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The Syrian Revolt of 1925

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 January 2009

Joyce Laverty Miller
Affiliation:
Harvard University

Extract

In the summer of 1925, a revolt erupted in the French mandated territories of Syria and Lebanon and rapidly spread throughout the area. The French army of the Levant seemed powerless to halt it. By autumn, no part of Syria or Lebanon was secure against sudden disruption of life and property. Stories of French incompetence, impotence, and arrogance were widely circulated in the Syrian and European press. The Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations, in a rare exercise of its limited powers, refused to accept the French report for 1925, which covered only the comparatively calm period preceding the revolt, and demanded instead a full account of the disturbances, as well as the restoration of peace in the mandate. In October, when rebels infiltrated Damascus, the French military administration took a drastic step to end the revolt. Without warning, General Sarrail, the high commissioner, ordered the ancient city bombarded continuously for nearly twenty-four hours. When the smoke lifted, much of Damascus was in ruins; the reported loss of life and property appalled world opinion and galvanized Arab dissidents. A torrent of violent and emotional criticism was unleashed. In some quarters it was even hinted that the League of Nations would remove the mandate from French control. Yet less than a year later, the revolt had been quashed and France's hold on the mandate was so secured internationally that it survived into World War II.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1977

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References

1 Permanent Mandates Commission, Minutes of the Seventh Session (1925), pp. 1080Google Scholar. The extent of the revolt and press coverage are reported variously in: Centenaire de la Légion Etrangère, Livre d'Or de la Légion Etrangère (Paris, 1931), p. 269Google Scholar; Gamelin, General, Servir (Paris, 1946), pp. ix–xGoogle Scholar; “Le Mystère syrien”, Journal des Débats, 09 4, 1925Google Scholar; LaMazière, Pierre, Partant pour la Syrie (Paris, 1926), pp. 2025Google Scholar (LaMazière, a journalist, went to Syria at the same time as Henry de Jouvenel, the new high commissioner, appointed in November 1925 to settle the revolt and liberalize the mandate. LaMazière's book provides a valuable eyewitness account of daily life in Syria during the revolt); and letters and newsclippings retained in the Fonds Henry de Jouvenel. (The Fonds Henry de Jouvenel, hereafter the Fonds, comprise some 110 portfolios of personal and governmental documents spanning Jouvenel's career as a journalist, senator and statesman. Forty of the folios pertain to the period Jouvenel spent in Syria, November 1925-June 1926. The Fonds, deposited in the Archives Départmentales de la Corrèze, were consulted with the permission of Jouvenel's son, Bertrand de Jouvenel.)

2 Bombardment of towns and villages was a common procedure used by both the French and the British to punish recalcitrant villages in their overseas holdings. It had not previously been used against a major city like Damascus in the Middle East and in this instance foreign diplomatic missions did not receive prior warning as required by international law. Doty, Bennett J., The Legion of the Damned (New York, 1928), pp. 7679, 172176Google Scholar; Cooper, A. R., The Man Who Liked Hell (London, 1933), pp. 248249Google Scholar; Harvey, John, With the Foreign Legion in Syria (London, 1928), pp. 157162Google Scholar; “Le Mandat syrien et la commission de Rome”, Journal des Débats, 02 26, 1926Google Scholar; and Vinogradov, Amal, “The 1920 Revolt in Iraq Reconsidered: The Role of the Tribes in National Politics”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 3, 2 (1972), 123139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 Wright, Quincy, “The Bombardment of Damascus”, American Journal of International Law, 20 (04 1926), 264279CrossRefGoogle Scholar; MacCallum, Elizabeth, The Nationalist Crusade in Syria (New York, 1928), pp. 132145Google Scholar; L'Oumran (Damascus), 10 26, 1925Google Scholar, translated and reprinted in Revue de la Presse de Damas (unpublished intelligence report) in Fonds; New Statesmen (19251926), pp. 101102Google Scholar; Le Temps (Paris), 10 23–25, 1925Google Scholar. Some 5,000 Arabs were killed or wounded, 137 French killed, and 500 neutrals killed or wounded during the assault. Property losses amounted to nearly $9 million.

