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Introduction: Syria, Statuette of the God El, seated
Modern Syria is situated in Asia along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. Syria is an Arab Middle Eastern County that has a total area of 185,180 sq. km and 17.000.000 inhabitants (2000). Syria has a coastline of 180 km to the Mediterranean Sea and shares borders with, Lebanon to the West, Turkey to the North, Iraq to the East, and Jordan to the South. Syria, also shares borders with Palestine and Israel to the south west. This border is the main conflict of dispute between Syria and Israel. This area is known as the Golan Heights.

Syria gained full independence on April 17, 1946 ceding from French Colonialism Rule. Prior to French Occupation, Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire under Turkish Rule.


History:
Syria: An Ancient Pearl
Historically, Syria included Jordan, Israel and Lebanon as well as the area now known as Syria. Syria played an incomparable role in the history of mankind. It is often described as the Cradle of Civilizations, since many of the greatest human achievements that later spread to encompass the world had their beginnings in Ancient Syria, (which extends from Taurus Mountains to Sinai and from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates).

Beginning of civilization 9000BC:
This is where civilization began (9000BC). The development of agriculture in Syria meant settled communities. Tribes and peoples began to prefer agriculture to hunting and with the appearance of bronze and copper tools, agriculture developed quickly. Along with the development in agriculture came a development in trade, as urbanized communities began to engage in various economic activities. In this land, Man discovered the secrets of Agriculture and Metallurgy, and invented the very first alphabet. Religions, Philosophies, language of trade, systems of urban development, of diplomatic and cultural exchange; all these germinated in geographical Syria.

The Bronze Age (Ebla & Mari), 3000 - 2000BC:
Syria has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years and, as a result, has a rich cultural history. The Great Kingdoms of Ebla and Mari are the sites of where the invention of writing began. Found in both are tablets of Cuneiform writing (wedge shaped syllables), the royal archives have been a source of controversy due to its links with the Old Testament Ebla, as for Mari 17000 tablets were found. These kingdoms lasted about 1000 years due to their cultural development, their rising trade with both Mesopotamia (the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris) and the Mediterranean, and due to the irrigation of the Euphrates. Both of these kingdoms were taken over by the Akkadians from Mesopotamia and then by the Amorites at the end of this period. The Akkadians were the source of Semitic language that became the basis for the Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic languages.

Ugarit, first Alphabet 
The recovery of trade in this area took a while. Yamkhad the Amorite kingdom in Aleppo had taken over Ebla and trade began to gradually flourish. However Hammurabi ruler of Babylon, destroyed Mari (2000 - 1600BC).
The Hittites from Anatolia and the Egyptians (1600 - 1200BC) fought heavily for this land? but gradually the Hittites took over more and more of Syria, as Egypt was distracted due to religious havoc at home. This period also saw the rise of Ugarit where the oldest written alphabet in the world is believed to have been developed and then taken over to ancient Greece by the Mycenaeans. Ugarit and Byblos grew to become powerful commercial centres. This is also about the time(1600 - 1200BC) when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and settled in Palestine.

Hittites, Phoenicians, Arameans, Assyrian 1200 - 539BC:
The Sea Peoples, a barbaric people who came from several lands around the Aegean Sea, took over from the Hittites and Ugarit. At Ugarit, a message being sent before their arrival was found in the ruins. At the same time the Phoenicians were getting stronger and were establishing colonies around the Mediterranean. Later on the Arameans began to move across Syria to the North their language was spoken by Jesus nearly 1000 years later, and is now still spoken in the village of Maaloula.

In about 800 BC the Assyrian Empire rose to power and for nearly 2 centuries they administered Syria and Lebanon. In 612 BC it fell to Babylonia land of the famous hanging gardens, at its capital Nineveh.

In this period Persia conquered Babylonia and took over the Middle East. Their colonies and provinces were well defended, governed and administered, and were all linked through an efficient network of roads. Persia fell at the end of this period to the Greeks.

