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French Mandate of Syria

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Title: French Mandate of Syria  
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Subject: History of France, Levant, Foreign relations of Syria, Treaty of Lausanne, Moustapha Akkad, Proposals for a Palestinian state, Mehmed VI, Sea of Galilee, Flag of France, Hafez al-Assad
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French Mandate of Syria

Further information: Modern history of Syria
Further information: State of Syria (1924–1930), Syrian Republic (1930–1958), State of Greater Lebanon, Alawite State and Jabal ad-Druze (state)
French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon

Front cover of the Mandate document, 1922.
Created 1920–1922
Ratified 1923
Signatories League of Nations
Purpose Creation of

Officially, the Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon[1] (also known as the French Mandate of Syria) (French: Mandat français pour la Syrie et le Liban, Arabic: الانتداب الفرنسي في سوريا و لبنان al-Intidab al-Firansi fi Suriya wa Lubnan‎) was a League of Nations mandate founded after the First World War and the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire.

During the two years that followed the end of the war in 1918 – and in accordance with the Sykes-Picot Agreement that was signed between Britain and France during the war – the British held control of most Ottoman Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and the southern part of the Ottoman Syria (Palestine and Jordan), while the French controlled the rest of Ottoman Syria (modern Syria, Lebanon, Alexandretta) and other portions of southeastern Turkey. In early 1920s, the British and French control of these territories became formalized by the League of Nations' mandate system, and France was assigned the mandate of Syria on 29 September 1923, which included the territory of present day Lebanon and Alexandretta (Hatay) in addition to Syria proper.

The administration of the region under the French was carried out through a number of different territories including the Syrian Federation (1922–24), the State of Syria (1924–1930) and the Syrian Republic (from 1930) as well as the smaller states of the State of Greater Lebanon, the Alawite State and Jabal ad-Druze (state).

The French mandate of Syria lasted until 1943, when two independent countries emerged from the mandate period, Syria and Lebanon, in addition to Hatay which had joined Turkey in 1939. French troops completely left Syria and Lebanon in 1946.


Main articles: Occupied Enemy Territory Administration and Arab Kingdom of Syria

With the defeat of Ottomans in Syria, British troops under Marshal Edmund Henry Allenby entered Damascus in 1918 accompanied by troops of the Arab Revolt led by Faisal, son of Sharif Hussein of Mecca.

Faisal established the first Arab government in Damascus in October 1918, and named Ali Rida Pasha ar-Rikabi a military governor.

The new Arab administration formed local governments in the major Syrian cities, and the Pan-Arab flag was raised all over Syria. The Arabs hoped, with faith in earlier British promises, that the new Arab state would include all the Arab lands stretching from Aleppo in northern Syria to Aden in southern Yemen.

However, General Allenby, and in accordance with the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France, assigned to the Arab administration only the interior regions of Syria (the eastern zone). Palestine (the southern zone) was reserved for the British, and on 8 October, French troops disembarked in Beirut and occupied all the Lebanese coastal region until Naqoura (the western zone) replacing British troops there. The French immediately dissolved the local Arab governments in the region.

The French demanded full implementation of the Sykes–Picot Agreement and the placement of Syria under their influence. On 26 November 1919, the British withdrew from Damascus to avoid confrontation with the French, leaving the Arab government face to face with the French.

Faisal had voyaged several times in Europe, beginning in November 1918, trying to convince Paris and London to change their positions, but without success. Signifying the determination of France on its intervention in Syria was the naming of General Henri Gouraud as a high commissioner in Syria-Cilicia.

At the Paris Peace Conference, Faisal found himself in an even weaker position when the European powers decided to ignore the Arab demands.

In June 1919, the American King-Crane Commission arrived in Syria to inquire about the local public opinion regarding the future of the country. The commission's workspace extended from Aleppo to Beersheba. They visited 36 major cities, met with more than 2000 delegations from more than 300 villages, and received more than 3000 petitions. Their conclusions confirmed the opposition of Syrians to the mandate in their country as well as to the Balfour declaration, and their demand of a unified Greater Syria encompassing Palestine. The conclusions of the commission were rejected by France and ignored by Britain.

In May 1919, elections were held for the Syrian National Congress. 80% of seats went to conservatives. However, the minority included dynamic Arab nationalist figures such as Jamil Mardam-Bey, Shukri al-Kuwatli, Ahmad al-Qadri, Ibrahim Hanano, and Riyad as-Solh.

Unrest erupted in Syria when Faisal accepted a compromise with the French Prime Minister Clemenceau and with the Zionist leader Weizmann over the issue of Jewish immigration to Palestine. Anti-Hashemite manifestations broke out, and Muslim inhabitants in and around Mount Lebanon revolted with fear of being incorporated into a new, mainly Christian, state of Greater Lebanon.

