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سوريا
Syria














Ancient Syria 10,000 BC - 531 BC | Persian Syria 531 BC - 333 BC | Hellenic Syria 333 BC - 64 BC | Roman Syria 64 BC - 638 | Arab Syria 638 - 1254 | Ottoman Syria 1517 - 1917 | Sykes-Picot's Syria 1917 - 1946 | Fake Independence 1946 - Present | Dreams of Independent Syria | Syria's Photo Album

Ancient Syria

Seleucus, the successor of Alexander the Great, was the first to give Assyria the name Syria, which remained in use until this day. To avoid confusion between Greater Syria and modern-day smaller Syria (1920 - present), we refer to the latter as Suria (also derived from the original Greek spelling: Συρία). Syria used to include today's Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine, Suria, in addition to Cyprus and parts of Iran, Turkey, and Egypt.

The Assyrian dynasty was the natural evolution of its predecessors: Sumer, Akkad, and Babylon. We say natural evolution because all those dynasties rose from within; different yet intertwined clans descending from the same Semitic melting pot, ruling over Syria since 4500 BC with frequently changing amoebic borders.

It's interesting to note that the name of the last independent Syrian dynasty, Chaldea (609 - 537 BC), did not stick. Upon the arrival of the Persians, the first foreign conquerors, Assyria was absorbed into the Persian empire and retained the name it was known among Persians for centuries. The name "Chaldean" survived only as the name of a people. (Abraham is recognized in the Bible as a Chaldean who had escaped to Canaan around 1900 BC).

Being the cradle of civilization, where farming was first discovered 12,000 years ago, scholars agree that the Syrians not only ignited the civilizations of their neighbors in Egypt, Persia, and Greece, but also invented writing and, consequently, recorded history. The epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest written scribe to date, was found in Syria.

Of all the Semitic languages developed and used in Syria throughout the Millenia, the language of the Aramaeans was the most wide-spread, primarily because it was alphabet-based, evolved from Aram's southern neighbor: Canaan. Aramaic hence became the lingua franca of all Syrians (Canaanites, Hittites, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Amorites, Israelites, et al.) from around 1000 BC till about 1500 AD, as it was later gradually replaced by its descendant: Arabic.

Read the detailed account of Ancient Syria here.
 

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Persian Syria

531 BC ~ 333 BC

The first Iranian warriors to occupy Syrian lands were the Medes. They had formed an alliance with the Chaldeans and toppled the weakening Assyrian empire around 610 BC. But just a few decades later the Persian Achaemenids, led by Cyrus the Great, absorbed all Assyrian fragments (including Chaldea and Media) into the first Persian empire around 531 BC. Cyrus gave the Syrians autonomus rule over their lands with Damascus as their capital city.

Cyrus's empire stretched as far as Egypt and Greece in the west and bordered China in the east. Its reign lasted until 333 BC, when the Macedonian army of Alexander the Great battled the Persians out of Syria.
 

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Hellenic Syria

333 BC ~ 64 BC

After Alexander the Great died, his empire broke into territories, each ruled by a different Hellenic general. The Syrian territory was ruled by Seleucus, who declared himself as the king of Syria and moved the capital city from Babylon to Seleucia (which he built in 307 BC, today known as al-Madaen المدائن). Then in 300 BC he built the great city of Antioch, named after his father, which became the new capital city.

It was Seleucus who gave Syria its modern name, and in its peak the Seleucid kingdom spread deep into today's Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and northern India. But the Persians managed to resurrect a new kingdom which retrieved the eastern part of Syria (Iraq) in 140 BC.

In 69 BC, the Seleucid kingdom came to an end with the advent of the Armenians who expanded their kingdom to include all of Syria. Their rule, however, only lasted for five years, after which the Romans conquered Armenia and Syria in 64 BC.
 

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Roman Syria

64 BC ~ 638 AD

Since the Romans arrived in Syria, their war with Persia never stopped for the following 700 years. Almost all of the ramming between those two empires took place in the heart of Syrian lands where proxy Syrian kingdoms were set up.

The Romans turned Syria into a province which remained influential in Roman history for its trade routes and resources. In fact, five of Rome's emperors hailed from Syria: Septimius Severus (Phoenician-Libyan 193-211 AD), Caracalla Severus (198-217 AD), Geta Severus (209-211 AD), Elagabalus (Homs 218-222 AD), Alexander Severus (Lebanon 222-235 AD), and Philip I (Shahba 244-249 AD) from southern Suria.

