1860 Druze–Maronite conflict

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1860 Druze–Maronite conflict
Jean-Baptiste Huysmans 1.jpg
Abdelkader El Djezairi saving Christians during the Druze–Christian strife of 1860, by Jean Baptiste Huysmans
Location Beirut, Damascus; Ottoman Syria
Date 1860
Attack type

The 1860 Druze–Maronite conflict was the culmination of a peasant uprising, which began in the north of Mount Lebanon as a rebellion of Maronite peasants against their Druze overlords and culminated in a massacre in Damascus. It soon spread to the south of the country where the rebellion changed its character, with Druze turning against the Maronite Christians.[1][2] Around 20,000 Christians were killed by the Druzes and 380 Christian villages and 560 churches destroyed. The Druzes and Muslims also suffered heavy losses.[3]


Christian refugees during the strife

On September 3, 1840, Bashir III the last Prince of State of Lebanon[citation needed] was appointed amir of Mount Lebanon by the Ottoman sultan. Geographically, Emirate of Lebanon represents the central part of present-day Lebanon, which historically has mostly had a Christian and Druze population. In practice, the terms Lebanon and Mount Lebanon tend to be used interchangeably by historians until the formal establishment of the Mandate.[4]

Bitter conflicts between Christians and Druzes, which had been simmering under Ibrahim Pasha's rule, resurfaced under the new Prince. Hence, the sultan deposed Bashir III, Bashir II cousin on January 13, 1842, and appointed Umar Pasha as governor of Mount Lebanon. This appointment, however, created more problems than it solved. Representatives of the European powers proposed to the sultan that Lebanon be partitioned into Christian and Druze sections. On December 7, 1842, the sultan adopted the proposal and asked As'ad Pasha al-Azm, the governor of Damascus, to divide the region, then known as "State of Lebanon", into two districts: a northern district under a Christian deputy governor and a southern district under a Druze deputy governor. This arrangement came to be known as the Double Qaimaqamate. Both officials were to be responsible to the governor of Sidon, who resided in Beirut. The Beirut-Damascus highway was the dividing line between the two districts.

This partition of Lebanon proved to be a mistake. Nurtured by outside powers, animosities between the religious sects increased. The French, for example, supported the Christians, while the British supported the Druzes,[5] and the Ottomans fomented strife to increase their control on the divided State. Not surprisingly, these tensions led to conflict between Christians and Druzes as early as May 1845. Consequently, the European powers requested that the Ottoman sultan establish order in Lebanon, and he attempted to do so by establishing a new council in each of the districts. Composed of members of the various religious communities, these councils were intended to assist the deputy governor.

Peasant uprising in Keserwan[edit]

This system failed to keep order when the peasants of Keserwan, overburdened by heavy taxes, rebelled against the feudal practices that prevailed in Lebanon. In 1858 Tanyus Shahin, a Maronite peasant leader, demanded that the feudal class abolish its privileges. The demand refused, the peasants began to prepare for a revolt. In January 1859, an armed uprising headed by Shahin flared up. The uprising targeted the Khazen cheikhs of Mount Lebanon, pillaging their land and burning their homes. Having driven the Maronite feudal lords out of Kesruan and seizing their land and property, the insurgent peasants set up their own rule.[3][6]

The Keserwan uprising, as it became known, had a revolutionary effect on other regions in Lebanon. The disturbances spread to Latakia and to central Lebanon. Maronite peasants, actively supported by their clergy, began to prepare for an armed uprising against their Druze masters. In turn, the Druze lords began to arm the Druze irregulars.[3]


The destroyed Christian quarter of Damascus, 1860.

Tensions escalated when the Maronite Patriarch of the time, Patriarch Paul Peter Massad, threatened the Druze Prince Mustapha that he would displace all the Druze in the Lebanon with 300,000 men that he had assembled.

Allegedly, the war began with dispute between two children from Deir el Qamar, one Druze and the other Maronite, which spread from their families to their communities. Thus sparked, a torrent of violence swept through Lebanon. In a mere three days, from May 29 to 31, 1860, 60 villages were destroyed in the vicinity of Beirut.[3] 33 Christians and 48 Druzes were killed.[7] By June the disturbances had spread to the “mixed” neighbourhoods of southern Lebanon and Anti Lebanon, to Saida, Hasbaya, Rasheiya, Deir el Qamar and Zahlé. The Druze peasants laid siege to Catholic monasteries and missions, burnt them and killed the monks.[3]

Abd al-Qadir (center) during the 1860 events

In July 1860, fighting spilled over into Damascus. With the connivance of the military authorities and Turkish soldiers, Druze and Sunni Muslim paramilitary groups organised pogroms which lasted three days (July 9–11).[3] 25,000 Christians were killed, including the American and Dutch consuls.[8] Churches and missionary schools were set on fire. Many Christians were saved through the intervention of the Muslim Algerian exile Abdelkader El Djezairi and his soldiers, who brought them to safety in Abdelkader's residence and the Citadel of Damascus. The Christian quarter of the old city (mostly inhabited by Catholics), including a number of churches, was burnt down. The Christian inhabitants of the notoriously poor and refractory Midan district outside the walls (mostly Orthodox) were, however, protected by their Muslim neighbours.

