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Posts Tagged ‘Alice Poulleau

Damascus under canon and airplane bombs in 1925: During French mandated power

Note: Re-edit of “In Damascus under the bombs, Year 1925 by Alice Poulleau”  May 19, 2013

In 1925, the French journalist and painter Alice Poulleau finished writing her book “In Damascus under the bombs”, a collection of 3 years of diaries,  and was published in 1926. The book was banned by the French authority in every colony and territories occupied by the French troops. The book was re-published only in 2012.

The Syrians revolted against the French mandated power in 1924-26 and the troops pounded Damascus for 48 hours with heavy artillery shells and air raids. Entire blocks in Damascus were devastated and over 1,500 civilians were killed within 48 hours of insane hatred and arrogance of the occupying troops.

Alice dedicated the book to the mothers in France and Syria who suffer the same afflictions. She blamed the French writers and journalists who never set foot in Syria and never witnessed the calamities and horrible massacres and yet, insisted on diabolizing (devils) the Syrian people, relying solely on the High-Commissariat reports.

The devastation hit the antique and ancient souks of Hamidiyeh, the block of the street of Midhat Pasha, the Via Recta, which was later called “Harika” to being burned to the ground…

It was the French mandated power that incited sectarian passions among the various religious entities in order to divide and rule. The occupation power favored the minorities such as the Christians, the Alawites… in the administrative positions…

Alice worked in the Nile Delta and occasionally pushed forward to discover parts of Palestine, such as Rafah, Gaza, Ludds… and further on into Haifa, Mount carmel…

In 1923, Alice had this revelation to investigate Syria and Lebanon. She visited the Houran province, Damascus, Baalbek, Beirut, Sidon, Tyr, Bissan (south of the Sea of galilee), Samak…

Poulleau was under the spell of so much beauty and mythical environment until she got in contact with her French countrymen, officers and soldiers in Syria.

Her wrath grew by the days against the arrogance and ignorance of her French citizens in Syria.

Her encounters opened her eyes to the calamities that the French brought in into Syria…

As Alice returned to Egypt in 1923, she wrote:

“I had this persistent and strong impression that France never attempted to investigate the level of acceptance of the Syrian people to the mandated power, and simply relied on the reports of the High-Commissariat.

I felt this growing disenchantment and the growling of discontent among the Syrians relevant to the one-sided decisions, mismanagement and high-handed reactions due to their baffling of human rights of the Syrians and their dignity…

This was the reason for me to return the next year 1924 to Damascus and witnessing the slaughter hood two years later…”

Note: More summaries and translation of these diaries will be forthcoming. 1,500 Syrian civilians died within 48 hours of bombing and air raids of the Capital Damascus by the French troops.

French mandated troops burned and destroyed Damascus in October 1925…

For three days and nights, between Oct. 18-21 of 1925, the French mandated troops over Syria bombarded by heavy canons and airstrikes the center of Damascus. The French burned and destroyed entire blocks and streets in the ancient souks.  Such as Souk Hamideyeeh, Souk el Saninieh, Sanjakdar Street, Bzourieh

Within a couple of days, 15,000 people were displaced and 1,500 civilians were killed.

What happened?

In the winter of 1924, the Druzes in the Houran province (see note 3) were preparing for a French onslaught as the Spring approached: They had launched an uprising and many French troops were killed and train loads were dispatching the injured to Beirut.

The Syrian Druzes dug tunnels and underground habitats to sustain the winter and waited.

In early October of 1925, the Druze insurgents were infiltrating the towns and villages surrounding Damascus.  They were hiding in the caves of Zefteh and were roaming around the large village of Medina. The inhabitants knew about the presence of the insurgents.

At 10 am, a Sunday of October 18, one Druze harangued the people to take on arms and demanded that the Christians vacate the city. This person was beaten by the inhabitants and his rifle confiscated.

At 5 pm, the insurgent leader Hassan Kharrat entered Midan at the head of 50 fighters and settled in Merjeh. No French soldiers were at the entrance of the city.

