Syria

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Syrian Arab Republic
الجمهورية العربية السورية
Al-Jumhūriyyah al-ʿArabiyyah as-Sūriyyah
Flag Coat of arms
AnthemHomat el Diyar
Guardians of the Land

Capital Damascus
33°30′N 36°18′E / 33.5°N 36.3°E / 33.5; 36.3
Largest city Aleppo[1]
Official language(s) Arabic1
Demonym Syrian
Government Secular single-party state
 -  President Bashar al-Assad
 -  Prime Minister Adel Safar
Independence
 -  From France 17 April 1946 
Area
 -  Total 185,180 km2 (88th)
71,479 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.1
Population
 -  2011 estimate 22,457,763[2] (53rd)
 -  Density 118.3/km2 (101st)
306.5/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $105.238 billion[3] 
 -  Per capita $5,043[3] 
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $60.210 billion[3] 
 -  Per capita $2,958[3] 
HDI (2010) increase 0.712 (medium
Currency Syrian pound (SYP)
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
 -  Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Drives on the Right
Internet TLD .sy, سوريا.
Calling code 9632
1 Arabic is the official language; spoken languages and varieties are: Syrian Arabic, North Mesopotamian Arabic, Kurmanji Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian, Turkish[4]
2 02 from Lebanon

Syria (/ˈsɪriə/  ( listen) si-ree-ə; Arabic: سوريةSūriyya or سوريا Sūryā; Syriac: ܣܘܪܝܐ; Kurdish: Sûrî), officially the Syrian Arab Republic (Arabic: الجمهورية العربية السوريةAl-Jumhūriyyah al-ʿArabiyyah as-Sūriyyah About this sound Arabic pronunciation ), is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest.

The name Syria formerly comprised the entire region of the Levant, while the modern state encompasses the site of several ancient kingdoms and empires, including the Eblan civilization of the third millennium BC. In the Islamic era, its capital city, Damascus, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world,[5] was the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt.

The population of Syria is 74% Sunni Muslim, with a 13% Shia and Alawite Muslim population, 10% Christian and 3% Druze. Since the 1960s, Alawite military officers have tended to dominate the country's politics. Some 90% of the population is Muslim, which includes Arabs, Kurds, Circassians, and others, while some 10% are Christians, which includes Arabs, Assyrians/Syriacs, and Armenians. Ethnic minorities include Kurdish, Assyrian/Syriac, Armenian, Turkmen, and Circassian populations.[6]

The modern Syrian state was established as a French mandate and attained independence in April 1946, as a parliamentary republic. The post-independence period was tumultuous, and a large number of military coups and coup attempts shook the country in the period 1949-1970. Syria was under Emergency Law from 1962–2011, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens, and its system of government is considered non-democratic.[7] Bashar al-Assad is the current president, and is preceded by his father Hafez al-Assad, who was in office since 1971.[8]

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[edit] Etymology

The name Syria is derived from the ancient Greek name for Syrians: Σύριοι, Sýrioi, or Σύροι, Sýroi, which the Greeks applied without distinction to the Assyrians.[9][10] A number of modern scholars argued that the Greek word related to the cognate Ἀσσυρία, Assyria, ultimately derived from the Akkadian Aššur.[11] Others believed that it was derived from Siryon, the name that the Sidonians gave to Mount Hermon.[12] However, the discovery of the Çineköy inscription in 2000 seems to support the theory that the term Syria does indeed derive from Assyria.

The area designated by the word has changed over time. Classically, Syria lies at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, between Egypt and Arabia to the south and Cilicia to the north, stretching inland to include Mesopotamia, and having an uncertain border to the northeast that Pliny the Elder describes as including, from west to east, Commagene, Sophene, and Adiabene.[13]

By Pliny's time, however, this larger Syria had been divided into a number of provinces under the Roman Empire (but politically independent from each other): Judaea, later renamed Palaestina in AD 135 (the region corresponding to modern day Israel and Jordan) in the extreme southwest, Phoenicia corresponding to Lebanon, with Damascena to the inland side of Phoenicia, Coele-Syria (or "Hollow Syria") south of the Eleutheris river, and Mesopotamia.[14]

[edit] History

Female figurine, Syria, 5000 BC. Ancient Orient Museum.