Most sources put the figure of those killed between 7,000 and 11,000, with some claiming over 20,000.[9] A letter in the English Daily News in July 1860 states that between 7,000 and 8,000 had been murdered; 5,000 widowed and 16,000 orphaned. James Lewis Farley, in a letter, speaks of 326 villages, 560 churches, 28 colleges, 42 convents, and 9 other religious establishments, having been totally destroyed. Churchill puts the figures at 11,000 murdered, 100,000 refugees, 20,000 widows and orphans, 3,000 habitations burnt to the ground, and 4,000 perishing from destitution.[9] Other estimates claim 380 Christian villages were destroyed.[3]

International intervention[edit]

The Times report of the French Expedition, Aug 09, 1860, describing how the expedition was cast as humanitarian

The bloody events led France to intervene and stop the massacre after Ottoman troops had been aiding Islamic forces by either direct support or by disarming Christian forces. France, led by Napoleon III, recalled its ancient role as protector of Christians in the Ottoman Empire which was established in a treaty in 1523.[10] Following the massacre and an international outcry, the Ottoman Empire agreed on 3 August 1860 to the dispatch of up to 12,000 European soldiers to reestablish order.[11] Syrian region was then part of the Ottoman Empire.[11][12] This agreement was further formalized in a convention on 5 September 1860 with Austria, Great Britain, France, Prussia and Russia.[11] France was to supply half of that number, and other countries were to send supplementary forces as needed.[11]

French expeditionary corps led by General Beaufort d'Hautpoul, landing in Beirut on 16 August 1860.

General Beaufort d'Hautpoul was put in charge of the expeditionary force.[12] d'Hautpoul was quite experienced and knowledgeable of matters in the Middle East, as he had served during the 1830s as chief of staff for Ibrahim Pasha in the Egyptian campaigns in Southern Syria.[13] The French expeditionary corps of 6,000 soldiers, mainly from Châlons-sur-Marne, landed in Beyrouth on 16 August 1860.[13]

Beaufort had instructions to collaborate with the Ottoman authorities in reestablishing order, and especially to maintain contact with the Ottoman minister Fuad Pasha.[13] Although the troubles had already been quelled by the Ottoman Empire, the French expeditionary corps remained in Syria from August 1860 to June 1861.[11] This was longer than the initially agreed period of 6 months.[12]

The prolonged French presence in Syria was soon objected to by the British government, who argued that pacification should be left to Ottoman authorities.[14]

An important consequence of the French expedition was the establishment of the autonomy of the Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate from Ottoman Syria, with the nomination by the Sultan of an Armenian Christian Governor from Constantinople named Daud Pasha on 9 June 1861.

The French intervention has been described as one of the first humanitarian interventions.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fawaz, L.T. (1994). An Occasion for War: Civil Conflict in Lebanon and Damascus in 1860. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520087828. Retrieved 2015-04-16. 
  2. ^ Vocke, Harald (1978). The Lebanese war: its origins and political dimensions. C. Hurst. p. 10. ISBN 0-903983-92-3. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Lutsky, Vladimir Borisovich (1969). "Modern History of the Arab Countries". Progress Publishers. Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  4. ^ "Library of Congress Country Studies: Lebanon". lcweb2.loc.gov. Retrieved 2015-04-16. 
  5. ^ http://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus/2013/09/sects-syria The sects of Syria: Those ancient differences
  6. ^ An Interview with Cheikh Malek el-Khazen. CatholicAnalysis.org. Published: 28 July 2014.
  7. ^ Farah, Caesar E. The politics of interventionism in Ottoman Lebanon, 1830–1861, p. 564. I.B.Tauris, 2000. ISBN 1-86064-056-7.
  8. ^ Shaw, Ezel Kural. History of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey, Volume 2, Cambridge University Press, 1977
  9. ^ a b (2002) The Massacres of 1840 - 1860 at the Wayback Machine (archived July 26, 2002), www.tanbourit.com
  10. ^ Priestley, H.I.; American Historical Association (1938). France Overseas: A Study Of Modern Imperialism, 1938. Octagon Books. p. 87. ISBN 9780714610245. Retrieved 2015-04-16. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Chesterman, S. (2002). Just War Or Just Peace?: Humanitarian Intervention and International Law. Oxford University Press. p. 32. ISBN 9780199257997. Retrieved 2015-04-16. 
  12. ^ a b c Abkarius, I.I. (2010). The Lebanon in Turmoil - Syria and the Powers in 1860 - Book of the Marvels of the Time Concerning the Massacres in the Arab Country. Read Books Design. p. 35. ISBN 9781444696134. Retrieved 2015-04-16. 
  13. ^ a b c Fawaz, L.T. (1994). An Occasion for War: Civil Conflict in Lebanon and Damascus in 1860. University of California Press. p. 114. ISBN 9780520200869. Retrieved 2015-04-16. 
  14. ^ Churchill, C.H. (1999). The Druzes and the Maronites Under the Turkish Rule from 1840 To 1860. Adegi Graphics LLC. p. 251. ISBN 9781402196898. Retrieved 2015-04-16.