Armed Moslems secured and guarded the Christian quarters from any spontaneous over zealot insurgents. The French troops on purpose refrained from posting guards on Christian quarters: They badly needed a reason to justify their destruction of Damascus and brutal behaviors.  The Syrians denied France any of sectarian causes throughout the uprising.

Monday morning. A military French plane overflew the gardens in Bab Es Salam, the largest quarter of the Druze.

Someone took a shot at the plane and the aviator dropped a few bombs and demolished two houses.

The air raids resumed at noon and all afternoon, targeting any gathering of people who were actually fleeing.

The canon bombing began at 10 pm. The Shrine of Fatima on Bab es Saghir was targeted.  

General Gamelin, on the order of the governor Gen. Sarrail, went overboard.

In Kadem, the Druze gathered an army and the brothers Akkache were considered heroes by the kids

Emir Zeid Atrache was sending proclamations as if the general in command of the revolutionary army.

The French Foreign Legion was composed of foreign citizens who fled their home countries and were promised citizenship after serving 5 years in the legion. This Legion was constituted of Cherkessk, Armenians, Senegal, Madagascar, Russians, Germans… 

The villages of Chaghour  and Ghouta…in the south-east of Damascus, and stretching from the Big Minoterie to the Beramkeh train station, were burned and ransacked by the French troops and the refugees walked to Al Mouhajiroon quarter in Damascus.

The inhabitants who lost homes and everything were summoned to collect 100,000 gold pound in retribution. Otherwise, the shelling will resume within two weeks.

The insurgents managed to infiltrate Damascus and attacked the grand Palace Azem at 6 pm. The governor Serrail was living in that Palace, but failed to be there during the attack. The Palace was entirely burned and ransacked.

The Moslems guarded the Christian quarter of Bab Touma since no French soldiers were there to fake protection of the Christians… 

For two months, in January and February, the French troops bombed Damascus and its surrounding villages, Bab Cheghri, Assa, Zebadani… The bombing was programmed on the clock, starting at 4 am and throughout the day and night. These programmed shelling were meant to deny the citizens any peace and tranquility.

Funny: The mandated troops ordered the Syrians to gather 3,000 rifles in addition to 100,000 gold pounds. Those who could afford it, had to buy a rifle to come up with the number, most probably from the French armies.

The insurgents kept the pressure and expanded their operations north and into Lebanon and severed the train lines going to Aleppo and toward Beirut…

The Insurgents Head Quarter was in Menine. Governor Jouvenel replaced the ill-fated Serrail…

Note 1: Extracts from the diaries of Alice Poulleau who lived in Damascus between 1924 and 1926. Eye witness accounts and field observation of the brutality of the French mandated power.

Note 2: Nazi Germany will apply the French and British tactics in their colonies when they invaded Russia in 1942, as well as in Poland… 

Note 3: The French troops had to deal with tribes in Jabal Druze or Houran. The tribes were and still are:

1. Halabi in the main towns of  sakhana Kebireh, Sakhana Seghireh

2. Amer located in the towns of Hokof, Mteuneh, Chahba

3. Chalguine in Smeid

4. Kontar in Dama

5. Azzam in Ahireh

6. Abou Faker in Rime Fokoun

7. Huneidi in Medjel

8. Attrach in Soueida (capital), Aereh, Salkhad, Dibine, Melah, Imtan, Anat…

9. Kiwan in Mayamas

10. Derwich in Harisseh, Houaya

11. Kassar in Saana, Saleh

12. Sallam in Tarba

13. Kalahni in Nemreh

14. Sahnawi in Douma

Why Syrian people revolted against the French mandated power (1924-26)?

Particularly the Druze in the Houran and Golan Heights?

Captain Carbillet was the appointed commander in the main city of Soueida in the Jebel Druze. The captain was intent on transforming this “backward” province into a semi-republican and “democratic” region. He acted as the appointed dictator, and he constructed aqueducts to bring in water to Soueida, built schools, roads, and started archeological digs…

The other side of the coin enraged the people.

