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France, Syrie et Liban 1918-1946

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Nadine Méouchy

Troisième partie. Les mobilisations populaires : acteurs, enjeux

Steel shirts, white badges and the last qabadāy: fascism, urban violence and civic identity in aleppo under french rule

Keith Watenpaugh

Texte intégral

  • 1 On the 1919 massacre and the Aleppine reaction see Kāmil al-Ghazzī, Kitāb Nahr al-Dhahab fi Tārīkh (...)

1On the morning of 12 October 1936, two uniformed paramilitary groups, the White Badge and the Steel Shirts, clashed in Aleppo’s Sunday market(Sūq al-Ahad). Fighting spilled over into the blind alleys and narrow streets of the old city as fists gave way to brick-bats, pavement stones, knives and a few firearms. By the late afternoon, when the French police force restored order, Artīn ‘Ubajī, Jurjī Ilyās Mūrā and Muhammad Bashīr Zayn lay dead; two more participants would die of their wounds the following day: Dānyil Sarkīs Sāntūrliyān and Kasbar Mānūkhiyān. This sanguinary outburst marked Aleppo’s most significant moment of urban violence since the 1919 massacre of Armenian refugees.1

  • 2 For the purposes of this essay, I have employed a typological definition, useful in distinguishing (...)
  • 3 On the Blue Shirts see, James P. Jankowski,Egypt’s Young Rebels : “Young Egypt,” 1933-1952, Stanfo (...)

2On its surface, this civil disorder could be seen as a variation on a theme familiar to the streets of many European, African and South and Central American cities in the 1920s and 1930s. Instead of the White Badge with their starched white shirts, blue neckerchiefs and berets, or the Steel Shirts with their battleship gray tunics and plus-fours, it could have been fasci Black Shirts and anarchists attacking one another in Parma, Iron Guards in Bucharest, Orange Shirts in Johannesburg, Brown Shirts in Munich, Falangistes marching in Madrid or Integralists in Sao Paulo. This world wide diffusion of fascist idealism, aesthetics and forms of organization is a recognized phenomenon;2 and in many of the post-Ottoman states of the Eastern Mediterranean fascist organizations formed accordingly, most notably the “Blue Shirts” of the Egyptian Ahmad usayn and An ūn Sa’āda’s Syrian People’s Party.3

3Yet unlike these obviously fascist groups, the formation of the Steel Shirts and the White Badge in Aleppo, while representing a successful interpolation of the language of fascist paramilitary organization, did not necessarily carry with it an engagement with the ideology itself. Rather, the limited incorporation of fascist forms in the mid- 1930s was a function of both the alteration of urban communal boundaries and the changing nature of violence in the post-Ottoman period. The specific impulse to use these forms grew from the desire of the traditional elite to contain forces and groups increasingly beyond the locus of its control, while simultaneously, the plastic nature of such forms provided an emergent middle-class minority with the means to demarcate the terms of its identity and to gain momentarily a measure of power within the urban milieu. More importantly, despite the lack of a commitment to the ideology per se by many of the leaders and participants in these groups, if fascism is modernity taken to its most logical extent, then even the modest incorporation of some of its dimensions were consequential to Aleppines - especially its younger people - and emblematic of the underlying and unresolved social tensions of the emerging Syrian polity in the later stages of the French mandate.

  • 4 On the General Strike, especially how the notables of the National Bloc in Damascus were caught un (...)

4The defining moment of the last years of that French presence in Syria was the General Strike of January and February 1936. Similar to the Cairo riots a year earlier, and the first stirrings of the Great Revolt in Palestine some months later, the extreme level of violence which accompanied the strike in the major cities of Syria, and the involvement of kinds of people who generally did not participate in street fighting, primarily secondary and university students, distinguished the strike from previous instances of urban discord. As these demonstrations grew in their ferocity, especially in Damascus during February, it also became apparent that the notables who directed the National Bloc were unable to control the social forces unleashed. Instead, student leaders associated with the newly formed League of National Action and the traditional quarter toughs, the qabadāyāt, dominated the streets.4 By the time the Bloc’s notables had acquired some measure of control of the strike, they had already begun behind-the-scenes meetings with the French colonial authorities. Upon the announcement that a delegation of notables and others would proceed to France to negotiate a treaty to end the mandate, the 43-day strike concluded. While the Bloc’s demands were seemingly far less than those of the more fervent demonstrators, the level of group solidarity, the seeming ability of a modern ideology to motivate young men and boys, and the responsiveness of the Quai d’Orsay to this form of popular political action encapsulated a series of lessons not lost on the various constituent elements of Syrian society.

  • 5 Khoury argues that the magazine al-Musawwar was fundamental to disseminating images of European yo (...)
  • 6 MWT-QKh (Markaz al-wathā’iq al-tārīkhiyya - Qism khās), “National Guard”.
  • 7 P. Khoury, op. cit, p. 470-472.

5Within days of the strike’s conclusion and in an apparent effort to capture some of the energy of the strikers, the National Bloc formed an organization known as the Steel Shirts (in Arabic, al-qumṣān al- adīdiyya). Underwritten by Fakhrī al-Bārūdī and lead by a young nationalist firebrand, Munīr al-Ajlanī, the group adopted the basic uniform of European fascist groups.5 The records of the Steel Shirts housed in the Syrian National Archives depict a highly organized and hierarchical movement, complete with a borrowed language of symbols and signs; they also describe mass meetings where leaders sought to create the emotional feel of similar events in Italy or Germany.6 While the Steel Shirts became an increasingly prominent feature of public ceremonies in the Syrian capital, they never succeeded in capturing the imagination or support of the city’s youth. Rather, scout organizations and the youth wing of the League tended to attract many more adherents from young intellectuals, university and secondary students, and the children of the middle class. Furthermore, in Damascus, the Bloc leadership did not use the Steel Shirts to organize young men from the “popular” classes, that is uneducated working men or unemployed city dwellers. This “classism” is often singled out as a reason for the relative failure of the Steel Shirts.7

OLD NOTABLES, NEW CLOTHES: THE ALEPPINE NATIONAL BLOC AND THE NATIONAL GUARD

6If the elitist overtones of the Steel Shirt movement in Damascus contributed to the Bloc’s inability to successfully engage the potential of youth violence, it did not prevent the movement’s spread to the other major cities of Syria: Homs, Hama and Aleppo. However, the Aleppine version of the Steel Shirts, the National Guard (al-haras al-watanī) differed significantly. The more cosmopolitan nature of Aleppine society, its complex non-Muslim middle class and the presence of a large population of Christian refugees contributed to this difference. The local response to the General Strike confirmed that these variables challenged the Aleppine Sunni notables’ drive to employ a nationalist agenda to regain local hegemony; the unwillingness of many non-Muslim members of the business community to participate in the strike was foremost among these challenges. Put simply, this unwillingness to cooperate threatened the Bloc’s strategy in Aleppo to make the city un-ruleable.

  • 8 PRO FO 371/20065 E702/195/89, Parr (Aleppo) to Eden, 29 January 1936.
  • 9 P. K houry,op. cit., p. 472.

7When local merchants resisted the call to strike, the Bloc relied on neighborhood toughs and secondary school boys to shut the doors of recalcitrant shopkeepers.8 The Steel Shirts were an outgrowth and an institutionalization of those young men. More than just a means to enforce future strikes, ultimately they constituted an effort to confront public political activity and restrain the freedom of action of the local bureaucratic, commercial and primarily non-Muslim middle class, the only significant part of Aleppine society challenging the notables of the National Bloc. The use of the Guard to such an effect constitutes a heretofore unrecognized dimension of Steel Shirt activity in Syria. While the Steel Shirts had been organized in Damascus “in the face of new challenges from radicals and, in particular the League of National Action”9, enforcing political orthodoxy on the middle class was the Guard’s main mission in Aleppo. It was called upon to compel cooperation from Syrians more willing to cooperate with the French, and more importantly, those elements of Aleppine society who felt threatened by the potential establishment of a Sunni-dominated polity - be it Arab nationalist or otherwise. It also served as a way to shape and control ideological consciousness in parts of the city usually marginal to such discussions.

