For hundreds of years, the Al Attours, a very large Arab family, evolved in the villages near the city of Al Haffeh (near Lattakia, the main port of Syria on the Mediterranean), deep in the rugged and wooded countryside. Although they were a branch of the Mawali tribe, situated around the city of Hammah in central Syria, they rarely got involved in the affairs of the main tribe. However, marital ties and relationships between the two branches flourished. Eventually, the Attours abandoned their Bedouin way of life and established a thriving agricultural community headed by large landowners. This western branch played an important role throughout the ages, as we shall see.
Al Mawali Tribe:
This is one of the biggest tribes in "Bilad Al Sham" Syria at present. During the early the 20th century leadership in this large tribe was in a big family called "Abu Reesheh". Yet according to old tribal traditions, main functions in the tribal affairs were divided between prominent families in a hereditary way. The man in charge of war affairs was called "Al Attour", which linguistically means manager of feuds and wars. This was the origin of the name given to this family hundreds of years ago, and this was the function. Early twentieth century a very prominent man called "Sheikh Fares Al Attour" was nominated to become the head of the whole tribe, and authorities sanctioned this nomination, after the death of the Abu Reesheh Sheikh. Sheikh Fares Al Attour was a very wise brave leader respected by all the branches of the large tribe. He helped pulling the tribe together and worked hard on bringing new aspects of life to his tribe. After his death the position was disputed between his son Sheikh Ahmed Al Attour and the son of Abu Reesheh last leader. I don't know who won, but Sheikh Ahmed Al Attour was strong around years 1946 onwards that he consolidated the Mawali tribesmen and entered the city of Hammah with his Bedouin fighters and together with the city fighters, they put an end to the French rule in the city. The French Garrison after some heavy fight abandoned the city to local authorities.
Of course social conditions in Syria tended to bring more civil life to Bedouin way of living, the tribe is not finished with everybody looking after his own welfare. They are still there but becoming more and more useful individuals in the civil community.
The western branch near Lattakia:
This type of life continued through out the ages. The Sunny minority was always the front guards that keep the area under control. Most of the time through their own efforts, but sometimes with the help of the central governmental power at Lattakia. The central authorities helped through the Ottoman period and during the very short Hashemite period "King Faisal First", yet it was not like this during the French occupation and some parts of the independent rule. Old men in the family remember certain feuds where so many of both parties were killed or suffered hardships. Sheikh Mahmoud Al Attour had so many incidents where he killed people of the other side or some of his relatives were killed. He told me one time that he was sentenced to death during the French rule and he escaped to Mersin in Turkey. One incident we know about that during the late Turkish rule, a battle was so strong that the chief of police in Lattakia interfered himself and saved the Attours from a deadly peril. This commander happened to be from Al Hammad family in Palestine. As a sign of gratitude the Attour chief gave one of his daughters to become the wife of this commander who was very happy with this family relationship. And when he retired he took her home with him. This particular lady happened to be the sister of my grandfather Sheikh Ibrahim al Attour. My father and my Uncle Dr Hashim Bey used to know that they have an aunt in El yamoun near Jenin, Nablus district, both used to go to see her when on duty in the nearby. Her son became a Palestinian leader during the Palestinian struggle against the English and Jewish control in Palestine. I met him in our house in Jerash and Amman. In his last visit he expressed fear of plots against his life and planned to go to Lattakia "El Haffeh" to seek some refuge there for a while. He was assassinated shortly before that, his family suffered greatly. His son Zuhair married my sister Afaf, and his other son Nu'man married Wadi'ah the daughter of my sister Nermeen.
Back to Attours in Al Haffeh, events started to cool up after certain policies of trying to consider the Nuseirieh as a Moslem tribe and of course they are Arab any way by origin. This gave a period of peace. The son of Sheikh Mahmoud, Burhan Mahmoud Al Attour became a prominent Lawyer and he reached the position of head of the Lattakia bar of advocates and at the same time secretary general of the Syrian association of advocates. He used to come to us in Amman for certain business. The last time I saw him in Amman he told me that he is not feeling secure at home and he might go temporarily to Mersin the way his father did long ago. I invited him to come to Amman but he said that Mersin is safer. His fears were right; he was assassinated two days before leaving.
