The Massacres of 1840 - 1860
The Massacres of 1840 - 1860

Tension between the Maronites and the Druze had been mounting throughout the 19th century. The Maronites had been very responsive to educational and cultural influences penetrating from the west and soon outdistanced the Druze in the economic and social race. The Maronites were starting to establish themselves in the Chouf district, which had been dominated by the Druze and were becoming disproportionately influential in financial and state affairs. The Porte decided that Lebanon had gone too far in its separatist policy and it was time to put a stop to it. Divide and rule seemed to be the order of the day, if the Druze were to weaken the Maronites, the way would be open for the Ottomans to control Lebanon.

In 1840, directly after the deposition of Bachir II, the Ottoman sultan appointed Bachir III as amir of Mount Lebanon. He was an Ottoman-British collaborator and was ready to serve as the tool of imperial policy. The first conflagration occurred soon after his appointment, continued throughout this rule, and culminated in 1842 in the burning of Deir al Qamar, the leading Maronite town in the Chouf. Maronites fleeing to Beirut were butchered by the Turks.

The sultan deposed Bachir III on January 13, 1842, claiming he was incompetent and appointed Omar Pasha, who entered Lebanon with the Ottoman army as governor of Mount Lebanon. This appointment, however, ensured that it created more problems than it solved and so 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 Assad Pasha, the governor (wali) of Beirut, to divide the region, then known as Mount 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. Animosities between the religious sects increased, nurtured by outside powers. The French, for example, supported the Christians, while the British supported the Druzes, and the Ottomans fomented strife to increase their control. Not surprisingly, these tensions led to yet another conflict between Christians and Druzes. In April 1845, the long gathering storm burst with a Maronite attack on the Druze in the Chouf, burning fourteen villages and advancing as victors to Moukhtara. There they encountered a Turkish regiment drawn up in front of the Jumblatt palace that greeted them with a rolling fire of musketry, the trap halted their advance. At Abieh, after a fierce engagement the Maronites were routed. All over the region similar engagements occurred with similar results. The Turks acted as a Druze reserve, and then came the old story of villages in flames and Christian fugitives pursued by Druze and Turkish troops were plundered, mutilated, and slain repeating the performance of 1842. The Maronites were defeated. Consequently, the European powers requested that the Ottoman sultan establish order in Lebanon, and he attempted to do so by establishing a majlis (council) in each of the districts. Each majlis was composed of members who represented the different religious communities and was intended to assist the deputy governor.

This system failed to keep order when the Maronite peasants of Kesserwan, overburdened by heavy taxes, rebelled against the feudal practices that prevailed in Mount Lebanon. In 1858 Tanious Chahine, a Maronite peasant leader, demanded that the feudal class abolish its privileges. When this demand was refused, the poor peasants revolted against the feudal lords of Mount Lebanon and distributed the land amongst the tenants. The situation in the Chouf was even harsher for the Maronites: 'for the last fifteen years the Druze had been oppressing the Christians living among them in every possible manner. A Christian could hardly call his life his own. The Jumblatts, the Amads, and the Abou Nakads were pre-eminent for their barbarous and unfeeling despotism.' (Col. Charles Churchill)

The Druze, fearing a similar revolt in the Chouf wanted to crush the Maronites spirit of independence once and for all. They laid out careful plans, they acquired arms and support from Turks and nearby Muslims, and they could count on reinforcements from Houran.

Several Druze sheiks spent the winter of 1859-60 in Beirut and held numerous conferences with the Turkish authorities, the objects of which were soon to become clear. Early in the spring of 1860 the Druze sheiks returned to their homes and set their plans into motion. Isolated Maronites, were attacked and killed by the Druze, some Maronites fearing for their lives took refuge in Deir al Qamar and Zahlé, leaving their houses to be burnt to the ground.

As soon as sporadic cases of violence in mixed districts began in April 1860, the flare up spread. Within weeks more than sixty Maronite villages lay in ashes. The turn of the towns came next. The butchery followed a general procedure, the Ottoman garrisons would offer the Maronites protection and disarm them, and then they would leave them to the mercy of the Druze and even actively take part in the slaughter. Such was the fate of Deir al Qamar, Jezzine, Hasbaya, Rashaya and Zahlé.