Alexander the Great 333 - 64BC:
The defeat of Darius by the great leader Alexander of Macedonia was the beginning of Western rule over Syria. The Hellenistic Empire combined both Western and Eastern cultures but with a predominantly Greek system and outlook. After Alexander's death, Greater Syria was divided into two empires one under Ptolemy, the other under Seleucus. Contemporary Syria was under the Seleucids. The Seleucids built Apamea as their Military base using Latakia as their main port. They also built the fortress of Doura Europos. All these cities were built under Greek architectural design and planning. At the end of this period came the Arab Nabateans from the south taking over Damascus and Bosra, while the Romans came from the north.

Romans and Zenobia 64BC-395AD:
Although the south was kept under Nabatean control, most of Syria was brought under control by the Romans and their leader Pompey. Under Rome, Syria's cultivation and civilization greatly developed and with the well organized new road network; trade was able to prosper greatly. It was around this time that the great empire of Palmyra flourished under the leadership of Queen Zenobia. She conquered most of Egypt and Asia Minor but was defeated by the Romans in 272AD.
Through out this time Christianity was spreading aggressively through the Empire. In 324AD Constantine the Great took over from Diocletian, and named Constantinople (Istanbul) as his capital. Under Constantine, a converted Christian, Christianity began to flourish under imperial patronage and the Emperor Theodosius I named Christianity the official language of the Roman Empire. This change of religion and the moving of the Roman capital from Rome to Constantinople were the beginning of a new empire

Byzantine Empire 395-632AD:
The Byzantine Empire, a mixture of Greek culture and Christianity began with the death of Theodosius, when Rome was divided between East and West. There are many ruins and dead cities in the North of Syria that reflect the strength and architectural genius of these Romans. Among the greatest is the Basilica of St Simeon the Stylite who stood atop a pillar to pray for 38 years. The Basilica was built around this pillar and it was a regular place for pilgrims. Justinian was by far the greatest of the Roman empires during this period, he won back a lot of the lost land of the former Roman empire and it was he who held off the Sassanians (from Persia) at Resafa and Halabiye. However in 632 the new Islamic faith fighters took over Syria from the Emperor Heraclius.

Islam: The Rashedeen Caliphate 632-661AD:
After the death of the prophet Muhammad, the Arab fighters began to spread Islam through battles and faith preaching. Under the Caliph Omar Bin Al Khattab, Syria was taken over form the Byzantines, in 636 the Muslims fought against the Byzantines in the battle of Yarmuk (on the river Yarmuk).

Umayyad Caliphate 661 - 750AD:
Muawiya former governor of Syria, fought with the Caliph Ali Bin Abi Talib along the Euphrates, and in 661 when Caliph Ali was assassinated he took over and made Damascus capital of the Umayyad territory. Damascus became the capital of a land extending from Spain in Andalusia to the Indus River in India. The Umayyads showed tolerance of the Christian faith and were very encouraging of education and the sciences. In 750AD Damascus was taken over by Abu Al Abbas who founded the Abbasid Dynasty in Baghdad,  and the Muslim world - and, indeed, the Christian one - seemed doomed, but the Mamluk General Baybars in that year defeated the massive army of Hulagu at the Battle of Goliath's Well, a victory which, in retrospect, must be seen as one of the world's most decisive military engagements.

Abbasids Caliphate  750 - 1199AD:
Syria, was neglected greatly under the Abbasid Dynasty, this is reflected by the lack of Abbasid architecture in Syria, which is only evident in Ar Raqqah. After the reign of Harun Al Rashid, the Fatimids in 978AD took over the South and Damascus, while Aleppo was ruled by the Hamdanids in the 10th and 11th Centuries. The Fatimids under the leadership of Caliph Hakim began to demolish churches in the Holy Land. This coupled with the appeal for help by the Byzantines against the Seljuks prompted the next phase of Syria the Crusades.

Crusaders and Ayyubids 1098 - 1250:
Arriving to Syria in 1098, under Raymond de Saint Gilles, Count of Toulouse, they took the route via the Orontes Valley (upper) then through Hama and Sheizar to the site that is now Krak Des Chevaliers near Homs. In December 1098 they massacred the Male population of Maarat Al Numan. When Edessa, a Latin enclave, fell to Zengi (a Muslim leader) a second crusade arrived from France and Germany. However they were unable to recapture Edessa and they couldn't capture Damascus either. This dampened European enthusiasm. Saladin, was very influential in the defeat of the Crusaders. He managed to recapture Jerusalem, Acre, Sidon, and Beirut all in 1187. He also had many battles against the leader of the third crusade, Richard the Lionheart.

