The Italian Invasion of Libya in 1911 and the Nineteen Years of Libyan Resistance
I Table of Contents Introduction 1 Chapter I A Brief Overview of Libya 16 Chapter II The Berlin Conferences of 1878 and 1884-1885 21 Chapter III The Italian Invasion of Eritrea, Somalia, and Ethiopia 58 Chapter IV The Diplomatic Campaign 87 Chapter V The Eve of the Invasion 117 Chapter VI The Ultimatum & the Declaration of War 147 Chapter VII The Bombardments of TH E Libyan Ports and Cities 169 Chapter VIII The Ottoman-Libyan Counter-attacks 190 Chapter IX The Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1912 211 Chapter X The Aftermath of the Lausanne Peace Treaty: Tripolitania and Cyrenaica 248 Chapter XI The Battle of al-Gardabiyah and the War in Tripolitania 281 Chapter XII The War in Fazzan and Cyrenaica 306 Chapter XIII The Second Phase of the Libya-Italian War 348 Bibliography 391 I
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT The author wishes to thank the University of Washington Interdisciplinary Ph.D Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies for their support and assistance. Particular thanks go out to this program's coordinator, Miss Jean Rogers. I acknowledge the help and understanding of the Chairs and members of my Supervisory Committee. I acknowledge the effort and time spent by my advisor the co-chair Professor Nicholas Heer in editing my work and advising me. I wish also to thank the co chair Professor Jamie Mayerfield and Dr. Robert Burrowes the member of the committee for their support and for the editing my work. Finally, I want to extend a warm acknowledgement of all the encouragement and support I have received from my wife, my daughters, my sons, and my extended family.
DEDICATION To my wife Zahra for her patience; to my sons Ibrahim, Ali, Nabil and Salah, and my daughters Iman and Salwa for their encouragement and support; and to all my grandchildren Zana, Nadia, Rima, Una, Yousef, Wail, Dana, Mohammad, Amro, Sara, lyad, Nada, and little Zahra for the pleasure of their
INTRODUCTION Overview This dissertation is about the sudden and unanticipated Italian invasion of Libya in October, 1911. As Libya was then under Ottoman rule, Italy addressed their ultimatum and declaration of war to Istanbul, rather than to the Libyans directly. Italy started this invasion by landing in the five cities of Tripoli, Benghazi, Misratah, Derna and al-Khums during the first three weeks of October 1911. The Ottomans tried to avoid war at any cost and on October 3 the new Ottoman Prime Minister, Sa'id Pasha, sent an envoy to Rome to offer the cession of rule to Italy on the condition that nominal sovereignty over Libya remain in the name of the Ottoman Sultan. However, the Italian Prime Minister refused to entertain the envoy or the offer. This dubious offer to cede Libya to Italy without consulting Libya's inhabitants, and without firing a bullet, was kept entirely secret from the Libyan and Ottoman publics, as was the envoy's humiliating rejection by Rome. In response to this refusal, the Ottomans decided to defend Libya. Their small military force stationed there and a large number of Libyan volunteers carried out a major attack on the Italian front lines in the city of Tripoli on October 23, only three weeks after the Italian landing in Tripoli. This conflict is known to Libyans as the battle of al-Hani. Although the Italian army was about ten times larger and much better armed, not to mention well entrenched, the Ottoman- Libyan forces managed to overrun the Italian camp and win an astounding
2 victory. The losses of the Italian officers and soldiers were about four hundred. This defeat took place at a time when the Italians were telling their people and the European politicians and community that this war would be no more than a pleasant stroll. As such, the defeat was even more significant. Having had heavy losses inflicted on them by the victorious Ottoman and Libyan forces, the defeated Italians hid the details of this defeat for many days and fabricated an accusation that the inhabitants of Tripoli had taken part in the attack, an accusation disproven by eyewitness accounts on both sides. The Italian eyewitness was no less than the Italian Vice-Consulate in Tripoli, who declared that the inhabitants had not participated and that those who had fired on the line from behind were resistance members who had infiltrated the camp. This Vice-Consul was immediately expelled back to Italy for fear that he would spoil the Italian subterfuge. The Italian Consul, who was at the Italian camp and insisted that the inhabitants had not taken part, was immediately withdrawn from Tripoli. He writes in his memoirs that he was afraid he might be killed by the army. As a result of the fabricated claim against the Tripolitanians, the Italian commander of the army in Libya gave orders to kill and hang thousands of unarmed civilians. A few more thousand were deported, later to die in prisons in small islands off the Italian mainland. The Annexation of Libya to Italy On November 5, 1911, Italy annexed Libya to its kingdom, informing the European powers of the decision but neglecting to inform Istanbul. The Ottomans