4 The interpretation that this was a nationalist revolt gained currency at the time and has persisted to the present. See: intelligence reports submitted to the High Commissioner in Fonds; MacCallum, , Nationalist Crusade in SyriaGoogle Scholar; de Jouvenel, Henry, editorial in Le Matin (Paris), 11 7, 1925Google Scholar; Georges-Gaulis, Berthe, La Question arabe (Paris, 1930)Google Scholar; Chastenet, Jacques, Les Années d'illusion (Paris, 1960)Google Scholar; Seale, Patrick, The Struggle for Syria (London, 1965)Google Scholar. This same sentiment was expressed in interviews with the author by two men (Arabs) who lived in the mandate at the time of the revolt: Haccache, Georges, an editor of La Syrie (Beirut)Google Scholar and M. Mahassen, a former Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Textbooks skim over the revolt, sometimes labeling it nationalist if they mention it at all, leaving the impression that it was insignificant. Sorel, Jean-Albert, Le Mandat française et l'expansion economique de la Syrie et du Liban (Paris, 1929)Google Scholar, treats it as unimportant. Longrigg, S. H., Syria and Lebanon under French Mandate (London, 1958)Google Scholar, devotes much space to chronicling the events but attaches little significance to the revolt in the larger scheme of Syrian history except to demonstrate how unpopular the French were. Joarder, Safiuddin, “The Early Phase of the French Mandatory Administration in Syria”, Harvard Ph.D. diss. 1968Google Scholar, treats this revolt as one of many revolts against the French administration in the first five years of the mandate.

5 Howard, Harry N., The King-Crane Commission (Beirut, 1963), pp. 194205.Google Scholar

6 Prior to 1925, the French had to deal with revolts among the Alouites (1920–1921), the notables of Aleppo (1921), the Bedouin (1920–1921), and the inhabitants of the Hawrān (1921) (Joarder, , Early Phase of the French Mandatory Administration, pp. 6366)Google Scholar. An agreement with the Druzes was negotiated in 1923 (d'Outre-Mer, Les Armées Françaises, Histoire des troupes du Levant [Paris, 1931], p. 22).Google Scholar

7 de Jouvenel, Bertrand, unpublished correspondence with Rudolph Binion, 19531954Google Scholar, at tributes this belief to his father, Henry de Jouvenel. This theory is still widely subscribed to; see Glubb, John, A Short History of the Arab Peoples (London, 1969), p. 280Google Scholar; Iskandar, Adnan G., Bureaucracy in Lebanon (Beirut, 1964), p. 12.Google Scholar

8 Gouraud, Henri, La France en Syrie (Paris, 1922), pp. 1021Google Scholar; executive order of Gouraud establishing this format, April 22, 1921, reprinted in Oriente Moderno, 1 (19211922), 26Google Scholar; speech of Gouraud, at Damascus, , 06 20, 1921Google Scholar, in ibid., pp. 156–157; reports of the new order in Lisān al-Hāl, translated from the Arabic and printed in ibid., p. 24; Jones, John Morgan, La Fin du mandat français en Syrie et au Liban (Paris, 1938), p. 85Google Scholar; Nobecourt, J., Une Histoire politique de l'armée 1919–1942, Vol. I, (Paris, 1967), pp. 119121.Google Scholar

9 Helbaoui, Youssef, La Syrie: mise en valeur d'un pays sous développé (Paris, 1956), p. 60.Google Scholar

10 Dawn, C. Ernest, “From Ottomanism to Arabism: The Origin of an Ideology”, The Review of Politics, 3 (1961), 378400CrossRefGoogle Scholar, as well as his “The Rise of Arabism in Syria”, Middle East Journal, 2 (1962), 145168Google Scholar. See also Lewis, Bernard, The Middle East and the West (London, 1964), pp. 7294Google Scholar; and Zeine, Zeine N., Arab-Turkish Relations and the Emergence of Modern Arab Nationalism (Beirut, 1958), p. 58.Google Scholar

11 Hitti, Philip, Lebanon in History (New York, 1957), pp. 362363Google Scholar; Zeine, , Arab-Turkish Relations, pp. 2957Google Scholar; Harik, Ilya F., “The Ethnic Revolution and Political Integration in the Middle East”, International Journal of Middle East Studies 3 (07, 1972), 307309.Google Scholar

12 Dossier: Pourparlers avec les Druzes in Fonds.

13 Militaire, Cabinet, Bulletin des RenseignementsGoogle Scholar (printed daily) and Service des Rensiegnements, Rapports sur la situation politique de Syrie (frequent), both unpublished govern ment documents in Fonds. These reports provided constant summaries of the situation in Syria along with exhaustive and often sympathetic analyses of the various elements involved in the revolt.