In March 1920, the Syrian national congress in Damascus, headed by Hashim al-Atassi, adopted a resolution rejecting the Faisal-Clemenceau accords. The congress declared the independence of Syria in her natural borders (including Southern Syria or Palestine), and proclaimed Faisal the king of all Arabs. The congress also proclaimed political and economic union with neighboring Iraq and demanded its independence as well. A new government headed by Ali Rida ar-Rikabi was formed on 9 May 1920.

On 25 April, and in the course of the Treaty of Sèvres, the supreme inter-allied council granted France the mandate of Syria (including Lebanon), and granted the UK the mandate of Palestine (including Jordan) and Iraq. Syrians reacted with violent demonstrations, and with the formation of a new government under Hashim al-Atassi on 7 May 1920. The new government decided to organize general conscription and began financing an army.

These decisions provoked adverse reactions by the French as well as by the Maronite patriarchate of Mount Lebanon, which denounced the decisions as a "coup d'état". In Beirut, the Christian press expressed its hostility to the decisions of Faisal's government. Lebanese nationalists used the crisis to convene a council of Christian figures in Baabda on 22 March 1920, that proclaimed the independence of Lebanon.

On 14 July 1920, General Gouraud issued an ultimatum to Faisal giving him the choice between submission or abdication. Realizing that the power balance was not in his favor, Faisal chose to cooperate. However, the young minister of war, Youssef al-Azmeh, refused to comply and, during the Franco-Syrian War faced the French at the Battle of Maysaloun. This battle was won by the French under General Mariano Goybet in less than a day and Azmeh died on the battlefield along with most of those who were with him. General Goybet entered Damascus on 24 July 1920.

States created during the French Mandate

When first arriving in Lebanon, the French were received as liberators by the Christian community, but as they were entering Syria they were faced with a strong resistance.

The mandate region was subdivided into six states. They were the states of Damascus (1920), Aleppo (1920), Alawites (1920), Jabal Druze (1921), the autonomous Sanjak of Alexandretta (1921) (modern-day Hatay), and the State of Greater Lebanon (1920) which became later the modern country of Lebanon.

The drawing of those states was based in part on the sectarian make up on the ground in Syria. However, nearly all the Syrian sects were hostile to the French mandate and to the division it created. This was best demonstrated by the numerous revolts that the French encountered in all of the Syrian states. Maronite Christians of Mount Lebanon, on the other hand, were a community with a dream of independence that was being realized under the French; therefore, Greater Lebanon was the exception to the newly formed states.

It took France three years from 1920 to 1923 to hold full control over Syria and to quell all the insurgencies that broke out, notably in the Alawite territories, Mount Druze and Aleppo.

Diagram of states under the Mandate

Beirut Vilayet and
Mount Lebanon
Aleppo Vilayet
Damascus Vilayet
OETA North

Kingdom of Syria

Jabal Druze

State of Syria

Syrian Republic
Hatay State

State of Greater Lebanon

1862 map drawn by the French expedition of Beaufort d'Hautpoul[2]
Black dashed line shows the borders of the 1861–1918 Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate
The first map, drawn by the French in 1862, was used as a template for the 1920 borders of Greater Lebanon.[3] The second map shows the borders of the 1861–1918 Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate, overlaid on a map of modern day Lebanon showing religious groups distribution

On 1 September 1920, General Gouraud proclaimed the establishment of the State of Greater Lebanon (French: État du Grand Liban) (Arabic: دولة لبنان الكبير).

Greater Lebanon was created by France to be a "safe haven" for the Maronite population of the Mutasarrifia (Ottoman administrative unit) of Mount Lebanon. Mt. Lebanon, an area with a Maronite majority, had enjoyed variable degrees of unofficial autonomy during the Ottoman era. However, Greater Lebanon included in addition to Mount Lebanon other mainly Muslim regions that were not part of the Maronite Mutasarrifia, and hence the word "greater". Those regions correspond today to North Lebanon, south Lebanon, Biqa' valley, and Beirut. The capital of Greater Lebanon was Beirut. The new state was granted a flag merging the French flag with the cedar of Mt. Lebanon.

Most of the Muslims in Greater Lebanon rejected the new state upon its creation. The Muslim continuous demand for reunification with Syria eventually brought about an armed conflict between Muslims and Christians in 1958 when Muslim Lebanese wanted to join the newly proclaimed United Arab Republic, while Christians were strongly opposed.

Maronites were the majority in Lebanon and managed to preserve its independence; an independence that created a unique precedent in the Arab world as Lebanon was the first Arab country in which Christians were not a minority. The State of Greater Lebanon existed until 23 May 1926, after which it became the Lebanese Republic.

