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État des Alaouites
|Mandate of French Colonial Empire|
The Alawite State (purple) in the Mandate of Syria.
|Religion||Alawite Shia Islam|
|Political structure||League of Nations Mandate|
|Historical era||Interwar period|
|-||Established||September 2, 1920|
|-||Named "Government of Latakia"||1930|
|-||Disestablished||December 3, 1936|
The Alawite State (Arabic: دولة جبل العلويين, Dawlat Ǧabal al-ʿAlawiyyīn), known in French as Alaouites and named after the locally dominant Alawite sect of Shi'a, was a French mandate territory in the coastal area of present-day Syria after World War I.
Use of the term 'Alawite' instead of 'Nusayri' was advocated by the French early in the Mandate period, and referred to a member of the Alawi religious sect. It came to be the name of the region the French named the "Alawite Territory" in 1920, home to a large population of Alawi Muslims.
The region was both coastal and mountainous, and home to a majorly rural, highly heterogeneous population. During the French Mandate period, society was divided by religion and geography: the landowning families of the port city of Latakia, and 80% of the population of the city, were Sunni Muslim. However, more than 90% of the population of the province was rural, 62% being Alawite peasantry.
The southern border was with Lebanon, the northern border with the Sanjak of Alexandretta where Alawites made up a large number of the population. To the west was the Mediterranean coast. The border to the east with Syria was roughly along the An-Nusayriyah Mountains and the Orontes River running from north to south. Modern-day Latakia Governorate and Tartus Governorate roughly encompass what was the Alawite State, both governorates having majority Alawite populations; however, parts of modern-day Al-Suqaylabiyah District, Masyaf District, Talkalakh District and Jisr ash-Shugur District (now in neighboring governorates) also belonged to it.
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I (with the Armistice of 11 November 1918) brought on a scramble to take control of various provinces of the disintegrating empire. As of 1918, France occupied both Lebanon and Syria, under the leadership of the Amir (Emir), Faisal I. By 1920, growing anti-French sentiment in the regime led to the formal establishment of the Arab Kingdom of Syria, under King Faisal I, on 7 March 1920. The Arab Kingdom of Syria was initially supported by the British, despite French protest. The British withdrew support, however, and on 5 May 1920, the Allied Supreme Council published a Mandate for 'Syria and the Lebanon' to the French Republic. French and Arabic were the official Languages. General Gouraud was appointed High Commissioner of the Syrian territories and Commander-in-Chief of French forces there.
The population of Lebanon was decidedly pro-French, and that of Syria anti-French with a pan-Arab nationalist bent. The French insisted the Mandate was not 'inconsistent' with Syrian self-government; Syrians were eventually forced to accept the inevitability of the French Mandate, when King Faisal left the country under French pressure in July 1920 after Great Britain withdrew support for his rule in the face of French claims.
At the time, native outcry for unification of Syria met with rejection; in early September, 1920, the French divided the territories of their mandate based on heterogeneous population, in an effort to grant 'local autonomy' to demographic regions. However, some argue that the French acted on their own interests, to intentionally divide the population, and so limit the spread of "the urban contagion of nationalist agitation." On 2 September 1920 a 'Territory of the Alawis' was created in the coastal and mountain country comprising Alawi villages; the French justified this separation with the 'backwardness' of the mountain-dwelling people, religiously distinct from the surrounding Sunni population. It was a division meant to protect the Alawi people from more powerful majorities.
After the relative independence of the rule of Faisal I, French colonialism was not widely welcomed. These divisions were thought to serve the interests of a Christian minority over a Muslim majority and favor colonial rule while stifling organized objections.
Salih al-Ali led the Syrian Revolt of 1919 in the Alawi region east of the coastal city of Latakia. Salih al-Ali was primarily interested in protecting Alawite regions from external meddling; his uprisings were not motivated by the nationalist movement, but identified with it in order to further Alawite autonomy. The rebels surrendered to French forces after two years of raiding French outposts in October 1921.
In June 1923, French administration, headed by General Maxime Weygand, decided allow the individual states to elect their own Representative Councils. It was a contest between French officials and their nationalist rivals—the results of primary elections were felt to be fraudulent by Syrians, many of whom boycotted the 26 October elections. The Alawite state, largely insulated from nationalist tendencies, ended up electing 10 pro-French seats of its 12 council positions, after a 77% voter turn-out in the primary elections (thought to be a result of French inducements). Such numbers were not seen in Damascus and Aleppo, nationalist hotbeds. Alawi claimed to prefer to be grouped with the territories of Lebanon, contradicting those Sunni and Christian populations demanding the unity of Syria. The majority of French support in these first elections came from rural populations, which French support had chiefly benefited.
Great Syrian Revolt
Perhaps inspired by the contemporary Turkish War of Independence (1919-1921), similarly, the Great Revolt for Syrian Independence began in the countryside of Jabal al-Druze, led by Sultan al-Atrash, as a Druze uprising; the movement was adopted by a group of Syrian nationalists led by Dr Abd al-Rahman Shahbandar and spread to the States of Aleppo, Damascus. It lasted from July 1925 to June 1927, and represented an anti-French, anti-imperialist sentiment in response to five years of French rule; however, in the Druze mindset, it was not a movement toward Syrian unity, but simply a protest against French rule.