14 Polk, William R., The Opening of South Lebanon 1788–1840 (Cambridge, Mass., 1963)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, describes the geographic conditions that confronted any power trying to cope with uprisings in the area. Bennett J. Doty and the other legionnaire writers cited above bear witness to the inexperience of the troops and the predicament of the garrison in Jabal-Druze. See also Andréa, General, La Révolte druze et l'insurrection de Damas (Paris, 1937), p. 26.Google Scholar

15 de Jouvenel, Henry, various letters and press statements, 11 1925 in Fonds.Google Scholar

16 The classic study of Druze origins is Hitti, Philip K., The Origins of the Druse People and Religion (New York, 1928)Google Scholar. More recent studies are Arberry, A. J., ed., Religion in the Middle East: Three Religions in Conflict (Cambridge, 1969), Vol. 2Google Scholar, and Polk, , The Opening of South Lebanon.Google Scholar

17 Hitti, , Origins of the Druse, pp. 24Google Scholar; Arberry, , Religion, p. 340Google Scholar. As early as 1167 Benjamin of Tudela in his book of travels depicted the Druzes as violent and ferocious (ibid.).

18 Andréa, , La Révolte druze, pp. 2327.Google Scholar

19 Arberry, , Religion, pp. 339340Google Scholar: “Our master commanded us to hide under the wings of the majority religion”. See also Tibawi, A. L., American Interests in Syria 1800–1901 (Oxford, 1966), pp. 7581Google Scholar; and Polk, , The Opening of South Lebanon, pp. 125132.Google Scholar

20 Ibid.; and Bordeaux, Henri, “L'Orient en marche: dans la montagne des Druzes”, Revue des Deux Mondes (11 1925), p. 500.Google Scholar

21 League of Nations, Permanent Mandates Commission, Minutes of the Fourth Session (Geneva, 1924), p. 31.Google Scholar

22 Hirschberg, H. Z., “The Druzes”Google Scholar, in Arberry, , Religion, p. 343.Google Scholar

23 Notizie storiche sulla famiglia el-Atrash”, Oriente Moderno, 5 (09 1925), 465467.Google Scholar

24 “Situation politique au Djebel-Druze au cours des années 1923–1924”, unpublished information report, 1925, in Dossier: Pourparlers avec les Druzes in Fonds.

25 “L'Opera dei Francesi nel territorio dei Drusi”, Oriente Moderno, 4 (1924), 38Google Scholar; and Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, Rapport…1925, pp. 1417.Google Scholar

26 “Situation politique au Djebel Druse”, Dossier, in Fonds.

27 Gautherot, Gustave, Le Général Sarrail: Haut-Commissaire en Syrie (Paris, 1925), p. 25Google Scholar. Anabtawy, Nazmie H., “The French Occupation in Syria”, The Nation, 01 13, 1926, p. 42Google Scholar. Coblentz, Paul, Le Silence de Sarrail (Paris, 1930), pp. 200203Google Scholar. François Goguel, interview with the author, Paris, 08 4, 1967.Google Scholar

28 LaMazière, , Partant pour la Syrie, p. 125n.Google Scholar

29 Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, Rapport… 1925, pp. 1018.Google Scholar

30 Rabbath, Edmond, L'Evolution politique de la Syrie sous mandat de 1920 à 1925 (Paris, 1928), pp. 100102Google Scholar. In 1920, the French had an effective force of 70,000 in the Syrian mandate. In 1925, their number had been reduced to 14,397 men and officers with an additional 5,902 Syrian auxiliaries in the police and gendarmarie. See also: Turnbull, Patrick, The Foreign Legion (London, 1964), p. 145Google Scholar; Gamelin, , Servir, p. xGoogle Scholar; and Waterhouse, Francis A., 'Twixt Hell and Allah (London, ?), p. 65.Google Scholar

31 Andréa, , La Révolte druze, p. 26Google Scholar; Samné, GeorgeLa Rebellion druze”, Correspondance d'Orient, 332 (08 1925), pp. 5253Google Scholar; and Waterhouse, , ‘Twixt Hell and Allah, pp. 12Google Scholar. As for the fighting ability of the ill-fated Michaud column which consisted of seven officers and 166 men (two-thirds Syrian and one-third Algerian spahis), Michaud is said to have characterized the troops under him as “ridiculous”, “untrained”, and “an army incapable of fighting” (ibid., p. 65).