The family of Burhan Al Attour suffered after his death. His eldest son Mahmoud came to us in Amman; he grew to become a lawyer and married my daughter Rana.
Al Attour in the late Turkish rule
The long Turkish rule in Bilad Al Sham had its impact on families from the two nations. There was such a strong interaction that so many families became wide spread on various parts of the Ottoman Empire. The recent contact we know about was of my grandfather Sheikh Ibrahim who was drafted to the army and was taken to battles in the Bolqan ( Balkan) countries i.e. Bosnia, Albania and the Adriatic sea countries, he was under the command of Ghazi Othman Pacha. The specific battle was at Pilavna, the Moslem forces were opposite to larger and stronger Russian troops. The Moslem commander had to break a Russian siege of three rings with the remnants of his force weary of the long fight. He broke ring #1 and #2, at ring #3 he was shot by a bullet and fell wounded. The brave fight he performed made the Russian general to respect his bravery and they treated him with honors and sent him to San Petersburg, the Russian capital at that time. He and his soldiers, my grandfather one of them, were asked to stay in Petersburg until the Russians reach to an agreement with Istanbul. This took seventeen years during which my grandfather was free to move in San Petersburg but had to report to a certain police post to prove that he is still there. No other strings imposed on him, my father told me that during that time he used to work and might had a wife and family there.
When an agreement with Istanbul was achieved, Ghazi Othman Pacha and all his men were returned to Istanbul who received them with honors. My grandfather didn't bring a family from San Petersburg with him, and he returned to Istanbul alone and sought some employment there. He took no time to mix up with the Istanbul families and married a Turkish lady of a Caucasian Origin from Kurgstan i.e. present Georgia and had two sons Hashem bey, Suleiman Torgut and daughter Badriyyan who were all born in Turkey or somewhere around it. They were raised in a Turkish way of life with the Elite Turkish touch of Istanbul who was the top in Islamic and Turkish tender aristocracy. Hashem Bay studied medicine and Suleiman studied law. Ahmed Hashem Bay started with army medical corps and became "Suriya va gharbi arabstan ordulari ser tabibi" stationed in Aleppo. He is known for his role of improving the Turkish Yemeni relations during the Yemen campaign under Fakhri Pacha. The Yemeni breakaway forces were confronting the Ottoman forces around Sana'a the capital of Yemen. It became known that the Imam is being ill, so Fakhry Pacha as a sign of goodwill suggested to him that he will send him an Arab doctor, one of his nation, who could talk to him Arabic. The Imam reluctantly accepted and when the doctor reached in his presence he was not so hospitable and told him that he will not be allowed to touch him, but examine him from a distance. Also any medicine inscribed the doctor should take it first, and the Imam will think of taking that medicine a day or two later. This was told to me by my Uncle Hashim Bay himself " I accepted his terms immediately, because on first look to his face I could diagnose his ailment, I noticed that the pupil of one of his eyes is larger than the other, which is a sign of warms in stomach, the needed medicine was a form of Laxative.". He presented him the medicine and took it in front of the Imam who the next day was confident that the medicine could be the real cure. Few days later the Imam got well, and was very grateful to the Arab doctor. The Imam's court became very hospitable and the doctor had several audiences with Imam who felt that Moslem brotherhood is stronger than any political affiliation. Fakhri Pacha asked him to make use of his stay and start talks as how to end this dispute. They finally agreed to a certain form of self-rule to Yemen where they become free to run their country, but accept the Khalifeh sovergnity, Ottoman currency, and be represented abroad through the Ottoman foreign affairs. Both parties adhered to the treaty and Yemen remained faithful even for several years after the collapse of the Ottoman rule.
My uncle remained in good terms with the Yemeni court with friendly correspondence every now and then. My father felt sometimes that he could have better chances in Yemen than in Jordan. He asked my uncle if he could give him a recommendation, the answer was that he is ready to give the strongest recommendation, but he doesn't feel that my father could stand the climate, so the idea was dismissed.
