Sanjak of Alexandretta (1938)
LOCATION: Political territory in northern Syria, bordering on the Mediterranean Sea
AREA: Approx. 10,000 sq. mi.
Population: 220,000 (est. 1936)
GOVERNMENT: French mandate
FIRST STAMPS: Syria, 1918
FIRST STAMPS ISSUED: 16 April 1938
LAST STAMPS ISSUED: 10 November 1938
100 centimes = 1 piastre
Alexandretta was founded in 333 BC by Alexander the Great as the key to the Syrian Gates (Belen Pass) and was originally located about 23 miles (37 km) south of the scene of his victory at the Battle of Issus. Alexander camped in the highlands around Esentepe and then ordered the city to be established and named Alexandria (Αλεξάνδρεια), one of many cities founded on his orders. Starting in the Middle Ages, Western pilgrims used the diminutive Romance form, Alexandretta.
After the Muslim conquest of Syria in the first half of the seventh century, the city was named al-ʼIskandarūn (الإسكندرون), the Arabic rendering of “Alexandrou”; this was later written as İskenderūn (إسكندرون) in Ottoman Turkish. The Ottoman Sultan Selim I conquered Syria in 1516 after defeating the Mamlukes at the Battle of Marj Dabiq near Aleppo in northern Syria. The area was still a scene of fighting under the Ottomans. It was at Alexandretta that the army of general Kuyucu Murat Pasha suppressed the rural uprising of Celali Canbulatoğlu in 1606. The Ottomans continued to fortify the city and the remains of early 17th-century Ottoman castle walls can still be seen.
Alexandretta grew as the main outlet for overland trade from Baghdad and India during the later Ottoman period. It had great importance until the Egyptian overland route was established. It was first a base for Genoese and Venetian merchants, then merchants from northern and western Europe. The British Levant Company maintained an agency and factory in Iskenderun for 200 years, until 1825. The port grew during the nineteenth century and the railway was built in 1912.
Lord Kitchener considered the conquest of Alexandretta to be essential in providing Britain with a port and railhead from which to access Iraq at the beginning of World War I. He proposed a railway to run from Alexandretta to India but this was later turned down in preference of Haifa.
The Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of World War I and the Sanjak of Alexandretta, formerly part of the Aleppo province, was occupied by French troops starting in 1918. The French-Turkish treaty of 20 October 1921 granted autonomy to the sanjak (a Turkish word meaning “district”) which stated that “Turkish inhabitants of this district shall enjoy facility for their cultural development. The Turkish language shall have official recognition.” In 1923 Alexandretta was attached to the State of Aleppo, and in 1925 it was directly attached to the League of Nations French Mandate of Syria and the Lebanon, still with special administrative status.
Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk refused to accept the Sanjak of Alexandretta to be part of the mandate and Turkish politics aimed at incorporating the district. Local Turks initiated reforms in the style of Atatürk’s, formed various organizations and institutions in order to promote the idea of union with Turkey. In 1936, the elections returned two Syrian MPs who favored the independence of Syria from France in the sanjak, prompting communal riots and passionate articles in the Turkish and Syrian press. In response, Atatürk government coined the name Hatay for the Sanjak of Alexandretta
The sanjak was given autonomy in November 1937 in an arrangement brokered by the League of Nations. Under its new statute, the district became ‘distinct but not separated’ from the French mandate of Syria on the diplomatic level, linked to both France and Turkey for defense matters.
In early 1938, Syrian stamps of 1930-1936 were overprinted or surcharged for use in Alexandretta. The first of these were released on 14 April 1938 – nine general issue stamps, eight for airmail and six to collect postage due. Three additional general issue values were released on 2 September and the final set of five appeared on 10 November, overprinted with a black border to mark Atatürk’s death. This came after the 2 September 1938 proclamation of the Republic of Hatay which lasted for just one year under joint French and Turkish military supervision. The state was transformed de jure into the Hatay Province on 7 July 1939, and joined Turkey de facto on 23 July. The stamps of Alexandretta were superseded by those of Hatay when the first issued inscribed with that name were released in early 1939. I’ll deal with those in a future edition of “The Stamp Issuers.”
I have two stamps from the Sanjak of Alexandretta in my collection – a used copy of Scott #7, the 4-piastre yellow orange, and Scott #J1, the 50-centime Postage Due stamp in brown on yellow paper. Both feature the overprint in black; J1 also exists with a red overprint. Most Alexandretta stamps are catalogued between US $2 and $9 in my 2009 Scott catalogue forboth mint and used with quite a premium for never hinged copies. Scott #9 is is listed at $15, Scott #12 at $12, #C8 is $13 and #J6 is $12. However, the set of five Atatürk memorial stamps is valued at $175 unused or $350 mint never hinged.