Khalil Sarkis and The Hamidie Society

By Joe Achcar

Posted on May 29th, 2008 in General

It was by chance that I learned from my late mother that the “Khalil Sarkis” of the “Hamidie” Society was her maternal grandfather, when one day she told me: “If you like horses you must know that my grand father lost a fortune in horses”. “Gambling” I asked? and she told me that he had lost a lot of money taking horses to the USA.

Very excited I went to the “Oriental Library”, belonging to the Jesuits order in Beirut, hoping to find the “Lissan ul Hal” collection, a daily newspaper founded 1875 by Khalil Sarkis in Beirut and widely read. By chance they had all the old volumes from 1882 to 1955, since “Lissan ul Hal” was for many years the leading newspaper in Lebanon and Syria.

Khalil Sarkis was the first president of the press syndicate in Lebanon, he was fluent in both English and German, he married Luisa the daughter of professor Butros el Bistani, who was famous in the Arab world for writing and publishing the first Arabic Encyclopedia. Khalil was for many years the paramount figure of the Evangelical community in Beirut. His son Ramez was minister in various governments, and his grandson Khalil is a renowned philosopher and writer, now retired in Bristol, England.

The World Columbian Exposition was first known in Lebanon and Syria through two articles in “Lissan ul Hal”: an article in February 1892 explaining the rules and goals of the Exposition, and an interview of an American emissary sent by the World exposition to the Ottoman Empire in order to promote the exposition in April 1892.

In August 1892 “The Ottoman company” is founded in Istanbul by Soliman Bistany, a Lebanese, minister in the Sultan’s government, this company had the sole rights in organizing the Ottoman pavilion at the World exposition. Soliman appointed his cousin Nessib Bistany as the company representative in Beirut..
In October 1892 Raji Seikaly of Acre (today in Israel) obtained an “Irade” from the Sultan allowing him to buy and export 40 to 50 from the best horses to Chicago (at a time when exporting Arab horses was very difficult, remember Davenport), moreover the “Irade” asked to all the Ottoman authorities to provide all the help needed to Seikaly and to send with him a company of mounted police, to protect him while buying the horses.
In January 1893 “The Hamidie Society” is founded in Beirut with Khalil Sarkis as General Manager, Raji Seikaly as assistant General Manager, Negib Sursock, Nakhle Bustros as treasurers, and the society was guaranteed by the “Ottoman Bank” represented by Allan Ramsay.
In January the 11th 1893 appeared in “Lissan ul Hal” two announcements for the Chicago exposition
The first asking for experimented riders in the Arab way of riding, in sword and lance combat (Djerid) of 25 to 40 years of age and non addicted to alcohol!
The second asking for Asil horses “with proven origin”, without defects aged 4 to 6 and experimented in the games of “Djerid “and sword.
The horses would be examined the 22/02/1893 at the Hazmieh (not far from Edouard’s parent’s house in Lebanon today, near Beirut) field at ten o’clock. This for Beirut, as for Damascus the examination would took place at the Mezzeh field on the 15 / 02/1893.

The announcements appeared many times. According to the newspaper “Souria” in the Mezzeh field 200 horses were examined and tested in front of the commander of the Turkish army in Damascus and 10000 spectators.
In March the 3th 1893 Khalil wrote that the “Hamidie” had bought the best horses of Hauran, Damascus, Akkar and Baalbeck.
In March 23/03/ 1893 in front of the diplomatic corps, the Turkish officials and thousand of Beirut’s inhabitants the “Hamidie’s” 247 officials, riders, and lads together with 40 horses,12 camels, 7 donkeys, 3 sheeps, 6 Sloughi dogs, embarked on the “Cynthiana” and the rest is history.

Always from the “Lissan ul Hal” archive:
31/ 07/ 1893 Khalil Sarkis gave an interview to “the Public Ledger” of Chicago and to “the Philadelphia Evening” explaining all the difficulties encountered by the “Hamidie”
25/11/ 1893 Khalil returned to Beirut after having lost together with his partners a lot of money.
Khalil died in Beirut in June 1915

When I asked the family about Khalil personal papers, his grand son, also named Khalil, told me that he gave all his documents and personal papers to “the Goethe Institute”, which is the German Cultural Center in Beirut. The reason is that Khalil was the only journalist allowed to escort the German Emperor Kaiser Wilhem when he visited Lebanon, Syria and Palestine twice.

