Yusuf al-Azma

Yusuf al-Azma

Yusuf Al-Azmah (other spellings: Yousef Al-Azama, Yusuf Al-Azmeh, Yousef Al-Azmeh) (1883 – July 24 1920) was the Syrian (of Turkish origin) Minister of War and Chief of Staff under Prince (then King) Faisal (later to become Faisal I of Iraq) from 1918 to 1920.

Al-Azmah graduated from the Ottoman Military Academy in Istanbul in 1906. He served as a General in the Ottoman army before joining the Arab revolt against the Ottomans which gave Syria its independence in 1918.

The League of Nations having given the French Mandate of Syria as planned in the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between Great Britain and France, the French General Gouraud issued an ultimatum to the Syrian government in 1920. The government of Damascus submitted reluctantly to the French ultimatum and disbanded its troops. Yusuf al-Azmah refused to give in. He raised a small body of disbanded troops and civilians, their arms ranging from hatchets, swords, and old rifles. Although he had no illusions about the outcome of the battle, Al-Azmah wanted to make it clear that Syria would not surrender without fighting, in order to deny the French occupation any legitimacy.

Al-Azmah left Damascus with his troops and headed for Khan Maysalun, some 12 miles to the west of Damascus where he led a desperate and very unequal battle against the French army of General Gouraud on July 24 1920. Al-Azmah was killed in the fighting, and the French forces entered Damascus on July 25 1920.

For the Syrians, Yusuf Al-Azmah remains a national hero and an inspiration. His statue stands in central Damascus, and streets are named in his honor in cities all over Syria.

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