Abstract: France's abolition of the Sharifian government of Syria in 1920 can be seen as the result of conflict between Prince Faysal's demands for Syrian unity and France's desire to maintain its interests there. Faysal's friendly relationship with France ended when Alexandre Millerand became Prime Minister there in 1920. Unwilling to allow Faysal more power and afraid of losing control of economic routes in the area, Millerand gave permission for French troops to march on Damascus. Faysal was eventually expelled from the region, bringing an end to Sharifian rule.
France did not recover in time to enjoy the fruits of the victory of the First World War. She confronted many obstacles in finding her place in the new international order. Even though she too was a victor, she was completely exhausted by the war in both manpower and resources. Even though the Levant was not one of the top priorities of the French public and the French foreign policy decision-makers, its relative importance grew during 1919. Even Clemenceau, the Prime Minister, who was generally known for his indifference towards the Levant, did not hesitate to confront Lloyd George in 1919 regarding the 'Syrian Question'.
The tension between France and Britain was relieved, when at the end of 1919 the British evacuated their army from Syria as a result of a change in their policy. Yet other central issues still remained unsolved, the main one being the status and future of Prince Faysal.
From the end of 1918 throughout 1919 Faysal was treated by the French rather positively in order to gain his acceptance of direct French rule in Syria. The climax of this trend was reached in January 1920 when both Faysal and Clemenceau reached a written understanding. This understanding was later considered by the French as a semi-agreement with a binding value. However, the chances of its realization were meagre owing to internal developments both in France and in Faysal's camp.
On 20 January 1920 Alexandre Millerand replaced Clemenceau. Contrary to the policy of his predecessor, Millerand was to devote special attention to the French policy in the Levant and to be directly involved in its formulation. Almost from the moment he assumed power, Millerand called a halt to the friendly relations which had begun to develop between Faysal and France at the end of 1919.(1)
In Northern Syria at the beginning of 1920, the French army felt itself threatened by a growing collaboration between the extremists in Faysal's camp and the Turkish nationalists headed by Mustapha Kemal. The latter's activity prevented the rapid fruition of the French design in Syria which aimed at limiting Faysal's influence there. The French army was unable to do battle simultaneously with the Kemalists and the Sharifian groups in the |Blue Area'. Faysal himself was aware of the French difficulties and the relative weakness of the French military presence in the Levant. He therefore tried to 'blackmail' them into agreeing to change and curtail the French advantages included in the agreement reached with Clemenceau on 6 January 1920. Also, Faysal refused to go to Paris in order to reach a final agreement with the French.
The convocation of the Syrian Congress in Damascus on 8 February and the coronation of Faysal as king of Syria began a new phase in the deteriorating relations between him and France. Millerand considered the Congress resolution to be null and void and refused to recognize Faysal as king of Syria.
General Gouraud, then head of the French administration in Syria, was constrained to manoeuvre cautiously regarding Faysal although this policy was contrary to the real French intentions towards the Sharifian government. As long as the French lacked the military means to improve their situation in Syria, Gouraud advised Millerand to look for a |delaying formula which will enable us to avoid being dragged behind a military solution for the time being...'(2) Gouraud therefore called for a temporary political solution without yielding basic French plans about the future of Syria, in order to save time.(3)
The San Remo conference of April 1920 granting France the mandate for Syria, and Great Britain the mandate for Palestine, was a turning point in the annals of the Levant. To France, the San Remo decision meant the international legitimation of most of her claims in Syria. Operationally, the recognition of Syria as part of the French mandate zone meant that all future events in Syria would come under French control and authority, including relations with Faysal. From then on relations with Faysal were to be fully subjected to French military and economic considerations. The importance of Great Britain as a factor limiting French manoeuverability was also to diminish significantly.
As a result of the French mandate, General Gouraud became responsible for the area allocated in the Sykes-Picot agreement to the Arab state. Until the San Remo decision, Gouraud's authority had been confined to the |Blue Area' alone. As a result he was constrained to carry out a defensive policy towards Faysal.
