The Short Life of Private Ihsan: Jerusalem 1915
Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 16.11.2007:
Institute of Jerusalem Studies
The hero of our story is Ihsan Hasan Turjman (1893-1917), an ordinary recruit in the Ottoman military headquarters in Jerusalem.1 His life was short and uneventful, having served as a clerk in the Logistics Department (manzil), and briefly as a foot soldier in Nablus and Hebron. Still, Ihsan’s observations on the impact of successive military events on his relationship to his city and his nation are without parallel. The power of these diaries lie in their exposure of the texture of daily life, long-buried within the political rhetoric of nationalist discourse, and in their restoration of a world that was subsequently hidden by denigration of the Ottoman past: the life of communitarian alleys, of obliterated neighbourhoods, of heated political debates projecting possibilities that no longer exist, and the voices of soldiers, peddlers, prostitutes, and vagabonds silenced by elite memoirs. By the third year of the war, the diaries project a desperate search for normalcy in daily life–a normalcy experienced in pre-war Ottoman Palestine, but which eluded its citizens for the following hundred years.
The Great War brought about a radical break with the Ottoman past in the whole Arab East, not only in the established constitutional regime, but also in the system of governance, local administration, and identity politics. 1915 was the Year of the Locust (‘am al-Jarad) in the popular memory of peasants and city folk alike. The locust invasion continues to evoke, four generations later, the combined memory of natural disasters and the man-made devastation of war. The consequence was the erasure of four centuries of a rich and complex Ottoman patrimony in which popular narratives of war and nationalist ideology colluded.
This anti-Ottoman re-writing of history took place simultaneously, and in the same abrupt manner, on the Turkish side (in the guise of modernizing the state, and
making it geographically manageable), and on the Arab side (in the sustained annals of nationalist historiography). The erasure achieved, in the Arabic discourse of what became known as ‘the days of the Turks’, a retrospective replacement of four centuries of a relatively peaceful and dynamic era, the Ottoman era, into four miserable years of tyranny symbolized by the iconic features of that war: the military dictatorship of Ahmad Jamal Pasha in Syria, seferberlik (forced conscription and exile), and the collective hanging of the Arab patriots in Beirut’s Burj Square on 15 August, 1916.
This essay deals with the totalizing and transformative nature of the Great War. By totalizing, I refer not only to the manner in which it moulded the soldiers’ work and living habits, but also its impact on the daily life of civilians, creating an atmosphere of continued panic, uncertainty, and disruption of daily patterns of behaviour. This often took the form of persistent concern about food, clothing, and the availability of essential commodities such as kerosene and tobacco, as well as safety from arbitrary army actions (arrest, transfer of population, and conscription of older people as the war progressed). This period also saw the first systematic forms of censorship of the press and private mail.
Related to the totalizing features of the Great War was the manner in which it transformed aspects of social norms. In the absence of a large number of adult male household members–who were either conscripted or had perished at the front–many families were exposed to extreme poverty, famine and disease. People were driven to take drastic measures that unsettled their lives. Begging, theft, and prostitution became daily features in the streets of Jerusalem to an unprecedented degree.
The war also contributed to redefining the nature of the state and its relationship to its subjects. In the case of Palestine, the war was a watershed, separating the country from Syrian expanses and bringing British colonial rule, thereby creating new borders, new citizenship, and new forms of national consciousness.
Yet another feature of the war’s pervasiveness was its unanticipated emancipatory impact on society. This aspect is not well-discussed in war literature, which emphasizes rather the war’s devastation, dehumanization and disruption of normality. Yet, in many respects, it was precisely the very instruments of brutality and destruction–and particularly the disruption of normalcy–that accounted for new social horizons in society. It has been argued, for example, by the socialist theoretician Anton Pannekoek, that WWI played a crucial role in mitigating illusions about nationalism, opening possibilities for class solidarities across national boundaries.2 In the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, Engels made a similar analysis concerning the impact of a future ‘total war’ in which barbarism would give rise to a new civilization.3 Generally, the movement of large numbers of young males from rural areas to army camps created a network of training grounds for former peasants in literacy and manual skills that were the basis for mass movements and radical reform. The short life of private Ihsan al-Turjman highlights not only the impact of these dislocations on social norms but also the manner in which the products of the late Ottoman educational system (in both the Nizamiyyah schools, and the so-called national (i.e. private but not denominational) schools began to question and challenge the fate of the Arab Ottoman provinces and their future within the Empire.
War, Conscription, and the Predicament of Arabness
In comparison with historically analogous examples, in Palestine and the Syrian provinces of the Ottoman regime, the war had the opposite effect on nationalism and national boundaries. It decisively undermined what had been evolving into a multi-national, multi-ethnic state, and gave rise to narrow and exclusivist nationalist ideologies, and provincial affinities. As in Europe, the war brought masses of people into greater contact with their own national communities, and was the context for the introduction of literacy on a wider scale, as well as transport and electricity networks, into urban society–a process that had already been set into motion by the Ottoman reforms of the 1850s, but now accelerated several-fold.
The presence of army camps in the vicinity of major towns set in motion many of these changes. Khalid Fahmy has examined the conflictual modernity brought about by Muhammad ‘Ali’s army in nineteenth century Egypt.4 The process of massive military socialization came to Palestine several decades later, especially after the conscription act of 1914. The first segments of the population to experience the impact of this mobilization were peasants and small town conscripts. In the Arab East, as in mid-nineteenth century Egypt, local society underwent changes that altered the rural landscape and re-defined its relationship to the city. In his major study of the criminal underworld in WWI Alexandria, The Men of Raya and Sekina, 5 Salah Issa examines the world created by the Labour Battalions–a sort of conscript peasant labour created by the British Administration, the exact equivalent of the Ottoman tawabeer al-amaleh (Work Regiments), described in Ihsan Turjman’s diary of his war years in Palestine. Those were compulsory work gangs destined to build roads, railway tracks, army encampments, and military installations. The misery of these conscripts, often sent to die in the distant expanses of Anatolia, in Gallipoli and the Sinai desert, was tempered by a salutary side: they were offered free food, lodging and (sometimes) relocation to the big cities of the Empire. These forced ‘volunteers’ had almost no option but to join the army. The alternative was often death by starvation. Moreover, these conscripts, isolated in their camp life, developed a critical distance from the behavioural norms of their original communities when they moved to the margins of major cities like Alexandria and Cairo.
…since one of their major tasks was to remove the dead and the injured from the battlefield, they became used to the sight of blood and war casualties. They became immune to death, and the mass carnage of war. The ethical norms of civilian life, and the communal boundaries of behaviour from which they had originally come, no longer restrained them in an atmosphere in which killing the enemy became a primary target.6
The conscripts also became used to new patterns of consumption and behaviour, which was a further rupture from their earlier habitat. Their experiences of war made it difficult for them to go back to their villages and towns, and made them shed what Issa calls “the virtue of contentment” which he attributes, in grand orientalist fashion, to Turkish and Arab peasants. It was this ‘loss of contentment’ that created, in his view (among other things), the social background among the released conscripts, of the criminal underworld that haunted Alexandria and other port cities of the Mediterranean in the post-war period.
