Book by Saudi author unravels Ottoman atrocities in Madinah 

Madinah, Saudi Arabia, circa 1915 when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. From Heroes of Modern Adventure, published 1927. (Getty Images/Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group)
Madinah, Saudi Arabia, circa 1915 when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. From Heroes of Modern Adventure, published 1927. (Getty Images/Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group)
Short Url
Updated 25 March 2021

Book by Saudi author unravels Ottoman atrocities in Madinah 

Madinah, Saudi Arabia, circa 1915 when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. From Heroes of Modern Adventure, published 1927. (Getty Images/Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group)
  • "Seferberlik" sheds light on forgotten pillage of the city by Ottoman Turks and the looting of its holy relics 
  • Saudi historian Muhammad Al-Saeed says modern Turkey is attempting to whitewash its cruel imperial past 

JEDDAH: Although the rot had long set in, it was the onset of the First World War in 1914 that truly exposed the Ottoman Empire’s weakness, backwardness and inability to control its distant extremities. 

When historians use the term “Seferberlik” — the Ottoman word for “mobilization” — it is often assumed they are discussing the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians of Anatolia in 1915, when millions were slaughtered or sent into exile. 

But Seferberlik is also used to refer to another lesser known episode of mass displacement that occurred around the same time in what is today Saudi Arabia. 

“Seferberlik: A century on from the Ottoman crime in Madinah” — by Saudi author Mohammad Al-Saeed — tells the story of the deportation of the holy city’s population by Ottoman General Fakhri Pasha. 




Saudi author Mohammad Al-Saeed. (Supplied)

History books tell of Fakhri Pasha’s “heroic defense” of the city in the 1918 Siege of Madinah, fending off repeated attacks by the British-backed Arab fighters of Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Makkah. 

What the books often gloss over are the happenings of 1915, prior to the siege, when Fakhri Pasha forced Madinah’s population into trains and drove them north into present-day Syria, Turkey, the Balkans and the Caucasus. 

Moreover, the version of events told in Turkey today tends to omit the Ottomans’ removal of the valuables of Prophet Muhammad’s sacred chamber, the demolition of buildings to make way for defenses and supply lines and the man-made famine’s cruel toll on Madinah’s remaining civilian population. 

“The Seferberlik crime was an attempt to transform Madinah into a military outpost,” Al-Saeed told Arab News. “The Turks tried to separate the city from its Arab surroundings and annex it to the Ottoman Empire to justify ruling what remained of the Arab world.” 




The army of Faisal I of Iraq coming into Yenbo (aka Yanbu), in the present-day Al Madinah province of western Saudi Arabia, during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule, December 1916. (Pierre Perrin/Sygma via Getty Images)

Against the wishes of the Ottoman Caliph Sultan Mehmed V, the Young Turks who dominated the empire’s affairs at that time had sided with Germany and the Central Powers. Their brand of Turkish ethno-nationalism spelled disaster for the empire’s other ethnic groups. 

The highly strategic Hijaz railway, which linked Damascus and Madinah, was vital to the Ottoman war effort, which made it a frequent target of the Arab rebels and their British ally, T.E. Lawrence. 

So important was this rail link for the movement of troops and munitions that Ottoman forces were prepared to displace Madinah’s civilian population and garrison its holiest sites, no matter the harm and disrespect their actions caused to the resting place of Prophet Muhammad. 

“General Fakhri Pasha came to prove the power of the Ottoman Empire over Madinah, no matter what the cost,” Al-Saeed said. “He took the Prophet’s Mosque and its sanctity and turned it into a weapons depot and a camp for soldiers. 

“He also transformed the city’s minarets into artillery positions, unconcerned about affecting the Prophet’s Mosque, the dome and the Prophet’s Tomb. 

“Furthermore, he confiscated the inhabitants’ possessions, their date farms and their crops, and turned them over to the military effort and to his soldiers, estimated to be around 70,000 mercenaries. They desecrated Madinah by drinking alcohol in the streets.” 




The Hijaz Railway was strategically vital to the Ottoman war effort. (Supplied)

In the second phase of Fakhri Pasha’s campaign, “he destroyed homes and extended the railway to inside the Prophet’s Mosque, disrespecting the sanctity of the mosque in another crime, for the purpose of facilitating the transport of valuables and items in the Prophet’s Chamber — the possessions of Prophet Muhammad and his wives — away from the eyes of citizens and out of fear of them, and in preparation for smuggling them to Constantinople,” Al-Saeed said. 