  • 10 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3468, 28 April 19 (...)

8To affect this multidimensional mission the Steel Shirts of the National Guard imposed themselves on the streets of Aleppo through noisy marches and, most notably, mass rallies of young men in uniform. The first of these rallies - known locally as a hafla - took place in the Qārliq quarter’s sheep market in early April of 1936. Some 600 young men attended, 500 from various quarters and 100 students from the local schools, including the state high school, the Thānawiyyat al-Ma’mūn, the Mission Laïque Française and the applied arts school. Under the command of six ex-Ottoman officers, anciens combattants on the losing side in World War One, the young men drilled for two and half hours. Accounts of the period portray these first gatherings as rather disorganized, and bemused onlookers would gather at the assembly site.10

  • 11 Ibid.

9As the Spring progressed, however, the mass meetings grew more sophisticated, and by mid-1936 the group had become a familiar and daunting presence in the streets of the city.11 Meeting on Fridays after noon prayers in the Qādī’askar neighborhood, the rallies successfully recreated the choreographic precision dictated by generic forms of fascism in Europe. Most were like that of June 26, in which over 1 000 young men gathered, about half in uniform. For several hours, they would march, sing nationalist anthems, chant slogans and practice their salutes. Around 5:00 pm a car brought members of the central committee. The ranks saluted them fascist-style for several minutes; then, headed by a drum and bugle corps, they marched through the various neighborhoods of Aleppo.

10The afla-s and marches spoke to both participants and observers in unprecedented ways in the city. While from an administrative standpoint Aleppo constituted a municipality, quarter identification and other more limited and circumscribed understandings of the city dominated the consciousness of most people. By drawing men and boys from various neighborhoods and classes, the organization replicated other technological innovations, most notably, street cars and automobiles that were breaking down boundaries of time and space between disparate parts of the city. The implicit meaning of the marches - and indeed who marched - therefore, marked the formation of a new conceptual understanding of the city. As the Steel Shirts coursed through the streets of Aleppo, they stitched it together as a political unit in their own imaginations and in that of their observers. The organized cacophony, the uniforms, the precision and the kinetic energy of the vigorous young men made corporeal a new vision of Aleppo. In this manner, the notables who controlled the Shirts asserted that their authority permeated the city in its entirety.

11To keep control of the organization, the executive body of the Guard, which included members of Aleppo’s elite Sunni families - Rushdi Kīkhiyā, Ahmad Munīr Wafā’ī and Jamīl Ibrāhīm-Bāshā - as well as a popular Muslim cleric/educator, Shaykh Ma’rūf Dawālībī, and Nā im Qudsī, a lawyer in the National Bloc’s leadership, regularized the membership and structure of the units. More importantly, following a central tenet of fascist aesthetics, they worked to militarize the hierarchical relations between young men and the notables directing the National Bloc by explicitly tying the Guard to the latter. Placing these young men under a central, almost anonymous authority within the framework of a paramilitary organization, blurred the lines of older quarter-based relationships between patrons and clients, though in many cases this meant a mere retooling of those relationships. More significantly, in the case of middle-class Muslim students and university graduates, it acted to bind them back into the “politics of notables”, a structure from which they and their class had been growing increasingly distant in the post-Tanzimat period.

  • 12 Ibid.
  • 13 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 2 126, 30 Novembe (...)

12The executive levied a fee of one franc per month on the members of the guard, payable at the weekly exercise, and divided the troops into three divisions: a motorcycle brigade, a “scout” group for males under 18 and an infantry. In a more significant development, and in a radical departure from the totalizing and leveling impulses of European fascism, they further divided the group into two wings along lines of class and education. First, educated boys and men, primarily high-school students or those recently graduated, the young effendiyya as it were, and second, the illiterate, lower classes. Different uniforms were to be used to distinguish the educated from the others. The uniform for the young effendiyya resembled that worn by the Steel Shirts in Damascus: a steel-gray tunic with matching pants, shirt, and hat. From amongst this wing, an “honor guard” was later founded who would wear the fay aliyya hat, a modified pith-helmet made popular by King Fay al that had become associated with Arabism, and plus-fours, known in the French secret police reports as “pantalons de golfe”.12 Led by a German-educated engineer and nephew of Hasan Fu’ād Ibrāhïm-Bāshā, Rashīd Rustum, the honor guard was to be made up of young men from the "best families"13 (Photo 42). This division of the young men reflects a tension in nationalist imaginings in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. Namely, while the nation may belong to all, paraphrasing a common trope in Syrian nationalist rhetoric, class would ultimately determine who had the right to more.

  • 14 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 468, 28 April 1 (...)

13The uniform of the illiterate also represented a significant departure from the dominant fascist “shirt” motif. The “illiterate” guardsmen wore garments unrecognizable in the idiom of modern or western uniforms. Rather, they tapped into a local sartorial lexicon of power. Instead of the gray outfit, they wore a red ‘abāya - a three-quarter length wool coat - black sharwāls - baggy trousers with tapered lower legs - sleeves embroidered with gold piping, and a black felt skull-cap with a white scarf coiled around it. Clearly, the outfit reproduced on a massive scale the ceremonial garb of quarter toughs, the qabadāyāt.14 This second group, which came to be know as the firqat Hanānū, [Hanānū Brigade] in honor of Ibrāhīm Hanānū, a recently deceased leader of the National Bloc in Aleppo, were not required to wear their uniforms at the weekly Friday exercises, while the educated young men were to wear at least their gray shirts.

14To assuage merchants’ concerns about roving bands of young men in uniform, the Guard were to wear their uniforms only during officially sanctioned activities and not in public establishments. This last decision may have seemed an empty promise as one of the group’s sanctioned activities was collecting “donations” from members of the merchant community and “guarding” their stores in times of discord. The potential for violence of disciplined paramilitary uniformed young men, the mass meetings and marches and the Guards’ ubiquitous presence left little ideological room between collaboration and complete obedience to the Bloc line. French unwillingness to suppress the marches or the Guard likewise proved persuasive.

  • 15 Abdu Misri is referred to in the French diplomatic archives as the family’s “homme a tout faire.” (...)
  • 16 Interview with Maḥmūd al-Miṣrī, Aleppo, 12 June 1999, conducted in Arabic by author.

15Chief among those employed by the Bloc for the purposes of more forceful persuasion was a shadowy figure, ‘Abd al-Rahmān “ ‘Abdu” Misri, whose family had long been associated with the leading clan of the National Bloc in Aleppo, the Jābirīs.15 ‘Abdū Misrī, and his father before him, was the qabaday - in the Aleppine patois ‘agid - of the neighborhood of Qāsila (locally pronounced A īle) south of the citadel.16 In the Summer of 1936,’Abdū Mi ri organized the young men of Asile into a Guard unit. Faced with some initial resistance from the elitist animators of the group in the city, he traveled to Damascus to demand the right to organize his boys. The Guards’ integration of the "illiterate" into the organization is a testament to ‘Abdū Miṣrī’s success. This incident may also reflect an intra-Aleppine struggle between the Jābirīs and the Kayyālīs. Dr. ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Kayyālī was one of the more active supporters of the Guard and could have used them in a struggle for control of the Aleppine Bloc. Fearing this, Sa’dallāh JābIrī may have encouraged ‘Abdū Miṣrī in some fashion to create a counter weight to the Guard that would remain under his control. The continuing relationship of the ‘agid-s and Jābirī after the collapse of the Guard proves that relationships other than those manifest in the terms of the modernist paramilitary organization of the Steel Shirts bound the two.

