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Yemen Revolt - 1892-1893

The Sublime Porte was seldom free from trouble regarding one at least of her possessions. It was on Sultan of Turkey's possessions in Arabia, and on them alone, that he based his claim to the title of Caliph - a title on which his prestige in the eyes of the Moslem world mainly rested. Among Mohammedan potenates he was the greatest; for although many sects of Islam do not hold that one in whose veins the blood of the Prophet does not flow is able by divine right to succeed to the caliphate, the possession of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina cannot but add to his fame.

Yemen is separated from the Hejaz, the province in which Mecca and Medina are situated, by a large tract of country, known as the Asir. But the tribes inhabiting this district were, and always had been, largely influenced by the Yemenite faction, and like them in their belief of the Shiite sect, holding that the claim of the Sultan of Turkey to the caliphate is irregular and illegal. The Turkish rule had never been more than nominal among the mountains, so that the repudiation by them of the Osmanli Government, which had taken place, was fraught with no great danger to Turkey, provided the discontent and consequent rebellion remained within bounds, and did not reach the Hejaz.

Although it was not until the summer of 1891 that the rebellion in Yemen took any outward form, the Turks must have been aware, for a long period previous to that time, that their relations with the Arabs were becoming day by day more strained. Yet such is the character of Turkish provincial officials, especially of those so far removed from the seat of the Government as in Yemen, that they still continued their policy of oppression, trusting to fate that there would be no open hostilities until the jobbery that had put them into power would follow its inevitable course by removing them and reinstating others in their places, on whom would fall the brunt of a rebellion, which they saw might for a time be postponed but impossible to avert.

The tribes, in the time of the Imam, left undisturbed both in their labours in the fields and in their warfare, boasting an independence of centuries, found themselves, on the Turkish occupation, little better than slaves - oppressed, taxed, and retaxed by a people whose extortions ruined them, whose personality they hated, and with whom, although co-religionists, there was no unison in religious views. The lot of the Yemeni was to be squeezed to fill the coffers at Constantinople, and to pay for the harems and pleasures of unscrupulous officialdom. Such, then, apart from all religious differences, was the existing state of feeling in Yemen when in the summer of 1892 the rebellion broke out.

The rebellion was no sudden affair; as long ago as several years back there had commenced on the part of the Arabs a series of outrages against Turkish officials that would have rendered apparent to any other nation but the Turks the danger that was threatening. Cruel and bloodthirsty as many of these outrages were, they were the only means in the power of the Arabs of protesting against the exorbitant taxation and the oppression that were ruining them. Their appeals to Sanaa, and even to Constantinople, had resulted in no amelioration of their condition.

It is necessary to give but one example of these outrages. At Dhamar, one of the largest cities of Yemen, there lived a certain general, by name Muhammed Rushti Pasha, between whom and a neighbouring tribe there had arisen misunderstanding as to the amount of taxation to be levied upon them. The pasha insisted on the full sum, and a quarrel ensued between the Arab sheikh and himself, the former fleeing from the city swearing revenge. Shortly afterwards Muhammed Rushti being called away to another part of the country, the tribe in question took advantage of his absence to blow up his house and family with gunpowder. His wives, children, and servants died that night, in all some eleven persons. Returning with all speed to Dhamar, the general, with such forces as were at the time in the city, almost exterminated the little tribe who had accomplished so horrible a vengeance. Over the grave of those that died that night Muhammed Rushti raised a mosque and a domed tomb, the interior of which he hung with rich silks. Thither he would repair and sit alone. On the taking of Dhamar by the Arabs in November 1892, this tomb was looted.

It was a new Jehad, or holy war ! The Turks were to be exterminated or driven away; the beloved Ahmed-ed-din-beloved on account of his birth and descent rather than from any knowledge of his personality - was to be reinstated on the throne. One by one the tribes rose, except only the Bedouin inhabitants of the Tehama and the southern deserts, who, possessing nothing but a few flocks and herds, and always wandering, were indifferent to Turkish or Arab rule, and awaited the result before promising allegiance to either side. The same plan was followed by many of the merchants and citizens, whose position and intimacy with the Turkish officials placed them outside the bounds of oppression and taxation, and who in many cases were only too ready to take advantage of their fellowcountrymen's unenviable position, by buying from the Turks the right of collecting the taxes of certain districts ; for the privilege of levying dues is a commercial article, sold from time to time by auction, a system that relieves the Government of much anxiety and trouble, but encourages to an almost incredible extent cruelty and oppression.

The force in the country was estimated at some sixteen thousand men, although in reality probably far short of that number; for during the two previous years cholera had wrought great havoc amongst the troops. These troops consisted of Turkish regulars, Bashi-bazouks, and a large number of Arab auxiliaries, drawn principally from the Mshareg and Hadramaut, the country to the east of Yemen, who did not care whom they fought against, or for what reason they were fighting, so long as they were paid, and whose one stimulant to feats of bravery was promised reward. The Turkish troops already in Yemen were in a miserable state. Ill fed, ill clothed, thinned by disease, badly housed, and seldom, if ever, paid, it is no wonder that their spirit was broken in a land where during summer they were liable to a temperature that seldom falls below a hundred in such shade as their badly built barracks afforded, and in winter to frosts, and at times snow-to all the vagaries, in fact, of a tropical climate on the tops of mountains of from 7000 to 9000 feet in altitude.

By the time the new forces had embarked for Hodaidah, the whole country, with the exception of Sanaa and Amran and a small city in the Asir, by name Dhofir, had fallen into the hands of the rebels, the plains and seaboard towns holding aloof from any participation in the affair, though probably it was only the presence of better organised Turkish forces which kept in check the feeling which no doubt existed almost as strongly there as anywhere.

Proclaiming military law, which in this case meant almost no law, throughout the country, the new Governor-General offered a reward for the head of every rebel brought to him, and turned loose upon the Arabs his Turkish troops to loot and plunder their villages. From the day that Ahmed Feizi Pasha took over the governor - generalship of Yemen, the tide of events had completely changed. A series of Arab victories had ended in a series of Arab defeats. By the end of January 1893 the Turks had reconquered all the cities of Yemen with the exception of one, Dhofir, at that time still besieged by the Arabs. Yet in spite of the fact that Turkish rule was again reinstated in the country, in spite of the fact that what with the reinforcements there were altogether some forty thousand troops in Yemen, the rebellion was by no means stamped out.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2012 19:27:10 ZULU