Great Famine of Mount Lebanon

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Great Famine of Mount Lebanon
مجاعة لبنان
CountryMount Lebanon Mutasarrifate, Ottoman Empire, modern day Lebanon
LocationMount Lebanon
Period1915–1918
Total deathsEst. 200,000
Impact on demographicspopulation of 400,000 declined by 50%

The Great Famine of Mount Lebanon (1915–1918) was a period of mass starvation[1] during World War I, resulting in 200,000 deaths. The effects of the Allies' blockade[clarification needed] was worsened by another introduced by Jamal Pasha, the commander of the Fourth Army of the Ottoman Empire in Syria region, which barred crops from the neighboring Syrian hinterland from entering Mount Lebanon,[2] and by the arrival of a swarm of locusts to the region in 1915 that for three months devoured the remaining crops.[3][2] The famine was thus caused by a convergence of political and environmental factors and led to the deaths of half of the population of Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate, a semi-autonomous subdivision of the Ottoman Empire and the precursor of modern-day Lebanon.

Background[edit]

The Mutasarrifate of Mount Lebanon was created in 1861 as a semi-autonomous subdivision of the Ottoman Empire following the 1860 Lebanon conflict that affronted the Maronite and Melkite Greek Catholic Christians and the Druze of the mountain.[4][5] Mount Lebanon's economy relied heavily on sericulture; raw silk was processed in looms and finished goods were destined for the European market.[3]

Causes[edit]

Ottoman alliance with the Central Powers during World War I caused the Entente Powers to block international trade routes in order to stop the supplies to the Ottomans. The blockade damaged Mount Lebanon's silk trade, a backbone of the economy. Growing crops was already a challenge in the mountainous region and the inhabitants relied on food imports from the adjacent Bekaa Valley and Syria. To counter the Allied blockade, the Ottomans adopted a severe policy of acquisition by which all foodstuffs were prioritized for their army.[3] The effects of the Allies' blockade on the local population was worsened by another introduced by Jamal Pasha, the commander of the Fourth Army of the Ottoman Empire in Syria region, where crops were barred from entering from the neighboring Syrian hinterland to Mount Lebanon,[2] and by the arrival of a swarm of locusts to the region in 1915 that, for three continuous months, devoured the remaining crops.[3][2] The crisis further exacerbated a black market run by well-connected usurers.[6]

First grain shortages[edit]

The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers in World War I on October 28, 1914.[7] The Ottoman government had appropriated all of the empire's railway services for military use, which disrupted the procurement of crops to parts of the empire.[8] One of the first cities to be hit by the grain shortage was Beirut.

On November 13, 1914, only 2 weeks after the Ottoman Empire joined World War I, a group of citizens stormed the Beirut municipality to warn the municipal council of the severe shortage of wheat and flour in the city. The train freight cars that regularly transported grains from Aleppo had not arrived and the bakery shelves were empty. Angry mobs looted the bakeries of whatever little reserves of flour and grain they had left.[9] The municipal council dispatched a message to then Beirut Vali Bekir Sami Kunduh who requested grain provisions from the governor of Aleppo Vilayet and urged the Ottoman authorities to prioritize grain shipping to Beirut. Acquiring train freight cars to transport anything to the Beirut Vilayet was impossible without paying large bribes to military commanders and to the railroad authorities. Grain prices began to soar, which prompted the president of Beirut's municipal body, Ahmad Mukhtar Beyhum, to address the grain supply bottlenecks himself.

On November 14, 1914, Beyhum took off to Aleppo, where he negotiated with the authorities and secured grain freight cars from the Ottoman Fourth Army. The wheat was paid for from the municipal treasury. Grain freights arrived to Beirut on November 19, 1914 to the relief of the masses;[8] however, the crisis was to worsen as reports of the Ottoman officials and correspondence of the Syrian Protestant College staff indicated that food shortage became a daily occurrence as of November 1914 and got more severe as the war drew out.[10]

Impact[edit]