16As noted above, upon the conclusion of the General Strike, qabaḍāyātlike ‘Abdū Miṣrī were not integrated in the Damascene Steel Shirts. The exception to this in Aleppo suggests that 1) greater popular resistance to the Bloc’s efforts necessitated a more thorough apparatus of power to enforce Bloc hegemony and 2) theqabaḍāyāt of Aleppo, far from being restrained by “tradition”, were active agents in expanding their connection to power, willing to recast ceremonial authority in modern modes, and conscious of how they could maintain their positions of leadership by integrating themselves into the Bloc’s networks. In other words, as the zu‘amā’ of Syria became the patriotic nationalist leaders of the National Bloc, the qabaḍāyāt could likewise become political activists or commanders of paramilitary platoons. None of these alterations required an adoption of the nationalism of the Bloc’s intellectual elite. Indeed, a simple quid pro quo can account for the qabaḍāy’s realignment with the nationalists in the framework of the Steel Shirts. With the success of the Bloc, the qabaḍāyāt assumed that they would receive a freer hand in the quarters they themselves controlled, as well as an expansion of their areas of control - their turf - into places heretofore off limits like the Christian extra-muros neighborhoods and refugee camps. Likewise, the use of a qabaḍāy in a position of city-wide leadership illustrates the fact that not only could the Bloc use fascist paramilitary forms to channel the forces of the children of the middle class, they could also integrate them into a structure of violence with the more traditional exponents of urban violence.

  • 17 Ira Lapidus, Muslim Cities in the Later Middle Ages, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1967, p. (...)
  • 18 For a discussion of the role of the qaba āy in Damascene inter-war politics see P. Khoury, op. cit (...)
  • 19 Interview with Maḥmūd al-Miṣrī, Aleppo, 12 June 1999, conducted in Arabic by author.
  • 20 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 2421,8 July 1936.
  • 21 Interview with Ma mūd al-Miṣrī, Aleppo, 12 June 1999, conducted in Arabic by author.

17The qabaḍāy, a term of Turkish origin, has a colorful and complex history in the cities of the Levant.17 In spite of the self-consciously anachronistic, honor-bound presentations of self, many were effective at assessing the shifting bases of power in urban society and altering their behavior accordingly. Generally despised by small-scale merchants and the educated middle class due to their running of protection rackets, arms smuggling and drug trafficking, theqabaḍāyāt were nevertheless a fundamental element of the connection between the Sunni notability and the mass of urban society.18 Having arrived in the city at the time of the Egyptian occupation (hence his patronym), ‘Abdū Miṣrī’s father had established himself in Asile by gradually strong-arming the control of a caravansary complex, now known as Khan ‘Abd Miṣrī. Today, his son portrays him as a counselor to Sa’dallāh Jābirī who would come to him for advice in time of need; likewise, he bristles at hearing his father labeled a mere qabaḍāy, instead of the more exalted za‘im.19 At the time of the General Strike he had just been released from prison after serving a two-year term for the illegal possession of a firearm, a fact which says a great deal about his social role.20 His “turf” included the commercially significant eastern entrance of the great sūq, which he successfully closed during the strike. At the same time, he is credited for having organized the purchase and distribution of foodstuffs “out of his own pocket” for those affected by the strike,21 though the amount of cash needed to accomplish this suggests that he was being funded by sources higher on the ladder of patrons and clients.

  • 22 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 350, 17 Septemb (...)
  • 23 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 2 421, 8 July 193 (...)

18While the Guard’s patrons sought to portray the movement as modern, non-sectarian, inclusive and unified, the very presence of ‘Abdū Misrī and others like him in it called such an image into question for many in city. ‘Abdū Miṣrī and his men often broke ranks and disobeyed orders from the leadership of the Steel Shirts.22 Significantly, when he first convened his young men as a Guard unit, he had them place on their shirts the star and crescent of the old Ottoman Empire embroidered in beige silk. As non-sectarianism was at the core of the public ideology of the National Bloc, this clearly sectarian symbol was met with a quick reaction. Steel Shirt leaders demanded that it be removed. Insulted, ‘Abdū Miṣrī refused. Thereupon a heated discussion took place, in the course of which ‘Abdū Misrī declared to Bloc notable Dr. Hasan Fu’ād Ibrāhīm-Bāshā, “If you are an extremist [or perhaps nationalist], I am the God of extremists and I am a more influential leader than you are.”23 Already fearful and resentful of what was interpreted in some circles as the abandonment of the non-Muslim communities of Syria in the text of the draft treaty, the Christians of Aleppo would have given the use of the star and crescent a great deal of significance and interpreted it in the worst possible light. ‘Abdū Miṣrī’s reaction confirms that Ottoman-Islamic symbols remained meaningful for many Muslims in Aleppo despite nationalist efforts towards secularization, and that these symbols also operated in a universe of meaning where Muslim political dominance persisted. While ‘Abdū Misrī may have overstated his importance, he certainly was closer to “the people” than the AUB-educated medical doctor, and could influence men like himself not unwilling to employ violence.

  • 24 al-Jihād (Aleppo) 13 May 1936.

19Aleppo’s non-Muslims received further proof of a sectarian dimension of the Steel Shirts in statements emanating from the minbar of one of the original organizers of the Guard in Aleppo, Shaykh Dawālībī. In the Spring of 1936 he publicly advocated the boycott not just of “Zionist” imports but also of the cloth manufactured by native Christian and Jewish weaving establishments, and more significantly, he called for the use of the Steel Shirts to enforce the boycott. While the record of this khutba message appeared in an editorial condemning it, it nevertheless typified the ambiguous discourse of National Bloc rhetoric.24 The fact that many Aleppine Christians could have learned of Dawālībī’s pronouncements from the pages of a newspaper also shows the means by which modern media allowed information often produced to be consumed within specific communal boundaries to cross those very boundaries.

  • 25 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo) n°. 3 294, 11 Septembe (...)
  • 26 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo) n°. 3 417, 21 Septembe (...)
  • 27 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo) n°. 2 421,8 July 1936

20Despite the obvious sectarian overtones of elements of the Bloc’s paramilitary units, many non-Muslim young men were attracted by the modern, fascist style of the Steel Shirts. On 6 September 1936,30 Christian young men accompanied by two local doctors, Riyād Makhmaljī and Camille ‘Aris, joined the guard,25 and a few days later, 20 Armenians did likewise, led by Ardashīs Būghīkiyān, an Ottoman-era newspaper editor who had connections with the late Ibrāhīm Hanānū. After taking the usual oath - though presumably not on the Qur’ān - they were fitted out for their uniforms.26 The return of the delegates from France provided another moment of inter-sectarian comity in which any tensions for the present seemed subsumed beneath a wave of nationalist fervor. In celebration of the draft treaty a grand youth assembly took place on the grounds of the city’s state high school in the extra-muros neighborhood of Jamīliyya. Members of the National Guard in their Steel Shirts met in formation alongside Muslim, Armenian, Jewish and Catholic boy scouts. Once in formation, the ranks, estimated at 1,650, marched through modern Aleppo, skirting the old city. The gathering of these groups reflected the nationalists’ efforts to lay the fears of the city’s middle class to rest; it also allowed groups heretofore resistant to National Bloc hegemony to express solidarity and good will towards the notables, the apparent winners of the negotiations with the French and presumably the future rulers of Syria. The lower class elements of the Guard, the Hanānū Brigades, were not present. In the end, even this moment of communal harmony was disturbed by the fact that the Christian scouts marched to the strains of “La Marseillaise”.27

MIDDLE CLASS FEAR AND CATHOLIC FASCISTS: THE ORDER OF THE WHITE BADGE

  • 28 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo) n°. 3 287, 14 Septembe (...)
  • 29 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°.2 359, 15 July 193 (...)
  • 30 Interview with Firyāl Qumbāz (daughter of ‘Abbud Qumbāz) Aleppo, June 9, 1999, conducted by author (...)