By the end of May the Maronites of Deir al Qamar found that their town was in a state of blockade as the Druze surrounded the town, cut of the supplies and even reaped and carried away the corn in the nearby fields. On the 1st of June 1860, the forces of the Jumblatts, Abou Nakads, Amads, and the Hamadis, amounting to some 4000 troops set upon the town in furious onslaught. The Maronites made a desperate defense, in the words of Colonel Churchill:

'The battle raged till sunset, the Christians gallantly keeping their enemies at bay, and inflicting on them a considerable loss; upwards of one hundred were killed besides large numbers of wounded. They themselves only lost twelve. Several Turkish soldiers belonging to the garrison fought in the Druze ranks.'

Despite the Maronite success of the first day, they realized that they had no chance and decided that in order to minimize loss of life their best course would be to surrender. The next day Deir al Qamar surrendered to the Druze. On the 3rd of June 400 Turk soldiers arrived with Taher Pasha from Beirut to 'keep the peace', and after a brief conference with the Druze on the edge of town, the Druze burnt 130 houses and withdrew. The Pasha then accused the inhabitants of being rebels, intriguers, and disturbers of public peace. The Druze then cut off the town's water supply and prevented food from entering. It was far from over for Deir al Qamar.

On the same day as the attack on Deir al Qamar, Said Jumblatt sent a messenger with a letter of protection to Jezzine. As soon as the messenger left the Jezzine, 2000 Druze, headed by Selim Jumblatt, attacked. The Maronites, before they had a chance to arm themselves were overwhelmed. The majority of population of the town made a rapid panic-stricken run towards the nearest ravine with the Druze chasing them with sword in hand, Jezzine in flames behind them. Over 1200 Maronites were massacred over a space of two miles. A large body of women and children took the road to Sidon and were pursued to the very gates by Kassem Amadi. The Sunni Muslims of Sidon would not let them in and some joined the Druze in the slaughter that followed. Upward of 300 bodies littered the beach and the gardens, many had been raped. Young girls were carried off by a mixed horde of Sunnis and Shiites that had mysteriously appeared and pounced upon them.

On the 3rd of June Druze forces attacked Hasbaya and after a brief battle with 200 defenders the Druze took the town and within two hours it was wrapped in flames. The surviving Christians took cover in the town barracks where the Ottomans had offered them protection. Over the next two hours the town was wrapped in flames. Naisie Jumblatt, Said's sister, demanded that the Christians surrender, which they did on the following morning. After their weapons were removed the Christians were imprisoned in the barracks and given very little food or water. Tenants on lands belonging to the Jumblatts were removed to her palace. Were they to be killed the Jumblatt lands would go uncultivated.

At nearby Rashaya, Turkish troops prevented the Christian population from escaping and were told that if the need arose they would be protected. On the morning of the 4th of June Turkish soldiers fired a signal and shortly afterwards the town was attacked by 1500 Druze. The town maintained a resolute defense throughout the day and inflicted heavy losses on the Druze, but as night fell, and having expended their ammunition they abandoned their barricades and flocked to the Turkish barracks as the Turks swore to defend them to the death.

The next few days saw the Christians of nearby villages being assembled at Qaraoun, by Druze and Turkish soldiers who promised them protection and safe passage to Damascus via Hasbaya. On the 10th of June they were brought to Hasbaya along with a Druze reinforcement of some 300 infantry and 150 cavalry. The Christians were all held together at the Turkish barracks and were told they would be in Damascus the following day. While the Christians prepared for the departure the Turks and the Druze chiefs met with Naisie Jumblatt and received their orders.

