Lebanon – The post offices of the Bekaa Valley October 1918/September 1920
This article appeared in a slightly different form in “The Levant” Journal of the Ottoman and the Near East Philatelic Society issued in 3 September 2019.
The Bekaa valley, currently Lebanese territory, is located between the Mount Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon mountain chains, the latter became the current eastern frontier with Syria. Regarding longitude it is included between the areas of Hermel in the north and Hasbaya in the south. Due to its climatic characteristics and the particular fertility of the soil, it is a place of great and heterogeneous agricultural production. It was ancient territory of the Ottoman Empire until the end of September 1918. In those days when Turkish troops retreated towards Aleppo, the Bekaa Valley was occupied by Arab troops under British control advancing from the south. This act differs from the French-British agreement, so-called Sykes-Picot, which assigned to French military administration the entire area of the Bekaa constituted by the “Caza” of Baalbek, Hasbaya and Rachaya together with the coastal area from Tyre in the south to Alexandretta in the north (fig 1).
Fig 1. The area that concerns the current Lebanon in a Map of the first half of 1920 reproducing the density of post offices in the two areas. You can see the density difference of post office/area between the coastal area in yellow and the interior in dark green.
Therefore except the town of Zahle, all the territory of the Bekaa valley was incorporated into the nascent Syrian Territory administered by a military government appointed by the British commander Edmund Allenby and led by the emir Faisal, the third son of Hussein bin Ali, the Mecca’s Sheriff. From the postal point of view, from 22 October 1918 corresponding the day of the designation of the Syrian military government, until November 1919, i.e. when was made the withdrawal of the British troops who supervised occupied territories, there are no substantial differences on the postal documents sent from the two areas. The EEF stamps, made available by the British administration from November 1918, were used in the civil post offices of the two areas. In these offices the postal cancellations used were those of the old Turkish postal administration. The only difference, but not a minor one, was characterized by the presence of different censorship marks, a direct emanation of the two administrations (fig 2 and 3).
Fig 2. Cover sent on 10/10/1919 to Belgian Congo from Djubeil in the costal area, passed through the French censorship that apposed oval censor seal “PASSE A LA CENSURE – O.E.T.A. OUEST” translatable like “Passed by Censor – Occupied Enemy Territories Area West”.
Fig 3. Cover sent on 23/3/1919 to USA from Kefir near Hasbaya in the Bekaa area, passed through Damascus where was affixed the round negative seal “edarat el matbouaat – al hokuma al arabia – 1337” translatable like “Directorate of printed matter – Arabic Government – 1919”.
But do not be misled by these seal. We can observe on the mail sent from territories of the Bekaa addressed to Europa or Overseas, certain traces of the passage through the coastal zone, evidenced by French censorship marks affixed in Beirut (fig 4), but also vice versa, when shipping by sea from the French area was not available the mail was directed towards Egypt via Syria this was sometimes checked by Damascus censure.
Fig 4. Back side of coming figure 8 cover. The permeability of the line between the two areas can be deduced from this envelope sent by Mr “Sarkis Koury Sarkis of Zahle” who also added “written in Arabic” to show that even the inhabitants of this large agricultural center under French administration did not disdain to ship from near Malakat post office located in “Syrian” territory.
Therefore we can assert that from the area of the Bekaa under Syrian government, was used for mail transport not only the Malakat-Rayak-Damascus-Haifa-Port Said railway line, but also the sporadic trains of the Rayak-Malakat-Beirut line. It must immediately be said that unlike the areas administered by the French, where the civil post offices reopened from the middle of December 1918 (fig. 5), in the areas under Syrian administration, the post offices were opened shortly before in second half of November of same year (fig 6).
Fig 5. The first date recorded for the reopening of Beirut’s civil Post office on 13 December 1918 (Firebrace reports an earlier date but I’ve never see) and the only recorded example of the Ottoman octagonal cancel “BEYROUTH 1” used on cover after the war.
Fig 6. The re-opening of the civil offices in the Syrian area took place in mid-November 1918, about a month before those under French control zone. This envelope sent from Rachaya on 7 December 1918 for the USA was routed via Damascus where transit the day after. Resulting one of very few recorded envelopes departing from Rachaya in the first weeks after the post office reopened.
The number recorded of the latter so far amounts to 11, they were: Baalbeck, Bekaa (Malakat), Hasbaya, Jdita*, Karaoun, Kfeir, Rachaya, Rachaya El Foukhar, Rayak, Saidnail and Talia. The operation of Hermel’s post office remains unclear and the total amounting to 12 offices if included it. Regarding the use of EEF stamps they are known used in Baalbeck (fig 7), Bekaa (fig 8 and 9), Hasbaya (fig 10), Jdita (fig 11), Karaoun (fig 12), Kfeir and Rachaya, but surely the other cancels will emerge.
It must be said about E.E.F. stamps validity that they were withdrawn in the French area from 5 January 1920**, while in the Kingdom of Syria, including the Bekaa valley, they maintained their validity until the end of September 1920. From this we can deduce that Stanley Gibson catalog when indicates the last date of use for E.E.F. stamps in Lebanon in September 1920, because he saw its used in some place of the Bekaa Valley that only from September 1920 became officially Lebanese. As regards both the provisional with “al hokuma al arabia” handstamp and the definitive stamps of the Kingdom of Syria, issued respectively on 8 January and from 8 March both in 1920, they are until now to be recorded used in the following localities of Bekaa Valley: Baalbeck (fig 13), Bekaa (Malakat) (fig 14), Hasbaya (fig 15), Jdita (fig 16), Kfeir (fig 17), Rachaya (fig 18), Rachaya El Foukhar (fig 19), Rayak (fig 20), Saidnail (fig 21) and Talia (fig 22) but, as already said, surely other cancels will surface.
Of the six envelopes shown above, the first two can be appreciated respectively for the departure date of September 1920 (fig 13) and for the use of a block of four stamps (fig 14), the others are instead the only ones known with their respective cancellations affixed to stamps of the Kingdom of Syria.
The territory of the Bekaa suffered the events that characterized both the internal politics of the Syrian government and the stormy one towards the French that led to the military clash of Maysalun on 24 July 1920. Since the defeat of the Syrian troops, the area of Bekaa was subjected to military occupation regime. This until 1 September 1920, date of the founding “Grand Liban” (Greater Lebanon), the fruit of the union of Mount Lebanon, the regions of Akkar and Tripoli in the north, Saida and Tyr in the south, and the Bekaa area. In this region, as already mentioned the Syrian and the E.E.F. stamps in use were tolerated until the end of September (fig 13). From this date the “O.M.F. Syrie” overprint on French stamps becomes the only valid in the Bekaa, like already in the other regions of the coast and in those that will be form the Great Lebanon.
Rereading what has been written so far I have noticed that the mention of the Bekaa cancels could lead to various errors, therefore I precise: the cancellation Bekaa refers to the post office located in the Malakat station, near Zahle, it had two cancellations, the first was an Ottoman bilingual circular in use until February 1919 when mysteriously disappear replaced by the second, an Ottoman octagonal postmark originally with the name of a smaller town that was promptly partially chiseled so that only words Bekaa were left, in Latin and Arabic. To date we ignore which area’s postmark was sacrificed. It is found used up until 1926.
*see the article in this website “Reflections of Postal History – The Jdita cover”.
**see the article in this website “Beirut, mixed use of various issues stamps from the end of 1918 to the half of 1920“.