After the conference Gouraud had a free hand, at least theoretically, to carry out any policy which he considered suitable. The international legitimacy given to the French mandate in Syria ended the differences between the diplomatic center in Paris and the military administrative center in Syria. Shortly after the San Remo conference, Millerand encouraged Gouraud to make every effort to increase the French military presence in Syria, to obtain budgets for financing political activity 'in order to give France the role and authority which justify its traditions , its sacrifices and the decisions of the Peace Conference'.(4) Gouraud was asked by Millerand to send him a military and political plan for Syria and to present his views concerning the Levant. The positive change for France in the international diplomatic arena was not followed by an immediate improvement in the French position in Syria. That situation brought about a rigid French(5) attitude towards the Sharifian government in Damascus. Therefore, when Faysal announced his readiness to go to Europe for discussions with France and Great Britain, Gouraud preferred him to stay in Damascus. Gouraud feared that Faysal's replacement, should he go to Europe, would be weaker vis-a-vis the extremists and particularly the |committee for national defence', which, according to Gouraud acted independently and incited overtly to war against France.(6)
Millerand estimated that a final and complete elimination of Faysal from power could not be executed immediately at that time as a result of the limited means at Gouraud's disposal. However, he gradualy started to prepare the Quai d'Orsay for this possibility by describing the chaos in Syria in order to show how ungrateful Faysal was in responding with violence to Gouraud's moderate policy. Millerand stated to Gouraud and to the French Ambassador in London that
the French government could not agree any longer to the daily violation of the principles of the agreement accepted by the Emir and that French soldiers continue to be massacred by semi-Turkish, semi-Arab gangs ... the mandate granted to France in Syria gives her not only the right but also the duty to maintain order and security ... Faysal cannot be at one and the same time representative of the king of Hijaz, of Pan-Arab claims and prince of Syria, placed under French mandate(7)
The gap between the concepts of France and those of Faysal was by definition unbridgeable. Gouraud made clear to Faysal that France recognized the right of the peoples in Syria to be independent.(8) Faysal opposed this attitude by claiming that the French recognized not a one and indivisible Syria' but rather Arabic speaking populations in Syrian territory. According to Faysal, following Gouraud's statement, his supporters were deeply disappointed. Faysal alleged that there was nothing new in Gouraud's declaration since the right to independence was natural. Besides, he argued that the Syrians did not comprise different nations as conceived by the French but rather were one nation with a common history and aspirations, inhabiting one territory." Opposing the French concept of Syria, Faysal was ready to deal with France only on condition of French recognition of a united and independent Syrian state. A positive answer was demanded by Faysal as a precondition for his travel to Europe(10).
Gouraud suggested to Millerand that he respond positively to Faysal's proposal and confirm that the French government had no objections to Syrian independence. He suggested adopting the British formula, recognizing Mesopotamia and Syria as independent states subordinated to the mandatory power until they were able to stand on their own. Gouraud believed that by making such a declaration the French could gain time and calm the agitation in Syria following the San Remo conference. At the same time Gouraud asked for the reinforcement of his troops and for an increase of his budget to finance operations in Syria."
Gouraud's proposal was not indicative of a sudden shift in his position concerning the political future of Syria. It was rather a tactical move aimed to cope with the French military inferiority in Syria at that time, partly owing to their operations along the Turkish border which prevented Gouraud from concentrating enough strength inside Syria in order to impose the tough policy which had been decided upon by Millerand.
There were differences of opinion between the French military headquarters in Paris and Gouraud on the means by which political goals could be attained in Syria by using military power. In Paris, a general and comprehensive political and military plan started to take shape. Gouraud thought it necessary to realize only partial aims. He alleged that as long as he lacked the means, he could not face the Turks and the Sharifians on two different fronts at the same time. He considered abandoning French aspirations in Cilicia as a necessary step in order to divert French forces into Syria 'to enable the negotiations with the Sharifian government on a suitable basis adjusted to the French interests'(12)
Gouraud hoped that by reinforcing French troops in Syria, the autonomy of the Lebanon and of other areas could be enlarged. He estimated that the continuation of the French weakness in Syria would lead the |Syrian Congress' to interpret the Clemenceau-Faysal agreement of January 1920 as a French acceptance of a total evacuation of the French army from the Levant.(13) Gouraud still considered that Faysal could be manoeuvred into a position which would make possible a complete imposition of the French mandate without any obstacle on Faysal's part.
Lord Curzon also tried to moderate French activities in Syria. To his mind, any attempt to take the Homs-Aleppo railway by force, could drag relations between France and Faysal into a deep crisis and push Faysal towards the Turkish nationalists who at that time were, according to Curzon, in contact with the Bolsheviks in the Caucasus. Consequently Curzon tried to convince Millerand to invite Faysal to Europe.(14) Curzon also believed that the international recognition of French exclusive rights in Syria as manifested in San Remo, which enabled the French to take the necessary military measures to deal with the local situation, also made possible a political flexibility towards Faysal at the same time. Therefore Curzon suggested to Millerand to renew their joint invitation to Faysal to join the Peace Conference, which was to convene the end of June 1920. He assured Millerand that if Faysal refused the invitation, he would no longer be recognized as the representative of the Hejaz, any financial support granted to him by both governments would be stopped, and France could take over the Homs-Aleppo railway.(15)
Millerand agreed to the British proposal and informed General Gouraud of its contents. Millerand's consent to the British proposal was not an indication of moderation on his part. Probably he did not really believe that Faysal would come to the Peace Conference. His acquiescence to Curzon's views was part of a preparation for taking powerful measures against Faysal. This step was conclusive rather than one which offered the option of an arrangement between Faysal and the French. A military plan which had been prepared in the Ministry of War and the General headquarters for General Gouraud, as part of the general guidelines he was to receive from the Quai d'Orsay, did not leave much doubt about the ultimate goal of the French government in Syria:
The policy which the French government decided to follow in the Levant comprises the following general military dispositions: In Cilicia the French attitude should be strictly defensive and enable the maximum economy of forces. In Syria it should tend to impose, without delay, French authority and prestige, by breaking if necessary by offensive operations, the resistance and intrigues of Faysal's government ... Thus the major part of the forces and the materiel would be concentrated in Syria in order to realize as early as possible the occupation of Damascus and Aleppo. The occupation of Homs and Hamma would follow.(16)