Since approximately 10,000 BC Syria was one of centers of Neolithic culture (PPNA) where agriculture and cattle breeding appeared for the first time in the world. The following Neolithic period (PPNB) is represented by rectangular houses of Mureybet culture. At the time of the pre-pottery Neolithic people used vessels made of stone, gyps and burnt lime (Vaiselles blanches). Finds of obsidian tools from Anatolia are evidences of early trade relations. Cities of Hamoukar and Emar played an important role during the late Neolithic and Bronze Age.

Archaeologists have demonstrated that civilization in Syria was one of the most ancient on earth. Around the excavated city of Ebla in northern Syria, an Italian mission led by Prof. Paolo Matthiae discovered in 1975, a great Semitic empire spread from the Red Sea north to Turkey and east to Mesopotamia from 2500 to 2400 BC Ebla appears to have been founded around 3000 BC and gradually built its empire through trade with the cities of Sumer and Akkad, as well as with peoples to the northwest. Gifts from Pharaoh found during excavations confirm Ebla's contact with Egypt. Scholars believe the language of Ebla to be among the oldest known written Semitic languages. The Eblan civilization was likely conquered by Sargon of Akkad around 2260 BC; the city was restored as the nation of the Amorites a few centuries later and flourished through the early second millennium BC until conquered by the Hittites.

During the second millennium BC, Syria was occupied successively by Canaanites(Phoenicians) and Arameans as part of the general disruptions associated with the Sea Peoples; the Phoenicians settled along the coastline of these areas as well as in the west (Now Lebanon and the current Syrian coast), in the area already known for its cedars. Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Hittites variously occupied the strategic ground of Syria during this period, as it was a marchland between their various empires. Eventually the Persians took control of Syria as part of their general control of Southwest Asia; this control transferred to the Greeks after Alexander the Great's conquests and thence to the Romans and the Byzantines.

In 83 BC Syria fell under the rule of Tigranes the Great; the King of Armenia. The Armenians maintained a rule of 13 years over Syria, which was finally turned into a Roman Province in 64 BC.

[edit] Ebla civilization

Clay tablet from Ebla's archive

Around the excavated city of Ebla near Idlib city in northern Syria, discovered in 1975, a great Semitic empire spread from the Red Sea north to Turkey and east to Mesopotamia from 2500 to 2400 BC. Ebla appears to have been founded around 3000 BC, and gradually built its empire through trade with the cities of Sumer and Akkad, as well as with peoples to the northwest.[15] Gifts from Pharaohs, found during excavations, confirm Ebla's contact with Egypt. Scholars believe the language of Ebla to be among the oldest known written Semitic languages, designated as Paleo-Canaanite.[15]

However, more recent classifications of the Eblaite language has shown that it was an East Semitic language, closely related to the Akkadian language.[16] The Eblan civilization was likely conquered by Sargon of Akkad around 2260 BC; the city was restored, as the nation of the Amorites, a few centuries later, and flourished through the early second millennium BC until conquered by the Hittites.[17]

[edit] Antiquity and early Christian era

Philippus Araps, Roman Emperor.

During the second millennium BC, Syria was occupied successively by Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Arameans as part of the general disruptions and exchanges associated with the Sea Peoples. The Phoenicians settled along the coast of Northern Canaan (Lebanon), which was already known for its towering cedars. Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Hittites variously occupied the strategic ground of Syria during this period; the land between their various empires being marsh.[15]

Eventually, the Persians took Syria as part of their hegemony of Southwest Asia; this dominion was transferred to the Ancient Macedonians after Alexander the Great's conquests and the Seleucid Empire. The capital of this Empire (founded in 312 BC) was situated at Antioch, modern day Antakya just inside the Turkish border. But the Seleucid Empire was essentially just one long slow period of decline, and Pompey the Great captured Antioch in 64 BC, turning Syria into a Roman province. Thus control of this region passed to the Romans and then the Byzantines.[15]