In 330 AD, Rome's caesar, Constantine the Great, moved the imperial palace from Rome to the city of Bezuntium, renaming it Nova Roma, or New Rome. It became the de facto capital city of the Roman empire, and was renamed again as Constantinople (the city of Constantine) in his honor. Western Rome was collapsing, while eastern Rome (which modern historians refer to as Bezuntium) was thriving.

In the early 600s, the Sassanid (Persian) empire vastly expanded its territories conquering all of Syria and Egypt, But Rome fought back after a few years and regained the lost territories. Neither of the two empires could have imagined that their collapse was about to come at the hands of obscure Arab warriors.
 

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Arab Syria

638 AD ~ 1254 AD

After 1200 years of foreign rule, Syria was finally liberated from Persian and Grecko-Roman dominance by the Arab armies of Khalid bin al-Waleed and Saad bin Abi Waqqas, under the command of the second caliph (successor) of prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Omar bin al-Khattab (579 - 644 AD). One city after another, Syria fell under Muslim rule - Anbar in 633, Damascus in 635, Homs in 636, Baalbak in 636, Basra in 636, Aleppo in 637, Jerusalem in 638, Kufa in 638, etc.

It's important to note here that the Muslim Arabs who had conquered Syria in early 7th century were not considered as foreign invaders but as liberators for the following reasons:

  • The Arabs of Hejaz, also called Arabs of the north (عرب الشمال), were the direct descendents of Nabataeans; the Syrian tribe that lived in southern Syria and built its capital city of Petra 312 BC.
  • The Nabataeans themselves are the descendents of Ishmael; son of Abraham the Chaldean, who was also the father of Isaac who was the father of Jacob (Israel).
  • Hence, the Arab tribes are Syrians who sprawled south into the deserts of Hejaz to conquer one of the most lucrative trade routes at the time, and Arabic language and script evolved from Nabataean which had evolved from Aramaic.
  • The Aramaic-speaking peoples of Syria at the time welcomed and aided the Arabs in freeing their lands from 1200 years of occupation and war.
  • When western Rome returned to Syria in the form of European Crusades in the 11th century, the great majority of Syrians (who were Christian at the time) converted to Islam wholesale as a way to pledge allegiance to the Muslim rulers in order to join the Muslim armies to defend their lands from pillage and confiscation.

In 661, Damascus became the capital city of the first Arab dynasty, the Umayyad dynasty (661 - 750 AD), which extended its territory from Middle Asia to Spain. Then in 750 AD a popular revolution from eastern Syria deposed the last Umayyad caliph and began the reign of the Abbasid dynasty (750 - 1254 AD) which chose Baghdad as its capital.

That was Syria's golden age (661 - 1254 AD), when it ruled over the world from its capitals of Damascus and Baghdad consecutively. It was the time of Salahuddin (1137 - 1193). It was a time when the books of philosophy, medicine, science, mathematics, and literature were translated from Greek, Latin, Hindi, and Farsi into Syriac (Aramaic), and then from Syriac into Arabic. When people from around the world sought knowledge and science they went to Baghdad, Aleppo, and Damascus to learn at their grand universities and visit their gigantic libraries, at a time when Europe was living in its dark ages of burning books and crucifying scientists. That was the age when Syria produced some of the world's greatest philosophers, physicists, chemists, engineers, architects, inventors, poets, physicians, historians, geographers, poets, and mathematicians. (For more details read about the Islamic Golden Age).
 

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Ottoman Syria

1517 AD ~ 1917 AD

In 1254, the Mongol invasion of the Muslim Empire and the sacking of Baghdad and Damascus was the final blow from which the Syrians never stood back up again. The Memlukes of Egypt (a Muslim army comprising of a mixture of former slaves from Europe, Africa, and Asia) defeated the Mongols and succeeded in pushing them out of western Syria. Their war with the waning Mongolian empire was interrupted when a new wave of Crusaders had arrived to the Mediterranean shores of Syria. The Mongols got a break and stayed in power in Iraq and Persia for another 100 years, during which the Mongols converted to Islam before their final defeat and expulsion at the hands of competingTurkic and Persian Muslim dynasties.

After a century of wars between rival non-Arab Muslim armies, one came out victorious in the late 1300s: the Ottomans. With their military superiority, the Ottoman Turks absorbed almost all Muslim lands, sprawling from Algeria in the west to Iran in the east and Yemen in the south, adding what they inherited from the Mongolian empire in eastern Europe, all the way to Vienna. Syria remained under Ottoman rule from 1517 to 1917.

