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Abu Samra - Lebanese popular heroes


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Abu Samra - Lebanese popular heroes
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Abu Samra

Among the Lebanese popular heroes who lived in the 19th century and fought valiantly against the Sublime Porte there appears Abu Samra, a Lebanese peasant born in Bkasseen in South Lebanon in 1828.

The life of this intrepid Maronite warrior abounds in sensational events. In any case, the history of the Maronites is inseparable from that of Lebanon, whose destiny they have determined in a decisive manner.

We all know that the era of the Mamelukes was one of great trials and difficulties for the Maronite people. Once the Crusaders were gone, relations with the West were increasingly interrupted and the Christians had to suffer the aggressions of a clearly hostile authority. Further, the Ottomans, masters of the Eastern Mediterranean for several centuries, launched a violent persecution against the different Christians of Little Lebanon, and particularly against the Maronites. Consequently there were at times uprisings and revolts against the occupants, whether Mamelukes, Egyptians or Ottomans, resulting in internal migrations often on a considerable scale.

In a strange way the name of Abu Samra has become the object of popular veneration because of his patriotism and of his fierce opposition to the policy of Emir Bashir II, the Great, regarding Ibrahim Pasha and the Egyptian army stationed in Lebanon.

Other popular heroes such as Shantiri and Dagher deserve our attention, but Abu Samra had the good fortune to escape death and to remain at liberty, while Dagher was killed in the first phase of the struggle and Shantiri was taken by Emir Bashir and handed over to Ibrahim Pasha, who sent him into exile.

According to certain sources, in order to obtain ammunition and food supplies which everyone lacked, Abu Samra and his men set about looting the Egyptian barracks in the coastal plain and attacked the troops guarding the gates and fortifications of Beirut. Flour was forcibly seized from the water mills of Antelias, Nahr el-Kalb and Nahr Ibrahim.

This hero also et up a council to help him with his movement directed against Ibrahim Pasha and Emir Bashir II. Lebanese notables on different sides had followed the movement of Abu Samra but these were often contacted by the agents of the Emir and withdrew from the struggle.
Not content with his successes around Beirut, Abu Samra turned to visiting the main localities in North Lebanon. He recruited several dozen volunteers from Munaitra, Qartaba, Akoura, Jbeil, Batroun, Koura, and Zawieh respectively, with them winning his first victory which was over the garrison of Tripoli.

Together with his rebels Abu Samra present a series of complaints to Emir Bashir, demanding an improvement of conditions. These included the following:

1. Weapons being the guarantee of people’s security, they should not be taken away from them.
2. Imposed work and loss were contrary to custom.
3. The intolerable poll tax « Farda » should be abolished.
4, Surviving relatives should not have to bear anything due from the dead when paying this tax.
5. The Emir should send away Master Butros Karameh from the Beiteddine Palace.
6. An administrative council should be set up to replace him.
7. The criminal tactic of setting Lebanese communities against one another should be abandoned and the existing union between Maronites and Druze should be respected.
8. Finally, access to Lebanese land should be absolutely forbidden to Egyptian troops.

This plan of Abu Samra came to nothing and sixty of those principally responsible, including four Shehabs, four Bellamas, four Abu Nakad, one Khazen and forty-four ordinary members among those who had approached Emir Bashir or had been arrested by his soldiers were sent into exile.

Thus deprived of its leadership, the revolution ground to a halt. Abu Samra returned to North Lebanon with a new plan. On reaching Jounieh he learned that h six thousand Turks, two thousand British and five hundred Austrians had just disembarked with artillery and everything necessary for operations of open war against the Egyptian Viceroy.

He then set out on the way to his new destiny. News of his return to the field of battle spread like wildfire. Groups of partisans five hundred strong left their villages to follow him and to form under his orders a veritable army corps. Izzat Pasha, the Ottooman commander-in-chief, named him governor of the cantons of Jbeil, Batroun, Jebbet Bsharri, Koura and Zawieh, with the title of Agha, which in Turkish means commander-in-chief.

Just one month after his appointment as governor of North Lebanon, Abu Samra had to leave his new post, having been appointed leader of five hundred Lebanese volunteers in the service of Emir Bashir II. With these he was able to harass the rearguard of the army of Ibrahim Pasha as it retreated back into Egypt. It was at this time that his life was in the greatest danger, for he was twice wounded and several times almost fell into the hand of Ibrahim Pasha.

His return to his native village

For the first time since he had left Bkasseen, his home village, at the age of seven, Abu Samra now returned there to receive a triumphal welcome, with volleys of gunfire, ringing of church bells, torchlight and candlelight, for never either before or after this day had the village of Bkasseen reason to feel so proud.

With Emir Bashir III

Emir Bashir II, who already knew Abu Samra well, called him be head of the armed force that he maintained in order to keep internal order. But the administration of this last Shehabi emir finished with his deposition and his “Bikbashi” Abu Samra had a narrow escape from being captured and put to death by the Druze.

Some weeks later the Maronite Patriarch called on him to look after the Christian refugees of Kesrouan and then to bring help to the town of Zahleh in the Beqaa. So Abu Samra set out once again for a new series of adventures and encounters that would bring him glory.

In 1842 Omar Pasha, the Turkish governor, charged him with a military expedition against revolting Druze. Once calm had returned, Abu Samra went back to Bkasseen, only to find it completely destroyed by its enemies.

By no means discouraged, he lost no time in rejoining his surviving compatriots to work with them on rebuilding their homes. He went to confession in church, married, and busied himself with his fields and livestock. By 1860 he was already father of a large family. He set about organizing a methodical resistance. With his compatriots he succeeding in repelling the assailants. But sad to relate, he was abandoned and left isolated by his own friends. Many villages were sacked and set on fire, Bkasseen in particular being left in a state of charred ruins.

To escape from a detachment of Druze horsemen, he forced his horse to jump over a ravine where his enemies were unable to follow him. He rode towards Jezzeen and then turned westward to Saida (Sidon). He found his wife and children together with other families safe and sound and out of danger in Shiite villages. He carried on to the gates of the city of Tyre, where he had another miraculous escape from an attempt on his life. The vice-consuls of France and Britain came and helped him and tried to find him somewhere safe. During the night, Abu Samra reached Beirut by sea, traveling incognito.
There he was told in confidence that the governor of the city had set a price on his head, so he went to Jounieh where he was joined a few weeks later by his family and other refugees.

In 1861, Daoud Pasha, the first Mutassarrif of Little Lebanon, appointed him to command the auxiliary forces that as the new master of the land he had just formed. In 1865 the Pasha ordered him to go and fight Yusuf Bey Karam who was organizing resistance in North Lebanon. Abu Samra refused, whereupon the Mutassarrif put an end to the services of the old knight without granting him any indemnity.

In 1866, Franco Pasha, the second Mutassarrif, allotted him one hundred piastres a month, so making him the first Lebanese ever to receive a retirement pension. Abu Samra died in Bkasseen in 1895 as a devout Christian after receiving the Last Sacraments.

William MATAR
Wed Mar 20, 2013 12:09 pm View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
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