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1918-1943 - French League of Nations Mandates

The eastern Mediterranean had long been the strategic center of the European-Asiatic world. The control of Constantinople, Mesopotamia, and the Bagdad Railway was probably the ultimate cause of the Great War. German advances in Turkey and the threatened control of the trade routes from Constantinople to the Persian Gulf was a drive at the heart of the British Empire. It threatened to Teutonize the commercial and financial organization of the Near East and the Far East as well. It would have split Great Britain, Russia, and France apart, and placed the Far East under the menace of German control. The British Empire, British finance, British shipping, and British industry were threatened by the short railroad land route to the Far East. So were French investments in Russia, French investments in Turkey, and French aspirations on the Syrian Coast.

The Sykes-Picot Treaty, May, 1916, divided this part of the world between France and Great Britain. France was given Syria and parts of Palestine. Great Britain was given certain ports on the Syrian coast as well as the hinterland, including Mesopotamia, the Tigris-Euphrates valleys, the control of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Mesopotamia was the key. It controlled the Bagdad Railway, the approach to Persia, and the trade routes to the Persian Gulf.

Great Britain, with the approval of France, entered an agreement with the King of the Hejaz, representing the whole of Arabia, to induce the Arabs to enter the war on the side of the Allies. Under the terms of this treaty, the Ottoman Empire to the south of the Taurus Mountains was to be divided roughly into three Arabian principalities. Prince Feisal was to receive Syria, including Palestine, another son Zeid was to receive Mesopotamia, controlling the trade routes to the Persian Gulf and to the Far East; while the third son of the King of the Hejaz was to receive Hedjaz and the control of the eastern shore of the Red Sea. The British and French, however, retained some claim to participation in Arabian affairs. They both recognized Arabian claims under the treaties made with the Hejaz. As a result of this arrangement the Arabs placed themselves under British leadership; they fought valiantly and contributed substantially to the defeat of the Turks and the holding of the Near East by the Allies.

The Zionists received assurances from Mr. Balfour in November, 1917, that Palestine was to be internationalized as the "home of the Jews." This was accepted as an assurance that Palestine was to be an independent state under international and especially British protection. Palestine forms part of Syria given to the French and is claimed by the Arabs under the British agreement with the King of the Hejaz.

In addition to these treaties (each of which disposed of part or all of Palestine to three different claimants, two of which disposed of Syria to different claimants, and two of which left the relationship of Great Britain and the Arabs unsettled as to Mesopotamia) the British themselves hoped to hold on to Syria and the eastern Mediterranean. The Syrian ports command Cyprus on the north and Egypt and the Suez Canal on the south. Even more important, they control access to Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean connections with the Bagdad Railway.

Within six months after the armistice Great Britain, France, Arabia, and the Jewa were in conflict over the SykesPicot Treaty, and the other conflicting agreements. Great Britain was unwilling to abide by its provisions and permit a permanent French occupation or protectorate over Syria. British interests are too vital to permit any other Power to control this strategic point. There was a very serious conflict in the summer of 1919, but Great Britain finally recogized the French mandate over Syria. Syria controlled access from the northeast corner of the Mediterranean to Bagdad and the Bagdad Railway. Syria also menaced Egypt and the Suez Canal on the south.

It was laid down in Article XXII of the covenant of the League of Nations that the colonies and territories, which in consequence of the war have ceased to be under the sovereignty of the States which formerly governed them, and which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves in the strenuous conditions of the modern world, shall be administered by mandatory powers acting in the name of the League and accepting as a sacred trust of civilization the responsibility of insuring the well-being and the development of such peoples. Furthermore, by Article 119 of the Treaty of Versailles all rights formerly possessed by Germany over territories outside Europe have been transferred to the principal Allied and Associated Powers. And it is understood that a similar provision would form part of the treaty of peace with Turkey, with regard to those territories ceased to form part of the Turkish Empire.

The Council of the League of Nations concluded from these articles that it was for the principal Allied Powers -to determine in each case the appointment either of one of their own number or of some other power, to carry on the Government of the territories referred to above, as mandataries on behalf of the League of Nations.

The character of the mandate must differ according to the stage of the development of the people, the geographical situation of the territory, its economic conditions and other similar circumstances.The three classes of mandates designated as " A," "B" and "C " were created by the Treaty of Versailles. Under Article 22, Clauses 3 to 7, the various types of mandate were generally defined. The category known as "Class A" was there defined as certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire which had reached a stage of development where their existence as indepedendent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a mandatary until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the mandatary.

