Gelişmiş Arama İçin Tıklayınız!


Every nation considers nationalism a unique privilege for itself and an independent homeland its right. However, it often deems this excessive for others.
29 Mayıs 2024 Çarşamba

In the Ottoman Empire, the government's impotence in the face of the Italian invasion of Tripolitania in 1911 awakened the Arabs, who had lived quietly and obediently to the caliphate for 400 years. They concluded that the policy of centralization had failed and that the Turkish-held government would eventually lose control of the Arab provinces. Thus, the decentralization movement gained strength. In decentralization, the provincial population is granted certain authorities in their internal administration.

After the defeat in the Balkans, the Young Turks were left with no territory except for the Arab provinces inhabited by non-Turkish elements. To maintain control over these regions, they initially focused on Islamic propaganda. They tried to appoint administrators of Arab descent who were supportive of the Committee of Union and Progress.

After ostensibly adopting the ideology of Turkism following Ottomanism and Islamism, and shifting to a policy of Turkification, demands for reforms and the idea of nationalism grew among intellectuals and the common people, who were weary of economic, political, and social pressures. Decentralist societies were established among the Arabs.

The British had long sought to establish influence over the Arab provinces through propaganda for an Arab caliphate as an alternative to the Ottoman caliphate. In response, German Field Marshal von der Goltz proposed making Aleppo the capital, a suggestion that France supported.

When Turks and Arabs were together
When Turks and Arabs were together

Dual Monarchy

The Ottoman Administrative Decentralization Party (Hizb al-Laamarkaziyya al-Idariyya al-Osmani) was established in 1912 among Syrian exiles in Cairo. It was founded by those who believed that the Ottoman Empire's situation could be resolved through a decentralized system. The society, which attracted significant interest from Arab intellectuals, eventually became infiltrated by Arab nationalists and separatists, making it one of the societies most feared by the Sublime Porte (the government of the Ottoman Empire).

In 1909, Aziz al-Misri and Salim al-Jaza'iri founded al-Qahtaniyya (a secret society) in Istanbul, advocating for an Arab-Turkish dual monarchy under the caliphate, similar to Austria-Hungary. This proposed Arab Kingdom, led by an Arab ruler, would have a local parliament and government, with Arabic as the official language. They believed that Turkish-Arab unity could only be achieved and maintained in this manner.

Al-Qahtaniyya was disbanded in 1910. Arab officers who were members of this group founded the al-Ahd Society in Istanbul in 1913. This society experienced an authority crisis with the Administrative Decentralization Party (El-Lamarkaziyya) established by Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals in Cairo, leading to its dissolution.

As a continuation, the Society of the Arab Revolt (Jamiyya al-Sawriyya al-Arabiyya) emerged, presenting itself increasingly as a separatist organization. Another noteworthy society was the Young Arab Society (Jamiyya al-Arabiyya al-Fataat), established in Paris in 1911. Talib al-Naqib, who also served as a deputy in the Ottoman parliament, had long been a leader of decentralization ideas in Basra.

Arab officers in the Ottoman army
Arab officers in the Ottoman army

End of Opposition

During the Constitutional era, decentralization societies loyal to the caliphate were established not only among Arabs but also among Kurds and Albanians. However, due to the conflicting policies of the Young Turks, these societies gradually turned into separatist organizations. Their influence persisted even after the dissolution of the Empire.

Beirut-based organizations such as the General Reform Society in the Province of Beirut (Jamiyya al-Islaah al-Amm fi Wilaya Beirut) and the Lebanese Renaissance (al-Nahda al-Lebanoniyya) actively worked for Lebanese autonomy while remaining loyal to the Ottoman caliphate. On January 31, 1913, the General Reform Society (Jamiyya al-Islahiyya) announced a 14-point program for establishing a decentralized administration in Lebanon during a meeting attended by Sunni, Shia, Christian, Jewish, and Druze members.

The central government would handle military, taxation, foreign affairs, customs, and postal services, while the remaining responsibilities would be managed by local councils. Arabic, alongside Turkish, would be the official language.

This program, approved by nearly all Arabs, did not please the Young Turks, who had formally seized power with the Raid on the Sublime Porte (the 1913 Ottoman coup d'état). They disbanded the society and arrested its members.

