Hello all! and welcome to the first ever written edition of the new blog called “What’s the Deal?” The blog that covers today’s news from a historical perspective to understand current events for the every day non-historian!
Why read this instead of the news? Well, for one, you get free captions of dry humor in conjunction with super-cool history references that will make for great water cooler convo. Two, I make incredibly laughable one liners that your former (and current) history teachers used to make. Still not convinced?… Well read on cowboy, here’s my first entry on the incredibly topical, and relatively unique Syrian 2011 resistance and uprisings as part of the 2011 Arab Spring (not the musical). See I told you it was topical
Now on to the historical blog!!
To understand the most recent upheaval in Syria, we need to understand the circumstances surrounding the desires of the rebellion and the type of nation Syria has become over its history.
The region now known as Syria contained some of the most ancient and sophisticated civilizations for centuries within the Bronze Age and beyond into the empires of Mesopotamia and Persia (some of the 1st farmers, they started the organic agricultural movement). Syria’s strategic location between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf subjected it to many invasions and repeated takeovers throughout ancient times so that its population eventually became a mixed bag of peoples with each successive takeover. While the ancient period is extremely interesting and exciting, it only has a few important notes that should be remembered when relating Syria’s history to present events:
* the strategic location of Syria, *the amalgam of peoples, and *A history of quick and fast takeovers and invasions (not unique at all to Syria).
The more important time period that concerns the current Syrian popular revolts is the break-up of the Ottoman Empire after World War 1 because this “colonial” period ushered in the tumultuous 20th Century that eventually saw the rise of the Ba-ath Party and put the Al-Assad family regime (the current regime) into power.
At the end of World War 1 in 1918, the Triple Entente (the allied powers) and its most outspoken and powerful members, France and Great Britain as victors, were given the opportunity to split up the Ottoman Empire into distinct zones, Zone A and Zone B. Zone A contained modern Syria and Lebanon and was ceded to the French, while the discovery of oil in Zone B made it more desirable for Great Britain to obtain it (well obviously BP wanted to get in on that). A French mandate in 1920 established an “independent” Arab republic under a foreigner, Faisal 1, a king who would rule as merely a puppet for the newly formed League of Nations guarded closely with a large contingent of French regular troops. The Syrians overall did not appreciate their new situation under foreign control, and quickly deposed of Faisal after 1 year and the French troops had to occupy Syria under a League of Nations mandate (along with an iron fist). In 1925, the Sultan al-Atrash declared revolution against France and started a movement that encompassed a countrywide campaign against the French occupying forces. Many battles erupted against the troops and numerous rebel victories occurred until 1927 when the resistance settled. By 1936, France and Syria signed a treaty of independence, but it wasn’t until 1944 that Syria was recognized as an independent republic free of French soldiers as a result of World War 1 and pressure from the British and Syrian nationalists.
The French occupation is relevant obviously because it shows the *Syrian people revolting against foreign and iron-fisted control, but also because it was the beginning of a tradition of *military leaders ascending to the top of Syrian government by coup de tat and military overthrow. *Foreign military occupiers (in this case the French) show the countries that emerge from this control how they can control their own country. These ideas are quickly adopted by those with ambitions for power and staunch rule making (ie. totalitarianism). This is a pattern that is seen around the world in developing countries that had been formerly under European/American control, a good example being Haiti.
This is exemplified in Syria by the many subsequent military takeovers and coups including 3 military takeovers within the same year! (Can you imagine that occurring in the U.S?) BTW, a military takeover of the new U.S. government nearly occurred after the rev. war in 1783, only to be quelled by G-Wash himself – the troops weren’t getting paid, but G-Wash told them to wait the new congress out so they could procure the sufficient funds) Sorry for the tangent, but I love connections in History! #funfacts
Syria-sly folks, back to the subject at hand
The coup authored by the Ba-ath Party in 1961 (coinciding with a similar event in Iraq) ushered in a government that would lead to the election of Hafez Al-Assad and 40+ years of rule (and a Mr. Saddam Hussein in Iraq).
There were political splits within the Ba-ath party: those who wanted to use government to speak for larger mass organizations and a balance of powers, and those who wanted complete military control over the state, in essence a totalitarian state. The latter of the two groups carried out an intra-party overthrow in 1963 against the incumbent Amin Hafez (of whose programs included a more democratic approach to government) and was described as a “rectification of Ba-ath Party principles.” The then Defense Minister of Syria Hafez Al-Assad, four years before his rise to leadership describes perfectly his regime to come: “We shall never call for nor accept peace. We shall only accept war. We have resolved to drench this land with your blood. To oust you aggressors, to throw you into the sea.” This is clearly a connection to what his future government would be held together by: controlling the military along with a special/security forces group that can quell uprisings and outspoken critics.
Technically, the Syrian government has had a parliament since the French mandate, but the “president” has had the final say on most matters in Syria. In 2000, Hafez Al-Assad died leaving his son and the current Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad in power who continued the trend set by his father with suppression of civil rights(political arrests and internet censorship) and an overbearing military and secret police service.
This brings us to the present year where on Jan. 26, 2011, protests began to appear around the country triggered by the Tunisian revolution. The success of the Egyptian revolution and the grandiosity of the Libyan civil war along with uprisings in several other countries spurred the popular growing movement through the spring into the summer.
So let summarize to understand why the Syrian revolution is occurring!!
1. Syria has a long history of uprisings, military takeovers, and totalitarian regimes.
2. The French Mandate over Syria caused similar uprisings all around the country, spurred leaders to takeover the country using force instead of diplomacy, and caused the Ba-ath party leaders to control a military and secret military force to control dissent and hang onto power.
3. The Assad family regime has suppressed basic liberties and rights with a relatively backwards economy.
4. The surrounding revolutions in the Arab world incited the Syrian people to oust their overbearing leader
Well now that we’ve figured out the basics behind the revolution, lets discuss what will happen next as we follow the news from Syria. First of all, things are going well for the rebels now, but they’ve had to pay a brutal price for it. Assad’s military and secret police have wreaked havoc on the protesters who for the most part have been peaceful. They’ve literally massacred nearly thousands of people just for the sake of controlling and consolidating power. The tide has turned in the rebels favor though now because international pressure has begun to step up and its clear to see that Assad is losing favor even with his own military, who have begun to defect rather than shoot their own countrymen (reminiscent of Russia 1905, Bloody Sunday)
Assad made a somewhat conciliatory speech the other day saying that he would begin to make reforms within his own government, but the protesters saw through this thinly veiled attempt at acquiescence to retain power. This will take a long time to sort out and we may see Assad go the way of Hoshni Mubarak of Egypt, but not before he tries to use his military to kill more innocent protesters.
Well folks, I hope you enjoyed this first of many historical blogs! Please comment on this to give me some feedback, or to give me some better jokes to use for next time
-your faithful historian,
Eric G Prileson