“The stolen treasures arrived in Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire’s capital, and have been on display for many years at the Topkapi Museum (in present-day Istanbul).” 

The holy relics include old copies of the Quran; jewelry and golden candlesticks; and swords. Besides the 390 artefacts, visitors to the museum can see the following possessions of Prophet Muhammad: the Blessed Mantle, the Holy Banner, his sword and bow, a jar, a piece of his tooth and a hair from his beard. 

Sources suggest Fakhri Pasha even attempted to have the body of Prophet Muhammad exhumed and shipped to Constantinople. An Egyptian engineer who was summoned to Madinah to modify the minarets of the Prophet’s Mosque to support the weight of Ottoman artillery claimed he was ordered to open the tomb, but he refused. 

“Fakhri Pasha asked for his help to exhume the body of the prophet and move it to Constantinople, according to the historical documents written by the French representative in Cairo and sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Al-Saeed said. 




The Hijaz Railway was strategically vital to the Ottoman war effort. (Supplied)

“The French representative vouched for the account of the Egyptian engineer, who fled the city and did not carry out the crime, thus confirming that the grave in question did indeed house the prophet’s body and the goal was to move the body to Constantinople.” 

“In the last phase, the citizens of Madinah were forcibly displaced and soldiers were settled there instead,” Al-Saeed said. 

Possibly up to 40,000 civilians were deported, with parents separated both from each other and from their children.

“They kidnapped people from the streets and did not deport them as families. They deported them as individuals and sent them to other areas under Ottoman rule. 

“According to historical sources, the Seferberlik atrocities resulted in only a few hundred citizens remaining in the city. Fakhri Pasha ordered the monopolization of food, which was scarce in the first place, especially dates, which were given to the Ottoman soldiers. 

“Madinah reached the point of famine, forcing its citizens and orphaned children to eat cats, dogs and what remained on the farms and in the streets.” 




“Seferberlik: A century on from the Ottoman crime in Madinah” — by Saudi author Mohammad Al-Saeed.

Al-Saeed says he chose to write about the Ottoman Empire’s actions in Madinah a century on because he believes modern Turkey is trying to whitewash its imperial past. 

He plans to translate his book into several languages to raise awareness of this little-known chapter of Ottoman history. 

“I wrote an article in 2015 about the passage of 100 years since this crime and provided details that few people knew about,” Al-Saeed said. 

“Reactions to the article varied between people shocked at the information and those who could not believe it, given the Turkish publicity ahead of its publication which attempted to whitewash the Ottoman Empire’s ugliness and its heinous crimes against Arabs. The public was oblivious to the Ottoman crimes. 

“Following the article, the idea of documenting the event was established, so that history would not forget it like other events in Arab history, particularly since the few historical sources that documented Seferberlik are in the Ottoman, English and French archives. 

“Moreover, the sources of information are very limited and the grandchildren of those who were in Madinah at the time do not have many documents. A lot of the city’s inhabitants were displaced. Many of them did not return.” 


Virtual panel: Future of AlUla depends on sustainable growth model

Virtual panel: Future of AlUla depends on sustainable growth model
Updated 22 April 2021

Virtual panel: Future of AlUla depends on sustainable growth model

Virtual panel: Future of AlUla depends on sustainable growth model
  • First AlUla “Crossroads” panel concludes that Saudi Arabia’s accelerated aims to diversify the economy must marry the nation’s heritage with sustainable business models
  • The Crossroads panel sought to address how the Kingdom could achieve its divergent goals of decarbonizing and diversifying the economy

Saudi Arabia’s economy has long been defined by fossil fuels. However, the Gulf nation, which has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, has made the decisive step towards a sustainable future. In a bid to diversify its economy, Saudi Arabia is placing increased emphasis on integrated sustainability — which incorporates social, economic, and environmental dimensions and is grounded in principles of a circular economy — is at the forefront of all major developments in the Kingdom.

This includes AlUla, the ancient valley in Saudi Arabia’s Madinah region that covers a landmass of over 22,500 square meters and is being transformed into an “open-air museum” to showcase its 200,000 years of human history to the world under the Journey Through Time Masterplan, the vision for AlUla unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the board of directors of the Royal Commission for AlUla.

