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Greater Syria (Arabic: سوريّة الكبرى‎), also known simply as Syria, is a term that denotes a region in the Near East bordering the Eastern Mediterranean Sea or the Levant.

The classical Arabic name for Syria is Sham (Arabic: الشامash-Shām), which in later ages became to refer only to Damascus in Levantine Arabic, while the pre-Islamic name of the territory, Syria, became used again until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918.

Contents

Historic Syria

Ottoman subdivisions in 1918

The area known as Syria has changed over time. In the most common historical sense, it usually refers to the region bordering the eastern Mediterranean, which includes modern-day Syria, parts of Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and parts Iran and parts of southern of Turkey including Alexandretta and the ancient city of Antioch, the pre-Islamic capital of Syria .

In the more ancient and wider sense of the word, Syria stretches inland to include Mesopotamia, and has an uncertain border to the northeast that Pliny the Elder describes as including, from west to east, Commagene, Sophene, and Adiabene, "formerly known as Assyria".[1]

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 Palestine and 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.

The States of the French Mandate

The region was annexed to the Islamic Caliphate after the Muslim Rashidun victory over the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Yarmouk, and became known afterwards by its Arabic name, ash-Shām. During Umayyad times, Shām was divided into five junds or military districts. They were Jund Dimashq', Jund Hims, Jund Qinnasrin, Jund Filastin and Jund al-Urdunn. The city of Damascus was the capital of the Islamic Caliphate until the rise of Abassid Dynasty.

In the later ages of the Ottoman times, it was divided into wilayahs or sub-provinces the borders of which and the choice of cities as seats of government within them varied over time. The vilayets or sub-provinces of Aleppo, Damascus, and Beirut, in addition to the two special districts of Mount Lebanon and Jerusalem. Aleppo consisted of northern modern-day Syria plus parts of southern Turkey, Damascus covered southern Syria and modern-day Jordan, Beirut covered Lebanon and the Syrian coast from the port-city of Latakia southward to the Galilee, while Jerusalem consisted of the land south of the Galilee and west of the Jordan River and the Wadi Arabah.

Although the region's population was dominated by Sunni Muslims, it also contained sizable populations of Shi'a Muslims, Syriac Orthodox, Maronite, Greek Orthodox and Melkite Christians, as well as Mizrahi Jews, Alawite and Ismaili Muslims and Druzes.

Following the San Remo conference and the defeat of King Faisal's short-lived monarchy in Syria at the Battle of Maysalun, the French general Henri Gouraud, in breach of the conditions of the mandate, subdivided the French Mandate of Syria into six states. They were the states of Damascus (1920), Aleppo (1920), Alawites (1920), Jabal Druze (1921), the autonomous Sanjak of Alexandretta (1921) (modern-day Hatay), and the French Mandate of Lebanon (1920) which became later the modern country of Lebanon.

Syrian nationalism

Antun Saadeh's (top left inset) and the SSNP's vision of a unified natural Syria.

In the nationalist ideology developed by the founder of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, Antun Saadeh, Syria is seen as the geocultural environment in which the Syrian nation state evolved, an area Sa'adeh called the Syrian Fertile Crescent.

Sa'adah rejected both language and religion as defining characteristics of a nation, and instead argued that nations develop through the common development of a people inhabiting a specific geographical region. He pointed to what he considered to be the region's distinct natural boundaries, and described it as extending from the Taurus range in the northwest and the Zagros Mountains in the northeast, to the Suez Canal and the Red Sea -including the Sinai Peninsula and the Gulf of Aqaba in the south, and from the eastern Mediterranean Sea including the island of Cyprus in the west, to the arch of the Arabian Desert and the Persian Gulf in the east.

In the 1940s, Britain secretly advocated the creation of a Greater Syrian state that would secure Britain preferential status in military, economic and cultural matters, in return for putting a complete halt to Jewish ambition in Palestine. France and the United States opposed British hegemony in the region, which led to the creation of Israel.[2]

Names for Syria

"Greater Syria" is not always precisely synonymous with Levant, since Greater Syria can refer to a smaller region, while the Levant can refer to a larger region. Today the term is most commonly used by historians to describe the area in earlier times. For much of the history of the Middle East, Syria was closely integrated and shared a common culture and economy. The colonialism of the post-WWI years and the rise of a number of states in the region has ended this unity. It is still useful for historians looking at pre-twentieth century history to consider it as a region, however.

The name Syria derives from the ancient Greek name for Syrians, Σύριοι Syrioi, which the Greeks applied without distinction to various Assyrian people. Modern scholarship confirms the Greek word traces back to the cognate Ἀσσυρία, Assyria, ultimately derived from the Akkadian Aššur, [3]

Syria was known to Arabian Arabs as Shām, which comes from the root SH-ʔ-M, meaning "sublime" and "victorious" a well known arabic name comes from is hisham whereas Yemen comes from the root Y-M-N meaning "fortune" and "right direction"). Note that the name Sham has no valid etymological connection with the Biblical figure Shem son of Noah, which appears in Arabic as Sām سام (with a different initial consonant, and without any internal glottal stop consonant). There is also a connection with the word shams "sun" (as in Majdal Shams or ash-Shams).

The classical Arabic pronunciation of Syria is Sūriyya (as opposed to the MSA common pronunciation "Sūrya"). This name was not widely used among Muslims before about 1870, though it had been used by Christians earlier. According to the Syrian Orthodox Church, "Syrian" (sūriy سوري) used to mean "Christian" in early Christianity. In English, "Syrian" historically meant a Syrian Christian (as in, e.g., Ephraim the Syrian). Following the declaration of the Syrian Arab Republic in 1936, the term "Syrian" became to designate citizens of that state regardless of ethnicity. The adjective "Syriac" (suryāni سرياني) has come into common use since as a demonym to avoid the ambiguity of "Syrian."

Currently, the Arabic term Suriyya refers to the modern state of Syria (as opposed to the whole Greater Syria region), but this distinction was not as clear before the mid 20th-century. The Hashemite dream of a Greater Syrian Arab kingdom was frustrated after WW1 due to the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and the uniting of the separate French mandates in Syria into one unified entity in 1936.

See also

References

  1. ^ Pliny. "Book 5 Section 66". Natural History. University of Chicago Website. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/L/Roman/Texts/Pliny_the_Elder/5*.html.  
  2. ^ https://www.haaretz.co.il/hasen/spages/950373.html
  3. ^ First proposed by Theodor Nöldeke in 1881; cf. Harper, Douglas (November 2001). "Syria". Online Etymology Dictionary. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Syria. Retrieved 2007-06-13.  .

Sources

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