In Palestine (which was the southern part of the Ottoman Shami provinces), the war transformed the country into one major construction site. The equivalent Syrian and Palestinian Work Battalions (tawabeer al-amale in Arabic, or amele taburlar in Turkish) were mobilized by the Ottoman Corps of Army Engineers to substantially modernize the communication and transportation system.7 Many features of Palestine’s modernity attributed to the British colonial administration seem to have been initiated by the Ottomans in this period. In the first work on modern history of Palestine in the new century (published in 1920), Khalil Totah and Omar Salih al-Barghouti discussed the major changes brought about by the technological exigencies of war. Water wells were drilled all over the country and linked through pipes to the major urban centres. Railroads linked the north of the country to the southern front; a network of telephones and telegraph lines connected the country to the outside world. Post offices, which originated in consular European services, were now unified and replaced by the Ottoman postal services; roads were expanded to allow the operation of military traffic and mechanized cars (automobiles and buses).8 Public hospitals, clinics and pharmacies were introduced in all provinces to combat the malaria, cholera and typhus epidemics that sprung up during the war. In those construction projects, the conscript battalions were crucial instruments. They were recruited from among released prisoners, villages chosen by lottery, and the ranks of the urban poor (in other words, minority groups who were deemed by the Ottomans as unreliable for the front).9 In this regard it is important to distinguish between the organization and functions of the ‘volunteer’ conscripts (Labour Battalions) and the conscript army (nizamiyyah) who undertook most of the fighting on the front, and from whose ranks emerged the two diaries I will discuss below.
Nevertheless, the emancipatory features of war affected both categories of soldiers, the regulars and the ‘volunteers’. They both experienced army discipline in military camps, both were uprooted from their traditional communities and travelled throughout the empire for the first time, and both came in contact with ‘ethnic others’ in the imperial army: Turks, Kurds, Syrians, Albanians and Bulgarians–as well as Austrian and German officers from the ranks of the European Allies.
The war period also witnessed substantial transformations in lifestyles and work habits. Pocket watches were now worn by the urban population and regulated the beginning and end of work days. Coffee houses replaced homes as meeting places for men. An increasing number of middle class women removed their veils, joining the work force and the emerging secular public culture. In Jerusalem and Jaffa (as in Beirut, Aleppo and Damascus) nightclubs and bordellos became available to members of the armed forces under the legal regulation of the state.10 In their history of turn of the century Palestine, Totah and Barghouti observe the beneficial interaction between civilians and the military, and the impact of travel to Beirut, Damascus and Aleppo on people from small towns. But they also lament the decline of the old moral order resulting from exposure to the ‘degenerate’ influences of army life:
During the war, we witnessed the spread of social diseases among city folks, and we thought that this was a national product [of the war]. But when the German and Austrian soldiers arrived, we found that they were worse [than us]. We attributed their behaviour to their contacts with the Turks. And when the British army arrived, we found that they were even more degenerate, for there is no vice and immodesty that is beyond them. We concluded that war is the source of this moral corruption, especially since the city population, and especially those who live in the vicinity of army camps, were much more degenerate than those who lived in villages and towns away from military centres.11
Yet despite the judgmental and moralistic tone of the two writers, they were ambivalent about the impact of war on Palestine’s destiny. They felt that war contained an element of progress, of discipline, and certainly the ushering in of an era of nationalism to the Arab East. Their fears were as much the result of uncertainty towards the new secular modernity as they were a feeling of unease about the unknown future of Palestine with the loss of the Ottoman motherland.
In the historiography of the First War, the evolution of Arab and Turkish nationalism is now being rethought. Among Arab historians, this has mainly taken the form of rectifying the nationalist historiography of scholars like Khaldun Sati al-Husary.12 On the Turkish side, there is also a re-examination of the issue of an Arab ‘betrayal’ of the Ottomans during the Arab Revolt of 1916-1917. Historian Gurcel Goncu noted recently that Arab recruits constituted about 300,000 soldiers, a third of the total Ottoman forces in 1914–far more than the total number of soldiers who followed the banner of the Arab Revolt.13 In the 2004 ceremonies marking the 88th anniversary of the Ottoman victory at Gallipoli, the participation of individual soldiers from various countries, such as New Zealand, Australia, and other Western nations was duly noted, but not the impressive absence of soldiers from the Arab provinces, all of whom were subsumed under the Ottoman banner.
Australian historian Bill Sellers noted that Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) succeeded in defeating Allied attacks in large part as a result of the fighting stamina of his Arab recruits. “Two-thirds of the troops who made up his 19th Division…who faced the first wave of the Allied invasion were Syrian Arabs [i.e. soldiers from Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Palestine], comprising the 72nd and 77th regiments of the Ottoman army.”14 Of the 87,000 troops who died defending Gallipoli and the Dardanelles Straits, many were Arabs. Yet these victories are portrayed today as Turkish, not Ottoman, victories. This pattern is equally true for the battles of al-Arish, Suez, Gaza, Megiddo and Kut al-Amara, where native soldiers (i.e. Iraqi, Hijazi, Palestinian and Syrian recruits) constituted a large component of the Ottoman troops. In the diaries of the two soldiers–Mehmet (Muhammad) al-Fasih of Mersin and Ihsan al-Turjman of Jerusalem–this silencing of the ethnically-mixed army comes to light, but only as various nationalities’ loyalty to the idea of Ottomanism begins to crack under the strain of the war.
War Diaries: Mersin and Jerusalem
Second Lieutenant Muhammad al-Fasih of Mersin and Private Ihsan al-Turjman from the old city of Jerusalem came from distant sides of the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire to join as soldiers in the Sultan’s army, thereby encapsulating the manner in which the Great War transformed the lives of its citizens in two different directions– immersion into Republican Turkish nationalism for one, and Arab separatism for the other.
What was common to al-Fasih and Turjman was that they both kept a daily record of their war experiences, and in so doing preserved for posterity a vivid narrative of the great divide that separated the communitarian, multi-ethnic, imperial domain of the end of the nineteenth century from the nationalist era of the post WWI period. Both soldiers were born around 189315, and both were conscripted in July 1914 after the declaration of seferberlik, the general mobilization that brought Turkey into the war alongside Germany and the Central Alliance against Western Allies. Both came from middle or mercantile classes. Fasih’s father was a customs clerk, while the elder Turjman was an old city merchant from a landed family that had lost the bulk of its wealth.16
Two ordinary soldiers serving in the same imperial army and writing a daily diary is a unique phenomenon for this period of mass illiteracy. For these diaries to have survived and come to light almost a century after the event is quite exceptional, for even among the elite literati very few ventured to record their observations, and even fewer of those records became available to the public. The narratives of al-Fasih and Turjman are particularly valuable in that they recorded the impact of the war on their society, on their own psychological transformations, and the trauma it produced among their officers and comrades.