The Secretary-General of the Quai d'Orsay and former French Ambassador to Russia, Maurice Paleologue, was not fully convinced by the policy. Paleologue considered three alternatives: first to conquer Damascus, Homs, Hamma and Aleppo, with a parallel partial withdrawal from Cilicia; and to establish defensive positions in Mersina, Tartus, Adana and Othmaniya. The advantage of this alternative was to reestablish French prestige by a military operation. However, Paleologue felt that this alternative had its disadvantages which outnumbered its advantages. He doubted whether France was ready for such expenditure of money and manpower. He also wondered how the conquest of Damascus would be received by French public opinion and Parliament. Did not the French underestimate the ability of the nationalistic Arab populations to resist, supported by the nationalistic Turks? Was there any assurance that the British would not advise Faysal how to stand up to the French? What would be the American reaction to the military imposition of the French mandate? The second plan would be complete withdrawal from Syria and Cilicia. This, according to Paleologue, could arouse public resentment in France. The third option would be the gradual retreat and abandonment of Cilicia, negotiations with the Turkish nationalists, negotiations with Faysal and the imposition of the mandate according to the Covenant of the League of Nations and Faysal-Clemenceau agreement of 6 January 1920. This would not require any military occupation of the Syrian hinterland and would necessitate the presence of only a few French officials to guide the administration. To Paleologue's way of thinking the advantages of this last alternative were many and he considered it to be the best solution for France.(17)
Millerand rejected this proposal and adopted the tough line of the Ministry of War and the General Headquarters. This policy was explicitly set out in his directives to Gouraud at the end of May 1920. These guidelines could be considered as the opening of the last phase in the relations between France and Faysal. Millerand's basic assumption was that all the methods used in Syria until the end of May had been ineffective. In his estimation, the continuation of a policy based on retaliation could be followed with more defeats to France in northern Syria and encourage the extremists there. Millerand presented Gouraud with an overview of the international conditions that enabled France to act independently in Syria. He considered the British attitude on the Syrian issue as legitimizing an operation against Faysal in order to impose the mandate. Based on this analysis, Millerand issued the following operational directions to Gouraud: to gather all troops from Cilicia and Mersina in order to protect the railway between Alexandretta and Aleppo; and to prepare a military operation in order |to secure our traditional and contractual rights and to raise our prestige'. In addition, Millerand explained that this operation should avoid the entrapment of French troops between Sharifian forces and the Turkish nationalists in a manner that would prevent French occupation. From Millerand's point of view, a military operation in Syria was justified following the constant violations by Faysal of his commitments, his coronation as the 'king of Syria' and his refusal to accept the resolutions of the Peace Conference relating to the mandates and the attacks of organized gangs against French outposts in the |Blue' zone.(18) A timetable for setting up all forces and concentrating all military means was fixed for the beginning of July. The targets of the operation were the following:
(a) to occupy of the Rayak-Aleppo railway, which would enable a fast and regular supply of forces threatened by the Turkish nationalists in Cilicia;
(b) To occupy Damascus, Aleppo and possibly also Homs;
(c) To put an end to the conscription declared by the Sharifian government and arrest all extremists responsible for hostilities against the French forces; and
(d) To proclaim the reasons for the operation by stating that the occupation of the four cities would reassure the Christians who had started to doubt the French traditional commitment to defend them.
Millerand stated at last that, |if Faysal and his government will not obey, one should not forget that behind the zone of the four towns and the railway... there is nothing but the desert without any ressources or possibilities of any kind'(19) Though very clear political guidelines were given by Millerand to Gouraud, the latter was left enough leeway for decisions regarding the millitary operations and their timing according to local circumstances. Millerand preferred Faysal's surrender to French dictates rather than a war with him while French public opinion was still exhausted by the War. He assumed that the concentration of the French army in Beirut and the threat to conquer the Rayak-Aleppo railway would persuade the Sharifian government to give up the control of the railway to the French. However, he was still not sure whether this would be the course of events. He doubted whether taking control of the railway by the French would persuade Faysal to yield and observe the 6 January agreement. Also, Millerand was not sure whether Faysal would agree to accept the French mandate - or whether he would go to war and thus compel the French to conquer Damascus. These questions were raised by Millerand, who asked Gouraud's opinion.(20)
At the beginning of June 1920 Gouraud met Faysal. The latter agreed to hand over the Rayak-Aleppo railway to the French. Nevertheless, the French did not trust Faysal since they realized that his ability to fulfil his promises depended on the extremists in his government.(21) Millerand was satisfied with Faysal's answer and hastened to pass the good news to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate. Millerand tried to convince the committee that his government was not seeking a war in the Levant but favoured political options. However Millerand did not rule out the use of force in the event of unexpected surprises.(22) The Senate was aware of the guidelines given to Gouraud and Millerand was asked to explain to the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee the expected positive results arising from a French conquest of Syria and Cilicia. Some of the committee members were not convinced that there was any material or moral justification for France to conquer Syria and to dominate it. Thereupon Millerand declared that he was in favour of staying in Syria. Berthelot then intervened and explained to the senators that after the San Remo Conference there was no difference between territories dominated by Faysal and territories included in the |Blue' zone held by France, and that from then on the French mandate included both. As a result, the entry of the French army to the Syrian hinterland was not to be considered as an occupation, but rather the realization of the legitimate rights granted to France. Following this explanation, two of the committee members asked for clarifications about Faysal's position, his right as king, and his administrative authority. Millerand and Berthelot explained that Faysal had neither authority nor rights and that his status as 'King of Syria' and the decisions of the Syrian Congress were not recognized by the French government. They blamed Faysal for playing on both sides of the field at the same time, on the one hand claiming to uphold the 6 January agreement, and on the other, covertly violating it in an attempt to avoid, so far as possible, the imposition of the French mandate in Syria.