State of Alawites

The State of Alawites (French: État des Alaouites; Arabic: دولة العلويين) was located on the Syrian coast and incorporated a majority of Alawites, a branch of Shia Islam. The port city of Latakia was the capital of this state. Initially it was an autonomous territory under French rule known as the "Alawite Territories". It became part of the Syrian Federation in 1922, but left the federation again in 1924 and became the "State of Alawites". On 22 September 1930, it was renamed the "Independent Government of Latakia". The population at this time was 278,000. The government of Latakia finally joined the Syrian Republic on 5 December 1936.

This state witnessed several rebellions against the French. The most prominent of which were under Salih al-Ali, an Alawite anti-French figure.

State of Jabal Druze

The State of Jabal Druze was a French mandate from 1921 to 1936 created for the Druze population of southern Syria. It had a population of some 50,000 and had its capital in As Suwayda.

State of Aleppo

The State of Aleppo (1920–1925) (French: État d'Alep) (Arabic: دولة حلب) included a majority of Sunni Muslims. It covered northern Syria in addition to the entire fertile basin of river Euphrates of eastern Syria. These regions represented much of the agricultural and mineral wealth of Syria. The autonomous Sanjak of Alexandretta was added to the state of Aleppo in 1923.

The capital was the northern city of Aleppo, which had large Christian and Jewish communities in addition to the Sunni Muslims. The state also incorporated minorities of Shiites and Alawites. Ethnic Kurds, and Assyrians/Syriacs inhabited the eastern regions alongside the Arabs.

The primarily Sunni population of the state of Aleppo was strongly opposed to the division of Syria. This resulted in its quick end in 1925, when France united the states of Aleppo and Damascus into the State of Syria.

State of Damascus

The State of Damascus was a French mandate from 1920 to 1925. The capital was Damascus.

Sanjak of Alexandretta

The Sanjak of Alexandretta became an autonomous province of Syria under Article 7 of the French-Turkish treaty of 20 October 1921: "A special administrative regime shall be established for the district of Alexandretta. The Turkish inhabitants of this district shall enjoy facility for their cultural development. The Turkish language shall have official recognition".[4]

In 1923, Alexandretta was attached to the State of Aleppo, and in 1925 it was directly attached to the French mandate of Syria, still with special administrative status. The sanjak was given autonomy in November 1937 in an arrangement brokered by the League. Under its new statute, the sanjak became 'distinct but not separated' from the French Mandate of Syria on the diplomatic level, linked to both France and Turkey for defence matters.

In 1938, the Turkish military went into the Syrian province and expelled most of its Arab and Armenian inhabitants.[5] Before this, Alawi Arabs and Armenians were the majority of Alexandrettas population.[5]

The allocation of seats in the sanjak assembly was based on the 1938 census held by the French authorities under international supervision. The assembly was appointed in the summer of 1938 and the French-Turkish treaty settling the status of the Sanjak was signed on 4 July 1938.

On 2 September 1938, the assembly proclaimed the Sanjak of Alexandretta as the Hatay State, taking as an excuse that rioting had broken out between Turks and Arabs. The Republic lasted for one year under joint French and Turkish military supervision. The name "Hatay" itself was proposed by Atatürk and the government was under Turkish control.

In 1939, following a popular referendum, the Hatay State became a Turkish province.

Demands for secession not granted by the French Mandate authorities

Al-Jazira province

Main article: Al-Jazira province

In 1936–1937, there was some autonomist agitation among Assyrians and Kurds, supported by some Bedouins, in the province of Al-Jazira. Its partisans wanted the French troops to stay in the province in the hypothesis of a Syrian independence, as they feared the nationalist Damascus government would replace minority officials by Muslim Arabs from the capital. The French authorities refused to consider any new status of autonomy inside Syria.[6][7][8]

Golan Region

In Quneitra and the Golan Region, there was a numerous Circassian community. Several Circassian leaders wanted in 1938, for the same reasons as their Assyrian, Kurdish and Bedouin counterparts in Al-Jazira province in 1936–1937, a special autonomy status for their region as they feared the perspective of living in an independent Syrian republic under a nationalist Arab government hostile towards the minorities. They also wanted the Golan region to become a national homeland for Circassian refugees from the Caucasus. A Circassian battalion served in the French Army of the Levant and had helped it against the Arab nationalist uprisings. Like in Al-Jazira Province the French authorities refused to grant any autonomy status to the Golan Circassians.[9]

See also



  • Timeline of the French Mandate period
  • Mandat Syria-Liban ... (1920–1946)
  • La Syrie et le mandat français (1920–1946)
  • Les Relations franco-libanaises dans le cadre des relations Internationales
  • Mandat français au Proche-Orient

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