Ottoman Societies During the First World War

OTTOMAN EMPIRE 14

OttomanSocietiesDuring theFirst World War

WorldWar One brought about drastic changes in the Ottoman Empire, not onlyin the form of the established constitutional administration, butalso in the structure of governance, identity politics and domesticadministration.Ihsan Hasan lifeas a clerkin theOttoman militaryheadquartersin Jerusalem during theGreat War wasaction-packed, and his diariesofferaconsummatewindowinto dailylifein thecityat thetime.His diarieswerebroughtintothe lightby Salim Tamari givesus a vivid,uniqueviewof theresultof thiswaron civiliansunder theOttoman command(Tamari,2010). Theyearofthe locustdenotesthedurationwhenlocustinvadedJerusalem andneighboring urbanareas.Italsodenotesthecombinedmemoryof naturalcatastrophesandtheman-madedevastationof theGreat War. Theresultwastheerasureof four hundred yearsof prosperousandcomplexOttoman Empire in which acceptednarrativesof nationalist philosophyandwarcolluded.Thispaperwill dealwith thetotalizing andtransformative natureof World War One. By totalizing,I not onlyreferto themannerin which thiswaraffectedthelifeof soldiers,their workandlivinghabits,butalsoits effectonthedailylifeofordinarycivilians.Itis evidentthatthiswarcreatedan environmentof continued uncertainty,panic,andinterruptionof dailypatternsof conduct.

OttomanEmpire during WW1

Correlatedto thetotalizing featuresof theWorld War Two wasthemannerin which italteredcharacteristicsof socialnorms.Thewarmeantthatmostof theable-bodiedmenwereconscriptedinto thearmy.In theabsenceof alargenumberof adultsmalehouseholdmembers–manyof whomwereconscriptedas soldiersorkilledin action– manyfamiliesweresubjectedto extremepoverty,diseaseandfamine(Tamari,2010). Manycivilianswereforcedto takedrasticmeasuresthat dramatically unsettledtheir lives.Thenumberof beggarsin thestreetsof Jerusalem increasedsignificantly, moraldecadencesurgedas thenumberof womenengagedin prostitutionincreased,andcrimerate(theft)swelledtoan unprecedenteddegree.TheGreat War alsocontributedto theredefinition of thenatureof thestateandits relationshipto its subjects(Tamari,2010). In thecaseof Palestine, WW1 wasa watershed, separatingthecountryfrom Syrian expansesandbringingBritish colonial rule.In thislightnewboundarieswerecreated,newcitizenship emerged,andnewformsof nationalconsciousnessemerged.

Anothermajorfeatureof theGreat War’s pervasiveness wasits unanticipated emancipatoryeffecton thesociety.Eventhough,thepositiveimpactof thewarisnot discussedin mostcontemporaryliterature,which moreoftenthan notonlyemphasizeon thedehumanization, devastationanddisruptionof thewaron thenormality.Inmorethan one respects,thegreatwarwaspreciselytheverysamevehicleof brutalityanddestructionthat broughtinto existencenewsocialhorizonsin thecommunitiesunder theOttoman command(Tamari,2010).

Ithas beenindicatedby manyresearchers, forinstance,by thesocialist theoretician suchas Anton Pannekoek thattheGreat War playeda keyrolein extenuatingillusionsabout nationalismandopeningpotential forclasssolidarities across nationalborders.Evenbefore theoccurrenceof WW1 manyhistorianshadalreadyindicatedthattheoccurrenceof anotherwarwould giveriseto barbarismthat would leadto theemergenceofa newcivilization(Tamari,2010). Unfortunately,thispropositiononlycameto be realityafter thesecondwarwhich resultedin colossallossof humanlives.

Generally,theflooding of youngmenfrom ruralareasto jointhearmycreateda systemof traininggroundsforformerpeasantsin physicalskillsandliteracythat werethebasisforthe massmovementandfundamentalrestructuring (Kent, 2005). Theshortstintof privatesoldierIhsan al-Turjmanunderscoresnot onlytheeffectsof thesedislodgment on socialnormsbutalsothewayin which theproductsof thelateOttoman educationalsystemincludingprivatelearninginstitutionsstartedto questionanddefytheprovidenceof theArab Ottoman provincesandtheir futurewithin thedomain(Tamari,2010).War,conscription,andthepredicamentof theArabness in relationto historicalanalogousexamples,in Syria andPalestine provincesof theOttoman Empire, thewarhadoppositeimpactsin nationalbordersandnationalism.TheGreat War unfalteringly weakenedwhathadbeensproutinginto a multi-national, multi-ethnic state,andgaveriseto tapered andexclusivist nationalistic ideologiesandprovincialaffinity(Kent,2005).

