Aftermath of the Syrian Revolt Aftermath of the Syrian Revolt
Mandate military courts sentenced most of the known rebels to death in absentia, including Dr. Shahbandar, and by 1927 there was no safe refuge within the French Mandate. Shahbandar, Sultan al-Atrash, and hundreds of other wanted rebels, many ex-Ottoman officers among them, often accompanied by wives, children, and extended family, fled first to al-Azraq in Transjordan. Within months Amir Abdallah’s police and the British Mandate officials forced them to scatter to various places. Most of the Druze fighters and their families moved to Wadi Sirhan, the closest point to Syria and Hawran within the new sultanate of cAbd al-cAziz al-Saud. There they lived in tents and survived on donations collected and disbursed by the Syrian Palestinian Congress.94 Shahbandar eventually traveled to Cairo, where he practiced medicine and engaged in exile politics with his comrades among the Cairo members of the Syrian Palestinian Congress.
The ex-officers traveled to one or another of the new kingdoms of Faysal, al-Saud, or cAbdallah, where they sought work in the army, police force, or military academies. Fawzi Al-Qawuqji finally left Syria permanently in mid 1927 after traveling from one of the mandates to the other, and attempting without success to continue armed struggle. After fleeing to Transjordan, he eventually traveled to the new sultanate of al-Sacud, where he found work training the army of the new kingdom. He stayed for five years and earned a small pension that supported him in his retirement in the 1960s and 1970s in Beirut.95
Ramadan Shallash surrendered to the High Commissioner and denounced his comrades. He later claimed plots and tricks forced his surrender and he was detained in Beirut under a kind of house arrest far from his upper Euphrates region until the end of the mandate, twenty years later. His sons received scholarships from the French government, and Shallash was probably supported by modest French stipend in his internal exile.96 Others paid more severely for their opposition to the mandate. Sacid al-cAs returned to Amman and eventually rejoined the police force. He continued to work in Transjordan until he joined the Palestine Revolt in 1936. Dr. Shahbandar resumed his medical practice in exile. He cultivated a growing rivalry with Shakib Arslan, and was allowed to return to Damascus in 1937, when most rebels, including Sultan al-Atrash, were finally amnestied. Shakib Arslan returned briefly in 1937 and Fawzi al-Quwuqji never received amnesty.
Henri Ponsot succeeded Henry de Jouvenel as High Commissioner in late 1926. Like de Jouvenel, Ponsot was a civilian, and effectively managed the final stages of countering and suppressing the insurgency. The first few High Commissioners in Syria were generals, but its most durable legacies in sectarian politics, border creation, and political structures were the work of its civilian leaders such as de Caix, Jouvenel, and Ponsot. Ponsot began the process of political reconciliation with a series of amnesty decrees beginning in early 1928. The amnesties allowed the formation of a moderate nationalist leadership and a grouping that came to be called the National Bloc (al-Qutla al-Wataniyya) in 1928. Philip Khoury noted that the National Bloc politicians shared several traits that recommended them to mandate authorities, including significant financial stakes in stability, a lack of involvement in the revolt or armed struggle generally, and in most cases no ties to the Hashemites or Faysal’s British-supported government. French officials remained obsessed with “sharifians” and British intrigues, and barred most leading rebels for more than a decade.
The Syrian uprising had significant and lasting consequences. It took as its inspiration and model the successful Anatolian insurgency of a few years before, and drew its leaders from similar, albeit less experienced and well-known, strata. Sultan al-Atrash was certainly an inspiring figure for Syrians, but the revolt may have been a greater threat to the mandate with cosmopolitan Ottoman staff officer leaders, like the people who led the Anatolian movement. A figure like the late Yusuf al-cAzma or Yasin al-Hashimi may have had a better chance of organizing a mass movement, mounting a military challenge to the mandate, and managing a successful negotiated settlement. As it was, the revolt drew its leaders from rural notables and junior-ranking Ottoman officers, and there seem to have been few staff officer graduates among them. They had nevertheless fully absorbed the Ottoman tradition of militarism and involvement in politics.
The tactics and the appeal of armed insurgency and opposition to colonial rule set the stage for the Great Palestine Revolt ten years later, in which many former Syrian rebels participated. Later armed confrontations in the region harkened back to revolts of the 1920s and 1930s, but forgot the original Ottoman context. Mandate governance changed during the revolt as policies of martial law, pervasive surveillance, and permanent counterinsurgency took hold. The eventual post-colonial state inherited many such legal and military structures from the mandate. The League of Nations mandates had been introduced with an array of idealistic claims and promises, but came to endorse, and encourage, the cosmetic facades of mandate rule that emphasized “progress,” “development,” and institution-building for the edification of international observers, but not for the benefit of the colonized society.
In its violence and ultimate failure, the revolt served to undermine the legitimacy of civilian political elites to serve as national representatives in the colonial state. As in Turkey, military figures supplanted civilians as claimants to the mantle of national leadership, but in Syria, and later in Palestine, such leaders were finally exiled and sidelined, at least until the end of the colonial period. The compromises their civilian successors were forced to make with the colonial authority rendered civilian politicians permanently vulnerable to charges of venality, corruption, and collaboration. In this way, the mandate period served to valorize eventual military rule over the rule of civilians and civil institutions, an experience Turkey partly escaped.
The suppression of the uprising killed thousands and devastated the Syrian countryside. The mandate government ordered the aerial bombardment of two major cities, and countless towns and villages, and the revolt destroyed the careers of several leading French generals. It is likely that Damascus was the first major city subjected to intensive aerial bombardment in history, and the world press covered the city’s bombing extensively. The negative attention caused a legitimacy crisis for the League of Nations, which predated the more widely known international crises of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, or the rise of Hitler and the rearmament of Germany of the 1930s.