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Tag Archives: Syria

The United Nations and the End of Colonialism 1946 -1965

colonialism

Even before the Korean War, the United Nations had proved that it could take effective action to control serious conflicts. It first took such action in the conflict over Palestine. During World War I, the British had ousted the Turks from Palestine. When the war was over, the League of Nations placed that land under the authority of Britain. The British then issued the famous Balfour Declaration, which promised the Jewish people that Palestine would someday become their homeland, but the Arabs of Palestine and the surrounding countries strongly objected to this and year after year passed without the British making good their promise. During and after World War II, Britain refused to allow Jewish refugees from Europe to enter Palestine. In 1946 Jewish terrorists began to stage raids against the British army and a year later Britain turned the Palestine problem over to the United Nations. The General Assembly set up a special committee to investigate the situation and make recommendations and several months later the committee delivered its report. It recommended that Palestine be divided into two independent states, one Arab and one Jewish. Although the Arabs, who formed a majority of the people in Palestine, said they would never allow the existence of a Jewish state, the General Assembly approved the committee’s report. Britain was expected to carry out and enforce the recommendations. Instead, the British suddenly left Palestine in the spring of 1948 and war broke out between the Arabs and the Jews. The Palestinian Arabs were supported by troops from the surrounding countries of Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, but the Jewish army, which included many hardened veterans of World War II, won battle after battle. With every victory, the Jews added to the territory originally granted them by the United Nations special committee. Most …

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After the Peace of Paris 1919 – 1920

league

DURING THE war, three great empires — the Russian, the Austro-Hungarian and the German –had vanished forever. Then, by the Treaty of Sévres, a fourth empire, the Ottoman, was quietly put to death. Turkey was confined to Asia Minor and became a republic. Of its former possessions, the League of Nations assigned Syria and Lebanon to France and Palestine and Iraq to Great Britain. Trans-Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which had fought the Turks under an adventurous British colonel named T. E. Lawrence, became independent kingdoms. In Europe, there were seven new states: Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. The first six, with Rumania, formed a zone that blocked Russian communism from spreading westward. Rumania had grown larger at the expense of Hungary, Russia and Greece at the expense of Turkey. Hungary and Austria were made small independent states, with no link between their governments. The South Slavs, who had triggered the crisis that brought on the war, saw their dream come true in a free, united Yugoslavia, but some Yugoslavs were still dissatisfied, for the Allies, in line with their secret treaty of 1915, had given Italy the port of Trieste and some islands on the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic. Italy also received the Trentino and South Tyrol, former Austro-Hungarian lands. AMERICA AND THE LEAGUE Although the five treaties of the Peace of Paris changed the map of the world, it left more than one nation resentful and discontented. The Italians felt that the Allies had betrayed them by not giving them any of the German colonies. The Japanese felt cheated of their rightful gains in the Pacific and the Germans were particularly bitter, for they felt they had been unjustly treated in almost every way. When the peace conference began, they had expected that the Allies …

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The Crusades 1096-1260

crusade

ON A COLD NOVEMBER DAY IN 1096, a great crowd of people gathered in a field at the town of Clermont in France. They had come from miles around and near them were pitched the tents they had put up for shelter. For some days, Pope Urban II had been holding a great council of cardinals, bishops and princes. Today he was to speak to the people and so many wanted to hear that no building was large enough to hold them all. A platform had been built in the center of the field and as Pope Urban stepped up on it a hush fell over the crowd. Pope Urban was a Frenchman and he spoke to the people around him as fellow Frenchmen. “Oh, race of Franks,” he said, “race beloved and chosen by God . . . set apart from all other nations by the situation of your country as well as by your Catholic faith and the honour which you render to the holy Church: to you our discourse is addressed. . . .” “From the confines of Jerusalem and from Constantinople a grievous report has gone forth that an accursed race, wholly alienated from God, has violently invaded the lands of these Christians and has depopulated them by pillage and fire. They have led away a part of the captives into their own country and a part they have killed by cruel tortures. . .” The people knew what he meant. He was speaking of the Holy Land, that lay on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Here were the cities of Jerusalem, Nazareth, Gaza and Damascus. Here Jesus Christ had lived and preached and had been crucified; here Christianity had begun. Here were many sacred shrines and during the Middle Ages thousands of Europeans …