Likewhathappenedafter 1918, theGreat War enabledmanyciviliansinto greatercontactwith their ownnationalcommunities.Theexistenceof armyencampmentin thevicinityof majortownssparked into motionnumerouschangesthat tremendouslyaffectedthelivesof civiliansin theOttoman Empire. Theprocessof massivemilitarysocialization cameto Palestine tookplace,moreparticularlyafter theconscriptionactof 1914 (Tamari,2010).

Inmid-1915,Just like manyof theSyria provincesandotherregionsunder thecommandof theOttoman Empire,Jerusalem wasweigheddown by a senseof loomingcataclysm.Thecombinationof naturalcatastropheandincreasingcasualtiesof warcreateda senseof degeneration among thecivilianpopulation(Kent,2005). From thediariesof Ihsan Turjman,wegatherthatthelivesf civilianlivingin Jerusalem andotherterritoriesunder theauthorityof theOttoman Empire wereunder totalmiseryfrom themanpredicamentsthat beleaguered them. Fromtherisingcostof livingfueledby thewar,to theEuropean onslaught,to theunbearablefinancialcondition,to diseasesandepidemics,to theOttoman warandnot forgettingtheinvasionof locust,all themiseryof theworldtendedto beconcentratedon theOttoman Empire.Weare alsoableto gatherthegravityof thesituationby thewordsusedby Ihsan Turjman in his dairies(Tamari,2010). At thispoint,hestatesthatonly“God can Help Us” (Tamari,2010). Turjmanresponseto theaccumulateddisasters,as wasthecasewith majorityof thecivilianslivingin Jerusalem, wasan evidenceof theincreasingpublicdespondency,indifferenceanda highdegreeof placidity derivedin self-defenseagainst theeminentdanger.Inone of his memorablediariesin 1915, Ihsan Turjman statesthatinsomniausedto affecthis lifeanymomentthecityof Jerusalem wasconfrontedby a catastrophe,butby theendof 1915 thewholesocietyhadbeenravagedby catastrophessuchthateveryone hadstoppedworrying(Tamari,2010).Themassivedestructionanddevastationof thelivesof thecivilianin theOttoman Empire by one disasterafter anotherhadtotallyoverwhelmedthepopulaceto theextentthatitwaspracticallyimpossibleto focuson one singlecalamity(Kent,2005). Asa consequenceof themisfortunesthat hadbefallentheciviliansin theOttoman Empire, moreparticularlytheselivingin Jerusalem andSyria, majorityof thepopulacehadstoppedcaringabout anything (Tamari,2010).

Monday10 July, 1916. Nomorecropsin thecity.Jerusalem has not seenmoredifficultdays.Breadandwheatare not availableanymore. Themunicipalityuntilrecentlyusedto distributefreebreadto thepoorafter nine o’clock,[butnot anymore]. I remembergoinghomefrom militaryheadquartersateleveno’clock [and]seeinga longlineof womencomingfrom thebakeriesgrabbingpiecesof black breadthelikesof which I haveneverseen.Theyusedto fightover thisbreadandwaitforituntil midnight”(Tamari,2010).

TheEnd of Innocence

ThroughIhsan Turjman’sdiary,weare alsoableto perceivethesustainedattackon theethicalandmoralstandardsof thewaron theciviliansin theOttoman Empire. Itis alltooclearthatIhsan diariesare not an ideologyof pacifism, buta nakedrevulsionagainst thedebilitating socialenvironmentthat hadthreatenedtheverycorethat heldthesocietytogether.Itis not surprisingthatIhsan blamestheOttoman Leadership forall theinstabilitythat hadrockedtheEmpire (Tamari,2010). Itis apparentthatthenewpoliticsof nationalist`saggrandizement, carnagefrontedby incoherentandirrationalworldandtheethnic oppressionwasresponsibleformoraldecadence.Thecarnageof theGreat War andthenaturaldisasterthat hitJerusalem wasbelievedto generatea senseuncertaintyandlossof controlof thefuture.Itwaseminentin theeyesof mostof thedifferentgeographicalconstituentsof theOttoman Empire thatthecollapseof theempirewasinevitable(Kent,2005).