Near the end of its reign, lands under Ottoman rule began to get carved out by western European colonial powers: Algeria and Tunisia to the French, Libya to the Italians, Egypt and Yemen and other Arab emirates on the Gulf to the English. Then with the beginning of World War I (1914), the Ottomans allied themselves with the Germans (naturally) against the French, English, and Russians - the three kingdoms that had been eating up the Ottoman empire since the late 1800s. The final dagger that finished off the Ottomans came from the Arab Revolt under British leadership.
 

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Sikes-Picot's Syria

1917 AD ~ 1946 AD

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1917 (by the end of World War I), Britain and her allies committed the most unforgettable betrayal in Syrian collective memory - Instead of allowing them to become independent as a reward for siding by the British, Syria was quickly divided into spoils of war to be shared among the British, the French, and the Zionists.

First Division

The first division plan was made on 16 May 1916 between Britain and France in an agreement known as Sykes-Picot. The original map divided Syria into areas "A" (for the French, shown in blue) and "B" (for the British, shown in red). Area "A" initially included Suria, Lebanon, and the northern half of Iraq, and area "B" included everything south of area "A," namely, the southern half of Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, and Palestine.

Before execution, the British amended the agreement by also taking the northern half of Iraq under their mandate, after having discovered oil reserves there.

France invaded northern Syria in July of 1918, in accordance with the agreement, and divided it into a federation of five states and other territories all under its rule. This part of Syria became known as the French Mandate of Syria.

Second Division

The British made another secret agreement, through its anti-Semitic foreign minister at the time, Arthur James Balfour, with the international Zionist organization in favor of establishing a sovereign state for Jews only in Palestine, something the Zionists have been aspiring for since the late 1800s. This agreement became known as the Balfour Declaration, or the Balfour Promise, in 1917.

To fulfill this promise, the British split its Mandate (area B) into two parts: the British Mandate of Iraq and the British Mandate of Palestine (shown in yellow).

Third Division

Given the difficulties on the ground due to incessant rebellion and protest from all Syrians, the British devised a new plan in March of 1921: the carving out of a "buffer zone" from the British Mandate of Palestine, to enable and protect the soon-to-be-born Jewish state. This buffer zone was to become an independent Arab state (shown in orange), given more sprawl into Iraq and Saudi Arabia, first called Transjordan (1921), and later as Jordan (1946). The remainder of the Palestine Mandate was to become Israel.

Fourth Division

The French-ruled federal states of Syria - Damascus, Aleppo, Lebanon, Souaida and Jebel Druze, Deir el-Zour, and the Alawite Territory - eventually reunited into the state of Suria, except Lebanon (shown in lime-green), which was given its independence in 1943, three years earlier than that of the rest of Suria. Lebanon remained independent even after the French had left for good.

Moreover, in 1938 Turkey and France collaborated in treaties to have Alexandretta (Antioch and Iskenderun, formerly parts of the vilayet/state of Aleppo) annexed to Turkey. For more details continue reading here.

Fifth Division

The British had already annexed Kuwait (shown in pink) - from the Ottoman vilayet of Basra - secretly in 1899, then officially through an agreement with the waning Ottoman empire in 1913. This annexation was to cut off Ottoman and German access to the Persian Gulf, since Germany was in the process of constructing the Berlin-Baghdad Railway.

Kuwait remained under British protection until it was declared independent in 1961, against the wishes of all Iraqi governments up until October of 1963, when the Baathist regime in Iraq finally recognized Kuwait's independence.

 

Some people wonder whether the people of divided Syria had ever identified themselves as one people and their Syria was one nation. Various polls taken at the time showed this to be the case. Perhaps this forgotten Syrian national anthem, sung throughout Syria up until 1946, can function as a reminder.

First Syrian National Anthem adopted in all Syrian colonies (pre 1946)

سوريا يا ذات المجدِ ... والعزة في ماضي العهدِ
O' Syria of Glory ... Exalted in past eras
إن كنت لنا أسمى مهدِ ... فثراكِ لنا أسمى لحدِ
If you were our most exalted cradle ... Your soil then is our most exalted grave
سندافع عنك من القلبِ ... فبِهِ قد جادَ دَمُ العُرُبِ
We shall defend you with all our hearts ... With which the Arab blood has been so generous
سوريا يا ذات المجدِ ... والعزة في ماضي العهدِ
O' Syria of Glory ... Exalted in past eras
إن كنت لنا أسمى مهدِ ... فثراك لنا أسمى لحدِ
If you were our most exalted cradle ... Your soil then is our most exalted grave
سندافع عنك من القلبِ ... فبِهِ قد جاد دم العُرُبِ
We shall defend you with all our hearts ... With which the Arab blood has been so generous
اسقينا ماء قد عَذُبَ ... إن كنتِ لنا أمّاً وأبا
Quench us with fresh water ... If you were to us a mother and father
اسقينا ماء قد عَذُبَ ... إن كنتِ لنا أمّاً وأبا
Quench us with fresh water ... If you were to us a mother and father
من يشرب ماءك لا يأبى ... موتاً إن كنتِ له سببا
Who drinks your water does not refuse ... death if you were its cause.
من يشرب ماءك لا يأبى ... موتاً إن كنتِ له سببا
Who drinks your water does not refuse ... death if you were its cause.
سندافع عنك من القلبِ ... فبِهِ قد جاد دم العُرُبِ
We shall defend you with all our hearts ... With which the Arab blood has been so generous