32 d'Outre-Mer, Les Armées Françaises, Histoire des Troupes du Levant (Paris, 1931), pp. 2529.Google Scholar

33 Jouvenel, various correspondence in Fonds.

34 The French failures added credence to the stories the soldiers heard daily about the Druzes as fanatical soldiers, with no fear of death, giving no quarter, torturing any unfortunates who survived a battle, and emitting blood-curdling screams as they charged en masse, screams that froze their opponents with fear. See Doty, , The Legion of the Damned, pp. 80–115, 120, 167169.Google Scholar

35 “Petition à M. le Général Andréa, Commandant des Troupes de Damas et du Hauran”, 01 24, 1926Google Scholar, unpublished, signed by 354 notables of the Hawrān, in Fonds.

36 François, René, Historique de la mission de M. Henry de Jouvenel en Syrie et au Liban (1925–1926), unpublished, p. 44Google Scholar. See also Jouvenel, to Berthelot, , 01 20, 1926, unpublished, in Fonds.Google Scholar

37 Atroun, P., Service des Renseignements, Situation dans le Vilayet d'Alep, 03 1926Google Scholar, unpublished, in Fonds. Soussa, Nicolas, a citizen of the mandate, wrote to Jouvenel on 12 14, 1925Google Scholar (unpublished): “Give us peace and tranquility. We need it in order to live and prosper”.

38 François, , Historique de la mission de M. Henry de Jouvenel, p. 12.Google Scholar

39 Vayssié, George, “La Soumission des Maoulis”, La Syrie (Beirut), 12 16, 1925Google Scholar; and Le Temps (Paris), 01 30, 1926.Google Scholar

40 Imann, Georges, “Angora et le mandat français en Syrie”, Revue des Deux Mondes, 08 1, 1926, p. 605Google Scholar; and Atiyah, Edward, An Arab Tells His Story (London, 1946), p. 40.Google Scholar

41 Dossier: Pourparlers avec les Druzes in Fonds; Dawn, , “The Rise of Arabism in Syria”, p. 164.Google Scholar

42 Atiyah, , The Arabs (Edinburg, 1955), p. 121Google Scholar; MacCallum, , The Nationalist Crusade, p. 54Google Scholar; Al-Haqīqah (Arab biweekly, Beirut), 03 16–26, 1921Google Scholar, in Oriente Moderno, 1 (1921), 25Google Scholar; Al-Karmel (Caiffa), 08 31, 1921Google Scholar, in ibid; Dossier: Négotiations de paix, Dejebel-Druze, 1926 (unpublished) in Fonds.

43 Lewis, , Middle East and the West, pp. 9394.Google Scholar

44 This conclusion is surmised from the material relating to Chahbandar and the nationalists of Damascus in the Fonds: specifically, see Service des Renseignements, Personalistés—Damas (unpublished, 12 1925)Google Scholar and the various Fiches individuelles prepared at the same time.

45 Coustillen, Gervais, Rapport (unpublished, 11 12, 1925) in Fonds.Google Scholar

46 Arslan, Emir Emin, La Revolución Siria contra el Mandato Francés (Buenos Aires, 1926), pp. 4249.Google Scholar

48 The favorite atrocity of the rebels stemmed from the fact that local military commanders had money at their disposal which was being used to pay the Bedouin to support the French; pay was determined by the number of heads they brought into French camps. All of the Legion accounts cited above make mention of this policy. Arslan's book contains pictures of beheaded rebels; Emir Chekib Arslan sent several such pictures with a letter (June 6, 1926) to the Permanent Mandates Commission, a copy of which is in Fonds. Money was sent from the French government to pay the Bedouin: Jouvenel mentioned receiving 800,000 francs from Paris to divide among the most powerful Bedouin chiefs in exchange for their promises not to cause the French any trouble for three months. There is no mention of how this money was channeled to the Bedouin. See Jouvenel, to Diplomatie-Paris, 02 23, 1926 in Fonds.Google Scholar