The Alawite territory, greatly rural (see 'Populations,' below), was largely uninvolved in the Great Revolt. The French had favored religious minorities, such as Druze and Alawi, and attempted to isolate them from mainstream nationalist culture. Many young men of rural Alawi communities joined French troops, enlisted in the 'troupes speciales,' a subset of the French forces in Syria at the time, looking for further social advancement from French connections. These troops were regional forces, recruited from minority populations, and often used to put down civil disorders.
- 1." Alawi predominance in the Alawi state was not absolute." In contrast to the Christian and Bedouin minorities of the Druze Mountains, the Alawite territory was home to sizable Sunni and Christian groups, most of which occupied the capital, Latakia. Many Sunni landlords were in charge of Alawi sharecroppers. The economic handle the Sunni minority had over the poorer Alawi majority was a source of a long-standing grudge. The Alawi were enthusiastic over the nationalist sentiments of their Sunni landlords.
- 2. "Alawi society was divided. The Alawi peasant was individualistic and his allegiance was claimed by distinct spiritual and tribal leaders and often by a landlord as well."
- 3. "Its isolation, poverty and social structure inflicted backwardness on the Alawi area. This coexisted with a strong feeling of solidarity with an attachment to the community and a sense of exclusiveness and mission."
The Alawite state was run by a succession of French Governors (see 'French Governors,' below) from 1920-36. The Sunni landowners, mostly residing in the urban areas of the province, were supporters of Syrian unity; however, the French were supported by the numerous rural Alawite communities, to whom they catered.
In 1930, the Alawite State was renamed "the Government of Latakia," the only concession the French made to Arab nationalists until 1936. On 3 December 1936 (effective in 1937), the Alawite state was re-incorporated into Syria as a concession by the French to the Nationalist Bloc, the party in power of the semi-autonomous Syrian government.
There was a great deal of Alawite separatist sentiment in the region, but these political views could not be coordinated into a unified voice. This was attributed to the majority of Alawites being peasants "exploited by a predominantly Sunni landowning class resident in Latakia and Hama."  There was also a great deal of factionalism amongst the Alawite tribes. The Alawite State was incorporated into Syria without much organized resistance.
1936 - 1945
In 1936, Palestine rebelled in a large uprising, the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939. While much trade with Jewish merchants went on uninterrupted, pan-Arab sentiment in Syria and the ties "of kinship, culture, and politics" resulted in the extension of support to Palestine. Aside from strikes and demonstrations in favor of the Palestinians, Syrians smuggled arms into Palestine and led several successful guerrilla groups.
By the end of 1938, however, the French government "no longer found it advantageous to allow Syria to continue as a base for radical pan-Arab activities, in particular those associated with the revolt in Palestine." There was a French crack-down on Syrian nationalism.
By 1939, the Nationalist Bloc party fell out of favor with Syrian public opinion, due to a failure to increase the autonomy of the Syrian government under French influence. The Prime Minister, Jamil Mardam resigned at the end of 1938. The French filled this power vacuum, dissolving the Syrian Parliament, coming down on Syrian nationalism. They increased the autonomy of the more French-supporting regions of the Alawite and Druze territories, thwarting the gains of Syrian unification.
World War II, lasting from 1939-1945, established a strong British presence in Syria; after the French capitulation to the axis powers in 1940 the Vichy French controlled Syria until Britain seized the country and Lebanon in July 1941. In 1942, the Latakia and Druze regions were re-transferred to Syrian government control.
By the end of World War II, Arab nationalists in Syria were ready to make another play for power.
1945 - present
The French departed Syria in 1946. The new independent government lasted three years until a military coup in 1949.
The Syrian Army was dominated by recruits from Alawite, Druze, and rural Sunni communities, a composition from the earlier French Mandate times. After 1949 and the coup, Alawites came to dominate the military officer positions and government positions in the 1960s.
Syrian civil war
As the Syrian civil war progresses, there has been widespread speculation that there will be reprisals against the Alawites, leading to speculation of a re-creation of the Alawite State as a safe haven for Assad and the leaders should Damascus finally fall. King Abdullah II of Jordan has called this scenario the "worst case" for the conflict, fearing a domino effect of fragmentation of the country along sectarian lines with consequences to the wider region.
|General Distribution of Population in the State of Aleppo according to the French census in 1921-22|
|Latakia, capital city||urban, total||rural, total|
||This article needs attention from an expert in History. (May 2012)|
- 2 September 1920 - 1922 Colonel Niéger
- 1922 Gaston Henri Gustave Billotte (b. 1875 - d. 1940)
- 1922 - 1925 Léon Henri Charles Cayla (b. 1881 - d. 1965)
- 1925 - 5 December 1936 H. Schoeffler
- Alawite Territory (Sanjak of Latakia 1920-1936), From 
- Provence, Michael. "The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism." Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.
- Khoury, Philip S. "Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 1920-1945." Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.
- Longrigg, Stephen Hemsley. "Syria and Lebanon Under French Mandate." London: Oxford University Press, 1958.
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- Rabinovich, Itamar. "The Compact Minorities and the Syrian State, 1918-45." Journal of Contemporary History, Vol.14, No.4: 693-712. Oct, 1979.
- Khoury, Philip S. "Factionalism among Syrian Nationalists during the French Mandate." International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 13, No. 4: pp. 441-469. Nov., 1981.
- Shambrook, Peter A. "French Imperialism in Syria, 1927-1936." Reading: Ithaca Press, 1998.
- E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Volume 2, page 301
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