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11. French Syria (1919-1946)

 

Crisis Phase (July 2, 1919-July 17, 1925):  Syrian nationalists, meeting in Damascus on July 2, 1919, called for the independence of the Syrian territory from France.  French troops took control of the Syrian territory on September 15, 1919, and General Henri Gouraud was named French High Commissioner for on October 9, 1919. Syrian nationalists rebelled against the French government beginning in December 1919.  Syrian nationalists declared Syria’s independence on March 8, 1920, and proclaimed Faisal Hussein as King of Syria on March 11, 1920.  During the San Remo Conference held in San Remo, Italy on April 19-26, 1920, the Supreme Council of Allied Powers (SCAP) assigned a mandate over the Syrian territory to the French government.  On July 14, 1920, General Henri Gouraud issued a surrender ultimatum to King Faisal Hussein, who shortly surrendered to French authorities.  French troops took control of the city of Aleppo on July 23, 1920.  French troops commanded by General Mariano Goybet clashed with Syrian rebels commanded by Yusuf al-‘Azma near the town of Maysalun on July 23-24, 1920, resulting in the deaths of some 400 Syrian rebels and 42 French soldiers.  French troops took control of the city of Damascus on July 25, 1920.  King Faisal Hussein formally relinquished the throne of Syria on July 25, 1920.  France established the states of Damascus and Aleppo, along with the autonomous Alawite territory, within the French Mandate of Syria on December 1, 1920.  France established the autonomous Druze territory in the southern part of the state of Damascus on May 1, 1921.  French troops suppressed a rebellion in the Alawite state led by Shaykh Saleh al-Ali on June 15, 1921.  On March 4, 1922, the French government transformed the autonomous Druze territory into the Souaida state (Jabal Druze state).  Government police suppressed Syrian nationalist demonstrations in Damascus on April 8-12, 1922, resulting in the deaths of three individuals.  France established the Syrian Federation on July 1, 1922, comprising the Damascus state, Aleppo state, and autonomous Alawite territory.  Subhi Bay Barakat al-Khalidi was elected president of the Syrian Federation.  The League of Nations (LoN) Council formally approved the French Mandate of Syria on July 24, 1922.  General Maxime Weygand was named French High Commissioner for Syria on April 19, 1923.  The League of Nations Mandate of Syria and Lebanon under French Administration formally entered into force on September 23, 1923.  General Maurice Sarrail was named French High Commissioner for Syria on November 29, 1924.  The French government dissolved the Syrian Federation, and combined the states of Damascus and Aleppo to form the State of Syrian on January 1, 1925.  The People’s Party (Hizb al-sha’b), a Syrian nationalist group headed by Abd al-Rahman Shahbandar and Faris al-Khuri, was formally established on June 5, 1925.  On July 11, 1925, government police arrested three Druze sheikhs in Damascas and imprisoned the sheikhs in Palmyra in central Syria.

