Youssef Karam

Youssef Bey Karam (also Yusuf Joseph Beik Beck) (May 5, 1823April 7, 1889), was a Lebanese nationalist leader who led the nationalist effort against the Ottoman Empire occupation.

The Karam Family

The Karam Family is family located mainly the Zghorta - Ehden region of North Lebanon. The word "Karam" means generosity in Arabic. This name replaced the previous name of the family which was Es-Sayhouni.

The Karam Family trace their origins to a French Colonel that came from Le Mont, France and settled in Jerusalem in 1098. His surname was Cremoir. He ruled the Sahyoun fortress, and the family was consequently known as Es-Sahyouni family. The name Sehyoun was not replaced till the 17th century.

The name of "Karam" was not adopted till Bechara Es-Sahyouni's earned the name "Abu-Karam" due to his phenomenal generosity. "Abu Karam" means father of generosity in Arabic. This generosity was highlighted when Emir Fakher Ad-din was greeted in Ehden by roads lined with soldiers offering a wide selection of food and drink to the armies of Fakher Ad-din. Fakher Ad-din went on to beat the Ottomans in a historic battle in Tripoli.

Today the Karam family is headed by Salim Bey Karam.

Birth, Childhood and Family

Youssef Bey Karam was born to Sheikh Boutros Karam (Director of Ehden and surrounding district), and Mariam (daughter of Sheikh Antonios Abi Khattar Al Ayntouri) in Ehden, Lebanon. Raised in a family of six children: Catherine, Teresa, Rose, Eva, Mikhail and Youssef. His mother was strong, virtuous, possessed a strong personality; and had a strong influence on her son.

Youssef was a smart boy, with green eyes and fair complexion. He loved his hometown Ehden, with its majestic mountains and think forests.He was French educated and at the age of 7, he was well versed in Aramaic, Arabic, French and Italian languages. He trained in unarmed combat, horse riding, shooting and fencing. His education in French helped him establish strong links with the west, especially France. Youssef has a special appreciation of Arabic, which was exemplified in many poetic writings.

Youssef grew up hating to play with toys, always thrusting to do what adults engage in. He was a skilled warrior, that never backed down from a challenge.


In 1840, Youssef aged 17 years, fought beside his father and elder brother against Egyptian armies then occupying Lebanon in the battles of Houna and Bazoun. Youssef showed remarkable skills as a fighter and leader, and his reputation and influence in the area steadily grew. So much so that in 1846, when his father died, Youssef succeeded him as ruler(eventough he was not the eldest son who would usually succeed the father). Youssef ruled with fairness, and his reputation and influence as a soldier and politician continued to grow and spread.

Youssef Karam became the acknowledged leader of the district, and in time became one of the most powerful personalities in Lebanese Politics. And although politically and militarily very powerful, he remained ever loyal to his faith and church. Karam's loyalty to the Church and Bkerke, the seat of the Maronite Patriarch, never wavered, and this loyalty was to have far reaching implications in future years.

In 1858, when the farmers of the predominantly Maronite Kisrwan district staged an uprising against their Sheiks and landlords, the Maronite Patriarch, conscious of Karam's influence and loyalty to the Church, appealed to Karam to save the Sheiks and restore peace to the area. Karam did save the Sheiks and managed to restore peace without resorting to force, and avoided what was expected to be a long and bloody conflict.

Future conflicts however, were not to be so peacefully settled. During that period of time, when the Ottomans ruled Lebanon, there existed a certain amount of distrust between the Druze and Maronite Communities. The Muslim Druze felt threatened by the growing presence of the Christians Maronites in their traditional area of Mount Lebanon. The suspicion and distrust between the two Communities was allowed to be fueled by petty and personal conflicts until September 1859 when finally open conflict broke out between the Druze and Maronite Communities at Beit Mery, a town of different religious denominations. Karam reacted by calling a meeting of Community leaders at the village of Baan, and concluded an agreement with the Muslim ruler of Tripoli, North Lebanon, Abed El Hamid Karami, to keep North Lebanon free from any religious conflict.

In May 1860 however, conflict again broke out between the two Communities, and a number of Maronite Monks and villagers were massacred. This time Karam reacted by raising an army of 500 men to protect the Maronites in the Mount Lebanon area. On the 2nd June 1860, Karam and his men marched to Bkerke and offered to the Maronite Patriarch their protection of Maronites.

