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FRANCE: Syrian Scandal

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Blared L’Intransigeant: “There has never been such a scandal in the history of France!” Premier Painleve, soundly harassed, tried to soothe his public: “Despatches have been greatly exaggerated. . . . Annoying events have taken place in our Syrian Mandate, but the Government is taking necessary steps to remedy the situation.”

The “annoying” or “scandalous” events marked the bombing and shelling of Damascus, “oldest inhabited city in the world,” by order of General Maurice Sarrail, French High Commissioner in Syria. Impartial witnesses placed the human loss at 1,000 lives, the property damage at over $10,000,000. L’Echo de Paris cried, last week: “General Sarrail is a senile, stupid, brutal sadist … a criminal … a bloody tyrant!” Meanwhile the delicacy of M. Painleve’s position was rendered acute by the fact that M. Herriot, leader of the Radical-Socialists,* declared a few months ago:

“Sarrail is under our protection, and anyone who touches him will have to answer to us!” While Cabinet and Premier wrestled with the question of what attitude to take, gradually clarifying despatches reached Paris.

The Outbreak of the Trouble was officially but vaguely reported by General Sarrail: “A rebellion was started in Damascus by Druses, Pan-Arabs and Communists. . . . After attacks on the Christian settlement . . . French troops bombarded the main thoroughfares. . . . The situation is calmer.”

Cables from various impartial witnesses, the accounts of fleeing refugees, and the official reports of foreign consuls stationed in Damascus, all placed an utterly different face upon the matter.

It appears that General Sarrail, by way of intimidating the anti-French populace of Damascus on his return from capturing Suedia (TIME, Oct. 5), ordered that the corpses of various brigands whom the French had shot down should be paraded through the streets on camel back. Three days later the bodies of twelve Circassians (French irregulars) were found dead out-side the Bab Esh Sharol gate. Came night, and French soldiers were attacked and mutilated in one of the slums of Damascus. Came another night, and bands of Druse tribesmen filtered into the city. Three purposes have been ascribed to them: 1) The kidnaping of General Sarrail. 2) Revenge for the plundering of their villages by Circassian irregulars. 3) Punishment of Armenian Damascenes who were suspected of acting as a “fence” in disposing of the Circassians’ loot.

Whatever their intent, extensive rioting and looting commenced; and General Sarrail gave every evidence of having been stampeded by this into a belief that the French forces must rally as for a last stand. He is said to have withdrawn French citizens and troops from the Christian quarter, leaving the other Christian nationals to the protection of their consuls and at the mercy of the mob, which was fortunately not extremely hostile to non-French foreigners. And for 48 hours French shot and shell poured into the city; French tanks dashed at full speed through the streets, firing point blank into bazars and houses; and French airplanes dropped bombs.

The bombardment was then “suspended” while General Sarrail allegedly demanded $500,000 in gold and the surrender of 3,000 rifles by prominent Damascenes, under threat of opening fire anew. Naturally those of whom the demands were made “undertook to fulfill them.” The situation became “calm.”

Results. Acting upon information received from their consuls at Damascus, both the U. S. and the British Governments were reported to have made “unofficial representations” to the French Foreign Office, demanding that the life and property of their nationals in Syria be protected. Premier Painleve and his Cabinet, realizing that some action must be taken, then “summoned General Sarrail to report on conditions in Syria, at Paris.” Competent observers opine that a “Civilian Governor” will replace the “Military High Commander in Syria”; and that under cover of this “change in policy” Sarrail will be got out of the way without “dishonor” and without offending his potent friends of the “Left.” It is widely felt in France that “the tactlessness in handling Syrian affairs has been all but criminal.”

Meanwhile the Permanent Mandate Commission of the League of Nations, in session at Geneva, has asked the French Government for “Official comment” on “numerous petitions, complaints and protests” which have been filed with it concerning the bombardment of Damascus.

*The party upon which the new Government must rely for support (see below).

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