At the core of the masterplan, which was unveiled on April 7, is integrated sustainability, the subject of the first panel staged by the Royal Commission of AlUla’s as part of its “Crossroads: Intellectual Panel Program.”

READ MORE

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), unveiled The Journey Through Time this month, the latest development rooted in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the nation’s future. Click here for more.

Aptly titled “At the Crossroads: People and Planet: Can AlUla Unlock a Sustainable Future?” Moderated by Dr. Maliha Hashmi, executive director of health, wellbeing and biotech at NEOM, Saudi Arabia’s planned cross-border city in the Tabuk region, panelists included businessman and entrepreneur Alejandro Agag; former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi; architect and leader in sustainable design William McDonough; James Hardcastle, director of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Green List; Carlos Duarte, a biological oceanographer; and Gérard Mestrallet, executive chairman of Afalula, the French agency for Alula Development.

The panel sought to address how the Kingdom could achieve its divergent goals of decarbonizing and diversifying the economy, creating a wider scope of employment opportunities, and bolstering Saudi Arabia’s social and economic contribution to the global community in the most efficient and sustainable way possible. For example, the Kingdom has recently taken initial steps to reduce Saudi Arabia’s emissions by planting 10 billion trees and generating half its energy from renewables by 2030.

“They all have relationships that interact, and the important thing is to see this whole set of issues as a kind of ecosystems and organisms,” said McDonough, adding: “Everything kind of affects everything else and the benefits are tremendous. The recognition of multiplier effects is a key part of it, we find the economics work really beautifully and soon as you start to realize there are benefits coming from lots of directions.”

Sustainability is a vital part of any business, declared Agag, the CEO of Formula E, the single-seater motorsport championship that only uses electric cars. His business and entertainment model continues to prioritize sustainability.

“I think now the difficulty is not to make sustainability and business compatible, the difficulty is to do a business without having a sustainability angle in your business,” he said. “When we started Formula E 10 years ago and launched the first race in Beijing in 2014, everybody thought that Formula E would crash and burn.”

He added: “All the motorsport world had this consensus. My old-time partner and at the time CEO of Formula 1 Bernie Ecclestone told me that an electrical championship would never make it to the first race. But we did.”

Agag explained how the championship now has support from world’s major manufacturers. It has strong revenues, big sponsors, and continuous growth — all because it promotes electric cars. “And we did it at a time in 2014 when electric cars were not as available as now,” added Agag.

How does a nation push social and economic sustainability, particularly in respect to resurrecting ancient sites such as AlUla? Renzi, who contributed greatly to the revitalization of the sites of Pompei and Matera in Italy, transforming them into vibrant cultural and touristic destinations, agreed with Agag, stating that it is “impossible to do business without sustainability.”

He said: “The same is true for culture and tourism,” adding: “Pompei and Matera are very exciting examples. Pompei was one of the most amazing places around the world but in the last 20 to 50 years, Italy lost the momentum to invest in a new narrative for Pompei. Our government decided to involve the EU and Pompei pre-pandemic achieved its maximum number of visitors.”

The same is true for Matera, a rocky outcrop in the region of Basilicata, in southern Italy, which now houses museums such as the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario, he continued.

“Matera became the capital of culture in Europe after a long period in which people thought of Matera as a place of ruin and disaster,” explained Renzi.

“What is the strategy? What is the secret?” posed Renzi. “In my view it is exactly what has been decided by the Royal Commission for AlUla: Use a great place, one of the capitals of the past, and transform it into a place for the future.”

READ MORE

AlUla, the ancient valley in Saudi Arabia’s Madinah region, home to 200,000 years of still largely unexplored human history, continues to play a central role in the Kingdom’s tourism strategy. In a bid to pave the way for the area’s future growth, the Royal Commission of AlUla (RCU) has announced that it will embark on its future projects by adhering to sustainable practices. More here.

What can we draw from 200,000 years of human history at AlUla to reimagine sustainability, challenge conventional wisdom, and draw inspiration from ancient ingenuity? Moreover, Hashmi posed, how does Saudi Arabia bring communities on board and balance the interests of protecting natural landscapes against urbanization and the needs of growing communities?

Hardcastle agreed that business cannot be done today without a sustainable approach.

“You cannot do nature conservation and protection without communities from that place,” he said. “With IUCN we’ve set up alongside our global members 160 countries and 20,000 scientists who have come together and discussed what makes nature conservation effective, especially in areas like Sharaan, AlUla, and other places in Saudi Arabia.