3 protested without avail. (Chapter VI.) On the ground in Tripolitania, the Italian army tried a few times to penetrate into the interior, but they were decisively beaten back. This made the Italian army commander decide not to repeat this experience again for almost a year. When Italy ascertained that it could not win the war and occupy the country by military force, it tried through its ally Germany and other European countries to negotiate a solution. Nonetheless, the Ottomans continued to refuse any discussion unless the Italians agreed that the Sultan remain sovereign over Libya. Refusing this point, Italy, in April and May, 1911, took the drastic step of occupying the Dodecanese Islands and bombarding the shores of the Ottoman Empire. The Italians knew early on that the Ottomans would not continue the war for long as they could not compete with Italy's modern navy and therefore could not send any reinforcements to their small garrison in Libya by sea. Neither could they send anything by land through Egypt without the approval of the British. In spite of all this, the Ottomans refused to negotiate. Despite a number of heated diplomatic offers of mediation by many powers, the Italians refused to agree on granting the Sultan a nominal sovereignty over Libya. The Ottomans only started considering diplomatic solutions when a number of aspiring Balkan and Greek regions, seizing the opportunity provided by the Italian-Ottoman war, started secret consultations among themselves on the possibility of attacking the Ottomans and ask for independence. The Peace Treaty and the Autonomy Firman
4 In June and July, 1912 the Ottomans and the Italians met in Switzerland to negotiate a peaceful solution to the conflict. After many months of negotiations, the two belligerents agreed on October 18, 1912 to sign a peace treaty which stipulated the end of the war and the withdrawal of the Ottoman forces from Libya. Two days before the signature of this treaty, the Ottoman Sultan, in agreement with Italy, issued a firman in which he said among other things: finding it on the one hand impossible to render you the effective help that you need to defend your country, and caring on the other for your present and future happiness; desirous of avoiding the continuation of a war disastrous for you and your families and dangerous for our Empire; in order to cause to be reborn peace and prosperity and availing myself of my sovereign rights I concede to you full and complete autonomy. Immediately after the signature of the peace treaty and the Ottoman firman of autonomy, the Ottoman military and government personnel left the country at the request of the Italians. A few Ottoman officers in Derna refused to depart immediately and remained fighting with the Libyans for about six more months before they were ordered to withdraw and leave Libya via Egypt. Libya after the Peace Treaty The Libyans, who had not been invited to the Switzerland Ottoman-Italian peace negotiations, were dismayed at the Ottoman decision to withdraw their army and abandon the Libyans to their fate. However, they did not protest against the Ottomans out of respect for the Sultan. As they did not know what had been written in the Italian-Ottoman Peace Treaty, they supposed that the Ottomans would have made arrangements granting autonomy to Libya as part of
the Peace Treaty. But they found out much later that it had not been mentioned at all. What was a disorienting blow to the Libyans was the Ottoman decision to withdraw all their troops from Libya. The Tripolitanian Disagreement Most of the leaders in Tripolitania met and discussed the situation, as detailed in chapter X. They disagreed on what to do after the Ottoman withdrawal and split in two groups. One group was made up of the majority of the leaders, which suggested sending representatives to speak to the Italians about the autonomy granted to them by the Sultan. The other group was made of al-Baruni and his followers, who did not agree on the first group's proposal. He later began forming his own autonomous state in his area, the Jabal, and some other cities. He declared autonomy and asked Italy to recognize his entity. The first group formed a delegation to contact the Italians and discuss the firman and their future relations. The Italian military refused to even utter the word "firman"; they wanted all the Libyans to submit to the Italian authority. They offered to give these men good salaries, but refused to discuss anything related to Libyan self-autonomy. Further entreaties from this group to continue discussions with the Italians were ignored. Al-Baruni, the would-be leader of a state in the Jabal, corresponded with the Italians, asking them for its recognition, but his demands were refused. In the following months, the Italians attacked al-Baruni's fighters using a very large force. When his forces were overcome, al-Baruni and his followers retreated to
6 Tunisia. However, the other group representing the majority of the Tripolitanians decided that they were insufficiently organized, with too few armed fighters to battle the Italian army. Therefore, the Italians were able to penetrate into the interior of the province unopposed. The Situation in Cyrenaica The situation in Cyrenaica was totally different. The Ottoman Officers in Derna continued their collaboration with the Libyan volunteers and continued attacking the Italians. Enver Bey, who was in charge of the Derna resistance for about a year, decided to leave the country with some officers soon after the signature of the Lausanne Peace Treaty in 1912. Another Ottoman of Egyptian origin took his place and continued the resistance. He later received orders to retreat to the Ottoman Empire with his small force via Egypt. Sayyid Ahmad al-Sharif, the head of the Sanusiyah order based in Kufrah, did not interfere in the defense of the country during the first year of the war because he did not want to receive orders from the Ottomans, who had assumed command of the resistance operations. After the peace treaty was signed and the Ottomans decided to withdraw, Sayyid Ahmad al-Sharif moved in the beginning of 1913 to the old Sanusiyah center in Jaghbub, which was nearer to Tubruq, Darnah, and the tribes of Cyrenaica. Sayyid Ahmad al-Sharif coined the name of al-Hukumah al-Sanusiyah (The Sanusiyah government) to run his administrative business.
