South African Muslims supported the Ottoman Army during the Turco-Italian War

'An unexpected ally emerged for the Ottoman Empire support from South African Muslims’. Picture Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

'An unexpected ally emerged for the Ottoman Empire support from South African Muslims’. Picture Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

Published May 2, 2024


Indian Opinion published in Durban, December 23, 1911, noted that:

“Mr Ohannes Bey, Consul-General of Turkey at Johannesburg, writes as follows to the Secretary of the Durban branch of the Red Crescent Society:

“Dear Osman Ahmed, The Sublime Porte has just informed me that the cable of sympathy and moral support you have sent, in the name of the Mohammedans of Natal, to the Imperial Government, on the occasion of our conflict with Italy, was received with great pleasure.

“Afterwards, having heard of the aggressive step of the Kingdom of Italy against our Ottoman Empire, a mass meeting of Moslems of the Cape Peninsula was immediately held, Hajee Ebrahini Norodien presiding. Copies of the resolutions passed have been forwarded to your Excellency’s Government through the Ottoman Consulate in Cape Town.

“The enclosed draft value £200, though small in total, represents all Moslems of the Cape Peninsula and Paarl, and all the initial work of the committee appointed at the above meeting towards helping the Crescent Society in Constantinople”.

The Turco-Italian War, fought between the Ottoman Empire and Italy from September 1911 to October 1912, primarily in Libya, stands as a pivotal moment in history of Africa. Amid this conflict, an unexpected ally emerged for the Ottoman Empire support from South African Muslims.

During the Tripoli Campaign Enver Pasha played a significant role, albeit in different capacities. As the Minister of War and a key military strategist, he was responsible for overseeing the overall direction of Ottoman military operations in Libya.

He co-ordinated troop movements, logistical support, and strategic planning to counter Italian advances and defend North Africa against western colonialism.

The war itself stemmed from Italy’s desire to expand its colonial empire into North Africa, specifically targeting Libya, then under Ottoman rule.

South Africans of Turkish descent, along with various Muslim and nationalist groups, rallied to support the Ottoman cause. Despite being thousands of kilometres away from the theatre of war, their support was fervent and multifaceted.

One significant aspect of South African support came in the form of fund-raising efforts. Communities organised events, auctions, and donation drives to provide financial assistance to the Ottoman army.

South Africa served as a hub for political activism in support of the Ottoman cause against western oppression. Protests, meetings, and public gatherings were organised to raise awareness about the war and to advocate for international support for the Ottoman State.

Despite the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Turco-Italian War and the subsequent loss of Libya, the support from South Africa left a lasting legacy. It demonstrated the power of transnational solidarity in the face of colonial aggression and oppression.

In reflecting on this chapter of history, we are reminded of the enduring bonds that exist between peoples across continents and cultures.

Later, while Ahmed Sharif as-Senussi supported the Turkish army in the War of Independence in 1922, the Turkish government helped establish the national army in Libya in 1949.

The support of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi for the freedom of South Africa is another topic of my column.

* Halim Gençoğlu.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

Do you have something on your mind; or want to comment on the big stories of the day? We would love to hear from you. Please send your letters to [email protected].

All letters to be considered for publication, must contain full names, addresses and contact details (not for publication)