File:French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon map en.svg

Conflict Phase (July 18, 1925-June 1, 1927):  Druze tribesmen led by Sultan Pasha el-Attrash rebelled against the French government in the Souaida state beginning on July 18, 1925, and Druze rebels took control of the town of Salkhad on July 20, 1925. Druze rebels ambushed some 160 French-led troops commanded by Captain Gabriel Normand near Al-Kafr (Kafer) on July 21, 1925, resulting in the deaths of some 115 French soldiers.  Some 500 Druze rebels and Bedouin tribesmen commanded by Sultan al-Atrash attacked French government troops near the town of Al-Mazra’a on August 2-3, 1925, resulting in the deaths of some 600 French soldiers.  Some 600 French troops commanded by Major Kratzert occupied the village of Al-Musayfirah (Mousseifré) on September 15, 1925.  Druze rebels attacked French troops in the village of Al-Musayfirah (Mousseifré) on September 16-17, 1925, resulting in the deaths of 47 French soldiers and more than 300 Druze rebels.  French troops withdrew from the city of Al-Suwayda (Soueida), the capital of the Jabal al-Druze state, on September 24, 1925.  French government troops suppressed a rebellion led by Fawzi al-Qawuqji in Hama in the state of Damascus on October 4-5, 1925, resulting in the deaths of 344 civilians and 76 Syrian rebels.  Druze rebels commanded by Hassan al-Kharrat and Nasib al-Bakri attacked French troops and took control of the Damascus on October 18, 1925.  French military force bombarded Damascus on October 18-20, 1925, resulting in the deaths of 1,416 civilians and 137 French soldiers.  Some 15,000 individuals were displaced as a result of the bombardment of Damascus.  The French government declared martial law in Damascus on October 20, 1925.  Druze rebels captured Hasbaya on November 9, 1925, but French troops recaptured the city on December 5, 1925.  President Subhi Bay Barakat al-Khalidi resigned on December 21, 1925.  Henry de Jouvenel was appointed as French High Commissioner for Syria on December 23, 1925.  French government troops re-captured Al-Suwayda (Soueida) on April 25, 1926.  Ahmad Nami was elected as president of the State of Syria on April 28, 1926.  French troops clashed with Druze rebels in the Maydan (Midan) quarter of Damascus on May 6, 1926, resulting in the deaths of several French soldiers.  French military forces bombarded the Maydan (Midan) quarter of Damascus on May 7-9, 1926, resulting in the deaths of some 500 civilians and 100 Druze rebels.  French troops launched a military offensive against Druze rebels in the Ghuta region on July 18-26, 1926, resulting in the deaths of some 1,500 individuals.  Auguste Henri Ponsot was appointed as French High Commissioner for Syria in August 1926.  French troops suppressed the Druze rebellion on June 1, 1927. Several thousand individuals, including some 2,000 French soldiers and 6,000 Syrian rebels, were killed during the conflict.  Some 100,000 individuals were displaced during the conflict.

