A Capital of Alternative Ottoman Globalization: Damascus between the Hamidian Period and World War I

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Between the early 1890s and the end of World War I, Ottoman Damascus stood at the focal point of a global quest for power. After more than half a century of functional subordination to western European capitalism, dominated by British and French trade, the German-Ottoman alliance turned Damascus from a provincial capital into a frontier city of alternative globalization. Damascus not only underwent a significant infrastructure-development boom in that period but also presented a different ethos that manifested in a series of state-led development efforts. The German quest for physical spaces of influence in Asia converged with the Ottoman search for guarantees for its territorial unity and financial capacity. This convergence brought unprecedented levels of investment to the Arab provinces and brought Arab officials to the most influential circles of power. Damascus had already been supported by direct and indirect state funding through the hajj caravans, the Fifth Army, and the settlement of Muslim refugees. The central government’s investments in Syria, led by the Damascene secretary of Sultan Abdulhamid II, Ahmad ʿIzzat al-ʿAbid (Izzet Pasha), turned Damascus into a stronghold of the terrestrial German-Ottoman globalization. The competition over influence in Asia and the new trade routes and corridors of control such as the Berlin–Baghdad and the Hijaz Railways heated up when they became a real threat to the British trade route in the Red Sea. Eventually, these tensions turned into an armed clash in World War I. Damascus became one of the centers of this war, concentrating both military and civil development efforts that continued the German-Ottoman convergence of interests: a quest for power in the colonial world and territorial unity. The operators of the war, led by Ahmed Cemal Pasha, inherited platforms whose foundations were laid in the Hamidian period.