Editor’s note– This is the first of a three-part series on the events occurring in Syria and the implications those events may have on us as Americans. This first story provides an overview of Syrian history. The second story, which will appear in the next edition in two weeks, will explore what is going on in Syria now. The third story will explain the implications Syria has to an everyday Christian and why what’s going on there should even matter to us.
Syria — The capital is Damascus. It’s located to the right of the Mediterranean Sea; surrounded by the following countries: Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon.
Before understanding the issues erupting today, you have to understand the history and the significance of Syria to the world.
First understand that 12 diverse cultures were moved within Syria either without consent or natural reasons in a matter of a few years.
According to Michigan State University’s Global Edge, “Syria was occupied successively by Canaanites, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Arameans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Nabataeans, Byzantines, and, in part, Crusaders before finally coming under the control of the Ottoman Turks.”
Additionally, Syria is central to Christianity. The apostle Paul converted on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:3). Paul founded the first Christian Church in Antioch, which is Ancient Syria.
Global Edge also states that Damascus is one of the oldest populated cities in the world.
“Damascus, settled about 2,500 B.C., is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world,” writes Global Edge.
Syria didn’t just randomly burst into a civil war. The issues have been rising since before the region became Syria.
For centuries, the Middle East has been struggling to satisfy its people. It’s important to understand that the people have all been refugees at some point in their history.
According to Shorter history professor Dr. Terry Morris, Syria consists of unnatural or uncommon diversity.
“Syria is a multi-ethnic, multi- religious, somewhat conglomerate state put together by the British and French at the end of World War I without any natural connection,” said Dr. Morris.
The miscommunication among the people has led to dissatisfaction and uproar; today, it’s known as the Arab Spring.
The Council on Foreign Relations published Foreign Affairs, “The Arab Spring at One: A Year of Living Dangerously,” by Fouad Ajami, which explains that the Arab Spring arose as “Arab nationalism had been written off, but here, in full bloom, was what certainly looked like a pan-Arab awakening.”
All of a sudden, the people had had enough and began raising their voices.
Ajami claims that an upcoming generation of people in search of a departure from the way things had always been grew tired of their conditions in Syria.
“Young people in search of political freedom and economic opportunity, weary of waking up to the same tedium day after day, rose up against their sclerotic masters,” writes Ajami.
According to Dr. Morris, Syria is a result of the Arab Spring.
“Syria arrived from the Arab Spring, and this is its most disastrous consequence.”
Morris added that Syria was created to serve the benefit of the leading countries during World War I.
“In the same way that Iran was put together, (Syria was created) to serve the interest of the British and French,” he explained.
During the 1920’s, Syria was under French rule. During the 1940’s, Syria went under the British rule. The fight for Syria continued for 30 years.
In 1970, Syria was ruled by Hafiz as-Asad. Upon Asad’s death in 2000, Parliament enacted a measure to continue his legacy – they reduced the mandatory minimum age of the president from 40 to 34 years old, according to MSU’s Global Edge.
“On July 10, 2000, Bashar al-Asad was elected president by referendum in which he ran unopposed, garnering 97.29% of the vote, according to Syrian Government statistics,” writes Global Edge. “He was inaugurated into office on July 17, 2000, for a 7-year term.”
Continually, Syria isn’t just religiously important; it’s also politically important.
Dr. Morris said that what happens in Syria has a political impact to surrounding nations.
“Syria was geopolitically important because it …heavily leans towards the Soviet side, and it’s connected to Iran as well,” said Dr. Morris. “There has been a strong interrelationship between these two countries.”
Assistant Shorter history professor Dr. Charles Carter added that there is a major connection between Russia and Syria.
“In Syria, about 10% of the population are Christians– Orthodox Christians,” said Dr. Carter. “The same Christians that exist in Syria exist in Russia.”
The history of their relationship as leaders explains the connection Syria and Russia have today.
“Asad knows that if he protects Christians, Russia will protect him,” said Dr. Carter.
How and where does the United States fit in the picture? Remember 9/11/2001? Syria didn’t agree with the U.S. taking a stand against their good friend, Iraq.
“Syria opposed the Iraq war in March 2003, and bilateral relations with the United States swiftly deteriorated,” writes Global Edge. “In December 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003.”
This law gave Syria an ultimatum. The law required Syria to stop Palestinian terrorist support, withdraw all military aid to Lebanon, and meet the United Nations Council obligations. Otherwise, a series of sanctions would be imposed. This is what led to the tension between the United States and Syria.
“Tensions between Syria and the United States intensified from mid-2004 to early 2009, primarily over issues relating to Iraq and Lebanon,” writes Global Edge.
That tension continued as ambassador assassinations began, particularly with the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
“The U.S. Government recalled its ambassador to Syria in February 2005 following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri,” according to Global Edge.
Between late 2009 and early 2012, the United States supported Syria’s political peace movement. The U.S. Government even returned an ambassador to Damascus.
* See the next edition for more to this series.