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Circulations dans la péninsule Arabique et la mer Rouge

World War I in the Arabian Peninsula… in Search of Sources

Ulrike Freitag, Philippe Pétriat et Martin Strohmeier

Texte intégral

1Historians are dependent on sources to build their arguments and narratives. We generally begin with local and state archives of the regions we are dealing with. Indeed, the study of World War I was based on national sources produced inside the countries under consideration. In the beginning, these were mostly European and American archives, given that “The Great War” was initially often conceived of as a European war, reflecting the fact that it started in Europe, and that many parts of the world were involved mainly through their (often colonial or imperial) association with Europe.

  • 1 An early study of World War I (and World War II) impact on political culture and social (gender) r (...)

2Increasingly, non-Western Archives have been included in the debates, reflecting the international dimension of the war and the fact that it was more than a war ‘by proxy’ for non-European societies as they were deeply affected by it and many of their members would end up fighting in the European and Ottoman armies. Studies on African, Arab and Indian soldiers’ participation and its impact on their countries’ political culture, as well as studies on the effects of the war on non-European societies have made scholars aware of the significance of Word War I in the history of Africa, Asia and the Middle East1. More and more, scholars also realise that non-Western actors used the war to pursue their own local or regional ends.

  • 2 See the database Europeana, http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/en.
  • 3 Haddad, p. 345-362, Kasmieh, p. 279-286 and Ziadeh, p. 265-278, in O. Farschid, M. Kropp and S. Dä (...)
  • 4 A good example is Yi̭ğit Akin, "War, Women, and the State: The Politics of Sacrifice in the Ottoma (...)
  • 5 See O. Farschid, M. Kropp and S. Dähne (eds.), 2006 and H. Liebau, et al. (eds.), 2010. Even more (...)

3Furthermore, new sources relating to manifold aspects of the war, from soldiers' experiences to developments on the various home fronts, and from socio-economic developments to gender relations have been included. They may be written or oral, range from newspapers to photographs, or from petitions to diaries. They may even include genres such as folk songs remembering the suffering of people. On a European level, these materials are being collected, digitalised and made available on databases.2 Elsewhere, such sources have been the subject of several official publications by national institutions. For the history of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq, oral narratives, published and unpublished memoirs and literary sources are increasingly used to recover the experiences of people during World War I3. Recently, similar work has begun for Ottoman history as well4. Both the old and new scientific workshops and books that have been multiplying in this period of centennial celebrations rather hint at the still growing amount of public and private sources available in Europe, the Americas and Asia5.

  • 6 J.-D. Mizrahi, 2003, p. 115-150; P.-J. Luizard, 2009, p. 281-301 and 333-366; H. Liebau, et al. (e (...)
  • 7 See Méouchy and Sluglett (eds.), 2004.

4Thus, while there is still much to do, we are able to get a more nuanced and broad picture of many aspects of events from 1914–18, as well as those preceding and following them. Indeed, reconsidering the periodization is a major topic in connection with non-European countries and the Middle East in particular. World War I ended later there, so to speak. Medina surrendered only in 1919. The states of Armenia and Kurdistan, promised during the Paris Peace Conference remained ephemeral. Uprisings followed the establishment of new political and colonial regimes during the 1920s in Iraq, Syria and Palestine. Some still referred to the late Ottoman Empire in the mid-1920s, thereby hinting at the empire’s deep and long-lasting imprint on the region6. Perhaps more importantly, the mandate governments established in Bilād al-Shām and Iraq were themselves only intended to be transitory7; they experienced frequent changes during the 1920s, notably in what was to become Syria.

  • 8 For an interesting and critical use of foreign companies archives, see R. Vitalis, 2007. Russian a (...)

5The situation is different when dealing with the Arabian Peninsula, the Red Sea and the Gulf region. Academic history writing, including much of what is produced at local universities, mostly resorted to non-Arab archival sources, mainly European (mostly British), American and Russian archives. These were the work of diplomatic agents, travellers and foreign company employees8. This is also true for the period of the World War, for which English, German and French diplomatic and military papers remain the main sources for historians. Reports by British diplomatic agents in the Gulf and the Red Sea, to their French and Dutch colleagues in the Red Sea, provide a vast amount of information. They document the history of European activities in the Gulf, the Peninsula and the Red Sea during WWI, as well as the history of European relations with local emirates. Actually, they can even illuminate the history of Muslims from European colonies performing the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and the ways in which European countries monitored the movements of their colonial subjects during the War, fearing pan-Islamic anti-colonial activities. However, these documents, whose value is strongly emphasized in Luc Chantre and Sylvia Chiffoleau’s articles, only rarely provide insights in the history of the Peninsula’s inhabitants themselves and in the way they saw and experienced the First World War. Although European countries (and Great-Britain in particular) were especially interested in building and expanding the principalities in the Gulf, Yemen, Najd and Hejaz at the end of the Ottoman Empire, political matters in their archives are only addressed from a foreign point of view. However, local interests in the war, trade between non-European traders from and to the Arabian Peninsula, the living conditions of the inhabitants during the many conflicts, as well as their ideas about the war are parts of history that are rarely illuminated in European records and generally left out.

  • 9 P. Wien, in O. Farschid, M. Kropp and S. Dähne (eds.), 2006, p. 375-390; D. R. Khoury, in H. Lieba (...)
  • 10 Anscombe, 1994; Kayalı, 1997; Kurşun, 2004. One exception is Ochsenwald, 1984.
  • 11 Kuehn, 2011; Strohmeier, in this issue.

