Military Wiki
Hananu Revolt
Part of Franco-Syrian War
Ibrahim Hananu, leader of the revolt
DateApril 1920 –July 19211
LocationWestern countryside of Aleppo
Result French victory

France French Mandate of Syria

Rebel groups (′Isabat) of northern Syria
Supported by:

  • Arab Kingdom of Syria
  • Turkey Turkey
  • Jordan Emirate of Transjordan
Commanders and leaders
France Henri Gouraud
France Henri Félix de Lamothe
Ibrahim Hananu
Najib Uwaid
Umar al-Bitar
Yusuf al-Sa'dun
Mustafa al-Hajj Husayn
Tahir al-Kayyali
Abdullah ibn Umar
Sha'ban Agha
Izz ad-Din al-Qassam
20,000 (2nd Division in Cilicia and Aleppo district) ~5,000 irregulars
Casualties and losses
1 A low-level insurgency led by Yusuf al-Sa'dun continued until at least August 1926

The Hananu Revolt (also known as the Aleppo Revolt[1] or the Northern Revolt) was centered in the western countryside of Aleppo and its purpose was to drive out French military forces from northern Syria. Support for the revolt was driven by opposition to the establishment of a French Mandate in the country. The revolt was named after its leading commander, Ibrahim Hananu, and mainly consisted of four allied revolts in the areas of Harim, Jabal Qusayr, Jabal Zawiya and Jabal Sahyun. The rebels were led by rural leaders and mostly engaged in guerrilla attacks against French forces or the sabotage of key infrastructure.

The Hananu Revolt coincided with the Alawite Revolt in Syria's coastal mountains led by Saleh al-Ali, and both al-Ali and Hananu jointly referred to their revolt as part of the "general national movement of Western Aleppo". After early rebel victories, guerrilla operations stopped after the French occupation of Aleppo in July 1920. However, Hananu's forces renewed their revolt in November 1920 after securing large amounts of military aid from the Turkish forces of Mustafa Kemal, who were fighting the French for control of southern Anatolia. At the revolt's peak in 1920, Hananu established a quasi-state in the region between Aleppo and the Mediterranean. The rebels were dealt major blows on the battlefield in December 1920 and after agreements between the French and the Turks, Turkish military support for the rebels largely dissipated by the spring of 1921. French forces overran Hananu's last stronghold in Jabal Zawiya in July. Hananu was tried by the French Mandatory authorities and ultimately acquitted. A low-level insurgency led by rebel leader Yusuf al-Sa'dun persisted, with the last major military engagement with French forces occurring on 8 August 1926.

The collapse of the Hananu Revolt marked a significant turning point in Aleppo's political configurations. Whereas prior to the revolt, many in Aleppo's political elite were aligned with Turkish national politics, the betrayal that Aleppo's leaders felt at the withdrawal of Turkish support prompted most of them to embrace and pursue a shared destiny with the rest of Syria. Many were also influenced by Hananu's support for Syrian unity and strengthening ties with Damascus. In the aftermath of the Franco-Turkish accords, Aleppo's Anatolian hinterland, the major market for its goods and the supplier of its food and raw materials, was ceded to Turkey. This effectively severed commercial relations between Aleppo and Anatolia, harming the former's economy.


In October 1918, Allied Forces and the Sharifian Army wrested control of Syria from the Ottoman Empire. With British military support, the Hashemite leader of the Sharifian Army, Emir Faisal, formed a rudimentary government in Damascus which extended its control to the northern inland Syrian cities of Homs, Hama and Aleppo. Meanwhile, France claimed special interests in Syria and sought to establish a French Mandate over the region. The prospect of French rule was opposed by Syria's inhabitants.[2] French forces landed in the northern coastal city of Latakia in November 1918 and began to push inland through the coastal mountains, where they faced a revolt led by Saleh al-Ali, an Alawite feudal sheikh.[3]

Political and cultural sentiments in Aleppo

Map of the Aleppo Vilayet, an Ottoman province of which Aleppo was the administrative capital. The province's territory was later divided between Syria and Turkey

At the time of the establishment of Faisal's government, Aleppo's political elite was divided between those who embraced the Arab nationalism adopted by Faisal and those who sought political autonomy for Aleppo and its hinterland within the Ottoman state. A number of factors distinguished the attitudes of Aleppo's elite and inhabitants and those of Damascus. Among these were that Aleppo's hinterland included southwestern Anatolia, which was the principal market for its goods and the principal supplier of its food and raw materials. Thus, the economic well-being of Aleppo's inhabitants was dependent on open, commercial access to southwestern Anatolia, which was predominantly Turkish.[4]