Despite all these arguments Millerand and Berthelot did not mention the possibility of eliminating Faysal by force and told the committee that all measures would be taken to bring Faysal to a peaceful negotiation with France.(23) These words should not be interpreted as indicating readiness to compromise with Faysal toward whom Millerand had a negative attitude. He considered him a bedouin, who did not belong to the Syrian population. It is safe to assume that Millerand would have welcomed any development which would have ousted Faysal from the region.(24)
On 30 May 1920 France signed a cease-fire agreement with the Kemalists. Faysal understood that this agreement enabled the French to reinforce their troops stationed in Syria, thereby limiting his activities. He therefore demanded an immediate recognition of his title as king and an early acceptance of Syrian unity, without any guarantees for French interests in Syria. Gouraud thereupon suggested informing Faysal about Curzon's proposal for a joint Anglo-French declaration agreed upon by Millerand.(25) Millerand began expressing impatience in his attitude towards Faysal and urged Gouraud to ignore the issue of the joint declaration proposed by Curzon and to clarify explicitly to Faysal that his demands for unity and recognition of his status as king would correspond neither to the rights of France as a mandatory power, nor to the decisions of the Peace Conference.(26) Gouraud's view was that the occupation of the Rayak-Aleppo railway would necessarily lead to the occupation of Damascus in order to suppress the extremist gangs threatening the railway. Thus the agreement with the Kemalists, the growing nervousness of Faysal, the impatience of Millerand and the views of Gouraud, started a deterioration in the relations with Faysal leading to confrontation.
On 13 June Millerand ordered Gouraud to begin preparing an alternative to Faysal from among the Syrian local population since |the French mandate is incompatible with the long-term existence of the government in Damascus'.(27) Millerand accused Damascus of striving to fight against France and of spreading a xenophobic nationalism in Syria. He therefore concluded that |the moment has come for you to prepare effectively against a situation, the character of which is absolutely clear ..."(28) Millerand believed that the situation could no longer lead to any kind of arrangement between France and Faysal. He believed that the planned arrival of Faysal at the Peace Conference in Europe was useless because a reappearance of Faysal at the Conference could only renew the plots that he had already initiated. Millerand therefore instructed Gouraud to start looking for a new leadership for Syria that would collaborate with France according to the spirit of the mandate. Millerand considered the committees of the notables as capable of guaranteeing a republican regime in Syria both in its western and eastern parts, structured as an autonomy. Millerand also proposed that Gouraud assured the neutrality and the non-involvement of the bedouin tribes east to the four towns, in case of a crisis with Faysal.(29) The conclusion of Millerand that the time was ripe to have a clear and decisive policy towards Faysal was shared by Robert de Caix, who urged sweeping away the Sharifian government once for all in order to avoid any British effort to renegotiate the nature of the mandate with Faysal. Most French statesmen did not consider Faysal as a partner for a dialogue. The only option for Faysal to survive as a ruler in Damascus was complete surrender and submission to the French high commissioner. Any form of |condominium' was inacceptable to the French.(31)
At the end of June and the beginning of July, French troops in Syria were reinforced. Although Gouraud tried to present the reinforcement as designed to strengthen the defensive measures in the |Blue' area, the government in Damascus did not ignore the possible significance of this step. Faysal thereupon sent Nuri Pasha as-Said on a mission to Gouraud in order to try and get a declaration from the French government, recognizing Syrian independence, the Damascus government, and King Faysal. Also, Nuri presented an application for financial support. Faysal, it seems, tried to create the impression of being interested in a rapprochement with France, but he was late. Gouraud told Nuri as-Said that the French government had no intention of changing its previous declarations, and that no new financial support would be granted to Faysal unless his government changed its posture verbally as well as in practice.(23) Nuri carried a letter to Gouraud from Faysal in which he mentioned a cable he had received from Rustum Haydar, his representative in Paris. In this cable the possibility was mentioned of an attack planned to be carried out by Gouraud in the eastern part of Syria. Faysal asked for a confirmation of this report.(33) It is to be assumed that it was a subterfuge to get more information about Gouraud's intentions. Gouraud was vague and aimed to gain time.(34) It was no surprise therefore that the results of a mission that Faysal sent to Gouraud were not satisfactory. Faysal asked Colonel Toulat, the French liaison officer, to propose to Gouraud a mutual agreement to avoid any military and political aggression. Faysal pledged to go to France as soon as possible, once the French accepted his condition. Gouraud was ready to send the Amir's demand to Millerand, but at the same time he explained to Faysal that he would not have an opportunity to participate in the conference of the Allied Supreme Council in Spa, since the agenda for it had been already set. Besides, following his refusal to travel to Europe during the past two months, Faysal should not expect a positive answer from the French government while other and not less important issues than the Syrian problem were on its agenda. It was clear that Gouraud was trying to gain time during his talks with Faysal's envoys until his forces were better organized. In his opinion, he needed some 11 days, meaning until 20 July, in order to get his troops ready to occupy the Rajak-Aleppo railway, the town of Aleppo and to threaten Damascus.