21One group officially barred from the celebration had been the young and middle-aged Catholic men of the Party of the Order of the White Badge.28 In the course of 1936 perhaps a hundred young Christians joined the Steel Shirts of Aleppo, yet by far the vast majority of non-Muslim youth - educated or otherwise - who participated in any form of paramilitary organization did so as members of the White Badge (in French: L’Insigne Blanc, in Arabic: al-shara al-bay ā’). Formed in reaction to the National Guard, the White Badge attracted a larger membership than its rival.29 Founded by a former colonial police officer and ancien combattant on the winning side in the Great War’Abbūd Qumbāz,30 the group drew its membership from all of Aleppo’s Christian sects and would number at one point 3,500.

  • 31 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), “Notes: Insigne Blanc (...)

22The rapid growth of the movement at the time of the Paris negotiations points to the heightened tension felt by Aleppine Christians in the face of the looming treaty with France; or as French intelligence concluded in the Fall of 1936, "the Christians [of Aleppo] believe that they have been abandoned by France following the conclusion of the treaty and they have grouped en masse around this idea [the White Badge], The clergy, the wealthy merchants and the influential Christians in general have aided and encouraged this novel formation."31 At its most basic, then, the formation of the White Badge signaled a need to create structures of urban violence as a means of self-defense in anticipation of the French departure. Moreover it would serve as a means to protect Aleppo’s Christian middle class from the hegemony of the Sunni elite. In this sense, the formation of the White Badge was a physical manifestation of a middle-class Aleppine identity that had developed over the previous decades.

23This identity layered Catholicism and francophilia, and it mobilized archaeology and history to define an Aleppine particularism in which non-Muslims played a central role. Far more than a rejection of Bloc political initiatives, the organization of the White Badge acted as a metonym for this identity by asserting the imagined community’s sovereignty and its right thereby to authorize its members to use violence. It figured as a part of the process by which some Christians sought detachment from the Aleppo imagined by the Bloc, which the latter expressed in part with the marches of its Steel Shirts. This detachment is inconceivable without the discourse of French colonialism, a central feature of which was the tendency of colonial officials to encourage and support separatist impulses in compradorial formations within minority groups.

  • 32 Qumbāz had indeed been awarded this medal as a consequence of being wounded at the Battle of the M (...)
  • 33 Ibid., Combaz to Assistant Delegate (in Sûreté Générale file) dated 22 July 1936.

24Fully conversant in this discourse, ‘Abbūd Qumbāz, identifying himself as “le président du parti de l’Insigne Blanc” and as “médaillé militaire, ancien combatant”, wrote a solicitous letter to the Assistant Delegate for the Province of Aleppo which sought to align France’s expressed support of Aleppo’s Christians with the White Badge.32 The White Badge was a “parti politique syrien chrétien”, it would “safeguard the interests of Christians without distinction of rite”, protect their “political and cultural rights by collaboration with the French government in all areas which concern communal and economic affairs”, and prepare for the coming parliamentary elections by combating the influence of the "extremists" on the youth of Aleppo.33

  • 34 Interview with Firyāl Qumbāz, Aleppo, June 9,1999, conducted by author in Arabic and French.
  • 35 Combaz to Assistant Delegate (in Sûreté Générale file) dated 22 July 1936..

25Qumbāz claimed that the Badge already included some 345 active due-paying members, of whom 165 formed the actual paramilitary “guard”. Drawn from the “classes ouvrière et moyenne”, and provisionally divided into six squads, they met each morning on the plaza at the northern end of Tilal street in their official uniform of white pants, shirts, shoes and socks, topped off by a sky-blue scarf and a beret. In a parallel to the use of sectarian symbols by ‘Abdū Miṣrī’s men, the White Badge affixed a cross to their right breast pocket.34 They marched in formation up and down the streets of the Christian districts of aliba and the extra-mural neighborhood of ‘Azīziyya, often with a drum core. From amongst the rank-in-file, they had formed bicycle, motorcycle and automobile squads, and a soccer team. New members whose numbers, according Qumbāz, increased daily, swore an oath of allegiance and were “prepared to sacrifice body and soul for the cause of the party”.35

  • 36 Ibid.
  • 37 Ibid.

26In spite of these advances, Qumbāz explained that the group was under threat from the nationalists, who “were attacking it with great energy and by all means imaginable”. Newspaper articles, even some authored by “des chrétiens esclaves du ‘Bloc Nationaliste’”, slandered the Badge in ways to which the party had not yet deigned to reply.36 Threats of physical violence accompanied the press campaign. Thus, concluded Qumbāz in his letter to the Assistant Delegate, only “un secours du fonds secret de Haut-Commissariat serait nécessaire pour fortifier et encourager ‘L’Insigne Blanc’”.37 While no evidence exists to suggest that the High Commission dispersed monies from this secret fund, the mere fact that the organization was allowed to continue to recruit members, wear uniforms, drill and march - all of which was illegal - conveys the sense that the French colonial authorities tacitly tolerated the movement, just as they tolerated the Steel Shirts.

  • 38 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 042, 27 August (...)
  • 39 . Ibid. Very early in the formation of the White Badge, socialist and leftist organizations within (...)

27Regardless of its rather tenuous connection with the colonial authorities, the White Badge manifested unambiguous links with the local Catholic community, often holding ceremonies on Sunday mornings in the large plaza - Sā at Far āt -which abuts the three majoruniate churches of the city: Maronite, Armenian Catholic and Greek Catholic. For example, on Sunday, 23 August 1936, ‘Abbūd Qumbāz attended mass at the Greek Catholic Church in his White Badge uniform. As he entered and left the sanctuary, 20 young men, also in uniform raised their arms in the fascist salute and cried "vive ‘Abbūd Qumbā !" Ancillary to this Aleppine expression of Führerprinzip, two White Badges stood at the entrances of the Maronite and Greek Catholic churches to collect donations.38 More significantly, the Badge garnered support from the various uniate bishops of the city and Mgr. Habīb Na’sānī, the Syrian Catholic Bishop, had even spoken in favor of the unit from the pulpit. As the Summer progressed even non-Catholic Christians began to join the movement, especially disaffected Armenians and Assyrians.39

28Throughout the Summer of 1936, the White Badge continued their marches on the streets of Aleppo, although only in the Christian neighborhoods and refugee camps. Forming up behind a stark white flag, in white shirts with blue neckerchiefs, the group sought to convey a sense of security and separateness to the city’s Christians. Unlike the vision of Aleppo conveyed in the Steel Shirt marches, the Badge’s efforts made visible a much smaller and distinct community and demarcated a separate sphere within the larger whole. A remarkable testament to the resilience of communal boundaries even in the modern period is the fact that the Steel Shirts and White Badges never clashed in this Summer of marches.

  • 40 Hallak to Assistant Delegate (in Sûreté Générale file) dated 6 October 1936.

