Youssef Bey Karam
|Youssef Bey Karam
يوسف بك كرم
15 May 1823|
|Died||7 April 1889
Youssef Bey Boutros Karam (also Joseph Bey Karam) (May 15, 1823 – April 7, 1889) (Arabic يوسف بك كرم), was a Lebanese Maronite notable who fought in the 1860 civil war and led a rebellion in 1866-1867 against the Ottoman Empire rule in Mount Lebanon. His proclamations have been interpreted as an early expression of Lebanese nationalism.
The Karam family
The Karam family is family located mainly the Zgharta - Ehden region of North Lebanon. The word "Karam" means generosity in Arabic. This name replaced the previous name of the family which was Sahyouni.
The Karam family trace their origins to a French colonel that came from Le Mont, France and settled in Jerusalem in 1098. His surname was Cremoir. He ruled the Sahyoun fortress, and the family was consequently known as Sahyouni family. The name Sehyoun was not replaced till the 17th century.
The name of "Karam" was not adopted till Bechara Sahyouni's earned the name "Abu-Karam" due to his phenomenal generosity. "Abu Karam" means father of generosity in Arabic. This generosity was highlighted when Emir Fakhr-al-Din II was greeted in Ehden by roads lined with soldiers offering a wide selection of food and drink to the armies of Fakhr-al-Din II. Fakhr-al-Din II went on to beat the Ottomans in a historic battle in Tripoli.
Birth, childhood and family
Youssef Karam was born to Sheikh Boutros Karam (Director of Ehden and surrounding district), and Mariam (daughter of Sheikh Antonios Abi Khattar Al Ayntouri) in Ehden, Lebanon. Raised in a family of six children: Catherine, Teresa, Rose, Eva, Mikhail and Youssef. His mother was strong, virtuous, possessed a strong personality; and had a strong influence on her son.
Youssef was a smart boy, with green eyes and fair complexion. He loved his hometown Ehden, with its majestic mountains and thick forests.He was French educated and at the age of 7, he was well versed in Arabic and French languages. He trained in unarmed combat, horse riding, shooting and fencing. His education in French helped him establish strong links with the west, especially France. Youssef has a special appreciation of Arabic, which was exemplified in many poetic writings.
Youssef grew up hating to play with toys, always thrusting to do what adults engage in. He was a skilled warrior, that never backed down from a challenge.
In 1840, Youssef aged 17 years, fought alongside his father and elder brother against the Egyptian armies then occupying Lebanon in the battles of Houna and Bazoun. Youssef showed remarkable skill as a warrior and leader, and his reputation and influence in the area steadily grew; so much so that in 1846, when his father died, Youssef succeeded him as ruler instead of his elder brother. Youssef ruled with fairness, and his credibility and influence as a soldier and politician continued to grow.
Youssef Karam became the acknowledged leader of the district, and in time one of the most powerful personalities in Lebanese Politics. And although politically and militarily very powerful, he remained ever loyal to his faith and to the Church. Karam's loyalty to the Church and to Bkerke, the seat of the Maronite Patriarch, never wavered, and this loyalty was to have far reaching implications in future years.
In 1858, when the Tanyus Shahin and farmers of the predominantly Maronite Keserwan District staged an uprising against their Maronite Sheikhs and landlords, the Khazen family, the Maronite Patriarch, conscious of Karam's influence and his loyalty to the Church, appealed to Karam to save the Sheikhs and restore peace to the area. Together, they negotiated a settlement to the conflict, but the class division in feudal Kesrawan remained.
Future conflicts however, were not to be so peacefully settled. During that period, when the Ottomans ruled Lebanon, there existed a certain amount of distrust between the Druze and Maronite Communities. The Muslim Druze felt threatened by the growing presence of the Christians Maronites in their traditional area of Mount Lebanon. The suspicion and distrust between the two Communities was allowed to be fueled by petty and personal conflicts until September 1859 when finally open conflict broke out between the Druze and Maronite Communities at Beit Mery, a town of different religious denominations. Karam reacted by calling a meeting of Community leaders at the village of Baan, and concluded an agreement with the Muslim ruler of Tripoli, North Lebanon, Abed El Hamid Karami, to keep North Lebanon free from any religious conflict.
In May 1860 however, conflict again broke out between the two Communities, and a number of Maronite Monks and villagers were massacred. This time Karam reacted by raising an army of 500 men to protect the Maronites in the Mount Lebanon area. On 2 June 1860, Karam and his men marched to Bkerke and offered to the Maronite Patriarch their protection of Maronites.
