The British struggled to include the Turks after World War II broke out. The Adana and Cairo Conferences in 1943 are the most well-known of their attempts to draw the Republic of Turkey into the war. However, the British tried to include Turkey in the war, using Syria, long before these conferences.
Germany in south
Germany could not be stopped in the first years of World War II. After invading Yugoslavia and Greece, it took over Crete at the end of May 1941. The aim was to gain dominance in the Middle East. Vichy France, which surrendered to Germany in June 1940, was already controlling Syria.
Vichy France made Syrians form a government under Khalid al-Azm from the al-Azms dynasty, who were one of the most important families in Damascus and it appointed a commissar to Syria. Germany used Syria, which was administered by the Vichy government, as a base. During that time, a pro-German coup was successful in Iraq. Syria and Iraq were about to go under the control of Germany. This meant that Turkey was being surrounded by Germany in the south. Britain was disturbed by this situation as its dominance in the Middle East was in danger. However, it was suggested that Turkey should invade Syria before the British take action. It was planned that Turkey would enter Syria from the north while Britain was invading the country from the south. Turkey would help the British use their power evenly in the region, taking Aleppo and places around it.
The British ambassador got in contact with the Turkish authorities in Ankara to encourage Turkey to enter Syria at the beginning of June 1941. This situation started to be discussed in the media. Those who supported the idea of entering Syria were asserting that this situation was not for the conquest of Syria but for the liberty of the neighboring country. However, this meant Turkey would be included in World War II and opened a new theater against Germany.
Yunus Nadi objects
Journalist Yunus Nadi criticized this idea with an article titled "Turkey in the New World War" in the headline of the Cumhuriyet newspaper on May 25, 1941. He said:
"We think that those who want to bring us to such an adventure know that this generous act of us to make the Syrian people free will not be over with only Syria and the south border. The Turkish speaker who was talking about the war on London radio was mentioning that Turkish safety areas were in danger and inviting us to think about the precautions for the safety of our nation, using some broadcasts in Istanbul as a base. That is, it is demanded from us to change our policy in the world war. Those who give the condition of Syria as an excuse hide behind the principle of freedom to create public opinion. Shall we get included in the war with the advice of freedom and independence for Syria? We suppose that the Turkish Republic will not be separated from its cautious, pointed and powerful policy."
Britain invades Syria
While these discussions were continuing in the press, diplomatic negotiations also went on. However, it was not easy for the English to convince then-Turkish President İsmet İnönü, who was decisive on not fighting, to get involved in World War II. Hence, Turkey did not accept the plan to enter Syria. The British and Free French troops captured Syria and Lebanon in June and July in 1941, defeating the troops of Vichy France.
Sykes-Picot Agreement and Syria
A treaty distributing the Ottoman lands between Britain and France was signed by the two countries on March 16, 1916. This treaty, the negotiations of which were made by François Georges Picot of France and Mark Sykes of Britain, was named after the negotiators as the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Britain and France shared the Ottoman lands: France would take all of Syria, Lebanon, Adana and Mersin provinces. Iraqi lands between Baghdad and Basra would belong to Britain along with the Port of Haifa in the Mediterranean. Besides, the two countries chose a zone of influence for themselves. While the north of the Kirkuk-Acre line was being given to the French, the south was the British. Palestine would have an international status and other Arab lands would be independent.
After Britain and France agreed between themselves, they informed the Russians. The negotiations started in March in 1916. In these negotiations, then-Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov was at the forefront. Russia wanted more land in northeastern Anatolia, asserting that the lands of Britain and France would be much more than Istanbul and the straits, which would be given to Russia. The land that Russia demanded were provinces such as Erzurum, Trabzon, Van, Bitlis, Muş and Siirt. Russia accepted that France would take the region from Kayseri to Elazığ in return. Britain did not object to this situation providing that its profits would be protected in the regions that Russia demanded. Therefore, Russia got involved in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This is why the agreement was named Sazonov-Sykes-Picot, as well. In 1917, the Russian Revolution occurred and Russia was excluded from the team of the big players. The practice of the agreement was not easy between Britain and France at the beginning. Britain did not want leave Syria, which it occupied. The French asserted that Syria and Lebanon belonged to them according to the agreement. Finalaly, Britain accepted the French mandate in Syria and Lebanon. However, southern Iraq stayed as the zone of influence for Britain, contrary of the agreement.
French mandates in Syria
There was a short independent period for Arab people in Syria after the Ottoman government ended in 1918. However, France and Britain did not recognize the independence of Syria. In 1920, French troops entered Damascus. In 1922, the French mandate government officially started in Syria with the approval of the League of Nations.
Charles de Gaulle promised independence after the allies entered Syria in June 1941, but he resisted giving it for a time. After the Syrians won their independence, the French abandoned Syria. April 17, 1946, when the mandate government ended, was announced as a their national day.