6The use of Ottoman archives in an extensive way has begun only recently for the history of the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, while the legacy of the Ottoman Empire and the extent of their participation in the Ottoman armies have lately been evidenced for Arab soldiers and officers9. The weakness and decline of the Ottoman Empire in the region has been overstressed, in spite of the fact that its troops proved their ability to resist in Yemen (the British only controlled the Aden region), Medina and Iraq. Hejaz, Yemen and al-Aḥsā’ were officially still provinces in the Ottoman Empire when the war broke out. Yemen and al-Aḥsā’ had been recovered in the 1870s. Garrisons were still stationed in Hejaz and in Yemen in 1914. It was only in 1913 that Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait were officially recognized by the Ottoman Government as autonomous emirates under the British sphere of influence. In May 1914, Ibn Sa‛ūd reaffirmed his loyalty to the Ottoman Sultan and was granted the title of governor of Najd and al-Aḥsā’. Archives from the Ottoman administration in Yemen, Hejaz and Iraq are therefore necessary to complete European archives for the region during the WWI period and to draw the region’s history from its confrontation with European countries10. And yet, few studies with an Ottoman perspective are devoted to the WWI period in comparison with exciting studies on the 19th century, even though stimulating research is currently being conducted and may fill this historical gap11.

  • 12 Enazy, 2009; al-Amr, 1978. For other periods: abbān, 2004.
  • 13 Owtram, 2004, p. 49.

7This is not just a matter of imperial arrogance or an oversight by foreigners either reluctant to use Arabic sources, or oblivious of them. This point is exemplified by Saudi and Gulf historians who have mostly consulted European and/or Ottoman archives (some of them for PhD theses on the 19th century) to study their own history before, during and after WWI12. Why is this so? The history of state building in the Red Sea, Arabian Peninsula and Gulf region, along with contemporary political conditions are two key-factors. Although the state as an organized political community with a sophisticated administration is an old feature in this region, most contemporary states with their bureaucratic apparatus have been established fairly recently and lack an archival tradition. A major exception is Yemen, where both Ottoman and Imamate administrations kept records. Most of these countries (Gulf Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Hadhrami sultanates) were still in the process of state-building when the world conflict broke out in 1914, while in Oman the struggle between the interior, ruled by an Ibadi imam, and the coastal areas, ruled by the sultan, erupted in an internal war between 1915 and 1920, which secured the survival of the sultanate thanks to the presence of Indian Army troops in Muscat since 1913 and the accompanying protectorate treaty. Consequently, the internal war ended with the Treaty of Sib (1920), which solidified the division between coastal and interior polities for the next thirty years under British tutelage.13

  • 14 Freitag, 2003, p. 33. On these documents, see also Rodionov and Schönig, 2011.

8The expansion of the main power in the region, the Saudi emirate, threatened the neighbouring sheikhdoms throughout the war, and would continue to threaten them until the mid-20thcentury, as exemplified in the conflict over the Buraimi oasis. In such an unstable and contentious situation, administrative documents (orders, letters, receipts and registers) were not always kept and preserved. When they were (as the documents preserved in Dārat al-Malik ‘Abd al-‘Azīz in Riyadh or in the Kathīrī sultan's palace in Say'ūn in Yemen demonstrate), these were rarely archived in any modern sense of the word. The story of the Say'ūn documents, fortunately rediscovered in plastic bags in the basement of the palace by the museum’s then-director, amply illustrates this point14. Hence, even local territorial disputes would later be settled mostly with reference to British and sometimes Ottoman records.

9The local chronicles written in some urban centres often remain in manuscript form and are not available in public libraries, thus failing to fill the gap in sources for the Gulf and the inner Arabian Peninsula. Before their expansion in the second part of the 20th century, the tiny towns of the Gulf and the interior of the Arabian Peninsula did not have numerous chroniclers and literati — although this does not preclude the finding of some valuable chronicles and biographical writings. Private public interest archives for the period are usually kept within the families of former merchants and employees of the various emirates. They are, understandably, rarely put at the researcher’s disposal, and even less at the disposal of the respective states, even less so when they deal with disputed properties or with contested and still recent periods of history.

  • 15 On the contentious visions of history see Crystal, 1999 [1990], p. 163-164 for Qatar; al-Rasheed, (...)

10Indeed, as elsewhere in the Middle East, histories at odds with national and official historiographies are usually concealed if not forgotten by the states born during World War I. Such is the case with Hashemite rule in what is now the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or documents from notable families that were in frequent conflict with their rulers over the process of state-building15.

  • 16 An example are the materials gathered for the PhD thesis by Arwa Ahmed Al-Khutabi, The Financial P (...)
  • 17 An exception is al-arbī, 2002. F. al-Ḥarbī enjoyed a brief and now terminated authorization to wo (...)

11The need for national archives has led some of these states to build archival centres which they have filled with copies ordered from institutions in London, The Hague or Istanbul but only relatively few documents from their own national records. Attempts by present-day states to collect local archive documents are gathering pace and in a sense are an exercise in nation-building, but accordingly also take time and have different degrees of success. Often, access even to extant catalogues of old public records remains difficult for researchers due to perceived sensitivity. Again, the National Center for Archives (al-Markaz al-waṭanī li-l-wathā'iq) constitutes an exception, which is undercut, however, by the lack of proper cataloguing of much of the material16. Our perception of the history of Egypt and Bilād al-Shām in the 19th and 20th centuries was hugely transformed by the records of the shari'a courts. Similar courts seem to have been operational in Medina, Mecca and Jeddah during the World War I period; however, their records remain closed to researchers17.

