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Ottoman humanitarian aid to the Irish gripped by famine

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It is rumored that the Turkish poet and diplomat Yahya Kemal Beyatlı marveled at the support of an Irish delegate toward the Turkish delegation in comparison to the negative attitude displayed by the European delegates during the 1923 Lausanne Treaty negotiations. He later got the chance to ask the Irish delegate the reason behind his support. "Every Irishman like me is obliged to do it. We did not see any aid and support from other Europeans when we suffered from hunger and famine, struggling with death. But your ancestors sent us both money and ships of food. On this count, a large number of Irish people survived. We can never forget the humane hand reaching out to us in those tough days," the Irish delegate responded.

Bitter memories

In Ireland, where the majority of people were Catholic, all of the land was in the hands of about 10,000 British landlords, many of whom lived in Britain during those years. These holdings were rented to 600,000 Irish farmers. Since population density was high, rents were high, as well. Most of the crop was transported to England. In 1845, 1 million tons of grain and 258,000 sheep were exported to England. Small pieces of land were rented to workers for small wages. Up to 4 million farmers and workers were raising potatoes, which were the only food source for their livelihood.

In 1845, Ireland was suffering from a great famine, as were many European countries. The famine, also known as the Potato Famine, is one of the most important events in Irish history. The famine came out after the potatoes, the main food source in Ireland, were poisoned by a microscopic fungus called "phytophthora infestans," which was brought or came naturally from the Americas. Hence, a third of the crops were gone in 1845. This crop loss reached 90 percent in the following year.

The famine reached its peak in 1847, when the hungry Irish had to eat seeds to survive. The next year when imported seeds were used, half of the harvest was wasted. Although the famine ended in 1851, most of the Irish people either died or were forced to migrate to the United States. Thus, the population of 8 million was reduced to 5 million. The migrants never returned, but left sorrowful stories and memories behind.

Great gesture

Even though he did not receive a request, the generous and benevolent Ottoman sultan Sultan Abdülmecid decided to send 10,000 pounds to Ireland as a donation. This was a gesture that earned the Ottomans a worldwide reputation for generosity.

Even though Great Britain was the richest country in the world at that time, Queen Victoria was less generous to her subjects, the Irish, than the Sultan, and only gave 2,000 pounds to an Ireland in the grip of famine. Moreover, in order to protect its reputation, London asked the Ottoman government to reduce the sum to 1,000 pounds. The sultan then sent three sailboats full of food, medicine and seeds in addition to 1,000 pounds.

© Daily Sabah