In the Roman Empire period, the city of Antioch was the third largest city in the empire after Rome and Alexandria. With an estimated population of 500,000 at its peak, Antioch was one of the major centers of trade and industry in the ancient world. The population of Syria during the heyday of the empire was probably not exceeded again until the 19th century. Syria's large and prosperous population made Syria one of the most important of the Roman provinces, particularly during the 2nd and 3rd centuries (AD).[18]

The Roman Emperor Alexander Severus, who was emperor from 222 to 235, was Syrian. His cousin Elagabalus, who was emperor from 218 to 222, was also Syrian and his family held hereditary rights to the high priesthood of the sun god El-Gabal at Emesa (modern Homs) in Syria. Another Roman emperor who was a Syrian was Philip the Arab (Marcus Julius Philippus), emperor from 244 to 249.[18]

Syria is significant in the history of Christianity; Saul of Tarsus was converted on the Road to Damascus, thereafter being known as the Apostle Paul, and emerged as a significant figure in the first organized Christian Church at Antioch in ancient Syria, from which he left on many of his missionary journeys. (Acts 9:1-43 )

The famous desert city of Palmyra, whose ruins are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, grew large in the Syrian desert in the 1st and 2nd centuries (A.D.).

[edit] Islamic era

Church of Saint Simeon Stylites is considered to be one of the oldest remaining churches in the world.

By AD 640, Syria was conquered by the Rashidun army led by Khalid ibn al-Walid, resulting in the area's becoming part of the Islamic empire. In the mid-7th century, the Umayyad dynasty, then rulers of the empire, placed the capital of the empire in Damascus. Syria was divided into four districts: Damascus, Homs, Palestine and Jordan. The Islamic empire stretched from Spain and Morocco to India and parts of Central Asia; thus Syria prospered economically, being the capital of the empire. Early Ummayad rulers such as Abd al-Malik and Al-Walid I constructed several splendid palaces and mosques throughout Syria, particularly in Damascus, Aleppo and Homs.

There was great toleration of Christians in this era and several held governmental posts. The country's power dramatically declined during later Ummayad rule; mainly due to the totalitarianism and corruption spread among the empire's leaderships, conflict between its general staff, and the successive revolutions by the oppressed and miserable groups. As one Ummayad chieftain responded to a question about the reasons of the decline of their empire: "Rather visiting what needed to be visited, we were more interested in the pleasure and enjoyment of life; we oppressed our people until they gave up and sought relief from us, [...] we trusted our ministers who favoured their own interests and kept secrets from us, and we unhurriedly rewarded our soldiers that we lost their obedience to our enemies."[citation needed]

Ummayad dynasty was then overthrown by the Abbasid dynasty in 750, who moved the capital of empire to Baghdad. Arabic — made official under Ummayad rule — became the dominant language, replacing Greek and Aramaic in the Abbasid era. In 887, the Egypt-based Tulunids annexed Syria from the Abbasids, and were later replaced by the Hamdanids originating in Aleppo founded by Sayf al-Dawla.[19]

Sections of the coastline of Syria were briefly held by Frankish overlords during the Crusades of the 12th century, and were known as the Crusader state of the Principality of Antioch. The area was also threatened by Shi'a extremists known as Assassins (Hashshashin). In 1260, the Mongols arrived, led by Hulegu with an army 100,000 strong, destroying cities and irrigation works. Aleppo fell in January 1260, and Damascus in March, but then Hulegu needed to break off his attack to return to China to deal with a succession dispute.

The command of the remaining Mongol troops was placed under Kitbuqa, a Christian Mongol. A few months later, the Mamluks arrived with an army from Egypt, and defeated the Mongols in the Battle of Ain Jalut, in Galilee. The Mamluk leader, Baibars, made his capitals in Cairo and Damascus, linked by a mail service that traveled by both horses and carrier pigeons. When Baibars died, his successor was overthrown, and power was taken by a Turk named Qalawun. In the meantime, an emir named Sunqur al-Ashqar had tried to declare himself ruler of Damascus, but he was defeated by Qalawun on 21 June 1280, and fled to northern Syria.