Unlike Turjman, who reveals that he spent the war years ‘playing with my moustache’ and using all his skills and family connections to evade being sent to the southern front in Suez, Muhammad al-Fasih was a decorated soldier who fought courageously in Gallipoli–and later in Gaza and Beersheba. He had little hesitation in sacrificing his life for the Sultan and his Ottoman homeland. More significant, the two diaries show that the Great War, at least in its early phases, was able to command a considerable loyalty from its Turkish and Arab citizens alike.
The contrasting lives of the two soldiers are equally intriguing when we consider the complexity of the ethnic dimension that coloured their lives. The Turjman family was an Arabized family, possibly of Turkish descent, who settled in Palestine, while the Arabness of al-Fasih is questionable, and can be gleaned with difficulty from his diary. Even though he wrote in Ottoman Turkish, his text is full of Arabic usages which gave
considerable difficulty to his Turkish editor.17 In the one episode of his diaries when he wanted to cheer his comrades trapped in the trenches of Gallipoli, he sings Damascene songs in Arabic together with his fellow Mersini soldier Agati.18 Mersin was a mixed city of Arabs and Turks in the Syrian province of Iskandarun. It is most likely (given his name) that Fasih’s father was an Arab, while his mother was Turkish, since he moved to Istanbul with her when his father died. In 1934, al-Fasih was compelled to Turkify his name into Mehmet Kayabali according to the new Republican regulation that required citizens to adopt Turkish last names.19 In any case, the ambivalence of Fasih’s ethnic background and of Turjman’s Jerusalem identity are themselves markers of inclusive Ottoman affinities in which the borders of Arab and Turkish ethnicities were not clearly defined. The two soldiers, both in their early twenties, could not be further apart in character. Fasih was highly-disciplined and completely devoted to the Ottoman war effort. He had internalized the ranking system of the army and saw himself as a career soldier whose ambition was to move ahead in the hierarchy. For his devotion, he was decorated and promoted, ultimately reaching the rank of brigadier general. To him, martyrdom in combat was both acceptable and necessary, al Bayt traumatizing. His eulogy of his friend Nuri contains the most moving part of his diary:
[Friday, 5 November, 1915]… I bury Nuri. It was God’s will that I would be the one to bury his remains. Who knows who else I will be burying. After the last shovel of earth, I conduct the religious rights. As I recite al-Fatiha, with all the compassion, conviction and eloquence I can muster, I again find it most difficult to control myself. Warm tears stream down my cheeks. As everything must, this also ends. … But then another voice insists that neither Nuri, nor all those who preceded him are truly dead, never to see again. It says, “They are temporarily dead. They will come back to life”. In that olive grove lie Shakeeb, Izzat, Rashad, Munib (Sekip, Izzet, Resat, Munip) and many other comrades.20
Four days later, on 9 November, al-Fasih tells his battalion commander that he is prepared to become the regiment’s feda’i to carry out a sacrificial commando operation.21 His commander restrains his zeal.
Martyrdom, by contrast, was the last item on Ihsan’s mind. His main objective was to survive the war in order to marry his sweetheart, Suraya. Turjman was easygoing, nonchalant, and served in the army out of compulsion. He continuously questioned the political objectives of the war, and celebrated the defeat of his own leadership and their German allies. Nevertheless, both soldiers found solace in the camaraderie of the army and were distressed when members of their battalion (or in the case of Turjman, his fellow soldiers) were injured or killed. Their social life was mainly defined by the lives of their comrades and officers.
Neither his religiosity nor his acceptance of army discipline prevented Muhammad al-Fasih from criticizing the brutality inflicted by officers on subordinates. In one diary entry, he expresses his rage at an officer who was whipping a sick soldier to force him forward:
…This incident, and many others of the kind, demonstrates that, from the lowest to the highest, many are those who fail to appreciate the true value of our ordinary soldier. He is the backbone of the army. He is the one who does all the work. No army can do without him. Regardless of what officer you put at his head, be he German or otherwise, regardless of whether his uniform is khaki or grey, one must know how to deal with his soul, his spirit.22
But these reflective intrusions are the exception in Fasih’s writing. The thrust of his diary was to keep a record of military operations and his role in them. He is precise, matter of fact, and telegraphic in style. Turjman, by contrast, is mainly reflective, discursive, and meandering. His aim ostensibly is to find in his diary an intimate outlet for forbidden private thoughts, political and personal. Since Fasih’s essay has already been published in Turkish and English, I will devote my analysis here to Turjman’s diary which exists so far as a handwritten manuscript, using Fasih’s diary and later the memoirs of Lieutenant Falih Rifki to provide the necessary historical context.
In the Service of Roshen Bey
Ihsan al-Salih Turjman, who grew up in Jerusalem’s old city, was conscripted into the Ottoman army in November 1914, when he was 23 years old. He was first stationed in Dhahriyyah in the Hebron district, then he was moved to Nablus, before managing to use his family’s connections to be posted in the Jerusalem central military command where he was able to commute to work from his home near Bab al-Silsilah, inside the Haram al-Sharif area. Early in 1915, he began to keep a daily diary of his intimate thoughts and activities as a way of venting his frustration at the drudgery of military life.23 In doing so, he was emulating his teacher and mentor Khalil ‘Effendi’ Sakakini at the Dusturiyyah College, who began keeping a diary in 1906, which he often read to his inner circle.
The Turjmans, officially known as ‘al-Salih family’ in court records, were an established clerical family who served for several centuries in the Ottoman civil service and in the Islamic court of Jerusalem as translators, hence their name.24 One of Ihsan’s great-grandfathers was Qasim Bey Turjman in whose name a sabeel (public water fountain) was endowed near al-Haram (opposite Bab al-Silsilah) in 1701. He owned an open court market in Bab al-Amud, and acquired substantial properties in the old city.25 Another ancestor, Ahmad Bey Turjman, lived in Haret al-Sharaf, near what later became the Jewish Quarter, and owned a large plaza in the area known as Sahit Ahmad Bey Turjman.26 Both were prominent translators in the court.
Ihsan’s father, Hasan Bey al-Salih, inherited some of these properties but most were tied to public endowments or leased land. The family lived inside the Haram at the entrance of Bab al-Silsilah in a three-story house that overlooked the Haram plaza from the east and the Wailing Wall and the Magharbeh Quarter from the south. Hasan Bey lived for two decades in a childless marriage until his first wife prevailed on him (according to contemporary stories) to marry his second wife Nabiha al-Khalili– descended from Sheikh Ali al-Khalili, a prominent Jerusalemite and one of the first city dwellers to build a mansion outside the city walls in al-Baq’a neighbourhood. Nabiha bore him six children (three boys and three girls), of whom Ihsan was the eldest.27 But Hasan remained faithful to his first wife, Safiyyah, and continued to live with her after his second marriage in a separate apartment on the third floor of their home until she died during the first war.
