The Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon (Mandat français pour la Syrie et le Liban in French and الانتداب الفرنسي على سوريا ولبنان — al-intidāb al-fransi ‘ala suriya wa-lubnān in Arabic) was a League of Nations mandate from 1923-1946, founded after the First World War and the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire concerning Syria and the Lebanon. The mandate system was supposed to differ from colonialism, with the governing country acting as a trustee until the inhabitants would be able to stand on their own. At that point, the mandate would terminate and an independent state would be born.
During the two years that followed the end of the war in 1918 — and in accordance with the Sykes-Picot Agreement signed by Britain and France during the war — the British held control of most of Ottoman Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and the southern part of Ottoman Syria (Palestine and Transjordan), while the French controlled the rest of Ottoman Syria, Lebanon, Alexandretta (Hatay) and other portions of southeastern Turkey. In the early 1920s, British and French control of these territories became formalized by the League of Nations’ mandate system, and on September 29, 1923, France was assigned the League of Nations mandate of Syria, which included the territory of present-day Lebanon and Alexandretta in addition to Syria proper.
The administration of the region under the French was carried out through a number of different governments and territories, including the Syrian Federation (1922–1924), the State of Syria (1924–1930) and the Syrian Republic (1930–1958), as well as smaller states: the State of Greater Lebanon, the Alawite State and Jabal Druze State. Hatay was annexed by Turkey in 1939. The French mandate lasted until 1943, when two independent countries emerged, Syria and Lebanon. French troops completely left Syria and Lebanon in 1946.
The State of Syria (État de Syrie in French and دولة سوريا —Dawlat Sūriyā in Arabic) was a French Mandate state declared on December 1, 1924, from the union of the State of Aleppo and the State of Damascus. It was the successor of the Syrian Federation (Fédération syrienne and الاتحاد السوري — al-Ittiḥād as-Sūrī) which had been created by providing a central assembly for the State of Aleppo, the State of Damascus and the Alawite State. The Alawite State did not join the State of Syria.
With the defeat of the Ottomans in Syria, British troops, under General Sir Edmund Allenby, entered Damascus in 1918 accompanied by troops of the Arab Revolt led by Faisal, son of Sharif Hussein of Mecca. Faisal established the first new postwar Arab government in Damascus in October 1918 and named Ali Rida Pasha ar-Rikabi a military governor.
The new Arab administration formed local governments in the major Syrian cities, and the pan-Arab flag was raised all over Syria. The Arabs hoped, with faith in earlier British promises, that the new Arab state would include all the Arab lands stretching from Aleppo in northern Syria to Aden in southern Yemen.
However, in accordance with the secret Sykes–Picot Agreement between Britain and France, General Allenby assigned to the Arab administration only the interior regions of Syria (the eastern zone). Palestine (the southern zone) was reserved for the British. On October 9, 1918, French troops disembarked in Beirut and occupied the Lebanese coastal region south to Naqoura (the western zone), replacing British troops there. The French immediately dissolved the local Arab governments in the region.
France demanded full implementation of the Sykes–Picot Agreement, with Syria under its control. On November 26, 1919, British forces withdrew from Damascus to avoid confrontation with the French, leaving the Arab government to face France. Faisal had traveled several times to Europe, since November 1918, trying to convince France and Britain to change their positions, but without success. France’s determination to intervene in Syria was shown by the naming of General Henri Gouraud as high commissioner in Syria and Cilicia. At the Paris Peace Conference, Faisal found himself in an even weaker position when the European powers decided to ignore the Arab demands.
In May 1919, elections were held for the Syrian National Congress, which convened in Damascus. Eighty percent of the seats went to conservatives. However, the minority included dynamic Arab nationalist figures such as Jamil Mardam Bey, Shukri al-Kuwatli, Ahmad al-Qadri, Ibrahim Hanano, and Riyad as-Solh. The head was moderate nationalist Hashim al-Atassi.