29This changed in September when the executive of the Badge sent a delegation led by Homère Hakīm and Yūrjī allāq to the Jazīra to recruit members from the local Assyrian and Armenian refugee communities. This move was part of a broader plan by some in the movement to create a non-Muslim/ non-Arab state in upper-Mesopotamia for which Aleppo would serve as capital. In a letter to the Joint Delegate (6 October 1936) Hallāq reported that they had been set upon by a large mob of Steel Shirts and nationalist supporters while making a stop-over in Dayr al-Zūr. Beaten by batons and fists, the 25 members of the Badge retreated to the headquarters of the secret police. In the course of the mêlée the Steel Shirts seized a folder containing the photographs of 500 new members that the delegation had recruited in asaka and Qāmishlī. In addition, several letters implicating the uniate bishops of the Jazīra in supporting the group were also taken. Only with the intervention of the local gendarmerie could the men escape and return to Aleppo.40 In what must have been seen as the ultimate act of abandonment, the French colonial authorities did not react to the attack of the White Badge. Fearing that the lack of response would signal to the nationalists that their Steel Shirts could act with impunity against them throughout Syria, the Order took a provocative step that they hoped would lead to active French support. A turf battle remembered in Aleppo as the Sūq al-Aḥad incident ensued the following week.

THE SŪQ AL-A AD INCIDENT: STEEL SHIRTS ASCENDANT

  • 41 al-Jihād (Aleppo) 13 October 1936; al-Shabāb (Aleppo) 13 October 1936.
  • 42 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Assistant Delegate (Aleppo), to High Commission (...)

30What set off the Sūq al-Aḥad conflagration of October 12 is unclear. In the days following it, however, the Aleppine press put forward several explanations for what had happened. A theme running through many of the accounts suggested that the White Badge acted in league with mandate functionaries, most notably a police commander named Moretti. In these versions, as they appeared in such papers asal-Jihād and al-Shabāb, colonial officials had created the White Badge to foment a revolt in the French colonies that would lead to the overthrow of the French socialist government of Léon Blum. As proof the papers pointed out that the White Badge began the incident while the French military garrison of Aleppo was in the field and weapons of government issue were found on the wounded.41 While many colonial officials may have sympathized with the anti-socialist party of the Croix de Feu in France, French intelligence reports dismissed these versions and concluded that the White Badge had incited the Steel Shirts.42

  • 43 Interview with Firyāl Qumbāz, Aleppo, June 9, 1999, interview conducted by author in Arabic and Fr (...)

31The White Badge and their supporters argued that they merely had been trying to protect an Armenian merchant under assault by some Steel Shirts. Elsewhere, in the recollection of ‘Abbūd Qumbā ‘s daughter Firyāl Qumbāz, the White Badge had stopped a young Muslim woman from being assaulted by a mob of Muslim men - an account which casts the White Badge in a non-sectarian, chivalrous pose.43 Subsequent investigation by the French prosecutor general, Bocquet, determined that the White Badge’s effort to extort a taxe d’étalage, (or in American slang, "protection money") from the Muslim merchants of the Sunday Market had precipitated the outbreak of violence. The White Badge certainly understood that any effort to expand their territory into this predominately Muslim domain would be considered a broach of inter-sectarian protocol. It was Muslim turf and only people like ‘Abdū Mi rī had the "right" to extort unofficial taxes from the merchants. Regardless of the actual facts of the case, the mere appearance of members of the White Badge - that is Christians in uniforms - in the public Muslim spaces of Aleppo had a transgressive and provocative feel. They had stepped beyond the bounds of tolerable public activity and, as far as many in Aleppo were concerned, the reaction of the nationalists, Steel Shirts and qaba āyāt was appropriate, even moderate.

  • 44 PRO FO 371/20066 E 6610/195/89, Parr (Aleppo) to Eden, 20 October 1936.

32Upon learning of White Badge activity in the Sunday Sūq, Dr. ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Kayyālī dispatched several patrols of Steel Shirts. As mentioned above, by the end of the day five Aleppines died and the numbers of wounded was staggering, reaching into the hundreds.44 In a reaction the White Badge

  • 45 Ibid. “Dr. Khayali [sic], the leader of the Nationalist party in Aleppo, despatched his ”Steel Shi (...)
  • 46 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 939 21 October (...)
  • 47 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 941, 21 October (...)
  • 48 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Joint Delegate (Aleppo), to High Commissioner ( (...)
  • 49 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Prosecutor General (Aleppo), to Inspector Gener (...)

33had hoped to avoid, local diplomats credited the Steel Shirts with restoring order and preventing a large scale massacre.45 Continuing and visible patrols of Steel Shirts in the sūqs allowed most business to resume Monday, though over the next few days isolated and sporadic attacks on Christian merchants and family members of White Badges took place.46 In a final and humiliating act, the Bloc ordered its Steel Shirts to "arrest" members of the White Badge wearing their uniforms in public.47 More devastating to the White Badge, however, was the French reaction. At the time of the disturbance the colonial authorities arrested twenty members of group, many of whom languished in prison for several months.48 Following Bocquet’s report, the police raided the headquarters of the movement and arrested three members of the executive, including ‘Abbūd Qumbāz, despite the fact that he had resigned some weeks before the Sunday Sūq incident.49

  • 50 For a discussion of this program and the concept of the intellectual dragoman see my “Deferring to (...)
  • 51 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 998, 23 October (...)
  • 52 Ibid.

34The apparent lack of support for the White Badge from the French also prompted leading ecclesiastics and members of the city’s merchant middle class to disavow it. The most abrupt denunciation occurred following Sa’dallāh Jābirī’s address to a meeting of the Cercle de la jeunesse catholique. The speech figured as part of a plan devised by Edmond Rabbath to assure the Christian middle class of Aleppo that the National Bloc intended to protect them.50 Attending the meeting were the local bishops and archbishops, leaders of the various Christian quarters and the young men and women who made up the membership of this consummate bourgeois club. Among other things Jābirī declared, “We are all Arabs and Syria belongs to us all. Fanaticism must disappear to save this country and to give it the prosperity it used to have”.51 The bishop of the Syrian Catholic community, Msgr. Na’sānī, who had a mere three months earlier encouraged the young men of his flock to join the White Badge responded by agreeing with the notable: “Christians and Muslims have lived together for centuries and will continue to live in this way. The deplorable events that took place in the Sūq al-Ahad were caused by trouble makers and agitators”.52 The Armenian Orthodox Bishop Ardavazd Surmeyan sounded a similar note addressing in Armenian an assembly in a refugee camp north of the city:

  • 53 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 829, 16 October (...)

I came here with the nationalist leaders in order to invite you all to be calm and to return to your work. We have every interest in having cordial relations with the Muslims. The incident of last Sunday at Sūq al-Ahad had their origin in the “White Shirts” [sic].. who are bought and paid for by certain traitors; they create trouble to spread discord between the elements of the country in order to obtain their goal. I ask therefore all Armenians to have no relations with the “White Badge” and to prevent even that these people circulate around Yeni Köy.53

  • 54 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), Copy of telegram to H (...)

35Members of the business community responded likewise. A telegram addressed to the High Commissioner in Beirut from Aleppo’s leading Christian businessmen including, Raphael Hindiyya, Vincent Balīt, Salīm Janbart, Louis Ziyāda, Bu rus Millatbāshiyān, Antoine ‘Aris, César Khayyāt, Georges An ākī, Albert im ī, Georges Sālim, and Yūsuf Aswad, labeled the Sunday Sūq incident “nothing more than a plot by some malcontents opposed to the accord and the alliance realized between France and the Syrian people”. They condemned the Badge and, echoing the nationalist rhetoric of Jābirī, “we proclaim [our] solidarity with all of the populations of the beloved fatherland and [our] approval of the Franco-Syrian treaty”.54 Nevertheless, one would imagine that had the French response to the White Badge’s efforts been different, the community would not have turned its back on it so forcefully and quickly. Quite simply, for the Christian middle class of Aleppo, tacit support of the Badge had, in the Fall of 1936 seemed at least superfluous and at most dangerously provocative. On the surface, the Bloc, using an explicitly liberal nationalist rhetoric had successfully reconciled various communities to their vision of “Syria”; more importantly, the violent potential of the Steel Shirts -realized in the course of the rumble - denied to them the validity or even viability of alternatives.

