International Journal of Middle East Studies


Problems in the Ottoman Adminstration in Syria during the 16th and 17th Centuries: The case of the Sanjak of Sidon-Beirut

Abdul-Rahim Abu-Husayna1

a1 Abdul-Rahim Abu-Husayn teaches history at the American University of Beirut, c/o New York Office, 850 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022, U.S.A.

The history of the mountain hinterland of Sidon and Beirut—the area often referred to as the Druze Mountain—has hitherto been treated mainly as parochial Lebanese history, with inadequate reference to the Ottoman administrative context. Now that Ottoman archival material has become generally accessible, the subject needs to be revised in its light. In so doing one must keep in mind that most Ottoman chancery documents are normally orders issued in Istanbul for the governors of the provinces—in this particular case, the Syrian provinces—which were not necessarily acted upon, but which can serve to indicate the sort of problem that the Ottoman administration faced in a given province, whether or not they tell us what action was actually taken.This means that to attempt a reconstruction of the administrative history of a given Syrian region—or of any region of the far—flung Ottoman realm—purely on the basis of the Ottoman chancery documents, without taking into account what the local chronicles have to say, is bound to leave major parts—sometimes, perhaps, the most significant parts of the story in question—untold. On the other hand, to reconstruct such a history purely from what the chronicles relate, without reference to the official documents of the Ottoman chancery would leave much of the story unexplained or inexplicable. It is only by combining the two that one can gain a full historical picture of the subject under investigation. From this combination, what transpires, in the case of the sanjak of Sidon—Beirut, is an account of repeated Ottoman accommodations to local realities, made at the expense of administrative norms which existed in theory, but whose application in the different parts of the Ottoman world was far from uniform.