Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, France had seized control of the territories of Lebanon and Syria by the mandate system in 1920; however in 1934, it started to whisper of “independence,” and making certain preparations for it. However, this independence was far from anything that would satisfy Syrian Arab nationalists, because it foresaw that the mountainous areas in the country’s west would remain under French control. Planning to cut off central regions from the coastline, which would later become Lebanon, the French sought to make it absolutely impossible for future Syria, which it wanted to “liberate,” to reach the Mediterranean. Hence, even if Syria did get its dependence, it would be a country with a broken wing.
The 1934 plan, as expected, threw Syria into a complete fit of rage. The anti-mandate movement led by Hashim al-Atassi, who was a member of a family of scholars from Homs, conducted protests and boycotts across the nation. Simultaneously, France was undergoing some political changes of its own. Finally, in 1936, when the “People’s Front” coalition came to power and Andre Leon Blum became French prime minister, Hashim Atassi and other Syrian politicians started to officially negotiate with Paris to end the French mandate. Andre Leon, who was a socialist Jew, looked warmly on the Syrian quest for independence. This attitude fitted the zeitgeist.
At the time, Prime Minister Blum allegedly received a letter dated June 15, 1936.
The letter that started with the words, “In the light of negotiations between France and Syria, we, the Alawite leaders of Syria, want to draw your and your party’s attention to the following points,” was, in short, trying to say: “Don’t abandon these lands and leave us alone with the Sunni majority by giving Syria its full independence. “Alawites are people of different religious beliefs, traditions and history than the Sunni Muslim people,” it said, roughly meaning that they thought that they would be hunted down if Syria were to be made independent. “The Alawite people refuse to be attached to the Muslim Syria. The spirit of hatred and intolerance plants its roots in the heart of Muslim Arabs toward everything that is non-Muslim, and is forever fueled by the spirit of the Islamic religion,” the letter continued.
The letter was signed by six figures living in the mountainous Alawite region: Aziz Agha Alhoash, Mahmoud Agha Jedeed, Mohammad Baek Junaid, Ali Suleiman, Suleiman Murshid, and Mohammad Suleiman Al-Ahmad. Ali Suleiman was none other that Bashar Assad’s grandfather himself. In 1927, he changed his given surname al-Wahhish to his nickname Assad (the lion) and named his ninth son of his second marriage “Hafez” (the guardian). When his father was begging the French to “Please don’t abandon us,” Hafez Assad was just six years old.
A few days ago, when I read the aggressive statement of the Syrian Parliament, which was formed with fraudulent elections in the fashion of a charade, about getting back Hatay from Turkey, that 1936 letter came to mind. As so-called Syrian lawmakers vow to “do everything in our power to get back Hatay from Turkey,” claiming that the province was given to Turkey as a bribe from the French to establish an alliance in World War II, they didn’t deign to think of the dark stain on their own near history.
Ambitious outbursts always bring unpleasant surprises with them.