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The King-Crane Commission Report, August 28, 1919



The Commissioners have sought to make their survey of Syria, and the report upon Syria now submitted, in the spirit of the instructions given them by the Council of Four, and especially in harmony with the resolutions adopted on January 30, 1919, by the Representatives of the United States, Great Britain France, Italy and Japan, and with the Anglo-French Declaration of November 9, 1918, both quoted at length in the Commission's instructions. The second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth of the resolutions adopted on January 30th are particularly pertinent to this report, and should be here recorded. The general purpose of the Peace Conference Concerning these areas in the former Turkish Empire is here clearly disclosed.

2. For similar reasons, and more particularly because of the historical mis-government by the Turks of subject peoples and the terrible massacres of Armenians and others in recent years, the Allied and Associated Powers are agreed that Armenia, Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine and Arabia must be completely severed from the Turkish Empire. This is without prejudice to the settlement of other parts of the Turkish Empire.

3. The Allied and Associated Powers are agreed that advantage should be taken of the opportunity afforded by the necessity of disposing of these colonies and territories formerly belonging to Germany and Turkey which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world, to apply to these territories the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilization and that securities for the performance of this trust should be embodied in the constitution of the League of Nations.

4. After careful study they are satisfied that the best method of giving practical effect to this principle is that the tutelage of such peoples should he entrusted to advanced nations who, by reason of their resources, their experience or their geographical positions, can best undertake this responsibility, and that this tutelage should be exercised by them as mandatories on behalf of the League of Nations.

5. The Allied and Associated Powers are of opinion that the character of the mandate must differ according to the stage of development of the people, the geographical situation of the territory, its economic conditions, and other similar circumstances.

6. They consider that certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized, subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a mandatory power until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the mandatory power....

In every case of mandate, the mandatory state shall render to the League of Nations an annual report in reference to the territory committed to its charge.

The Anglo-French Declaration [Note: This Charter of Freedom, issued a few days prior to the Armistice, is the standard by which the Near East judges the post-Armistice conduct of Europe.] was spread broadcast throughout Syria and Mesopotamia, and, as bearing directly upon our problem, may also well be called to mind at this point:

The aim which France and Great Britain have in view in prosecuting in the East the war let loose by German ambition is the complete and final liberation of the peoples so long oppressed by the Turks and the establishment of national governments and administrations deriving their authority from the initiative and free choice of the native population.

In order to give effect to these intentions, France and Great Britain have agreed to encourage and assist the establishment of native governments and administrations in Syria and Mesopotamia already liberated by the Allies, and in the territories which they are proceeding to liberate, and they have agreed to recognize such governments as soon as they are effectively established. So far from desiring to impose specific institutions upon the populations of these regions, their sole object is to ensure, by their support and effective assistance, that the governments and administrations adopted by these regions of their own free will shall be exercised in the normal way. The function which the two Allied Governments claim for themselves in the liberated territories is to insure impartial and equal justice for all; to facilitate the economic development of the country by encouraging local initiative; to promote the diffusion of education; and to put an end to the division too long exploited by Turkish policy.

Of this Declaration, M. Pichon very properly said in the French Chamber December 29, 1918: "Of course we admit the complete freedom of the Conference, and its right to give these agreements their proper conclusions, but these agreements are binding both upon England and upon us." This statement is the more significant because it is exactly these two peoples of the Allies who are immediately related to the problems in the Arabic-speaking portions of the Turkish Empire. Our survey made it clear that this Anglo-French Declaration and similar utterances of the Peace Conference, and President Wilson's Fourteen Points, had made a deep impression upon the Syrian people and lay in the background of all their demands. The promises involved not only cannot justly be ignored by the Peace Conference, but should be faithfully fulfilled. This is particularly true of the British-French Declaration; for it is completely in accord with the repeated statements of the aims of the Allies, and was expressly directed to the Arabic-speaking portions of the Turkish Empire especially Syria and Mesopotamia.

It is noted that these resolutions of January 30, 1919, and this Declaration of November 9, 1918, clearly look to complete separation of the Arabic-speaking areas from Turkey propose that Syria and Mesopotamia shall not be colonies in the old sense at all; shall not be exploited for the benefit of the occupying power; but shall rather be directly encouraged and assisted in developing national independence as quickly as possible. And the Declaration makes the promises equally binding for Syria and Mesopotamia.

