gallows. "'No mourning in Damascus,' Rifki reflected. 'Poets, professional flatterers, orators, everyone expressed the country's gratitude to the great man who saved Arabia from its wayward children.'" What a strange inversion of the reality that we'd be given in the narrative of Arab nationalists at those events. To Arab nationalists, Djemal Pasha was no hero. In the aftermath of the hangings, they branded him Djemal Pasha [ARABIC], "the bloodshedder."
Returning to Act Three, an Arab policeman, dreading the task at hand, cracks under the bystander's relentless questioning as he's trying to clear the square before the hangings. "Is it true that they're bringing the Aley convicts here tonight?" "'Yes,' the policeman confirms, tears in his eyes. 'Young and old, the finest intellects, the very spirit of the people, they will all be hung here from these gallows.'" He urges the crowd to withdraw to avoid having to witness the horror.
Predictably, the crowd gathers rather than disperses. Many, unaware of the fate that awaits the condemned, hope to catch a glimpse of their loved ones. An old man and his granddaughter appear looking for his son, her father. The policeman, trying to drive the old man back, asked what business he had with the condemned. "Speaking in code, the sheikh claimed he had lost a ewe and feared the butcher might cut her throat."
There are many lost ewes, the policeman replied in sympathy. So take a last look for yours. There will be no saving her. Sure enough, the girl sees her father making his way towards the gallows. The old man calls out to his son. But the condemned man cannot hear his loved ones. They watch in horror as he ascended the scaffold, and the guards placed a noose around his neck.
[? Haifa ?] and [? Jean, ?] the two children of the family, join the crowd and see their Uncle [? Youssef ?] convicted for his activities with the Beirut Reform Society, among the condemned. As they take in the full horror of the scene, the voices of the martyrs reach the audience from offstage. "'The independence of Syria will be built on the skulls of her heroes,' they shout, defiant in the face of death." And again, we know that that defiance is true from the Turkish journalist Falih Rifki, who wrote about it in his memoirs.
But their voices are silenced by the hangman's noose. "'The sons of the Syrian nation are hanged by the unionist gang,' the Arab policeman announced, finally driving the crowd away." The curtain falls on the bereaved families, reciting nationalist poets as a sort of consolation.
The fourth and final act opens in the pre-dawn hours, the final hours of despair before the hope of sunrise. It is 1918. [? Jean ?] and [? Haifa ?] are among the homeless sleeping in Union Square. Two watchmen discuss the war. The Allies are in Nablus, the Ottomans in retreat. The end is in sight.
As dawn breaks, a priest and a Sunni Muslim cleric arrive hand-in-hand with a few loaves of bread to distribute to the starving poor they know how the Turks had failed to divide the people along religious lines. Muslims and Christians had been drawn together through their suffering. "'Pray to God to end this war,' the priest begins. 'And deliver us from this despotic rule,' the Sunni [INAUDIBLE] concludes.'" They wake the sleepers to offer them small pieces of their bread until their meager supplies are depleted.
[? Haifa ?] leaves her brother in the Square. And [? Jean, ?] claiming death is near, curls up to sleep until his sister's return. Under an ominous sky lit by lightning flashes, [? Haifa ?] and [? Jean's ?] father [? Kamel ?] returns from exile. He's a broken man, dressed in rags, leaning heavily on a walking stick. He returned to find his home demolished, and his family dispersed, and fears for his brother, having heard reports of the hangings.
Looking over the homeless poor in Union Square, he marvels at how the once beautiful city of Beirut had been reduced to such misery in the course of four years of the war. Kamel comes across a young man lying inert on the ground and recognizes his son. Yet, nothing he does will stir [? Jean. ?] [? Kamel ?] has returned too late to save his son's life.
[? Haifa ?] returns at that moment to find her father clutching her brother's body. Yet, even this moment of pathos, the state will not leave a family in peace to mourn its losses. A Turkish policeman appears and insists on taking [? Jean's ?] body from his family for examination, suspecting [? Kamel ?] of his own son's death. "'He died of hunger, sir,' Camel explains. 'No, he did not die of hunger,' the policeman replies indignantly. 'The government would not permit someone to die of hunger.'" The bitter irony of the policeman's denial would not have been lost on the audience.