Ihsan grew up with Safiyyah as his second mother. He studied in Qur’anic schools by the Haram, and then went to a local Nizamiyyah school for his primary education. After 1909, he joined Khalil Sakakini’s Dusturiyyah College, which offered an Arab secular curriculum. To the end of his days, Ihsan considered Sakakini his mentor and confidante, as is evident from his diary.
When the general mobilization was announced by Ottoman authorities in November 1914, Ihsan was conscripted and sent to central Palestine. He was on the verge of being sent to the Suez front in Sinai when he was transferred to serve in Jerusalem’s military headquarters under the commander Ali Roshen Bey.
Roshen Bey was an Albanian officer whose administrative skills promoted him to become the military Qa’immaqam in charge of army logistics on the southern front. His headquarters, known as ‘the Manzil’, were in the sequestered Notre Dame building opposite Jerusalem’s New Gate.28 In that capacity he became the highest military officer in Ottoman Palestine, subject only to Jamal Pasha as commander of the fourth army. The latter was based in Damascus during the war and visited Jerusalem periodically.
Ali Roshen’s official title was residence inspector (mufattish manzil) and his domain included the mobilization and training of soldiers for military and auxiliary tasks, and the overall administration of army logistics–food, munitions, and establishing army camps in southern Palestine.29 Omar al-Salih attributes the initial success of the Ottomans on the Egyptian front to the organizational skills of Roshen Bey.30 Ali Roshen remained in Jerusalem to the very end, where he directed a battalion and fought tenaciously– according to an eyewitness account–against General Allenby’s advancing army in Nebi Samuel, a strategic area north of Jerusalem.31 He was last seen with retreating fighters in the village of Jib. Aside from local contemporary sources, such as the Barghouti and Jawhariyyeh memoirs,32 very few records have been found that describe the fate of Ali Roshen Bey. Ottoman military archives contain four telegraphs sent in code from the Governor of Siwas, Muhyi ed-Din, in which Roshen Bey is identified in the context of military manoeuvres involving Mustafa Kemal. The telegraphs are all dated Huzeiran 1335 (June 1919), so he must have still been active in Anatolia towards the end of the war.33
Ihsan served as a petty clerk at Roshen’s headquarters. His main job was to review petitions for exemption from service, and file paper work within the Ottoman military bureaucracy. In that capacity, he was privy to political discussions that took place among
Turkish, Albanian and Syrian officers in Palestine–as well as the occasional German visiting officers–and was able to observe the deteriorating mood of the rank and file. The significance of his diary, written daily by candlelight during the early war years, is that it reflects the cosmology of a ‘middling’ citizen of the city at the critical period of Palestine’s history that ushered in the demise of four centuries of Ottoman rule and made possible an unknown future, as the British army advanced on Gaza and Beersheba from the South, and bombarded Jaffa and Haifa from the sea.
Almost every chronicle that we have inherited from this period was authored by a political leader (Awni Abdul Hadi, Muhammad Izzat Darwazeh, and Rustum Haidar), a military commander (Fawzi al-Quwakji), or an intellectual (Sakakini, Najati Sidqi). Ihsan’s diary stands alone as the detailed observations of a low-ranking soldier, written with intimacy and simple but keen reflections on an encircled city. Because Ihsan commuted daily to work from his family house in the old city, he lived in two worlds–the military circles of the Ottoman officer corps and the urban street and its tribulations during the war. The record contains a wealth of observations about daily life in Jerusalem in 1915-1916; the reaction of the urban poor and artisans to deprivation; and the disasters that accompanied the locust attacks and the army’s confiscation of property, means of transport and work animals. But the diary is also full of intimate social details about the soldier’s private life: his love affair with a neighbouring woman; his daily visits to his teacher and mentor; his disgust at the debaucheries of his commanding officers; his constant (and failed) attempts to evade army service; the role of rumours in the life of the city; his detective work to uncover the identity of the thief that robbed his house, and his shame at discovering it was his cousins; his rift with his father and family on this subject; and the devastation caused by cholera, famine, locust attack, and the wholesale forced movement of population. Ihsan survives all of these disasters only to be shot fatally by an officer of the withdrawing Ottoman army in 1917. He does not live to see his 25th birthday.34
Ihsan’s world is permeated by war, and by impending catastrophe: his disrupted studies, scenes of disease and hunger in the streets; the absence of tobacco from stores; and his declining prospects for marriage to his beloved as his and his family’s fortunes begins to dissipate. Ihsan’s despair seems to echo William Pfaff’s belief that “the moral function of war (has been) to recall humans to the reality at the core of existence: the violence that is part of our nature and is responsible for the fact that human history is a chronicle of tragedies”.35
The De-centring of Palestine: The Egyptian Option
The Turjman diary opens with self-interrogation about the destiny of the Holy Land after the war. “I know that the days of this [Ottoman] state are numbered. There is no doubt that it is heading for dissolution sooner or later. But what will be the fate of Palestine after the war?” he wrote on 28 March, 1915. This was the burning issue of debate among his fellow soldiers, his officers, within his family, and within the social circle that had meet daily in the municipal park and in cafés inside Jaffa Gate.
His answer reflects the mood of the street at that moment, but it runs contrary to conventional wisdom about popular currents prevailing in Palestine at the turn of the century. Palestine’s destiny was not Syria–bilad al-Sham–but Egypt.
The question is easy to answer. Either independence or our annexation to Egypt. The latter possibility is more likely than independence since England is the only power that is likely to occupy Palestine, and England will not grant full independence to Palestine but will try to merge it with Egypt, creating a single government under the rule of the Khedive of Egypt. For Egypt is Palestine’s neighbour and since the majority of its population is Muslim Arabs, it is logical to annex it and make the Egyptian khalifah the joint king of Palestine and the Hijaz.36
What is striking about this observation is not its contemplation of the possibility of independence for Palestine in the post-Ottoman settlement, but that it did not reflect, even as one alternative, what is currently perceived to be the consensus of the nationalist movement in that period–namely, Palestine as the southern Syrian province in an autonomous Arab East. And this at a time when the Hashemite leadership was on the eve of announcing the Arab Revolt of 1916 and negotiating an alliance with Syrian nationalist forces in Damascus.
There is no doubt, however, that the pro-Syrian wing in the Arabist movement in Palestine was quite strong, and was represented by the Ottoman Decentralization party (which wanted autonomy for the Arab region within a reformulated arrangement with Istanbul), as well as in secret secessionist groups such as al-Arabiyyah al-Fatah, and al-Ahd group. In central Palestine these tendencies were articulated by political activists like Muhammad Izzat Darwazeh and Awni Abdul Hadi, the future leaders of al-Istiqlal Party, which considered Palestine as the southern region of an independent Syria.
