Stamps of the French Mandate Area for Syria and Lebanon, Part 2: Syrian Arabian Government
(For historical references check Wikipedia)
This is a multi part series.
Part 1, summarizes the historical context (sorry it is a bit long, and complicated), and looks at the unique regional stamps of Ile Rouad (issued prior to the French Mandate).
Part 2 looks at the Syrian Arabian Government and Kingdom of 1918-1920, the failed attempts to set up a pan-Arab Government that was to stretch from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. Those familiar with "Lawrence of Arabia" will see the context here. Arab revolts against the Ottoman Empire during WWI (encouraged by the European powers) led to conflict when promises to the Arabs were reneged on. This occurred just prior to the French and British Mandate in the region.
2. STAMPS OF THE SYRIAN ARABIAN GOVERNMENT (S A G) 1919-1920
This is also referred to as the Syrian Arab Kingdom.
This covers the Arabian Government and Kingdom of Syria (1919-1920), providing a brief historical review. Source: Wikipedia,
SUMMARY: The Arab Constitutional Government followed by the Kingdom of Syria (Syrian Arabian Government, or S A G) was the first modern Arab state to come into existence, after WWI, but only lasted a little over four months in 1920.
During its brief existence, the kingdom was led by Sharif Hussein bin Ali's son Faisal bin Hussein. Despite its claims to territory of a Greater Syria, Faisal's government controlled a limited area and was dependent on Britain which, along with France, generally opposed the idea of a Greater Syria and refused to recognize Faisal as its king. The Kingdom surrendered to French forces on 24 July 1920, after a brief military confrontation.
The Mandate period followed.
For those interested in the complex history of the area, I have provided below some additional information and links. If not interested, skip and move on to the section on the stamps of the S A G.
The S A G was established to be the realm of King Faisal with a court located to Damascus. Faisal is best known by his role in the Arab Revolt (1916-1918) and as the later king of Iraq (1921-1933).
The map below shows the theoretical territory of the S A kingdom which reached far beyond the borders of modern Syria, and included former Ottoman lands in northern Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Jordan. The proposed borders were never realized.
Historical Context: The Arab Revolt and Founding of the S A G
The Arab Revolt (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Revolt) and the McMahonâ€“Hussein (Britain-Arab) official Correspondence,(https://www.britannica.com/topic/Husayn-McMahon-correspondence) are crucial factors in the foundations of the S A G, or the Arab Kingdom of Syria.
In the Correspondence the promises of an Arab Kingdom were made by the British in return for an Arab uprising against the Ottomans during WWI. This was to occur in parallel to the military activities of Faisal (and T. E. Lawrence).
At the same time separate conflicting agreements were made including the Sykesâ€“Picot Agreement (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SykesPicot_Agreement), and later the Balfour Declaration ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Declaration) in regards to Palestine, which ignored the "qui proco".
The Arab Revolt was expected to pin down Ottoman troops who otherwise might have been used to attack the Suez Canal, allowing the British to undertake offensive operations during WWI, with a lower risk of counter-attack.
Despite the significance of the Arab Revolt to modern Arab countries formed in its wake, at the time there was significant distrust and even opposition to the idea of an Arab Kingdom or series of Arab Kingdoms. This is due in part to the heavy influence of the French and the British in compelling the revolt and establishment of what is considered to be, by modern standards, a number of puppet states.
Syria Arab Constitutional Government and Kingdom (S A G)
Near the end of World War I, the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force under command of Edmund Allenby captured Damascus on 30 September 1918. Shortly thereafter, on 3 October, Faisal entered the city. The jubilation would be short lived, as Faisal would soon be made aware of the Sykesâ€“Picot agreement.
Faisal had come to expect an independent Arab kingdom in the name of his father but was soon told of the division of territory and how Syria fell under French protective power.
Faisal obviously did not appreciate this betrayal by the British but found reassurance in the knowledge that the actual settlement would be worked out at a later date when the war had ended. He was probably hoping that by then the British would have changed their support for French pretensions in Syria.
Thus on 5 October 1918, with the permission of General Allenby, Faisal announced the establishment of a fully and absolutely independent Arab Constitutional Government.
Faisal announced it would be an Arab government based on justice and equality for all Arabs regardless of religion. Much to the chagrin of French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, the establishment of a semi-independent Arab state without international recognition and under the auspices of the British was disconcerting. Even reassurances by Allenby that all actions taken were provisional did not ease the looming tensions between the British, the French and the Arabs. For Arab nationalists, and many of the Arabs who fought in the Arab Revolt, this was the realization of a long hard-fought goal.
After the war, at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Faisal pushed for Arab independence.
At the Conference the victorious Allies decided who was to control their Axis territories, such as the Ottoman Empire's Middle East possessions. The status of the Arab lands in the Middle East was the subject of intense negotiations between the French and British. At about the same time, an American compromise resulted in an agreement to set up a commission to determine the wishes of the inhabitants. Even though they initially supported the idea, Britain and France eventually backed out leaving the Kingâ€“Crane Commission of 1919 solely American, reflecting the strong Arab support for an independent Arab state and opposition to a French presence.
These events in Europe led Syrian nationalist societies to make preparations for a National Congress. These Syrian nationalist societies advocated complete independence for an Arab Kingdom that united Arabs under Faisal. Hasty elections were called including representatives from all over the Arab lands, including Palestine and Lebanon, although French officials prevented many of their representatives from arriving. The first official session of the Syrian Congress was held on 3 June 1919 and al-Fatat member Hashim al-Atassi was elected the president of the S A G.