But a new day has dawned. A telegraph operator reveals that Allied forces have entered Damascus, and the Ottomans are in full retreat. Suddenly, the streets fill with Turkish and German officers in full retreat, suitcases in hand. Their speech is an [INAUDIBLE] mix of pidgin Arabic, German, and Turkish. As officers in their fine uniforms cross the stage to catch their train northwards to Turkey, a crier reads an announcement drafted by the governor of Beirut declaring the fall of the Ottoman government. The people rejoice at their deliverance from war and Turkish misrule.
Reports of Allied troops entering Beirut are confirmed, as the strains of "La Marseillaise" and "God Save the Queen" are heard offstage. The Lebanese crowd parts to make way for ranks of French and British soldiers entering in triumph. "'Long live the Allies,' the crowd shouts. 'Long live France.'" As the Allied troops begin to thin, one Arab volunteer emerges from their ranks. It is [? Fuad, ?] [? Haifa's ?] fiancé, who had deserted Ottoman service to serve with the Allies.
He sings a sad song of searching for his beloved among the ruins of her home and the deserted streets of Beirut. At that moment, [? Haifa ?] and her father return from their sad mission to recover [? Jean's ?] body. And as they drew near the soldier, recognize [? Fuad. ?] The hardships of the past four years dissolve in the joy of their reunion. And the play ends with [? Fuad ?] clasping the French tricolor to his chest, the "Marseillaise" swelling in the background. The curtain falls.
Now coming within months of the armistice, the hardships endured by Kamel's family would have been painfully familiar to the Beirut audience who gathered to see the play. They too would have lost family members to exile, famine, and disease, perhaps even to the gallows. [? That ?] is centuries removed. It's impossible for us to know why the war-shocked residents of Beirut would have sought to relive their experiences in dramatic form, so soon after the war's end.
The playwright George [? Murad ?] clearly sought to give hope and meaning to the suffering of the people of Beirut through a vision of Lebanon independent of Young Turk rule and under French protection. Of the public reaction to the two performances of the play, [? Murad ?] only noted that the noble sons of the fatherland were appreciative. And so one agenda for my research before I do more with this is to go back to the Lebanese newspapers in 1919 and try and find some record of how this play was received. Undoubtedly, there will be reviews of it. But I don't have them for you yet.
If the play was a melodrama, recreating the tragedy of war on the civilians of Beirut, what the audiences of 1919 could not have known was the betrayal that France had in store for their political aspirations. In April of 1920, Britain and France confirmed the final distribution of the Arab provinces to the Ottoman Empire at the San Remo Conference. Lebanon and Syria were awarded to France. Palestine and Iraq passed to British rule.
Though many in the Maronite community had sought French technical assistance and political support, they somehow expected France to act out of altruism rather than imperial self-interest. As France began to prepare for its mandate over Lebanon, its military administrators started to impose their policies on the administrative council at Mount Lebanon. In turn, the politicians in Mount Lebanon began to question the wisdom of seeking French assistance and their project of state-building.
Nevertheless, French plans for the new Lebanese state proceeded at pace. On August 31, 1920, the frontiers about Lebanon were extended to the natural boundaries sought by Lebanese nationalists and the quote, unquote, "independent state," of greater Lebanon was established the following day under French assistance. Yet, the more France assisted, the less independence Lebanon enjoyed.
By imposing a new administrative structure on Lebanon, France began to shape the political culture of the new state in line with its own vision of Lebanese society. The French saw Lebanon as a volatile mix of communities, rather than a distinct national community. And they shape the political institutions of the country accordingly. Positions within the new administrative condition were allocated by religious community in keeping with the system known as confessionalism. So much for the priest and the Sunni cleric walking around hand-in-hand, undivided by the hardship of war. They would be divided by the realities of the mandate in Mount Lebanon.
Though the French experts believed this archaic system of government best fit the political culture of the country, many Lebanese intellectuals were increasingly uncomfortable with conventionalism and aspired to a national identity. In the newspaper Le Revé, one journalist wrote, "Do we wish to become a nation in the real and whole sense of the word, or to conserve ourselves as a laughable mix of communities, always separate from each other like hostile tribes? We must furnish ourselves a unique, unifying symbol, a nationality. That flower can never thrive in the shadow of steeples and minarets, but only under a flag."