Trumpets sounded. Turks ran through the barracks gathering the Christians from its three floors and forcing them at bayonet point into the parade arena. After a few minutes to allow the Turks time to take to the terraces so as to be able to observe the forthcoming spectacle, the gates were thrown open and the Druze rushed in and the butchery began. After firing a volley, the Druze set on the Maronites with swords, hatchets and billhooks. Those who tried to escape by the gate were either cut down by the Turks or turned over to the Druze. Not a sole was spared. The orders were explicit, no Christian was to be left alive. At sunset, Naisie Jumblatt inspected the dead and congratulated her men on a job well done. An English traveler, Mr. Graham, who was in Hasbaya after the massacre, in a letter to Lord Dufferin states:

'From the wounds I have seen, both on the living and the dead, it would appear that the assassins went to work with the most systematic cruelty; ten, twelve, and fourteen deep cuts on the body of a person are not infrequent; some of the wounds show that they were made with blunt instruments. In short everything was used which came to hand; and, according to the nature of the weapon, hands and limbs were cut off, or brains dashed out, or bodies mangled.'

Druze from the Houran under Ismail-al-Atrash, amounting to 3,000 men including 1,500 horse, headed for Wadi-el-Tame. On the way they arrived at Kanakin where numerous Maronites peasants had taken shelter, the Druze slew them all. On the 11th of June as they headed towards Zahlé these Druze passed by Rashaya and were summoned there by the Turks. For the past few days the Turks had been amusing themselves by stripping, robbing, and torturing those Christians that had turned to them for sanctuary. They were now ready for slaughter. What was to follow was a copy of what had happened at Hasbaya the day before. Mr. J. Lewis Farley, there present reports:

'The Christian inhabitants were put to the sword under circumstances of unparalleled barbarity, the assailants being Druze from Houran, under Ismail-al-Atrash. The aged Emir Effendi, with his entire family, was brutally murdered. Male children were slaughtered in their mother's arms; and women in many instances, were killed, while vainly endeavoring to save their offspring.'

The Druze of Houran now joined those of Wadi-el-Tame making around 5,000 and headed in the Beqaa where they were joined by local Shiites. The Christians were hunted down, their houses were burnt, their men slain, their women violated. It was the turn of Zahlé next. At the time Zahlé had a population of some 10,000 Greek Catholics and amongst them some 500 Maronites, it was the shield of the Christians and terror for the Druze. Within a certain radius of Zahlé, no Christian, no matter from where he came, could be insulted and degraded with impunity. In 1841 the Druze suffered a heavy defeat there, in the words of Col. Churchill 'the Druze forces broke upon it like waves upon a rock, to be scattered like spray.' Now it was payback time.

By the time the Druze forces reached Zahlé on 13th of June 1860 they numbered close to 9,000 whilst the defenders could only field 4,000 men. On the 14th and 15th the Christians made sorties against the Druze, which ended in disaster. On the first day of action the Druze took seventy Christian heads to the camp. After the second day the Christians decided to confine their efforts to defense. The 16th and 17th passed without major incident but involved Turkish attempts to disarm the Christians and offering them protection. It is not known if the people of Zahlé knew of what had taken place at Hasbaya but they refused to disarm. On the morning of Monday the 18th of June the Druze launched an all out assault. For four hours they sent wave after wave against the defenders who fought with distinction and kept up a rapid fire on the Druze for as long as their ammunition lasted. When the Druze reached the town a desperate hand-to-hand struggle commenced with the Christians throwing away their musket and attacking their foe with sword and dagger. The Druze began to retreat after having lost some 1,500 dead. Christian's losses numbered 700. At that point reports Mr. J. Lewis Farley, the Turks who were supposed to be defending Zahlé, 'fired upon the victorious Zahliotes, even using it is said, a field piece they had brought with them from Beirut. The Christians retired in good order; but seeing that the Turks had joined their enemies, they gave up all hope, and, during the night, effected their retreat towards Kesserwan.' The next morning the Druze returned to the attack but only found a few old and infirm men and women whom they killed. Zahlé was plundered and then burnt.