Suleiman who studied law was taken to the army and had his military training in Damascus. It was a rule that every Ottoman subject to be trained at the center of his original Wilayeh. The World War 1 took my father fresh after college to Suez Canal to fight the British, then to Chenaqqalah in the Dardanelles, then to the fight in Bulgaria and Rumania. His final job I know of was as head of recruitment office in Izmir "Shuibet Akhdh Askar". Where the war ended with Turkish retreat and Anatolia became subject to Greek, English and French attacks. He was forced to leave his house all of a sudden leaving everything and run for life in the mountains. He ended as one of the early Turkish military men looking for salvation and for getting some means of reconsolidating to resume fight against the occupying forces. Little by little they consolidated under the leadership of the two Caucasian Turkish brothers Adham Bay and Rasheed Bay. The gorilla fight against the Occupiers was so fierce and so brave, all Turkish fighters performed utmost chivalry and brave actions.
A side story on this period, my father when he headed the Izmir recruitment office had a drafted man who was very old with an appearance that calls for respect. That man was of an Armenian origin and he was an Artist, he was so gifted that he won the prize of designing the Islamic ornaments on the Turkish Lira. My father respected his age and his talent and didn't send him to the fronts. His name was Mardiros Heskalian. He kept him in his office to make tea and coffee. The man was very grateful and presented to my father a hand drawn picture of my father on a horse together with another companion on another horse behind him, and he dressed him in Arabic dress as a sign of his Arabic origin. It was such a magnificent present, which my father was very happy for. Then, when my father left his house in a hurry in Izmir and became a refugee for the first time. He wrote from the woods to a Christian friend from Hums living in Izmir to go to his house and take the tableau to keep it with him until things get settled. That friend whose name Abdul Meseeh Humsli rescued the tableau while the house was spoiled later.
The gorilla fight grew stronger and adopted the shape of real Islamic war of independence, my fathers name was coupled with liberation of some villages, yet at that time some new political forces that didn't couple so much with Islamic Jihad started to grow on the screen, and my father thought that he might end fighting some battles that are not his. The Islamic Khilafeh was no more. The Islamic way Of Jihad may not prevail for long and the real Turkish Islamic forces might clash against each other soon. So, he decided to quit the battle and join the new Hashemite Kingdom at Damascus. Syria made use of his education for some time in Damascus and then sent him as an attorney general at certain parts in western Syria near the Lebanese border. Troubles started between the new Kingdom and the Lebanese Christians who were supported by the French. There was a sudden attack on the Syrian offices at Raasheyya and he was again a refugee with no home for the second time. Events became more complicated and quickly led to the famous confrontation at Maisaloun 1920 where it ended with great Syrian defeat and the French occupation extended to Syria. As where to go after that, my father came to Jordan where Prince Abdullah, King's Faisal brother was forming an Arab government. They made him a headmaster of a school at Jerash, and then transferred him in 1935 to Amman. In Jerash he got married to my mother who was the headmistress of the girls' school. She was a Lebanese origin from a well-known family in Sayda, Lebanon. My mother Munifeh Bizri was the wife #5 as my father used to say. Before her Nefisah a Turkish lady with some Greek roots gave birth to my sister Nermin who joined us in Jerash at age 5. Before Nefisah there was a wife Thurayyah who stayed in Istanbul and was abandoned but not divorced. Someone told my father that she suicided but she didn't. She used to know my uncle Hashem Bey, and watched my father visiting Istanbul and asked him to resume marital life, this proposal didn't materialize. Before Thurayya there was another lady which I didn't know of. My mother Munifeh died in 1964. Another lady succeeded , named Yusra who joined us to live with us as my parents were living together with us before, Yusra was very kind to my kids and had lots of efforts to help Naila my wife to raise them, all of them. My father died in 1976 and Yusra remained with us till 1986 where she died while visiting her brother in Damascus.
The Bizri family was considered as our nearest relatives," by the way in my early life, I had no relatives in Jordan, neither from father side nor mother side". The Bizris in Sayda Lebanon were the nearest and strongest in their family relationships.