Citadel of Aleppo is considered to be one of the oldest and largest castles in the world.

Al-Ashqar, who had married a Mongol woman, appealed for help from the Mongols, and in 1281, they arrived with an army of 50,000 Mongols, and 30,000 Armenian, Georgian, and Turkish auxiliaries, along with Al-Ashqar's rebel force. The Mongols of the Ilkhanate took the city, but Qalawun arrived with a Mamluk force, persuaded Al-Ashqar to switch sides and join him, and they fought against the Mongols on 29 October 1281, in the Second Battle of Homs, a close battle that resulted in the death of the majority of the combatants but was finally won by the Mamluks.[20]

In 1400, Timur Lenk, or Tamerlane, invaded Syria, sacked Aleppo and captured Damascus after defeating the Mamluk army. The city's inhabitants were massacred, except for the artisans, who were deported to Samarkand.[21][22] It was during the conquests of Timur that the indigenous Christian population of Syria began to suffer under greater persecutions.

By the end of the 15th century, the discovery of a sea route from Europe to the Far East ended the need for an overland trade route through Syria. Shattered by the Mongols, Syria was easily absorbed into the Ottoman Empire from the 16th through 20th centuries, and found itself largely apart from, and ignored by, world affairs. see also Ottoman Syria

[edit] Ottoman era

Two allied diplomats (Frenchman François Georges-Picot and Briton Mark Sykes) secretly agreed, long before the end of the war, how to split the Ottoman Empire into several zones of influence. With the end of World War I and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire as an ally of Germany, plans by the Entente powers to dissolve this Ottoman territory could then begin.

German troops in Aleppo, summer of 1917.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 set the fate of modern Southwest Asia for the coming century; providing France with the northern zone (Syria, with later the upcoming Lebanon), and the United Kingdom with the southern one (Iraq and later, after renegotiations in 1917, Palestine (then still including Jordan) - 'to secure daily transportation of troops from Haifa to Baghdad' - agreement n° 7).

The two territories were separated by only a straight border line from Jordan to Iran. But early discoveries of oil in the region of Mosul just before the end of the war led to yet another negotiation with France in 1918 to cede this region to 'Zone B', or the British zone of influence. The borders between the 'Zone A' and 'Zone B' have not changed from 1918 to this date. Since 1920, the two sides have been recognized internationally under mandate of the League of Nations by the two dominant countries: France and the United Kingdom.[23]

[edit] French Mandate

The States of the French Mandate

In 1920, an independent Arab Kingdom of Syria was established under Faisal I of the Hashemite family, who later became the King of Iraq. However, his rule over Syria ended after only a few months, following the clash between his Syrian Arab forces and regular French forces at the Battle of Maysalun. French troops occupied Syria later that year after the San Remo conference proposed that the League of Nations put Syria under a French mandate.[24]

In 1925, Sultan al-Atrash led a revolt that broke out in the Druze Mountain and spread to engulf the whole of Syria and parts of Lebanon. This is considered one of the most important revolutions against the French mandate, as it encompassed the whole of Syria and witnessed fierce battles between rebel and French forces.

On August 23, 1925, Sultan Pasha al-Atrash officially declared revolution against France, and soon fighting erupted in Damascus, Homs and Hama. Al-Atrash won several battles against the French at the beginning of revolution, notably the Battle of Al-Kabir on July 21, 1925, the Battle of Al-Mazra'a on August 2, 1925, and the battles of Salkhad, Almsifarh and Suwayda.

The inauguration of President Hashim al-Atassi in 1936.

After rebel victories against the French, France sent thousands of troops to Syria and Lebanon from Morocco and Senegal, equipped with modern weapons; the rebels were lightly armed. This dramatically altered the results and allowed the French to regain many cities, although resistance lasted until the spring of 1927. The French sentenced Sultan al-Atrash to death, but he had escaped wit