Around 200,000 people starved to death at a time when the population of Mount Lebanon was estimated at 400,000.[3][11] The Mount Lebanon famine caused the highest fatality rate by population of World War I.[2] Bodies were piled in the streets and people were reported to be eating street animals, while some even resorted to cannibalism.[2][3]

Soup kitchens were set up but had little effect in relieving the starving population.[3] The Lebanese community in Egypt funded the shipping of food supplies to the Lebanese mainland through the Island of Arwad facing the Syrian littoral to the north of Tripoli. This assistance was delivered to the Maronite patriarchate who distributed it to the populace through its convents.[6]

Literary references[edit]

On May 26, 1916, Gibran Khalil Gibran wrote a letter to Mary Haskell that reads: “The famine in Mount Lebanon has been planned and instigated by the Turkish government. Already 80,000 have succumbed to starvation and thousands are dying every single day. The same process happened with the Christian Armenians and applied to the Christians in Mount Lebanon.”[2] Gibran dedicated a poem entitled "Dead Are My People" to the fallen of the great famine.[12]

Tawfiq Yusuf 'Awwad's landmark full-length novel Al-Raghif (The loaf) is set in the impoverished mountain village of Saqiyat al-Misk in the midst of World War I. In the novel, 'Awwad graphically describes scenes from the great famine.[13]

There was a woman, lying on her back, covered with lice. An infant with huge eyes was hanging to her naked breast. One of the men pushed her with his foot and waited…Tom bit his fingers and stepped forward. The woman’s head was tipped back and her hair was sparse. From her bosom jutted out a scratched and battered breast that the infant kneaded with his tiny hands and squeezed with his lips, then gave up and cried.

— Tawfiq Yusuf 'Awwad, Al-Raghif (1939)

Memorials[edit]

The first-ever memorial to remember the victims of the Great Famine of Mount Lebanon was erected in Beirut, Lebanon in 2018 marking the 100th year since the end of the famine. The site is called "The Great Famine Memorial". The memorial of the Great Famine 1915-1918 was erected in Beirut in front of The Saint-Joseph University, on the initiative of the Lebanese historian Christian Taoutel (curator of the memorial) and the Lebanese writer Ramzi Toufic Salame.[14]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Taoutel, Christian; Wittouck, Pierre. Le peuple libanais dans la tourmente de la grande guerre 1914-1918 d'après les Pères Jésuites au Liban (in French). Presses de l'Université Saint-Joseph. ISBN 9953455449.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Ghazal, Rym (14 April 2015). "Lebanon's dark days of hunger: The Great Famine of 1915–18". The National. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g BBC staff (26 November 2014). "Six unexpected WW1 battlegrounds". BBC News. BBC. BBC News Services. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  4. ^ Lutsky, Vladimir Borisovich (1969). "Modern History of the Arab Countries". Progress Publishers. Retrieved 2009-11-12.
  5. ^ United States Library of Congress – Federal Research Division (2004). Lebanon A Country Study. Kessinger Publishing. p. 264. ISBN 978-1-4191-2943-8.
  6. ^ a b Tawk, Rania (18 April 2015). "Le centenaire de la Grande famine au Liban : pour ne jamais oublier (The Centenary of Lebanon's great famine: so that we don't forget)". L'Orient Le Jour (in French). Beirut: L'Orient – Le Jour. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  7. ^ Herbert Albert Laurens Fisher (1936). A history of Europe: The liberal experiment. University of Michigan. p. 1161. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  8. ^ a b Tanielian 2014, p.738
  9. ^ Tanielian 2014, p.737
  10. ^ Tanielian 2014, p.741
  11. ^ Harris 2012, p.174
  12. ^ Gibran, Khalil Gibran. "Dead Are My People". Poem hunter. Poem Hunter. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  13. ^ Allen, Roger; Allen, Roger M. A.; Lowry, Joseph Edmund; Stewart, Devin J. (2009). Essays in Arabic Literary Biography: 1850-1950. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 9783447061414.
  14. ^ "Victims of the Great Famine of Mount Lebanon finally have a memorial monument in Beirut". The961. Lebanon: The961.com. 22 July 2018. Retrieved 22 July 2018.

Bibliography[edit]