Furthermore, the political elite of Aleppo, which was considerably more ethnically and religiously diverse than the almost entirely Arab Muslim-populated Damascus, was culturally closer to Turkish-Ottoman society, and numerous members of Aleppo's elite had Turkic, Kurdish and Circassian lineage.[4] Because of these factors, many in Aleppo's political class did not favor the 1916 Arab Revolt, and those who joined it felt that the revolt negatively exceeded their expectations because it ultimately ended Ottoman rule, and thus broke the bonds of Islamic unity and initiated the separation of Aleppo from its Anatolian hinterland.[5]

There was also resentment in Aleppo, which had been the administrative center of its own province and was equal to Damascus in political stature, at the political dominance of Damascus under Faisal. While there were several Aleppines who held influential positions in Faisal's Damascus-based government, Faisal's leading political authorities in Aleppo were from Damascus or Iraq. However, French officials incorrectly believed that the rivalry between Aleppo and Damascus would make Aleppo's elite embrace French rule.[5] Instead, according to historian Phillip S. Khoury, Aleppo "vigorously resisted [French] occupation in order that its voice be heard in the new political climate."[5]

Prelude to revolt

British forces withdrew from Syria to Transjordan and Palestine in December 1919 as part of agreements with France over control of the Ottomans' predominantly Arab territories. This left Faisal's state vulnerable to French occupation. The Syrian National Congress, the legislative body of Faisal's state, declared the Arab Kingdom of Syria over the region of Syria in March 1920. France was wary that a popular nationalist movement emanating from Faisal's kingdom could spread to Lebanon and French territories in North Africa, and moved to put an end Faisal's rule.[2] Meanwhile, small disorganized bands called ′iṣābāt began forming in Aleppo's countryside and launched guerrilla-style attacks against French forces, but they also engaged in banditry and highway robberies. Anti-French resistance politically manifested as the "Committees of National Defense", which began springing up in Aleppo and its hinterland. The committees were founded by members of the local elite who were sympathetic of Ottoman rule, but quickly became fueled by populism.[6]

Ibrahim Hananu, a former Ottoman military instructor and a municipal official,[7] logistically supported the guerrilla operations of Subhi Barakat against the French in the Antioch area in 1919. He then decided to organize a rebellion in Aleppo and its countryside.[8] Hananu was motivated to act by what he saw as the ineffectiveness of the Syrian National Congress, of which he was a member, in removing the threat of French rule.[3] He may also have been encouraged by Rashid al-Tali'a, the Arab government's district governor of Hama, who had been supporting Saleh al-Ali and the Alawite-dominated revolt he was leading against the French in the Syrian coastal mountains.[9]

Hananu gained the backing of Aleppo's Committee of National Defense, which consisted of numerous educated professionals, wealthy merchants and Muslim religious leaders.[10] The committee provided him arms and funds, and helped promote his armed campaign among the city's Muslim scholars as well as put Hananu in touch with Ibrahim al-Shaghuri, head of the Arab Army's Second Division.[11] On orders from the Arab government in Damascus, Hananu formed a ′iṣābā in Aleppo consisting of seven men from his native Kafr Takharim, who he armed with hand-held bombs and rifles.[12] With al-Shaghuri's assistance, Hananu later expanded his ′iṣābā to forty fighters, known as mujahidin, from Kafr Takharim anf organized them into four equal-sized units.[11] According to historian Dalal Arsuzi-Elamir, the small size of each unit made them highly mobile and "able to inflict chaos on French troops".[12] Hananu used his family's farm in the regional administrative center of Harim as the headquarters of his branch of the Committee of National Defense.[7]


First phase

Battle of Harim

Hananu's revolt coincided with Turkish revolts against the French military presence in the Anatolian cities of Urfa, Gaziantep and Mar'ash.[13] It also was related to Barakat's revolt in Antioch, which was captured and held by Arab guerrillas for a week starting on 13 March 1920. The French Air Force bombarded Antioch for 17 days until the rebels withdrew to Narlija.[12] On 18 April, taking advantage of the diversion of French forces to Gaziantep where a major battle between French and Turkish forces was taking place, Hananu to decided to attack the French garrison at Harim.[13] With fifty of his irregulars, Hananu stormed the town. As word of his attack spread to nearby villages,[13] his forces subsequently swelled to 400.[9][13]

Growth of revolt

Following the engagement in Harim, the revolt expanded to include four other simultaneous revolts by ′iṣābāt in the western Aleppo countryside. These included Umar al-Bitar's revolt around al-Haffah (Jabal Sahyun) in the mountains northeast of Latakia, the revolt in Jabal Zawiya under commander Mustafa al-Hajj Husayn, the revolt around Kafr Takharim led by Najib Uwaid and the revolt led by Sheikh Yusuf al-Sa'dun in the Jabal Qusayr area near Antioch.[14] Al-Sa'dun also served as Hananu's administrative coordinator with the ′iṣābāt of Jabal Sahyun and Jisr al-Shughour.[15] A ′iṣābā from Jableh led by Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam also formed part of the revolt. The French military considered al-Qassam's group, which relocated its headquarters to the Jabal Sahyun village of Zanqufa from Jableh in early 1920,[16] to be a part of al-Bitar's unit, but the two commanders operated in different sectors.[17]