What is suggested by those political comments is an amorphous political atmosphere that opened up several possibilities for Palestine (and Syria) during WWI. In referencing ostensible British plans for merging Palestine with Egypt, Turjman was not uttering an isolated political thought. He was reflecting a position that was heatedly debated (although by no means adopted) among soldiers in Jerusalem’s central command, and among his inner circle of friends. Quite a few intellectuals during the war were still harbouring hopes for the retention of Palestine within a reconstructed (and constitutional) Ottoman regime. Some of these were outright Ottomanists and close allies of Jamal Pasha’s political line. Most notable among them were Sheikh As’ad al-Shuqairi from Akka, Mufti Taher Abu Su’ud and Ali Rimawi from Jerusalem, and Sheikh Salim al-Ya’coubi from Jaffa. Darwazeh cites how the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP)37 mobilized them in September 1915 to go on a publicity tour to Istanbul and Gallipoli under the guise of supporting the war effort, where they then attacked the Arab nationalists for “undermining the unity of the Sultanate and Turkish Arab brotherhood”.38 The group included a number of pro-Ottoman journalists, including Muhammad Kurd Ali, owner of the widely-circulating Damascene newspaper, al-Muqtabis, to create a favourite atmosphere for the repression of the secessionist movement. In Gallipoli, according to Muhammad al-Fasih, the group was welcomed by Turkish and Arab fighters alike. He makes the following entry in his diary on 21 October, 1915: “17:30 hrs. …delegation of Syrian literati visits Regimental HQ with a gift of Damascus baklava for the officers. Each of us receives a slice.”39 According to Darwazeh, however, Jamal Pasha used the support of this group to justify his repression of the Arab nationalist movement, and the hanging of its leaders in Beirut.40
Most Ottoman loyalists in this period, however, were not hostile to Arab nationalism. They included a number of people who had only recently sympathized with the CUP and/or the Decentralization Party, such as Omar Salih al-Barghouti, Is’af Nashashibi, and Khalil Sakakini–all closely associated with Turjman. In this intellectual circle only Adel Jaber, a prominent young lawyer and journalist, continued to identify strongly with the Ottomans for the duration of the war.41
Like several intellectuals in his company, Ihsan therefore bases his diary speculation about a merger with Egypt on two counts: Palestine is too small to be independent, and British interests would not allow it. This sentiment also reflects recognition of the underlying aims of the Ottoman campaign in the southern front–to instigate a pro-Ottoman popular rebellion in Egypt against the British administration. Agents of Jamal Pasha, commander of the Fourth Army and governor of Syria, were actively at work in Cairo, Alexandria and the Suez region instigating the Egyptian street against the British.42 The overall objective of the campaign was to disrupt the shipping traffic at the canal and to divert allied troops from the Dardanelles.43 Jamal Pasha had in fact organized Arab and Bulgarian Muslim units in a separate battalion named the Islamic Salvation Army of Egypt (Halaskar Misr Ordu-yu Islamiyesi), including Druze units under the leadership of Shakib Arsalan.44 In his memoirs, published immediately after the war, CUP leader Pasha makes his intentions explicit:
[During the initial attack on Suez] the Arab fighters, who constituted the bulk of the 25th Battalion performed splendidly, which hardly mitigated my disgust at Sherif Hussein’s attempts to plant the seeds of dissension in this united mass of solidarity [between Arabs and Turks]… Every time I heard the lyrics of “The Red Banner Shall Fly Over Cairo”, which echoed the footsteps of the throngs leading their way in the darkness of the desert, my heart became certain of our victory… I invested a great deal of hope in this moment on the support of patriotic Egyptians, whom I had anticipated will revolt as one man encouraged by the [anticipated] fall of Isma’iliyyah in the hands of the Ottoman army.45
Elsewhere in his memoirs, however, he suggests that the thrust of the Suez campaign was demonstrative and diversionary–“I never seriously imagined that we would cross and seize the Canal, but so thoroughly did I convince HQ and the main units under my command, no one had any notion that this was a demonstration and no one held back for a moment from displaying the utmost self-sacrifice”.46 This comment can also be taken as a retrospective apologia explaining his sorry military achievement in the campaign.
It was the failure of the Suez campaign–in large part due to bad Turkish intelligence about the strength of pro-Ottoman forces in Egypt, as well as underestimation of the fighting capacities of Indian troops under British command and weak performance by Arab troops in Sinai–that unleashed Jamal Pasha’s campaign of repression against the Arab nationalist movement in the spring of 1915.47
Turjman’s desire for a merger with Egypt, shared with a number of intellectuals such as Is’af al-Nashashibi, was also rooted in the de-centring of Palestine’s geography in that period. The boundaries of Ottoman Palestine were delineated by the Mutassariflik of Jerusalem, a relatively recent entity (from 1873) administered directly from Istanbul. Those boundaries included Jaffa and Sinjil on the northern frontier, and the great expanses of the Sinai desert to the south.48 Although the recognized boundaries between Egypt and Ottoman Palestine were north of al-Arish, the 1917 Ottoman map of Palestine indicated a governorship of Jerusalem that extended as far as Port Said and the Suez Canal, with the wilderness of Sahra’ al-Tayh in Sinai constituting the central focus of the region.49 What contributed to this de-centring of Palestine was the assumption in the cartography of the period that Ottoman Africa (Ifrika Usmani) was separated from Ottoman Asia (Assia Usmani) by the Suez Canal. In all of those maps the Sinai peninsula appeared as a natural, if not administrative, extension of mutassariflik of Kudus Sherif (Jerusalem).50
With the improvement of transportation routes at the turn of the century and Egyptian commerce and cultural exchange with Palestine, the Egyptian press became a primary influence on the Jerusalem and Jaffa intelligentsia–much more so than the press of Beirut or Damascus. Within Jerusalem intellectual circles, Is’af al-Nashashibi was particularly known for his Egyptian cultural affinities. He later wrote a polemical essay on the Arabness of Egypt in which he attacked those who favoured the separation of Egypt from its Arab environment: “Those who question the Arabness of Egypt, and the Egyptian roots of Arabness, are retrogrades burning with anti-Islamic hatred, and poisoned by Western propaganda”.51 Sakakini wrote primarily for the Cairene al-Masa’ and al-Muqattam in this period, and Ihsan’s diary shows that he was a regular reader of al-Hilal, and al-Muqtatif when they were distributed in Jerusalem. With the exception of al-Himara al-Qahira (‘The Obstinate Donkey’) and Filasteen (which was suspended in Jaffa most of the war years), all of Ihsan’s readings came from Cairo.
Within three years, however, this mood shifted noticeably. Ottoman retreat and British control of Palestine and the issuing of the Balfour Declaration made the idea of merger with Egypt far-fetched, and the independence of Palestine created fears among nationalists that it would have to face the Zionist movement alone. There was a return to sentiment favourable to greater Syria. “The idea of joining Palestine to Syria is spreading powerfully those days”, wrote Khalil Sakakini in his diary on 20 January, 1919.
