American Relief and Émigré Politics in the Syrian Mahjar

By Stacy Fahrenthold
Submitted to Session P4783 (Humanitarianism in the Ottoman Empire during World War I, 2017 Annual Meeting
Diaspora/Refugee Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper examines the role that Syrian and Lebanese emigrants played in famine relief efforts targeted at Ottoman Syrian. Using the records of Syrian ethnic organizations that worked within well-known U.S. associations like the Red Cross and Near East Relief, the paper argues that émigré participation in famine relief translated humanitarianism into a politics of intervention. For relief workers, raising money and aid to combat the Syrian famine was a philanthropic endeavor but not one divorced from the broader political goals of diasporic nationalism. The nationalist committees of New York and Boston raised relief but also collaborated with the Entente to move propaganda, Army recruits, petitions, and passports in support for an allied intervention against the Ottoman state. These groups, furthermore, competed with one another, transforming homeland relief part of a legitimate strategy for nationalist movements aimed at a free Syria. This piece examines the politics of humanitarianism from the eyes of Syrian and Lebanese émigrés, demonstrating the connections they made between philanthropy and liberation and the new political cleavages that this work engendered in Syrian American communities. In a wartime America where Ottoman ethnic politics were surveilled and feared, philanthropy transformed into a cognate for émigré patriotism.