Simultaneously, having witnessed the harmful consequences of centralist policies in Rumelia, the Young Turks passed a nominal decentralization law for the provinces in 1913. Protests erupted against Beirut Governor Hazim Bey, who resisted implementing this law. The government responded harshly, shutting down nationalist societies.

Ottoman flag on the walls of Jerusalem
Ottoman flag on the walls of Jerusalem

Two-Faced Policy

As a result, people took to the streets. Protests and passive resistance spread widely. Protest telegrams flooded the Sublime Porte, the Ministry of the Interior, and newspapers. This incident not only fueled Arab nationalism but also strengthened the position of those in Lebanon and Syria who favored French administration.

With the loss of Rumelia, the Ottoman Empire now presented the image of a Turkish-Arab union. Moderate Arab intellectuals made reasonable demands, such as having Arabic as the language of instruction in schools, conducting court proceedings in Arabic, and appointing governors who knew Arabic.

In June 18-24, 1913, the Arab Congress organized by al-Fatat in Paris, with delegates from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, issued a decision regarding these demands. The Sublime Porte accepted them. Members of the society visited Istanbul, declaring their loyalty to the caliphate and the sultan.

Initially, the Young Turk government was receptive to these demands. In the spring of 1913, the principle of teaching in local languages in schools was implemented. Subsequently, Arabic language proficiency became a requirement for officials in Arab cities. The principle of accepting Arabic alongside Turkish and French in official correspondence was established. To show favor towards Arabs, Said Halim Pasha, from the Egyptian Khedival family (even though he was not an Arab), was appointed Grand Vizier in June 1913.

Djemal Pasha and Arab leaders
Djemal Pasha and Arab leaders


With the outbreak of war in 1914, the government completely changed its policy. It adopted a vengeful attitude towards non-Turkish elements. Speaking Arabic and publishing newspapers in Arabic were banned once the war began. Schools teaching in Arabic were closed.

When Enver Pasha became Minister of War, as part of the reorganization of the army, many Arab officers were retired and replaced by Turks. The government returned to centralization. In an attempt to solidify this, they tried to utilize Arab media. However, during the war, around 30% of the officers and soldiers in the Ottoman army were of Arab origin.

In May 1915, Djemal Pasha, who was appointed as the Governor of Syria with extraordinary powers, embarked on a vigorous campaign of suppression in Syria and its surroundings, seemingly seeking revenge for the humiliation he suffered during the Raid on the Suez Canal. He sent troops into Lebanon and abolished the privileges of the region.

Food shortages ensued, leading to a severe famine. Although Djemal Pasha attempted to relocate the local population to other regions like the Armenians, the people resisted. The majority of the population perished from hunger and disease.

Martyrs' Square,
Martyrs' Square,

Greased Rope

In the early summer of 1915, certain documents seized from the French consulate in Damascus allegedly contained the names of individuals from the local population who were thought to serve the ambitions of France in Syria. Djemal Pasha ordered the arrest of these individuals and brought them before the Special Military Tribunal in Beirut and Aleppo.

The court sentenced half of the suspects to death. However, under pressure from Djemal Pasha to intimidate the populace, a total of 34 individuals, including Ottoman deputies, high and low-ranking officials, military officers, journalists, and members of the Sharifian family of Mecca, were all subjected to the "greased rope" execution method.

Some of the penalties were executed immediately in Beirut, some in Damascus, and then presented to Istanbul for confirmation. Meanwhile, 3,000 people, along with their families, were deported to the interior of Anatolia from prominent figures in Lebanon and Syria.

This action caused a great uproar. Even if the documents said to be found in the French consulate were real, they belonged to the period before the general amnesty. Therefore, the individuals mentioned here had already been pardoned.

The Syrian Government later declared May 6, 1916, as Martyrs' Day. A martyrs' monument was erected in Al Marjeh Square in Damascus. The Lebanese government also named the square where the executions took place Martyrs' Square.

At that time, Bekir Sami Kunduh, who was then the Governor of Beirut, said, "Djemal Pasha claims that this action has resolved the Arab issue. On the contrary, it is Djemal Pasha  who has inflamed this issue. We will wait and see." The incident became the spark of the Arab revolution. Arab territories had either willingly or unwillingly separated from the Turks, but this time they fell into the clutches of the imperialists.