  • 18 An interesting use of such memoirs that usually go back to WWI might be found in J. Honvault, 2008

12Only in the past few years have people involved in history begun to draw attention to archives and have tried to gather sources documenting the history of their family, city or region. A series of memoirs has been published over the two last decades, usually by the descendents of great scholars, statesmen or businessmen, providing the historian with a vivid picture of social life in the region. However, only a few of them date back to World War I18.

  • 19 T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Oxford 1922, and the abridged version Revolt in the Desert(...)

13A more or less exclusive use of European documents, the long neglect of Ottoman imperial documentation in spite of the Empire having formally ruled over large parts of the region, and the scarcity of exploited local documents: these are the factors that explain why the region is still considered as marginal and virtually untouched by the conflict in WWI historiography — apart, perhaps, from the Arab revolt which was widely publicised through the efforts of T. E. Lawrence and his heroic narrative19. This only happens in historical accounts when European diplomats and soldiers opposed Ottoman and German movements in Iraq, the Gulf, Hejaz and Yemen, and regarded such places as strategic in the course of their war operations.

World War and Arab Wars

14Despite so many gaps in its history, it is obvious that the region has rarely experienced as many political upheavals as during World War I. Like other countries in the world, albeit on a different scale, the region’s emirates experienced considerable territorial and institutional changes during and because of the war. Moreover, the globalizing effects of the war as well as its local impact severely affected the daily life and movements of the region’s inhabitants and travellers.

  • 20 Owtram, 2004, p. 40.

15Hejaz, Eastern Arabia and Yemen as well as some Gulf emirates like Kuwait officially achieved their independence from the Ottoman Empire. British intervention in the Gulf grew stronger than ever. From Iraq to Oman and Yemen, other foreign powers were even driven out: in Oman, the United-States and French consulates closed in 1915 and 1918 respectively20. The growing influence of Great-Britain was obvious through the establishment of protectorates-cum-independent states in formation. In the western part of the Peninsula, the Arab Revolt led by Sharīf Ḥusayn and supported by British and French military officers was probably the most celebrated Arab contribution to the World War. The Revolt and its aftermath were to shape the political regimes of Transjordan, Iraq, and Hejaz as well. The short-lived Kingdom of Hejaz, which ended up being smaller than the larger Arab Kingdom to which Sharīf Ḥusayn had aspired, also halted the expansion of the Saudi emirate for some time, not least because both sides depended on British support until the Sultan of Najd and later Saudi King ‛Abd al-‛Azīz took control of the Hejaz in 1924–1925.

  • 21 Brémond, 1935.
  • 22 Das, 2014, p. 70-89.

16As evidenced by the colonial (Indian, African and North-African) and European troops dispatched to the region even though they were needed on European fronts, the Gulf, the Red Sea and the Arabian Peninsula were key regions for Western countries at war in Europe and Asia: T. E. Lawrence is just one of many European, African, North-African and Indian officers and soldiers deployed on those exotic fronts during World War I. An officer of the French colonial army in Morocco, Rosario Pisani, was his alter ego in Fayṣal b. Ḥusayn’s unit in 1917–1918. Crew members of the German schooner Emden and steamer Choising landed at Ḥudayda and, heading north, crossed the Peninsula walking, for fear of being caught by British and French Navy patrols (1914–1915)21. Troops from India were dispatched to Muscat as early as 1913 to protect the Omani Sultanate — a stronghold of the British Empire on the route to India — from Imamate and tribal attacks as well as from foreign interference. Their fellow countrymen sent to Mesopotamia, more numerous, are better known22. The British Captain and explorer William Shakespeare was killed while fighting on Ibn Sa‛ūd’s side against rival Ibn Rashid’s troops at Jarrāb in January 1915.

  • 23 Tarragon, 1999.
  • 24 Musil, 1927 ; McKale, 1998.

17Soldiers were not the only foreigners interested in the military events taking place in the region during World War I. German ethnologist Leo Frobenius undertook a bizarre scientific expedition from Istanbul to Asmara through the Hejaz (see Rocio da Riva’s and Dario Biocca’s article). The Germans organized propaganda and information collecting expeditions in the Red Sea region, as exemplified in the Stotzingen-Neufeld mission (see Martin Strohmeier’s article). In this, they were at times supported, at times hindered by the German and Turkish Secret Services. French Dominican priests and archaeologists Jaussen and Savignac were working with the French and British Intelligence Services in Egypt and in the Red Sea23. Other adventurers wrote detailed reports about what was happening in the region as the war expanded in Arab countries, with military operations and political missions24.

  • 25 Dickson, 1956, p. 243.

18As the Ottoman Empire entered the war, Great Britain and France declared and enforced a blockade of the Arabian Coast of the Red Sea. Navy patrols searched every dhow they thought suspicious. They also made the most of their sea power to monitor the pilgrimage from 1916 onwards (see Sylvia Chiffoleau’s article). Thus, the Ottoman and European empires were at war to challenge their respective positions, vie for power and for control of critical maritime routes: in the Red Sea between the Suez Canal and Aden, and in the Gulf between the Shatt al-‘Arab and Hormuz. In the Gulf area, some of the ports suspected of being used to smuggle arms and ammunitions for the Ottoman armies were blockaded. In February 1918, the British Navy blocked the harbour of Kuwait whose shaykh, Salīm b. Mubārak al-Sabāḥ, was suspected of supporting the Ottoman Empire and its ally in the Arabian Peninsula, the emirate of Ibn Rashīd25.

  • 26 See also Kayalı, 1997, and A. de L. Rush (ed.), Records of the Hajj: The Pilgrimage to Mecca, Camb (...)

19When Sharīf Ḥusayn declared the Arab Revolt — maybe hastened by the Stotzingen-Neufeld mission (see Strohmeier’s article) — Ottomans reinforced their control on the railway leading to the Hejaz, enforcing a kind of blockade on the pilgrim traffic that financed much of Ḥusayn’s expenditures. At the same time, British and French navies allowed only food shipments to land on the Hejazi coast. War in the cradle of Islam was given high importance by both the Ottoman and the European empires who saw it as a way of expanding or maintaining their influence among the Muslim population of the entire world. Hence the Ottomans, allied with Germany, proclaimed the sacred duty of jihād in 1914 and refused to surrender the besieged city of Medina to the Arab rebels until 1919. Meanwhile, the British and French supported the revolt of the Sharīf of Mecca and organized a much publicized pilgrimage to Mecca in 191626.

  • 27 al-Sharīda, 2015, p. 76-83.

20Pilgrims, soldiers, adventurers and officers crossing colonial and imperial boundaries in the course of their journeys, traders and smugglers trying to adjust their business to war operations, local rulers and diplomats unsettling and settling the region’s political and territorial situation, these were the actors of uninterrupted movements and flows of people, goods and ideas in spite of severe blockades and other constraints established by the armies at war in the region. Although hardly visible in the sources, mobility could be stimulated by local competition and reconfigurations. Caravan traders from the Qasīm region in Najd, for example, would try to continue organizing land trade between the Gulf and the besieged Ottoman city of Medina. In November 1916 Fayṣal, Sharīf Ḥusayn’s son, wrote a letter to Ibn Sa‛ūd in which he warned him not to supply the city. ‘Abd Allāh b. Ḥusayn had to station his troops at al-Ḥanākiya to stop this profitable trade. At the same time, however, Sharīf Ḥusayn urged some of these traders to supply his troops with camels during the Arab Revolt27. The studies gathered in this issue allow us to reconsider this double-edged effect of the world war: the effects of war on the mobility of people, goods and ideas on the one hand, and the impact of this particular mobility on the progress of the war in the region on the other hand.

21In the Red Sea, in the Arabian Peninsula and in the Gulf region, the World War and its globalizing objectives also took the shape of local wars with conflicting local interests. Arab leaders and their subjects were not only asked to choose their side and support either the Ottoman Empire and its German and Austrian allies, or the British, French and Italian armies operating in the same region. These leaders would also make use of the world conflict and foreign intervention in their region to promote their own interests and consolidate their own positions vis-à-vis rival powers by seeking and finding international allies. They could even take advantage of the allied powers’ disagreements or diverging approaches to war operations, as exemplified in M. Strohmeier’s article on German-Ottoman operations in the Arabian Peninsula on the eve of the Arab Revolt. As such, local emirates were active players in war operations, not mere actors in a proxy war.

  • 28 Freitag, 2003.

22The war between Ibn Rashīd, a local ally and Qā’im maqām of the Ottoman Empire in Hā’il on the one hand, and Ibn Sa‛ūd with official and material support from Great Britain as of 1915 on the other hand, is just one of many examples of local conflicts echoing the global war in the region. In Hadhramaut, the Qu‘aytī sultanate enjoyed the support of the British Indian Empire against the rival Kathīrī sultanate, which at times sought to ally itself with the Ottomans. In 1917, remittances from Kathīrī-s in Singapore were even blocked by the British in order to make the sultanate forego their Ottoman alliance. Eventually in 1918, under pressure from Great Britain, both sultanates signed a treaty that secured the political supremacy which the Qu‘aytī-s had achieved due to their alliance with the British28.

23To the north of the Peninsula, Nūrī al-Sha‘lān, leader of the Ruwalla tribe, explained his position to the Austrian envoy Alois Musil in 1914. A couple of years before joining the Arab Revolt (1916), his neutral position towards the Ottoman government was, he explained, a way of preserving the interests of his tribe. In this calculation, the situation in the Gulf was a matter of great importance:

  • 29 A group of traders who specialized in the caravan trade between the Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula and (...)
  • 30 Musil, 1927, p. 430.

“The Government can do damage to me and to mine. We are in need of clothing, of grain for ourselves and our horses, of arms and ammunition. Arms and ammunition are brought to us by the ‘Aḳejl29 from al-Kwejt and al-‘Ažejr, but they cannot supply us from there with clothing and grain. It is too far away. We are dependent upon the settlers from Syria and Iraq, and they are still in the power of the Government.”30

24Emirs, sultans and their foreign allies were not the only people concerned with the conflict and its local by-products. We already mentioned several side effects of World War I that impinged on inhabitants’ and travellers’ everyday life. Controls or blockades of pilgrim traffic and of trade, local but nonetheless violent wars between competing emirates and sultanates, flows of religious ideas and political disputes over the conflict were some of the very tangible effects of World War I, not only in the political and military fields, but also in social, economic and intellectual life.

