A century on, Lebanon rediscovers deadly famine – that affected mostly Christians

Photos by Ibrahim Naoum Kanaan document the famine that hit Lebanon between 1915 and 1918, in the midst of World War I

Lebanon is rediscovering a century-old tragedy that most had forgotten — a devastating famine, caused by blockades and a locust infestation, that killed a third of its population.

From 1915 to 1918, in the midst of World War I and before modern-day Lebanon existed, between 150,000 and 200,000 people died of malnutrition and disease, according to estimates by historians.

Those who survived the famine are long gone, but recently unearthed archives offer chilling testimonies of a time when men, women, and children fed themselves on tree bark or died by the side of the road…

…The situation worsened when “Allied forces imposed a blockade” in the Mediterranean to cut off supplies to the Ottomans, [historian Youssef Mouawad] told AFP.

But it was the land blockade ordered by high Ottoman military ruler Djemal Pasha that truly choked off Mount Lebanon, populated mostly by Maronite Christians protected by France.

The Ottomans feared the Maronites would support the Allies in the war “so they had to starve them before they were armed”, said Khalifeh, a professor at the Lebanese University…

…The famine largely fell out of Lebanon’s collective memory and official history, in part because it affected Christians more than Muslims and so did not serve as a unifying force for the young republic…

There were other factors too: it was very bad year for locusts. Still, it is yet another case where the Turks more than happy to see more Christians dead.