The Syrian Protestant College and the Great War (1914-18) > 1915 > Into war

As war raged, the Ottoman Authorities engaged in different battles throughout the Middle East. Letters were sent to Arab leaders, urging them to organize against the British in Mesopotamia, Palestine and Sinai.

Amidst this atmosphere of tension, war supplies were running short throughout Lebanon: between the Spring and Fall of 1915, locust raids depleted agricultural resources and a drought had hit the region, making the 1915 crop meagre. To make things worse, the blockade enforced onto the Eastern Mediterranean Basin by the Allies made resupply impossible: the Beirut Gas Plant was shut down due to coal shortage, provisions were depleted, prices for basic goods rose. As a result, SPC faced serious problems in securing needed textbooks, laboratory equipment, medical supplies, and necessary foodstuff and funds for its regular smooth operation.

Ottoman Army Brigade
Photo of Ottoman Army Brigade, World War I Photo Album, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

 

 

 

 In spite of the internal challenges faced by the College, the Administration, conscious of the relatively privileged situation it was still in compared to the rest of the population, extended its relief and medical assistance outside the campus walls, through collaboration with other institutions. It teamed up with other relief agencies such as the YMCA, the Red Cross and local notables (Omar Daouk Beik), and installed Soup Kitchens throughout Beirut and the country. The College also generously sent several medical missions upon demand, both locally and across the borders, and agreed to take on many new students from neighboring countries and colleges: many students transferred from Jerusalem, Damascus, etc. to Beirut's SPC, sometimes at the request of the Ottoman authorities.

 

 

 

Letter from Jamal Pasha to President Howard Bliss, June 1915
Letter from Jemal Pasha to Howard Bliss, June 6, 1915, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

 

 

 

As electricity had been installed in several buildings at SPC, West Hall and the Library at College Hall became a refuge and a locus of student life in the evenings. the smooth running of the academic programs was affected by several incidents: the resignation of Professor Nicholas Yatis, the sudden death of Dr. Franklin Moore and the failure of the Imperial Examination Commission to attend the Commencement, thus depriving medical students from the opportunity to take their official oath.

 

 

Senior Class of Arts and Sciences 1915
Members  of Senior Class of Arts and Sciences 1915, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

The end of the year was harder: An Ottoman Court Martial was set in Alley; the SPC Student Union was dismantled on campus and its Archives destroyed. Student activities suffered. In August of 1915, aid work was discontinued in the city, upon a decree from Azmi Bey, the Beirut Wali.

By the end of 1915, SPC was required to send the names of all students and faculty members who were citizens of "enemy" countries, to the Beirut Ottoman Police: these students were denied the permission to leave the SPC premises, and had to confine themselves to the walls of the campus. Social and economic conditions throughout the city deteriorated, and with the ban on relief work,  SPC became more involved in charity and relief work: the Women's and Children's hospitals at SPC started treating large numbers of the sickened and impoverished population pro-bono: in spite of Azmi Bey's orders, two SPC Faculty members gave solid assistance to the Red Cross and to the Omar Bey Soup Kitchen, which operated across the campus on Bliss street. Given the ban on relief work in the city, Mary Dale of SPC was arrested while helping the Red Cross in Achrafieh; however, and in general, the Ottoman Authorities turned a blind eye.

Student Union 1915
Members of the Student Union 1914-1915, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

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