Faysal lost his patience while waiting for Toulat's answer, and on 9 July he cabled Britain and France announcing his determination to go to Europe in order to participate in the Spa conference. Britain responded positively through General Allenby, while Gouraud had no intention of so doing.(35) Since Gouraud needed more time to deploy his troops, he decided to suggest to Millerand that he send Faysal a non-commital letter in which Faysal would be invited in principle to the next session of the Peace Conference, but without setting a fixed date. Gouraud told Millerand that he himself would try to |hold the Amir in Syria'.(36) Faysal, on his side, ordered his representatives in Paris to visit the Quai d'Orsay and demand that Millerand, who at that time was already in Spa, let Faysal come urgently to Paris to explain |misunderstandings between himself and the French government'. Faysal's representatives were told by senior Quai d'Orsay officials that the Amir should apply only to Gouraud.(37) Thus, the French government let Faysal's representatives
understand that it did not consider him as a partner for a dialogue between heads of State, but only a local prince who should apply to the highest local French authority.
At the Spa conference Curzon tried to persuade Millerand to let Faysal come to Europe. But Millerand had already made up his mind and told Curzon unequivocally that Faysal was in the area under French rule and that the time for him to come to Europe had passed.(38)
The nervousness of the Damascus government and its diplomatic activity in the international arena caused some concern to the French government. This concern was the basis for Gouraud's decision to proceed with the first stage of the military operation. On 14 July at noon, Rayak and Mualakah were occupied without a battle. Faysal rushed to protest to Gouraud against the occupation. The French step caused tension and agitation among political circles in Damascus. Gouraud described the agitation as |artificial' and blamed British and Italian agents for encouraging it and for preparing a surprise visit of Faysal to Europe. Against this background, Gouraud decided to send Faysal an ultimatum that very day which also included French grievances. Five conditions were put forward to Faysal followed by the threat to use force if they were not fulfilled: complete French control of the Rayak-Aleppo railway to be guaranteed by control of the stations of Rayak, Baalbek, Homs, Hamma, Aleppo and the occupation of the town of Aleppo; the abolition of conscription to the Sharifian army; the acceptance of the French mandate; the use of the Syrian currency to be decided upon by the French;" and the punishment of those guilty of hostilities against the French administration. Gouraud fixed midnight 18 July as the deadline for fulfilling these conditions. In case of non-acceptance, the French government would consider itself free to take all suitable measures.(40) Among the French claims against Faysal, Gouraud also mentioned the refusal of the Damascus government to allow the free use of the Rayak-Aleppo railway, the organizing of gangs against French troops, Faysal's refusal to answer positively his invitation to the Peace Conference, rejection of the French mandate, organizing a hostile propaganda campaign in the local newspapers, convening the Damascus congress and the coronation of Faysal as king. 'These reasons fully prove that it has become impossible to give any more credit to a government which demonstrates so clearly its hostility towards France'(41) The conditions of the ultimatum were described as guarantees for the maintenance of order and security for the French soldiers. All the conditions presented to Faysal would have to be fulfilled by him as a whole with no argument about each one of them separately. All the conditions would have to be accepted by Faysal in principle before 18 July and carried out not later than midnight, 31 July. Gouraud warned Faysal that in case Damascus refused the conditions |... it is the government of Damascus which will bear the entire weight of responsibility for the extreme solution which I envisage although with regret, but which I am ready to carry out with the greatest determination'.(42)
France in Syria: The abolition of the Sharifian government, April-July 1920
Following the ultimatum, Faysal's representatives appealed again to Paleologue at the Quai d'Orsay. Paleologue adopted an uncompromising attitude by declaring that from then on Faysal would have to carry out Gouraud's instructions strictly. |The Amir Faysal has from now on to be straightforward; we shall not tolerate any intrigue on his part, any malice.'(43) Faysal's representatives agreed to transmit immediately Paleologue's declaration to Damascus but appealed for an addition to the cable of a final paragraph instructing Gouraud to renew his trust in Faysal. Paleologue refused, declaring that Faysal should appeal directly to Gouraud. Paleologue also rejected Faysal's claims against the French government.(44) Millerand, who was in Spa when the French ultimatum was given to Faysal, approved it as well as the other measures taken by Gouraud. He also informed Gouraud that in case of a refusal by Faysal to fulfil the conditions, he should feel free to take any political and military measures which would ensure the collaboration of the local inhabitants and the |break up of the Sharifian opposition and the replacement of their regime in the eastern zone'.(45) Millerand was so determined to remove Faysal that the possibility of Faysal yielding and accepting the conditions included in the ultimatum actually worried him. In this case Faysal could try to negotiate new conditions with France; for example, to cancel the conscription but at the same time to try and maintain the already existing Sharifian army. It was Millerand's opinion that any situation contradicting the system of the Mandate was to be avoided and the existence of a local army was one of these situations. Millerand was concerned about the possibility that the ultimatum might clear the way for Faysal to retreat, which would compel the French government to compromise with him, thereby hindering the implementation of the Mandate and the system of autonomies. Therefore Millerand emphasized to Gouraud that |We should not compromise with a regime which is basically hostile towards us.'(46) It was Millerand the civilian statesman who required from the military man an uncompromising and tough policy towards Faysal and his regime. Back in Paris after Spa, Millerand once again rephrased his policy and views regarding Faysal. He reprimanded Gouraud and demanded complete obedience to instructions, namely, there were to be no negotiations with Faysal as though he represented a state equal to France. Millerand wanted to prevent Faysal from gaining any political advantage while the military means at the disposal of Gouraud were still insufficient. Therefore Millerand was worried that the conditions presented to Faysal were a |weak minimum' which could not serve the main cause - getting rid of Faysal.(47)