  • 55 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 4 448, 16 Novembe (...)
  • 56 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, “Elections 1936” Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°.4 (...)
  • 57 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 738, 9 October (...)

36This rapprochement was short-lived. Bereft of opponents in Aleppo, the Bloc could and did act with greater impunity. Steel Shirts or “red ‘abāyas” were employed to protect Bloc interests and, if necessary, terrorize voters into compliance during the lead-up to the December 1936 parliamentary elections.55 In the most egregious case, the Bloc decided to replace the universally respected scion of the Aleppine business community, Salīm Janbart as the candidate of the Greek Catholic community with Edmond Ḥimṣī, whose pro-Bloc credentials were more established. During the meeting of the electors of the second degree who were to choose between the two, members of the Hanānū Brigade led by ‘Abdū Mi rī, bats at the ready, stood at the back of the room as a formidable reminder of the fate that would await those who opposed the wishes of the Bloc.56 City-wide, in the election the Bloc assigned to each of the polling stations a contingent of “national guardsmen... [to] watch the voting.”57

  • 58 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 492, 11 December (...)
  • 59 An aspect of this was Bloc control of most press outlets. Fearing retribution from Steel Shirts, p (...)

37Owing to the Bloc’s seeming retreat from the promise of open political participation and the late 1936 outbreak of communal violence in Beirut, some of those who had abandoned the White Badge reconsidered their position and the organization enjoyed a brief revival in the Winter 1936-1937. Released from prison, the executive of the group held new elections which returned Homère Hakim and Subḥī Zahlāna to office. Several leading Christian Aleppine merchants and liberal professionals - including lawyers Georges Sabbāgh and Henri Saqqāl and banker Razzūq Hindī - openly expressed the desire that the White Badge be reformed in the style of the Lebanese phalange and serve as the Christian community’s militia.58 However, Bloc power at that moment was too great.59 Without active support from the churches, a lack of sanction from the French and a growing sense of resignation in the Christian communities of Northern Syria, the White Badge faded. In place of an active attempt to oppose the nationalist agenda, large groups of Christians made a tacit retreat from the public sphere or emigrated from the city to Lebanon or the West.

  • 60 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 5 230, 29 Decembe (...)
  • 61 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 317, 21 January 1 (...)

38The Steel Shirts’ moment of greatest accomplishment signaled the beginning of its decline as well. With the notable-nationalists’ victory at the polls, the leadership of the Steel Shirts sought to transform their movement into a post-colonial civil guard. Steel Shirts bosses approached Sa’dallāh Jābirī, the newly appointed Minister of the Interior in the National Bloc government, demanding training in the use of firearms, jobs in the public sector and the appointment of a Syrian as director of the secret police rather than a colonial official. The delegation received a cool reception from the minister, creating a great deal of anxiety among the group’s leadership.60 Returning to Aleppo members of the Steel Shirt executive, Hasan Fu’ād Ibrāhīm Bāshā especially, sought permission to organize all the youth of Aleppo into the National Guard via the school system, though this proposal too was met with little Bloc support.61

  • 62 al-Nazīr (Aleppo) 10 December 1936.
  • 63 .Ibid.
  • 64 Ibid.
  • 65 See for example the grotesque caricatures of Hitler and Mussolini on page one ofal-Nazīr (Aleppo), (...)

39An editorial in the nationalist mouthpiece al-Nazīr gives some hint as to the reasons that the Bloc had begun this policy of distancing themselves from the youth group. Written by the newspaper’s editor, Aḥmad Qanbar, the piece praised the work of the Steel Shirts while it laid the ground work for their eventual demobilization. For Qanbar, the Steel Shirts were “among the most brilliant works which have been created in the city, the formation and triumph [of the movement] in the sister cities of Syria, and the way it gathered the youth of the nation under the banner of the National Guard are all efforts in which Aleppo the Gray has a right take pride”.62 He then identified and dismissed various accusations leveled against the Steel Shirts - which may, nonetheless, have been an accurate statement of popular perceptions of the paramilitary units - namely that the youth of the Guard had “acquired a taste for order without imposing it on themselves and ...it infused their hearts with a love of discipline and order with the provision that neither applies to them”.63 Nevertheless, the “haflāt may have grown out of hand [and thus] ... it is clear that the circumstances do not support the continuation of these assemblies in this manner”.64 In other words, the Steel Shirts were no longer needed. The Bloc matched its local undermining of the Steel Shirts with an explicitly anti-fascist press campaign throughout the winter of 1936-1937. In this period several articles appeared in al-Nazīr belittling fascist leaders Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and cataloging the excesses of Franco in Spain.65

  • 66 K. Watenpaugh,op. cit., p. 218; A. Hourani, op. cit., p. 311.

40With the marginalization of the Aleppine middle class and the suppression of alternatives, the leadership of the Bloc in Aleppo had a great deal to fear from the potential power of a fascist style organization. It should be recalled that the notables comprising the National Bloc organized themselves around a reactionary illiberal gerontocratic view of society; for a patrician ruling elite, a radicalizing, youth-oriented movement that could generate cults of personality around figures outside of the traditional ruling class occasioned great concern. Furthermore, the bourgeois sensibilities which motivated the Bloc’s intellectual dragomen, Na’īm Anṭākī and Edmond Rabbath in particular, led them to create for the notables a public ideological program that was essentially liberal nationalist and antagonistic to fascism.66

  • 67 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 2 164, 26 April 1 (...)
  • 68 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 265, 14 May 1938.

41Troubled intellectually and ideologically by fascism, and functionally by the ideology’s ability to mass mobilize, the Bloc allowed the Guard to wither. As Spring 1937 approached, the number of young men attending Guard rallies dropped precipitously. Only 200 attended the meeting of 24 April 1937,67 and a year later the total had dwindled to a handful. A police report from May 1938 noted that a mere 28 Steel Shirts came to the commemoration of the Battle of Maysalun. In June 1938, the Bloc canceled any further meetings of the Guard.68 By the end of that year, all that was left of the Aleppo Steel Shirts was a soccer team that played against the Armenian HoMenEtMen and the Sporting Union of the Catholic Circle.

CONCLUSION

  • 69 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Joint Delegate (Aleppo), to High Commissioner ( (...)

42Despite the rather indifferent ends, these two groups had held sway on the streets of Aleppo for a few tremulous months in 1936. A persisting feature of the Guard was the continuing utility of men like ‘Abdū Miṣrī. The ‘agīd was a reminder of the ability of the notables to deliver brute force when necessary. In 1938, the Bloc again employed the “muscle” of ‘Abdū Mi ri to assure the election of its candidate to replace the Armenian delegate Millatbāshiyān who had died with two years of his term remaining. Reconvening the secondary electors from the 1936 election to select a successor, the Bloc had ‘Abdū Miṣrī stand at the doorway of the meeting hall with a bat-wielding “goon squad”. In the words of a frustrated French bureaucrat, he was "inviting, with an insistence to which it is not usual to resist, the electors to vote for" the Bloc-sanctioned candidate, the aged Ardashīs Būghīkiyān, instead of the more popular Hirāsh Bābāziyān.69 That Būghīkiyān was to “represent” the Apostolic (Orthodox) Armenian community of Aleppo seems incommensurate with such a prominent role reserved for the Muslim ‘Abdū Misrī in the facilitation of his election. The mechanism of representation, flawed in favor of communal reservation in the first instance, had been rendered a sham by the interference of the Bloc, and the action which typified bourgeois participation in the public sphere itself had been successfully circumscribed.

