Islamic history, Political comment, Syrian history, Western Colonisation

Syrian history, colonisation and the Capitulations: Vive Palestine?

The Turkish Capitulations; the background

The significance of the capitulations is critical to understanding how trade relations developed between Syria, Britain and the rest of Europe. Sir Reader Bullard explains how the word originated from ”capitula or chapters into which the ancient agreements or charters were divided”. He suggests it was not unusual, that they were granted to foreign merchants, by the Ottomans sultans. He qualifies this though by saying, that they had diverged from their original intention by 1535, when formalised under the Franco-Turkish agreement.

Prior to this they were granted by the Sultan or regional leaders to protect the basic rights of foreigners, for instance to prevent enslavement. James B Angell expands on this account as he describes how areas of a city might be allocated to certain foreigners in recognition of their different cultural and religious needs. He concurs with Sir Reader, that they were formalised, by the 1535 treaty, between the Turkish Sultan and Francis 1st of France.

Angell suggests, that capitulations were not treaties but concessions and gave the French the freedom to travel in all parts of the empire and to trade ”according to their own laws”. Other western powers sought the same concessions and Queen Elizabeth 1st was no exception. By 1673 France had become ”protector” of the foreigners, who held no concessions in the empire.

This instigated a power struggle between France and England, who deprived France of part the role, when it acquired protective status of Genoa in 1675.

Though the smaller nations were grateful for the protection, powers like Britain exploited the situation as they sold privileges, even to the sultan’s subjects, for example the Armenians and Greeks. This exempted them from paying taxes to the sultan and acted as a kind of transference of funds from the Ottoman empire to various European ambassadors (see M Francis Rey).

The implications

By the early 1800s Ottoman subject theft was viral, when the nations, granted privileges, under the capitulations, began acquire property in their own name and to naturalise Ottoman citizens. By the time of the Crimean war, in the middle of that century, the sultan put his foot down on the question of naturalisation and the British dealt with this by refusing re-entry to any Ottoman citizen naturalised in England, if they returned home.

Turkey attempted to annul the capitulations, through the Paris congress in 1856 and 1862, as all treaties between itself and the European powers were based upon them. The Ottomans were losing their grip on power by now and according to Albert Hourani, under the ambit of the capitulations, foreign nationals were virtually outside the law. Sultan Abd al Rahman (1822-1859) tried to introduce a trade monopoly but outside pressure prevented this and free trade flourished. This was not solely due to the capitulations, as separate states acquired more autonomy but they didn’t help the situation.

The dissolution of the Ottoman empire occurred  in 1914 but it maintained its sovereignty throughout the 1914-1918 war. The annulment of the capitulations was coincidental to relinquishing the Ottoman hold on member states and were abolished officially as part of an international agreement in 1936.

Viva Palestina, Mr. Galloway’s trip or the spread of Islam

I was reading the book ”Palestine Incidentally”, by Cliff G Hanley; about his attempts to enter Gaza in Palestine.The first attempt was with the third convoy in December 2009 and the second was with the flotilla, which left Turkey for Gaza, in May 2010. The book is nothing if not riveting but it does raise some questions, as to the point of the mission.

As readers may remember, the Viva Palestina convoys were organised by Mr. George Galloway, a public figure, who never ceases to amaze me with his changeable views and belligerent ways (lots of my comrades disagree with this view, including Mr. Hanley). Galloway used to make appearances at Bristol often and this is where I formed my opinion of him: he does make a rousing speech though.

It is no secret, that Mr. Galloway’s political career benefited from his association with the Palestinian expeditions but what saddens me is the faith Syrian people put in him. He was up before the American congress, when I went back to Syria in 2006 and people were very supportive of his efforts.

The third convoy was refused entry into Gaza and returned to Syria, where they had already received a huge welcome; eventually it sailed to Egypt, the agreed route, if the Egyptian government is to be believed. I read this on the computer yesterday, after I finished the book and in the light of the first convoy, that went through North Africa, it is believable.

Convoy number one was refused passage through some capital cities in North Africa. Not Libya, as Colonel Qaddafi, had declared, when he took power, that, though based on state socialism, his style of governance incorporated Islamic fundamentalism. Remember he was overthrown by the historically Sufist Benghazi fighters and the Britain etc.

When the travellers returned there was a meal in Bristol to celebrate their success; there, two Islamic women described the journey and expressed surprise at not being permitted to enter Cairo and Tunis capital. I explained to them after the speeches, that it was because they all wore headscarves and other Islamic items of clothing and that Tunis and Egypt were secular countries. I should add, that many of the men in the convoy sported beards and, that the growing of beards in Tunisia, was banned for decades.

Still it was five years until the penny dropped properly and I realised the whole mission was to spread the Islamic doctrine. On return, some of the safarists expressed the view, that British nationalists, with Israeli roots, should not return to fight in the army there. Can’t help wondering if they feel the same now, about the young mercenaries, who are fighting in Syria.

It’s a shame President Assad didn’t refuse them entry but the man is ever so trusting. Look how he trusted Britain not to attack but rather to wait until he had introduced the reforms required to please the west. Anyway Mubarak was having none of it, as he refused to allow the convoy to take the ferry, from Aqaba to Nuweiba and drive, through the Sinai, where there is lots of support for the Egyptian Brotherhood.

People can hold any view they want but, when one looks at the history, the polarisation between Islam and secularism is pronounced, in the Arab world. The lefties are definitely lacking in their understanding of this or perhaps they are all converting; a cause is a cause, after all. The west is so intent on wiping out secular regimes, I can only assume radical Islam is compatible with the flow of capital.

Some people, like Mr. Hanley, who is indignant at  Zionist and western colonisation; just care about the Palestine people and their future.

Of course the Syrian Presidential elections are said to be a foregone conclusion, by the British media. This is on the basis, that ballot boxes are only open to Assad supporters. Perhaps if  Britain called off its ”goons” for a while, then other parts of the country would have chance to vote. No! too risky, they may find the President wins anyway.

No to NATO!!

There will be a NATO summit held in Newport and Wales is none to pleased. We plan to oppose this debacle. If you are interested see for further info.



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