Friday, November 14, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 4: 1920-1921 Period

Following World War I, “armed opposition to European occupation emerged immediately in Syria” according to Michael Provence’s The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism. For example, “thousands of Syrian men and women, some armed with no more than sticks, went to stop” advancing French imperialist troops “at the pass of Khan Maysalun…25 kilometers west of Damascus…,” according to the same book; and “the Alawite territory” of Syria “was in open revolt against the French between 1919 and 1921,” according to Philip Khoury’s Syria and the French Mandate. As the same book also recalled:

“Yusaf al-‘Azma,…Emir Faisal’s Minister of War, led…a large group of irregulars from the popular quarter of Damascus against the French invasion…on July 24 [1920], at Khan Maysalun…On the following day the French Army occupied Damascus…Approximately 150 Arabs were killed and another 1,500 were wounded at Maysalun…The French claim to have lost 42 men, with another 152 wounded and 14 missing. The size of the Arab forces have been estimated at anywhere from 4,000 troops (including volunteers) to one division. The French invasionary force was composed mainly of Algerians and Senegalese…Among the dead at Maysalun lay [Syrian] General ‘Azma. Only 36 years old, he was henceforth immortalized by Syrians as the supreme national martyr…

“…French columns penetrating from the northwest, had occupied Aleppo two days before Damascus fell…French planes circled Aleppo, dropping leaflets carrying [French General] Gouraud’s proclamation that local residents must submit to French occupation…On July, 23 [1920], the French army occupied Aleppo and by the 25th as many as 18,000 French troops were stationed in and around the city. Meanwhile, 9,000 troops under the command of [French] General Goybet took control of Damascus and the vicinity…

“…Two regions provided sustained resistance to pacification: the Alawite [Syrian religious minority group] mountain and the northwestern districts…Following s series of unsuccessful raids on French posts in the winter and early spring of 1921, the French columns encircled the Alawite mountains…Engagements over the next two months gave France the military edge, although not without heavy casualties…The Alawite rebels surrendered…”

Syria and the French Mandate also described the economic and political motivation for the French imperialist government’s decision to militarily occupy Syria in 1920 and block political independence for people in Syria at that time, in the following way:

“…In 1920, France still had the largest financial interests in Syria, with the preponderance of her capital concentrated in the banking, public utilities and transportation sectors, and in silk and tobacco products…In addition to her consolidated prewar interests, France had additional motives for occupying Syria which surfaced after 1914. These included…new economic prospects in petroleum and cotton development…The development of several harbors on the Syrian coast as terminals for oil pipelines from northern Iraq, as commercial outlets for Aleppo and central Syria, and for overland trade from Iraq and Iran would round out her overall Mediterranean policy.

“…To French policy-makers, Arab nationalism…threatened not only French financial…investments along the Syrian coast and in…Lebanon, but, more importantly, French North Africa. To check the spread of nationalism, France had to establish hegemony over Damascus…There were French financial and commercial interests, both established and potential. Of Syrian raw materials, silk and cotton were of most interest to the French economy in 1920…French capitalists touted northern Syria as a potential French cotton plantation…”

According to the same book, “one of the new” French “colonial government’s first acts was to divide” Greater Syria “into a series of regional units, based on sectarian differences, and the perceived interests of France;” and “the coastal region of `Greater Syria,’ the area of greatest traditional French influence, became the state of Greater Lebanon, intended to maintain a…nominally Catholic majority.” As Syrian and the French Mandate recalled:

“…At the end of August 1920, the French decreed the new state of Lebanon…Most of Lebanon’s newly acquired `citizens’ did not want to be part of a Maronite [Catholic]-dominated Lebanon and agitated for union with the rest of Syria…The creation of Greater Lebanon did more than pass the reins of government to a minority ruling group; it also perpetuated Maronite dependency on French support to remain in power…France’s favoritism toward Greater Lebanon exacerbated the anti-French sentiments of the Syrian nationalist movement…”

(end of part 4)

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