25Whether they were concerned or not with the outcome of the war in Europe, and in spite of being far away from the worst battlefronts, ordinary life and business in the Red Sea, Arabian Peninsula and Gulf region was deeply affected by World War I.

Local experiences of a global war, from the Gulf to the Red Sea through the Arabian Peninsula

26The history of the Bassām trading family provides one of many examples of the effect of war on traders doing business in the region between Yemen, Najd, Syria, Red Sea and Gulf ports.

  • 31 ‘Abd Allāh al-Muḥammad al-Bassām (d. 1346), Tufat al-mushtāq fī akhbār Najd wa-l-ijāz wa-l-‘Irāq(...)
  • 32 Başbakanlık Arşivi, Istanbul (BBA), BEO 2575-193061, Basra Governor’s report, 16/05/1905 ; BBA DH. (...)

27The Bassām family was known for traditionally supporting the Al Rashīd against the Sa‛ūd in the conflict between the two dynasties for supremacy over Najd and the inner Arabian Peninsula. In 1905, members of the family were briefly imprisoned by Ibn Sa‛ūd in Riyadh. The report sent by the Ottoman governor from Basra did not explain the reason for their arrest. However, according to the same report, Kuwait’s ruler Mubārak al-Sabāḥ, wanting to get his independence from the Ottoman Empire with the help of Great Britain, played a role in handing over the Bassām traders to Ibn Sa‛ūd — at this time his ally. As mentioned earlier, quoting the Ruwalla leader Nūrī al-Sha‘lān, Kuwait was actually an important place for import trade from India and elsewhere. The port was also used for the import of munitions, arms and other smuggled goods, a kind of trade the Bassām were also suspected of conducting in 1905 and later. A chronicle written later by another member of the Bassām family allows us to establish an obvious link between the 1905 arrest and the capture by Ibn Sa‛ūd, the same year, of ‘Unayza, Bassām’s original town in Najd31. In June 1905, the Bassām traders sent a telegram to the Grand-Vizier’s office: they asked for help and described their family as an “old friend and servitor of the Empire and the nation” whose wealth and business had been targeted and plundered by Ibn Sa‛ūd32.

  • 33 BBA, DH. İ. UM. E-78, Dāhiliye, 14/11/1915.

28When the war broke out, the Bassām were still well-known supporters of the Ottoman Empire. For traders like the Bassām, the Ottoman Empire not only provided them with a unified space and legal framework for business, but also with economic opportunities for contracts with the government. In November 1915, while Ibn Sa‛ud was just about to enter into a treaty with Great Britain against the Ottoman Empire and its local allies, Muḥammad al-Bassām was still described as “one of the men of Ibn Rashid”33. A big caravan trader, Muḥammad al-Bassām lived in Basra before settling in Damascus. According to the Ottoman archives, he had bought land in northern Syria, in the vicinity of Nusaybin, with his associate, another trader living in India. He had also provided equipment and more specifically hundreds of camels for the Hejaz railroad construction. The War did not prevent Muḥammad al-Bassām, his relatives, agents and partners from doing business and signing lucrative contracts.

  • 34 BBA, HR. SYS. 2729-8, Harbiye to Hariciye, and Hariciye to French High-Commissioner, July-August 19 (...)

29Actually, an empire at war such as the Ottoman Empire in the Arabian Peninsula, the Red Sea and the Gulf Region was in dire need of big merchants with regional connections and up-to-date local information provided by their network of relatives and partners. With family and agents in Cairo, Jeddah, Damascus, ‘Unayza, Basra and Bahrain that allowed him to move goods and money in spite of war operations and blockades, Muḥammad al-Bassām was an ideal contractor, well-known to the Ottoman administration. Between August 1917 and November 1918, the “Damascene merchant” and “camel contractor” — as Ottoman records describe him — made three contracts with the fourth Ottoman army commanded by Jamāl Pasha for the transfer of 25,000 Ottoman pounds and 10,000 English gold pounds and the supply of camels and several other goods to the Ottoman army stationed in Yemen. Unfortunately for the Ottoman divisions in Yemen, it seems that the pounds and the supplies were never delivered. Accordingly, the Ottoman Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs required in 1922 the help of the French Mandate Administration in Syria to force Muḥammad al-Bassām to refund what he owed them. Bassām’s refusal to comply might have been encouraged by the French Administration’s lack of cooperation with their Ottoman counterparts34.

  • 35 BBA, DH. İ. UM. EK. 101-29, Tables of lost ships and cargoes, 1916.

30It might also indicate that Muḥammad al-Bassām actually transferred the money, the camels and the goods he had to supply, but that such goods were lost or confiscated on their way between Syria to Yemen. Other regional merchants and sailing boat (sanbūk-s) owners who used to trade across the Red Sea in spite of the blockades lost their ships and cargoes when British and Ottoman Navies sunk or confiscated them. Merchants from Jeddah, for example, had their losses duly registered in the Ottoman Ministry of Interior’s archives. Having lost one of their ships and cargoes, some of them kept on trading, thereby demonstrating that war profits could at least outweigh the losses35. Obviously, sea and land blockades made prices rise quickly and incited daring traders to keep on crossing the sea.

