17 June 2006

A debate in a Dubai newspaper about the Ottomans and their role in the Middle East

In one of the latest issues of Dubai English language daily "7 Days" (30 May
2006) reader Rocky O'Rourke expressed the following view regarding the
presence of Western powers in the Middle East during the last period of
Ottoman rule:

"… the British were 'meddling' in Iraqi affairs for almost 100 years because
Iraq was occupied by a brutal Ottoman Empire who took sides with Germany
during WWI. The people of Iraq and surrounding countries were oppressed
under a vile Turkish regime - ring any bells? Hand-in-hand with the German
war-mongers the Ottomans also threatened the whole Gulf region and beyond".

This triggered a long debate in the online version of the newspaper (see
blow links)

Hassan A. Demir a Turk living in Dubai wrote (31 May 2006):

"Rocky O'Rourke tries to justify involvement of the British in the Middle
East by blaming Ottomans. In fact exactly 100 years ago British troops
entered Basra again with the same slogan: "We will save you .." and it took
half a century for them to leave... During 400 years of Ottoman Empire rule
in the Middle East, all Muslims were united under one flag, they were
leading power in this part of the world and Jerusalem was open for all

Another reader called Mariam K. made the following comment (2 June 2006):

"Brutal Ottoman Empire, and a vile Turkish regime you say? In whose opinion?
The West? Unfortunately, there are quite a lot of Arabs that have fallen for
all the Western ideologies regarding the Ottoman Empire; one victim is
Albert Hourani (author of the book The History of Modern Arab Peoples.) As
far as the Arabs are concerned the Ottoman 'empire' did rule a vast region,
and it did in fact take off from Turkey; however, it was not under brutal
Turkish rule but under Islamic rule. Arabia was flourishing between the 9th
and the 14th century; meanwhile, the French and the Brits came along and
dabbled with the Arabian affairs. And it was nothing but all that dabbling
that led to the fall of the empire. Arabia was blooming with knowledge at
the time..."

It is obvious that Mariam K. is confusing the time when Arabia was
flourishing (from 9-14th centuries, as she clearly mentions), with the more
recent period of the Ottoman rule (16-20th centuries), during which Arabia
was not "blooming with knowledge".

The debate continued on 5th June 2006.

A reader signing KH (Karim Hanna, a Lebanese national, as revealed later in
the debate) from Dubai did not agree with Mariam K.'s theory. He brought
the following story:

"Let me tell you a little story about my grandfather (among others) whose
mother sold her house for a bag of flour during the Ottomans' hunger
oppression of the Levant not too long ago.

My grandfather is still alive and very well may I add and he can recall many
stories from that period in the early 1900s. People were forced to go
walking in the streets picking whatever they can from horse droppings in
order to survive. (Please excuse my last description but Mariam forced me to
do this). The Ottomans starved people Ms Mariam and I really don't know
where you got your information from. You even went so far as to describe
Albert Hourani who is a prominent historian as a victim of Western
ideologies; this goes to show that you yourself don't have a mind of your
own and obviously have been fed information contrary to historical facts.
All empires / superpowers have their negative and positive aspects but the
fact that you claimed the Ottoman Empire was neither vile nor brutal just to
take a cheap shot at the West, is going too far. We should always state the
facts as they are regardless of which piece of land we are born in.

May I also add a small point which is the Armenian genocide or holocaust.
You might have overlooked the figure of one million Armenians Ms Mariam who
were tortured and slaughtered but then again this is why I am writing to

Well thankfully my grandfather's memory is very clear and he's in pretty
good shape. Just hearing him recalling the story is quite moving. Basically
the Turks in Lebanon would burn any food they found being distributed to the
people rather than allow them to eat it. These were normal everyday people
and not soldiers or anything. One-third of the population was lost due to
starvation. He says people's stomachs were bloated due to starvation and
those who lit fires to keep warm were accused of signaling to the allies'
ships at sea and were sent to a village called Alley in Lebanon to be
interrogated, and later disappear.

It was only when the allies arrived that people were rejoicing and were
given an option to be mandated either by the British, Americans or French.
Since the Maronites had the power in those days they selected the French.
People debated though and some wanted the Americans or British rather than
the French. It's funny. It was that simple. You may recall the movie
'Safarbarlek' by the Rahbanis which gives an idea of those days and how it
was. My grandfather even talks about the Armenian experience and the
genocide they went through at the hands of the Ottomans. Those that survived
were forced to walk all the way to Syria by the Ottomans. Quite an

I would also like to clarify that they didn't eat horse's dung, but rather
the seeds or nutrients found in horse's dung. Just a clarification".

In response Hanife Mcandrew posted the following answer to Karim Hanna:

"I am a 31 year old Turkish woman who is coming from another ethnic group
called the Laz (northern east of Turkey) and I have lived happily with my
Armenian, Jewish and Kurdish friends during my entire life. What really
surprises me here are people like you who know a little about the subject
but write as if they are experts on the subject.

The Ottoman Empire (1299-1920), was a super power for over 600 years and
widened its borders on three continents (1453-1683). Many different
nationalities and religions lived under the same roof, so to speak, of
course running such an enormous Empire was not an easy task. As with any
other Empire, the Ottomans had negative and positive aspects to it. But
people like you always want to emphasize the negative and overlook the

Did you know that the Ottomans send over ships that were full of foodstuffs
to Ireland during the Irish Famine (1845) while the British Empire looked on
with total apathy? Did you know that the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid 2nd
welcomed 93 thousand Judeos (Spanish Jews) who were forced to leave Spain
because they would not convert to Christianity (1492) … And you are saying
that Ottomans starved people…what planet are you living on? Please read

What is so amazing is that in the west, the French government, especially,
have been encouraging people to bring up this so-called genocide subject
again and again. I want to ask you who killed over a million Algerians under
French colonial rule? and I have yet to read even a single article or
comment about this subject on this paper. Please be brave enough to write
your full name dear K H…"

Answer by Karim Hanna:

"This is Karim Elias Hanna. I wrote the facts above. First and foremost, why
are you attacking me? What do you mean by 'people like you'? Does retelling
a story told by my grandfather require expertise? Furthermore, what kind of
a request is it to ask me to show my name? Is it to see if I am Armenian?
Are you going to change history with my name?"

At another point of the debate Karim Hanna affirmed his views by the
following interesting comment:

"The mistake Mariam and Hanife make is that they mix so many events together
when the subject is clear. The fact that this happened in Algeria, then
Ireland and that the US nuked Japan and that the sky is blue does not negate
the fact of what happened in Lebanon".

See debate links at the end of our article:

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