Hananu and Rashid al-Tali'a cooperated with Barakat in an attempt to unite northern Syria's rebel groups into a single resistance movement against the French, in allegiance with Faisal's government in Damascus.[18] Hananu also formed an alliance with the semi-nomadic Mawali tribesmen of the Aleppo region.[19] By this time, Hananu, with the assistance of Aleppo's Committee of National Defense, had collected up to 2,000 gold pounds in funds, and 1,700 rifles for the 680 men in his own 'iṣābā,[10] who he and his aides trained. Hananu also co-founded the Arab Club in Aleppo with a wealthy Aleppine merchant named Najib Bani Zadih, an Aleppine physician named Abd al-Rahman al-Kayyali, and one of Aleppo's leading Muslim scholars, Shaykh Mas'ud al-Kawakibi. The Arab Club's ideology was a mix of Arab nationalism and Aleppine regionalism, and it promoted the concept of Syrian national unity.[20]

French occupation of Aleppo

French general Henri Gouraud passing through the Old City of Aleppo nearly two months after its occupation by French forces in July 1920

In April 1920, Hananu coordinated the shipment of Turkish arms to Saleh al-Ali's forces in the Alawite Revolt against the French in the coastal mountains south of Latakia.[21] Faisal's government aided Hananu's movement financially and logistically via local Arab nationalist intermediaries. French General Henri Gouraud demanded that Faisal rein in the rebels of northern Syria and end their resistance to the French military advance.[17] Faisal continued to oppose French rule and his government launched a campaign to conscript soldiers from throughout the country in May as part of a last-ditch effort to defend Damascus against a French invasion, but the recruitment campaign was unsuccessful.[18] On 14 July, Gouraud issued an ultimatum to Faisal to demobilize his makeshift Arab Army and recognize France's mandate over Syria.[2] Later in mid-July, French forces broke Hananu's resistance lines in Jisr al-Shughur, capturing the town on their way to Aleppo.[17]

In late July, the French escalated their push into Syria's major inland cities. On 23 July they captured Aleppo without significant resistance. The consequent flight of Aleppo's Arab nationalist leaders to the countryside and the French forces' military superiority managed to stymie a potential revolt in the city.[20] On 25 July, French forces captured Damascus a day after routing a small Arab Army contingent and armed volunteers led by Yusuf al-'Azma at the Battle of Maysalun.[2] Prior to Maysalun, the French sent out an arrest warrant for al-Bitar on charges that he was responsible for the deaths of French officers. Al-Bitar fled to Turkey as it became evident to him that the revolt was crumbling, and the French subsequently sentenced him and al-Qassam to death in absentia for their campaign in Jabal Sahyun. Many rebels from al-Bitar's unit then joined al-Qassam's 'iṣābā, but al-Qassam himself fled Syria to British-held Palestine after the Battle of Maysalun to avoid capture by the French.[17]

Second phase

Alliance with Turkish forces

Mustafa Kemal in 1921. Hananu established an alliance with Mustafa Kemal, who supplied Hananu's forces with arms, funds and military advisers

With the Arab government in Damascus destroyed and Faisal exiled, Hananu's rebels sought to compensate for the consequent loss of aid from the Arab government. In the period following the Arab defeat, the rebels began appointing administrators in their territory who oversaw the institution of taxes to support the revolt, monthly salaries for the fighters and supply services for the 'iṣābā. They also sought military training by Turkish officers.[18] In September, Hananu began receiving significant financial and military support, and military advisers, from the Ottoman Second Army.[22] Despite the mutual suspicion between the nationalists in Aleppo and Turkey, who were leading their respective revolts, both sides agreed that they were confronting a common French enemy. In addition, the Turkish struggle to oust French forces from Anatolia was popularly supported by Syria's inhabitants, and in northern Syria in particular, there were widespread feelings of religious solidarity with the Turks.[23]

The Turkish forces in Anatolia were led by Mustafa Kemal, who Hananu established contact with via intermediaries, chief of whom was Jamil Ibrahim Pasha. Ibrahim Pasha, an Arabized Kurd, Ottoman World War veteran and absentee landlord from Aleppo, met Mustafa Kemal in Gaziantep in the late summer of 1920. During their meeting, an agreement was concluded to launch a propaganda campaign funded by the Turks against the French occupation. The campaign began in Aleppo in December 1920.[23]