Followingthecollapseof economicsystemsandmeansof generatingincomeforcivilians,as everyresourcewasthrowninto supportingthewarmachine,householdsin placessuchas Beirut, Jerusalem,andevenDamascus startedto witnesstheemergenceof newinstitutionis thenameof prostitution.TheOttoman soldiershadgoneto theextentof introducingtheir ownbordellos in Jerusalem to caterforthesexualneedsof themilitary.Before thewar,itwasa commonphenomenonto seenobles andnotableswithin theEmpire with a multitudeof concubines(Tamari,2010). Nonetheless,by thesecondyearinto thewarprostitutionhadbecomea veryrampant.

Toexemplifytheextentof moraldecadencewithin thecityof Jerusalem, Ihsan citesthecaseof a renownedteacherfrom a governmentrunschoolwhowascaughthostinga hordeof prostitutein thelearninginstitutionduring teachingtime.Alsoin 1915 whenJamal Pasha wasassumingoffice,hebroughtmorethan fifty prostituteswhoaccompanynotableofficerswithin theadministration.In his diaries,Ihsanis takenaback by themixing of prostituteswith respectableladiesbutis alsoalltooawarethatthistookplaceamid fightingwherehundred of theOttoman’s soldierswerebeingslaughtered(Tamari,2010).

Ihsanwritesin protest:

Teachersshould be firstprofessionalswhoseconductis above reproach,……..Itis truethatteachersare humanbeingsandhavetheneedto satisfytheir basicdesires,buttheyshould exercisecontrolover their instincts.In allcases,theyshould neverbe allowedto bringwomenof easyvirtueto their schoolswherechildrenare [exposed]to thesepracticesandaregivena badexampleinethicalconduct” (Tamari,2010).

Healso states“Isaidto Hasan, “Poor woman.Sheis waitingforher ownmiseryto come”.Hasanreplies,“What can shedo?Shehas to live………….Buttheycould onlyhavechosenthisprofessionbecausetheyhavenoalternative,orbecausetheywereforsakenbymenwhopromisedto marrythem andthendisappeared”(Tamari,2010).

MostVulnerable Ottoman Citizens

Thefragmentsof thepopulationto experiencetheeffectsof thismobilization werepeasantsandsmallurbanconscripts.In theArab East, andevenin ruralIsrael, localcommunitiesunderwenttransformationthat totallychangedtherurallandscapeandredefined its linkto thecity.TheOttoman warmachinecreateda laborbattalion-a typeof conscriptpeasantlabor.Otherpeasantswerecoercedinto workgangsthat weretasked with thedutyof buildingrailway,roads,militaryinstallationandsoldierencampments.Themiserythat theseconscriptenduredwasof unimaginabledegree,andmanyof them weresentto diein distantplacessuchas theSinai desertandtheexpanseof Anatolia (Tamari,2010).

Inmostcases,theseconscriptswereprovidedwith food,freelodgingandin somecaseswererelocated to largecitiesof theempire.These‘coerced’volunteerswereleftwith nooptionbutto joinothersoldierson thebattlefield.Theonlyalternativewasoftendeaththrough starvation.Itis alsoworthstatingthatmostof theseforcedconscriptsweremainlyisolatedin their camplife,andas a consequencemanydevelopeda criticaldistancefrom peasantsandyoungmenwerethemostaffectedgroupby thiswar(Tamari,2010). FromIhsan’s diariest is evidentthatpeasantsandyouthwereaffectedprofoundlyby thedevelopmentthat wastakingplaceduring thewar.Thelongqueuesof childrenandwomenreportedby Ihsan fightingformeageramountsof breadin frontof bakeriesjustserveto indicatethemiseryhadbefallenthesocietyamid thefiercebattles(Kent,2005). Itis apparentthatthere werenoyoungmenin thecitiesdueto thefactthatmostof them hadbeencoercedto jointhemilitary.Butwhilethesefighterswerefedby theOttoman administration,thepeasantswereresponsibleforsupplyingthisfood.Ihsan notedthatthelargemilitarywasimpoundingthegrainfrom thepeasantsin unprecedentedmagnitudes.Unavoidably thisforcedthepricesof basiccommoditiesto theroof.Two yearsinto thewarandall thereservesof vegetablesandmeatin Jerusalem hadbeenexhausted(Tamari,2010).Ihsanstatesthat:

Peopleeverywhereweredistraughtto misstheir tutton[Arabo-Turkish forrollingtobacco].Inrecentdays,basicitemslike sugar, kerosene,andrice disappeared…… Theymust be themostmiserableof God’s creationButtheycould onlyhavechosenthisprofessionbecausetheyhavenoalternative,orbecausetheywereforsakenbymenwhopromisedto marrythem andthendisappeared“(Tamari,2010).