 

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Fake Independence

1946 ~ Present

During World War II, British and French armies were over-extended and weakened by war and global turmoil. They were no longer able to control their many colonies directly, especially in the face of incessant protests and rebellions. That's when the decision came to end direct colonial control and begin an era of post-colonial remote control of Syria and other colonies.

The French left Lebanon in 1943 and Syria in 1946, and the British left Iraq in 1932, Jordan in 1946, Palestine in 1948, and Kuwait in 1961, after securing nationalist puppet regimes there (just as the Americans did again in Iraq in 2011).

The formation of new ideologies and movements led to internal conflicts and civil wars, each protagonist accusing their antagonist of being a traitor to the country. The following is a list of the most prominent movements, what they accomplished, and what happened to them so far.
 

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Dreams of Real Independence

 

The Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP)
الحزب السوري القومي الإجتماعي

Founded in 1932 by Antoun Saadeh (أنطون سعادة), a Syrian philosopher and patriot who hails from Lebanon. He believed that Syria is one nation and that true independence cannot be achieved unless its fragmented post-colonial states are reunited. He based this belief on scientific and historical research, concluding that what makes a people a nation is not blood, lineage, culture, religion, race, or creed. Rather, what makes a people a nation is economic-geography. Meaning, what makes the Syrian people one nation is the reality of geographic proximity. There is no natural barrier between Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan on the one hand, and there is no natural barrier between Syria and Iraq and Kuwait on the other. These territories are occupied by people without physical interruption; without natural barriers like the Sinai desert, the mountains of Anatolia, or the Arabian desert. These, he believed, form Syria's natural borders. And since people are connected to each other on an economic basis, natural geographic barriers would sever economic connections between Syrians, Egyptians, Iranians, and Turks. The borders between the Syrian colonies, therefore, are fake because they are economically unsound. There is no reason why a line should be drawn between north of Palestine and south of Lebanon, or between the two banks of the Jordan river.

To achieve this reunification of Syria, Saadeh believed in four chronological objectives: Freedom, Duty, Organization, and Power:

  • First you must be free - free of ignorance, of colonial upbringing, of misunderstanding, of confusion, of wrong ideas.
  • Once your mind is free, you would realize that your welfare depends directly on the welfare of the people around you. When they prosper, so do you. This is when your free mind would lead you to realize your sense of duty towards your nation, because serving the nation would serve your own individual interests.
  • This sense of duty will lead you to seek other free-minded people who have come to the conclusions you have. And once you have found each other, you would naturally begin to think of ways to organize in order to augment the fruits of your service to the nation.
  • This organization, as it continues to grow exponentially, would lead to real power. And it is with this power that you can finally reunite Syria into one strong independent nation.

These four aims, together, are symbolized as the four blades of a tornado. This tornado is red, a symbol of true socialism. And as it spins, it spreads light into the vast darkness. This is what the party's flag and symbol stands for.

After many betrayals and sinister plots, Antoun Saadeh was captured and executed in 1949. The members of his party were persecuted for years, and internal strife tore the party to pieces, but the ideology lives on until this day. The remaining members and supporters of SSNP believe that Saadeh's vision of a reunited Syria is inevitable.

Nasserite-inspired Arab Unions
الحركات القومية الناصرية

The Free Officers of the Egyptian military dethroned the last king of Egypt in 1952, giving birth to the Arab Republic of Egypt. Under the leadership of Jamal Abdul-Nasser, the ideology of Arab nationalism was promoted with full force. Only six years later, Abdul-Nasser created the United Arab Republic (الجمهورية العربية المتحدة) comprising of two nations: Egypt and Suria. The fervor of Nasserism was spreading all over the Arab world. Leftist Arab revolutionaries (Marxists, Communists, Socialists) managed to topple more puppet regimes, in Iraq (1958), North Yemen (1962), South Yemen (1967), Libya (1969), Sudan (1970), not to mention several failed attempts in Jordan (1957-1970) and Oman (1965-1975).