The Italian Penetration and the Revolt One of the Fazzan leaders, Muhammad Ibn 'Abd Allah, chose to prevent the Italians from advancing into his province, but he lost the two battles he waged because he was outnumbered by the large Italian forces, which was buttressed with a battalion of Eritrean fighters. The leaders of Fazzan chose not to prevent the Italian advance, as they were not ready to fight. It was only in 1914, after the Italian generals had occupied all the important cities in Fazzan and penetrated more than one thousand kilometers into the province that the Fazzan leaders decided to revolt. As they had no weapons or ammunitions, they attacked some Italian garrisons and armed themselves to the teeth, then chased the large Italian army and three battalions of Eritrean mercenaries about one thousand kilometers back to their original bases near the Mediterranean ports of Tripoli and Misratah. (Chapter XIII) In 1915, the Tripolitanians also revolted against the Italians in the towns occupied between 1913 and the beginning of 1914, after the withdrawal of the Ottomans. The Libyans pushed the Italian army back to the small bridgeheads it had first occupied. This revolt took place immediately after the largest al- Gardhabiyah battle (Chapter XII), at which the Italians lost a large number of generals and high ranking officers, as well as about a thousand of their army between those dead, injured, or imprisoned. In this battle the Italians abandoned to the Libyan volunteers the largest quantity of weapons the latter was ever to possess during the war. The spoils included large cannons, machine guns, and a large number of camels laden with rifles and ammunition, which the Libyans
divided between their factions. The Libyans did not forget their faith's tenets, which commanded them to treat their prisoners humanly, an act which the Italians later recognized. For example, according to the Italian archives, a Libyan leader, Muhammad Bu Seyf, once sent a message to the Italian officers he was fighting, asking them to come and transport to their camp one of the their injured comrades, as his men had no means to treat them adequately. The issue of Italian casualties was a sensitive one which politicians had to deal with throughout the war. During the period when the Italians were suffering major defeats in 1915, the Italian Ministers were worried about how to inform the Italian public of the mounting casualty rates. The only remedy they found was to increase the battalions of Eritrean mercenaries fighting in Libya, who were then charged with carrying out the dangerous part of the war. These soldiers, viewed as expendable by most Italians, suffered massively and were largely ignored or forgotten by the Italian public and press. After World War I When World War I ended in 1918, with Italy among the victorious Allies, the Tripolitanian leaders feared that the Italians might send the huge army which had returned from the front lines to re-conquer what Italy had lost between 1914 and 1916. Beside its size, the Italian military had been armed by the Allies with much modern weaponry that the Libyans did not have. However, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points speech of January 8, 1918 gave the Libyans some hope. In this speech Wilson proclaimed that "the interests of the people
9 concerned must have equal weight with the claims of the government whose title is to be determined." This was interpreted as granting the occupied countries "self determination." The Tripolitanians took advantage of this liberal turn and decided to create a political entity which could be used to gain some political autonomy. Yet another factor which encouraged the Tripolitanians were the calls made by the Italian Socialist Party and other factions to give autonomy or self rule to the countries occupied by Italy. The Tripolitanian leaders and representative of the province met in November 1918 and formed an entity which they named al-Jumhuriyah al-Trabulusiah (The Tripolitanian Republic). When the pro-colonialist nationalists and military leaders heard of the formation of this Republic, they became extremely annoyed, but the general liberal atmosphere among the Italians in general prevented them from taking drastic measures to put a quick end to this Republic. The Italian prime minister decided to use a well studied subterfuge to kill this Republic as early as possible. The Italians met with Libyan leaders and agreed on their demands and arranged that the King issue a Fundamental Law (Law No. 931) which established a Tripolitanian parliament, full equality with the Italians, and an autonomous administration to be controlled by Italians and Libyans. The Libyans fell into this trap, released the prisoners, and dissolved their Republic. The Italians used this respite to ship to Libya a great part of the army which had previously been fighting Austria-Hungary on Italy's northern front. President Wilson's enthusiasm and euphoria dissipated and the Italian governor of Tripoli refused to recognize the parliament's decisions, telling the members that the