In Karam's mind however, there was no doubt that the conflict between the Druze and the Maronites was being nurtured by Khorshid Pasha, the Ottoman Governor. Khourshid's culpability in the massacres is debated, as he had previously urged the British to stop arming Druze groups and the French to stop arming the Maronites. Khorshid Pasha saw Karam's calls for Lebanese self-rule as a threat to Turkish interests in Lebanon and the area, and convinced the European Ambassadors that Turkish presence in Lebanon was essential to maintain peace between warring factions in Lebanon. The French Ambassador to Lebanon convinced Karam to halt his march at Bikfaya, near Keserwan, in return for guarantees of safety for all Christians offered by Khorshid.
Several days later however, Christian villages were attacked by Druzes from Mount Lebanon and the Hawran. Karam and his militia retaliated against Druze and Turkish forces, and succeeded in saving the majority of Christian towns and villages in the Kisrawan area. Christian presence in the area was therefore established. Eventually, French ships reached the port of Beirut with supplies and the Turkish sea blockade ended. Peace was then restored whilst a new constitution was drafted to provide how Lebanon was to be governed. In the interim, two provisional Governors were appointed to rule Lebanon, one to rule Christians and the other to rule the Muslims. Karam was appointed the Christian Kaymakamate (Kaymakam) on 17 November 1860 until the 1861 agreement of the Reglement Organique, which would establish a single governor for the whole mountain. Again, Karam ruled with distinction, restoring law and order, re-organising public institutions and conducting an honest government. French occupied Beirut and parts of Mount Lebanon until mid-1861. As Kaymakam, Karam tendered his resignation a number of times in protest against what he saw as Turkish insistence to provide for continued Turkish rule in the proposed Lebanese constitution. On each occasion he was persuaded to remain in office by the French Ambassador who always suggested further negotiations.
The new constitution was finally completed in June 1861 and provided for a Governor to rule all of Lebanon for a trial three-year period. Again a foreigner was appointed to the position, an Ottoman Christian by the name of Dawood Pasha.
This decision angered all Lebanese nationals, Christians and Muslims, who were hopeful for self-rule. Dawood Pasha was unpopular and his rule therefore ineffectual in the face of Lebanese opposition. Towin Lebanese support, Dawood offered Karam a senior Government post, the Commander of National Forces. Karam promptly refused and insisted on nothing less than self-rule for Lebanon. This angered Dawood who then issued an order exiling Karam to Turkey without any trial.
Karam remained in Turkey for 2 and half years, from late 1861 to 1864. He was given to understand that if he remained outside of Lebanon, his people would receive better treatment, and Dawood's term in Office would not be renewed after three years.
In 1864 however, Dawood Pasha's term was renewed for a further five-year period. Karam immediately returned to his hometown Zgharta in Northern Lebanon where he was greeted as a national hero by many Lebanese. Thousands of people railied around Karam, who then prepared for a revolution based on the following aims:
- End of all foreign rule in Lebanon,
- Abolition of the 'Mutassarafiya' doctrine which prohibted Lebanese sovereignty and independence,
- End of high taxes and levies,
- Abolition of imprisonment without trial,
- Expulsion of all regular Turkish troops from Lebanon.
At that time, Turkish regular troops were stationed in Lebanon contrary to the provisions of the new constitution, brought in by Dawood Pasha on the pretext that Lebanese forces were unable to maintain peace in Lebanon. The Maronite Patriarch had already pleaded with Dawood to withdraw all his troops from Lebanon, to reduce excessive taxes and to release political prisoners held without trial. The Turkish Government, through Dawood Pasha, rejected all these pleas and thus the stage was set for a major confrontation.
Many battles followed, one of the earliest being at Mo'amailtayn, Jounieh on 6 January 1866. There Karam was attending Mass at St. Doumit Church when regular Turkish troops attacked his men stationed outside the Church. A fierce battle followed, and Karam, aided by neighbouring villagers, defeated the Turkish troops. Karam immediately wrote to Istanbul and European Governments detailing the causes of conflict, and claiming his people's right to defend themselves.
Dawood Pasha however, was determined to rid himself of Karam and deal a fatal blow to the Lebanese nationalist movement. Dawood instructed his military Commander, Amin Pasha, to arrange a meeting with Karam in the presence of the Maronite Archbishop at Karmsaddeh, and there gain Karam's allegiance to Dawood's Government. The meeting was arranged for Sunday 28 January 1866. Karam agreed to Dawood's request on condition that Dawood accede to the Patriarch's pleas. Whilst the meeting was in progress, Turkish troops were sighted advancing at nearby Bnachii toward Karmsaddeh.
The meeting was abandoned, and one of the fiercest battles was fought at Bnachii involving some 800 of Karam's men opposing several thousand Turkish troops. Here, Karam won a decisive victory.