31Ottoman archives are not the only sources to document the trade of the Bassām family in the region and their Ottoman and Rashīdī leanings during WWI. Harry St. John Philby made several references to the family in the description he wrote of Arabia during the war and more specifically in 1917–1918. He had heard about ‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-Bassām, nephew of the afore-mentioned Muḥammad, leading “a convoy of 100 camels” loaded with piece goods and other supplies like coffee and rice from Kuwait to Hā’il, the capital of the Ibn Rashīd emirate in Najd. At that time and contrary to 1905, Kuwait was no longer a risky place for the Bassām, since the sons of the late Mubārak al-Sabāḥ now feared Ibn Sa‛ūd’s expansion. As mentioned earlier, the new ruler Salīm al-Sabāḥ made his port-city a place of imports for the Ottoman army fighting in Iraq. According to Philby, ‘Abd al-‘Azīz himself “had for some time been in [British] bad books by reason of his activity in smuggling goods through from Kuwait to the Turks via Haïl”. During his stay in ‘Unayza in September 1918, Philby was also invited by Muḥammad’s brother, Fahd, to dinner. According to Philby again, Fahd was the only one in the family who managed to keep out of the conflict between Ibn Rashīd and Ibn Sa‛ud. He was therefore allowed to remain in ‘Unayza after its conquest by Saudi troops, and to manage the family estates and local business. However, Philby still described Fahd’s “religion” as “definitely Ottoman rather than Wahhabī of complexion, and his politics Turkish than Arab in outlook”. Fahd al-Bassām was also “anxious to stand well with all parties to the conflict”, a fact that is easily understandable for merchants who had to protect their caravans and business.

  • 36 al-Bassām, ed. by al-Khālidī, op. cit., p. 413-414.
  • 37 Philby, Harry St. J., Arabia of the Wahhabis, London, Constable and Co., 1928, p. 222 and 275-276.

32The chronicle of ‘Abd Allāh al-Bassām (d. 1927) mentions that a caravan leaving from ‘Unayza was attacked by Ibn Rashīd’s men and allies from Hā’il in 1915–1916. However, drought and inflation in the very same year made such caravans all the more necessary and, arguably, more profitable36. Fully aware that Ibn Sa‛ūd was officially supported by Great Britain against the Ottoman Empire since 1915, Fahd staunchly denied that his cousin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz smuggled goods for Ottoman troops through Kuwait37.

  • 38 G. Steinberg, in H. Liebau, et al. (eds.), 2010, p. 151-162; El Bakri, 2014.

33Thus, both external and local sources, albeit in different lights, illuminate the difficulties faced by traders and the ways they could continue doing business and making profits. The history of the Bassām family during the First World War shows how international competition between Empires (mostly Ottoman and British) was compounded by local rivalry between emirates (in this case the Rashīdī and Saudi emirates) for power in the Peninsula, the Gulf and the Red Sea regions. Rulers and soldiers were not the only ones involved in violent competition that also affected the daily life of the region’s inhabitants, subjected to blockades and movement restrictions, in addition to the regular droughts and epidemics. As elsewhere, famine affected large parts of Arabia, as recently documented with regard to Medina and the Najd, although once again, we know more about the topic for the Levant, in particular Lebanon.38

34Because they moved goods and transferred money, crossed borders and got up-to-date information thanks to their networks of partners, traders were deeply involved — as parties to the conflict — in local and, by way of consequence, more global competition. Some of them, like the Bassām family, even came into direct contact with war operations when they smuggled or transferred goods for the Ottoman army from Syria to Yemen and from the Gulf to Iraq.

35Thus, in spite of the calamities and losses they had to endure, local players could also benefit from the competition between global empires. Armies at war had to rely on such local players to transfer goods, information and even people across much contested boundaries. Empires at war were also in dire need of local support in their competition for political leadership in the Arabian Peninsula, the Red Sea and the Gulf.

  • 39 The following is based on Boxberger, 2002, p. 183-210; Freitag, 1997, p. 114-124; Freitag, 2003, p. (...)

36In the southern Yemeni region of Hadhramaut, local players sought to use the War to consolidate and expand their positions.39 In the period between the 1840s and 80s, two emirates (later sultanates) had consolidated their control of much of the region with the support of migrants to India, the Kathīrī-s in most of Wādī Hadhramaut and the Qu‘aytī branch of the Yafī‘ī tribe on the coast and parts of western Wādī Hadhramaut. By 1882, the latter had concluded a Treaty of Friendship with the British, further stabilising their predominant position. This was resented by the Kathīrī rulers who tried to muster external support from a variety of quarters. World War I seemed to offer a particularly good chance of this.

37Hence, one of the leading intellectuals of the Kathīrī capital town of Say’ūn, ‘Abd al-Raḥman b. ‘Ubayd Allāh al-Saqqāf, in close cooperation with the local sultan, contacted first the Imam and then the Ottomans, offering an alliance. This was ostensibly directed against the 'unbelievers', i.e. the British; the main opponent was, however, the Qu‘aytī sultan. Thus, the latter did not hesitate either to try to win over the British directly, pursuing realpolitik, while al-Saqqāf was more interested in joining the Islamic caliphate of the Ottomans in the hope of achieving pan-Islamic unity.

38As so often, it was the details that caused the initiative to come to nothing: local resistance to an open declaration of allegiance, demanded by the Ottomans, for fear of being cut off from the Qu‘ayti-controlled Ḥaḍramī ports and hence from travel and remittances, Ottoman failure to send a credible force against the Qu‘aytī, as demanded by the Kathīrī, and British relations with and pressure on Kathīrī subjects residing in the British Empire, notably in Singapore. Eventually, the British managed to cajole the Kathīrī into signing an agreement in Aden in 1918 by which the Qu‘aytī sultan was recognized as the leader of a united Hadhramaut where the Kathīrī-s would enjoy absolute rule in their territory in the interior. While this did not settle the conflict, it was a milestone in establishing Qu‘aytī predominance.

