The Wounded Turks and the Fall of Damascus, 1 October 1918
Keywords: 1 October 1918, The Wounded Turks, The Fall of Damascus, Ottoman Empire
At 6 a.m. on 1 October 1918, Feisal's forces entered Damascus. All day and night they flowed into the Omayade capital and started looting and killing, particularly Turkish soldiers who were wounded and sick. British units remained outside the city. The new Arab administration proved unable to keep order. One particularly gruesome incident was the looting of the main Turkish hospital. It contained between 600 to 800 wounded. Many of them died. The Turks had no cover for the sick. Few of the men had blankets; they had no medical organisation. There were no drugs, bandages, or food fit for sick men; no sanitation. Very little assistance could be obtained from the local Arab authorities in Damascus. They were indifferent to human suffering. However, the wounded Turks left in Damascus suffered not just because of Arab logistical problems, but also because the political need to exclude the British units from Damascus left the sick and wounded Turks bereft of care. The British re-occupied the Turkish military hospitals after four days' Arab control as the Turkish wounded were receiving no care. They then set about cutting the death rate from 70 to 15 a day. The patterns of military administration in Damascus were supposed to follow international practice as prescribed in the Fourth Convention Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land signed at the Hague in the Netherlands on 18 October 1907 and entered into force on 26 January 1910, to which both Britain and the Ottoman Empire were parties. The British clearly disregarded the general rules on the occupied enemy territories as defined by this convention. It was essential to obey the main rules of military occupation. Therefore the neglect of the Turkish hospitals in Damascus by British forces, was, to say the least, unlawful. The poor conditions for the wounded Turks were a direct result of the British army being instructed to promote an Arab administration in Damascus. The French looked upon this British connivance with indignation. Paris accused London of hiding behind the façade of Arab nationalism to undermine French influence in Syria. During the war Britain had already in the Sykes-Picot Agreement recognised French interest in Syria. In terms of international politics it must have been that the Turkish sick and wounded were marginal to the central objective of giving the impression that Feisal's Arabs were in charge. Turks suffered as a result of British realpolitik.