So I went to the “Goethe Institute” and asked for his documents. I spent a entire day looking and searching: nothing about the “Hamidie”. It looked like that he did not want to leave any trace of his “Hamidie” venture. In relation with horses, I only found a condolence letter from Khalil Bistany to Sarkis’s widow, it seems that this Khalil was the same mentioned in “the Annotated Quest” and the “Al Mashoor” importer, the letter was sent from Buffalo NY with the address of his business:

K.A Bistany
Direct importer of Oriental rugs.
Buffalo NY
Constantinople, Yokohama, Damascus, Bagdad, Beirut, Cairo.
cable address “Bistany” code A.B C;Fifth edition.

This was the address written on the condolence letter. According to a book on the Bistany family Khalil stayed in the USA after the world exposition and became a very wealthy man. There is also a picture of himin the same book.

J.R Dolbony and his letter to Davenport on the Hamidie horses
On “Nejme”:

Dolbony wrote that a Bedouin ambushed and killed Sultan el Tayar’s brother, stole his mare (a Saadat al-Tuqan) and sold her to the Farah family in Baalbeck (today in Lebanon). Dolbony was asked by the Farah family to take the mare and mate her to “al Nakashi” a renowned stallion belonging to the Al Hessene tribe. The mare gave birth to a filly called “Nejme” (Star) ,then appeared at the Farah’s a Sultan el Tayar emissary claiming “Nejme” as belonging to the Wuld Ali tribe. The Farah family, to avoid any problems with the powerful Sheikh sold the filly to Khaled Agha al Shamdin in Damascus, who sold her to “Al Hamidie”

I investigated myself all the names mentioned in the letter and I came to the following conclusions:

The Delbany family exists today in the Bekaa valley and in the city of Baalbeck.
The old people in Baalbeck used to tell the story of the Emir (prince) Harfouche the day he went with his men to America and how the Emir, when his horsed refuse to embark on the ship, covered its face with his cloak and made him jump from the dock into the ship. J.R. Dolbony is Delbany, the Farah family still exists in Baalbeck and bred horses until the 1980’s, the Shamdin family is a paramount family of the Kurdish community in Damascus, there is a square in their name in Damascus. The summer camps of the “Hessene” Bedouin tribe were one day and a half riding far from Baalbeck. So J.R Dolbony or Delbany could have easily ridden “Nejme’s” dam to be covered by “Al Nakashi”.

The Farah family is a Christian one in a Moslem neighborhood, they could not stand the threat of Sultan el Tayar the well known Chief of the Wuld Ali, so they sold “Nejme” to Shamdin Agha, even tough a powerful person, did not want to have an enemy of the importance of Sultan el Tayar (who was feared by his fellow Bedouins for his courage and his fierce manners) so they sold the mare to the “Hamidie“ to avoid problems.

On Obeyran
Dolbony wrote that “Obeyran” was born at the “marbat” of Abd el Kerim Pasha Sheikh of the Beni Khaled from a sire belonging to Fayad Pasha el Meraabi of Akkar. On this ground Fayad claimed the horse after the refusal of Abd el Kerim, Fayad took the horse by force and sold it to the “Hamidie”. The Meraabi family (of Kurdish origin) were the most powerful family in the region of Akkar, until the 1990’s, in the north of Lebanon on the Syrian border.  Akkar, which  was and still is a horse breeding country, when I asked my friend Kifah bey al Osman al Meraabi about Fayad Pasha, he confirmed that this branch of the family was breeding horses until the 1950s, and that Fayad was the Pasha of Tripoli, a very powerful man at his time.