But the first flag the French allowed the independent state of Lebanon was the French tricolor that [? Fuad ?] had clutched to his chest, with a cedar tree imposed in the middle. France was beginning to show its true colors in Lebanon. These measures convinced some of France's strongest supporters to join the growing ranks of Lebanese nationalists struggling against French rule.
It was a tragic outcome after the four years of civilian suffering during the Great War and an ominous beginning for the French Empire in the Middle East and the end of war years, for France couldn't make things work in Lebanon, where playwrights such as George [? Murad ?] were openly advocating a shared future. Then how would it manage in its other Arab territories? And of course, the experience of the end of war mandate suggested-- not very well. Thank you very much.
MOSTAFA MINAWI: Would you like to field your own questions? Or would I--
EUGENE ROGAN: I'd be very happy to field my own questions. So if you have one--
EUGENE ROGAN: --stick your hand in the air. Please.
AUDIENCE: Yes. You mentioned people being exiled. So what is the rationale behind the population displacement versus actually putting the exiled people to-- I hate to say it this way, but to some good use? Like labor camps or forced drafts, versus just displacing them, especially in the conditions of war.
EUGENE ROGAN: The displacement placement through exile, as I argued in the course of the paper, was to try and take someone who was deemed dangerous by the state and disconnect them from the resources that might allow them to be a danger to the state. And it also made everyone around them-- their community and their families-- act on best behavior so as not to compromise the status of those in exile. So there's a different logic at work here.
AUDIENCE: I understand. But wouldn't it be simple displacement? I'm saying, why wasn't a harsher measure used, where you just put someone off force someone to move versus limiting their freedom? Or--
EUGENE ROGAN: Are you trying to contrast experience of Christians from the Syrian provinces with the Armenians?
EUGENE ROGAN: OK. Because are you proposing the alternative is mass killing?
AUDIENCE: I'm just thinking labor camps.
EUGENE ROGAN: Labor camps. Well, I mean, I don't have any evidence that the exiled people were actually put in camps to work. I don't have any evidence, for instance, of them working on the Baghdad railway, which we know that prisoners of war were forced to do, as well as Armenian soldiers who were taken away from the front were made to work as forced laborers on these railway sites. I have no evidence of Syrian Christians or Syrian Arabists being forced to do the same.
The accounts I have-- and I have about three or four of people who were driven into exile-- was really of them being sent to Anatolia, of being forced to live off their own resources. So they'd take whatever money they had. They would take rooms in the town. [? Jahan ?] was a good example. They would have to register with local authorities and were given freedom of movement within the town but not allowed to leave the town. And then they used whatever connections they had to try and preserve their positions while in exile.
There's an interesting example quoted by [? Muhammad ?] [? Cordale, ?] one of the Damascene Arabists of talking to a Damascene who'd been sent in exile to Anatolia. And he came back with a very positive reflection on his experiences, thanked the Young Turks for having sent him, that it gave him a chance to meet the Anatolian Turks, who were the salt of the earth. And because he came from the Arab provinces, even if he was a Christian, they treated him as though he was special, because he came from the Arabic-speaking land where the Prophet Muhammad came from.
So thank you, Young Turks for having sent me to this land where I got to meet the Anatolian Turks. Not what you expect [? Muhammad ?] [? Cordale ?] to say. I've always thought of it as a very interesting anecdote. And it sheds light on the complexity of the experience of exile. It's not straightforward oppression. It was certainly not an attempt to try and to kill people.
EUGENE ROGAN: Please.
AUDIENCE: Building on that example, there was a discussion that they [INAUDIBLE] to go about Ottoman Orientalism, and how Ottoman officials viewed our provinces, especially veterans and the [INAUDIBLE]. And this is, I would presume, high time for this. In your research, my first question is, have you come across any accounts of Ottoman officials who were doing work in Beirut or in the vicinities, besides Falih Rifki's account and a journalist? Because here, you began your account by recounting in 1914 that there was a movement towards Arab/Ottoman binational empire. But then, as the play suggests, there is resentment against Turkish officials and against the union's rule. I wonder if this sentiment grew in the course of the war? And how would you relate it to the Ottoman officials' view of their provinces and towns?