In Karam's mind however, there was no doubt that the conflict between the Druze and the Maronites was being nurtured by Khorshid Pasha, the then Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister, for the purpose of justifying continued Ottoman rule in Lebanon and to counter Karam's calls for a free and sovereign Lebanon. Turkey at that time was a mighty power that ruled Lebanon and surrounding Arab countries. The Ottoman Empire rule was harsh and prejudicial against Lebanese. Taxes were unjust and aimed largely at the poor. Khorshid Pasha saw Karam's calls for Lebanese self rule as a threat to Turkish interests in Lebanon and the area, and convinced the European Ambassadors that Turkish presence in Lebanon was essential to maintain peace between warring factions in Lebanon. The French Ambassador to Lebanon convinced Karam to halt his march at Bekfaya, near Kisrwan, in return for guarantees of safety for all Christians offered by Khorshid.

Several days later however, Christian villages were attacked and Christians massacred by Druze aided by Turkish forces. In addition, Khorshid ordered Turkish Marines to effect a sea blockade to stop food and military supplies entering Lebanon and reaching Christians areas. Karam and his army retaliated against Druze and Turkish forces, and succeeded in saving the majority of Christian towns and villages in the Kisrwan area. Christian presence in the area was therefore established. Eventually, French ships reached the port of Beirut with supplies and the Turkish sea blockade ended. Peace was then restored whilst a new constitution was drafted to provide how Lebanon was to be governed. In the interim, two provisional Governors were appointed to rule Lebanon, one to rule Christians and the other to rule the Muslims. Karam was appointed the Governor of all Christians in Lebanon (Kaem Makam) on the 17th November 1860. Again, Karam ruled with distinction, restoring law and order, re-organising public institutions and conducting an honest government. However, he still refused to allow foreigners to interfere with Government affairs, or allow foreign troops on Lebanese soil. As Kaem Makam, Karam tendered his resignation a number of times in protest against what he saw as Turkish insistence to provide for continued Turkish rule in the proposed Lebanese constitution. On each occasion he was persuaded to remain in office by the French Ambassador who always suggested further negotiations.

The new constitution was finally completed in June 1861 and provided for a Governor to rule all of Lebanon for a trial three year period. Again a foreigner was appointed to the position, a Christian Turk by the name of Dawood Pasha.

First Exile

This decision angered all Lebanese nationals, Christians and Muslims, who were hopeful for self rule. Dawood Pasha was unpopular and his rule therefore inefectual in the face of Lebanese opposition. Towin Lebanese support, Dawood offered Karam a senior Government post, the Commander of National Forces. Karam promptly refused and insisted on nothing less than self rule for Lebanon. Thisangered Dawood who then issued an order exiling Karam to Turkey without any trial.

Karam remained in Turkey for 2.5 years, from late 1861 to 1864. He was given to understand that if he remained outside of Lebanon, his people would receive better treatment, and Dawood's term in Office would not be renewed after three years.

In 1864 however, Dawood Pasha's term was renewed for a further five year period. Karam immediately returned to his hometown Zgharta in Northern Lebanon where he was greeted as a national hero by many Lebanese. Thousands of people railied aroundK aram, who then prepared for a revolution based on the following aims:

* End of all foreign rule in Lebanon,
* Abolition of the 'Mutassarafiya' doctrine which prohibted Lebanese sovereignty and independence,
* End of high taxes and levies,
* Abolition of imprisonment without trial,
* Expulsion of all regular Turkish troops from Lebanon.

At that time, Turkish regular troops were stationed in Lebanon contrary to the provisions of the new constitution, brought in by Dawood Pasha on the pretext that Lebanese forces were unable to maintain peace in Lebanon. The Maronite Patriarch had already pleaded with Dawood to withdraw all his troops from Lebanon, to reduce excessive taxes and to release political prisoners held without trial. The Turkish Government, through Dawood Pasha, rejected all these pleas and thus the stage was set for a major confrontation.

Many battles followed, one of the earliest being at Mo'amailtayn, Jounieh on the 6th January 1866. There Karam was attending Mass at St. Doumit Church when regular Turkish troops attacked his men stationed outside the Church. A fierce battle followed, and Karam, aided by neighbouring villagers, defeated the Turkish troops. Karam immediately wrote to Istanbul and European Governments detailing the causes of conflict, and claiming his people's right to defend themselves.

