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ERC Securing Europe, Fighting its enemies, 1815-1914


Securing Empires: The European Intervention in the 1860 Syrian Civil War and the Ottoman World

By dr. Ozan Ozavci –

In summer 1860, a civil war erupted in Ottoman Syria and Lebanon, which saw horrendous massacres, pillaging, looting and an enormous refugee crisis. With the aim of protecting the local Christian Maronites, and on behalf of humanity, the European Powers intervened in the war and strove to establish a new security regime in Syria.

This sub-project places under scrutiny the European intervention and the establishment of security regime after the Syrian civil war in 1860 with special reference to the tripartite relationship between security, empire and imperialism. The research addresses the constituent determinants of the intervention and the security regime produced by the middle-men (European and Ottoman commissioners, diplomats, local lords, military officers, judges, etc.). These regimes aimed mainly at protecting the Christians (Maronites and the Armenians) under Ottoman rule, and European economic interests. The main question the research seeks to answer is how the Ottoman and European professional agents seek to bring the sense of security in Syria and to institutionalise it. This requires an examination of their subjective perception of security, the processes of the reconciliation of their vital interests and the determination of common threats, and the progression of collective action against these threats. It also requires a discussion of the questions of Ottoman governance, the strained relationship between the doctrine of non-intervention and humanitarian intervention, and between international and domestic law.


The French expeditionary corps landing in Beyrouth on 16 August 1860

Consulting a large amount of archival materials and other primary sources, the research will consider particularly the largely unexplored deliberations and practices of the European Commission, which was sent to Syria to aid the Sultan to restore order and tranquility. Yet while securing local populations, the empires were also securing their own interests and bringing a new dimension to the nascent imperial race in the region. Drawing upon security theories, the research therefore seeks to develop a new narrative about conflicting interests and their compromise with security threats both through the perspective of the imperial struggles in the long-nineteenth century, but also in terms of European readings of the Ottoman world, and local reactions to Western encroachments.  It also discusses how the relief committees created under the commission sought to respond to problems of diseases, lack of food and water supplies and the issue of housing for the refugees.