49 Coustillen, , Rapport, Fonds.Google Scholar

52 Ibid. See also Service des Renseignements, Personaltiés—Damas and the various Fiche individuelle in Fonds.

53 According to Longrigg, Chahbandar “bestowed” the title of King of Syria on Sultan Atrash in the early autumn of 1925 (Syria and Lebanon under French Mandate, p. 157).Google Scholar

54 Jouvenel, to Berthelot, , 01 28, 1926Google Scholar, unpublished correspondence in Fonds.

55 François, René, Historique de la Mission de M. Henry de Jouvenel, pp. 1114Google Scholar, and de Jouvenel, Henry, “Note pour MM. les Délégués” 01 13, 1926, unpublished in Fonds.Google Scholar

56 Alype, Pierre, Rapport confidentiel à Jouvenel (unpublished), 01 11, 1926Google Scholar in Fonds.

57 Jouvenel, to Alype, , 01 13, 1926 (unpublished) in Fonds.Google Scholar

58 Résumé de la conversation entre Alype et les notables de Homs, 01 11, 1926 (unpublished) in Fonds.Google Scholar

59 Jouvenel, to Briand, , April 20, 1926 (unpublished) in Fonds.Google Scholar

60 Resumé de la conversation entre Alype et les notables de Homs, in Fonds.

61 Atiyah, , The Arabs, pp. 146147.Google Scholar

62 Le Temps (Paris), Jan. 21, 1926, and Jan. 28, 1926.Google Scholar

63 See articles in the; Journal des Débats (1920–1925), especially for the period of the revolt. In addition: Weygand, Maxime, Mémoires: mirages et realités (Paris: 1957)Google Scholar; “Le Mandat syrien” in Revue de France, 05 15, 1927Google Scholar; and “L'Avenir de la Syrie” in Revue de France, 10 1924Google Scholar; Gouraud, H., “La France en Syrie” in Revue de France, 04 1, 1922Google Scholar; and Robert de Caix's various reports to the Permanent Mandates Commission throughout the first five years.

64 Alype's reports to Jouvenel, and Jouvenel's reports to Briand, as well as his more detailed accounts to Berthelot, his representative in Paris (all unpublished), in Fonds. Haddad, Although George M. (Revolutions and Military Rule in the Middle East: The Arab States Pt. 1: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan [New York, 1971]Google Scholar states that the theory that Syrian society is a mosaic of races and religions which has mitigated against the achievement of national unity is “one of the most common misconceptions about Syria”, he offers little evidence to support this refutation. Far more convincing is Harik, Iliya F. (“The Ethnic Revolution and Political Integration”, p. 304)Google Scholar: “social engineering may be the main, if not inevitable, course for the new states of the Middle East to take in their search for national integration…recognition of the legitimacy of ethnic identification and … organization within the broader confines of the state…” He claims differences have intensified in the twentieth century because “communications have brought strangers together suddenly and without preparing them for the encounter. The result has been a clash of different social images and interests” (ibid., p. 309).

65 François, , Historique de la mission de M. Henry de Jouvenel, p. 11.Google Scholar

66 Jouvenel-Alype, correspondence (unpublished) of Jan.-Feb. 1926Google Scholar, and Jouvenel-Berthelot correspondence of same period in Fonds. See also François, , Historique de la mission de M. Henry de Jouvenel, p. 12Google Scholar

67 Dossier: Negotiation de paix: Djebel-Druse, 1926 in Fonds. Jouvenel to diplomatie-Paris, April 26 and 04 27, 1926 (unpublished)Google Scholar in Fonds. Le Temps (Paris), 05 1, 1926.Google Scholar

68 Haddad, , Revolutions and Military Rule in the Middle East, p. 11Google Scholar; and Vinogradov, , “The 1920 Revolt in Iraq Reconsidered”, pp. 123139.Google Scholar

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