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Relief from Military Service

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Letter from Howard Bliss to Mukhtar Bey, Head of the Ottoman Police, 1917, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

As war progressed, and the news of increased casualties incurred by the Ottomans in the battlefields worried and scared off the population of Greater Syria, especially the young male population who had been drafted, many students and staff members from SPC tried to seek exemption from, or deferral of military service. They appealed to Howard Bliss, and ask him to tap into the good will which they knew the College, and Bliss personally, had successfully earned with the Ottoman authorities. Bliss used his diplomacy, without however  bypassing any regulations, and made a case by appealing to the great services SPC had extended to the population at large, and to the Ottoman Government, as a proof that social and public service counted as much as military service. The Ottomans, on the other hand, seemed to need little convincing regarding the great value of the skilled work and great help the SPC communities had repeatedly extended to the community. Military deferral and/or temporary exemptions were granted to several members of the SPC community, on the very grounds that the services rendered by the college were much appreciated.

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Letter from M. Samuel & Co., London to SPC Student, Sayed Rida Kazerooni, Jan. 9, 1917, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

A group of Persian students who had been enrolled at SPC since the start of the war, had lost contact with their families in Iran due to the blockade enforced on the region; the students' parents had resorted to various stratagems, in the hope of dispatching to them much needed funds for their basic survival and well-being. In many cases, the parents relied on the services of the few International trade companies which were still allowed to operate in the region to send news and money; the students who were cut off from their parents, unable to reach out to them, and who, were consequently left stranded, reliant upon the good will of President Bliss. Many asked for (and were granted) financial assistance from Howard Bliss and the College, in order to be able to meet their expenses.

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Letter form Vice-Counsel of Astria-Hungary in charge of the Persian Intterests, July 13, 1917, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

During Jamal Pasha’s visit to SPC on January 29, 1917, and with the consent of President Howard Bliss, Persian students enrolled at the College presented the Ottoman Commander with an appeal to exempt them from military service. The petition, written in both Persian and Turkish, and delivered to Jamal Pasha by the eldest Iranian student, Azizullah Bahadure, was intelligently crafted. It stressed that the Iranian students realized that it was their duty as subjects of the Ottoman Empire to help with the war efforts in whichever way they could, but appealed that their studies were important, that the College prepared them to be good citizens, and asked that military service be deferred.  Jamal Pasha accepted their plea, and exempted them from military service until completion of their studies at SPC.

Vahid Behmardi, “Djemal Pasha and the Syrian Protestant College”, Al Abhath, 2002-2003, p. 135-159.