Karam never lost a single battle. He and his army felt their cause was just, they enjoyed wide and popular support, were familiar with the countryside, and were therefore able to outmanoeuvre the enemy. So successful was Karam, that he finally decided to march on Beiteddine, the Governor's residence, over-throw Turkish rule and install a Lebanese national Government. Thousands of people joined Karam in his march to Beiteddine, and Dawood Pasha was forced to flee to Beirut. Victory must have seemed imminent to Karam and his men.
In Beirut however, Dawood Pasha rallied support from the European Ambassadors. These emissaries warned Karam that as their Government were parties to the Lebanese constitution which allowed Turkish rule over Lebanon, they were bound to support Turkey and would actively oppose Karam and refuse to recognise any Government he may form.
At a meeting at Bkerke, the French Ambassador ordered Karam in the name of Napoleon III, to leave Lebanon in return for French guarantees of safety for his men and people and the implementation of all of Karam's national demands. Karam was warned that to refuse would mean to place his men and the welfare of his people in jeopardy. On Thursday 31 January 1867, Karam left Lebanon on board a French ship bound for Algeria.
Karam traveled from Algeria to European capitals explaining the plight of the Lebanese people and stressing their desire to form a sovereign and independent state. Whilst there, he wrote many letters and memoirs in support of self-rule for Lebanon. Most of his writings have survived to this day, and include:-
Karam also traveled to European capitals seeking economic help for Lebanon. He offered to mortgage all his personal Lebanese holdings, amounting to five million francs, to French businessmen in return for the establishment of coal mines and a railroad network in Lebanon.
On the morning of the 7th of April 1889, Youssef Bey Karam passed away near Naples, Italy. His last words were "God ... Lebanon". The Italian hosts place a placard on his grave that reads: "this is the resting place of the Youssef Boutros Karam, the Lebanese Prince". Even though, he was never officially a prince, this title was bestowed upon him affectionately due to his stature, behavior, and moral values. The news of his death overwhelmed Lebanon in general and Zgharta and the north in particular with grief. It was hard to come to terms with the fact that the legendary hero is gone. The champion of the people had left deprived of seeing his homeland and his compatriots for the last time after he spent nearly two decades in exile.
On 14 September 1889, his body was brought back to his homeland, the land of his youth, resistance, victories and pride. He was finally in Ehden where thousands gathered to honour the hero of Lebanon. His body was later placed in a specially built coffin with a glass top inside Saint Georges Cathedral. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have since visited Karam’s resting place. In addition to paying their respect, they pay homage to the spirit of Youssef Bey Karam who sacrificed himself ‘so that Lebanon shall live’. The pilgrims often experience the aura of pride and respect while viewing the body of such an inspirational leader. Every person feels during the visit as though the victorious battle of Bnachii had just concluded and somehow they were part of it.
- Maameltein and Aafas - Sunday 6 January 1866
- Great Battle of Bnachii - Sunday 28 January 1866
- Sebhel - Thursday 1 March 1866
- Ehmej and Anaya - Wednesday 14 March 1866
- Wadi En Nousour - Thursday 22 March 1866
- Aitou and Kfarfou - Friday 15 June 1866
- Hadath - Wednesday 4 July 1866
- Ayn El Jawz and Bchenata - Saturday 7 July 1866
- Ayn Karna and Wadi Miziara - Monday 20 August 1866
- Ehden - Saturday 15 December 1866
- Ejbeh and Aarjes - Thursday 10 January 1867
- Wadi El Salib - Thursday 17 January 1867
||This article possibly contains original research. (October 2008)|
Youssef Karam was an early advocate of forming a united world assembly that would protect the rights of small nations. He was also a champion of human rights, justice and freedom. His strongest quality was his ability to surmount enormous odds. He fought tyrannies, human right abuses and social discrimination. Due to his high ethical standards, he refused to live the life of opulence and luxury.
Many of his beliefs were extracted from among other sources:
- An open letter in which Karam calls for the establishment of a 'League of Nations' or 'Human Rights Association' as he called it. Karam explained that this would be an International Organisation, which would work for world peace and guarantee the rights of small nations.
- A letter to Amir Abdul Kader AI Jazaa'irri encouraging him to liberate all Arabs from Ottoman occupation and then establishing a form of 'Arab League', where each member State would retain sovereignty and independence.
Many people in his home town refer to him as "The Saint Hero".
- Makdisi, Ussama (2000). The Culture of Sectarianism. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 56.
- Fawaz, Leila (1994). An Occasion for War. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 56.
- Fawaz, Leila (1994). An Occasion for War: Civil Conflict in Lebanon and Damascus in 1860. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 223.
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