The captain wanted to treat every one as equal under the law, particularly the punishment for “breaking the mandated Laws“. The tribal leaders and notables were meted with the same treatment as common people.  They cut stones, they were incarcerated in coal caves…

The captain’s cat was found hanging from a window, and the entire city was penalized to pay retribution for his beloved cat.

Captain Carbillet neglected to consider that reforms need plenty of time. And not only in societies where religious and civic aristocracies were traditionally respected for centuries and were well implanted in the society political and social structure…

Captain Carbillet believed that he could transform a quick radical evolution when the French Revolution of 1789 took centuries to apply its reforms

People who apparently accept quickly new suggestions are not about to desist from centuries of habits and customs

Banal events provoke violent reactions and the administrators have to deal with illogical manifestations

Emissaries from the Jebel Druze were sent to meet the French officials in Damascus and were turned away because they had no idea how to satisfy their requests.

The emissaries then decided to travel to Beirut to meet with the governor General Herod Serrail, a newly appointed governor whom the majority of Sunnis thought was favorable to their cause. The former governor Weygand favored the minorities such as the Christians, Armenians, Alawits ( the sect that is currently in power in Syria for 4 decades now)…

Herod Serrail didn’t even meet with the emissaries and they returned feeling totally humiliated and their dignity trampled to the ground.

They assembled the people to explain the results of their endeavors and how they were badly treated.

Serrail got apprehensive and convoked 5 of the emissaries to see him in Damascus.  Two of them were suspicious and didn’t go. The other three emissaries were detained and imprisoned in Palmira.

It is to be noted that all the appointed ministers in the Syrian government were Turkish by origin, as if Syrian Arabs were not qualified to take on viable responsibilities… At the first upheaval in 1924, all these ministers rushed to Beirut to wait for better conditions to return to Damascus.

As if all these struggles against the Ottoman Empire and the fighting along side the allied forces in WWI were of no consequences…

The French War Council was in permanent audience, and shot prisoners without trials

The French authorities bombarded towns surrounding Damascus (Reef Dimashk) with heavy artillery guns and airplanes. and burned entire villages on the outskirt of Damascus (Midan, ChaghourGhouta) and in the Houran. Fleeing villagers were shot point blank and everything stolen and sold in the souks.

And the mandated power imposed a fine of 100,000 gold pound on the inhabitants of the demolished towns and villages. Otherwise, the troops will resume bombarding what still remained…

Within 2 days, 15,000 people fled their hometown on foot.

From October 18 to 21, 1925, the French troops bombarded the capital Damascus and destroyed and burned entire blocks and the center, including the famous and ancient Souks.

Over 1,500 were killed and four folds that number were injured.

Note 1: Extracts from the diaries in the French book “In Damascus under the bombs” by Alice Poulleau. (First Published in 1926, and republished in 2012)

Note 2: France has lost most of its young educated citizens (civilian and officers) during WWI, over one million.  The new generation didn’t go to schools during the war and were practically illiterate, and spoke only the dialect of their provinces. These new recruits from the distant provinces had no backing to save them from being sent overseas. The officers dispatched to the colonies were mostly handicapped (mentally and physically) and were seeking “Revenge” against almost every one.  France relied on its Foreign Legion that gathered soldiers fleeing from ravaged countries sand  who wanted a French citizenship

“In Damascus under the bombs, Year 1925” by Alice Poulleau

In 1925, the French journalist and painter Alice Poulleau finished writing her book “In Damascus under the bombs”, a collection of 3 years of diaries,  and was published in 1926. The book was banned by the French authority in every colony and territories occupied by the French troops. The book was republished only in 2012.

The Syrians revolted against the French mandated power in 1924-26 and the troops pounded Damascus for 48 hours with heavy artillery shells and air raids. Entire blocks in Damascus were devastated and over 1,500 civilians were killed within 48 hours of insane hatred and arrogance of the occupying troops.

Alice dedicated the book to the mothers in France and Syria who suffer the same afflictions. She blamed the French writers and journalists who never set foot in Syria and never witnessed the calamities and horrible massacres and yet, insisted on diabolizing the Syrian people, relying solely on the High-Commissariat reports.