The category known as "Class B" was defined as other peoples, especially those of Central Africa, at such a stage that the mandatary must be responsible for the administration of the territory under conditions that will guarantee freedom of conscience and religion, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals, the prohibition of abuses such as the slave trade, the arms traffic and the liquor- traffic, and the prevention of the establishment of fortifications or military and naval bases and of military training of the natives for other than police purposes and the defense of territory, and will also secure equal opportunities for the trade and commerce of other members of the League.

"Class C " is defined as territories, such as Southwest Africa and certain of the South Pacific islands, which, owing to the sparseness of their population or their small size, or their remoteness from the centers of civilization: or their geographical contiguity to the territory of the mandatary, and other circumstances, can be best administered under the laws of the mandatary as integral portions of its territory, subject to the safeguards above mentioned in the interests of the indigenous population.

Types of "Class A " are the French mandate for Syria. "B" was represented by the British mandates for, the French mandates for Togoland and the Cameroons. The Franco-British Convention of December 23, 1920, on certain points connected with the Mandates for Syria and the Lebanon, Palestine and Mesopotamia, established the boundaries between the territories under the French mandate of Syria and the Lebanon on the one hand and the British mandates of Mesopotamia and Palestine on the other.

When the draft for the French mandates for Togoland and the Cameroons was presented to the Council of the League of Nations on December 20,1920, the following provision was included in Article III: "It is understood, however, that the troops thus raised [in French Togoland and the Cameroons] may, in the event of a general war, be utilized to repulse an attack, or for defense of territory outside that over which the mandate is administered." This controverted the provision already agreed to in the Covenant, but it represented the French contention from the very beginning, and is an example of the tenacity with which the French pursued at Paris, and since, the realities of their program for mandatories of colonies to raise troops, not only for maintaining internal order, but to fight, if necessary, for the mother country.

The regime which the French Government announced 25 March 1921 for the former German colony of the Cameroons, which France held under a Class B mandate, stipulated that there shall be commercial equality as provided by "Article XXII of the Treaty of June 28, 1919," that is under the covenant of the League of Nations. The administrative plan for Togoland did not mention commercial equality. By their publication as decrees signed by President Millerand in the Journal Officiel, these administrative plans become law. The Council of the League is to consider Class B mandates in May or June and may or may not change the regime France established for those colonies.

French-British rivalry in the Middle East continued after the two countries had divided the area into spheres of influence. In their mandate, the French sought to increase their strength by supporting and separating religious minorities and thereby weakening the Arab nationalist movement. France originally planned to establish three sectarian states: an Alawi state in the north, a Sunni Muslim state at the center, and a Druze state in the south. The three were eventually to be incorporated into a federal Syria. France did create a Christian state in the area of Mount Lebanon. The Sunni Muslim state never materialized. Instead, in 1926 the French, working with Maronite leaders, expanded the original boundaries of the Christian state to create Lebanon. To the east the valley of the Biqa, predominantly populated by Muslims, was added; to the west the Christian state was expanded to the coast and incorporated the cities of Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon, and Tyre.

The rest of Syria was divided into five semiautonomous areas- -the Jabal Druze, Aleppo, Latakia, Damascus, and Alexandretta (modern Iskenderun)--which accentuated religious differences and cultivated regional, as opposed to national pan-Arab, sentiment. The Druzes were given administration of the Jabal Druze, the area of their greatest concentration. The northern coastal region and the Jabal an Nusayriyah (where there was a concentration of Alawis, Syria's largest religious minority) were united in the state of Latakia (present-day Al Ladhiqiyah Province). North of Latakia, the district of Alexandretta (the present-day Turkish province of Hatay), home of some Turks, had a separate government. In the area to the south, in Palestine, European Jews were promised a Jewish homeland. Opposition by nationalistic Arabs to the many divisions proved fruitless, and Arab nationalists became isolated in Damascus.

French rule was oppressive. The franc became the base of the economy, and currency management was in the hands of French bankers concerned with French, rather than Syrian, shareholders and interests. The French language became compulsory in schools, and pupils were required to sing the "Marseillaise." Colonial administrators attempted to apply techniques of administration learned in North Africa to the more sophisticated Arabs of Syria. Nearly every feature of Syrian life came under French control.




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