ThisinevitablycreatedwhatIhsan refersto as ‘manmade’ famine.Thisscourgestruckmajorurbancentersin Palestine, Jerusalem andSyria. Itis importantto statethatthisman-madefaminewasnot causeby scarcityfoodbutbysequestration of foodby soldiers.Morespecifically,in Lebanon thesituationwascompoundedbyan economicembargoimposedby Jamal Pasha,whoassumedofficein 1915. Pasha soughtto punishnationalists whoweresuspectedto havecollaboratedwith theFrench. To complicatean alreadyvolatileeconomicenvironmentwastheBritish blockadeof Palestine (Khalidi, Manṣūr &amp Fawaz, 2009). By theJerusalem cameunderlocustattackthesituationwassodirethatmostwomenhadresultedto begging,prostitutionandothersocialvicesto putbreadon thetable.Thelastnailsin thecoffincamein theformof spreadof diseasesandepidemicsuchas typhus andcholera (Tamari,2010).

Thewarfarehadledto thecrumbling of familiesandas a consequencean armyof beggarshadbeengeneratedin thecityof Jerusalem. Eventhough,theOttoman Empire strivedto caterformanyof its provincialcapitalsby providingpublicfood,in mostareaspeopletookcareof their welfarethrough kinshipandconfessional networks(Kent,2005). Itisdifficultto establishtheactualeffectsof theGreta waron othercitiesandcitizenswithin theOttoman Empire becauseof thefactthatIhsan categorically givesdetailsabout Jerusalem andneighboring regions(Tamari,2010). Thewarcausedthebreakdownof communalsolidarity,anda phenomenonwitnessedas a resultof absenceof menwhowerebreadwinnersforpoorfamilies.

Soldierand Civilian Experiences during the WW1

Theonsetof theFirst World War wascharacterizedby signing of militarypacts,as countriesandempiresalignedthemselves formilitaryadvantage.WhenTsar Nicholas orderedfullmobilization of theRussian armyto combattheGermans, theOttoman Minister signeda secretdefensivemilitaryalliancepactwith theGerman ambassador.Thoughdefensive,thepactcalledformilitaryassistancein theeventof attacksleadingto themobilization of theOttoman armyto assisttheGermans andtheAllied powersin thewar.At theonsetof thewar,Ottoman Empire hadmorethan forty-thousand strongparamilitary force,theJadarma,modeledas theFrench gendarmerie, anda navywingwith as manysoldiers.In thebattle,theOttoman soldierswerereferredto as theMehmetçiks(littleMehmet), a contractionof ‘Muhammad’. Thiswassimilarto French poilu, American doughboy, British Tommy andAustralian Digger (Beşikçi, 2012).

ManyMehmetçikswereruralpeasantswith littleornoformaleducation,oftenwith theinapt knowledgeabout theworldbeyond their markettownsthiswassimilarto thoserecruitedfrom thecities(Beşikçi, 2012). Lackof formaleducationmadetheOttoman soldiersignorantof thewiderworld,givingthem a stoic outlookof life,enablingthem endureeventhegreatesthardshipsduring thewar.Theabilityto withstandhardshipswashardenedby thestrictmilitarystandards,includingtheaustereobediencerequirementsthat requiredthesoldiersto maintainblindobedienceto their seniors.Ottoman soldiersweretrainedin thePrussian warstrategies,makingthem extremelyruthlessevenin their smallmilitaryforce.Thecommandersdidtheir bestto lookafter their soldiersduring thewar,ensuringthatessentialcommoditiessuchas food,clothingandshelterweremet,therebymotivatingthesoldiersto keepon fighting.

Despitetheir structure,theOttoman militaryhada relativelysmallermilitaryforceandmostof its modernmilitaryweaponshadbeenlostduring theBalkan Wars of 1912–13. Additionally, theaxispowershadsuperiorweaponsdue to increasedtechnological developmentsthat ledto theinventionof superiordefensiveweaponssuchas theartilleryandmachineguns.Theweaponry inferiorityof theMehmetçiks disadvantaged them in thebattlefields,leadingto increaseddeaths.Theinvented methodof diggingtrenchesto shield themselves from enemyfireprovedinadequatewith theintroductionof poisongasses andartillerytanksthat madethewarunpredictable.Thesefactorsworkedagainst theOttoman soldiersas theyfacedwellorganized,trainedandbetterequippedallied militaryforces.Thistranslatedto increaseddeathsamongst theOttoman soldiers(Beşikçi, 2012).