In June 1919, the American King–Crane Commission arrived in Syria to inquire into local public opinion about the future of the country. The commission’s remit extended from Aleppo to Beersheba. They visited 36 major cities, met with more than 2,000 delegations from more than 300 villages, and received more than 3,000 petitions. Their conclusions confirmed the opposition of Syrians to the mandate in their country as well as to the Balfour Declaration, and their demand for a unified Greater Syria encompassing Palestine. The conclusions of the commission were rejected by France and ignored by Britain.
Unrest erupted in Syria when Faisal accepted a compromise with French Prime Minister Clemenceau and Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann over the issue of Jewish immigration to Palestine. Anti-Hashemite demonstrations broke out, and Muslim inhabitants in and around Mount Lebanon revolted in fear of being incorporated into a new, mainly Christian, state of Greater Lebanon. A part of France’s claim to these territories in the Levant was that France was a protector of the minority Christian communities.
In March 1920, the Congress in Damascus adopted a resolution rejecting the Faisal-Clemenceau accords. The congress declared the independence of Syria in her natural borders including Southern Syria or Palestine, and proclaimed Faisal the king of all Arabs. Faisal invited Ali Rida al-Rikabi to form a government. The congress also proclaimed political and economic union with neighboring Iraq and demanded its independence as well.
On April 25. 1920, the supreme inter-Allied council, which was formulating the Treaty of Sèvres, granted France the mandate of Syria (including Lebanon), and granted Britain the Mandate of Palestine (including Jordan), and Iraq. Syrians reacted with violent demonstrations, and a new government headed by Hashim al-Atassi was formed on May 7, 1920. The new government decided to organize general conscription and began forming an army.
These decisions provoked adverse reactions by France as well as by the Maronite patriarchate of Mount Lebanon, which denounced the decisions as a “coup d’état“.[In Beirut, the Christian press expressed its hostility to the decisions of Faisal’s government. Lebanese nationalists used the crisis to convene a council of Christian figures in Baabda that proclaimed the independence of Lebanon on March 22, 1920.
On July 14, General Gouraud issued an ultimatum to Faisal, giving him the choice between submission or abdication. Realizing that the power balance was not in his favor, Faisal chose to cooperate. However, the young minister of war, Youssef al-Azmeh, refused to comply. In the resulting Franco-Syrian War, Syrian troops under al-Azmeh met French forces under General Mariano Goybet at the Battle of Maysaloun. The French won the battle in less than a day. Azmeh died on the battlefield along with many of the Syrian troops. Goybet entered Damascus on July 24, 1920. The mandate was written in London on July 24, 1922.
The mandate region was subdivided into six states. They were the states of Damascus (1920), Aleppo (1920), Alawites (1920), Jabal Druze (1921), the autonomous Sanjak of Alexandretta (1921, modern-day Hatay), and the State of Greater Lebanon (1920), which became later the modern country of Lebanon. The drawing of those states was based in part on the sectarian makeup on the ground in Syria. However, nearly all the Syrian sects were hostile to the French mandate and to the division it created. This was best demonstrated by the numerous revolts that the French encountered in all of the Syrian states. The primarily Sunni population of Aleppo and Damascus were strongly opposed to the division of Syria. Maronite Christians of Mount Lebanon, on the other hand, were a community with a dream of independence that was being realized under the French; therefore, Greater Lebanon was the exception among the newly formed states.
Although there were uprisings in the different states, the French deliberately gave different ethnic and religious groups in the Levant their own lands in the hopes of prolonging their rule. The French hoped to focus on fragmenting the various groups in the region, so that the local population would not focus on the larger nationalist movement seeking to end colonial rule. In addition, the administration of the state governments was heavily dominated by the French. Local authorities were given very little power and did not have the authority to independently decide policy. The small amount of power that local leaders had could easily be overruled by French officials. The French did everything in their power to prevent people in the Levant from developing self-sufficient governing bodies.
On June 28, 1922, France established a loose federation between three of the states: the State of Damascus, the State of Aleppo and the Alawite State under the name of the Federation of the Autonomous States of Syria. Jabal Druze and Greater Lebanon were not parts of this federation. These regions represented much of the agricultural and mineral wealth of Syria. The autonomous Sanjak of Alexandretta was added to the state of Aleppo in 1923. The capital was the northern city of Aleppo, which had large Christian and Jewish communities in addition to the Sunni Muslims. The state also incorporated minorities of Shiites and Alawites. Ethnic Kurds and Assyrians inhabited the eastern regions alongside the Arabs. The Federation adopted a new federal flag (green-white-green with French canton), which later became the flag of the State of Syria.