Millerand criticized Gouraud for agreeing to Faysal's condition concerning his recognition by the French Mandate. This condition, according to Millerand, presented Faysal as a head of the Syrian state while the various appointments should be made by the Mandatory Power which did not need any approval from the local authority. Millerand also thought that Gouraud had not emphasized strongly enough to Faysal how objectionable his coronation as king was. By continuing to use the title of |king' Faysal had violated all the conditions presented to him. It was clear that Millerand intended to abolish the Sharifian regime and therefore objected to any step which could potentially prolong Faysal's domination even for short period. Millerand had clearly opted for a radical military solution rather than a political one. It was no surprise, therefore, that when summing up his instructions to Gouraud he declared that they were aimed at eliminating the |pseudo-Sharifian government' and that he now considered the agreement of 6 January 1920 to be null and void and consequently could not be regarded as a basis for discussion with Faysal. Any future discussions with Faysal's government should aim to impose a complete surrender by him.(48) It was clear that even if Faysal agreed to the conditions included in Gouraud's ultimatum of 14 July, it could change nothing in the ultimate goal which was the abolition of his regime. The ultimatum became a pretext to enable Gouraud to carry out a better reorganization for the French troops.
Faysal's situation was tragic as he found himself on the horns of a dilemma. He and some of his ministers were ready to accept the French ultimatum and to collaborate with them after consulting with the British. But the extremists in the Syrian Congress were of a different mind and strongly attacked him and his government. On 19 July, the Syrian Congress issued a threat to the Sharifian government, should it accept French demands. When the Congress convened on 20 July the government ordered its final dissolution. Faysal was caught again between the French ultimatum and the extremists in his camp, but this time he decided to surrender. Without consulting his cabinet he rushed to inform Gouraud of his decision.(49)
On 19 July Colonel Toulat, escorted by an officer from the Sharifian army, arrived in Beirut and informed Gouraud of Faysal's acceptance of the ultimatum. The same evening a cable from Colonel Cousse, the French liaison officer, confirmed the fact officially, but Gouraud reminded Faysal that the ultimatum of 14 July required not only its acceptance but also that certain actions be taken to guarantee the execution of the different articles of the ultimatum before it expired. Gouraud informed Faysal that if during 20 July he had not been informed that the required steps had been executed, the French troops would start to move on the morning of 21 July. Between 15 and 20 July, pamphlets were dropped from the air on Damascus, Homs, Hamma and Aleppo. In these pamphlets France declared that it considered the Mandate granted to her - a guarantee for the independence and prosperity of the Syrian people. At the same time Gouraud concentrated forces to be ready to move in the region of Zahlah.(50) Since no answer had arrived from Faysal until dawn 22 July, the troops in Zahla under the command of General Goybet were instructed to move towards the Biqa' valley and to climb up the anti-Lebanon mountains. In the morning of 21 July Gouraud received a cable from Damascus according to which Faysal gave instructions to carry out all the articles included in the ultimatum. Gouraud admitted later in 1920, that the cable from Faysal had been sent on 20 July but arrived late because of damage to in the telegraph line across the anti-Lebanon area.(51) Gouraud informed Faysal that since his agreememt to implement the ultimatum had not arrived on time, there was no possibility of stopping the French forces from moving ahead to Damascus. However, Gouraud promised Faysal that the forces would not enter Damascus unless compelled to do so by military circumstances.
Rumours spread in Damascus about the advance of the French troops towards the city despite Faysal's acceptance of the ultimatum. They created great excitment; Colonel Toulat and the foreign ambassadors feared a Muslim massacre of the Christians. Toulat rushed to Gouraud on 21 July intending to stop the army, stressing the negative impact of moving towards Damascus on the population which might consider it as an act of mistrust. Toulat was escorted by Sati' el-Husri, the minister of education in Faysal's government, who wanted to negotiate with Gouraud.(52)
Concerned about possible damage to the prestige of France among the local population as well as by the danger of a general insurrection to be exploited by the extremists, Gouraud decided to stop the march on Damascus. Nevertheless, he presented to Faysal new conditions to be implemented by midnight 23 July: the government in Damascus to declare loyalty to the agreements with France; the complete execution of the ultimatum; the withdrawal to Damascus of all Sharifian forces stationed in the Biqa| valley and north-west to the Takiyah river; the disarmament of the demobilized soldiers and the civilian population; and the creation of a committee in Damascus to control the implementation of the ultimatum and the mandate in the eastern area. Gouraud's decision to stop the army from marching towards Damascus and to present Faysal with new conditions was taken independently without approval from Paris. Millerand criticized the decision sharply, considering it a kind of recognition of Faysal's government, and risking that the Sharifian government would become a significant political factor. |Your policy should not be influenced either by interested foreign consuls in Damascus, or by hesitations vis-a-vis opposition by a regime such as Faysal's, nor by agitations of the masses in Damascus. Just the opposite, any revelation of retreat by our army risks provoking resistance and insurrection'(53) From Millerand's point of view, the Damascus government had ceased to be lawful. There was therefore no basis for further discussion with Faysal regarding the agreement of 6 January 1920. To Millerand's mind, by halting the army, Gouraud had been lured into taking part in Faysal's game which aimed to gain time. Millerand ordered Gouraud to recall the two liaison officers - Cousse and Toulat - back from Damascus.(54) They were to a large extent a moderating factor, believing in cooperation with Faysal.