The resolutions and declaration invoked in the instructions given to our Commission thus form the basis of the whole policy of sending a Commission, and of ascertaining the desires of the people.

The sincerity of the professed aims of the Allies in the war, therefore, is peculiarly to be tested in the application of these aims in the treatment of the Arabic-speaking portions of the former Turkish Empire. For the promises here made were specific and unmistakable. It is worth consideration, too, that the whole policy of mandatories under the League of Nations might here be worked out with special success, and success here would encourage the steady extension of the policy elsewhere, and do something so significant for world progress as to help to justify the immeasurable sacrifices of the war. There is also probably no region where the Allies are freer to decide their course in accordance with the principles they have professed.

The gravity of the Syrian problem is further to be seen in certain well-known facts. The fact that the Arabic-speaking portion of the Turkish Empire has been the birthplace of the three great religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and that Palestine contains places sacred to all three, makes inevitably a center of interest and concern for the whole civilized world. No solution which is merely local or has only a single people in mind can avail.

As a portion of the bridge-land uniting Europe, Asia, and Africa, too-where in a peculiar degree the East and the West meet-Syria has a place of such strategic importance, politically and commercially, and from the point of view of world civilization, as also to make it imperative that the settlement here brought about should be so just as to give promise of permanently good results for the whole cause of the development of a righteous civilization in the world. Every part of the former Turkish Empire must be given a new life and opportunity under thoroughly changed political conditions.

The war and the consequent breaking up of the Turkish Empire, moreover, give a great opportunity-not likely to return -to build now in Syria a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding rights of minorities. It is a matter of justice to the Arabs, in the recognition of the Arab people and their desire for national expression, and of deep and lasting concern to the world, that an Arab state along modern political lines should be formed. While the elements are very various, the interests often divisive, and much of the population not yet fitted for self-government, the conditions are nevertheless as favorable as could be reasonably expected under the circumstances to make the trial now. The mixed and varied populations have lived together with a fair degree of unity under Turkish domination, and in spite of the divisive Turkish policy. They ought to do far better under a state on modern lines and with an enlightened mandatary.

In any case, the oversight of a mandatory power, and of the League of Nations, would prevent this attempt from taking such a course as that taken by the Young Turk Movement. The Arabs, too, will know that this is their best opportunity for the formation of an Arab State, and will be put on their mettle to achieve a distinct success. The insight and breadth of sympathy revealed by Emir Feisal make him peculiarly well fitted, also, for the headship of a State involving both Oriental and Occidental elements. The trial at least could safely be made under a sympathetic mandatary Power, and made with good promise of success. If the experiment finally failed division of territory could still follow. But to begin with division of territory along religious lines is to invite increasing exclusiveness, misunderstanding, and friction. As Dr. W. M. Ramsay has said concerning certain other portions of the Turkish Empire:

"The attempt to sort our religions and settle them in different localities is wrong and will prove fatal. The progress of history depends upon diversity of population in each district." And there is real danger in breaking Syria up into meaningless fragments.

Any policy adopted, therefore, for Syria should look to "the establishment of a national government and administration deriving their authority from the initiative and free choice of the native populations," and should treat it as far as possible in harmony with its natural geographic and economic unity. This is the natural course to be taken, if at all feasible. It is directly in line with the expressed purpose of the Peace Conference.

And it is the plain object of the desires and ambitions of a large majority of the population concerned.

It is interesting, also, to find that both British and French officers in Syria seemed agreed in the belief that the unity of all Syria under one mandatary was desirable; and that there were certain to be constant friction and dangers to peace among British, French, and Arabs, if both British and French remained in the country.

On the other hand, the practical obstacles to the unity of Syria are: The apparent unwillingness of either the British or the French to withdraw from Syria-the British from Palestine, or the French from Beirut and the Lebanon; the intense opposition of the Arabs and the Christians to the Zionist Program; the common Lebanese demand for complete separate independence; the strong feeling of the Arabs of the East against any French control; the fear on the part of many Christians of Moslem domination; and the lack of as vigorous a Syrian national feeling as could be desired. These obstacles will be discussed in the recommendations of the Commissioners.

In the light, now, of these practical obstacles to the unity of Syria, of the general considerations favoring that unity, and of the wide range of data secured by our survey, we turn to our recommendations.

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