|T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Cause at the Paris Peace Conference
‘The country from a line Alexandretta – Persia southward to the Indian Ocean is inhabited by ‘Arabs’ – by which we mean people of closely related Semitic stocks, all speaking the one language, Arabic. The non-Arabic- speaking elements in this area do not, I believe, exceed one percent of the whole.
The aim of the Arab nationalist movements (of which my father became the leader in war after combined appeals from the Syrian and Mesopotamian branches) is to unite the Arabs eventually into one nation. As an old member of the Syrian Committee I commanded the Syrian Revolt, and had under me Syrians, Mesopotamians and Arabians.
We believe that our ideal of Arab unity in Asia is justified beyond need of argument. If argument is required, we would point to the general principles accepted by the allies when the United States joined them, to our splendid past, to the tenacity with which our race has for six hundred years resisted Turkish attempts to absorb us, and, in a lesser degree, to what we tried our best to do in this war as one of the allies.
My father has a privileged place among the Arabs, as their successful leader, and as the head of their greatest family, and as Sheriff of Mecca. He is convinced of the ultimate triumph of the ideal of unity, if no attempt is made now to force it, by imposing an artificial political unity on the whole, or to hinder it, by dividing the area as spoils of war among great powers.
The unity of the Arabs in Asia has been made more easy of late years, since the development of railways, telegraphs and air-roads. In old days the area was too huge, and in parts necessarily too thinly peopled, to communicate common ideas readily.
The various provinces of Arab Asia – Syria, Irak, Jezireh, Hejaz, Nejd, Yemen – are very different economically and socially, and it is impossible to constrain them into one frame of government.
We believe that Syria, and agricultural and industrial area thickly peopled with sedentary classes, is sufficiently advanced politically to manage her own internal affairs. We feel also that foreign technical advice and help will be a most valuable factor in our national growth. We are willing to pay for this help in cash; we cannot sacrifice for it any part of the freedom we have just won for ourselves by force of arms.
Jezireh and Irak are two huge provinces, made up of three civilized towns, divided by large wastes thinly peopled by semi-nomadic tribes. The world wishes to exploit Mesopotamia rapidly, and we therefore believe that the system of government there will have to be buttressed by the men and material resources of a great foreign power. We ask, however, that the Government be Arab, in principle and spirit, the selective rather than the elective principle being necessarily followed in the neglected districts, until time makes the broader basis possible. The main duty of the Arab Government there would be to oversee the educational processes which are to advance the tribes to the moral level of the towns.
The Hejaz is mainly a tribal area, and the Government will remain, as in the past, suited to patriarchal conditions. We appreciate these better than Europe, and propose therefore to retain our complete independence there.
The Yemen and Nejd are not likely to submit their cases to the Peace Conference. They look after themselves, and adjust their own relations with the Hejaz and elsewhere.
In Palestine the enormous majority of the people are Arabs. The Jews are very close to the Arabs in blood, and there is no conflict of character between the two races. In principles we are absolutely at one. Nevertheless, the Arabs cannot risk assuming the responsibility of holding level the scales in the clash of races and religions that have, in this one province, so often involved the world in difficulties. They would wish for the effective super-position of a great trustee, so long as a representative local administration commended itself by actively promoting the material prosperity of the country.
In discussing our provinces in detail I do not lay claim to superior competence. The powers will, I hope, find better means to give fuller effect to the aims of our national movement. I came to Europe, on behalf of my father and the Arabs of Asia, to say that they are expecting the powers at the Conference not to attach undue importance to superficial differences of condition, and not to consider them only from the low ground of existing European material interests and supposed spheres. They expect the powers to think of them as one potential people, jealous of their language and liberty, and ask that no step be taken inconsistent with the prospect of an eventual union of these areas under one sovereign government.
In laying stress on the difference in the social condition of our provinces, I do not wish to give the impression that there exists any real conflict of ideals, material interests, creeds, or character rendering our union impossible. The greatest obstacle we have to overcome is local ignorance, for which the Turkish Government is largely responsible.
In our opinion, if our independence be conceded and our local competence established, the natural influences of race, language, and interest will soon draw us together into one people; but for this the Great Powers will have to ensure us open internal frontiers, common railways and telegraphs, and uniform systems of education. To achieve this they must lay aside the thought of individual profits, and of their old jealousies, In a word, we ask you not to force your whole civilization upon us, but to help us to pick out what serves us from your experience. In return we can offer you little but gratitude.
The Syrian Question
Sir, - Your Syrian correspondent has just referred to British promises to the French and the Arabs. When on Prince Feisal’s staff I had access to the documents in question, and as possibly the only informed free-lance European, I may help to clear them up. They are four in number.
Document I – The British promise to King Hussein, dated October 24,
1915. It undertakes, conditional upon an Arab revolt, to recognize the
‘independence of the Arabs’ south of latitude 37 deg., except in the
provinces of Baghdad and Basra, where British interests require special
measures of administrative control, and except where Great Britain is
not, ‘free to act without detriment to the interests of France.’
