Nourishing Bodies and Souls: The Maronite Church’s Relief Effort in Mount Lebanon during the Great War

By Melanie Tanielian
Submitted to Session P4783 (Humanitarianism in the Ottoman Empire during World War I, 2017 Annual Meeting
Hist
Lebanon;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Nourishing Bodies and Souls: The Maronite Church’s Relief Effort in Mount Lebanon during the Great War

War and famine relief in form of provisioning and humanitarian aid to Ottoman civilians in the Arab provinces has received little attention. Historians have mainly directed their attentions to foreign efforts in the Anatolian provinces, and in particular to the tremendous work of international missionaries and relief organizations in response to the Armenian genocide. For Beirut and Mount Lebanon, the war years often have been dismissed as a period of reduced if not discontinued communal, international, and state welfare work. This is not surprising since relief work in the region was not only overshadowed by the cruelty of the famine but also in the end proved unsuccessful in preventing mass starvation. Moving away from state and international humanitarian effort to local one, this paper focuses the Maronite Church’s active role in wartime provisioning, even if largely a failed attempt. It will be argued that the Church’s active participation in the politics of provision contributed to the reshaping of the political landscape of the mountain, by opening a space for the Church to reassert its power. The fact that the Church’s existing institutions and personnel could be utilized to distribute food even in the most remote corners of the mountain not only guaranteed its local political currency, but, as will be argued, also a seat at the post-war bargaining table.