EUGENE ROGAN: Answer to your first question, Rifki is the only source I had that captured Ottoman officialdom not in uniform. And I'd be really interested to know of other good sources that you might have come across, because we should be sharing the kind of literature of firsthand accounts of the Great War, as part of bridging this gap of a wealth of materials on the Western experience, and much, much less on the Turkish and Arabic experience. So I don't have another source on the, let's say, Beirut front from the Ottoman perspective. But I suspect there are more.
In terms of the growing resentments across the year of the war, I have no doubt that the experiences of the Arab provinces from the outbreak of the Balkan Wars through the years of the First World War progressively turned them increasingly against the Ottoman Empire, and for good reason. I mean, they were years to make everyone hate their government. The suffering was not limited to people within the Arab provinces.
If you take a book like Irfan Orga's Portrait of a Turkish Family and the view from Istanbul, the hardship by an Istanbul family that they suffered in the war made them hate their government very much. So I think it's just that experience of war. What's interesting in the Arab provinces is this is then taken up by nationalists after the war and projected backwards as what the experience of the Ottoman Empire was for four centuries, which of course, it was not.
But this conflation of the war experience of Djemal Pasha's behavior, with the experience of the broader Ottoman centuries is something I think is a trope of nationalist writing of the 1920s and '30s that really came to, in fact, scholarship of the 1960s and '70s, which we've been trying to overcome in the years since to show that the Arab world is very much integrated into the Ottoman system, and that the Ottomans played a very important role in mediating between Europe, the Arab world, forces of modernity, new ideas, new technologies. The Ottomans are a very important mediator of that.
Last reflection, is you must bear in mind how high the expectations were of the second constitutional era, not just in the Arab provinces but across the board. Armenians, Kurds, Turks, Arabs, all believe that they were on the cusp of a new age, a sort of good open government. And the stories you read in Turkish and Arabic sources of people from different communities embracing in the streets in a moment of common Ottoman brotherhood is dashed in the following years.
And I've always thought that when you raise people's hopes and expectations and then disappoint them massively, you are setting in motion revolutionary forces. And I think that that's what the First World War did, in terms of leading to a definitive break in Arab affections or willing to be associated with the Ottoman Empire. Please.
AUDIENCE: Thank you for the terrific talk and for using this aspect of [? Peter ?] as a window onto history. I very much appreciate it.
A two-part question-- am I correct that the organization of these four years was in the Gregorian calendar, as opposed to the Islamic calendar? And if that is correct. How do you interpret that, is one question.
And the second question is, in this dramaturgical format of the year and a day and the family as a kind of allegorical situation, is there any precedent that you've encountered in Arab theater for this format that we can then see this not only as a reaction to the war, but as a continuation of a longer tradition, perhaps?
EUGENE ROGAN: In terms of longer traditions, I have no answer. I found references to two other plays that were produced at around the same time and hope to be able to track them down as well. It would just be interesting to see what these two theater companies were doing in addition to [? Murad's ?] play. But we are talking about melodrama here. And I didn't use the word flippantly. I meant to use it as a form of drama.
It isn't quite tragedy. And this reducing people to stock characters to carry the burdens of a shared tragedy seems to me to be a vehicle to allow reliving this experience in the immediate aftermath of it. But I imagine there will be quite different ways of capturing the war experience in theater. And I hope to find more examples of this in future research.
Your first question?
AUDIENCE: The years.
EUGENE ROGAN: The years. Because the Ottomans entered the war in November, 1914, I think the year that's being given to us is kind of middle of 14 to middle of 15 is year one, middle of 15 to 16, year two. The events, as recounted-- I mean, certain ones you can date. The dates of the hangings, we can put a specific date to. Others were trends that we're going on in the year that it's recounted.
But I think it wasn't either Gregorian or Julian. It was Mali or Western calendar. I think it was the year of the war that was shaping the four acts of the play. . Please.