39The war situation had given both sultans some room for manoeuvre and the attention of powers who might otherwise have ignored them. Control of the strategically decisive coast and the alliance with the victorious party in the war eventually played out to the Qu‘aytī’s advantage.

Conclusion

40The study of movements of such people as traders, pilgrims, soldiers and intelligence agents, as well as the study of flows of goods, ideas and even epidemics, show the extent to which war affected daily life: the provision of food, religious activities and trade, the circulation of ideas and the flows of information about calamities such as war losses and epidemics. In their article dealing with the mission of Leo Frobenius in 1915, Rocio da Riva and Dario Biocca do not only demonstrate the interest of European powers in the Red Sea region. The mission of the German ethnologist cum spy is also a testimony to the many ways an adventurer could travel from Turkey to the African coasts in spite of British, French and Italian attempts to control movement of people and flows of goods — thanks to local traders and middlemen.

41As elsewhere in the world, the global war also had a deep and lasting effect upon the political economy of the Arabian Peninsula, the Red Sea and the Gulf region. New boundaries and political leadership were established after being fought over. Norig Neveu shows how the political and economic environment of Ma‘ān was transformed by the war. With the development of new states and British influence, the control over people and goods led to the expansion of state institutions and its by-products such as passports. In their respective articles on the pilgrimage to Mecca from European colonies in Africa and India during the war, Luc Chantre and Sylvia Chiffoleau argue that imperial administrations involved themselves more deeply in the organization and control of the journey to the Haram. The war also changed their view on the pilgrimage. It was not only conceived of as an important tool of political propaganda for their Muslim subjects, but also as an international affair that had to be regulated — even in wartime — by commonly accepted norms, and not only as an epidemiological risk.

42Boxberger L., On the Edge of Empire, Hadhramawt, Emigration, and the Indian Ocean, 1880s–1930s, New York, State University of New York Press, 2002.

43Das S. (ed.), Race, Empire and First World War Writing, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2014.

44El Bakri A., “'Memoires of the Beloved': Oral Histories from the 1916–19 Siege of Medina”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 46, 2014, p. 703-718.

45Farschid O., Kropp M. and Dähne S. (eds.), The First World War as remembered in the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, Beirut, Orient-Institut, 2006.

46Freitag U., “Hadhramis in International Politics, 1750s–1967”, in Freitag U. and Clarence-Smith W.G. (eds.), Hadhrami Traders, Scholars, and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s–1960s, Leiden, Brill, 1997.

47Freitag U., Indian Ocean Migrants and State Formation in Hadhramaut, Reforming the Homeland, Leiden, Brill 2003.

48Gerwath R. and Manela E., Empires at War, 1911–1923, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.

49Honvault J., « Une génération après… La mémoire du passé ottoman dans l’autobiographie yéménite contemporaine »,

50Chroniques yéménites

51al-arbī, Fā’iz Mūsā, al-Tanẓīmāt al-qānūnīyah al-qadā'īya ladayy qabā'il al­-Ḥijāz qabl al-ʿahd al-saʿūdī, parts one and two, Riyad, Dār al-Badrānī, 2000.

52Leonhard J., Die Büchse der Pandora. Geschichte des Ersten Weltkriegs, München, Beck Verlag, 2014.

53Liebau H., Bromber K., Lange K., Hamzah D. and Ahuja R. (eds.), The World War in World Wars. Experiences, Perceptions and Perspectives from Africa and Asia, Leiden, Brill, 2010.

54Méouchy N., Sluglett P., The British and French Mandates in comparative Perspectives, Leiden, Boston, Brill, 2004.

55Owtram F., A Modern History of Oman. Formation of the State since 1920, London, I. B. Tauris, 2004.

56Philipp Th. and Schumann Ch., From the Syrian Land to the States of Syria and Lebanon, Beirut, Ergon in Kommission, 2004.

57Pétriat Ph., “For Pilgrims and for Trade: Merchant and Public Works in Ottoman Jeddah”, Turkish Historical Review, 5, 2014, p. 200-220.

58Pétriat Ph., Le négoce des Lieux Saints. Négociants hadramis de Djedda, 1850–1950, Publications de la Sorbonne, Paris, 2016.

59Provence M., “Ottoman Modernity, Colonialism, and Insurgency in the Arab Middle East”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 43, 2011, p. 205-225.

60al-Sharida M., al-‘Uqaylāt wa dawruhum al-tijārī ma‘a al-Ḥijāz, Beirut, Jadawil, 2015.

61Rogan E., The fall of the Ottomans. The Great War in the Middle East, 1914–1920, London, Basic Books, 2015.

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Notes

1 An early study of World War I (and World War II) impact on political culture and social (gender) relations in the Middle East is E. Thompson, 1999. For Arab soldiers in the Ottoman army and the memory of the seferberlik (mobilization): N. al-Qattan in Th. Philipp and Ch. Schumann (eds.), 2004, p. 163-173; A. Hanna, in H. Liebau, K. Bromber, K. Lange, D. Hamzah and R. Ahuja (eds.), 2010, p. 299-311.

2 See the database Europeana, http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/en.

3 Haddad, p. 345-362, Kasmieh, p. 279-286 and Ziadeh, p. 265-278, in O. Farschid, M. Kropp and S. Dähne (eds.), 2006; Hanna, Méouchy, p. 499-517 and D. R. Khoury, p. 313-340 in H. Liebau, et al. (eds.), 2010; Tamari (ed.), 2011.

