Syria is depicted internationally as a pariah state. This is as a result of its support of terrorism. The country has also gone to war with Israel on a number of occasions. The United States has argued that Syria has been a supporter of Hizbollah and Palestinian militants. The country has also interfered with peace in Lebanon and encouraged militants in Iraq. This shows it is not in support of regional peace and stability.
Throughout history, Syria has always been a place of interest. Syria got the title of the ‘fertile crescent’ due to its agricultural development and irrigation. It became a transit country for neighbouring East and West rulers, who crossed it pursuit for wealth. The transit enabled people from different cultures to leave some effects on Syria. This included the Aremaeneans, followed by the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, Persians, and finally the Greek and Roman rulers.
The Syrian borders were not clearly defined in the ancient time. However, the region was centered upon the cities of Damascus and Aleppo, which remain the largest and prominent cities in Syria to date. The two cities have shared the seat of power, with either dominating on various occasions. This has led to encroachment of Syria, reducing the country to areas immediately surrounding the two cities. However, Syria has always extended its territory towards the coastal plains to the west. The extension is centered on the port of Latakia, going east to the Euphrates River and beyond, and south to the Hawran Plateau.
The recorded history of Syria begins in the Early Iron Age. The region had a high population and ruled by several ancient kingdoms. This included Phoenicians to the west of Syria, the Assyrians to the east of Syria, the Hittites to the north, and the Egyptians. Furthermore, Syria made contacts with ancient kingdom of Israel and other realms that lay to the south. It is at this time that marked the emergence of the Arameans.
It is thought that the Arameans were the original native tribe of Syria. Much of it is attributed to their capturing of Damascus, making it their capital. Damascus then became a significant city. The Arameans started as a small kingdom south of Syria. It went on to capture the present day Lebanon to the south and present day Israel to the north. The kingdom expanded further north to Aleppo and eastwards to the Euphrates. The expanded kingdom was known as Aram, meaning the land of the Arameans, and occupied the present day Syria.
The Arameans was a weak civilization as it was conquered repeatedly by neighbouring empires. They were influenced easily as they were never a united kingdom. There existed loose confederation of tribes and city states. Neo Assyrian Empire was able to end the fragile independent states of the Aramean civilization in c. 900 BC. It is fascinating to note that this subjugation worked in favour of the Arameans who left a lasting legacy upon the entire region. A larger portion of Arameans migrated during the reign of Neo Assyrians to Babylonia and the Assyrian heartland. This led to the spread of the Aramaic language throughout the Empire. The spread displaced other languages like Phoenician and Hebrew. Hebrew, which was considered the language of the Jews, remained relevant in ritual and scriptural matters.
Aramaic is still used in the modern world but is endangered. The language’s roots in ancient Aram are attested to the native speakers of Aramaic who stay in villages, in the Syrian mountains near Damascus.
Assyrians conquered Syria in c. 900 BC and ruled for 1500 years. The Babylonians overshadowed Assyrians towards the end of the 7th century BC and conquered Syria by c. 600 BC. The Babylonians were in turn overthrown by the Persian Empire by c. 500 BC. Alexander the Great conquered Syria in c. 330 BC and built a new capital, Antioch. This shifted the seat of power to the north away from Damascus. The Greek established Aleppo and imposed their language and religion. However, they could not replace the old religious worship and the Aramaic language. The Armenian kingdom, which conquered Syria in 83 BC, was overthrown by the Romans in 64 BC marking the beginning of more than 300 years under Imperial Rome.
Antioch became a powerful city enjoying certain level of autonomy. Syria was now influenced by Imperial language and religion. However, the influence never engulfed Syria. Syria played a key role in the early development of Christianity, with Antioch becoming the home of the first Christian church.
Muslim in Syria
Muslims of Arabia conquered Syria in 636 AD making Damascus the capital of the Islamic world. This marked the return of Semitic rule and the beginning of Syria’s Golden Age. Under the Ummayad dynasty, new language and religion was successfully imposed to almost the entire population. This made Syria an Arab-speaking and Islamic place it is today. The Abbasid dynasty ended the Golden Age in 750 AD shifting the capital to Baghdad. Syria was then conquered and divided many times through the medieval times.
400 years of Ottoman rule ended in October, 1918 after the capture of Damascus by Arab troops led by Emir Faisal. They were assisted by the Allies during the WWI. However, the Allies turned against the newly created Arab kingdom. France attacked the kingdom ending the brief Syrian independence in 1920. The kingdom was split into two; with Palestine under British control and Syria-Lebanon under a French mandate. King Faisal fled abroad after French forces occupied Damascus.
During the French Mandate, some regions were allowed to fall into the territory of neighbouring states. Hatay became an independent state in1938 and joined Turkey as a province the following year. The region is home to Antioch, which was Syrian capital for nearly 1,000 years, and continues to affect Syrian-Turkish relations. Syria remained under French rule until 1946 when all the troops left for good.
Syria experienced numerous government changes in the 1950s. The country formed United Arab Republic with Egypt, but the union did not last. After the union’s collapse in 1961, Syria became known as the Syrian Arab Republic. The Baath party took over the country’s rule in 1963 and has remained the ruling force to this day. Hafez al-Assad, then a Defense Minister, orchestrated a coup in1970. He remained in power as president until his death in 2000. His second son, Bashar al-Assad, succeeded him and is still the president.
The Assad family belongs to the Alawite minority. For years the Assad family has been in power, the Alawites have risen to occupy most of the government top positions. This includes police force and military. The government has consistently showed favoritism towards minority groups especially the Alawites and the Druze. The government has also discriminated against Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority. The discrimination has extended to larger minority groups like the Kurds. The discrimination created bitterness, which may have led to the current civil war.
Currently, Syria is still influenced by other world powers while it also exerts its own influence to the neighbouring nations. Russia has been Syria’s strong ally for much of its independent history. Syria was on USSR’s side during the global cold war during the Soviet years. Majority of Syrian arms is of Soviet origin. Syria is also a close friend of Iran. Most nations consider Syria as Iran’s closest ally. During the Iran’s Islamic revolution in the 1980s, Syria backed Iran in the Iraq-Iran War. This marked the beginning of the friendship. During the recent crisis, Iran has remained a strong supporter of Syria, claiming that the conflict is artificially exacerbated by the United States. However, it is notable that both Syria and Iran are isolated. This is because other Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, have condemned the regime.
On account of exerting influence to the neighbouring nations, Syria has continued sponsoring Hezbollah and its operation in Lebanon. There are two main reasons why Syria supports Hezbollah: firstly, Syria wants to maintain a strong presence in Lebanon by influencing power-plays and domestic politics; and secondly, it is part of ongoing conflict with Israel.
After the attack on Israel by five Arab states in 1948, Syria remains the only nation that is still to sign a peace treaty with the State of Israel. Israel took control of the Golan Heights from Syria after Six-Day War in 1967 and is still in control of the highly disputed territory. Israeli and Syrian rule have alternated the ownership of the Golan Heights, with the conflict stretching way back during the Israelite-Aramean disputes. However, the international community recognizes the area as sovereign Syrian Territory.
The country has experienced protests that have culminated to civil war. The Muslim majority want a change of regime. Many people have been killed in the process, and many more have fled the country. The government has been unable to quell the pro-democracy protests. According to the BBC News, the Arab League voted to suspend Syria for failing to implement peace plan in 2011. UN attempts to bring peace in the region has not succeeded, and the violence has continued.