AUDIENCE: So my question is about the role of a historian in talking about war and trauma and all these kinds of emotional stories that the play recounts, and also in the history seminar and in the chapter on Gallipoli, you see all these personal accounts of soldiers on the battlefield. And you really see how horrible it is. And then this also has the same trend of just terror and the experience of war on and off the battlefield. So my question is, is the historian who's, to some extent, trying to be objective in looking at history, how do the emotions of these traumas play into the role of the historian looking at the events?
EUGENE ROGAN: It's really humbling when you read firsthand accounts, not fictive accounts, of how unprepared we are to grasp the magnitude of what people suffered in that war. When you read soldiers' diaries, a theme that recurs, whether it's Westerners or Middle Easterners, is that civilians just didn't have a clue. The only people you could talk to who had the slightest understanding of what you'd experienced were the soldiers.
And for a lot of the soldiers, going behind the lines, back to a period of R&R in a village or a town was almost unbearable for many of them. And this explains why so many of them wanted to go back to the front, just to be around people who were real, because if you fell back onto the civilian community, people kept wanting you to reinforce their views of what you were doing is a great adventure or an act of heroism, when, of course, it was survival against industrial murder in a way that carnage like the world had never seen before. Nobody who hadn't seen their best friend's body shattered by an artillery shell could understand what that means or how you feel that.
And I feel the same way in approaching the suffering of civilians in Lebanon. I hope I didn't sound like I was making light of the way this play tried to recapture in this condensed form the suffering, because what the people of Lebanon went through may not have been in the trenches. But the horror was something quite awful. And one does come across accounts-- I've come across many accounts of cannibalism, of just the extremes of starvation and the depravity that one is reduced to out of hunger.
And some of it might be myth. Some of them might be reality. We can't judge it a century away. So all you can do is just handle it with a lot of respect. To me, the literary representations of that-- it's funny. I quoted Marx to begin with. I actually was looking for Freud. I felt that there was something about reliving the experience here that was absolutely a Freudian way of dealing with trauma. But rather than going into psychobabble with you, I thought I'd go into Marxism instead. Please.
AUDIENCE: I have a question about the composition of Beirut at the time when talking about-- what was the Christian population versus Muslim population? And how divided was it? Did they, in fact, feel Lebanese most of the time?
EUGENE ROGAN: That's a really good question, and I have no good figures to give you. I don't even know what the population of Beirut was. I should know. I supervised [? Jens ?] [? Hansen's ?] thesis on [INAUDIBLE] Beirut. And I'm sure he gave a good figure for it there.
The thing to bear in mind with Beirut is the separation between Beirut as the seat of an Ottoman province and Mount Lebanon as in a self-ruling, autonomous district separate from the province of Beirut. And there is certainly an overlap of the communities, with the mountain being largely Druze and Maronite, Beirut, the city being Sunni, Muslim, Greek Orthodox, but with Druze and Maronites who have moved to the city from villages then as now.
In terms of how mixed they were a community, did you have distinct Christian and Muslim quarters? I don't think you do, just judging from the way around Union Square-- now Martyrs' Square-- churches and mosques are interspersed. It speaks of a central Beirut district in which the communities were really cheek and jowl by each other.
There are certainly neighborhoods where-- Ashrafia, where you had large concentrations of large Christian houses. But whether that was reflected in the way, let's say, commercial space or business space was organized by different communities, I have the sense that like other Ottoman cities, it was fairly mixed.
AUDIENCE: Well, I--
EUGENE ROGAN: But ignorance, total ignorance.
AUDIENCE: But I also wanted to just add that perhaps the greatest poet is [INAUDIBLE] Constantine Cavafy said, when you sit up, either you pray that you're waking up. So this has been borne out today.
EUGENE ROGAN: Please.
AUDIENCE: Yeah. Building off that question, was the Lebanese sense of nation felt by mainly the Maronites and Mount Lebanon? Or was it felt by the totality of the different communities in that region?
EUGENE ROGAN: It's such a good question, and it's so hard for us to pin these national versus communal identities down at that critical moment, because for reasons that should have been clear in the talk, it was very hard for politically minded people, activists, to meet and discuss and exchange ideas freely. And the moment you did so, not only did you come under surveillance, but by 1913, you faced clampdown.
