Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How France 'Shaped' Modern Syria

The following understatement is a classic of its kind:

"'We tend to forget that history is still important,' said Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic Studies and International Studies in Washington. 'France is the country that shaped modern Syria... " (France's colonial history puts it in the sights of terrorists, Julian E. Barnes & Matthew Dalton, The Wall Street Journal/ The Australian, 18/7/16)

France "shaped" Syria.

Before France, Syria was without form and void. After France, hey presto, Syria! (Trot out that mocking line: What did the Romans France ever do for us?)

So how did La Belle France "shape" Syria?

As follows:

1) In the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, France (& Britain) decided to chop up Greater Syria (today's Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan) with Syria and Lebanon going to France, and Palestine and Transjordan to Britain. (Of course, the British had already promised, in 1915, that most of Greater Syria would become part of an independent Arab nation.)

2) At the San Remo Conference of 1920, under the pretext of 'accepting' a League of Nations' 'mandate', France declared its intention to take control of Greater Syria (minus the British bits). This was despite the existence of a popular, constitutional Arab monarchy under King Faisal based in Damascus. Syrian resistance was promptly smashed by a vastly superior French force at the Battle of Maysalun, and Faisal was forced to flee. General Gourard, the 'hero' of Maysalun, reportedly kicked the tomb of Saladin in Damascus, and said, Wake up, Saladin. We have returned. My presence here consecrates the victory of the Cross over the Crescent.

3) Gourard then tore off Mount Lebanon, adding to it the coastal cities of Tyre, Beirut and Tripoli, and the inland Biqa Valley, and proclaimed the new entity Greater Lebanon (Grand Liban).

4) With Palestine and Transjordan already hacked from the bleeding corpse of Greater Syria, and Lebanon likewise, Gourard then set about slicing what was left of it into statelets: the state of Damascus; the government of Aleppo; the autonomous Alawite district; and the autonomous Mountain of the Druzes.

5) A nationalist uprising (1925-26) was brutally quelled, with French forces shelling Damascus twice. Thousands of Syrians died in the process.

6) In 1939, France cut off  the northern Syrian province of Hatay, handing it to the Turks to keep them sweet during World War II.

That, in brief, is how La Belle France "shaped" Syria.

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