Zahlé had fallen but Deir al Qamar still stood, and even though it had surrendered two weeks before, the Druze decided to destroy it. On the 19th the Druze started to slowly enter the town pretending to be protectors. The Turkish governor put his troops on the streets and told the Christians that they would not be harmed. As soon as the Druze in the town had numbered several hundred, trumpets recalled the Turks to the barracks. Pillage of the shops and houses soon followed and in the afternoon after the Turks signaled by means of a volley, Druze musketry was heard on all sides. The Christians were told by the Turkish governor to head to the barracks with their valuables where they would be protected until order was restored. The booty the Christians had brought with them was divided amongst the Turks. Next a general slaughter started, whenever a Christian was seen he was cut down. On the morning of the 20th, the Druze headed by Ali Hamadi gathered in front of the Turkish barracks, which by now contained over 1200 Christian men and their families. The Druze entered the grand court where the Christians had been rounded up and ordered the women to be separated.

All the horrors of the previous butchery were now repeated again with swords, hatchets and axes being used to cut down the Christians. Col. Churchill states that:

'For six long hours the infernal work went on. The blood at length rose above the ankles, flowed along the gutters, gushed out of the waterspouts, and gurgled through the streets. Standing on their ghastly and mutilated pray, the Druze now turned to the women.... The Turkish colonel all the while sat at the gate smoking his pipe, the bowl resting on a corpse.'

As the slaughter of Christians continued in the Chouf, the Christians of Beirut were being systematically disarmed by the Turkish police. Muslims, on the other hand being joined and encouraged by the Druze were allowed to carry their arms. On the 24th June a mob of 400 began to shout that the time had come to murder the Christians. Fortunately a Turkish line-of-battle ship and six English, French, and Russian vessels of war gathered in the harbor. Their presence saved Beirut from the fate of Deir al Qamar. Whilst all eyes were on Beirut, the Christians of Baalbeck were killed, their property pillaged, their houses and churches burnt. By the end of June the Druze had destroyed 300 villages leaving 80,000 Christian refugees to depend on charity for their daily bread. From Lebanon, the spark flew towards Damascus leading to the deaths of thousands of Christians.

It is not known exactly how many Christians were slaughtered in Lebanon but most sources put the figure between 7,000 to 11,000 and some well over 20,000. 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. Mr. Farley, in a letter, speaks of 326 villages, 560 churches, 28 colleges, 42 convents, and 9 other religious establishments, had been totally destroyed. Churchill puts the figures as 11,000 murdered, 100,000 refugees, 20,000 widows and orphans, 3,000 habitations burnt to the ground, and 4,000 perished of destitution.

At last, in July 1860, the great powers decided to act with France taking the initiative dispatching 7,000 troops. The Ottomans fearing this intervention sent their foreign minister, Fouad Pasha, to Lebanon ahead of the French and put an end to the violence. The French troops landed in Beirut in August 1860.

On October 5, 1860, an international commission composed of France, Britain, Austria, Prussia, and the Ottoman Empire met to investigate the causes of the events of 1860 and to recommend a new administrative and judicial system for Lebanon that would prevent the recurrence of such events. The commission members agreed that the partition of Mount Lebanon in 1842 between Druzes and Christians had been responsible for the massacre. Hence, in the Statute of June 9, 1861 Lebanon was separated from Syrian administration and reunited under a non-Lebanese Christian moutasarrif (governor) appointed by the Ottoman sultan, with the approval of the European powers. The moutasarrif was to be assisted by an administrative council of twelve members from the various religious communities in Lebanon. Maronite nationalists strongly objected to a non-Lebanese governor and insisted on self-rule.

This Statute which was revised on September 6, 1864 and also adhered to by Italy in 1867 recognized and guaranteed the autonomy of Lebanon, but not the Lebanon of Fakhr-al-Din and Bachir, but one stripped of its maritime and inter-mountain plains with their cities and reduced to its mountainous region. Only Mount Lebanon was to be out of the Ottoman grasp. The leading signatory, Turkey, cherished the conviction that Lebanon, without its ports, cities, and plains was unviable and could not survive. Turkey was wrong, despite the moutasarrifs being totally incompetent and completely subservient to Constantinople, Lebanon, thanks to the efforts of its inhabitants, not only survived, but registered a record of prosperity, security, and progress that made it the envy of the provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

Lebanon's neighbors found expression in the saying:

'Happy is he who owns but a goat's enclosure in Lebanon.'


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