Document II – The Sykes-Picot agreement made between England and France
in May, 1916. It the Arabic province of Turkey into five zones, roughly
– (a) Palestine from the Jordan to the Mediterranean to be
‘International’; (b) Haifa and Mesopotamia from near Tekrit to the Gulf
to be ‘British’; (c) the Syrian coast, from Tyre to Alexandretta ,
Cilicia, and most of Southern Armenia, from Silvas to Diarbekir, to be
‘French’; (d) the interior (mainly the provinces of Aleppo, Damascus,
Urfa, Deir, and Mosul) to be ‘independent Arab’ under two shades of
Document III – The British statement to the seven Syrians of Cairo
dated June 11, 1917. This assures them that pre-war Arab States and
Arab areas freed by military action of their inhabitants during the war
shall remain entirely independent.
Document IV – The Anglo-French Declaration of November 9, 1918. In this
Great Britain and France agree to encourage native governments in Syria
and Mesopotamia, and without imposition to assure the normal working of
such governments as the peoples shall themselves have adopted.
I can see no inconsistencies or incompatibilities in these four documents, and I know nobody who does.
It may then be asked what all the fuss between the British, the French, and the Arabs is about. It is mainly because the agreement of 1916 (Document I) is unworkable, and in particular no longer suits the British and French Governments.
As, however, it is, in a sense, the ‘charter’ of the Arabs, giving them Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Mosul for their own, with such advisers as they themselves judge they need, the necessary revision of this agreement is a delicate matter, and can hardly be done satisfactorily by England and France, without opinion of the third interest – the Arabs – which it created.
Colonel Lawrence on Syria
The letter on the Syrian question from Colonel Lawrence, which we print this morning, contains information hitherto unpublished. His authority and his right to speak can hardly be challenged. It was largely, if not principally, through his influence, and through the confidence placed in him by the Arabs, that the Arab contribution to the overthrow of the Turks was made and maintained. But, we imagine, it is not the object of his letter to draw attention to this aspect of the matter. If the facts are as he states them, it is clear that the agreement of 1916, unworkable though it be in many respects, creates interests in the Arabic provinces of the late Ottoman Empire for the French, the British, and the Arabs alike. Public knowledge of these interests and of the conventions or understandings concerning them is, unhappily, very limited. They are legacies of the war, and reveal at many points their vice d’origine. But it is interesting and important that so eminent an authority as Colonel Lawrence should express the view that they are not mutually incompatible. It is in any case clear to all who are even superficially acquainted with the elements of the problem that, however the questions of territory and of political and economic influence may be adjusted, the British, the French, and the Arab spheres in Arabic-speaking Asia are interdependent, and that progress will be impossible unless they work together. What is required, especially on the part of British and French statesmen, is joint vision of these common necessities and the will not only to agree but to cooperate in agreement. As a means to this end, a meeting of accredited representatives of the three parties concerned might, perhaps, lead to an amicable solution of practical difficulties when once the British and French Governments have escaped from the atmosphere of suspicion of each other’s motives which they have very unwisely allowed to develop. The present Conference in Paris should help to dispel that atmosphere and to smooth the approaches towards the larger question of the liquidation of the Ottoman Empire, which is at present still far from satisfactory settlement. But the Governments chiefly concerned must remember that their peoples are likely to be far less tolerant in future of error or neglect than they have been since the Armistice, and that a strict account will be demanded of those who should fail to carry the spirit of the Allied victory into the making of the outstanding features of the Allied peace.
To those colonies and territories which as a consequence of the late war have ceased to be under the sovereignty of the States which formerly governed them and which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world, there should be applied the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilisation and that securities for the performance of this trust should be embodied in this Covenant. The best method of giving practical effect to this principle is that the tutelage of such peoples should be entrusted to advanced nations who by reason of their resources, their experience or their geographical position can best undertake this responsibility, and who are willing to accept it, and that this tutelage should be exercised by them as Mandatories on behalf of the League. The character of the mandate must differ according to the stage of the development of the people, the geographical situation of the territory, its economic conditions, and other similar circumstances. Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognised subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory 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. Other peoples, especially those of Central Africa, are at such a stage that the Mandatory must be responsible for the administration of the territory under conditions which will guarantee freedom of conscience and religion, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals, the prohibition of abuses such as the slave trade, the arms traffic, and the liquor traffic, and the prevention of the establishment of fortifications or military and naval bases and of military training of the natives for other than police purposes and the defence of territory, and will also secure equal opportunities for the trade and commerce of other Members of the League. There are territories, such as South-West Africa and certain of the South Pacific Islands, which, owing to the sparseness of their population, or their small size, or their remoteness from the centres of civilisation, or their geographical contiguity to the territory of the Mandatory, and other circumstances, can be best administered under the laws of the Mandatory as integral portions of its territory, subject to the safeguards above mentioned in the interests of the indigenous population. In every case of mandate, the Mandatory shall render to the Council an annual report in reference to the territory committed to its charge. The degree of authority, control, or administration to be exercised by the Mandatory shall, if not previously agreed upon by the Members of the League, be explicitly defined in each case by the Council. A permanent Commission shall be constituted to receive and examine the annual reports of the Mandatories and to advise the Council on all matters relating to the observance of the mandates.