What it means is that for a lot of the politically active who stayed in Beirut or Mount Lebanon, their opportunities to develop their thoughts into meaningful nationalist ideas only was opened after 1918. And it came at a moment where Britain and France were already talking about how to divvy this land up. So the window was really short.
And we have a number of thinkers. In writing the Arabs, I drew on a young Muslim who is a partisan of Faisal's, who left a really good memoir of those days. He took part in the Arab Congress in Damascus at that time. He had no truck, with a Maronite French partnership. He wanted Lebanon to be part of a greater Syria.
At the same time, you had delegations being invited from Mount Lebanon to Paris at a time when they're keeping all the inconvenient Arabs away from Paris. These Lebanese Maronites who were very pro-French were given the red carpet treatment and allowed to make their case to the great powers in Paris. And they were very much calling for a French Christian state in Lebanon. But as I said, I think they lived under this illusion that France really was a disinterested patron who would deliver them the Christian state and then leave them to rule it themselves. It just didn't happen that way.
And in the meanwhile, you had very divergent ideas of what Lebanon might be, between multi-communal, the notion that we have to be under a flag, not under the shadow of steeples and mosques, to those who were very communalist and saying, no, no, those should be a Christian French joint. But those thoughts were all their most immature in nationalist terms. They had not had the chance to develop into fully-fledged political positions yet. Please.
AUDIENCE: I want to come back to the pre-war proto-nationalist position you described as being similar, in aspiration, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So one of my questions is, in aspiring towards a Turco era of condominium, how did these people think about the other Ottoman minorities and their role in that system? What would it be? And then how did that potentially change over the course of the war? You mentioned, I think, because in regard to the famine, the sense of a kinship or similarity to the Armenians with regard to their suffering. So I wonder if it did change at all. And then how so and why of the feeling of suffering and so on.
EUGENE ROGAN: I was struck by that reference to Christian suffering, Armenian versus Syrian, because it had always seemed to me that this idea of a Turco-Arab Empire had a logic to it. And the dividing line was the Taurus Mountains, that if you cross the Taurus, though you might be mixing with Armenians and Kurds and Turks, their common language was Turkish. And if you came south of the Taurus, though you could be mixing with Christians, Muslims, Jews from a wide range of different backgrounds-- Bedouin, townspeople, peasants with different dialects and whatnot-- it was still Arabic, and that it was this irredentist separation between the Turkish-speaking area to the north with its different communities.
But to see Christianity crossing the Turco-Arab divide of the Taurus in this reflection about suffering in the wartime, I thought was interesting. So I would like to see a study that compared these politics of dual monarchies of Arabs trying to model themselves on Austria-Hungary, and how far their thinking went and what their ideas were, because they were in a distinct minority thinking that the Habsburgs had a good model to sell. I think the rest of Europe would have said that, of all the empires of Europe, that was the one most likely to come undone at the seams. But there's an interesting story to be told there. And it's not one I've had a chance to develop yet. Well, I think we're-- oh.
AUDIENCE: Oh, I'm sorry.
EUGENE ROGAN: No, no, please.
AUDIENCE: Quick question, I would like you to elaborate more regarding the Naval blockade by the Allies. I understand why the playwright would not want to give any credence to that as causing suffering, because of the nationalist perspectives or agenda they had. But what was the effect? In your aside, it sounded perhaps that you downplayed that a little bit. Or maybe I misunderstood you. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
EUGENE ROGAN: Oh, I have no doubt that the Naval blockade was a huge contributing factor to famine in Syria in the aftermath of the locust plague. The crop failures that those provinces suffered would have posed a massive humanitarian problem on an Ottoman Empire at peace. But the natural lines of resupply were from the sea. And the alternate graineries would have been in Turkey and in Egypt. And they were closed off to Syria through the Black Sea, absolutely. Again, a huge grainery.
I don't know how much of that was going to Ottoman markets. At this time, their trade was looking very much towards the West. But yes, in a Mediterranean world at peace, the sea lanes would have been the essential lines for providing for the needs in light of the crop failures that the locust plague had brought about. So it's huge.