  • 70 See P. Khoury, “Abu Ali: A Damascus Qabaday” in Struggle and Survival in the Modem Middle East, ed (...)

43The continued use of men like ‘Abdū Miṣrī in Aleppo is likewise out of phase with the growing distancing of structures of power from theqabaḍāyāt in other parts of Syria.70 Nevertheless, the ability of ‘Abdū Miṣrī to integrate himself into the emerging modernist style of political and bureaucratic organization may be the exception which tests the rule. More significantly, the Aleppine experience with Steel Shirts is further proof of a reluctance on the part of the Sunni notability of Aleppo to participate in modern social formations or bourgeois structures of civil society. These structures, many of which antedate the period of the French Mandate, sought to reorder society with objective institutions and a rationalist approach to the basis of authority. While employing these modern forms - fascism, democratic participation, public opinion - as the need arose, the notables of the National Bloc generally resisted each as a permanent feature of Aleppine society. This also included a more general resistance to aspects of modernity and as such the notables’ behavior continued to create resentment among the city’s western-oriented middle class and a young, educated and increasingly fervent Arab nationalist cadre; the failure of the notability to embrace these new forms of organization and channel the violent potential of paramilitary groups, acted to drive many of these young men into the arms of the League of National Action and then the Ba’th.

  • 71 Interview with “Abū Yasīn” (‘Abd al-’Aziz ‘Ik) Aleppo, 12 June 1999, conducted in Arabic by author

44By arming itself the White Badge dissented from the Bloc’s hegemony and articulated patterns of identification antithetical to emerging forms of Arabism and resulting definitions of Syrian citizenship. More significantly, the language of European fascist militancy had authorized and legitimized their access to violence in defense of this dissent; their militancy was, nonetheless, illegitimate in the customary theory of Islamic political dominance in which Muslims had a monopoly on urban violence. Or, as one of ‘Abdū Miṣrī’s men, Abu Yasīn, recalled - defining this theory in the most basic of terms - the street fighting of 1936 was a time when “we made the Christians eat it”.71

  • 72 See Bruce Masters, “The 1850 Events in Aleppo: An Aftershock of Syria’s Incorporation into the Cap (...)

45When remembered this way, the Sunday Sūq riot was not just a moment in which two groups driven by a modernist ideology clashed, but rather, it was one more episode of brutal and vicious inter-communal strife and part of a continuing and radical transformation of the structures of urban violence dating from the “Events” of 1850.72 These changes allowed new forms of violence to develop in which the rules of who could be violent - and where - contrasted with the clearly defined territorial and ethnical boundaries which typified late Ottoman practice. Ultimately, the question of the degree to which those who organized and joined these groups understood the full measure of fascism remains open although the persistence of fascist forms in the Middle East until today suggests an answer: it was quite well understood.

Notes

1 On the 1919 massacre and the Aleppine reaction see Kāmil al-Ghazzī, Kitāb Nahr al-Dhahab fi Tārīkh Halab, 2 nd ed., 3 vols, Aleppo, Arab Pen Press, 1991-1993, [orig. ed. Aleppo: Maronite Press, 1923-26,] vol.3, p. 553 and 561; also FO 371/4179 E 39672/2117/44, General Headquarters Egypt to War Office March 3, 1919.

2 For the purposes of this essay, I have employed a typological definition, useful in distinguishing generic fascism from racial national socialism. In this definition, fascism embraces a vitalist view of society, a positive evaluation of the use of violence and war, tends to be anti liberal, anti-communist and anti-conservative. Yet its most important marker is its technique and style of organization. It attempts to mass mobilize and militarize human interaction; it stresses the holding of well-orchestrated mass meetings impregnated with the movement’s semiotics which in turn seek to create a mystical and emotional reaction; it celebrates youth over all else; masculinity and male-domination are key, as is charismatic and authoritarian leadership; see Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism, 1914-1945, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1995, p. 14-18.

3 On the Blue Shirts see, James P. Jankowski,Egypt’s Young Rebels : “Young Egypt,” 1933-1952, Stanford, Hoover Institution Press, 1975, and Husayn’s version of Mein Kampf,Imānī [My Faith], Cairo, 1936?; on the Syrian Peoples’ Party see Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age 1798-1939, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1962, and ‘Abdallāh Hannā, al-Haraka al-munāhīda lil-fāshīyya fi Sūriyya wa Lubnān 1933-1945 : dirāsa wathā’iqīyya [The Propaganda Movement of Fascism in Syria and Lebanon: A Documentary Study], Beirut, 1975.

4 On the General Strike, especially how the notables of the National Bloc in Damascus were caught unaware by the extreme nature of the demonstrations and rioting, see Philip Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1987, p. 457-481 passim. “The National Bloc was not in charge of the situation in Damascus. Rather, student leaders mostly from the League of National Action, qabadayat in the quarters were at the forefront of political agitation.”, p. 458.

5 Khoury argues that the magazine al-Musawwar was fundamental to disseminating images of European youth groups in the Middle East. Certainly, as Khoury also points out, the elite of the Bloc need look no further than Cairo where the Wafd - a political movement upon which the Bloc often modeled itself - had organized its own paramilitary group. Students returning from Europe were an additional vector for this information. On the uniforms and salutes of the various paramilitary groups of the period see, M. Lecerf, et al., “Transformation en Orient, sous l’influence de l’Occident, du costume et des modes: Insignes et saluts,” in R. Montagne, (ed.), Entretiens sur l’évolution des pays de civilisation arabe, Paris, Imprimerie Alençonnaise, 1938, p. 80-104.

6 MWT-QKh (Markaz al-wathā’iq al-tārīkhiyya - Qism khās), “National Guard”.

7 P. Khoury, op. cit, p. 470-472.

8 PRO FO 371/20065 E702/195/89, Parr (Aleppo) to Eden, 29 January 1936.

9 P. K houry,op. cit., p. 472.

10 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3468, 28 April 1936.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 2 126, 30 November 1936.

14 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 468, 28 April 1936. Also oral history interview with “Abū Yasīn” (‘Abd al-’Azīz ‘Ik) Aleppo, 12 June 1999, conducted in Arabic by author. Abū Yasīn, of Asīle was member of the Hanānū Brigade and remembers the uniform.

15 Abdu Misri is referred to in the French diplomatic archives as the family’s “homme a tout faire.” MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Joint Delegate (Aleppo), to High Commissioner Beirut, 13 June 1938.

16 Interview with Maḥmūd al-Miṣrī, Aleppo, 12 June 1999, conducted in Arabic by author.

17 Ira Lapidus, Muslim Cities in the Later Middle Ages, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1967, p. 163-165 and 170-177; Also Ahmad Ḥilmī al-’Allāf, Dimashq fi maṭla ‘ al-qarn al- ‘ashrīn, [Damascus at the Turn of the Twentieth Century], Damascus, Ministry of Culture, 1976, p. 244.

18 For a discussion of the role of the qaba āy in Damascene inter-war politics see P. Khoury, op. cit., “One figure in the quarter who could give the nationalist leader a decisive edge in the competition for clientele was the local gang leader, the qabaday.” p. 302. See also Michael Johnson’s discussion of the evolution of theqabadayat in Beirut until the mid-1970s, “Political Bosses and their Gangs,” in Ernest Gellner and John Waterbury, eds., Patrons and Clients in Mediterranean Societies, Duckworth, London, 1977, p. 207-224.