TheFirst World War worstformof warfareknownin thehistoryof theOttoman soldiers,with millions sentto fightfarawayfrom their homes.Thisledto physicalandemotionaldevastationsas soldiersremainedawayoftenwith inadequatemeansof communicationwith their families.Soldier`silliteracymeantthattheycould not senda letterto their familiessoldiersfightingnear homeoccasionallyreceivedmessagevia thespokesman,whodepended onmemoryto conveymessages.Thisledto messagedistortion,takinga physiological tollon soldiers.Inabilityto communicatewith familiestooka significanttollon soldiers’life,reducingtheir effectiveness in thewar.Thephysical,emotionalandphysiological impactsof thewarwerealsofeltby theciviliansas theywaitedfortheir sonsandhusbandsto return(Beşikçi, 2012).

Duringandbefore thewar,soldierswereforcedto liveoutside fordayswith limitedshelterfrom theharshweatherconditions,predisposingsoldiersto sicknesses.However,fallingsickin battlegroundssuchas Caucasus andPalestine wasoftena deathsentence(Beşikçi,2012). Themedicalservicesof theOttoman militaryhadbeensignificantly neglectedpriorto theFirst World War. There wereinadequatemedicalpersonnelandsuppliesforthearmyfightingduring theFirst World War, condemningthesoldiersto their death.Modernandwell-equipped hospitalsexistedonlyin bigcitiesthat weremanydaysawayfrom thefrontlines,leadingto prematureandunnecessarydeathsamong thesoldiers,mostof whomdiedon transitsto hospitals.Lackof medicalstafftranslatedto poorsanitationsleadingto outbreaksof preventable water-borne diseasessuchas cholera, dysenteryandtyphoid amongst theMehmetçiks.Moresoldiersdiedof thesepreventable diseasesandtreatable battlewounds,than theydidon battlefields,furtherweakeningtheOttoman army.Bytheendof thewar,morethanseven hundred andfifty thousand Mehmetçikshaddiedduring thewar.Since thewardidnot followtheguidelines of contemporarywarfare,Ottoman civilianswereattackedleadingto massivelossof life.However,unlike thesoldiers,thecitizenry easilyaccessedwellequippedandstaffed medicalfacilitiesin themaincitieswithin theempire.Additionally, theOttoman’s citizenry hadimprovedsanitationshencereducedcasualtiesresultingfrom waterborne diseases(Beşikçi, 2012).

Conclusion

WorldWar One broughtabout drasticchangesin theOttoman pastin theentireArab East, not onlyin theformof theestablishedconstitutionaladministration,butalsoin thestructureof governance, identitypoliticsanddomesticadministration.ThroughIhsan Turjman’sdiary,weare alsoableto perceivethesustainedattackon theethicalandmoralstandardsof thewaron theciviliansin theOttoman Empire. Itis alltooclearthatIhsan diariesare not an ideologyof pacifism, buta nakedrevulsionagainst thedebilitating social,economic and politcalenvironmentthat hadthreatenedtheverycorethat heldthecommunitiesunder the Ottoman Empire together.Bythe end of the war,Ottoman population losseshadreachedtheheightsof twenty-five percent of thetotalpopulation.Five million people,out of thetotaltwenty-one million personsas by the1914 censuswereunaccounted for.Aboutseven hundred andseventy-two thousand weremilitarycasualtieskilledin thewarorothercauses.Therestcomprisedof thedeadnon-combatants andthosethat may havemigratedfrom thekingdomduring thewarperiod.Thisshows thedevastatingimpactsof theFirstWorld Waron theOttoman Empire,leadingto its collapsefour yearsafter theFirstWorld War.

References

Beşikçi,M. (2012). TheOttoman mobilization of manpower in the First World War: Betweenvoluntarism and resistance.Leiden: Brill

Khalidi,W., Manṣūr, K., &amp Fawaz, L. T. (2009). Transformedlandscapes: Essays on Palestine and the Middle East in honor of WalidKhalidi.Cairo: American University In Cairo Press.

Kent,A. (2005). TheGreat Powers and the End of the Ottoman Empire. Taylor&amp Francis: London. Retrieved from:http://www.academia.edu/2403897/The_Great_Powers_and_the_End_of_the_Ottoman_Empire

Tamari,S. (2010). The Short Life of Private Ihsan: Jerusalem 1915. JerusalemQuarterly 30