The devastation hit the antique and ancient souks of Hamideyeh, the block of the street of Midhat Pasha, the Via Recta, which was later called “Harika” to being burned to the ground…

It was the French mandated power that incited sectarian passions among the various religious entities in order to divide and rule. The occupation power favored the minorities such as the Christians, the Alawits… in the administrative positions…

Alice worked in the Nile Delta and occasionally pushed forward to discover parts of Palestine, such as Rafah, Gaza, Ludds… and further on into Haifa, Mount carmel…

In 1923, Alice had this revelation to investigate Syria and Lebanon. She visited the Houran province, Damascus, Baalbek, Beirut, Sidon, Tyr, Bissan (south of the Sea of galilee), Samak…

Poulleau was under the spell of so much beauty and mythical environment until she got in contact with her French countrymen, officers and soldiers in Syria.

Her wrath grew by the days against the arrogance and ignorance of her French citizens in Syria. Her encounters opened her eyes to the calamities that the French brought in into Syria…

As Alice returned to Egypt in 1923, she wrote:

“I had this persistent and strong impression that France never attempted to investigate the level of acceptance of the Syrian people to the mandated power, and simply relied on the reports of the High-Commissariat.

I felt this growing disenchantment and the growling of discontent among the Syrians relevant to the one-sided decisions, mismanagement and high-handed reactions due to their baffling of human rights of the Syrians and their dignity…

This was the reason for me to return the next year 1924 to Damascus and witnessing the slaughterhood two years later…”

Note: More summaries and translation of these diaries will be forthcoming. 1,500 Syrian civilians died within 48 hours of bombing and air raids of the Capital Damascus by the French troops.

Lord Balfour chased out of Damascus

Have you heard of this British foreign minister Lord Balfour? He is the one who promised, in 1917, the Zionist movement to arrange for a parcel of land in Palestine in order for the Jews to emigrate and settle there.

April 9, 1925

Lord Balfour is visiting with the Zionists in Palestinians and is planning to visit Damascus by boarding a well-secure train from Haifa to Damascus, the capital of Syria, that was under French colonial mandated power.

As the train reached Deraa in the Houran province, close to current State of Jordan, the inhabitants converged to have a hostile curious look at this infamous character.

In Damascus, the British consul Smart waited for the train at the town of Kadem and whisked Balfour in a ready closed car so that Balfour is saved from the cursing of the people on his arrival and along the route.

A mass of students were waiting at the hotel Victoria and shouting: “Down with Balfour” and other similar “Enemy of the Arab people”, “lackey to the Zionist capitalists”… The crowd was dispersed.

The masses converged again with increasing violence and the owner of the hotel closed all the windows in order to save the glasses of being broken by the showers of stones.

Orators harangued the demonstrators and were applauded. The Moroccan Spahis (soldiers on horses at the pay of France) dispersed the crowed with their swords  and wounded about twenty.

The people closed the Omayyad Mosque to this intruder. The shops in the souks were closed. A large demonstration was being planned for the next morning.

The gracious Lord was begged by a delegation of wise people for not honoring his presence any longer.

Lord Balfour was packed in a hurry and taken to Beirut, and immediately bordered the waiting ship.  On in the ship did balfour felt in security.

All conquerors of Syria remember Damascus, and balfour was not to forget the sentiment of this welcoming Syrians.

Alice Poulleau recalls in her diary that she was lost in the hills surrounding Damascus on the day Balfour arrived. Her adventure had a very happy ending.

Fellahs (peasants) of Doummar redirected her trip and even hired a donkey cart driver (Arbaji) to take her to Damascus. The Syrian are very hospitable and confident with “good foreigners”

Note: This is one of the diaries of Alice Poulleau in her published book “A Damas sous les bombs” (In Damascus under the bombs) that she finished writing in 1925 and published it in 1926.

The book was banned from all the countries under the French occupation troops, and was only republished in 2012.


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