4 A good example is Yi̭ğit Akin, "War, Women, and the State: The Politics of Sacrifice in the Ottoman Empire During the First World War", Journal of Women's History 26-2, 2014, p. 12-35. See also the contributions of M. Strohmeier, p. 297-320, and Ch. Neumann, p. 321-330, in O. Farschid, M. Kropp and S. Dähne (eds.), 2006.

5 See O. Farschid, M. Kropp and S. Dähne (eds.), 2006 and H. Liebau, et al. (eds.), 2010. Even more mainstream histories now give non-Western actors more weight, see J. Leonhard, 2014.

6 J.-D. Mizrahi, 2003, p. 115-150; P.-J. Luizard, 2009, p. 281-301 and 333-366; H. Liebau, et al. (eds.), 2010, p. 23-24; M. Provence, 2011; R. Gerwath and E. Manela (eds.), 2013, p. 4.

7 See Méouchy and Sluglett (eds.), 2004.

8 For an interesting and critical use of foreign companies archives, see R. Vitalis, 2007. Russian archives are used by A. Vassiliev, 2000.

9 P. Wien, in O. Farschid, M. Kropp and S. Dähne (eds.), 2006, p. 375-390; D. R. Khoury, in H. Liebau, et al. (eds.), 2010, p. 328-329; M. Provence, 2011; Ph. Pétriat, 2014.

10 Anscombe, 1994; Kayalı, 1997; Kurşun, 2004. One exception is Ochsenwald, 1984.

11 Kuehn, 2011; Strohmeier, in this issue.

12 Enazy, 2009; al-Amr, 1978. For other periods: abbān, 2004.

13 Owtram, 2004, p. 49.

14 Freitag, 2003, p. 33. On these documents, see also Rodionov and Schönig, 2011.

15 On the contentious visions of history see Crystal, 1999 [1990], p. 163-164 for Qatar; al-Rasheed, 2004, p. 183-200 and Determann, 2014 for Saudi Arabia. For some exceptions using a wide range of documents, including private papers, see: al-Rasheed, 1991; Onley, 2007; Fuccaro, 2009.

16 An example are the materials gathered for the PhD thesis by Arwa Ahmed Al-Khutabi, The Financial Policies of the Yemeni Imams (1918-1962), Berlin 2014, and her note on the archives, p. XVI-XVIII.

17 An exception is al-arbī, 2002. F. al-Ḥarbī enjoyed a brief and now terminated authorization to work on Medina court records for his research on the history of Ḥarbī tribe. The Jidda court records were used by one local MA student who also complains about the difficulty of access and censorship: Muhammad Nāsir ‘Alī Al Hishbūl al-Asmarī, The History of Social Life in Jeddah, 1882–1924, Jeddah, 2008, p. 3.

18 An interesting use of such memoirs that usually go back to WWI might be found in J. Honvault, 2008.

19 T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Oxford 1922, and the abridged version Revolt in the Desert of 1927.

20 Owtram, 2004, p. 40.

21 Brémond, 1935.

22 Das, 2014, p. 70-89.

23 Tarragon, 1999.

24 Musil, 1927 ; McKale, 1998.

25 Dickson, 1956, p. 243.

26 See also Kayalı, 1997, and A. de L. Rush (ed.), Records of the Hajj: The Pilgrimage to Mecca, Cambridge Archive Editions, 10 vol., 1993.

27 al-Sharīda, 2015, p. 76-83.

28 Freitag, 2003.

29 A group of traders who specialized in the caravan trade between the Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula and Syria.

30 Musil, 1927, p. 430.

31 ‘Abd Allāh al-Muḥammad al-Bassām (d. 1346), Tufat al-mushtāq fī akhbār Najd wa-l-ijāz wa-l-‘Irāq, ed. by Ibrāhīm al-Khālidī, Kuwait, Al-Mukhtalif li-l-nashr wa-l-tawzī‘, 2000, p. 392-396.

32 Başbakanlık Arşivi, Istanbul (BBA), BEO 2575-193061, Basra Governor’s report, 16/05/1905 ; BBA DH. TMIK. M. 200-20, Bassam’s telegram, 16/06/1905.

33 BBA, DH. İ. UM. E-78, Dāhiliye, 14/11/1915.

34 BBA, HR. SYS. 2729-8, Harbiye to Hariciye, and Hariciye to French High-Commissioner, July-August 1922.

35 BBA, DH. İ. UM. EK. 101-29, Tables of lost ships and cargoes, 1916.

36 al-Bassām, ed. by al-Khālidī, op. cit., p. 413-414.

37 Philby, Harry St. J., Arabia of the Wahhabis, London, Constable and Co., 1928, p. 222 and 275-276.

38 G. Steinberg, in H. Liebau, et al. (eds.), 2010, p. 151-162; El Bakri, 2014.

39 The following is based on Boxberger, 2002, p. 183-210; Freitag, 1997, p. 114-124; Freitag, 2003, p. 174-185.

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Ulrike Freitag, Philippe Pétriat et Martin Strohmeier, « World War I in the Arabian Peninsula… in Search of Sources », Arabian Humanities [En ligne], 6 | 2016, mis en ligne le 08 août 2016, consulté le 29 mars 2017. URL : http://cy.revues.org/3032

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