On 22 July a Sharifian military unit attacked one of the advanced French outposts east of Tel Kalaa. As a result, the troops of this outpost joined a larger force concentrated at the entrance of Homs and Tripoli. On the morning of 23 July French forces counter-attacked and took 50 Arab war prisoners, including two officers. Gouraud considered the Arab attack on 22 July as a violation by the Faysal government, and he ordered the French army to start moving towards Damascus.
On the morning of 24 July the French attacked Khan Maysalun where Sharifian forces had been fortified in order to block the road to Damascus." The battle proved difficult for the French and lasted, according to Gouraud, for eight hours. The French troops were under the command of General Goybet. The Sharifian army was supported by bedouins and stubbornly opposed the French with cannon and machine-gun fire. The French introduced tanks and aircraft in the battle. The battle ended at 13.30 hours. Faysal's army suffered heavy losses in manpower and armaments. Yusuf Bey Azmah, the minister of war, who had been described by the French as one of their staunchest enemies, was killed in the battle. The French lost 150 soldiers. In the afternoon, Cousse, escorted by a Sharifian colonel, arrived at the French camp. The latter declared on behalf of the Sharifian government that there would be no resistance to the French army in Damascus.
On 25 July French troops entered Damascus with no resistance whatsoever. A new government headed by Durubi composed of pro-French elements was set up and presented to General Goybet. The latter informed General Gouraud on behalf of the new government that Faysal had ceased to rule. The new government accepted all instructions and conditions, thereby expressing its readiness to collaborate. Faysal still believed he could reach an understanding with the French.(56) He returned to Damascus in the evening of 26 July but was immediately ordered by Gouraud to leave Syria within 48 hours, together with his family and entourage.(57) Faysal yielded and left Damascus on 28 July. On his way he stopped in Daraah and, according to Gouraud, rumors spread about Faysal organizing himself there. Following a French threat to attack Daraah, Faysal left the town on 2 August.
French public opinion was divided following the occupation of Damascus. While Le Temps of 25 July praised the operation, Senator Victor Berard sharply criticized the government in a debate a few days after the occupation. He blamed the government for rescinding the agreements of 1916 which in his opinion promised the establishment of an Arab state in eastern Syria. He also blamed the government for abrogating the Faysal-Clemenceau agreement and for having planned to occupy Damascus from the beginning of 1920.(58) Millerand was grateful for the occupation of Damascus which he considered as an immediate necessity |to eradicate all remnants of Faysal's improvised regime'.(59) In summarizing the Faysal era, Millerand expressed to Gouraud his conviction that the Sharifian government had been doomed to fail because its very existence and ideas were contrary to the realities, the aspirations and traditional divisions of the local populations as well as to French democratic tradition.(60)
(1.) This article is based on a doctoral thesis submitted to Tel Aviv University; |French Policy in the Levant and its Attitude towards Arab Nationalism and the Zionist movement 1914-1920'. See also Dan Eidar, |French policy towards Husayn Sharif of Mecca; Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 26, No. 3 (July 1990).
(2.) Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres (henceforth MAE), Syrie-Liban, Vol. 25, Gouraud from Beirut, 24 March 1920.
(4.) Ibid. Millerand to Gouraud, Paris, 4 May 1920, p. 149
(5.) Ibid. Serie Levant, Syrie-Liban, Vol., 113, General Sous-Chef d'Etat-Major General de L'Armee(note), Paris, 9 May 1920, p. 4. (6.) Ibid. Gouraud, Beirut, 10 May 1920, telegram, p. 11.
(7.) Serie Levant, Syrie-Liban, Vol. 27, Millerand, telegram to London and Beirut, Paris, 11 May 1920, pp. 237-9.
(8.) Circumstances and date of this statement are unclear but no doubt it was issued after the San-Remo conference.
(9.) Ibid. Vol. 28, telegram from Gouraud, Beirut, 19 May 1920, p. 46.
(10.) Ibid. p. 48.
(11.) Ibid. Gouraud from Beirut, telegram, 19 May 1920, pp. 53-7.
(12.) Ibid, Gouraud from Beirut, telegram, 11 May 1920, p. 98.
(14.) Ibid. Curzon, Foreign Office, 18 May 1920, p. 139.
(15.) Ibid. Millerand to Gouraud, Paris, 27 May 1920, precis of Lord Curzon's answer to the recent communication regarding Syria p. 221.
