The Argus, 12 augustus 1916
Bron: National Library of Australia

Plight of Syrians



Syria, and particularly the Christian district of Mount Lebanon, add another tale of horror to that of Belgium, Serbia, Poland, and Armenia, only perhaps in a more accentuated form. As one who was born, bred, and educated in the country, and who has been in touch with all its sorrows during this war, the ghastly picture of its sad fate is as real and clear to me as my own existence. Your space would not allow of a detailed survey of the whole position, and I shudder to retail its harrowing tales of anguish and of suffering. Few broad outlines, therefore, suffice to acquaint your readers with the condition of things in a country so little known here and so greatly misunderstood.

Ever since the birth of Islam, Mohammedanism and Christianity have been in death grips. The struggle has been prolonged, strenuous, and bloody, but the Christians of Mount Lebanon well stood the ordeal against organised and superior forces. A paragraph out of a long article that appeared in the New York "Herald"' of May 21 is worth reproducing here.

"Mount Lebanon, being a part of the Holy Land, and Christ and his Apostles having spread His teaching amongst its inhabitants since those earliest days of Christianity, the Lebanonians have ever since clung steadfast to their religion in spite of all persecutions, especially have they been successful in their repelling all the attempts of the Mohummedan hordes to invade their mountain fastness. So it proved to be when the armies of the crusaders invaded the East to repel the Mohammedans from the land made holy by the birth and crucifixion of Christ, they found in the inhabitants of Mount Lebanon true friends, who afforded them a place of refuge whenever the Mohammedans drove them from the plains of Palestine. The Crusades lasted three hundred years, during which time the crusaders mingled freely with the people of the mountain, and a good many of them chose to remain after the main body of their armies withdrew to Europe. Ever since those days the Christian Powers of Europe felt that it was the special privilege of the Christians of the East to call on them for protection, because they were powerless against the Mohammedan element which Europe had in vain strove to chase from the Holy Land. The Christians in Mount Lebanon withstood their ground, surrounded by enemies on all sides of their mountain, like a rock amidst the breaking waves of a turbulent sea."

This gives us in a nutshell the key to the present position. The Christians of Mount Lebanon are suffering for their devotion to religion, and for their historic attachment to the Allied Powers. Massacre upon massacre have they suffered, until the crowning massacre of 1860, which was attended with so much bloodshed that it made the armed intervention of Europe in their behalf irresistible. They were given a sort of home rule, under the protection of the European Powers, including both Prussia and Austria.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Turks have a special feeling of hatred towards those Christians who have been a thorn in their side, and have come down upon them – now that the arm of their protectors is temporarily short – with all the vengeance of which they alone are capable. With one stroke of the pen they deprived them of all the privileges they had dearly bought with their blood; then they entrusted to the hordes of Kurds, who have been driven by the Russians from Armenia, and are infesting Syria and Lebanon, to perpetrate among them the horrors they have so well mastered in Armenia.

The German and Austrian authorities, however, who have become experts in the art of savagery, pointed out that a general massacre was a crude method, which would create the bitter resentment of the Arabs in this great crisis, and suggested in its place the equally effective, but less ostentatious, method of starving them to death. That method is now in operation, and, let it be repeated, those who had recommended it had pledged themselves to protect the very people they unprovoked now help to destroy. Belgium's experience in this respect is not without its parallel.

Mount Lebanon is now in a state of siege. Its people have been dispossessed of all their weapons and belongings, and they have no food supplies of their own, nor can they obtain anything from outside. For the privilege of purchasing flour from Beirut a person has to give a costly guarantee, and to obtain a permit signed by the Governor and renewed every week for a fee of 3/6, which, to a people who are destitute, is prohibitive. A sample of that flour has been smuggled to Egypt and chemically analysed by the British Government there, and it had been found to be a mixture of beans, wood, sand, and camels' food. The symptoms following its consumption are inflammation and death. Thousands of people are seen dead on the roads and in the fields, where they looked in vain for any greenstuff to appease their hunger. Those who escape death by hunger or disease are driven to the desert or executed. It is estimated, according to the information I have received, that up to June 19 100,000 have met their doom. In vain they appealed to the Turkish Governor of Lebanon for relief, for he said that unless the people ate each other he would not believe they were starving. No wonder they are now the object of the sympathy and the interest of the civilised Christian world.

Funds for their aid have been opened, and generously supported, in Egypt and America. The World's Sunday School Association is taking offerings for the suffering children of "Bible Land." The President of the United States of America, the King of Spain, the Sultan of Egypt, and His Holiness the Pope are taking personal and active interest in them. The French Government declared that her traditional friendship would not be found failing in these great times of danger. A Briton, writing in the "Near East," says: "France and England are in honour bound to rescue those people who suffer because of their love for us." But if the conditions of six weeks ago prevail much longer, I doubt whether anybody will be left to be rescued.