People say: Palestine and Syria are two sisters visited together by catastrophes so far, and by a common thirst for freedom and independence. Now they must have the same fate, and under no circumstance should one be amputated from the other. At the same time the notion of ‘Palestine for the Palestinians’ and full independence is retreating, and you have many people who are against the idea [of independence] altogether.52
Ihsan’s world outlook was at once secular, pacifist and compassionate. One is struck by his cosmopolitan outlook given his traditional family milieu, limited education, and even more limited life experience and young age when he was drafted into the army. We know that his father Hasan had insisted that his sons and daughters receive a Qur’anic education before they were sent to (mostly) secular schools.53 Ihsan’s natural (i.e. non-ideological) pacifism was no doubt a reaction to the carnage of the war, and the death rate generated by disease and famine during WWI. But his outlook was formed basically through interaction with several intellectual figures that influence his thinking in that period: Omar Saleh al-Barghouti, Adel Jaber, Musa Alami, Khalil Sakakini, Is’af Nashashibi and cousin Hasan al-Khalidi–who had just received his medical degree from Beirut. To these we must add the towering figure of Rustum Haidar, the deputy director of the Salihiyyah College in Damascus, who visited Jerusalem frequently and who met with Turjman during one of his visits to his teacher’s home. Within this group, Ihsan was a young and impressionable soldier, and mainly an observer. His crucial link was Sakakini, his teacher at the Dusturiyyah College (established in 1909). Ihsan continued to visit his teacher/mentor at least three or four times a week during the war years. It was from Sakakini that he acquired the idea of recording his thoughts in a diary, but more significantly, he absorbed the latter’s critical thinking about nationalism and his progressive views on children’s education and the emancipation of women.
Turjman’s close circle of friends challenges the prevailing assumption about the late Ottoman period, which suggests that Arabs’ acquisition of a secular and modernist education was confined to mission schools (Russian seminaries in Nazareth and Bayt Jala, the La Salles Brothers in Jaffa and Jerusalem, St. Joseph’s Schools and the Sisters of Zion, and Bishop Gobat’s schools are leading examples). Sakakini, aided by advocates of the Arab Enlightenment such as Nakhleh Zureik, succeeding in establishing an educational system that challenged the confessional system and attracted hundreds of students from Palestine who chose to avoid the sectarianism of the Christian missionaries. Al-Dusturiyyah College (later known as al-Wataniyyah College) was established in 1909 in the spirit of the new Ottoman constitution, basically as a protest against the (Greek) ecclesiastical orthodox hierarchy. It was in this college that Ihsan received his basic education and with whose graduates and teachers he continued to associate while in the military.
For the military elite, the Imperial War Academy in Istanbul and regional military colleges in cities like Damascus and Baghdad introduced a select few students into a ‘national’ alternative to the missionary schools. But the other intellectual current that is overlooked was the modernist Ottoman educational system introduced after the revolution of 1908. Most public schools in Jerusalem then began to introduce a secular curriculum along European lines. The most important public school in the city was al-Rashidiyya, which graduated leading figures of reform. Individual reformers such as Sheikh Muhammad al-Salih were inspired by the Islamic reformism of Afghani and Abdo. Sheikh al-Salih established al-Rawda al-Faiha’ which took the daring step of converting all curriculum in history, geography, literature and religious studies from Turkish to Arabic.54
The most important Ottoman college in Palestine in Ihsan’s days was al-Salihiyyah, established at Jamal Pasha’s initiative in the grounds of St. Anne’s, a crusader church near the Haram area, which was confiscated from the French during the war. Salahuddin-i Eyyubi Kulliyye-i Islamiyyesi, as it was known in Turkish, was Jamal’s ambitious attempt to train a generation of pro-Ottoman Arab intelligentsia. The college offered two phases of 12 years of secondary studies, and was therefore a university-level institute whose curriculum was a mixture of theological studies and the latest secular disciplines available in that period.55 The college was established in 1913, administered by three protégés of Jamal Pasha, Abdel Aziz Shawish, Shakib Arsalan and Abdul Qadir al-Moghrabi, who were all early supporters of the Young Turk movement and champions of Ottoman decentralization. But the most important figure in Salahiyyah was Rustum Haidar (1886-1940) who established the secret Arab society Al-Jam’iyyah al-Arabiyyah al-Fatat in 1911 with Awni Abdel Hadi and Ahmad Qadri.56 Haidar appears prominently in Turjman’s diary as a friend of Sakakini and a fierce exponent of Arabism in the Ottoman state. In 1918, he escaped with Sakakini to Jabal Druze from Damascus to join the Arab Rebellion under the leadership of Prince Faisal. Two other prominent intellectuals from Turjman’s circle of friends also taught at the Salahiyyah: Is’af al-Nashashibi and Adel Jaber. The former taught Arabic, while the latter taught French and geography. Sakakini also taught at the Salahiyyah when his busy schedule at his own college allowed him.
In his diary, Turjman expressed hostility to both Nashashibi and Jaber for their arrogance and elitism. But he was particularly venomous towards Adel Jaber, whom he accused of being an apologist for Jamal Pasha and at one point, a secret agent for the government.57 He narrates how on 15 May, 1915, Jaber was sent to Jaffa on behalf of Pasha, most likely on a mission related to recruitment for the Salahiyyah College. At the end of the entry, he approvingly quotes his cousin Hasan al-Khalidi, indicating that Adel Jaber is “an Ottoman spy”.58 Jaber himself never disguised his pro-CUP sentiments, and defended Ottoman policy in heated debates with Nashashibi, Sakakini, and Musa Alami, and continued to do so until the end of the war. In his political leanings, he was not alone.
This episode reflects the tension building in that period between Arab secessionists and Ottomanists within the Palestinian (and Syrian-Lebanese) intelligentsia. There is no indication whatsoever that Ihsan’s spying accusation against Jaber had any basis in fact (it is possible, on the other hand, that Adel was secretly vying for the attention of Suraya, Ihsan’s woman friend). It was this schism in the ranks of Arab political groups that Jamal was seeking to foster between what he considered ‘extreme nationalists’, and moderate Arab nationalist.59 He saw al-Salahiyyah as the institutional base from which he could build a cadre of a loyalist Arab civil service for the new regime.60
Another major objective for the Salahiyyah was to create an intellectual base for a pan-Islamic movement under Ottoman sponsorship. According to Martin Strohmeier, Jamal Pasha aimed at training “theologians who would be both open-minded and intellectually equipped to deal with secular and scientific concepts” in the spirit of Muhammad Abdo.61 The latter was greatly admired by Sakakini’s circle–the group that later became known as the party of ‘Vagabonds’, but they moved beyond Abdo’s objectives of Islamic reform, adopting essentially secular (and sometimes antireligious) perspectives. With British troops approaching southern Palestine, Jamal Pasha moved the premises of the college, together with the students and teaching staff, to Damascus. Subsequently, the Salahiyyah college failed, being unable to recruit students from outside the Syrian-Palestinian areas (that is, from India and Indonesia) as Jamal had anticipated, and too short-lived to develop an independent school of thought. Sakakini and Rustum Haidar soon defected and joined the Arab rebellion.
