Arab Kingdom of Syria
|Arab Kingdom of Syria
المملكة العربية السورية
al-Mamlakah al-‘Arabīyah al-Sūriyya
|-||1920||Rida Pasha al-Rikabi|
|Historical era||Interwar period|
|-||Coronation of Faisal I||8 March 1920|
|-||Battle of Maysalun||23 July 1920|
|-||Siege of Damascus||24 July 1920|
|Today part of|| Syria
The Arab Kingdom of Syria (Arabic: المملكة العربية السورية, al-Mamlakah al-Sūriyya al-‘Arabīyah), was the first modern Arab state to come into existence, but only lasted a little over four months (8 March–24 July 1920). During its brief existence, the kingdom was led by Sharif Hussein bin Ali’s son Faisal bin Hussein. Despite its claims to territory of a Greater Syria, Faisal's government controlled a limited area and was dependent on Britain which, along with France, generally opposed the idea of a Greater Syria and refused to recognize Faisal as its king. The kingdom surrendered to French forces on 24 July 1920.
The Arab Revolt and the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence are crucial factors in the foundations of the Arab Kingdom of Syria. In the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence the promises of an Arab Kingdom were made by the British in return for an Arab uprising against the Ottomans.:209-215 As the promises of independence were being made by the British, separate agreements were being made including the Sykes-Picot Agreement with the French. Ultimately, the implementation of the Sykes-Picot Agreement would lead to the undermining and destruction of the Arab Kingdom of Syria. Despite the significance of the Arab Revolt to modern Arab countries formed in its wake, at the time there was significant distrust and even opposition to the idea of an Arab Kingdom or series of Arab Kingdoms.
This is due in part to the heavy influence of the French and the British in compelling the revolt and establishment of what is considered to be by modern standards puppet states.:185-191 Critics claim that this involvement of foreign powers in handing out large sums of money and military support to establish an empire that would be led by imperial aspirants, rather than legitimate Arab nationalists, is the primary cause for the lack of duration of the majority of the early Hashemite Kingdoms (Kingdom of Hejaz and Kingdom of Iraq). Critics go on further to claim it was anathema to many Arabs that the family of the Sharif of Mecca, the Hashemites, could wrest control from the Ottoman Sultan, with whom their loyalty had rested for centuries.:187
The Arab constitutional government
Near the end of World War I, the Egyptian Expeditionary forces of Edmund Allenby captured Damascus on 30 September 1918, and shortly thereafter on 3 October, Faisal entered the city.:30 The jubilation would be short lived, as Faisal would soon be made aware of the Sykes-Picot agreement. Faisal had come to expect an independent Arab kingdom in the name of his father but was soon told of the division of territory and how Syria fell under French protective power. Faisal obviously did not appreciate this betrayal by the British but found reassurance in the knowledge that the actual settlement would be worked out at a later date when the war had ended. He was probably hoping that by then the British would have changed their support for French pretensions in Syria. Thus on 5 October, with the permission of General Allenby, Faisal announced the establishment of a fully and absolutely independent Arab constitutional government.:34
Faisal announced it would be an Arab government based on justice and equality for all Arabs regardless of religion. Much to the chagrin of French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, the establishment of a semi-independent Arab state without international recognition and under the auspices of the British was disconcerting. Even reassurances by Allenby that all actions taken were provisional did not ease the looming tensions between the British, the French and the Arabs. For Arab nationalists, and many of the Arabs who fought in the Arab Revolt, this was the realization of a long hard-fought goal.
Determining the status
After the war, at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Faisal pushed for Arab independence. At the Conference the victorious Allies decided what was to become of the defeated nations of the Central Powers, especially who was to control their territories, such as the Ottoman Empire's Middle East possessions. The status of the Arab lands in the Middle East was the subject of intense negotiations between the French and British. In May 1919, the French and British Prime Ministers met in Quai d’Orsay to decide between them their respective claims to territories or spheres of influence in the Middle East. The meeting decided that in return for a British guarantee of French control in Syria, the British would be given a mandate over Mosul and Palestine.
At about the same time, an American compromise resulted in an agreement to set up a commission to determine the wishes of the inhabitants. Even though they initially supported the idea, Britain and France eventually backed out leaving the King-Crane Commission of 1919 solely American.:268 The findings of the commission, not published until 1922 after the vote on the mandates in the League of Nations, indicated strong Arab support for an independent Arab state and opposition to a French presence.
