So here was the initial idea:
We all go through it – well most of us … that weird desire to make the world a better place, to be able to have been a positive impact on the community during one’s life. Hey, smiling at people will do it, being nice to others, loving others, starting a community garden… lots of things. But when I realised I could put experience points into literally anything, it made me want to think big. So I looked around, and I was like – well there’s a horrifying crisis in Syria. I don’t know if I can do anything, but I have an idea – a website for an online community to bring Syrian refugees across the globe together, and someday give them a platform to communicate with the UN and the World with a united voice.
So I started doing some research – initally just on its sort of ancient historical background, because I like that stuff:
A Very Brief Summary of Pre-World War Syrian History
Syria has had people there longer than we’ve had Pokemon. With access to the Mediteranean sea, its bordrered by Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon – all of which were known as “The Levant,” and were part of the Kingdom we now call Syria. The Assyrian Empire was huge, way pre-Jesus, and the bible actually contains stories of the Hebrews living in the captial city of current Syria, Damascus. Its an ancient place.
Syria is full of mountains, deserts, and fertile plains, meaning that its early culture was a mix of the agricultural plains peoples and the wild desert survivors. Their biggest population right now are Sunni Muslims, followed by Kurds (in the North), and other groups like Syrian Arabs (obviously), Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, Circassians, Mandeans and Turks. (5)
According to my latest interviewee, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Turkey are currently just swimming with Syrian refugees who are crossing over the border. My contact believes that the population of Syria was apparently was around 25 million, pre-conflict. She estimates that as the conflict began, between deaths and immigration pre-shit hitting the fan, it dropped down to about 21 million. She suspects that 7 to 8 million people are displaced around the countries that border it.
Syria has been a Happening Place for a Long Time
Humans have been there, it seems, from shortly after the cradle of humanity. The remains of not only early humans have been found there, but also Neanderthals, suggesting that Neanderthals made the gradual switch to Homus Erectus in this among other areas. The bones of cave men have been found in The Dederiyeh Cave near Aleppo. Skeletons of early humans from 100,000 lie among early tools and ceramics. (1)
Apparently the area has a bunch of finds that suggest serious change in the technology and manufacturing (such as they were) of the day: it is unknown whether this is from mass migration, such as people leaving and then coming back later, or cultural exchange between groups. This seems to have continued until the way of life changed from mainly hunter-gatherer to Agriculture – which apparently historians think happened around 15,000 years ago, and may be linked to a change in climate(1).
(This doesn’t sound super interesting, but I imagine for people at the time it was a gigantic switch of lifestyle, with migrating and warring tribes vying to be the first to take advantage of the switch … To illustrate something of what a switch in lifestyle might have been like for early humanity, here are Mitchell and Webb: Mitchell&WebbBronzeAge
Ofcourse, as a high-traffic area, it went through … a lot of traffic. Damascus was the capital city, and it was a super-rich trade centre: a huge stop for caravans going through Southern Syria, as mentioned in Egyptian texts.(2)
It was captured by the Hebrews under King David, during his larger war against the Arameans (who were later … I dunno. Maybe the Armenians?) The Arameans took it back and made it the capital of their Kingdom, of Aram-Damascus. The Assyrians destroyed the capital when they took it over and made it part of their Empire – but then was taken by the Chaldeans when they were big, then the
Persians, then the Greeks, then the Romans (2) … So lets say it got around.
Then in the infamous Seige of Damascus made it the first Roman/Byzantine city to fall to the Muslim conquest of Syria during the Empire’s fall. Since then it has remained mainly under Islamic control, with lots of Christians and Hebrew in the population, and been taken by various Caliphates, as well as a brief stint of being under the Mongols (who, lets face it, just conquered everything under Genghis Khan.)
When the Mongol Hordes withdrew, Damascus was run by the Mamluk Sultanate (this is actually really cool: “Mamluk” comes from the Turkish word for slave. Basically warrior slaves became their own caste under Muslim rulers, like a caste of Knights, and would sometimes defeat armies of their ‘overlords’ and take over cities or small empires – like in this case here! (4))., until the Ottoman Turks – worried about Mamluk power and their recent alliance with the Persian empire – decided to start their conquest that we now call the “Ottoman Empire,” of which Damascus was one of the first targets. (3) Once in the Ottoman Empire, Syria still went through a variety of Caliphates, and was not entirely without intrigue and strife (let alone the crusaders – who they defeated – and the Egyptians, who took over for a brief period of time.) But overall, their time under the Ottoman Empire was relatively stable, with Christians and Jews and Muslims living together in relative harmony. Actually apparently there was a ‘Christian Massacre’ in the city, in 1860, which was a spill over of fighting on Mount Lebanon between Druze (a group of Alt. Muslims) and Maronites (an ancient sect of Christianity with ties to Greece and Turkey that had their own sort of free state on Mount Lebanon for years)(3). But apparently many Christians living in Damascus were actually saved and sheltered by their Muslim and Jewish neighbours from the conflict – and that, I think, is pretty cool.
We’re gonna call it there for now – I will research more history with the next post about Syria, where I will also share an update on the idea.
Syrian Map: http://www.mappery.com/maps-syria
Roman Ruins in Syria: http://www.stockhammers.info/Reise/Welt/Syrien%20-%20Jordanien/SY-JOR%2006%20Bosra.htm
Early Human Hits Rock with Rock: https://ancientfoods.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/human-ancestors-hunted-by-prehistoric-beasts/
Guy Fighting Lion: http://www.ancient.eu/assyria/