The San Remo Conference and the Treaty of Sevres
After the Paris Peace Conference Lloyd George changed his mind, and then changed his mind again. Though Clemenceau had conceded Mosul and Palestine, he understood Lloyd George had agreed to France’s wish to receive coastal Syria and Cilicia up to the central Anatolian plateau in the region of Sivas. Lloyd George, meanwhile, had told Clemenceau that those areas allotted to France would be handed over by the British occupation forces. Lloyd George wavered on whether, or how, he would withdraw British forces from the French zone north of the Taurus Mountains in the region of Adana and east toward the Euphrates.
Support for Faysal in Damascus was also contentious, and though Lloyd George had promised Syria to Clemenceau, his government had also promised it to Faysal, who was present in Damascus at the head of the Arab government, supported by a British subsidy. Lloyd George and the British government more generally refused to intervene on Faysal’s behalf with France, and Allenby urged Faysal to negotiate with the French directly. Clemenceau and the colonial lobby in France would not accept Faysal, and General Gouraud in Beirut refused to talk with him. Robert de Caix wrote articles accusing Britain of cheating France out of Syria, and paying undue attention to a “native government whose whole endeavour is to provoke demonstrations” against France.31 Lloyd George decided Britain would leave Syria and Faysal would be on his own.
General Allenby, commander of the British occupation forces in Ottoman, Greater Syria, decided to withdraw from those areas promised to France before French forces could arrive. Allenby expected that nationalist forces and remnants of the Ottoman army would return to the field, and that the only way to avoid being drawn into a resumption of war alongside the French forces would be to evacuate quickly with no formal handover of authority.32 Allenby decided to leave Faysal, the Anatolian insurgents, and the French to themselves, and to cut ties with all parties in order to hold Palestine. He imprisoned Faysal’s chief of staff Yasin al-Hashimi in Ramla in Palestine as a preventative measure, since al-Hashimi was the leading ex-Ottoman military figure in Syria, and the obvious leader of any serious movement of armed opposition. Allenby ended Faysal’s subsidy and removed the last British personnel from Damascus in September 1919. At the end of 1919 Clemenceau had argued forcefully that if a peace with the Ottomans was made in London, and if France remained in a subordinate position to Britain in the East, French prestige would shrink to that of a power of the second rank, and his government could not retain the confidence of the country. He would sooner resign.33
At San Remo, in April 1920, France and Britain assumed the League of Nations mandates for Syria, Palestine, and Iraq respectively. The borders of the mandate territories were still undefined, and had to remain so until the final terms of the Ottoman surrender was negotiated. Two months before, however, in February, British troops had evacuated Cilicia and French forces had occupied their positions. As Allenby anticipated, various groups of renegade Ottoman soldiers in
Cilicia and coastal Syria engaged in combat against French forces. By the opening of the Treaty of Sevres in August, a few months later, French forces had been defeated in Cilicia. A French army had defeated Faysal’s forces outside Damascus and occupied the city.
The Treaty of Sevres was intended to formalize the Ottoman surrender to Britain and France. The treaty would codify the arrangements between Britain and France made at San Remo and transfer legal title to the territories to be held as League of Nations mandates. But by the time the treaty convention met, France had been defeated and expelled from Cilicia, and had made an evacuation agreement with a renegade Anatolian government led by Mustafa Kemal Pasa and not recognized by the government in Istanbul, which had signed the armistice in 1918.
In Damascus during 1919, Ottoman generals Yasin al-Hashimi and Yusuf al-cAzma had advised would-be British client King Faysal to prepare for military confrontation with France and Britain. Instead, Faysal visited Allenby and placed his hopes on the good will of Lloyd George while Allenby put Yasin al-Hashimi in jail. In May and June 1920, the upper Euphrates region of Iraq, claimed, but not occupied, by Britain, exploded in a major uprising, capturing several towns and defeating British garrisons. French General Gouraud sent an army east from Beirut and defeated Faysal’s hastily prepared forces outside Damascus and forced him into exile in July 1920, ten months after Lloyd George abandoned him. The Anglo-French settlement was unraveling before it had been finalized.