These events in Europe led Syrian nationalist societies like al-Fatat (the Young Arab Society) to make preparations for a national congress. These Syrian nationalist societies advocated complete independence for an Arab Kingdom that united Arabs under Faisal. The King-Crane Commission encouraged efforts to unify and a hasty election was called including representatives from all over the Arab lands, including Palestine and Lebanon, although French officials prevented many of their representatives from arriving. The first official session of the Syrian Congress was held on 3 June 1919 and al-Fatat member Hashim al-Atassi was elected its president.:17
When the King-Crane Commission arrived in Damascus on 25 June 1919, it was met with a flurry of leaflets saying “Independence or Death”. On 2 July the Syrian Congress passed a number of resolutions calling for a completely independent constitutional monarchy with Faisal as king, asking for assistance from the United States, and rejecting any rights claimed by the French.:19 This congress is considered[by whom?] to be the first national parliament in the history of Syria and is significant to the Arab world to this day. Having representation under one independent and free country is especially important to the Palestinian Arab nationalists, who were represented for the first time in this Congress.
Any hope that Faisal may have had that either the British or Americans would come to his aid and counter French moves quickly faded, especially after the Anglo-French Agreement for the withdrawal of British troops from Syria and the end of the British military government in Syria.
In January 1920, Faisal was forced into an agreement with France which stipulated that France would uphold the existence of the Syrian state and would not station troops in Syria as long as the French government remained the only government supplying advisers, counselors and technical experts.:167 News of this compromise did not bode well with Faisal’s vehemently anti-French and independence-minded supporters who immediately pressured Faisal to reverse his commitment, which he did. In the aftermath of this reversal, violent attacks against French forces took place and the Syrian Congress assembled in March 1920 to declare Faisal the king of Syria as well as to officially set up the Arab Kingdom of Syria with Hashim al-Atassi as Prime Minister and Yusuf al-'Azma as Minister of War and Chief of Staff.
This unilateral action was immediately repudiated by the British and French and the San Remo Conference was called by the Allied Powers in April 1920 to finalise the allocation of League of Nations mandates in the Middle East. This was in turn repudiated by Faisal and his supporters. After months of instability and failure to make good on the promises to the French, the commander of French forces General Henri Gouraud gave an ultimatum to King Faisal on 14 July 1920 declaring he surrender or fight.:215
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (March 2011)|
Worried about the results of a long bloody fight with the French, King Faisal surrendered. However, Yusuf al-'Azma, the defense minister, ignored the King's order, and led a small army to confront the French advance into Syria. This army depended mainly on individual weapons and were no match to the French artillery. At the Battle of Maysalun, the Syrian army was easily defeated by the French, with General al-'Azma being killed during the battle. The loss led to the siege and capture of Damascus on 24 July 1920 and the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon was put into effect thereafter.
After surrendering to French forces, Faisal was expelled from Syria and went to live in the United Kingdom in August 1920. In August 1921 he was offered the crown of Iraq under the British Mandate of Iraq.
A pro-French government under the leadership of 'Alaa al-Din al-Darubi was installed one day after the fall of Damascus, on 25 July 1920.:37 On 1 September 1920, General Gouraud divided the French mandate territory of Syria into several smaller states as part of a French scheme to make Syria easier to control.
The Kingdom, through its short and tumultuous existence, would become a subject of great inspiration to later Arab liberation movements. It would be the often-repeated story of an Arab people breaking out from their colonial bonds only to be castigated for their revolutionary fervor and for their resistance to the imperial powers. The symbolism of the fall of the Kingdom of Syria also imparted deep mistrust of European powers, who were seen as liars and oppressors.
- Itamar Rabinovich, Symposium: The Greater-Syria Plan and the Palestine Problem in The Jerusalem Cathedra (1982), p. 262.
- Zeine N. Zeine. Struggle for Arab Independence: Western Diplomacy and the Rise and Fall of Faisal’s Kingdom in Syria. Caravan Books. Delmar, New York. 1977.
- Efraim Karsh and Inari Karsh. Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East 1789-1923. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1999.
- US Dept of State; International Boundary Study, Jordan – Syria Boundary, No. 94 – December 30, 1969, Pg .10 
- Eliezer Tauber. The Formation of Modern Syria and Iraq. Frank Cass and Co. Ltd. Portland, Oregon. 1995. ISBN 978-0714641058.
- Elie Kedourie. England and the Middle East: The Destruction of the Ottoman Empire 1914-1921. Mansell Publishing Limited. London, England. 1987.