I hope you enjoyed those new information’s on the “Hamidie Society” and on the way the horses were chosen. The tales that the “Hamidie horses” were mongrels or tramway horses is totally untrue and the legend of the picture of Khalil Sarkis as a Bedouin is not correct. I’m happy to shed new light on my great-great grandfather’s role in the “Hamidie”. It seems that the personality of J.R Dolbony was be a real one and that his information is true. The “Hamidie” was a Lebanese society owned by Christian business men; they introduced the Arab horse in the USA when 30 years before Christians were forbidden to mount on Arab horses in the Ottoman Empire.

10 Responses to “Khalil Sarkis and The Hamidie Society”

  1. Thank you so much, Joe! We appreciate your work in bringing more about the Hamidie horses to light.

    I do want to say that the photo identified as your grandfather, Khalil Sarkis, in our article “The White City, was so identified in the book we obtained the photo from.

    That just goes to show that you cannot trust everything you read!

    We look forward to more information about these important horses in early American breeding!


  2. So if one is to trust Dolbony, then *Nedjme’s dam is from the Sa’adan al-Tuqan strain from the Wuld Ali Bedouin tribe and her sire is from the Nakhayshi strain from the Hssinah Bedouin tribe. How interesting, given the rarity of both strains.

    The Nakhayshi strain is a very old strain. Ali al-Barazi mentions a racehorse from that strain in the early days of the Beirut racetrack. Maybe they are related?

  3. I sent to Edouard a photo of ”Amirat el Arab” a saadet el toukan mare ,this mare that I bought to her owner Naji Chaoui is syrian national champion in her class when she was 2years(12 entries) and racing champion mare running 4 times winning 3 and one time third due to an injury,she is due to foal these days.

  4. Dear Joe, or also dear Edouard,

    incidently I found your article on the Hamidie Society and wondered if it is possible to find out the names of all its members.
    I mean, just shifting through, also through the names of the ones who went to the Chicago Fair was like ok, he’s mason and he’s mason and he’s mason. I’m doing my PhD on freemasons in bilad al-Sham at the end of the Ottoman Empire, mainly until 1910, by now mainly focussed on Tripoli but compared to lodges in Beirut, Shweir, Zahle,….it would be interesting to get more names! Also, both of your families were full of masons. The Ashkars and the Dahdahs, the Ashkars went to a lodge in Shweir, the Dahdahs to some in Beirut.
    If you know anything about them, please let me know! I can give you the personal names and for some also their professions and birthdates or the dates they were initiated into the lodges (in general some time between 1860 and 1910).
    best regards,

  5. How interesting Dorothe, I am sure Joe can tell you more. That said, I think Jeanne Craver a reader of this blog can tell you about the members of the Hamidie society. I know several members of my family were freemasons but don’t know which ones.

  6. Hi Dorothe
    these are the names of the Hamidie main shareholders:
    Raja Saikali,Nejib yussef Sursock,Dr Bechara Zelzal,Abdallah el Sayegh,Allan Ramsay ,who was the General manager of the Imperial Ottoman Bank in Beirut.
    As for my family,my grand father emigrates in 1910 to Sao Paulo Brazil.That’s why I have both the Brazilian and Lebanese nationalities and speak Portugese as well.
    As for Shweir,it is a village in the Metn region,not far from my native village,it is half way between Zahle and the coast.Shweir is famous for being the birthplace of Antun Saade founder of the Pan Syrian (PPS) party and who was a freemason.

  7. Joe,

    My wife is the daughter of Khalil’s grandson, Alfred Haddad (son of Fahima Sarkis). I would enjoy receiving some information on the family and succeeding generations. My father-in-law mentioned that Khalil’s son took over from his father and that my father-in-law had had a first cousin names Charles Sarkis in England.

    Many thanks

  8. Joe passed away in December 2010 unfortunately.

  9. Dear Joe,
    I just came across your article, conducting research for a PhD on the social history of Damascus. In this context, I would be interested, where you located copies of Suriye dating to 1893. At the moment, I only know of collections at AUB (1882-88) and Bayezit Kütüphanesi in Istanbul (1899-1902) and would be very grateful, if you could point me to the 1893 issues. Thanks a lot and all the best,


  10. Till, Joe passed away last year, and I don’t know what happened with his book and magazine personal collection..

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