Ihsan’s own readings while serving under Roshen Bey were very eclectic. The family had a substantial library at home from which Is’af al-Nashashibi and Musa Alami used to borrow books. He also added several volumes during his apprenticeship at the Dusturiyyah college. In the long hours at his desk, he used to read al-Zamachshari and other Arab classics, such as the History of Arab Civilization by Muhammad Kurd Ali, who was a chief supporter of al-Salahiyyah’s pan-Islamic program. Ihsan read and admired Qasim Amin’s book Tahrir al-Mar’a (The Liberation of Women, Cairo, 1899). But he also was a heavy consumer of romantic novels–what would be called today ‘pulp fiction’. He also read ‘marriage manuals’, such as “Selecting Your Wife” (“Intikhab al-Zawja”), “Night of the Wedding” (“Lailat al-Urs”), and “Our Sexual Life” (“Hayatuna al-Tanasuliyyah”). These were most likely local translations of English and French pamphlets read surreptitiously at work, for fear of being caught by his father. Ihsan narrates how his Turkish, Albanian and Arab military officers (such as Faris Effendi, and Ismail al-Mani) would rebuke him whenever they caught him reading, mostly out of anti-intellectual motivations than concern for his work. At least, this is what Turjman claimed. He also read the local press with great enthusiasm. His favourite was a weekly of political satire called al-Himara (‘The Donkey’), which made fun of the leadership of the CUP, thereby implying that Ottoman censorship was much more lax than believed during the war years.
The Rupture of Ottoman Identity
Ihsan’s diary is exceptional for its extreme positions against Jamal Pasha and the CUP leadership. What we should compare it to is not Arab nationalist historiography of the post-war period, but with the works of contemporary writers, such as Muhammad Izzat Darwaza’s memoirs, and As’ad Rustum’s autobiography. Both authors began their political careers as Ottoman decentralists and ended up joining the Arab nationalist camp. In Ihsan’s circle, both Sakakini (his teacher) and Omar Salih al-Barghouti (his friend) wrote memoirs indicating an ambivalent attitude towards Ottoman decentralism during the war. As the war progressed, both of them began to identify with the leadership of Prince Faisal. Rustum eventually joined the Arab rebellion in Jabal Druze and became Faisal’s private secretary. Sakakini escaped from Damascus after he was released from jail (in 1918) and went over to the rebel side– where he was credited with writing the Arab National Anthem. For all of them, the turning point was the Aley military trials after which Syrian nationalists were hanged in Beirut in August 1916.
By contrast, several members of the Jerusalem intelligentsia continued to favour a settlement that would maintain Palestine as an Ottoman province until the end of the war. Those included Adel Jaber, who edited al-Hayat in Jerusalem and Jaffa, Sheikh Muhammad al-Salih, director of Rawdat al-Maarif, and Mahmud al-Jawish, principal of al-Salahiyyah college. Omar al-Salih, in his autobiography, discusses meetings held by Jamal Pasha with Arab leaders in Jerusalem and Damascus in 1916 and 1917 to discuss a Turkish-Arab confederation.62
Turjman’s diary is a sustained tirade against Jamal and Anwar Pasha. The thrust of his attack is related to Jamal’s failed campaign in the Suez and the Sinai desert fronts, which involved many friends and relatives of Ihsan. Turjman’s recurrent nightmare is to be sent to the front. His portrayal of Jamal is contradictory. On the one hand, he is seen as pandering to Jewish and Christian soldiers by favouring them with exemptions from military service and assignments in clerical jobs in order to win the support of the minorities of Syria. On the other hand, Ihsan attacks both Anwar and Jamal for humiliating Jerusalem Jews and Christians, conscripting them in the Labour Battalions (Tawabeer al-Amaleh) to clean the streets and undertake heavy-duty road and railroad construction. Many members of these battalions perished from hunger and disease in back-breaking work. Contemporary descriptions are replete with the local population’s humiliating impact of these battalions on the local population. One of several entries by Sakakini on this subject makes the following observation:
Today a large number of Christians were recruited as garbage collectors to Bethlehem and Bait Jala. Each was given a broom, a shovel, and a bucket and they were distributed among the alleys of the town. Conscripts would shout at each home they passed, ‘Send us your garbage’. The women of Bethlehem looked out from their windows and wept. No doubt this is the ultimate humiliation. We have gone back to the days of bondage in Roman and Assyrian days.63
When he was appointed as a temporary clerk in the Jerusalem military command in charge of exemption from service, Turjman tried, unsuccessfully, to ameliorate the suffering of these soldiers.
In one episode Ihsan describes Jamal Pasha’s wedding to a ‘Jewish prostitute’ from Jerusalem as an example of his favouritism. The reference here is to the commander’s concubine Lea Tannenbaum whose family was active in the pro-Ottoman Red Crescent Society. In other cases, Jamal is portrayed as arbitrary and engrossed in his own glorification– extending work hours for ordinary soldiers, and abolishing their weekly holidays on Fridays. Jamal is also seen as hypocritical, distributing sweets and slaughtering lambs for the benefit of the soldiers during public holidays, although they are hungry and underpaid the rest of the year. Ihsan was particularly hostile to the CUP’s cynical attempts to manipulate religion in defence of the war effort in the Arab provinces. One of several entries in his diary describes Roshen Bek’s hosting of a major party in the military headquarters in honour of Ahmad Jamal Pasha, and Jamal the Younger (Mersini).
The height of Ihsan’s wrath against Jamal Pasha is recorded during his campaign against the secret nationalist groups. The attack starts with the hanging of two soldiers at Damascus Gate on 30 March; they were accused of being “spies for the British army”. The repression reached its zenith in the persecution of members of the Arab society and the secret ‘Ahd’ group of Arab officers after a summary trial in Aley, not far from Beirut. But Turjman’s anti-Ottoman sentiments are tempered by his positive reference to several Turkish and Albanian commanders towards whom he had great affection. Those included his commander-in-chief Ali Roshen Bey (an Albanian), Nihad Bey (chief-of-staff of the Jerusalem garrison, a Turk), and many Turkish officers with whom he had worked with. When he was assaulted and threatened by his commanding officer (an unnamed Albanian) he sought the protection of Roshen Bey, and not from fellow Arab officers.