10 parliament was no more than a consultative body. In the beginning of 1922, a new governor was appointed who led a sizable force in attacking Misratah, the second important Tripolitanian city after Tripoli itself. Rise of Mussolini After the attack on Misratah, Mussolini rose to power and ordered the re- occupation of all Libya. By 1925 Tripolitania and Fazzan were completely occupied. From 1923 to 1925 all kinds of atrocities occurred in Fazzan under the leadership of Rodolfo Graziani. For this reason he was named the "butcher of Fazzan." In Cyrenaica the Italians failed to overcome the resistance under its renowned leader 'Umar al-Mukhtar. Governors were replaced one after another and all failed to defeat this leader or his men. The Closing of the Zawayah In Cyrenaica, there were a large number of schools called Zawayah (schools), which were responsible for educating the young and advising the local Bedouin communities. In 1930, Mussolini and his ministers ordered the confiscation of all these schools' property, as well as donated lands on which they stood and their animal flocks, the income from which was used to operate the schools and help the poor. After the Italian appropriation of these Zawayah, all the teachers were deported to Italian penal prisons, as explained in chapter XIV.
11 The Concentration Camps In 1930 Mussolini ordered his minister to deport almost the whole population of Cyrenaica to makeshift concentration camps in various locations ranging from three hundred to one thousand kilometers away, in the desert west of Benghazi. Men, women and children were led by Eritrean soldiers to their destinations. The old and the sick, who could not walk as fast as the column, were executed on the spot so that no living soul was allowed to find a shelter along the way or return to where they had come from. As there were no newsmen in Libya after the withdrawal of the Ottomans, all reporting was carried out by the military and censorship was total. Any news which would reveal the Italian policy of exterminating the Libyans was hidden or destroyed. These deported inhabitants' land was later given unceremoniously to Italian settlers, who arrived in tens of thousands and for whom the Italian built complete villages and homes. If such news had reached the West at that time, it most likely would have been published, potentially causing a scandal or at least attracting significant attention from writers and authors. However, as such news was repressed; the result was that no reports or English language books were written about the war at the time. This was a significant result in relation to the corresponding Italian campaign of misinformation and, unfortunately, approval by Italian commentators. As most of these atrocities took place under Fascism, a total blackout was enforced on any news about these concentration camps and all the atrocities committed in Libya. Even after the end of the war and the eviction of Italy from
12 Libya, no detailed books telling the whole story were written in English about the story of the deportations and the concentration camps. The Capture and the Hanging of 'Umar al-Mukhtar On September 11, 1931, the 70 years old 'Umar al-Mukhtar was wounded in battle and fell from his horse near the town of Slontah. He was immediately captured, and within three days, he was tried, sentenced and hanged publicly on September 14, 1931, in the town of al-Abiyar, not far from the province capital, Benghazi The Purpose of this Dissertation The reasons for writing this dissertation are many and of varying degrees of importance. I first became aware of the need for a new historical account of the Libyan-Italian conflict when my brother and my two sons—all of whom attended university in the United States—told me of how few books existed in English which provided a full and accurate account of the thirty-two year Italian occupation of Libya, and of the Libyan resistance. What historical scholarship did exist tended to leave out much of what had actually transpired in those years. Furthermore, they reported that conversations with Americans on the topic of the war and the Libyan resistance revealed that few knew anything about it at all, despite their general familiarity with Libya's recent history. At least part of this ignorance in the English-speaking world was due, I realized, to the suppression of the Libyan side of the story.