Although an urban revolt in Aleppo did not take place in the aftermath of the city's occupation by French forces, many of Aleppo's inhabitants engaged in passive resistance against the French and clandestinely provided material aid to Hananu's rebels fighting in the rural areas west of the city.[20] In addition to the rebels' propaganda campaign, anti-French sentiment in Aleppo was growing due to socio-economic factors. These included the disruption of trade routes between Aleppo and its countryside, rising unemployment partially as a result of the influx of Armenian refugees who had fled from their villages in Turkey, and the hoarding and profiteering of flour.[23] The latter led to soaring prices for bread and subsequent food riots and famine in some of the city's neighborhoods. The French authorities also declared martial law, restricting travel and speech, further frustrating the inhabitants.

As a result of deteriorating conditions in the city attributed to French governance, the unpopular establishment of martial law, and the propaganda efforts of the rebels and their Turkish backers, many neighborhood leaders in Aleppo decided to recruit men to join Hananu's rebels, while many of the city's landowners and merchants donated funds to the rebel cause. The presence of 5,000 French Sengalese troops prevented an urban revolt that specifically targeted French forces, but in numerous incidents, Muslims from Aleppo's lower-income neighborhoods, such as Bab al-Nairab, violently assaulted members of the city's large Christian minority because they were viewed as being associated with French interests.[24]

Renewal of revolt

After the lull in fighting that followed the French occupation of Aleppo and Damascus, Hananu's forces resumed their guerrilla campaign in November 1920.[24] By then, Hananu's forces grew to about 5,000 irregulars.[22][25] The rebels took control of the towns of Harim and Jisr al-Shughur and the villages of their districts by the end of November. They then prepared for offensives to capture the towns and districts of Idlib and Maarrat al-Nu'man.[26] At around the same time, Kurdish tribal forces countered the French at Viranşehir, east of Aleppo, and Bedouin forces commanded by ex-Ottoman officer Ramadan al-Shallash,[22] who declared his support for Hananu,[24] began guerrilla actions against French forces in the general vicinity of al-Raqqah.[22] Hananu's rebels sabotaged telegraph lines and railroads, captured and disarmed French troops, and disrupted French military movements into Aleppo city.[25] Two months prior to the November offensive, the rebellions of Subhi Barakat and Saleh al-Ali had also resumed after temporarily tapering off in May 1920. The rebel forces of these two revolts and Hananu's rebels succeeded in repeatedly destroying railroad and telegraph lines between Aleppo, Alexandretta and Beirut. This in turn, placed the rebels in a position where they could take full control of northwestern Syria.[26]

In the late winter of 1920, Hananu's rebels assaulted French forces in Idlib and according to the British consul in Aleppo, looted the town and killed some of its Christian inhabitants. Hananu's victory at Idlib and the arrival of Turkish military assistance led to a French withdrawal from Idlib.[22] Hananu's principal lieutenant commander in the Idlib operations was Tahir al-Kayyali.[27] In early December, the French general of the 2nd Division in Aleppo, Henri-Félix de Lamothe (fr), assembled a column at Hammam, a village north of Harim.[26] In mid-December, the French launched a counterattack on Idlib and burned down the city.[22] Afterward, General de Lamothe assembled a second column at Idlib.[26]

The French column from Hammam managed to capture Harim and Jisr al-Shughur from the rebels after a series of attacks and counterattacks between the two sides in late December. Hananu's rebels and Turkish irregulars launched a broad offensive to regain their positions in Harim, Jisr al-Shughur and Idlib, and according to Khoury, "a reveral seemed possible", as a result of the offensive. However, a French relief column arrived to the area and the French consolidated their hold over the three major towns. The French victories in December proved to be a decisive setback for Hananu's forces, who withdrew to Jabal Zawiya, a mountainous area south of Idlib. At Jabal Zawiya, Hananu and his commanders re-organized the rebels into more numerous, smaller units.[26]

In early 1921, using al-Shallash as an intermediary,[24] Hananu began receiving support from Emir Abdullah, the Hashemite emir of Transjordan and Faisal's brother.[28] Although the support from Emir Abdullah was relatively small in quantity, the French authorities feared it was part of a plot by Abdullah and his British allies to oust the French from Syria.[24] Hananu, meanwhile, was launching frequent hit-and-run operations against the French left flank in the area between Urfa and Antioch in an effort to support the Turks at the main battlefront in Gaziantep.[22]

