Thursday, January 4, 2018: 3:30 PM
Columbia 8 (Washington Hilton)
As crowds swarmed central Paris to celebrate the end of fighting on the Western Front, Prince Faisal, leader of the Arab Revolt, made a historic speech before a skeptical audience in Aleppo, a city sitting uncertainly in the borderlands between Syria and Anatolia. Although the Ottomans had signed their armistice 12 days beforehand, loyalties and identity remained fluid. Aleppines had lived deep within Ottoman territory, and so heard little of the revolt that T.E. Lawrence made famous in Europe. They were deeply disturbed to find British troops accompanied the Arab army in occupying their town. And they were alarmed at the 100,000 Armenian refugees, survivors of the genocide. Refugees continued to pour into the city, fleeing sectarian violence in the hinterland and aggravating food shortages. Faisal's government was ill-prepared to satisfy social need. He came to Aleppo to meet political need. He knew what the notables in his audience only dimly understood, that their political fate lay 2,000 miles away in the French capital where men would decide whether Syria was a true nation, worthy of independence. Like Polish, Czech, Serbian and other leaders, Faisal faced a formidable challenge in uniting a chaotic, war-torn population into a "nation" that might obtain self-determination. To date, historians have ascribed disunity in Syria to Arab factionalism, rather than to postwar social conditions. Also unnoticed by most historians is the extraordinary solution Faisal's government proposed. That day in November, Faisal offered Aleppine notables more than a return to pre-war liberalism. He offered a radical vision of Muslim-Christian equality in a democratic, "parliamentary monarchy" that is unimaginable in the Arab world today. Using diaries, letters, memoirs, the press, and diplomatic dispatches, this paper captures the grim realities and forgotten hopes of the postwar moment, before European colonial designs effaced them from historical memory.
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