“The overwhelming response is that the places that are effective are where you have had full engagement from the outset with the communities who live and breathe the air who do not see these places as wild but see them as part of their heritage.”

As Saudi Arabia moves into its next chapter of growth, what this panel underlined was the crucial balance that must be struck between maintaining the country’s heritage and ancient past, using its local communities and employing sustainable practices in all areas of business and development.


Saudi Arabia confirms 11 COVID-19 deaths, 1,055 new cases

Saudi Arabia confirms 11 COVID-19 deaths, 1,055 new cases
Updated 22 April 2021

Saudi Arabia confirms 11 COVID-19 deaths, 1,055 new cases

Saudi Arabia confirms 11 COVID-19 deaths, 1,055 new cases
  • The Kingdom said 1,086 patients recovered in past 24 hours
  • The highest number of cases were recorded in Riyadh with 468

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia recorded 11 new COVID-19 related deaths on Monday, raising the total number of fatalities to 6,869.
The Ministry of Health confirmed 1,055 new confirmed cases reported in the Kingdom in the previous 24 hours, meaning 409,093 people have now contracted the disease. 
Of the total number of cases, 9,776 remain active and 1,182 in critical condition.

According to the ministry, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with 468, followed by Makkah with 206, the Eastern Province with 166, Madinah recorded 41, and Asir confirmed 35 cases.
The ministry also announced that 1,086 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 392,448.
The ministry renewed its call on the public to adhere to the measures and abide by instructions.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 144 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 3.07 million.


King Salman calls for global approach to tackling climate change

King Salman speaking at the virtual Climate summit. (Photo: Bandar Galoud)
King Salman speaking at the virtual Climate summit. (Photo: Bandar Galoud)
Updated 22 April 2021

King Salman calls for global approach to tackling climate change

King Salman speaking at the virtual Climate summit. (Photo: Bandar Galoud)
  • King tells world leaders that climate change does not recognize national borders
  • King outlines Saudi Arabia's shift to clean and renewable energy

NEW YORK: Boosting international cooperation is the “optimal solution” to tackling climate change, King Salman told a summit of world leaders on Thursday.

The king said global warming threatens lives on our planet and that the challenges “recognize no national borders.”

“The objective is sustainable development, and in order to achieve this, there must be a comprehensive methodology that takes into account the different developments and circumstances that exist around the world,” King Salman said during the Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by the US.

He said the Kingdom had launched packages of strategies and regulations with the aim of producing 50 percent of the Kingdom’s energy needs by 2030 using clean, renewable sources.

“Enhancing the level of international cooperation is the optimal solution to meeting the challenges of climate change,” the king said.

“During our G20 presidency last year we advocated the need to adopt a notion of a circular carbon economy launching two international initiatives to curb land degradation and to protect coral reefs.”

He added that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently announced two new initiatives: the Green Saudi Initiative and the Green Middle East Initiative. The initiatives aim to reduce carbon emissions in the region by more than 10 percent of  current global contributions.

“These initiatives also aim at planting 50 billion trees in the region,” he said.

The Kingdom, he added, would work with its partners to achieve these goals by hosting forums for both initiatives later this year.

“Finally we would like to affirm our keenness and commitment to cooperation to combat climate change in order to create a better environment for future generations, wishing success for our efforts to protect our planet,” he said.

Earlier at the summit, President Joe Biden’s pledged to cut US fossil fuel emissions up to 52 percent by 2030

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin also made commitments to reduce emissions.

“Meeting this moment is about more than preserving our planet,” Biden said. “It’s about providing a better future for all of us.”

Some 40 leaders are taking part in the two-day event.


New envoy to Sweden Einas Al-Shahwan becomes Saudi Arabia’s 3rd female ambassador

New envoy to Sweden Einas Al-Shahwan becomes Saudi Arabia’s 3rd female ambassador
Updated 22 April 2021

New envoy to Sweden Einas Al-Shahwan becomes Saudi Arabia’s 3rd female ambassador

New envoy to Sweden Einas Al-Shahwan becomes Saudi Arabia’s 3rd female ambassador

RIYADH: Einas Al-Shahwan, the Kingdom’s ambassador-designate to Sweden, has become Saudi Arabia’s 3rd female ambassador.
During a virtual meeting with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Al-Shahwan was among a number of newly appointed ambassadors taking their oath.

