Friday, November 28, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 10: 1936 to 1937 Period

After the French government authorities crushed militarily the Great Syrian Revolt of 1925 to 1927 and forced into exile the surviving anti-imperialist nationalist Syrian leaders of the revolt, an elite Syrian group of large urban landowners who still resided in Syria had formed a National Bloc (al-Kutla al-Unitaniyya) in 1928 which adopted an accommodationist political approach in relation to the French rulers of Syria. Yet in early January 1936, French government authorities still closed down the National Bloc Office in al-Qannwat and arrested a Syrian nationalist leader named “Fakhri al-Barudi and the Nationalist youth leader Sayf al-Din al Naimun,” according to Philip Khoury’s Syria and The French Mandate; and, in response, “on Jan. 20, 1936, disturbances erupted in Damascus,” that were mostly led by the League of National Action group of Syrian nationalist youth. But on Jan. 21, 1936, “the French sent their much-loathed Moroccan Spahis” troops “and Senegalese troops into the old city of Damascus to break up a student rally at the Great Mosque;” and “in the melee, 4 persons were killed,” according to the same book.

So, not surprisingly, on Jan. 22, 1936, 20,000 Syrian demonstrators “marched in Damascus in the funeral of the four protesters who had fallen on the previous day,” according to Syria and The French Mandate; and “when the procession turned to violence French troops swept in, taking the lives of 2 more demonstrators and arresting 187 others.” The same book also observed that on that same day, “in Homs, where bazaars had been closed for 2 days, French troops” also “killed 3 demonstrators and wounded another 20.”

A call for a general strike in response to the killing in Damascus of anti-imperialist Syrian nationalist demonstrators by French troops was then made by Syrian National Bloc leaders and, according to Syria and The French Mandate, the following happened after a general strike in Damascus began on Jan. 27, 1936:

“…For the coming 36 days, Syria was almost completely paralyzed by a strike of proportions never witnessed before in the town, not even during the Great Revolt. Most shops were shut and commercial life came to a standstill…”

When the general strike began in Damascus, anti-imperialist nationalist Syrian students also met in the Great Mosque and, according to the same book, demanded the following from French colonial government authorities:

1. “a general amnesty for the hundreds who had been recently arrested;”

2. “the revocation of the decree expelling all students from school who demonstrated;” and

3. “the re-opening of the National Bloc Office.”

But “when the French rejected an amnesty, demonstrations broke out again” and “spread to other towns in Syria,” according to Syria and The French Mandate. As the same book noted:

“In Hama…anti-French disorder erupted on Feb. 4 [1936]. A crowd [on Feb. 6, 1936] attacked a cavalry troop, which opened fire, killing 7…and wounding another 40. Responding to the Hama incidents, nationalists in Homs renewed their agitation, leaving 3 more dead on Feb. 8 [1936]. By Feb. 10 [1936], violence had spread as far as Dayr al-Zur, where French troops killed 5 demonstrators…”

Syrian nationalist demonstrators who had been arrested--but had not yet appeared in court-- were released on Feb. 26, 1936 by French colonial government authorities; but after Feb. 26, 1936 the French authorities still detained “3,080 persons who had been sentenced by military and civil courts to terms of imprisonment in connection with the strike since January 20 [1936],” according to Syria and The French Mandate. And “on February 28 [1936]…protesters clashed with police who opened fire, killing 4 and wounding scores” of Syrian nationalist demonstrations, according to the same book.

But after the French imperialist government finally agreed to free all of its political prisoners in Syria and negotiated a treaty with the nationalist leaders of Syria’s National Bloc, the general strike in Damascus and elsewhere in Syria ended. Yet the treaty of 1936 that was later signed by both French government representatives and Syrian National Bloc leaders was, subsequently, not ratified by the French parliament in Paris; and “by the end of 1936, the cost of living in Syria had risen by not less than 30 percent and continued to climb through 1937,” according to Syria and The French Mandate.

(end of part 10)

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