And I think if you look at [? Linda ?] [? Schakowsky's ?] [INAUDIBLE] analysis of the famine, she will treat the blockade as one of the critical causative factors. My story about Enver Pasha's Vatican initiative comes from [? Schicchi ?] [? Barcelan's ?] memoirs. Yeah, it's quite interesting. And I stumbled on that one and thought, oh no, I've got to work that one in, because it goes against the grain of what both people in the West and the Arab nationalist reasing have said.
I don't know how much credence to give it, [? Schicchi ?] [? Barcelan ?] was himself a Druze from Mount Lebanon. And he was sympathetic to the unionists. He volunteered his services and of his Druze volunteers. But he would not have given an endorsement to a government that was willfully starving to death the people of Mount Lebanon. So he seemed to be saying something that I hadn't seen somewhere else. And that's why.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
MOSTAFA MINAWI: May I ask the last question? If there's any more questions, please [INAUDIBLE].
EUGENE ROGAN: I'm not in a rush, so if you have any more feel free. Mostafa.
MOSTAFA MINAWI: My question is about Arabs. So Arabs in the Ottoman Empire, particularly during the war, we read-- or at least I read-- that chapter about the Arab revoluation or the Arab rebellion. I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit, because I got a little-- as an Ottomanist, I get uncomfortable. And Arabs are talked about as being the union between the Arabists and Syria and the Hashemites in the south. And their combined efforts overthrow an Ottoman rule. How much were they actually separate? How much of the Syrian Arabs were Ottoman hardcore till the end?
EUGENE ROGAN: I have always been fascinated by the Arabs who weren't seeking independence or who stayed loyal to the Ottomans. And in that chapter, I drew on a couple of memoirs that treated the way in which militias were formed to combat the Hashemites in the Arab Revolt on behalf of the Ottomans, so the counter-narrative of Arab loyalism in the face of the Arab Revolt.
But the thing that's quite striking is that many of the officers in the other secret societies-- Fatat was a civilian society. There was a military secret society-- you probably know it-- called [? Al-Ahed. ?] And Iraqi officers in the Ottoman Empire had played a leading role in the creation of this secret society that was, along with Al-Fatat, one of the two that were most prominent in throwing their support behind the Arab Revolt and the Hashemites.
They'll also be very engaged in Faisal's kingdom in Iraq. Hence, again, a lot of these are military men. There was a real debate among them whether the Hashemites were on the right track or not, because they were advocates of the dual monarchy vision. We're back to the Habsburg-Ottoman vision. And they thought the Hashemites were wrong by declaring a revolt against Ottoman rule. Their position had always been you needed to keep the Arab provinces within the Ottoman Empire to protect them from European ambitions. They did not seek the independence of the Ottoman territories, because they feared that European imperial powers would gobble them up if they came out of the umbrella of the Ottoman state.
So many of them just didn't want to join the Arab Revolt, because they felt it was wrong-headed to revolt against the Ottomans. So that narrative doesn't get drawn into this discussion of everybody falling in behind the Hashemites. And there's a guy named [? Mohammad ?] [? Ali ?] [INAUDIBLE], who wrote a very good memoir. And he captures the debates that he and his fellow officers had. He was serving in Adana at the time of the war and described his demoralization, his falling out with Turkish Ottoman officers, who he thought discriminated against him as an Arab Ottoman officer.
And then when the Arab Revolt is called, he captures the debate he was having that other fellow Arab officers in Ottoman uniform. And they divided. He deserted. And he made his way across country to join up with the Hashemites. And that's his memoir. It's a very good source if you're looking for Arab sources on the Arab Revolt. But yeah, not everyone did. And I had one last reflection-- it's gone. It'll come back.
MOSTAFA MINAWI: It's all right. I'm sure [INAUDIBLE] over there, hopefully--
--please help me [INAUDIBLE].
EUGENE ROGAN: Thank you very much. Thank you.
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Eugene Rogan, director of the Middle East Centre at the University of Oxford and author of 'The Arabs: A History,' spoke at Cornell April 21, 2015 as part of the Ottoman & Turkish Studies Initiative's year-long speaker series, WWI in the Ottoman Empire.