On January 1, 1925, the Alawite state seceded from the federation when the states of Aleppo and Damascus were united into the State of Syria. In 1925, Syrian resistance to French colonial rule broke out in full scale revolt, led by Sultan Pasha el Atrash. The revolt broke out in Jabal Druze but quickly spread to other Syrian states and became a general rebellion in Syria. France tried to retaliate by having the parliament of Aleppo declare secession from the union with Damascus, but the voting was foiled by Syrian patriots.
Despite French attempts to maintain control by encouraging sectarian divisions and isolating urban and rural areas, the revolt spread from the countryside and united Syrian Druze, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawis, and Christians. Once the rebel forces had besieged Damascus, the French military responded with brutal counter-insurgency techniques that prefigured those that would be used later in Algeria and Indo-China. These techniques included house demolitions, collective punishments of towns, executions, population transfers, and the use of heavy armor in urban neighborhoods. The revolt was eventually subdued in 1926-1927 via French aerial bombardment of civilian areas, including Damascus.
On May 14, 1930, the State of Syria was declared the Republic of Syria and a new constitution was drafted.
Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire until the defeat of the Turks in the First World War and an extensive network of Turkish post offices operated in the region. A French post office operated between 1852 and 1914, and an Egyptian office at Latakia from 1870 to 1872. Syria used the stamps of Turkey from 1883 until 1919.
In 1920, Emir Faisal of the Hejaz organised an Arab Kingdom in central Syria in rebellion against French control. On March 8, 1920, Faisal was proclaimed King of Syria. During this period stamps of Turkey from 1913-1919 were overprinted in Damascus with the Arabic seal Al Hukuma Al Arabia ‘Arab Government’ and some of the stamps surcharged in Egyptian currency. After Faisal was proclaimed King, a set of stamps was issued by the Arabian Government of Syria, and one of the set, the 5 milliemes, pink, overprinted in Arabic with green ink, “In commemoration of the independence of Syria. Adar (March) 8th 1920.” The overprinted Turkish provisionals continued in use for about two months and were used concurrently with stamps of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force and regular Syrian issues. Stamps of the EEF were available in Syria between September 23, 1918, and February 23, 1922.
In July 1920, King Faisal was dethroned by the French and a mandate was granted to France by the League of Nations over the whole of Syria from 1923. Following the awarding of the mandate and the defeat of Syrian forces in May 1920, Syria came under French military occupation. Syria got divided between a coastal area with a capital at Beirut, which subsequently became Lebanon, and the interior under the control of the Arabs with a capital at Damascus. Stamps of France were used between 1920 and 1922 overprinted T.E.O. (Territoires Ennemis Occupés) or O.M.F. (Occupation Militaire Francaise). Syria used the stamps of France, overprinted Syrie Grand Liban or Syrie between 1923 and 1924. In 1925, Syria began issuing its own stamps inscribed SYRIE.
In 1934, stamps inscribed REPUBLIQUE SYRIENNE began to be released.
Scott #222 is a 4-piastres yellow orange stamp printed by photogravure issued in 1930 and perforated 13. It depicts Sabaa Bahrat Square (ساحة السبع بحرات — sāḥat as-Saba‘a Baḥrāt which means “square of the Seven Fountains”), a large and important square in Damascus, Syria. Many important official buildings and ministries are located in the area including the Central Bank of Syria. Many important streets branch from there including Baghdad Street.
It was first erected by French mandate authorities in 1925 in memory of a French captain called Gaston Descarpentries. The square had a small dome with seven fountains, and was called Captain Decarpentry Square. After the independence of Syria the authorities removed the monument and renamed the square. During the Syrian civil war against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. machine-gun fire was reported in nearby Sabaa in the square, which was the scene of several major pro-government demonstrations.