In 1860 a series of massacres was carried out in Syria, under the patronage of the Turks. The desultory skirmishing of Druzes and Christians culminated in civil war throughout the Lebanon. Far and wide the Christian towns and villages were burnt, and thousands of Christians slaughtered. It was, to some extent, a general stand-up fight between rivals. British sympathy was largely with the Druzes. French sympathy and considerable support were on the side of the native Christians. The Druzes were almost uniformly victorious, and the carnage was frightful; but in almost every engagement Turkish troops were spectators. They gave moral support, and often practical assistance, to the Druzes during the battles; they invariably joined in the work of plunder, and they alone were guilty of unspeakable atrocities on women and children. On these points the testimony of missionaries, consuls, commanders, and ambassadors was unanimous.
In 1517 the shadow of the Turk first fell upon Syria. Selim I conquered the country, and since then, with one shortinterval, it formed a part of the Ottoman Empire. Wealth decreased and the taxation of industry increased, commerce dwindled, and the existence of the constantly diminishing Christian population was made unspeakably miserable. It sometimes happened that Christian rayahs lived so happily under Muhammedan rulers that they forgot for the time their status of degradation and badge of inferiority ; but the Turkish master brought with him Turkish manners, in addition to the standard ascendency of his religion.
During the weary centuries that Syria was under the heel of the Turk, the pashas, agas, kaimakams, and the entire horde of hungry officials, looked upon the Christians as their natural prey, and dealt with them unchecked and unquestioned by any authority. The only limit to their rapacity consisted in the practical limitations of their victims’ resources. The life of the rayah was deplorable. He lived because he had made his choice between death and tribute. This was his official position in a Muhammedan state. But besides this he was constantly loaded with contumely. If by industry, or good luck, he happened to have wealth he was plundered. If he tried to conceal his treasure he was beaten on the feet till he disclosed it. Whatever his merit, he was not permitted to ride on a horse, or even on a donkey. When he met a Turk in the street he was obliged to leave the side path and step into the slush in the centre. He was obliged towear blackclothes and blackhead gear,while theTurks dressed in gay silks and golden embroideries. He was obliged to speak to a Turk with bated breath, and if by inadventence he raised his voice he was struck on the mouth. He dared not live in a house as high as that of his Muslim neighbours, or wear arms for protection, or have his seal engraved in the common Arabic character, and when he died it was not permissible to carry his corpse past a mosque.
In regard to the massacre of the eleven thousand Christians in Syria in 1860, the officials of the Porte at Constantinople formed a conspiracy for the blotting out of the Christian name in those parts, they appointed their own creatures to the governments of Damascus, Beirut, Sidon, and furnished them with soldiers, who were posted as garrison in the chief towns inhabited by Christians, under pretense of defending them against the Druses.
When all was ready the savage Druses of Hauron were summoned, and they and their brethren of Lebanon and AntiLebanon immediately set themselves to burning the villages and killing the people without any provocation. They put to death every male, even the infants at the breast, and enslaved as many of the women and girls as they chose.
The Turkish garrison at first simply looked on; then they urged the Christians to take refuge in the castles on condition of delivering up whatever weapons they might possess. They swore by the Koran that no harm should be done them. But no sooner were they thus entrapped than the Druses were called in and every one of these helpless victims was shot down or his throat cut in cold blood.
The streets of DeirelKamr, Ilosbayan, and Zahlah flowed with human gore, in which men waded ankle deep. The worst scenes occurred in Damascus, the center of Moslem fanaticism. Here the pasha himself directed the operations, and after the butchery of the Christians and the plunder of their property, their quarter of the city was set on fire and burned down.
The proceedings were the same in the entire series of massacres with little variation in detail. Soldiers arrived to protect the Christians, and made great professions of friendship. Generally large sums of money were given to the officer in command to secure his friendship, and much kindness was shown to the men. When the enemy arrived at a town, the Turks generally encouraged the Christians to show signs of resistance. Then they induced them to enter the Serai, and give up their arms. At Rasheiya the best of the arms were immediately selected by the Druzes; the remainder were despatched on mules, ostensibly for Damascus, but as no guard accompanied the mules, the whole of the arms were taken possession of by the mob of Muhammedans. The defenceless Christians were then left; like a flock of sheep penned in a fold, without food or drink, or place to rest on, for a few days. Then a message was proclaimed to them that they were about to be delivered. While they were in a delirium of joy, the soldiers suddenly appeared, and drove them ‘with blows, and stabs, and execrations, into the centre of the court. The soldiers then stood around, and the Druzes rushed in with a yell. As soon as the work of slaughter was over the soldiers seized the distracted women, who were reserved for a worse fate than the men. With the Turks there was neither modesty nor mercy, and often when they had publicly dishonoured young girls, they deliberately cut their throats.
The fighting, when fighting was to be done, was left to the Druze in the mountains, but the brutalities that followed the carnage were chiefly the work of Turks.
On May 26, 1860, Consul-General Moore reported an outbreak between the Druzes and Christians near Beyrout, and for weeks the slaughter of the Christians proceeded steadily and methodically throughout the country and provincial towns, and in regular order reached the capital, Damascus, on July 9.
It is customary to speak of the terrible slaughter at Damascus as an incident in the war between the Druzes and Maronites. Nothing could be more remote from the truth. The Damascus Christians were in no way connected, either by kinship or clanship, with the mountain tribes, and they had taken no part, directly or indirectly, in the bloody work that day by day rolled nearer to their gates. They had no quarrel with the Druzes, and there were few Druzes in Damascus, or near it, to attack the Christians.
The Damascus massacre followed the outlines of those that had preceded it, but it was “intended that it should be more thorough.” The program was simple. All the married men and women were to be slaughtered, and all the young boys were to be taken and circumcised, while the young girls were to be taken directly into the harems of their captors. Christianity was to be blotted out in Damascus. The Muslems believed they were carrying out the wishes of their Government.