The Division of Syria and Recent Changes in Aleppo

19th century Aleppo.

19th century Aleppo.

The division of Syria has not undergone any changes, since the time of Volney. To the pashalik of Aleppo  belongs Aintab, Badjazze, Alexandretta, and Antakia. Damascus comprehends Hebron, Jerusalem, Nablous, Bostra, Hums, and Hama.

The Pashalik of Tripoli extends along the seacoast from Djebail to Latikia; that of Seide or Akka, from Djebail nearly to Jaffa, including the mountains inhabited by the Druses. The Pasha of Gaza governs in Jaffa and Gaza, and in the adjacent plains. The present Pasha of Damascus is at the same time Pasha of Tripoli, and therefore in possession of the greater half of Syria. The Pashalik of Gaza is at present annexed to that of Akka.

Such is the nominal division of Syria. But the power of the Porte in this country has been so much upon the decline, particularly since the time of Djezzar Pasha of Akka, that a number of petty independent chiefs have sprung up, who defy their sovereign. Badjazze, Alexandretta, and Antakia have each an independent Aga. Aintab, to the north of Aleppo, Edlip and Shogre, on the way from Aleppo to Latikia, have their own chiefs, and it was but last year that the Pasha of Damascus succeeded in subduing Berber, a formidable rebel, who had fixed his seat at Tripoli, and had maintained himself there for the last six years.

The Pashas themselves follow the same practice; it is true that neither the Pasha of Damascus nor that of Akka has yet dared openly to erect the standard of rebellion; they enjoy all the benefits of the protection of the supreme government, but depend much more upon their own strength, than on the caprice of the Sultan, or on their intrigues in the seraglio for the continuance of their power.

The policy of the Porte is to flatter and load with honours those whom she cannot ruin, and to wait for some lucky accident by which she may regain her power; but, above all, to avoid a formal rupture, which would only serve to expose her own weakness and to familiarize the Pashas and their subjects with the ideas of rebellion.

The Pashas of Damascus and of Akka continue to be dutiful subjects of the Grand Signior in appearance; and they even send considerable sums of money to Constantinople, to ensure the yearly renewal of their offices. (The Pashaliks all over the Turkish dominions are given for the term of one year only, and at the beginning of the Mohammedan year, the Pashas receive their confirmation or dismissal).

The Agas of Aintab, Antakia, Alexandretta, Edlip, and Shogre, pay also for the renewal of their offices. There are a few chiefs who have completely thrown off the mask of subjection; Kutshuk Ali, the Lord of Badjazze openly declares his contempt of all orders from the Porte, plunders and insults the Sultans officers, as well as all strangers passing through his mountains, and with a force of less than two hundred men, and a territory confined to the half ruined town of Badjazze, in the gulf of Alexandretta, and a few miles of the surrounding mountains, his father and himself have for the last thirty years defied all the attempts of the neighbouring Pashas to subdue them.

The inhabitants of Aleppo have been for several years past divided into two parties; the Sherifs (the real or pretended descendants of the Prophet), and the Janissaries. The former distinguish themselves by twisting a green turban round a small red cap, the latter wear high Barbary caps, with a turban of shawl, or white muslin, and a Khandjar, or long crooked knife in their girdles. There are few Turks in the city who have been able to keep aloof from both parties.

The Sherifs first showed their strength about forty years ago, during a tumult excited by their chiefs in consequence of a supposed insult received by Mr. Clarke, the then British Consul. Aleppo was governed by them in a disorderly manner for several years without a Pasha, until the Bey of Alexandretta, being appointed to the Pashalik, surprised the town and ordered all the chief Sherifs to be strangled.

Letter From Aleppo

The Pasha however, found his authority greatly limited by the influence which Tshelebi Effendi, an independent Aleppine grandee, had gained over his countrymen. The immense property of Tshelebis family added to his personal qualities, rendered his influence and power so great that during twenty years he obliged several Pashas who would not yield to his counsels and designs to quit the town.

He never would accept of the repeated offers made by the Porte to raise him to the Pashalik. His interests were in some measure supported by the corps of Janissaries; who in Aleppo, as in other Turkish towns, constitute the regular military force of the Porte; but until that period their chiefs had been without the smallest weight in the management of public affairs.

One of Tshelebis household officers, Ibrahim Beg, had meanwhile been promoted, through the friends of his patron at Constantinople, to the first dignities in the town. He was made Mutsellim (vice governor), and Mohassel (chief custom house officer), and after the death of Tshelebi, his power devolved upon Ibrahim. This was in 1786.

At the time of the French invasion of Egypt, the intrigues of Djezzar Pasha of Akka drove Ibrahim from his post at Damascus, and he was obliged to follow the Grand Vizirs army into Egypt. When after the campaign of Egypt the Grand Vizir with the remains of his army, was approaching Aleppo upon his return to Constantinople, Ibrahim conceived hopes of regaining his lost seat at Aleppo.

I cannot omit mentioning that during the whole of the civil war, the persons and property of the Franks were rigidly respected. It sometimes happened that parties of Sherifs and Janissaries skirmishing in the Bazars, left off firing by common consent, when a Frank was seen passing, and that the firing from the Minarets ceased, when Franks passed over their flat roofs from one house to another.

The Janissaries have this virtue in the eyes of the Franks, that they are not in the smallest degree fanatical; the character of a Sherif is quite the contrary, and whenever religious disputes happen, they are always excited and supported by some greenhead.

It is necessary to have lived for some time among the Turks, and to have experienced the mildness and peacefulness of their character, and the sobriety and regularity of their habits, to conceive it possible that the inhabitants of a town like Aleppo, should continue to live for years without any legal master, or administration of justice, protected only by a miserable guard of police, and yet that the town should be a safe and quiet residence. No disorders, or nightly tumults occur; and instances of murder and robbery are extremely rare.

If serious quarrels sometimes happen, it is chiefly among the young Janissaries heated with brandy and amorous passion, who after sunset fight their rivals at the door of some prostitute.

This precarious security is however enjoyed only within the walls of the city; the whole neighbourhood of Aleppo is infested by obscure tribes of Arab and Kurdine robbers, who through the negligence of the Janissaries, acquire every day more insolence and more confidence in the success of their enterprises.

The Fall of Rebel-Held Aleppo Is a Warning to Others Who Oppose Assad

Adapted from Travels in Syria and the Holy Land (1822), by John Burckhardt. Photograph courtesy of Published under a Creative Commons license.