Post-Conflict Phase (June 2, 1927-April 17, 1946):  The French government renamed the Souaida state as the Jabal Druze state on June 2, 1927.  The National Bloc (al-Kutla al-Waṭaniyya), an alliance of nationalist groups led by Ibrahim Hannanu and Hashim Atassi, was established in 1928.  High Commissioner Auguste Henri Ponsot appointed Taj al-Din al-Hasani as head of state (head of government) of Syria on February 15, 1928.  Elections for a 70-member constituent assembly were held on April 10 and April 24, 1928.  The Constituent Assembly convened on June 9, 1928, and presented a draft constitution to the Syrian assembly on August 7, 1928.  Several parts of the draft constitution were unacceptable to the French government.  André François-Poncet, the French High Commissioner, dissolved the Constituent Assembly on May 14, 1930.  The French high commissioner promulgated a constitution for the Syrian State on May 22, 1930, which provided for an elected parliament and president.  Legislative elections were held on December 20, 1931 and January 4, 1932, and the National Bloc won 17 out of 69 seats in the Syrian Chamber of Deputies.  The Syrian Chamber of Deputies elected Mohammed Ali al-Abid as president on June 11, 1932.  The Syrian State was renamed the Republiof Syria in July 1932.  Damien de Martel was appointed as French High Commissioner for Syria on July 16, 1933.  The governments of France and Syria signed the Franco-Syrian Treaty on November 16, 1933, promising French support for an independent Syria within four years.  On November 3, 1934, the French high commissioner suspended the Chamber of Deputies in which there was strong opposition to the Franco-Syrian Treaty.  Following the closure of the National Bloc office in Damascus and the arrest of two National Bloc leaders (Fakhri al-Barudi and Sayf al-Din al-Ma’min) by government police, the National Bloc called for a general strike starting on January 20, 1936.  Government police killed two demonstrators in Allepo on January 21, 1936.  Government troops killed four protesters in Damascus on January 21, 1936. and killed two individuals in a funeral procession in Damascus on January 22, 1936.  Government troops killed three demonstrators in Homs on January 22, 1936.  Some 40 demonstrators were killed by government troops in Hama on February 6, 1936.  Three demonstrators were killed by government troops in Homs on February 8, 1936.  Five demonstrators were killed by government police in Dayr al-Zur on February 10, 1936.  The French government declared martial law in Damascus on February 10, 1936, and declared martial law in Aleppo, Homs, and Hama on February 12, 1936.  Jamil Mardam and Nasil al-Bakri, leaders of the National Bloc, were arrested by government police and deported in February 11, 1936.  On March 2, 1936, the French government agreed to negotiations with the National Bloc, which called off the general strike on March 6, 1936.   Representatives of the French and Syrian governments signed the French-Syrian Treaty of Friendship and Alliance on September 9, 1936, which provided for the end of the mandate within three years.  Legislative elections were held on November 30, 1936.  The Syrian Chamber of Deputies elected Hashim al-Atassi of the National Bloc as president on December 21, 1936.  On December 26, 1936, the Chamber of Deputies ratified the French-Syrian Treaty of Friendship and Alliance (although the treaty was never ratified by the French government).  President Hashim al-Atassi resigned on July 7, 1939.  Gabriel Puaux, the French High Commissioner for Syria, suspended the Syrian constitution on July 10, 1939.  On the same day, High Commissioner Gabriel Puaux dissolved the Chamber of Deputies and appointed a Council of Commissioners headed by Bahij al-Khatib to administer Syria. The French Mandate of Syria came under the control of “Vichy France” on July 10, 1940.  Henri Dentz was appointed as Vichy French High Commissioner for Syria on December 6, 1940.  “Free French” troops and British troops liberated Syria from Vichy France on June 14, 1941.  Georges Catroux was appointed as General Delegate of “Free France” (led by General Charles de Gaulle) for Syria on June 24, 1941.  General Charles de Gaulle appointed Taj al-Din al-Hasani as president of Syria on September 12, 1941.  Georges Catroux, General Delegate General of “Free France” for Syria, declared the independence of the Republic of Syria on September 27, 1941.  President Taj al-Din al-Hasani died of a heart attack on January 17, 1943.  Georges Catroux, the General Delegate of “Free France” for Syria, restored the constitution of the Republic of Syria on March 25, 1943.  Jean Helleu was appointed as the General Delegate of “Free France” for Syria on June 7, 1943.  A newly-elected Chamber of Deputies convened and a elected a president on August 17, 1943.  Yves Chataigneau was appointed as General Delegate of “Free France” for Syria on November 23, 1943.  Etienne Beynet was appointed as General Delegate of “Free France” for Syria on January 23, 1944.  On May 17, 1945, French troops landed in Beirut, Lebanon in order to restore French administration over Lebanon and Syria following the end of the Second World War.  French troops shelled the Syrian parliament and attempted to arrest Syrian government leaders in Damascus on May 29-31, 1945, resulting in the deaths of some 500 individuals.  Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain demanded a ceasefire on May 31, 1945.  The League of Arab States (LAS) Council expressed support for Syrian independence on June 6, 1945, and demanded the withdrawal of French troops from Syria on June 8, 1945.  The French government agreed to transfer command of the Syrian military to the Republic of Syria on August 1, 1945.  The Republic of Syria achieved independence when the last remaining French troops withdrew on April 17, 1946.

[Sources: Bercovitch and Jackson, 1997, 50-51; Brogan, 1992, 358-367; Clodfelter, 1992, 629-630, 1031-1032; Jessup, 1998, 712-716; Langer, 1972, 1088-1090, 1298-1300; Survey of International Affairs (SIA), 1928, 328-332.]

 

Selected Bibliography

Arslan, Emir Chekib. 1924. “Syrian Opposition to French Rule.” Current History 20 (May): 239-247.

Khoury, Philip S. 1987. Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 1920-1945. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.