A look at one of the most ancient civilizations on planet Earth.
| The Middle East is a diverse region with a complex array of politics, religion, culture, and a unique, far-reaching history. In this tumult of cities and people there is a country called Syria. It is host to an incredible kaleidoscope of culture, with a history and location that has entranced millions over the ages.
Syria has an impressive history that has played a major role in its present day culture. Syria has been around for a long time, although it has been torn apart, conquered, fought for, fought against, and undergone numerous other transformations. Archeologists recently discovered a city named Elba. This city has been proclaimed as one of the oldest on earth. It was located in what was considered modern Syria. This land is dry and hot with miles of arid desert plateaus. The winters are very mild, although there is occasional snowfall as a consequence of the high elevations. One possible reason that so many flocked to Elba in ancient times was the presence of the Euphrates River. From this point of origin flowed many cultures and cities which eventually led to the formation of the powerful city Antioch, one of the most powerful cities of this ancient geographical region. When this city was captured by the Arabs, the land of Syria became part of the Ottoman Empire. During World War I, the Ottoman Empire was defeated. This was largely a consequence of an agreement between the British and the French, who were aided by insiders of the Ottoman Empire. These insiders, most notably Prince Faisal, expected to gain control of Syria after helping the British and French conquer the main city of Damascus, which resulted in the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. Then, in one of the most controversial political upsets in Syrian history, the British and French made an agreement. They agreed that upon defeating the Ottoman Empire that they would split the country between themselves. This agreement was called the Sykes-Picot agreement.
After the defeat of Damascus, the French were in control of the land of Syria, but remained largely absent from the area for many years following. Prince Faisal and his supporters partially organized the land, and a country was formed under the title of Greater Syria, which included present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. However, when Prince Faisal proposed this idea of Greater Syria to the French, they wouldn’t hear of it. This was viewed as an act of betrayal by the Syrians, after all of the assistance they had provided to ensure the downfall of the Ottoman Empire.
Unfortunately for the French, their leadership of Syria was not long-lasting. In 1946 they were forced to withdraw. The country was left in a state of political turmoil. In 1958, Syria and Egypt made an attempt to unite. This attempt failed after two years. Syria was left in a condition worse then ever before. Finally, a radical party, known as the Syrian Ba’athist Party, gained control of the government. They become unpopular after a war with Israel and after Syrian forces were defeated by Jordan in another feud. A man named Hafez Assad used this defeat to his advantage to overthrow the Ba’athist party. He was elected president and, for the first time since the defeat of Damascus, Syria was able to enjoy political stability. President Hafez Assad reigned for more than 30 years until his death in 2000, when his son Bashaar Al-Assad succeeded him. He remains the president of Syria to this day.
Under President Bashaar’s rule, Syria is considered a parliamentary republic. It has seven political parties, the main, even to this day, being the Ba’athist Party. They have a parliament which is elected every four years, and is called the People’s Council. The president is elected every seven years and is given numerous responsibilities including the power to declare war, institute laws, and amend the constitution.
During all the political turmoil noted above, Syrian was culture was taking on a life of its own. The society is very traditional. It places high values on family, religion, education, self-discipline, and respect. Of these values, family and religion are considered the most important. Statistically, 90% of the Syrian population is Moslem, and about 10% is Christian. Within the Moslem population, 4 out of 5 are Sunni Moslem. Houses are often passed down from generation to generation. Some of these homes are hundreds of years old, and traditionally have a small fountain that runs through the center. The homes may be decorated with various forms of Syrian crafts. For hundreds of years, the people of Syria have been known for the skills of embroidery, ceramics, pottery, jewelry, and basketry. Their food combines spices with European cuisine. An interesting fact that sets their food apart from other countries is that they serve pita bread with every meal, in fact they are famous for this. Syrian meals are usually a combination of grains, vegetables, and fruits. They use a lot of yogurt, cheese, chickpeas, and nuts. Lamb is the favorite meat.
Just as in their lifestyles, music is largely traditional. Folk music has been handed down through the generations just like their homes. Nowadays, popular Syrian musical artists are combining this traditional music with romance and pop music. Syrians are being exposed to a variety of different music and they enjoy it. However, traditional music remains the favorite of the Syrian majority.
In the same way that there music has been influenced by the outside world, so have other long-standing traditions. Most prominent is the push for women’s equality. Because of the general Moslem community, which is built upon a patriarchal structure, women in Syria have been greatly oppressed until recently. It has been a gradual process, but over the past few years the government has been passing laws for the equality of women. Although these chances for equality are being presented to them, most women are being pressured to stay within the traditional Islamic stereotype. The traditional role of women is to have lots of children, preferably boys, and to handle domestic responsibilities. The men are the traditional breadwinners of the families and are expected to control the income distribution. Because of this long standing way of life, the women feel incredible pressure to remain in this typical household role. Only a small amount of women have been brave enough to take advantage of the new laws of equality and opportunity. Those that do enter the work force tend to remain in one of three fields: agriculture, medicine, and teaching. Most of the women who follow this course are not from the rural areas, but from the modernized cities and towns.
Syria is an intricate tapestry of different colors, woven to create an astoundingly unique and interesting country. Its history has played a major role in the establishment of the modern Middle East. It is important for various reasons, some of which have been discussed in this paper, but many others which have been left for exploration. Due to the current state of the Middle East, it is easy to think that Syria has the possibility of being torn apart once more. It is comforting to review its history, which reveals it as a powerful land and a powerful people that have been able to survive the ages. Given this, it is easy to look at the country of Syria with a fresh perspective of admiration for the people of the land, a land that embodies the common aspiration of humanity; to never give up.