My late cousin Dr Nazih Bizri a prominent Physician and well known Lebanese leader who became a minister several times, and during the Israeli occupation remained in Sayda town representing the real national opposition to the occupation. In the year 2000 the Lebanese leaders in the government and outside it honored him in a big gathering where they described him as the Inspirer of the opposition in the south. He lived to see the Israeli forces abandon Lebanon after the brave beats of national forces. I went to Sayda to attend his Funeral late 2000.
Mr. Suleiman Attour was known in Jordan as one of the educators who worked hard on raising a new generation able to carry the torch of freedom for a better future, he remained in office until 1952 when he retired. He lived to see me his son an engineer who reached some high offices in the government of Jordan and saw my activities in establishing a new stronghold in Jordan. I am the first generation that was not drafted to the army and didn't fight in east Europe or against Russians or Crimea. Although the situation around Jordan was not by all means more peaceful, yet I didn't go to real combat war and didn't become a refugee or abandon my home. We still treasure the Izmir tableau in our house as a sign that what is authentic is what stays.
The Attour tribe around Lattakia grew so large in number that it divided into so many large families, like Qaddour, Tarboush, and many others I don't know of. Sheikh Ibrahim my grandfather was not assuming the Attour name. As in the Turkish community family names were not in use, so my uncle and my father never used a family name. Grandfather also was not Attour, most likely it was Qaddour, but people didn't care at that time for family name. When my grandfather returned from the Russian exile for 17 years, ( his brothers found that with no news from him for that long time he must have been killed in the war), which caused some misunderstanding with his brothers on heritage after the death of their father in his absence. He ended up without his share of the heritage. Later on he chose to abandon the branch family name to the original one "The Attour". Aunt Badrieh followed him to adopt the old name. My father also adopted the Attour name when he came to Jordan as it was needed to have a family name (as it is now), all descendents from Sheikh Ibrahim my grandfather were and are using the Attour name, except for my uncle Hashem Bey who was required to have a new Turkish name and he adopted the name of "Sirman".
One point I want to stress at this stage is that my father chose to leave Turkey and to come to live in the Arab countries, while my uncle Ahmed Hashem Bey decided to stay in new Turkey, the country where they were born, educated, worked and lived. This difference in attitude between my uncle and my father is a real example of the historic stand at the end of World War 1 where some Arabs chose to stay in one side of the new border while their brothers chose to be on the other side of the newly imposed border. The early Attours family by the beginning of the 20th century in Istanbul was among the few Arab families who looked for a bright future with the reign of the Ottoman Khailfeh. Yet, conditions always change. As with the advent of the Yeni Turan Ė the national Turkish movement- changes started in the main attitudes. The large international way of life Islam calls for was leaving way to narrow nationalistic Turkish ideology that started to create a breach between the Islamic nation Arabs and Turks. The new Yeni Turan doctrine was a late echo of the European movements of Besmark and Garibaldi. The Yeni Turan movement caused a split in the Moslem Ottoman Empire into two divergent movements, the Turkish nationality and the Arab nationality. The late Turkish rulers during the end of the Ottoman rule lost the brotherly feeling toward their Arab contemporaries, hence the strong Islamic ties between the two communities started to fade and Arab nationalists sought help in the European communities. Not a sign of betrayal to the long respected Ottoman Khilafeh, but a strong feeling that the Ottoman Khilafeh is not any more what it used to be all through their long historic ages. It was not a breach against the Islamic Ottoman rule but more as an objection to the new Turkish nationalist movements. This new Turan nationalistic movement grew to overthrow the Islamic rule and do the same as the new Arab movements did. Now less than a century after the breach, the two nations feel that they have to support each other. The more the two communities become free of foreign strings, the more they become closer to each other. It is hoped that one day they rejoin efforts in larger Islamic alliance that adds a new fragrance to existing conditions.
Composed (in English) by Sheik Ibrahimís son Suleimanís son Ibrahim and his daughter Rawan Attour in Amman, Jordan in January 2001, posted as is in Miami Beach, Florida (USA) by Sirman, Sheik Ibrahimís oldest son Hashim Sirmanís daughter Zekiyeís Celâyirís son. This essay was updated on Feb. 23, 2005.