The oaths were taken in front of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (SPA)

The ceremony was also attended by Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister.

Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan became the first female ambassador when she was named the Saudi envoy to the US in 2019. 
In Oct. 2020, Amal Al-Mouallami was appointed as Saudi ambassador to Norway.

Below is a complete list of the new appointments:

The ambassador-designate to the Republic of Portugal, Prince Saud bin Abdul Mohsen bin Abdulaziz;
the ambassador-designate to Sweden Einas bint Ahmed Al-Shahwan;
the ambassador-designate to the Sultanate of Oman, Abdullah bin Saud Al-Anzi;
the ambassador-designate to the Czech Republic, Abdullah bin Mutaab Al-Rasheed;
the ambassador-designate to the Republic of Korea, Sami bin Muhammad Al-Sadhan;
the ambassador-designate to Turkmenistan, Saeed bin Othman Suwaied;
the ambassador-designate to the United Republic of the Comoros, Atallah bin Zayed bin Zayed;
the ambassador-designate to the Republic of Tajikistan Walid bin Abdulrahman al-Rashidan;
the ambassador-designate to the Kyrgyz Republic Ibrahim bin Radi Al-Radi;
the ambassador-designate to the Republic of Albania, Faisal bin Ghazi Hafzi;
the ambassador-designate to the Republic of Kenya Khalid bin Abdullah Al Salman;
the ambassador-designate to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Faisal bin Talq Al-Baqami;
the ambassador-designate to the Republic of Cuba Faisal bin Falah Al-Harbi;
the ambassador-designate to the Republic of Chad Amer Bin Ali Al-Shahri;
the ambassador-designate to the Republic of Burkina Faso Fahd bin Abdulrahman Al-Dossary.

The oaths were taken in front of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (SPA)

Saudi Cruise partners with MSC Cruises for winter season

Saudi Cruise partners with MSC Cruises for winter season
Updated 22 April 2021

Saudi Cruise partners with MSC Cruises for winter season

Saudi Cruise partners with MSC Cruises for winter season
  • The two companies are aiming to host 170,000 cruise guests this winter

JEDDAH: Saudi Cruise Co., owned by the Public Investment Fund, signed a joint agreement on Wednesday with MSC Cruises to launch its trips in the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf during the upcoming winter season.
The announcement came during a meeting between Fawaz Farooqui, interim CEO of the Red Sea Cruise Co., and Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises, in Riyadh to sign the framework agreement to mark the start of the new partnership.
The two companies are aiming to host 170,000 cruise guests this winter.
Under the agreement, the MSC Magnifica will sail in the Red Sea from Jeddah on several seven-day trips from Nov. 13 through March 26. These trips will offer passengers access to a selection of ports and destinations on the coasts of the Red Sea. A weekly stopover will be included at Al-Wajh Port, which will connect passengers with AlUla, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The city of Jeddah is preparing for the first Formula 1 race hosted by the Kingdom on Dec. 5. These trips will provide an opportunity for some passengers of the MSC Magnifica to enjoy this global sports event in conjunction with their trips aboard the cruise.
MSC Magnifica will visit Dammam on a weekly basis from Dec. 2 through March 24, as part of its winter program in the Arabian Gulf. This trip will allow passengers to visit the Al-Ahsa Oasis, another UNESCO World Heritage site in the Kingdom, in addition to many exciting destinations and attractions in the region.
Farooqui said his company is keen to establish a long-term partnership, which will increase the number of cruises coming to Saudi Arabia in the future.
“The Kingdom has a lot to offer to its visitors, and the new cooperation will open the doors for travelers from all over the world to be among the first to have the opportunity to explore the rich Saudi heritage and hospitality,” he said.
Farooqui also said these trips will diversify the Saudi economy and increase the country’s GDP. In addition, the cruises will provide employment opportunities in the fields of port business, tourism and entertainment in the selected destinations to nearby communities.
By the year 2035, the company aims to create 50,000 direct and indirect job opportunities through the newly established cruise sector.
Vago said he wants his company to place Saudi Arabia on the global cruise map and make it a major tourist destination.
“We look forward to providing new experiences for tourists from within and outside the Kingdom, enabling them to discover the beauty of untouched islands, the picturesque beaches along the Saudi coasts, in addition to the historical and heritage sites scattered in many tourist destinations,” he said.