(16.) Ibid. Ministry of War, Army GHQ, Paris, May 1920. Project de directives d'ordre miltaire a incorporer aux instructions generales . Prepared for General Gouraud by the M. A. E. , p. 167.
(17.) Paleologue, Note sur la politique francaise en Syrie-Cilicie, 27 May 1920, pp. 273-4.
(18.) Ibid. Millerand to Gouraud, Paris, 27 May 1920, pp. 213-16.
(19.) Ibid. pp. 217-19.
(20.) Serie Levant, Syrie-Liban, Vol. 29, Millerand to Gouraud, Paris, 1 June 1920, personal and secret, p. 101.
(21.) Ibid. Gouraud to Millerand, Beirut, 2 June 1920, p. 110.
(22.) Archives of Senat, Proces Verbaux de la Commission des Affaires Etrangeres, Session, 3 June 1920, p. 28.
(24.) Serie Papiers d'Agents: Millerand, Vol. 10, note to Robert de Caix, 5 June 1920. A handwritten draft.
(25.) Serie Levant, Syrie-Liban, Vol. 29 Gouraud from Beirut, telegram, 10 June 1920, p. 228.
(26.) Ibid. Vol. 30, Millerand to Gouraud, Paris, 12 June 1920.
(27.) Ibid. Serie Levant, Syrie-Liban, Vol. 30, Millerand to Gouraud and to Cambon, Paris, 13 June 1920, p. 67.
(30.) Serie Levant, Turquie, Vol. 262, Mandats, Robert de Caix, 18 June 1920, note, Observations sur un mandat remis par Vansittart. p. 18.
(31.) Assemblee Nationale, Commissions des Affaires Exterieures, Proces Verbaux 34, Seance 18 June 1920, p. 13.
(32.) M. A. E. Serie Levant, Syrie-Liban, Vol. 30, Gouraud, telegram, 9 July 1920. p. 225.
(35.) Ibid., p. 227.
(36.) Ibid., p. 231.
(37.) Ibid. Paleologue to Millerand in Spa, from Paris, 12 July 1920, p. 253.
(38.) Ibid. Millerand, 13 July 1920, p. 256.
(39.) On 4 April 1920 Gouraud ordered the use of bank notes issued by the Banquc de Syrie as official currency from the beginning of May. The currency would be under French control. This order met some opposition in the |Blue' area and territory |A' where the Egyptian Lira was still current.
(40.) MAE Serie Levant, Syrie-Liban, Vol. 30 Gouraud, telegram 14 July 1920, p. 266.
(41.) Ibid., Vol. 31 p. 13.
(42.) Ibid., p. 23.
(43.) Ibid. Paleologue to Gouraud, telegram, 15 July 1920, p. 8.
(45.) Ibid. Millerand to Gouraud, 17 July, p. 27.
(46.) In a handwritten remark at the bottom of his letter to Gouraud, Millerand expressed his assumption that the ultimatum required an answer without conditions and that Gouraud should not engage in any argument with Faysal.
(47.) Serie Levant, Syrie-Liban, Vol. 31, Projet, copy, Millerand to Gouraud p. 99 undated and unsigned. Could have been drafted by Paleologue.
(48.) Ibid., p. 100.
(49.) Zeine N. Zeine, The Struggle for Arab Independence, (Beirut, 1960) pp. 176-7. For an analysis of Faysal's dilemma facing the extremists who rejected the Faysal-Clemenceau agreement, see Philip S. Khoury, Urban Notables and Arab Nationalism, The Politics of Damascus 1860-1920 (Cambridge University Press, 1981) pp. 89, 90.
(50.) Archives du Ministre de la Guerre, Armee du Levant, l'occupation de Damas par I'Armee du Levant.
(51.) In a lecture given by Gouraud to the Comite de l'Asie-Francaise in December 1920, he mentioned two versions explaining the delay in getting the cable from Faysal: The destruction of the telegraph line by extremists opposing any settlement with France; The head of Faysal's telegraph service supported a war with France and therefore did not deliver the cable. L'Asie Francaise, January 1921 p. 8.
(52.) Sati' al-Husri, The Day of Maysalun, a Page from the Modern History of the Arabs (Washington, D. C. , 1966) pp. 67-72.
(53.) Serie Levant, Syrie-Liban, Vol. 31 Millerand to Gouraud, Paris, 24 July 1920, p. 164.
(54.) Ibid. Millerand to Gouraud, Paris, 23 July 1920, p. 126.
(55.) Ibid. Gouraud, Beirut, 24 July 1920, very urgent, p. 159. Gouraud reported that Faysal did not answer his memorandum of 22 July despite his claim that he objected the war.
(56.) Zeine N. Zeine, Ibid., p. 184.
(57.) Serie Levant, Syrie-Liban, Vol. 31, Gouraud, telegram, 27 July 1920, p. 182.
(58.) Archives du Senat, 2nd session 28 July 1920, Journal Officiel, p. 1730.
(59.) Serie Levant, Syrie-Liban, Vol. 31, Millerand to Gouraud, Paris, 25 July 1920, p. 176; Ibid., 29 July 1920, p. 253.
(60.) Ibid. Millerand to Gouraud, 6 Aug. 1920, p. 55.