19 Interview with Maḥmūd al-Miṣrī, Aleppo, 12 June 1999, conducted in Arabic by author.

20 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 2421,8 July 1936.

21 Interview with Ma mūd al-Miṣrī, Aleppo, 12 June 1999, conducted in Arabic by author.

22 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 350, 17 September 1936. Upon word of the delegation’s signing of a draft treaty with France, a great ceremony of welcome was planned for the delegates upon their return. It was also decided that the Guard would feature as the centerpiece of a great triumphal procession throughout the city. Apparently concerned about the marching skills of the young men, the leaders of the Guard ordered members to assemble every night to practice marching. As it became clear that his troops from A īle were to march in ranks behind the young effendiyya in their Steel Shirts, ‘Abdū Mi rī balked in an act of bravado consistent with hisqaba āy persona. Breaking ranks, ‘Abdū Mi rī informed Nādir Sāti’,a Damascene ex-Ottoman army officer serving as the commander of the Guard that his men would return to their own quarter and march in their own maydān. Sāti’ then banned the men of Asīle from any military exercise for 15 days. In a fit of anger, ‘Abdû Miṣrī appealed to his patron, Sa’dallāh Jābirī, who forced Sāti’ to back down.

23 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 2 421, 8 July 1936.

24 al-Jihād (Aleppo) 13 May 1936.

25 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo) n°. 3 294, 11 September 1936.

26 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo) n°. 3 417, 21 September 1936.

27 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo) n°. 2 421,8 July 1936

28 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo) n°. 3 287, 14 September 1936. Denied a place in the parade they mounted a counter march in ‘Azīzīyya.

29 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°.2 359, 15 July 1936.

30 Interview with Firyāl Qumbāz (daughter of ‘Abbud Qumbāz) Aleppo, June 9, 1999, conducted by author in Arabic and French. Ms. Qumbāz also provided a copy of her father’s lengthy police service personnel file which details his various awards and commendations. Qumbaz had emigrated to America around 1908. His business failed and he left New York to return to Aleppo via France. He arrived in Marseilles in late 1914 and was interned as an enemy national - he was still an Ottoman subject. Consistent with French policy, he was given the opportunity to join the French regular army, forgo internment and gain French citizenship.

31 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), “Notes: Insigne Blanc,” 17 October 1936, p. 4.

32 Qumbāz had indeed been awarded this medal as a consequence of being wounded at the Battle of the Marne. He was also a member of the Légion d’honneur. Oral History interview with Firyāl Qumbāz, Aleppo, June 9,1999, conducted by author in Arabic and French. In the course of the interview, I was shown the certificates and the medals.

33 Ibid., Combaz to Assistant Delegate (in Sûreté Générale file) dated 22 July 1936.

34 Interview with Firyāl Qumbāz, Aleppo, June 9,1999, conducted by author in Arabic and French.

35 Combaz to Assistant Delegate (in Sûreté Générale file) dated 22 July 1936..

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid.

38 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 042, 27 August 1936.

39 . Ibid. Very early in the formation of the White Badge, socialist and leftist organizations within the Armenian community had warned their young men not to join the group. This is especially the case for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the Tashnaks, who had reached a informal arrangement with the Bloc, and the small, Armenian-dominated Syrian Communist Party. Both groups tended to be more politically sophisticated than the dominant political formations in Syria and were tied into a world-wide socialist, anti-fascist, anti-clerical discourse.

40 Hallak to Assistant Delegate (in Sûreté Générale file) dated 6 October 1936.

41 al-Jihād (Aleppo) 13 October 1936; al-Shabāb (Aleppo) 13 October 1936.

42 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Assistant Delegate (Aleppo), to High Commissioner (Beruit) n°. 3 370.

43 Interview with Firyāl Qumbāz, Aleppo, June 9, 1999, interview conducted by author in Arabic and French.

44 PRO FO 371/20066 E 6610/195/89, Parr (Aleppo) to Eden, 20 October 1936.

45 Ibid. “Dr. Khayali [sic], the leader of the Nationalist party in Aleppo, despatched his ”Steel Shirts“ to restore and maintain order, and it seems likely that his prompt intervention averted what might have been a serious massacre. He acted with decision and effectiveness...”

46 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 939 21 October 1936.

47 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 941, 21 October 1936.

48 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Joint Delegate (Aleppo), to High Commissioner (Beirut), n°. 3 370.

49 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Prosecutor General (Aleppo), to Inspector General for Justice (Damascus), n°. 4 544/36,31 October 1936; MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3848 15 October, 1936.

50 For a discussion of this program and the concept of the intellectual dragoman see my “Deferring to the A’yān: The Intellectual Dragoman and the Marginalization of the Aleppine Middle Class,” in “Bourgeois Modernity, Historical Memory, and Imperialism: The Emergence of an Urban Middle Class in the Late Ottoman and Inter-war Middle East, Aleppo, 1908-1939,” (Ph.D. diss., UCLA, 1999), p. 205-255.

51 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 998, 23 October 1936.

52 Ibid.

53 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 829, 16 October 1936.

54 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), Copy of telegram to High Commissioner in Beirut enclosed, 13 October 1936.

55 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 4 448, 16 November 1936.

56 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, “Elections 1936” Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°.4 411, 12 November 1936.

57 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 3 738, 9 October 1936.

58 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 492, 11 December 1936.

59 An aspect of this was Bloc control of most press outlets. Fearing retribution from Steel Shirts, papers once sympathetic to the movement refused to publish its new manifesto. Indeed, when the editor of al-Taqaddum gave Dr. Kayyālī a copy of the Order’s statement, the Bloc notable declared “As soon as we take power, all these factious groups will be dissolved and muzzled”.Ibid.

60 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 5 230, 29 December 1936.

61 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 317, 21 January 1937.

62 al-Nazīr (Aleppo) 10 December 1936.

63 .Ibid.

64 Ibid.

65 See for example the grotesque caricatures of Hitler and Mussolini on page one ofal-Nazīr (Aleppo), 13 December 1936.

66 K. Watenpaugh,op. cit., p. 218; A. Hourani, op. cit., p. 311.

67 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 2 164, 26 April 1937.

68 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 492, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), n°. 265, 14 May 1938.

69 MAE Nantes, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique 400, Joint Delegate (Aleppo), to High Commissioner (Beirut), 13 June 1938. The archives and local accounts shed no light on this peculiar popular volte face concerning Bughikian. Perhaps hoping to tap into his general popularity in the Armenian community, the Bloc nominated him, an act which subsequently tainted him.

70 See P. Khoury, “Abu Ali: A Damascus Qabaday” in Struggle and Survival in the Modem Middle East, edited by Edmund Burke III, Berkeley : University of California Press, 1993, p. 188. “The National Bloc recognized that the newly educated cadres were in need of youth leaders who were more sophisticated than the tradition-bound and often unlettered qabadayat, leaders with whom they could identify socially, culturally, and intellectually; simply the qabadayat were increasingly unappealing and ineffective as role models for the growing numbers of educated youth in the cities who found their anchoring outside of popular quarters.”

71 Interview with “Abū Yasīn” (‘Abd al-’Aziz ‘Ik) Aleppo, 12 June 1999, conducted in Arabic by author.

72 See Bruce Masters, “The 1850 Events in Aleppo: An Aftershock of Syria’s Incorporation into the Capitalist World System”, IJMES 22,1990.

Auteur

Le Moyne College, Syracuse, USA

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2002

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