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From Beirut, the needle’s eye was opened and the thread was pulled into the targeted textile industry in the inner cities. Europe was going through a series of recessions, while local markets in Syria were being affected by the import of cheap foreign goods. The silk workshops were declining along with their local outlets, while the privileged sects maintained their power, feeding off their relationships with their foreign protectors. In no time they were able to play Monopoly with the whole market and with silk production. Consequently they became creditors to all the other players in the local market, who in the nature of the case were Muslims.

Thus the craft was monopolised, the main profiteers being foreign affiliates across the sea, while the land became endangered as the impoverished people started selling off their properties. This was the point of no return; the craft and the land fell into the hands of outsiders. There can be no recovery after such a fall, for the conditions for creating a self-sustaining economy will be left without their main ingredients: knowledge and location. Hence, there will be no home.

Simmering on that fire, Syria was left in anticipation, while the riots between the Druze and Maronites continued unabated. It wasn’t too long before violence reached Damascus, and a group, reportedly from two of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, launched a savage attack on the Catholic quarter, which was plundered and burnt with the loss of many innocent lives. After that, events moved quickly towards collapse. The Ottoman authorities, in a desperate attempt to regain control, organised mass arrests and public executions. But the foreign powers had found their long-awaited excuse to enter in force. Soon Greater Syria fell and was occupied, divided and devastated.

To understand the consequences of those events, the New York Times reports of the era can be of help. But while focusing on reciprocal attacks between the Christians and the Druze the reports largely overlook the role of the Bedouin. It is very important to know that the Bedouin helped in the massacres. By the nature of their way of life they had no home to lose and hence could be hired as militia to execute crimes against the person and property of settled people, which is what their recruiters required. The Bedouin are the main reason why cities in the Levant are protected by walls, and commercial relationships with the Bedouin have a history that reflects their nomadic and unattached character.

Another important fact is the locus of the fighting in Damascus. The attack on Christians in the 1860s didn’t take place at random, nor were all of the Christians of the city attacked. Specifically, the horrors of plunder and killing took place in what had become a Catholic quarter of the old city of Damascus, which thanks to foreign penetration had become a self-contained, isolated and wealthy place. Other Christians (mostly Orthodox) who were living among their Muslim neighbours were protected and saved. And those who committed the crimes weren’t from just anywhere in the city; they were from the most derelict and poor neighbourhoods. This indicates the economic causes on the one hand, and the connected role of urbanism on the other.

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An Gíogóir
September 4th, 2017
2:09 PM
Talk about a one sided account. It is indeed true, that in some cases, Christians were protected by their immediate neighbours. But it was solely because of Western intervention that the Christians of the area weren't exterminated, as they were in Anatolia.

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