Egyptian involvement in Crimean War ‘erased from history’

Ottoman troops pictured at the Siege of Silistira, a battle where an Egyptian military contingent fought in the Crimean War. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
By Paul Crompton | Al Arabiya News Monday, 3 March 2014

As tensions mount amid Moscow’s apparent military occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, many are unaware that Arab forces fought there 160 years ago.

Arab involvement was “erased from history,” said Egyptian historian Mahmoud Sabit.

A key reason could be that unlike often-exhaustive Western army accounts, Ottoman military records are extremely hard to find, said military historian Andrew McGregor.

“Many Ottoman officers were in fact illiterate,” he wrote. “while many of those who could record their thoughts might have thought twice about detailing the corruption and intense personal rivalry that plagued the 19th century officer corps.”

In the early 1850s, tensions between European powers, the Ottoman Empire and Imperial Russia were simmering.

Long-running dispute

Russia was locked in a long-running border dispute with Turkey, particularly in Crimea, which had been captured from the Ottomans in the 1700s.

A portrait of Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid I. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Russia also sought to exercise protection over the Orthodox people of the Muslim Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid I.

The conflict was sparked when the Ottomans negotiated a treaty that made France responsible for Christian sites and people within their empire, a role previously reserved for Russia.

The sultan needed help to defeat his longstanding arch-foe, and called on the army in its province Egypt to assist.

Dynastic superiority

Egypt, which had previously rebelled from Ottoman rule under viceroy Muhammad Ali, had a superior military capability to the 550-year-old Ottoman Empire.

Ali’s grandson, the ruling Abbas Pasha, believed that sending troops to Crimea for the Ottoman cause could help curry favor with the sultan for a time when it might be needed.

“In a sense, this was one way of Egypt’s ruler… to appease Istanbul and say: ‘I’m the loyal, reliable viceroy sending you assistance in times of need’,” said Khaled Fahmy, a history professor at the American University of Cairo.

Taking no chances, the sultan also amassed a Tunisian contingent of 10,000 men.

Troops – presumed to be of Egyptian origin – pictured in the Crimea. (Photo courtesy of the Roger Fenton collection)

Egypt amassed 40,000 soldiers specifically to fight in Crimea under the designation of the Ottoman Empire, said Sabit, a descendant of Selim Pasha, a general who led the main Egyptian military contingent in the war.

In 1853, with war brewing, the sultan sought the help of Britain and France, making up a powerful allied force against the vast, feared Russian army.

The first military action the Egyptian contingent experienced was the siege of Silistria in mid-1854.

Supply and command

The Egyptians went on to another military victory at Eupatoria, an important part of the allied supply chain, said Sabit. In early 1855, Russia began an assault of 19,000 men and 108 guns in an attempt to take back Eupatoria. The attack failed, although 400 Egyptian soldiers, along with Selim Pasha, were killed.

The conflict, which lasted almost two and a half years, saw total losses over half a million soldiers on all sides.

The Egyptians “fought better and were more disciplined compared to the regular Ottoman army,” said Sabit, quoting the account of a French logistics commander who was at the battle of Eupatoria.

For the remainder of the war, Egyptian replacements continued to arrive in Crimea, and were eventually repatriated in 1856, when the war finally ended with Russia’s defeat.


Forgotten History : #EgyArmy in Crimea

Monday, March 3, 2014

As Egyptians are now boosting on how Oscar Winner Kate Blanchett started her acting career as an extra in one of Egypt’s 1990s cult films “I consider it a cult film” , they are now boosting on how the Egyptian army Yes our Egyptian army fought along the Ottoman army in 1853 over the control of Crimea against the Russian army.

Oh yes we did. Saudi owned News Channel reminded us with that forgotten piece of our history from Prince Omar Tousson’s book “The Egyptian army in the Crimean war 1853-1855” According to Prince Tousson, the Ottoman Emperor asked the help of his allies and thus Abbas I of Egypt then sent Egyptian troops to help him. He sent a fleet of 12 warships with 6850 soldiers and 642 cannons led by Admiral Hassan Pasha El Iskandarany. For land battles , Abbas I sent 20,000 solider and 72 cannons led by army commander Selim Pasha Fathy who died in the battle there and was buried in a cemetery near the Big Khan Mosque. 

After the Ottoman’s victory in the battle , two Egyptian warships sunk in the Black sea and Egyptian Navy lost 1920 of its members in one of our Egyptian navy’s worst disasters ever. Prince Omar Tousson was one of my favorite princes and characters in the Mohamed Ali Royal Family as well one of my favorite Egyptian explorers who a great role played a real role in Egypt’s scientific and cultural life  in the first half of the 20th century.


Commander of Egyptian troops Ismail Pasha-Roger Fenton

Now more sources about what our army did in the Crimean can be found in this fantastic website “Ottoman-uniforms which provides links to interesting websites about that war and the Egyptian participation there. This website got more details and info about the war than Tousson including more losses for Egyptian armed forces there. For instance in a war battle with Russian Navy where Egyptian Frigate “Damietta” was sunk also in the Black Sea and on its board not less than 400 Egyptian soldiers. In Land battles we had our shares of losses as well despite fighting bravely. We lost about 400 soldiers who were buried in the Islamic Cemetery of the city.

Ottoman-Uniforms websites links to rare photo gallery and letters of British Photographer Roger Fenton who took photos from this war where he spoke about the Egyptian troops and its commander Ismail Pasha. Here is a photo of Ismail Pasha along with his men including a Nubian Slave. “I hate that word” Here is a photo gallery for the photos I found it for our troops there.

Unfortunately all that information are not to be found in the official website of Egyptian armed forces. Speaking seriously I feel sad when I meet Egyptians who do not know about the Egyptian army and its conquests , battles and adventures in the 19th century I feel very sad because we got a very interesting experience in that era from 1805 to 1882.

Of course this ignorance is a result of Nasser’s policies to erase all the Pre-1952 history keeping the old heritage of the pharaohs alive changing the official history in order it would start at his time. A thing we are still doing it , a thing we can not get rid of it. It is one of the crimes the 1952 July made actually when you think about it. As long as we have no access to our true history and its records we will never learn from our mistakes for real.

Russia (for obvious reasons – not the USSR) has always protected the Christian Orthodoxy.

Military parade of the Tunisian Crimean War contingent (1855), under the command of generals Rechid, Mohamed Chaouch and Osman –

King Farouk I of Egypt inspecting small army units in Abdeen Square. –
ERROR: Headline of this blog corrected. Tunesian involvement in the Crimea was NOT erased from history.
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