Saturday, November 29, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 11: 1938 to 1943 Period

Discontent with continued French imperialist control of Syria continue to increase in 1938 after the French government agreed to allow the government of Turkey to annex the Sanjak region of Syria--whose population of 230,000 in 1936 included Syrians of ethnic Turkish background (39 percent), Syrians of Alawite religious background (28 percent), Syrians of Armenian ethnic background (11 percent), Syrians of Sunni religious background and non-ethnic Turkish background (8 percent), Syrians of Greek Orthodox religious background (8 percent) and Syrians of mixed background (6 percent).

But after Turkish troops took control of the Sanjak region of Syria on July 5, 1938 and Sanjak became a Turkish province, 22,000 Syrians of Armenian background, 10,000 Syrians of Alawite religious background, 10,000 Syrians of Sunni religious background and 5,000 Syrians of Greek Orthodox religious background “fled their homes even before French troops had pulled out,” according to Philip Khoury’s Syria and The French Mandate. Yet the same book also observed that as late as only a few months before World War II began, “in July 1939…no one in Syria seriously believed that Syrian independence was still on the French agenda.”

When the Popular Front coalition of anti-fascist parties controlled French imperialism’s government between 1936 and 1939, the Syrian Communist Party was no longer outlawed and “the party organ Sawt al-Shaab (Voice of the People) was allowed to appear legally” in Syria in 1937; and “these 3 brief years, 1936-39, gave” Syrian Communist Party activists their “first opportunity for sustained above-ground activity,” which enabled them to increase Syrian Communist Party membership “from 200 to about 2,000” between 1936 and 1939, according to Patrick Seale’s The Struggle For Syria. But after the Popular Front coalition lost control of the government in France and World War II began in Europe in 1939, French government authorities in Syria again outlawed the Syrian Communist Party in September 1939 and arrested this party’s leaders “soon afterward,” according to the same book. As Syria and The French Mandate noted:

“The Allied Declaration of War against Germany stiffened French control in Syria…Martial law was proclaimed…All radios in cafes and other public places were confiscated to prevent crowds from gathering to listen to the German-Arabic broadcasts…Meanwhile, the French cracked down on their list of political `subversives.’ They closed down the Syrian Communist Party…”

Then, after German imperialism’s Nazi Army occupied France in June 1940 and set up its puppet Vichy regime, the Vichy regime’s French colonial authorities in Syria apparently arranged for the assassination of the long-time leader of Syria’s anti-imperialist national party, Dr. Abdal-Rahman Shahbandar, at the end of June 1940; because the collaborationist pro-German Vichy regime apparently now saw Shahbandar’s Syrian nationalist party as being supportive of UK imperialism’s side during the 1939-1941 period of World War II.

But according to the same book, led by “an Arabized Kurd from Damascus” named Khalid Bakdash (who had been jailed by French colonial authorities during the early 1930s), the Syrian Communist Party organized underground resistance to the French Vichy government authorities in Syria in 1940 and 1941, before UK imperialist troops entered Syria on June 8, 1941 and established complete UK military control over Syrian territory on July 14, 1941.

The following year, however, widespread strikes of workers and students broke out in Syria; and, as Syria and The French Mandate observed, the Syrian Communist Party’s “role in the numerous bread strikes during the war enhanced its reputation both as a defender of the poor and as a bona fide nationalist organization” in Syria. So, by late 1943, the Syrian Communist Party now included high school students, liberal professionals, a small number of railway workshop and textile factory workers and members of both Syria’s ethnic and religious majorities and minorities; and it “claimed several thousand members,” according to the same book.

(end of part 11)

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