Dawood Pasha however, was determined to rid himself of Karam and deal a fatal blow to the Lebanese nationalist movement. Dawood instructed his military Commander, Amin Pasha, to arrange a meeting with Karam in the presence of the Maronite Archbishop at Karem Saddah, and there gain Karam's allegiance to Dawood's Government. The meeting was arranged for Sunday the 28th January 1866. Karam agreed to Dawood's request on condition that Dawood accede to the Patriarch's pleas. Whilst the meeting was in progress, Turkish troops were sighted advancing at nearby Bnasha toward Karem Saddah.

The meeting was abandoned, and one of the fiercest battles was fought at Bnasha involving some 800 of Karam's men opposing several thousand Turkish troops. Here, Karam won a decisive victory. This led to other victories which included:

* Sebhell l st March 1866
* Ehmej 14th March 1866
* Wadi El Salib 22nd March 1866
* Aytou 5th May 1866
* Ey El Yawz 7th June 1866
* Wadi Miziari 20th August 1866
* Ehden 15th December 1866
* Ejbeh 10th January 1867 and
* Wadi El Sabeeb 17th January 1867

Karam never lost a single battle. He and his army felt their cause was just, they enjoyed wide and popular support, were familiar with the countryside, and were therefore able to out manoeuvre the enemy. So successful was Karam, that he finally decided to march on 'Beit El Din', the Governor's residence, over-throw Turkish rule and install a Lebanese national Government. Thousands of people joined Karam in his march to 'Beit El Din', and Dawood Pasha was forced to flee to Beirut. Victory must have seemed imminent to Karam and his men.

In Beirut however, Dawood Pasha rallied support from the European Ambassadors. These emissaries warned Karam that as their Government were parties to the Lebanese constitution which allowed Turkish rule over Lebanon, they were bound to support Turkey and would actively oppose Karam and refuse to recognise any Government he may form.

econd Exile

At a meeting at Bkerke, the French Ambassador ordered Karam in the name of Napoleon III, to leave Lebanon in return for French guarantees of safety for his men and people and the implementation of all of Karam's national demands. Karam was warned that to refuse would mean to place his men and the welfare of his people in jeopardy. On Thursday the 31st January 1867, Karam left Lebanon on board a French ship bound for Algeria.

Karam traveled from Algeria to European capitals explaining the plight of the Lebanese people and stressing their desire to form a sovereign and independent state. Whilst there, he wrote many letters and memoirs in support of self rule for Lebanon. Most of his writings have survived to this day, and include:-

Karam also traveled to European capitals seeking economic help for Lebanon. He offered to mortgage all his personal Lebanese holdings, amounting to five million francs, to French businessmen in return for the establishment of coal mines and a railroad network in Lebanon.

On the 7th April, 1889, Karam died near Naples, Italy. His last words were "God ... Lebanon"". He is buried in Saint George's Church in Ehden, Lebanon where in 1932 a statue of Karam on his horse was erected. This statue was made by his namesake Youssef Howayek. The Italian hosts place a placard on his grave that reads: "this is the resting place of the Youssef Boutros Karam, the Lebanese Prince"." Even though, he was never officially a prince, this title was bestowed upon him affectionately due to his stature, behavior, and moral values.


Youssef Karam was an early advocate of forming a united world assembly that would protect the rights of small nations. He was also a champion of human rights, justice and freedom. His strongest quality was his ability to surmount enormous odds. He fought tyrannies, human right abuses and social discrimination. Due to his high ethical standards, he refused to live the life of opulence and luxury.

Many of his beliefs were were extracted from among other sources:

*An open letter in which Karam calls for the establishment of a 'League of Nations' or 'Human Rights Association' as he called it. Karam explained that this would be an International Organisation, which would work for world peace and guarantee the rights of small nations.

*A letter to Amir Abdul Kader AI Jazaa'irri encouraging him to liberate all Arabs from Ottoman occupation and then establishing a form of 'Arab League', where each member State would retain sovereignty and independence.

Many people in his home town refer to him as "The Rebellious Prince".

ee also

* Ehden

External links

* [ Youssef Bey Karam Official Website]
* [ Zghorta-Ehden Reference to Youssef Bey Karam]

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