It is accordingly understood between the French and British governments:
That France and Great Britain are prepared to recognize and protect an independent Arab states or a confederation of Arab states (a) and (b) marked on the annexed map, under the suzerainty of an Arab chief. That in area (a) France, and in area (b) Great Britain, shall have priority of right of enterprise and local loans. That in area (a) France, and in area (b) Great Britain, shall alone supply advisers or foreign functionaries at the request of the Arab state or confederation of Arab states.
That in the blue area France, and in the red area great Britain, shall be allowed to establish such direct or indirect administration or control as they desire and as they may think fit to arrange with the Arab state or confederation of Arab states.
That in the brown area there shall be established an international administration, the form of which is to be decided upon after consultation with Russia, and subsequently in consultation with the other allies, and the representatives of the Sheriff of Mecca.
That Great Britain be accorded (1) the ports of Haifa and acre, (2) guarantee of a given supply of water from the Tigris and Euphrates in area (a) for area (b). His majesty's government, on their part, undertake that they will at no time enter into negotiations for the cession of Cyprus to any third power without the previous consent of the French government.
That Alexandretta shall be a free port as regards the trade of the British empire, and that there shall be no discrimination in port charges or facilities as regards British shipping and British goods; that there shall be freedom of transit for British goods through Alexandretta and by railway through the blue area, or (b) area, or area (a); and there shall be no discrimination, direct or indirect, against British goods on any railway or against British goods or ships at any port serving the areas mentioned.
That Haifa shall be a free port as regards the trade of France, her dominions and protectorates, and there shall be no discrimination in port charges or facilities as regards French shipping and French goods. There shall be freedom of transit for French goods through Haifa and by the British railway through the brown area, whether those goods are intended for or originate in the blue area, area (a), or area (b), and there shall be no discrimination, direct or indirect, against French goods on any railway, or against French goods or ships at any port serving the areas mentioned.
That in area (a) the Baghdad railway shall not be extended southwards beyond Mosul, and in area (b) northwards beyond Samarra, until a railway connecting Baghdad and Aleppo via the Euphrates valley has been completed, and then only with the concurrence of the two governments.
That Great Britain has the right to build, administer, and be sole owner of a railway connecting Haifa with area (b), and shall have a perpetual right to transport troops along such a line at all times. It is to be understood by both governments that this railway is to facilitate the connection of Baghdad with Haifa by rail, and it is further understood that, if the engineering difficulties and expense entailed by keeping this connecting line in the brown area only make the project unfeasible, that the French government shall be prepared to consider that the line in question may also traverse the Polgon Banias Keis Marib Salkhad tell Otsda Mesmie before reaching area (b).
For a period of twenty years the existing Turkish customs tariff shall remain in force throughout the whole of the blue and red areas, as well as in areas (a) and (b), and no increase in the rates of duty or conversions from ad valorem to specific rates shall be made except by agreement between the two powers.
There shall be no interior customs barriers between any of the above mentioned areas. The customs duties leviable on goods destined for the interior shall be collected at the port of entry and handed over to the administration of the area of destination.
It shall be agreed that the French government will at no time enter into any negotiations for the cession of their rights and will not cede such rights in the blue area to any third power, except the Arab state or confederation of Arab states, without the previous agreement of his majesty's government, who, on their part, will give a similar undertaking to the French government regarding the red area.
The British and French government, as the protectors of the Arab state, shall agree that they will not themselves acquire and will not consent to a third power acquiring territorial possessions in the Arabian peninsula, nor consent to a third power installing a naval base either on the east coast, or on the islands, of the red sea. This, however, shall not prevent such adjustment of the Aden frontier as may be necessary in consequence of recent Turkish aggression.
The negotiations with the Arabs as to the boundaries of the Arab states shall be continued through the same channel as heretofore on behalf of the two powers.
It is agreed that measures to control the importation of arms into the Arab territories will be considered by the two governments.
I have further the honor to state that, in order to make the agreement complete, His Majesty's Government are proposing to the Russian government to exchange notes analogous to those exchanged by the latter and your Excellency's Government on the 26th April last. Copies of these notes will be communicated to your Excellency as soon as exchanged. I would also venture to remind your Excellency that the conclusion of the present agreement raises, for practical consideration, the question of claims of Italy to a share in any partition or rearrangement of turkey in Asia, as formulated in article 9 of the agreement of the 26th April, 1915, between Italy and the allies.
His Majesty's Government further consider that the Japanese government should be informed of the arrangements now concluded.Back to Table of Contents
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