The map above shows the initial 6 states created by the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon granted by the League of Nations in 1922.
The mandate had been more less agreed to by Britain and France in the Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916. Britain got Ottoman Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) along with Palestine and Transjordan whereas France got Ottoman Syria (modern Syria and Lebanon) and parts of modern Turkey (as you can see above).
The French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon formerly lasted from 1923−1946. 6 states were initially created.
Below is a little information about each one:
- Sanjak of Alexandretta: Existed from 1921-1923, after which it was attached to State of Aleppo and then in 1925 to the State of Syria. It was set-up to protect Turkish language speakers, but had more more Arabs (46% of population) than Turks (39% of the population). Armenians at 11% of the population were also a substantial minority. In 1938 Turkey entered the Sanjak and expelled a larger section of the non-Turkish population and renamed it the Hatay State, which joined Turkey in 1939 after a referendum. Its capital was Alexandretta.
- State of Aleppo: Existed from 1920–1924, on Jan 1, 1925 it joined with the State of Damascus to create the State of Syria. Majority of the population were Sunni Muslims. Its capital was Aleppo, which also included Christian and Jewish communities. The state also had Shiite, Alawite, Kurd and Assyrian minorities.
- State of Damascus: Existed from 1920 to 1924, on Jan 1, 1925 it joined with the State of Aleppo to create the State of Syria. The population was 75% Sunni, with Christians being the next largest group at 11%. Other minorities included: Ismailis, Mutawalis, Jews, Alawites, Druze and a large number of foreigners. Its capital was Damascus, which would become the capital of the State of Syria.
- State of Jabal Druze: Existed from 1921-1936, after 1936 it joined the Syrian Republic. It was set-up as a state for the Druze, who are neither Muslims nor Christians but have a religion based on the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Akhenaten, Hamza, and Al Hakim. Its capital was As-Suwayda.
- State of Alawites: Existed from 1924-1936, after 1936 it also joined the Syrian Republic. It was created for the Alawites, followers of a sect of Shia Islam. Its capital was Latakia.
- State of Greater Lebanon: Existed from 1920-1926, succeeded by the Lebanese Republic. Created by the French as state for the Maronite Christians of Lebanon, but it also included a large number of Muslims. Its capital was Beirut, which had a large Muslim population.
While the French attempted to create states along ethnic and/or religious lines, each of them also contained substantial minority populations. Moreover, not all minority groups (e.g. The Kurds) were given a state of their own at the time.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that while all these were nominally independent states, they remained under the French mandate until the end of WW2.
You can learn more about the history of Syria from the following books:
- A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East
- A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East, 1914-1948
- The Emergence of Minorities in the Middle East: The Politics of Community in French Mandate Syria
- Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East
- Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present
- Syria: A Recent History
- Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect
- ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror
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Charles Bewlay says
A stunning bit of little-known history, very well depicted. Brilliant. Many thanks.
Given the importance of the Suez canal it seems strange the British allowed France to get what we call Syria and accepted Iraq. I would have thought the British would have wanted the reverse, after all they kept Cyprus and todays Sovereign bases because of the importance of the Suez and Far east. Iraq seems a bit out of the way for Britain.