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General Amnesty in Syria

In February 1937, with the Franco-Syrian Treaty ratification stalled in Paris and the Alexandretta Crisis looming, Syrian Prime Minister Jamil Mardam Bey went to Paris. There he learned the Blum government was unwilling to seriously oppose Turkish designs on the Sanjaq, or to expend effort in the Senate to ratify the Franco-Syrian Treaty. The mandate authorities were, however, willing to grant a general amnesty to most of the remaining exiles condemned during the Great Revolt. The return of the legendary heroic figures cannot have pleased Mardam Bey, and served to further undermine his government, unable as it was to enact the treaty or protect the Sanjaq. Among those finally amnestied were Sultan al-Atrash, Shakib Arslan, Dr. cAbd al-Rahman Shahbandar, and the remaining rebels of 1925 7. Fawzi al-Qawuqji was among a small handful still deemed too dangerous to allow to return.

The exiles returned home to rapturous public receptions. Sultan al-Atrash returned to his village, and mostly retired from national politics, but Dr. Shahbandar and Shakib Arslan each toured the country separately, meeting well-wishers and giving speeches. Apart from a short visit to Palestine in 1934, Shakib Arslan had not been home since Ottoman minister of war Enver Paga had dispatched him to Berlin in summer 1918 on a supposedly brief mission.11 Both Shahbandar and Arslan made gestures of loyalty toward the National Bloc government, but both enthusiastically criticized its failings and each other. Shahbandar emphasized a secular liberal perspective; Arslan emphasized the need for Islamic union. He was especially eager to denounce the Godless treachery of Mustafa Kemal. Neither had anything good to say about Jamil Mardam Bey.12 When Arslan temporarily left Syria for Egypt and Europe in late 1938, the mandate authorities decided to bar his re-entry. He spent the war years back in Switzerland, and only returned to Syria in the last months of his life in 1946. Shahbandar was assassinated in a public market in Damascus in July 1940 at the age of 60, by which time he had reclaimed his position as the most popular and formidable nationalist politician in Syria.13 His followers accused Jamil Mardam Bey and mandate intelligence agents of colluding to murder their hero. Shahbandar was the last person buried in the garden next to Saladin’s tomb. He lies next to the grave of Yasin al-Hashimi.

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