Several times I have heard people who support Assad derisively label the Syrian independence flag as "that French mandate" flag. For some reason these people think that this flag is a product of Syria's former colonial masters, and that it is fitting that a revolution that they consider to be a foreign plot against the regime would choose such a flag. This is patently untrue and demonstrates a lack of knowledge in the country's history. If anything the Syrian independence flag represents the best of everything that is Syrian, and its history gives us some startling insight into the present.
In 1933 the French colonial authorities suspended the Syrian constitution of 1930 and tried to impose an independence treaty that would have left them in control of Syria's coastal mountains. There was an immediate uproar and widespread demonstrations and strikes. There was also immense support throughout the Arab world, with protests in what are today Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan. This period of crisis reached its climax with the Franco-Syrian Treaty of Independence, which was the first time that a treaty was made with a recognised representative of the Syrian people, the National Bloc, under Hashem al Atassi. al Atassi, who was the prime minister of the short lived Kingdom of Syria under King Feisal, returned to Syria and was made the first president of the Syrian Republic. This independence flag was made the national flag of all of Syria, including Syria's coastal mountains and what might have become a separate Alawite Syrian state under the French.
The main goal of the National Bloc was to achieve independence through non-violent and diplomatic means, and they succeeded. Today the Syrian opposition would do well to remember how Syria's freedom was initially won, and how the Syrian Republic had been born. The general strike that eventually forced the French to the negotiating table paralysed the country, and could not be quashed violently. Ironically it had its roots in an event held by the National Bloc commemorating the death of another national hero of Syria's fight for independence, and once a prominent National Bloc leader himself, Ibrahim Hanano. Hanano had fought the French and led an armed uprising, with Ataturk's help, centred around the Idlib and Aleppo regions. It was soon crushed when the Turk's withdrew military assistance, but it cemented Hananu's reputation in Syrian history, having already fought for King Feisal's Arab Army. When the heads of the National Bloc were arrested by the French, mass protests and a strike were called. The series of events culminating in the Independence Treaty of 1936 can be traced from here, and with that, the path to the new Syrian independence flag.
Today that flag has been chosen by many of the Syrian opposition as representative of those who do not wish Assad or his family to rule the country anymore, and in it they find an authentic representation and nostalgia for a better Syria where life was not governed by fear. Cynical attempts by detractors of the Syrian revolution - in both its armed and peaceful components - ignore the enormous personal bravery and conviction required for any Syrian to dare challenge Assad's rule and stand up against his injustice. They choose to simply see things in a black and white world of power politics and a West versus the Rest perspective. In doing so they deny the Syrian people any agency, and also deny them the right to make their own mistakes and aspire for a better future for themselves and their country.
Everything about this flag, the background of the movement that made it a symbol for Syria, and the figures that fought for it to become so, is steeped in principles rooted in a hope for a better country that is free and good for all its people. Should the Syrian people decide one day to once again make this flag Syria's official flag, then it is not because the current flag is any less legitimate, but because the independence flag represents that hope. To describe it flippantly as a "colonial" flag is an insult.