Dwindling Turkish support

Hananu continued to receive arms and funds from Anatolia in early 1921, including a shipment in March consisting of 30 machine guns and 20 horse-loads of ammunition, which came after a larger weapons shipment via Jarabulus sometime in late February–early March.[22] The Turks and the French negotiated a treaty to end fighting in Cilicia, the southern Anatolian region north of Aleppo, in March.[29] That month, Hananu and Saleh al-Ali issued a joint letter to the League of Nations via the US and Spanish consuls in Aleppo in which the rebel leaders referred to themselves as commanders of the "general national movement in the region of Western Aleppo" and asserted that Syria sought to remain independent of France, and that the country was part of a broader Islamic community associated with the Ottoman state.[21]

Despite the treaty with France, Turkish forces in southern Anatolia continued to support Hananu's rebels with arms for a while longer to pressure the French further and gain more leverage in negotiations over territorial concessions.[29] At this point in the revolt, the rebels were in control of the villages of the Harim, Antioch, Jisr al-Shughur, Idlib and Maarrat al-Nu'man districts, but not the towns themselves. The French and Hananu entered into negotiations in the village of Kurin near Idlib in April, but they faltered. By order of the French Mandate's High Commissioner, Henri Gouraud, the French reinforced their military presence in the greater Aleppo region in April, and their columns defeated Hananu's rebels in a number of confrontations during this period.[3][29] By April, the French had over 20,000 troops in southern Anatolia and northern Syria, with over 5,000 troops in Aleppo, 4,500 in the Idlib district, 1,000 in Qatma and 5,000 in the Antioch region.[21]

According to French intelligence reports, the Turks sent political agents to northern Syria to persuade the inhabitants to drop their armed resistance to the French and embrace French rule, which they claimed would benefit the population.[30] Sometime between April and May,[31] Hananu had Uwaid execute field commander Mustafa Asim Bey for his involvement in an attack by his 'iṣābā against the mostly Christian town of al-Suqaylabiyah, in which many of its inhabitants were killed.[32] Asim Bey was a strongly pro-Ottoman, Arab officer with particularly close connections to the Anatolian insurgency.[27][33] Hananu believed that the Turks had instructed him to carry out the raids on al-Suqaylabiyah and other villages to tarnish the image of the rebels among the local inhabitants, as part of Turkey's agreements with France to stifle the revolt in northern Syria.[32] Asim's execution may have contributed to the rapid withdrawal of the rebels' Turkish military advisers who were upset with the execution.[31]

The arms flow from Anatolia ended in June, either due to a direct French diplomatic request or the diversion of arms and fighters to combat the Greek offensive against the Turks in western Anatolia. In any case, the stopping of weapons shipments had a significant impact on both the military aspect of the rebellion and morale, as Hananu and the revolt's backers in Aleppo felt abandoned by the Turks, who later concluded a final peace arrangement with France, known as the Treaty of Ankara, in October.[34] In need of funds, Hananu hired local bandits to extort money and supplies from Jabal Zawiya's inhabitants.[35] His main sources of weapons became limited to the towns of Maarrat al-Nu'man and Hama.[30] With the previous blows dealt to the rebels by French forces, the waning support for the revolt by the local inhabitants and the lack of weapons, Hananu's revolt largely dissipated during the spring of 1921,[29] although rebel operations against the French still continued at a reduced pace during this period.[30]

Suppression and aftermath

Attorney Fathallah Saqqal defended Hananu in court in March 1922 and succeeded in having Hananu acquitted of all charges

Between the spring and early summer of 1921, the rebels experienced a series of defeats.[30] In July 1921, Hananu's stronghold in Jabal Zawiya was captured by French forces.[28] By this time, French forces proceeded to burn down villages where support for the rebels was high. A number of these villages' inhabitants were arrested or executed, prompting some rebels to ultimately surrender.[32] On 11 or 12 July, Hananu fled to British-held Transjordan, seeking refuge with nationalists from Syria,[30] to avoid arrest by the French authorities.[32][36] British intelligence officers arrested Hananu while he was visiting Jerusalem and extradited him to Syria in August.[30]

After six months of incarceration,[30] Hananu was subsequently put on trial on 15 March 1922,[36] with the charges against him including murder, organizing rebel bands, engaging in brigandage and the destruction of public property and infrastructure. He was defended by the Aleppine Christian attorney, Fathallah Saqqal.[30] In court, Hananu condemned the "illegal occupation of Syria" and argued that military operations were done under the aegis of Mustafa Kemal.[30] The trial became a rallying point of popular support for Hananu and a led to a significant degree of solidarity among Aleppo's urban elite who collectively supported Hananu's freedom. The trial concluded on 18 March, and Hananu was acquitted after the court decided that he was not a rebel, but rather a soldier who was legally mandated by the Ottoman authorities to engage in warfare against French forces.[36] According to Khoury, the "verdict would have been different ... had Hananu not become a legend in his own time" and if the Franco-Turkish War had not ended.[30]