Ihsan’s diary is full of recrimination against Arab submissiveness against Ottoman military repression. The Syrian and Palestinian people are described as a subservient lot (ummatun dhalilah), and are no match for the Turks, he would write repeatedly. No proud nation would tolerate being led to slaughter without rebelling. Although a pacifist at heart, he occasionally rejoiced in Ottoman victories in Gallipoli and Kut al-Amara (southern Iraq), and his national identity is interchangeably described as belonging ‘to the Ottoman nation’, and to ‘the Arab nation’ in other contexts, but never as a member of an ‘Islamic Nation’–a category that Jamal Pasha began to cultivate after 1917 to win Persian and Indian support for the Ottoman side. The ulama and sheikhs were a particular object of scorn in Ihsan’s diary. Sheikh As’ad al-Shuqairi, the mufti of the Fourth Army from Akka, is described as a hypocrite when he travels to Istanbul with a number of religious bodies from Palestine to eulogize the Ottoman martyrs in Gallipoli and the Dardanelles.
Only when Sherif Hussein and the tribes of Hijaz rebelled against Ottomans with British support did Ihsan express his vindication and pride of being an Arab. “Salute to the Hijazis. May God lead Hussein to victory, so that the blood of our martyrs in Beirut shall not flow in vain.” But he calls them the ‘urban (‘Bedouin’) and he is aware that their revolt is not entirely altruistic. Among the reasons he cites for the rebellion is that Jamal Pasha had stopped paying protection money to the Hijazis for securing the Damascus Medina railway.
The impact on Turkish-Arab relations of the progressive rupture in Ottoman identity can be fruitfully traced from the Turkish side in another war diary–that of Falih Rifki, who was the Jamal Pasha’s private secretary in Damascus and Jerusalem, and a contemporary of both Turjman and Fasih (by a strange coincidence, all three diarists were born in the same year, 1893).64 Rifki’s observations are particularly valuable because he was close to the events as they unfolded, and because he was a keen observer of Arab-Turkish relations inside the armed forces. In addition, Rifki was fascinated by the dramatic manifestations of religion in moulding people’s lives in the holy land. In the following observation, he compares Jerusalem with Medina:
The pilgrims in Jerusalem are no happier than the pilgrims at Medina. The people of Jesus are as hungry as the people of Muhammad and are equally doomed to live in misery. The only difference is the majestic décor of the beggar in Jerusalem. Medina was an Asiatic bazaar which has turned religion into trade goods. Jerusalem is a Western theatre which has turned religion into a play…I thought the priests of the Holy Sepulcher were wearing false beards. When they bend down, one can see the bulge of their pistol-holsters beneath their robes.65
In general, Rifki justifies Jamal Pasha’s campaign of repression against the Arab nationalists as an instrument of policy aimed at preserving stability and effective Ottoman administration. Furthermore, he seems to imply that the use of violence was effective. He explains approvingly: “For Palestine we used deportation; for Syria, terrorization; for the Hijaz, the army. The circumspect Jews, waiting on the coast at Jaffa for the Balfour Declaration, lost no lives for its sake; not so much as an orange. The Hijaz rose in revolt, but Syria was quiet”.66 He also defends the massive deportations of the civilian population from coastal Palestine, especially from Jaffa, after the British fleet established their blockade. In his memoirs, the Jewish population in particular had to be prevented from sending intelligence to the Allies about Ottoman troops.67
Rifki makes insightful observations about the integration of Turkish and Arab ethnicity as components of Ottoman society. “The Ottoman Sultanate is solidly bureaucratic”, he states, “but the bureaucracy here [in Palestine] is half Arab. I have not seen a single Turkicized Arab, and I have seen precious few Turks who were not Arabized… We have neither colonized this region nor made it part of our land. The Ottoman Empire here is the unpaid watchman of the fields and streets.”68 When the author moves on to discuss the situation in Jerusalem, this point of the assimilating, but non-assimilated, Arab becomes a source of protest against the Turkish predicament outside Anatolia.
“We are lodgers in Jerusalem”, Rifki remarks sardonically, in a manner reminiscent of Russian protestations of being a marginalized group in Soviet Moscow. “As all minorities in the Ottoman Empire had privileges, while the Turks had none, it was more advantageous to belong to any Muslim minority than to be a Turk.”69 These remarks may sound ridiculous to an Arab historian looking back at that era, but they actually reflected a serious perception of the ‘Arab problem’ within the thinking of an important contingent of the ruling Ottoman elite and certainly in the thinking of Jamal Pasha himself, who was fighting a desperate struggle to salvage the Ottoman idea as secessionist groups gnawed at the peripheries of the Empire. The significance of Arab integration, from their point of view, was that Arabs were the last element of the Sultanate (the Kurds probably did not count then) that was Muslim (in the main) and a potential ally against cooption by the Western powers. Hence, the disappointment was compounded by Arab ‘betrayal’. In the end, it was the Arabs who deserted the Turks, and not the Turks–in their campaign of Turkification–who undermined the Ottoman idea. This perception is clear in Rifki’s analysis. “Don’t think there was an ‘Arab problem’ in that huge land stretching from Aleppo to Aden,” he insisted, “…what there was anti-Turkish feeling. Take that away and the Arabs would have collapsed into disunity.”70
Rifki does not shed light on Jamal’s presumed strategy of building an Arab-Turkish federation to replace the disintegrating Ottoman regime, as suggested by some Arab thinkers, like Omar al-Salih. But it is clear from his memoirs that Jamal’s failure was a defeat for any future Turkish-Arab dominion. Rifki recounts the bitterness of his commander replaced in the supreme command by General von Falkenhayn:
Jamal Pasha was unwilling to give up his Syrian dream; he wanted to return to Istanbul at the end of the war bearing the gift of a Syria preserved. Perhaps they took advantage of his weakness for pomp and circumstance; he was appointed commanding general of Syria and Western Arabia. A sort of commander-in-chief, second class [to von Falkenhayn]. …It wasn’t Jamal Pasha that was falling; it was the province of Syria. But because it was a country with an excessive regard for rank, decorations and gold braid, it fell not as Anatolian villages fall, in silence and loneliness, but more showily and magnificently, wrapped in the uniforms of commanders-in chief, marshals and ministers.71
In the introduction to his memoirs, which are entitled Zeytindagi (Mount of Olives) Falih Rifki refers emblematically to this problem of Turkish identity in Palestine. “Olberg is the German [term] for Mount of Olives. Jabal al-Zaytun is the Arabic. And Zeytindagi? Zeytindagi is just the name I gave to my book. There never was a Turkish Jerusalem.”72 But of course there was an Ottoman Jerusalem, which Rifki bey resisted identifying.
The End of Innocence
Ihsan Turjman’s diary is also a sustained attack on the ethos of war. His is not an ideology of pacifism as much as revulsion against the conditions of social disintegration and loss of an earlier era of stability, conditions that he attributes to the megalomania of the new Ottoman leadership. The new politics of nationalist aggrandizement, ethnic oppression, and carnage brought an irrational and incoherent world. It produced what John Berger called “the inversion of politics”. As in the European front, in Belgium, in France and in the Dardanelles, the impact of the war was seen as catastrophic and created a sense of loss of control over the future. With the earlier debate concerning the future of Palestine, we witness a sense of disorientation and de-centring from old certainties. The impen