But with the assassination of Abdul-Nasser in 1970, the fervor began to cool off. Abdul-Nasser's successor, Anwar al-Sadat, shifted Egypt's Soviet-sponsored "resistance" against remote-control colonialism into an American-sponsored "moderate" approach to politics that seeks stability (i.e. maintain the status quo of remote-control western hegemony). Right from the start, al-Sadat tried to retrieve the Israeli-occupied Sinai through peaceful negotiations. When that didn't work, he launched the 1973 war (simply known in Egypt as the October War), the only Arab war in which Israel's existence was genuinely threatened. It was then that Israel realized that its survival depends on a peace agreement with Egypt in which returning the Sinai was essential. And so in 1977 Sadat made his infamous trip to Tel Aviv to begin peace negotiations, the very event that hammered the last nail in Nasser's coffin.

Of course, the United Arab Republic fell apart in three years (1958-1961), confirming SSNP's prediction that unions between geographically separate nations cannot last. The second attempt was when al-Sadat formed the Federation of Arab States (اتحاد الجمهوريات العربية) in 1972 with Syria and Libya, to maintain autonomous rule. But that fell apart in 1977 when Sadat visited Tel Aviv in 1977. As for al-Sadat's replacement, Hosni Mubarak, he was even less like Nasser than al-Sadat was.

The older generation of Arabs will never forget Nasser and the Nasserite fervor. Upon his death in 1970, the entire Arab world was in mourning, where millions took to the streets to express their grief. They were not only mourning his death, but also the death of a dream.

Today there are many attempts to revive Nasserism, such as al-Wihdah party (حزب الوحدة) in Jordan. But in the wave of Islamism (1980's - Present), which Nasser had been openly opposed to, there is less hope.

The Arab Socialist Baath Party
حزب البعث العربي الإشتراكي

Two Surian college graduates, Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Bitar, returned to Suria in 1933 and began preaching their ideology about resurrecting Arab unity. They formed several student organizations and had a great following, but it was not until 1943 that they began to refer to themselves as the Arab Baath party (the word ba'ath means resurrection). On April 7, 1947 the party convened its first official conference in Damascus, in which the party declared Michel Aflaq as its chairman. Then in 1952 the Arab Baath Party merged with the Syrian Akram al-Horani's Arab Socialist Party, to finally become known as the Arab Socialist Baath Party.

The popularity of the party spread throughout the Arab world, more so in its base in Syria. They chose the Palestinian flag as their symbol because it was the first Arab flag and a symbol of Arab unity. In the late 1950s they were at the forefront of pushing for unity with Egypt, which came to fruition in 1958. The price that the Baath party had to pay for this union was to dissolve the party, at Nasser's request.

In 1961, however, a military coup in Syria brought the United Arab Republic to an end. The former leaders of the Baath re-established their party in 1962, and decided to take a more militant approach to achieving their goals.

On February 8, 1963, the Baath party in Iraq, with CIA assistance, toppled Abdul-Karim Qasim's regime through a military coup. Qasim's request for safe passage out of the country was denied and he was executed right after a mock trial transmitted through the radio. This event inspired the Baath party headquarters in Damascus to carry out their long-awaited military-coup, which finally took place on March 8, one month after the Iraqi coup.

Even though the Baath party remained nominally in power in both Damascus and Baghdad, disagreements intensified and in-house purges and murders were committed. Michel Aflaq, the founder of the party, was expelled in 1966. What remains of the party is nothing but empty slogans used to justify the leaders' hunger for power. The Baathists in both countries were also responsible for the massacres, kidnappings, and tortures of several hundreds of thousands of Surians, Iraqis, Lebanese, and Palestinians.

Conclusion

It seems as though all Syrian parties start off with a genuine desire to liberate and unite Syria's post-colonial states, but end up losing focus of their mission, either because they get infiltrated by foreign powers who then take over the party from within, or because their greed for money and power surpasses their ideology. And those few men and women who cannot be corrupted get assassinated, disappeared, or marginalized along the way.

It's not over yet.
 

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Syria's Photo Album

Petra - Jordan

Dome of the Rock - Palestine

Jeita Grotto Cave - Lebanon

Ishtar Gate - Iraq

Oday Baddar



Phoenicians
Canaanites


Arab Flags


Khalil Gibran


Mikhail Nu'aymeh


Al-Kawakibi


Kanafani


Naji al-Ali