On 2 July the Syrian Congress passed a number of resolutions calling for a completely independent constitutional monarchy with Faisal as King, asking for assistance from the United States, and rejecting any rights claimed by the French. Any hope that Faisal may have had that either the British or Americans would come to his aid and counter French moves quickly faded, especially after the Anglo-French Agreement for the withdrawal of British troops from Syria and the end of the British military government in Syria.
In January 1920, Faisal was forced into an agreement with France which stipulated that France would uphold the existence of the Syrian state and would not station troops in Syria as long as the French government remained the only government supplying advisers, counselors and technical experts. News of this compromise did not bode well with Faisal's vehemently anti-French and independence-minded supporters who immediately pressured Faisal to reverse his commitment, which he did. In the aftermath of this reversal, violent attacks against French forces took place and the Syrian Congress assembled in March 1920 to declare Faisal the King of Syria as well as to officially set up the Arab Kingdom of Syria with Hashim al-Atassi as Prime Minister and Yusuf al-'Azma as Minister of War and Chief of Staff.
This unilateral action was immediately repudiated by the British and French and a conference was called by the to finalize the allocation of League of Nations mandates in the Middle East. This was in turn repudiated by Faisal and his supporters. After months of instability and failure to make good on the promises to the French, the commander of French forces General Henri Gouraud gave an ultimatum to King Faisal on 14 July 1920 declaring he surrender or fight .
Dissolution of the Arab Kingdom
Worried about the results of a long bloody fight with the French, King Faisal surrendered. However, Yusuf al-'Azma, the defense minister, ignored the King's order, and led a small army to confront the French advance into Syria. This army depended mainly on individual weapons and were no match to the French artillery. At the Battle of Maysalun, the Syrian army was easily defeated by the French, with General al-'Azma being killed during the battle. The loss led to the siege and capture of Damascus on 24 July 1920, the dissolution of the S A G, and the establishment of the French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon which was put into effect thereafter.
Legacy and Results
After surrendering to French forces, Faisal was expelled from Syria and went to live in the United Kingdom in August 1920. In August 1921 he was offered the crown of Iraq under the British Mandate of Iraq.
A pro-French government was installed one day after the fall of Damascus, on 25 July 1920. On 1 September 1920, General Gouraud divided the French mandate territory of Syria into several smaller states as part of a French Mandate scheme to make Syria easier to control.
The Syrian Arab Kingdom, through its short and tumultuous existence, would become a subject of great inspiration to later Arab liberation movements. It would be the often-repeated story of an Arab people breaking out from their colonial bonds only to be castigated for their revolutionary fervor and for their resistance to the imperial powers. The symbolism of the fall of the Kingdom of Syria also imparted deep mistrust of European powers, who were seen as liars and oppressors
STAMPS OF THE SYRIAN ARAB GOVERNMENT AND KINGDOM.
This is one of the most difficult area to collect, as stamps are rare, expensive (some catalog values have little relation to market prices), seldom available commercially and the current organization of the Scott Catalog which I use for reference is different from the better organized Steiner pages that I use for my album. The Scott Catalog organization is utterly pathetic.
The S A G stamps are mostly Turkish Ottoman Stamps with hand-stamped Overprints, and hand-stamped surcharges with new values. The overprints and surcharges are generally black or purple, but other colors exist (such as red, magenta etc..). The overprints can be heavily inked, or faded to be almost invisible.
Inverted overprints exist, as do offset overprint positions and double overprints.
As is the case with most overprints, one has to be cautious with counterfeits, although I have not seen a formal discussion on the subject.
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, in 1920, a set of 7 general use stamps and 1 postage due stamp was issued by the Arabian Government of Syria. One of the set, the 5 milliemes, pink, is overprinted in Arabic with green ink, "In commemoration of the independence of Syria. March (Adar) 8th 1920." (Note that this commemorative stamp is quite rare cataloging (ref 2016) at $350).
According to the 2016 catalog, there are 95 distinct general use stamps issued by the Syrian Arab Government, and 5 postage Due stamps. The Turkish stamps used include general stamps (used between 1905 and 1916), semi postal stamps, revenue stamps and newspaper stamps, in addition to the special set of 7+1 stamps issued by the Arabian Government of Syria. Catalog prices vary from $0.25 to $500 each, but the stamps are probably under-priced (my opinion) given that they are quite rare, and with limited commercial availability (especially for stamps prior to Scott #83, which I have been looking for, with little success.).
The typical Overprints are shown below.
The following album Steiner pages show my personal and still very incomplete collection. On these pages I have used some of my Turkish duplicates with a blue o/p sticker to help identified some of the missing stamps...these are on the pages for informational purposes, and they are included only when I had a duplicate to spare to illustrate the missing stamp.
Otherwise, I found the whole process of identifying and adding to the collection extremely cumbersome. Often stamps are misidentified, or with doubtful overprints.
Note again, that tagged stamps are missing the S A G overprint and are on the page just as a reference. Also note that the stamps issued in 1919-1920 (Scott Catalog numbers #83 to #99) are more readily available fetching relatively low prices (except for #86 with its commemorative o/p).
In July, 1920, the French administration in Damascus seized the remaining stocks of Syrian stamps issued by the Arabian Government and overprinted them â€O.M.F.â€ (â€œOccupation Militaire Francaiseâ€). This overprint was already in use in Western Syria, on French stamps and surcharged in Egyptian currency. The â€œO.M.F.â€ overprints continued in use in Eastern Syria till 1922.
Below are the pages from my collection illustrating the S A G stamps. There are 9 pages.
End of Part 2 on S A G
Part 3 on the stamps of Cilicia will be included in preliminary form, as the collection is incomplete and not ready for prime time.
Part 4. The ALOUITES State will follow.