First Indian Medical Mission to Tripolitania and the Balkans

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First Indian Medical Mission to Tripolitania and the Balkans

Members of an Indian Medical Mission and their field hospital in the battlefront in Turkey during 1912-1913

A significant part of any new research activity involving major historical events, is to uncover and highlight details of lesser known events and personalities, which were as important in shaping the course of history as the other more well-known events and actors.

One such is the first medical mission organized by Indians to assist the wounded and afflicted during the wars fought against the Ottomans and the Turkish nation during the period 1911-1913.

For long, poring over the popular literature on the above subject, I could read only very scanty mentions of a medical mission sponsored by Indian Muslims initiated by Justice Ameer Ali who was residing in UK. The main focus of the authors who wrote on the momentous events of that period affecting the Ottomans majorly focused on the Medical Mission led by Dr. Ansari which left India for Turkey in December 1912. This mission and its activities in Turkey were widely covered by contemporary newspapers published from India like the Comrade edited by the ebullient Mohammed Ali Jauhar.

On the request of a gentleman currently working in Anadolu Agency, I started looking up for names of the people who had accompanied Dr. Ansari. This effort led me to discover that another medical mission sponsored by Muslims of Bombay had actually set sail a few weeks before Dr. Ansari’s team left Indian shores for Turkey to assist the wounded and the sick near the frontlines of the Balkan war. I am indebted to Zuhal OZAYDIN of the Istanbul University Cerrapasa Medical School, Department of Deontology and History of Medicine, Turkey who had written an article on the subject in the Turkish Red Crescent journal[1]. I have published a blog post on the subject recently, drawing from the information published in the article. Strangely, this was the only reference I have this far found about the Bombay Medical Mission. The same article also mentioned about another medical mission led by Indian Muslims which preceded the Bombay mission and the one led by Dr. Ansari, which followed the Bombay mission. Zuhal Ozaydin even mentions names of the people who constituted these medical missions. His sources are mainly Turkish.

As I continued to search for other references to further corroborate the aforesaid article, I am, as I write, discovering more information not normally found in books on the subject by prominent authors.

I was fortunate to find an online version of the book ‘Memoirs and Other Writings of Syed Ameer Ali’, edited by Syed Razi Wasti. Syed Ameer Ali was a great Indian scholar and jurist the first Indian to be appointed to the British Privy Council. It was this same Syed Ameer Ali who organized the first Indian medical mission to aid the sufferers of the Italian invasion of Ottoman-ruled Tripoli, Libya in 1911. This medical mission was fully funded by Indian philanthropists and some members of the British public as well. He subsequently organized another Medical mission to the Balkan battle-front in 1912.

The following extract from the introduction of the Memoirs of Syed Ameer Ali, written by a close associate of his, Ernest H. Griffin. very succinctly, captures the enthusiasm and dedication of the architect of the first Muslim medical mission to aid the victims of the Tripolitan war.

At the outbreak of the war in Tripolitana between Turkey and Italy, he was struck by the fact that while the various Red Cross organisations did excellent work in their own sphere, there was no great British Society who made it their business to look after the wounded and afflicted who professed the Faith of Islam. With characteristic energy he got to work, and aided by the generosity of H.H. the Aga Khan and other persons of all classes both Indian and English, he launched the British Red Crescent Society, which has since done such admirable work in mny parts of the world. The first units were despatched to Tripolitana, were they labored for two years amongst the Arab victims of that War. I had the good fortune to be amongst the surgeons who went out and it gives me the greatest pleasure to testify to the fact that our work was entirely unhampered by any display of religious bigotry. I well remember taking my final instructions from Syed Ameer Ali. When I asked him if relief was to be confined to Muslims, he replied, “Although your first duty is to Turkish and Arab wounded, you will never turn away any poor Christian or Jew, who presents himself to you in his hour of need”. The spirit thus displayed was faithfully adhered to by the whole of the personnel.

The outbreak of the terrible struggle in the Balkans was the signal for sending further units to the East, and the work of the Turkish Red Crescent was greatly strengthened by the aid thus sent from Indian and English supporters of our Society.[2]

Zuhal Ozaydin’s article referred to above, mentions the names of the members of the delegation as well as the names of prominent donors. According to Zuhal[3],

The first team consisted of young volunteers who were from rich families in India and were studying in London. They paid for all their own expenses including the costs of the Egyptian physician Selim Bey to come to Istanbul….

The Medical Team consisted of

  • Dr. Selim Bey, Egyptian, London
  • Abdulhak Bey, South Hyderabad, student at Oxford
  • Seyyid Al Umran, Sincor Province; student at Oxford
  • Seyyid Mehmed Hussein; South Hyderabad, student at Oxford,
  • Seyyid Husnabid Ceferi; Akra in Delhi Province, student at Oxford

We Indians have a great legacy to cherish. And a host of inspiring role-models to emulate.


[1] http://kizilaytarih.org/makale-tez/mk012.pdf.

[2] Memoirs and Other Writings of Syed Ameer Ali, edited by Syed Razi Wasti, pp 2-3, Rennaisance Publishing House, Delhi, India

[3] The Indian Muslims Red Crescent Society’s Aid to the Ottoman State During the Balkan War in 1912, Zuhal Ozaydin, JISHIM, 2003, 2, pp 15-16

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