13 When the Italians surprisingly invaded the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi in 1911, one of the first things they did was commandeer the local media, including both Ottoman government and private printing presses and offices. This had the effect of silencing critics of the invasion, but it also gave the Italians a new material base from which to disseminate pro-Italian propaganda. In the face of this censorship, some Libyan writers and publishers fled to find work in any of the surrounding Arab countries. Others were killed or imprisoned, while some joined the anticolonial resistance, never to be heard from again. This loss of educated Libyans was compounded by the fact that Arabic education in Libya, which had already suffered under Ottoman Turkification' initiatives, then came to be controlled by Benito Mussolini's Fascist regime. In a particularly unforgivable blow to Libyan communities, Mussolini ordered the expropriation of schools, lands, and resources in Cyrenaica, as well as the deportation of all the teachers in the region to penal colonies. This cruel intervention into the lives of Libyan communities produced horrible consequences for both the deported teachers and their students. Thousand of pupils were left without education for the rest of their lives, a loss for which the Italians would never be forgiven. Even more horrifying was the deportation of Libyan teachers to maximum security penal colonies off the Italian coast, where only the most hardened and violent criminals lived, safely isolated from mainstream Italian society by natural barriers. This incarceration was not only for teachers, however, as thousands of civilian Tripolitanians suffered a similar fate.
14 All of these factors had the effect of stunting the growth of a new generation of Libyan writers and intellectuals who might otherwise have told the full story of the conflict. No newspapers or books were published by Libyans during the thirty-one years of fighting. This reign of silence would only end with the liberation of Libya by the British during World War II, after which licenses for newspapers and private publishers were once again issued. Historical works by Libyans and others published since this time tend to cover only parts of the conflict, or else cover it only in general terms. The fact that the whole story of the Italian invasion and the Libyan resistance has never been fully told is one often remarked on by Italian and English-speaking scholars alike. One of the major purposes of this work is to rectify this situation and to provide as full an account of the history of the conflict as possible. In doing so, I have consulted mainly Italian primary source material, such as memoirs and archival material; to which few of the extant works in English pay sufficient attention. This work also relies on the work of the most noted Italian historian of the conflict, Del Boca, who presented an Italian point of view through his analysis and comments. I also take into account the writings of an English legal expert who visited Libya at the beginning of the war and discussed the various legal implications of the Italian invasion. I use this particular perspective to argue that in many ways the Italian invasion was, quite simply, illegal. Outside of a few important instances, when Libyans have been cited as eyewitnesses, all the players were Italian minister, governors and politicians and the Italian military who were in Libya. This would give all the events and stories in this work more significance.
15 To tell the whole story of the conflict in Libya is necessarily to explain more of the Libyan side. Although this project relied almost exclusively on Italian and foreign source material, it is told from a Libyan point of view and targeted to English-speaking students, scholars, and communities in the United States and beyond. It is inherently opposed to the distortions, half-truths, and outright lies which were constructed and disseminated by the influential Italian propaganda machine and its benefactors in the Italian political and military apparatuses. In working towards correcting some of the more egregious omissions produced by this campaign of silence and terror against the Libyan people, I have necessarily run up against a few stubborn questions that demand answers. The first such question is the simple issue of why the Italians attempted the underhanded and mostly illegal conquest of Libya in the first place, considering that they had no settler population to defend and no significant investments to safeguard. Secondly, as it is obvious that the Italian invasion was illegal, why the European powers chose to be neutral about it and why the annexation was not opposed by them, and finally why the obviously illegal annexation was not opposed by them. One of the primary goals of this work is to suggest possible answers to these question and others, and, in the process, to contribute to a fuller understanding of the first purely expansionist and demographic colonial aggression of the twentieth century.
CHAPTER I Overview of Libya Libya, which is now called the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, is a North African country, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Egypt on the east, Tunisia on the west, Algeria, Chad and Niger on the south and southwest. Its total area is 1,760,000 sq kilometers (km.), and it has a 1,770 km long coastline. It is the fourth largest country in Africa and the seventh in the world (slightly larger than Alaska). Its capital is Tripoli (Tarabulus). Libya was composed traditionally of three provinces; Tripolitania, Fazzan, and Cyrenaica. province of Tarabulus al-Gharb (Tripolitania) is situated in the northwest. It has an important agricultural fertile region of olive, citrus and almond trees and dates. Barqah (Cyrenaica), which is situated in the northeast, is the largest province and the oil production and refining center. Its capital is the city Benghazi. The province includes the Jabal al-Akhdhar (the green mountain) is located on the Mediterranean coast and starts at about 60 kilometers east of Benghazi and end at the city of Darnah 300 km east of Benghazi. The third province is Fazzan, which is most of southwestern Libya. It is formed of very large sand dunes and mountains. It has a few green and fertile oases scattered throughout the province. Fazzan's capital is Sabha. Other important cities in Libya are Surt and Misratah in Tripolitania and Darnah in Cyrenaica.