Yasin Pa$a in Exile among the Syrians

Yasin al-Hashimi, Rashid cAli al-Kilani, and Jamil al-Midfcai, with their families, departed Baghdad by Nairn car for Damascus and arrived on the afternoon of October 31. Arriving in Damascus, Yasin spoke to the press and declared that Iraq would prevail in winning and preserving its independence. He concluded his remarks saying “no fear for Iraq.” Jamil al-Midfcai and Yasin also met British consul Colonel Gilbert MacKereth, during which encounter Yasin accused King Ghazi of instigating the coup, a veiled accusation of British collusion.77 The consul offered Yasin a rest and a meal, but he declined, and proceeded that evening directly towards Beirut. French intelligence reported the coup and the arrival of the exiles in Damascus, and noted that while Arab nationalists viewed Britain with deep suspicion, the better-informed officers of the French intelligence bureau considered the coup a British operation. “British official policy is implicated in the movement in question,” the Damascus intelligence chief remarked obliquely.78 The exiles spent the night at the house of Georges cAbdini in the Lebanon mountain town of cAlayh. The next morning they continued to Beirut, to the house of Riyad al-Sulh, where the National Bloc delegate welcomed them and invited them to an elaborate lunch.79 French intelligence surveilled them closely.

Only four days earlier the National Bloc President Hashim al-Atasi had finally published the Franco-Syrian Treaty alongside a manifesto for the future of the Syrian Republic. Al-Atasi had referred forcefully to the events of the day in Palestine and Iraq and proclaimed the need for Arab brotherhood. National Bloc members were busily preparing for two-stage parliamentary elections for the middle and end of November,80 but several Bloc politicians turned up to greet the Iraqi exiles on the afternoon of their arrival at Baramka station in Damascus. French intelligence reports noted that Damascenes, many of whom remembered Yasin al-Hashimi from his role as an Ottoman Great War general, chief of staff of Faysal’s short-lived Syrian kingdom, and comrade of Yusuf al-cAzma, regretted his overthrow intensely, and believed he was the victim of British intrigues against Arab unity.81 Palestinians likewise widely mourned the fall of pan- Arab hero Yasin al-Hashimi and feared for a future without his support.82

In Beirut, al-Hashimi rented a house near the American University of Beirut campus in Ras Beirut, where his eldest daughter Madiha was a student. In Beirut, Yasin received friends and admirers and drew the devoted and somewhat obsessive attention of the French intelligence services.83 He renewed his always keen and devoted interest in his daughters’ education and intellectual pursuits. Visitors from Damascus, Baghdad, Palestine, and Turkey called on him and discussed politics and events in their regions. He stewed on the turn of events in Baghdad and his health suffered. He had bouts of depression and he had frequent bitter arguments with his wife.84

On the day of the coup, Taha al-Hashimi was in Ankara, enjoying the final day of his long trip before returning to Baghdad.85 He spent the afternoon at the Anatolia Club dining with old friends from the Ottoman general staff, swapping memories of school days and wartime adventures. When he returned to the Iraqi legation he found a telegram informing him of the change of government. The Czechoslovak Embassy telephoned to ask him how the coup would affect the arms contract. In his memoirs he wrote that he eventually learned King Ghazi had been part of the plot to force Yasin’s government out, but Ghazi had not planned for bloodshed or an army revolt; these were Bakr Sidqi’s work. Late that night, Naji Shawkat, head of the legation, called on Taha and brought news of the armed uprising and Bakr Sidqi’s role in the events. It seemed unwise to proceed to Baghdad, and he stayed in Ankara.86 Like most of his Ottoman brother officers, he preferred life in the ancient capital, and once it became clear he was not returning to Iraq, he went back to Istanbul, tried to keep in touch with unsettled events in Baghdad, corresponded with his brother in Beirut, worried, and waited.

During the middle of November 1936, Charles Bateman, Counsellor of the British Embassy at Baghdad, had occasion to pass through Beirut. Bateman had heard that Yasin al-Hashimi was in seclusion owing to fears of assassination. He nevertheless contacted him by note and was surprised when Yasin replied quickly by phone and proposed to visit Bateman at his hotel. The meeting was cordial. Yasin artfully probed the depth of British government involvement in his overthrow by asking if British loans might be forthcoming for the plans of the new government. Such loans had long been stalled for Yasin’s far more ambitious development programs. Bateman missed the elliptical query and lectured Yasin pedantically that the British government did not make loans, but could only advise British banks to loan money, or alternately, the Ministry of the Treasury could block loans on behalf of the government. Apparently loans might be forthcoming for Hikmat Sulayman’s new regime. All of this was information already known to Yasin, as ex-Iraqi finance minister, and author of at least one published treatise on international finance.87 Yasin mentioned that he had good evidence, including from the French High Commissioner, that “certain army officers” wished to assassinate him, and that Rashid cAli had fled to Istanbul for this reason. He preferred to stay with his wife, and perhaps travel to Palestine, but he understood British determination to oppose such travel.88 They discussed the inoffensive possibility of Cyprus as a new home for Yasin al-Hashimi. Bateman was enthusiastic.

Syrian elections concluded on November 30, and by early December the Bloc was triumphant and in the process of forming a government. The most prominent members of the new government traveled to Beirut to call on Yasin al-Hashimi shortly after the election.89 Confidential French intelligence sources reported that new prime minister Jamil Mardam Bey, Ihsan al-Jabri, and other Bloc members spent an hour with Yasin at the Saint George Hotel and pledged that the new Syrian government would oppose Hikmat Sulayman’s government, maintain their pan-Arab stances, and exert their influence on the Damascus press. They expressed their gratitude for Yasin’s support during the Franco-Syrian Treaty negotiations in Paris. Yasin had ordered the Iraqi legation in Paris to pay their expenses and provide them every assistance. Moreover, they knew and appreciated his promise of men, money, weapons, and ammunition if negotiations failed and armed revolt in Syria became necessary. French intelligence recorded that an agreement had existed between the parties, but noted with self-congratulations that the fall of Yasin’s government foreclosed the threat of armed revolt in the Syrian Mandate. Meanwhile, Hikmat Sulayman’s government tried to pay Damascene journalists, probably through the British Consul, for favorable coverage of the new govern- ment.90 A month later, the new Iraqi consul invited the Bloc leaders to a lavish dinner at Damascus’ Umayyad Hotel. The consul wished to foster positive relations between the new Iraqi government and Syrian leaders and to dispel rumors about Iraqi disinterest in common Arab affairs. Munir al-cAjlani attended and insisted on the importance of Arab unity, and the forthcoming Arab Congress, which Yasin al- Hashimi was expected to attend.91

The Franco-Syrian Treaty was not universally popular among politicized Syrians. Exiled politicians and members of the League of National Action registered their protest. Dr. Shahbandar from exile in Cairo voiced his opposition to the continued French military presence and Munir al-cAjlani made similar arguments. It seems likely that such protests were based not on the terms of the treaty, which appeared likely to finally deliver both Syrian unity and independence, but on the writers’ hurt feelings of exclusion from the negotiations. Even in exile, Shahbandar was among the most popular Syrian political leaders, and an authentic hero of the Great Revolt. He was perennially threatening to the more compromised members of the National Bloc, who were, however, in control of the government, and on December 26, 1936, the Syrian parliament ratified the Franco-Syrian Treaty with a unanimous vote.

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