Although Hananu's revolt was largely suppressed, a low-level insurgency involving small ′iṣābāt persisted in Aleppo's countryside.[29] Al-Sa'dun and Uwaid opted to continue the armed struggle, fleeing to the coastal mountains and from there to Turkey in December 1921. From the frontier area with Syria, they staged hit-and-run attacks against French forces. With 100 of his fighters, al-Sa'dun entered Jabal Zawiya in the summer of 1922 to punish those who defected from the rebels or residents who switched allegiance. On 26 August, al-Sa'dun's ′iṣābā assaulted a postal convoy in al-Darakiya, a village between Darkush and Antioch.[32] The insurgency in northwestern Syria continued and between December 1925 and August 1926, al-Sa'dun's fighters launched numerous attacks against French forces and military installments. These attacks coincided with the Great Syrian Revolt that started in the south of the country and spread to central and northern Syrian cities. Among the major engagements between al-Sa'dun's 'iṣābā and the French was at Tell Amar at the end of April 1926. The last major confrontation was on 8 August 1926.[32]

Rebel organization

File:Northwest Syria (Hananu revolt).png

A map of northwestern Syria, where the Hananu Revolt was based. The revolt was divided into four military zones: Jabal Qusayr, Jabal Sahyun, Jabal Zawiya and Harim

The ′iṣābāt were rooted in the rural countryside, but also drew financial support from people in the cities.[15] While the rebels functioned as a traditional rural Syrian autonomous movement wary of centralized authority or foreign intervention into their affairs, they also sought to establish close ties with the Arab nationalist movement and, until the Arab Army's defeat at Maysalun, with representatives of the Arab government based in the cities.[37] The rebel movement was collectively known as ḥarakat al-′iṣābāt, and each individual ′iṣābā was composed of anywhere between 30 and 100 rebels known as mujahidin (fighters of holy struggle i.e. jihad) and were led by a ra'īs (commander), who was often a local notable or the head of a major clan.[38] Hananu's forces consisted of volunteers from Aleppo city, former Ottoman conscripts, the inhabitants of rural villages, Bedouin tribesmen and Turkish officers who served as advisers.[24]

Besides military expertise, formal military language and style was important to rebel commanders as they sought to instill in their soldiers the "spirit, self-image and shape of an army", according to historian Nadine Méouchy.[39] During meetings of the rebel leadership, the mujahidin of the host leader assumed military formation by lining up along the road of the host village and saluting the visiting commanders.[39] The rebels referred to themselves as junūd al-thawra (sing. jundi), meaning "soldiers of revolt", which represented a more noble image than the term iṣābā, which was associated with banditry, and the term al-askar, which referred to the military and had negative connotations due to its association with conscription and repression. Each mujahid received a salary depending on his rank, with cavalrymen (fursan) or officers receiving higher pay than foot soldiers (mushāt).[40]

Umar al-Bitar was the rebel commander of Jabal Sahyun, one of the four rebel military zones of the revolt

Individual ′iṣābāt began forming in the countryside between Aleppo and Anatolia in 1919 to counter French advances, but Hananu gradually consolidated them into his network.[41] The revolt was organized into four principal military zones, each headed by a ra'īs 'iṣābā native to the particular zone. The four zones were the following: Jabal Qusayr (Antioch area) headed by Sheikh Yusuf al-Sa'dun (headquarters in Babatorun), Harim District headed by Najib Uwaid (headquarters in Kafr Takharim), Jabal Zawiya headed by Mustafa Haj Husayn and Jabal Sahyun (al-Haffah area) headed by Umar al-Bitar. Hananu, the overall leader of the revolt, and the regional commanders discussed major military decisions, typically involving a particular guerrilla campaign or arms procurement, together. At times they also consulted with Ozdemir Bey, commander of Turkish irregulars fighting the French in Anatolia.[37] The rebels utilized the familiar, mountainous terrain where they operated against the foreign French forces, and typically launched operations at night to avoid detection.[26]

The rebels had multiple sources for arms, but did not possess heavy weaponry,[42] with the exception of two artillery pieces.[26] Sources for weapons included the Turkish forces in southern Anatolia, Bedouin tribes who either sold or smuggled to the rebels Mauser rifles that the Germans had distributed to the tribes during World War I, weapon stockpiles left behind by Ottoman troops fleeing Syria during the British-Arab offensive in 1918, and raids against French arms warehouses. The rebels' arsenal largely consisted of German Mauser rifles, revolvers, shotguns, and Turkish five-shooters, as well as sabres and daggers.[42] According to Khoury, the rebels also possessed twelve light machine guns.[26] Following the destruction of the Arab government in July 1920, the Turks became the main arms suppliers of the rebels. The rebels distinguished the Turkish armed movement in Anatolia from the Ottomans, who the rebels viewed negatively, by stressing the role of Turkish general Mustafa Kemal, who was viewed as the quintessential guerrilla leader in the struggle against French occupation.[38]

At the height of the revolt, Hananu effectively created an independent state between Aleppo and the Mediterranean Sea.[9] Hananu's rebels first began administering captured territory in Armanaz, where the rebels coordinated with that town's municipality to impose taxes on landowners, livestock owners and farmers to fund their operations. From there, Hananu's administrative territory expanded to other towns and villages, including Kafr Takharim, and the district centers Harim, Jisr al-Shughur and Idlib. The municipal councils of these towns were not replaced, but reorganized to support the financial needs of the rebels and promote their social convictions. Kafr Takharim became the legislative center of rebel territory with a legislative committee in place to collect money and weapons from local sources, and a supreme revolutionary council to oversee judicial matters.[9]

Motivations for revolt

The rebels of the Hananu Revolt were motivated by three principal factors: defense of the homeland, which the rebels referred to as al-bilad or al-watan, defense of Islam in the face of conquest by an infidel enemy referred to as al-aduw al-kafir, in this case the French, and the defense of the rebels' traditional and sedentary way of life and the prevailing social order from foreign interference.[43] Regarding the defense of Islam, in his memoirs, the 'isaba commander al-Sa'dun stated that the rebels had an individual responsibility to engage in jihad, instead of a duty delegated to them by government authorities. In his view, the individual rebel was required to behave virtuously in his personal life and with expertise and courage on the battlefield. Moreover, he had to strive to be a popular hero (batal sha'bi) close to his people, brave and pious.[43] Hananu's subordinate officers and rank-and-file fighters were all Sunni Muslims, but were ethnically heterogeneous. Hananu himself was a Kurd as were field commanders Najib Uwaid and Abdullah ibn Umar, while Umar al-Bitar was an Arab and field commander Sha'ban Agha was a Turk. The ′isabat led by al-Bitar and al-Qassam were dominated by Arabs.[44]

The localized nature of the revolt reflected the rebels' sense of defending their homeland and community. Despite the eventual organization of the revolt and coordination between rebel commanders for major military decisions, most political decisions and military operations were local initiatives. As such, al-Sa'dun referred to the revolt in the plural as thawrat al-Shimal ("Northern revolts") rather than the singular thawra, and referred to the leadership of the revolt as the plural quwwad al-thawra rather than qiyadat al-thawra, which refers to a central command.[43]

According to historian Keith David Watenpaugh, the language used by Hananu and Saleh al-Ali in their address to the League of Nations "undermine" Arab and Turkish nationalist claims that their revolts represented part of the Arab or Turkish national awakenings. Hananu and al-Ali both referred to their revolts as part of a unified national resistance movement, but the nation referred to was an Islamic community rather than the ethnic nationalism that steadily dominated Syrian and Turkish politics and society in the 20th century. The two leaders also stressed modernist principles about individual rights, and according to Watenpaugh, Hananu did not view the concepts of modernity, Islam and the Ottoman state to be mutually exclusive. Hananu had opposed many Ottoman policies in the pre-World War I period, but was nonetheless wary of separatism as someone who formed part of the educated Ottoman middle class, while al-Ali sought a return to a "decentralized Ottoman polity dominated by Muslims in which the state would protect his hegemony as a landowning rural chieftain".[31] Hananu and the rebel commanders had a deep attachment to their positions in their communities and believed that a French victory in Syria would bring about the total loss of their class status, and assault their personal and professional dignity and ambitions.[31]


The French Mandate of Syria in 1922

The Hananu Revolt was a turning point in Aleppo's relationship with the Arab nationalist movement. Under the influence of Hananu, his Arab Club, and other Aleppine leaders with similar politics, the Muslim elite of Aleppo gradually embraced Arab nationalism.[20] The withdrawal of Turkish support for the rebels in Syria, following agreements with France, caused a deterioration in Syrian-Turkish ties and left the rebels and nationalists of northern Syria feeling betrayed.[45] Following the collapse of the Hananu Revolt, some political leaders in Aleppo continued to hold out hope that the Turks would manage to oust the French and unify Aleppo with its hinterland,[45] but disillusionment with Mustafa Kemal's foreign policies in Syria, made Turkey's remaining supporters realign their positions closer to Aleppo's Arab nationalists. In the few years after the revolt, Aleppo's elite largely embraced the concept of a united Syrian struggle for independence from French rule. This shift also began a process of strengthening ties with the leaders of Damascus.[46]

Aleppans opposed the annexation by Turkey of southwestern Anatolian sanjaks (districts) that had been part of Aleppo Vilayet, such as Mar'ash, Gaziantep ('Ayntab), Rumkale (Qal'at Rum), Urfa (al-Ruha). These sanjaks became part of Turkey following the October 1921 treaty with France.[30] The Franco-Turkish treaty allowed for a resumption of commerce between Aleppo and the Alexandretta Sanjak, including Antioch, due to improved security conditions, but commerce between Aleppo and Anatolia largely ceased. Alexandretta was considered by Aleppans to be their port to the Mediterranean Sea and a crucial part of their socio-economic region. It remained part of Syria under French control, but was administered by a semi-autonomous government that was heavily influenced by Turkey. Aleppo's merchants and nationalist politicians feared this autonomy would ultimately lead to its annexation by Turkey and consequently precipitate an economic crisis in Aleppo.[47]

Nationalist leaders in Syria in the late 1920s. Hananu is seated first from the right at the top row, while Saleh al-Ali who led the Alawite Revolt is seated first from right at the bottom row

In the early months of French rule, the French authorities found that pacifying northern Syria was a much more difficult task than pacification of the Damascus region. In September 1920, Gouraud had established the State of Aleppo, which consisted of the northern half of former Ottoman Syria, excluding the Tripoli district. The French authorities established a new bureaucratic administration in the city that was led by four Aleppan figures supportive of French rule and it was mostly staffed by their family members. After the revolt was stamped out, the French authorities arrested or exiled numerous Arab nationalist politicians in an attempt to end the nationalist alliance between Aleppo and Damascus. The authorities also began appointing former Ottoman administrators who were willing to cooperate with the French Mandatory government to senior bureaucratic posts.[46] According to Khoury, "by 1922, the Aleppo bureaucracy had become more unwieldy and inefficient than it had been in the last years" of Ottoman rule.[48] Despite French attempts to completely exclude the nationalists from any administrative role, the overwhelming majority of Aleppo's population supported the nationalists.[48]


  1. Moubayed 2006, p. 604.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Neep 2012, pp. 27–28.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Fieldhouse 2006, p. 283.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Khoury 1987, p. 103.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Khoury 1987, p. 104.
  6. Neep 2012, pp. 109-110.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Watenpaugh 2014, p. 175.
  8. Gelvin 1999, p. 133.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Gelvin 1999, p. 134.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Khoury 1987, p. 105.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Gelvin 1999, pp. 133–134.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Arsuzi-Elamir, ed. Sluglett and Weber 2010, p. 588.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Watenpaugh 2014, p. 176.
  14. Choueiri 1993, p. 19.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Philipp and Schumann 2004, p. 278.
  16. Schleifer, ed. Burke 1993, p. 169.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Schleifer, S. Abdullah (1978). "The Life and Thought of 'Izz-id-Din al-Qassam". pp. 66–67. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Philipp and Schumann 2004, p. 279.
  19. Philipp and Schumann 2004, p. 277.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Khoury 1987, p. 106.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Watenpaugh 2014, p. 178.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 22.6 22.7 Watenpaugh 2014, p. 177.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Khoury 1987, p. 107.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 24.5 Khoury 1987, p. 108.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Moubayed 2006, p. 376.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 26.4 26.5 26.6 26.7 Khoury 1987, p. 109.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Philipp and Schumann 2004, p. 261.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Bidwell 2012, p. 174.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 29.4 Neep 2012, p. 110.
  30. 30.00 30.01 30.02 30.03 30.04 30.05 30.06 30.07 30.08 30.09 30.10 Khoury 1987, p. 110.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 Watenpaugh 2014, p. 179.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 32.4 32.5 Arsuzi-Elamir, ed. Sluglett and Weber 2010, p. 592.
  33. Watenpaugh, p. 115.
  34. Watenpaugh 2014, p. 180.
  35. Khoury 1987, pp. 109–110.
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 Watenpaugh 2014, pp. 180–181.
  37. 37.0 37.1 Méouchy, ed. Liebau 2010, p. 510.
  38. 38.0 38.1 Méouchy, ed. Liebau 2010, p. 504.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Méouchy, ed. Liebau 2010, p. 512.
  40. Méouchy, ed. Liebau 2010, pp. 511–512.
  41. Neep 2012, p. 35.
  42. 42.0 42.1 Méouchy, ed. Liebau 2010, p. 511.
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 Méouchy, ed. Liebau 2010, p. 514.
  44. Philipp and Schumann 2004, pp. 260–261.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Khoury 1987, p. 111.
  46. 46.0 46.1 Khoury 1987, p. 112.
  47. Khoury 1987, pp. 110–111.
  48. 48.0 48.1 Khoury 1987, p. 114.


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