The Syrian Protestant College and the Great War (1914-18) > 1914 > Mounting Tensions

 

In August of 1914, prior to the outbreak of the War, the Ottoman Empire called for a general mobilization of all young males, and concluded a secret pact with Germany, making its intentions to stand with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, against the Allies, fairly clear. In October 1914, the Ottoman Empire officially joined the war. As a result, Lebanon's semi-autonomous status was abolished, and Jamal Pasha, then Minister of the Navy, was appointed Commander in Chief of the Ottoman forces in Syria, with discretionary powers. Known for his harshness, Jamal Pasha established a strong military presence in Mount Lebanon, and later on, in 1915, appointed Ali Munif Bey to replace Ohannes Pasha, an Armenian Mutasarrif, who had been well liked by the population.

 

 

Turkish Casualties on Beirut Damascus Road
Turkish Casualties on Beirut Damascus Road , WWI Photo Album, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

 A determined Faculty of 97, and a student body of around a thousand tried to carry on with their lives, within the  confines of the campus, making the best of all the College had to offer. Bayard Dodge, who went on to become AUB's 4th President, describes the situation upon his arrival to campus as a Faculty member, when he was only 26 year old:

"I got there just in time to organize a lot of social work for the students. And that was a very good thing because they needed everything they could get of that sort during the war. A lot of students were interned on the campus. The government wouldn’t let them go out. They were terribly discouraged and needed all the cheering up they could get. So I had all sorts of meetings, clubs and societies and lots of entertainments."

 

Elizabeth Starkey, “A Talk with Bayard Dodge”, 3rd AUB President, Saudi Aramco World, 23, no. 4, (1972),  https://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/197204/a.talk.with.bayard.dodge.htm
Athletic Field 1914
 SPC Athletic Courts, 1914,  Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

 

In spite of a slight decrease, student enrollment seemed overall to be minimally affected by the War: some foreign students, fearing the difficulties of communication brought about by the surveillance and blockade carried by the Allies in the Mediterranean, (a blockade conducted in an effort to cut supplies to the Ottomans), chose to head back home. Others, deterred by the mounting tensions and difficulties, postponed their enrollment in the College, hoping for better days. Life in Beirut, and throughout the region, grew increasingly difficult.

enrollment statistic by departments,  1913/14-1914/15
SPC Students' Enrollment , 49th Annual Report of SPC, Archives and Special Collections Jafet Library,  AUB

Attempts at leading normal life on campus carried on, and, whenever possible, a helping hand was extended to the neighboring population: provisions carried on camels can be seen here in front of Jessup Hall. However, at this early stage of the war, most aid efforts were not officially sponsored by the College, but were conducted through affiliated bodies, such as the YMCA, the Red Cross, and other local aid agencies. Faculty and Administrators of SPC helped whenever they could, and tried to exemplify and install in their students and colleagues a strong work ethics of collective action, and of communal work:

"Students used to teach in the evenings. Eventually there were about 150 students in the night schools. I also had to do more and more teaching as the war progressed because practically all the American teachers left. So any of us who could teach English courses, or any subject like that, had to just fall to and do what he could. My main concern, though, was to help the students have a good healthy social life—to get them to do something for other people and make themselves useful. That’s the greatest thing to do—to get people to do something for someone else, if you can."

 

Elizabeth Starkey, “A Talk with Bayard Dodge”, 3rd AUB President, Saudi Aramco World, 23, no. 4, (1972),  https://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/197204/a.talk.with.bayard.dodge.htm

 

Camels carrying wheat as provisions for SPC during World War I , 1914-1918
Camels near Jessup Hall carrying provisions, ca. 1914, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

 

 

 

 

Many foreign institutions had their land requisitioned by the Ottoman authorities: an Ottoman decree was issued to that effect, and SPC, as one such foreign institution, would have had to be subsumed under it. SPC's land was never actually requisitioned: however, the Circular featured here by the American Council Morgenthau, and addressed to all American councils on Ottoman land, details instructions as to what to do in case the Ottoman decree regarding requisitioning all foreign land is enforced. It testifies to the uncertain, shifty and difficult times everyone, including the SPC administrators, had to reckon with.

Circular on land requisitioning of foreign institutions, Sept. 5, 1914
Circular on land requisitioning of foreign institutions, 1914, Howard Bliss Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library,  AUB

 

 

American University of Beirut / University Libraries / Bliss Street / P.O.Box 11-0236 / Riyad El-Solh, Beirut 11072020 Lebanon / ulcontactus@aub.edu.lb