The Anatolian Model and Hope for Salvation, 1920

The appeal of the Anatolian movement in Syria has been erased by seventy-five years of mutually antagonistic nationalist historiography.22 But there is much evidence that the Anatolian movement electrified people in all the defeated Ottoman realms. As a creation of British imperial policy, now abandoned by his patrons, Faysal was ill-suited to lead a movement of armed resistance against the post-war British French settlement. As veteran officers realized the limits of his position, he began to lose their support. Some later ridiculed Faysal and the Hashimites as fools for abandoning the Ottoman state and joining the British, because Ottoman rule, for all its miseries and injustices, had been better than partition and domination by the European imperial- ists.23 As the Anatolian insurgency emerged and became known in Syria, the Syrian and Iraqi officers hoped to emulate the example. British intelligence officer, Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen reported:

Yasin Pasha, the leading spirit in Syria, is now known to be in correspondence with Mustapha Kemal, though actual proof could only be obtained in using violence on the disguised Turkish officers who act as carriers. Yasin is aiming at reinstating Turkish rule in Syria, not so much on national or pan Islamic grounds, as on those of personal power: in this he is the open disciple of Jemal. There is little doubt that at the present moment Yasin’s influence has replaced for the bad the more moderate and reasonable influence on Feisal. He now car ries with him the army and the majority of the people . Arab feeling has been changed from anti French to anti European. This is now noticeable in propa ganda where hostile allusions are made to the English and friendly overtures made to Turkish and even Germans.24

Fawzi al-Qawuqji had been at a loose end in Tripoli in early 1919 when an envoy from Amir Faysal invited him to Damascus. He was thrilled to accept and happy to join what he later called the modern Syrian Arab army at the moment of its formation. Yasin al-Hashimi was the central organizational figure of the new army, and Qawuqji noted that it included Ottoman Arab officers like him and Hashimi who had served the Ottoman state throughout the war, and others who had only recently been fighting against them. They joined together to defend Syria. In his new role, Qawuqji fought against the French occupation and organized guerilla operations in the region of Zahle, not far from Rayaq in what would become Greater Lebanon.25

Wartime military governor Cemel Pasa had tried Sacid al-cAs in 1917 for his pseudonymous journalism critical of the Ottoman government. He spent the final year of the war imprisoned in the citadel at Aleppo. As a highly educated and seasoned staff officer, he was probably a major or perhaps a colonel at the time of his sentence and imprisonment. He was released the day Faysal arrived in Aleppo, on October 26, 1918. Between 1918 and 1921, al-cAs participated in battles all over the region that became southern Turkey and northern Syria. He fought first alongside Ibrahim Hananu, and then went to the mountain districts west of Damascus, where he helped to organize a popular war council and a guerilla campaign against the French occupation of Zabadani, Baalbek, and other areas in what became the State of Greater Lebanon. After Maysalun, he fled Damascus, and by 1921 he remained in Amman.

By the end of 1919, France’s Armenian Legion was fighting Ottoman insurgents to maintain control of Cilicia. General Gouraud in Beirut was preparing to march on and occupy Damascus and inland Syria. Ex-Ottoman officer and Tribal School graduate Ramadan Shallash had left for the Euphrates region from Aleppo in late 1919. Yasin al-Hashimi had convened a war council, probably against the wishes of Faysal, and appointed Shallash military governor of the district of Raqa and the Euphrates.26 Ramadan Shallash was a central figure in the early stages of the Iraq Revolt of 1920, and continued to attack British outposts until June 1920, when Faysal managed to send the perennial troublemaker as an emissary to cAbd al-cAziz al-Saud.27

Shallash met with Hananu in the countryside of Aleppo, and proceeded to defeat a British garrison and occupy the upper Euphrates town of Dayr al-Zur in January 1920. When Faysal, then seeking diplomatic support in Europe for his tottering government, was informed that the town had been captured in the name of the Arab government, he disavowed the action, and instructed his brother Zayd in Damascus to repudiate and initiate arrests against the “rebels.”28

Shallash’s capture of the garrison and the threat of a wider uprising led British authorities to arrest Yasin al-Hashimi. Allenby ordered al-Hashimi taken by train to prison in Ramla in the British-occupied zone in Palestine. Meanwhile, Yasin’s wife and four young children had been living with him in Damascus, and they traveled by train to visit him.29 Both French and British officials feared al-Hashimi could become the leader of an insurgency on the model of and in collaboration with Mustafa Kemal, but when the French refused to take custody of al-Hashimi, Allenby ordered his release, noting publicly that he was complying with a French request.30 Once back in Damascus, both al-Hashimi and Yusuf al-cAzma complained bitterly that they faced an impossible task in organizing defense, made all the more difficult by Faysal’s refusal to seriously contemplate and prepare for military confrontation.31 While Faysal looked in vain to his British former patrons for help, the officers looked to the example of their brother officers in Anatolia.

In March 1920, the Syrian National Congress met in Damascus and proclaimed Faysal constitutional king of undivided natural Syria. The congress was timed to precede the San Remo Conference scheduled for April during which the post-Ottoman settlement would be decided. The congress proclaimed Faysal king almost in spite of himself. British intelligence noted his ambivalent attitude toward the declaration of independence. “Feisal is exerting every effort to prevent a breach between the Arabs and the allies.” His efforts had evidently included secretly helping Allenby to detain Yasin al-Hashimi. Al-Qawuqji and his brother officers were deeply affected by the jailing of their leader, and realized that great power politics and perfidy could defeat all their efforts in defense of the new state of Syria.32 Quwuqji remained in the army through the defeat at Maysalun, and unlike the Hashimi brothers and Faysal’s other senior officers, he stayed in Damascus, eventually accepting employment as a cavalry captain in the French Syrian Legion.

Nationalists attended the congress from Jerusalem, Beirut, Nablus, and Haifa, among other towns and cities. Members of the prominent Husayni family of Jerusalem attended, including Haj Amin al-Husayni, who would come to be the first British-appointed Mufti of Palestine. Iraqi activists held a joint session in Damascus declaring Iraq independent under the rule of Faysal’s brother cAbdallah.33 The Iraqi and Syrian congresses were reported widely in the press in Baghdad, Damascus, Aleppo, Beirut, and Jerusalem, and the program and determination to resist colonial partition was popular. Faysal had briefly returned to Damascus to attend the congress after begging for a resumption of British support and petitioning one European capital after another for help against increasingly truculent French demands. The congress, with a clear view of armed revolts and events in Anatolia, Syria, and Iraq, proclaimed a unified Syria, including Palestine, rejecting the claims of the Zionists, and calling for an end to the government of military occupation. Their actions were more radical than Faysal desired or than the French would tolerate.34

Allenby wrote repeatedly to the Foreign Office to urge official support for Faysal’s position. He forecast war if Britain did not bolster Faysal among those who had planned the congress and who remained opposed to the settlement. The possibility of such endorsement drew protest from London, and Allenby was instructed to remind Faysal, “that the future of the countries conquered freed from the Turks by the Allied Armies could only be determined by the Allied Powers.”35

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