Thursday, November 13, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 3: August 1914 to 1920 Period

After World War I broke out in August 1914, people in Syria then “suffered tremendously between 1914 and 1918,” “hundreds of thousands” of Greater Syrian men were drafted into the Turkish military and “hundreds of thousands” of Syrians “died in the famine that accompanied the war,” according to Michael Provence’s The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism. As the same book recalled:

“…A crushing famine gripped most of Greater Syria…The most devastating element was effective British blockade of all Arab Mediterranean ports…The British kept any grain from entering the country…British policy led indirectly to the deaths by starvation of hundreds of thousands in the cities of Greater Syria…”

And, according to the Palestine Book Project’s 1977 book Our Roots Are Still Alive, “in Greater Syria, one-eighth of the population died of starvation,” during World War I.

According to Philip Khoury’s Syria and the French Mandate, “France’s sphere of influence was recognized” during World War I “by the Anglo-French partition plan known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement” in which “Britain and France had agreed in 1916 to set up an Arab state in part of Syria,” but “British rather than French influence” had become “paramount” in Syria by 1918. So “when Arab nationalists called for an independent Syria” after Arab rebels entered Damascus with UK troops on Oct. 1, 1918 and the UK government initially supported the establishment of a nationalist regime in Syria headed by the Arab leader Emir Faisal, the French “accused Britain of trying to deprive them of Syria and their share of the Ottoman Empire,” according to the same book.

In response to the French imperialist government’s complaints and pressure, however, the UK imperialist government’s prime minister, Lloyd George, then “revealed a plan…whereby Britain would immediately hand over to France military command in Cilicia, followed by its garrison in western Syria,” according to Syria and the French Mandate. And although “the nationalist-dominated Syrian Congress in Damascus declared Syria an independent constitutional monarchy” and “Emir Faisal was crowned king of the state of Syria in March 1920,” the French imperialist government “was never really prepared to accept any nationalist government in Damascus” in 1920, according to the same book.

So, predictably, as Syria and the French Mandate noted:

“In the third week of July [1920], General Gouraud [of France] gave Faisal an `ultimatum’ that he must demobilize his army, recognize the French Mandate, and dismiss his `extremist’ supporters or else he would be removed from Damascus. Even though Faisal reluctantly accepted the ultimatum, the French Army was already advancing. By July [1920], Damascus had fallen into French hands and Faisal had to leave Syria for good…Although the vast majority of inhabitants of the region opposed the French coming, France had realized her claim to Syria…”

(end of part 3)

No comments: