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Syria: World War II and Independence
Country Study > Chapter 1 > Historical Setting > World War II and Independence


The capitulation of France in June 1940 brought Vichyappointed General Henri Dentz as high commissioner and a new cabinet headed by Khalid al Azm, a wealthy landlord from an old Damascus family who was to play a leading role in Syrian politics 22 years later. Despite continued German military successes elsewhere, British and Free French forces supported by troops of the Transjordan Arab Legion defeated the Vichy forces in both Syria and Lebanon. Control then passed to Free French authorities.

The entry of Allied troops brought a promise from the Free French leader, General Charles de Gaulle, of eventual independence, although de Gaulle declared that so far as he was concerned, the mandate would remain in existence until a new French government legally brought it to an end. When Syrians elected a new parliament in 1943 with the National Bloc in control, the parliament elected Quwatly as president of Syria.

During 1944 the Syrian government took over the functions of 14 administrative departments which had been under direct French control since 1920. These included those dealing with customs, social affairs, excise taxes, control of concessionary companies, and supervision of tribes. France retained control of social, cultural, and educational services as well as the Troupes Speciales du Levant (Levantine Special Forces), which were used for security purposes. Despite French opposition, the Soviet Union in July and the United States in September 1944 granted Syria and Lebanon unconditional recognition as sovereign states; British recognition followed a year later. These Allied nations pressured France to evacuate Syria.

The new Syrian government demanded either the immediate and unconditional transfer of the Troupes Speciales de Levant to Syrian control or their disbandment, and threatened to form a national army unless such action was taken. But France made withdrawal of the troops dependent on Syria's signature of a treaty assigning France a privileged position in the country.

In January 1945, the Syrian government announced the formation of a national army and in February declared war on the Axis powers. In March the nation became a charter member of the United Nations (UN), an indication of its sovereign status, and, in April, affirmed its allegiance to the idea of Arab unity by signing the pact of the League of Arab States (Arab League).

The way in which the French left Syria, however, increased the already bitter feelings the Syrians had toward France. France was adamant in its demand that its cultural, economic, and strategic interests be protected by treaty before agreeing to withdraw the Troupes Speciales du Levant. In May 1945, demonstrations occurred in Damascus and Aleppo and, for the third time in 20 years, the French bombed and machine-gunned the ancient capital. Serious fighting broke out in Homs and Hamah as well. Only after Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill threatened to send troops to Damascus did General de Gaulle order a cease-fire. A UN resolution in February 1946 called on France to evacuate. The French acceded and, by April 15, 1946, all French troops were off Syrian soil. On April 17 Syria celebrated Evacuation Day; the date is a national holiday.

Data as of April 1987

Last Updated: April 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Syria was first published in 1991. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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