Mamelukes 1250 - 1516:
This period was not very positive for the Syria and the Syrians. Eight years after the Burgi Mamelukes took power (from their capital in Cairo), saw the attack of the Mongols who destroyed everything in their way. Under Baybars the Mameluke commander, the Mongols were defeated and the Krak, Safita, and Latakia were all taken back from the Crusaders (1271 - 1289). In 1291 Tartus was taken back by his successor Sultan Khalil. 1302, when the Crusade garrison in Arwad was taken back, saw the end of the Crusader venture in the Middle East. A second group of Mamelukes, the Burgis, took power in 1382. It took decades of rivalries between them and their predecessors the Bahris before they took power. This undermined their defense and in 1400 Damascus was hit by its biggest attacker yet, Tamerlane. He destroyed most of Syria and with the rerouting of European trade around Africa, Syria's trade dropped.

Ottoman Empire 1516-1918:
In 1516 Sultan Selim I, who defeated the Mamelukes in North Aleppo, conquered Syria. He later went on to claim himself as the Caliph. It was under his successor Suleyman the magnificent, that the Tekkiye Mosque complex was built in Damascus. The Ottomans built many Khans in the souks of both Aleppo and Damascus. Damascus, which was the last stop for pilgrims bound towards Mecca, had many great Khans and souks built for this cause. Aleppo's great Khans on the other hand were built for the European Merchants after trade was opened up to Europe. Aleppo once again became the leading city of the Middle East for East-West trade. Under Ibrahim Pasha, the Son of Muhammad Ali, Damascus became the centralized government of Syria. Ibrahim Pasha captured Damascus in 1832 and founded schools, reorganized the judicial system, reformed the taxation policies and encouraged education. He also put the Christians and Jews on equal footing with the Muslims. During the First World War the Ottomans massacred between 1 and 2 Million Armenians, some in the Turkish run Belsen in Deir ez-Zor. T.E. Lawrence and the Arabs, who revolted against the Turks, arrived to Damascus led by the forces of Emir Feisal, son of Hussein, the Sherif of Mecca in 1918.

French Mandate:
In 1918 a parliamentary government was established in Damascus and in 1920 the Emir Feisal, was declared King of Syria. Syria at this point of time was geographically defined by the natural boundaries, beginning at the Taurus mountains in Turkey to Sinai in the South. The Arabs thought Syria would be a self-governing country, or so it was explained by the British. The secret Sykes-Picot agreement however would put a stop to this. This agreement which was set up in 1916 was put into action after the San Remo meeting. Syria was divided into 4 parts (Jordan, Israel and Lebanon as well as the area now known as Syria), and shared by Britain and France. Current day Syria and Lebanon went to the French, while Palestine and Jordan would go to the British. King Feisal was made King of Iraq.
Syria was then divided by the French into the separate provinces or states of Aleppo, Damascus, Latakia, and the Hauran. Aleppo was later brought into the state of Syria whose capital was Damascus. In 1925, the Druze population in the Hauran revolted and moved towards the capital, which prompted the heavy bombardment of Damascus by the French. In 1939 the state of Iskanderoun (Antioch) was given to the Turks in order to keep them neutral during the second world war. In 1942 Hauran and Latakia were incorporated into the Syrian state. In 1945 Syria gained independence and in 1946 the last of the French were seen.

Finally :
Syria was granted full independence in 1946. Three years later the country came under the first of a series of military dictatorships which have governed the country for most of the subsequent period. As in the rest of the Middle East, Arab nationalism became a major political force during the 1950s; indeed, the influence of Nasser's revolution in Egypt on the Syrians was so strong that, in 1958, Syria joined Egypt in forming the United Arab Republic. The alliance was short-lived, Syria seceding in 1961 to form the Syrian Arab Republic. The most powerful political force in Syria since then has been the Ba'ath Party (Arab Socialist Renaissance), which took control since 1963. 

 

Main References: SyriaGate, worldTravelGuide, Britannica & Columbia encyclopedias ....

 

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