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The Coming of the Mongols A.D.1135-1368

mongol

IN 1135, Hangchow became the capital of the Southern Sung. Thereafter, the Sung kept an uneasy peace with their unwelcome northern neighbours, the Chin. Then, out of Mongolia came the mighty Genghis Khan, whose warriors and their descendants were to spread terror across Asia into Christian Europe and the lands of Islam. Before he died in 1227, Genghis had crushed the Hsi Hsia and all but crushed the Chin. His son, Ogodai, made a treaty with the Sung emperor, and the Sung and Mongol armies together put an end to the Chin. This alliance with a barbarian power turned out just as disastrously for the Chinese as Hui Tsung’s alliance with the Chin. The Mongols moved south against the Sung. When Ogodai died in 1241, his son Mangu took command. When Mangu died in 1259, a year after his cousin Hulagu destroyed the Abbasid caliphate in faraway Baghdad, his brother Kublai carried on. The Sung army resisted bravely. Both sides used cannon and catapults — huge engines which hurled rocks and bombs in the same way a crossbow hurled arrows. Some catapults were so big it took a hundred men to operate them. If the Mongols had not had such weapons, they might have been stopped. Much of South China consisted of flooded rice fields and canals and cavalry warfare would have been difficult if not impossible. In 1276, Kublai took Hangchow. Next he took Canton. In 1279 his men destroyed the last ships of the Sung fleet. Soon after this, the despairing Sung emperor flung himself from a high Cliff into the sea. Long before his victory was complete, Kublai had picked a name for his dynasty. Earlier barbarian conquerors had taken the name of a region or of a famous Chinese dynasty of the past. Kublai did not …

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Christian Knights and Mongol Horsemen A. D. 099-1404

genghis khan

THROUGHOUT THE eleventh century, the divided Arab Empire became weaker in all its parts. Meanwhile, the Christian lands to the north became stronger. Adventures from northern France snatched Sicily and Southern Italy from the Arabs. The pope called on the rulers of Europe for a united Christian attack on the Moslems. By the end of the century, European knights in chain-mail armour were streaming into Syria by land and sea, determined to recapture the holy places of their religion. This campaign was the first of many. The Crusades dragged on for two centuries, with long periods of peace coming between bouts of fighting. Christian kings and noblemen carved small states out of Moslem territory, only to lose them. In 1099, Frankish troops seized Jerusalem, the Christians’ holy city, and made it the capital of a kingdom. In 1187 Saladin reconquered the country for Islam. After the Moslems forced the last Crusaders to leave Syria in 1291, only the island of Cyprus remained under the Christian flag. So, in the end, although the Crusades did not change the balance of power between Christianity and Islam, they left behind bitter memories which were to poison Moslem-Christian relations for centuries. Not all of the results were bad, however. The Crusaders, who came to the Near East convinced of their own superiority, found that their despised enemies knew more than they did about a great many things. They took the knowledge they had gained home to Europe. The brave deeds of the warriors on both sides gave rise to thousands of poems, songs and tales which enriched the literatures of Europe and Islam. The Christian heroes included two kings — Richard the Lion Hearted of England and Louis IX of France, who was made a saint. Among the Moslem heroes, the most famous were …

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Cracks in the Wall of Islam A.D. 656-750

islam

THE FIRST three caliphs — Abu Bakr, Omar and Othman — had all known — Mohammed well. In 656, Othman, an old man in his eighties, was stabbed to death by a band of rebels. They believed that the right to be caliph belonged to Mohammed’s son-in-law, Ali. Sometime later, Ali defeated his rivals for power in battle and proclaimed himself caliph. Instead of Medina, he chose as his capital the new Arab city of al-Kufah, in Iraq. All but one of the leaders of Islam swore loyalty to Ali. The exception was Muawiyah, the governor of Syria, who set out to avenge Othman. Holding the dead caliph’s blood-stained shirt above his head in the mosque of Damascus, he accused Ali of Othman‘s murder. He challenged Ali to produce the actual murderers or resign. ALI AND THE OMAYYADS Muawiyah was certainly ambitious‚ but his real quarrel with Ali was political, not personal. The question was whether al-Kufah or Damascus, Iraq or Syria, was to be the center of the Arab world. Soon the quarrel became a war, and two great armies stood face to face on the banks of the Euphrates. Instead of clashing, however, the Iraqi and Syrian soldiers merely raided each other’s camps, for neither side was eager to spill Moslem blood. Nevertheless, after a few weeks it began to look as if Ali’s forces would win. Then Muawiyah’s general Amr, the conqueror of Egypt, had a clever idea. He ordered his men to tie copies of the Koran to their lances and hoist them aloft. Fighting stopped immediately. The signal meant that the two sides should settle their differences by peaceful discussion, letting the holy word of Allah be their guide. To spare Moslem lives, Ali agreed. His decision had serious results. By accepting Amr’s suggestion, the …

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Mohammed, Prophet of Allah A. D. 571 – 632

mohammed

IN THE year 571, in Mecca, a boy was born in a humble household of the Quraysh. No one knows what name he was given. His father died before his birth and his mother when he was six. The orphan, boy now called Mohammed, was brought up by his grandfather. When his grandfather also died, he came into the care of his uncle, Abu Talib. Nothing definite is known about his early life. As a boy, he may have tended sheep at the edge of the desert outside the city. When he was old enough to ride a camel, he probably traveled with caravans to Syria and Yemen. Later, he worked for a woman named Khadijah, the wealthy widow of two merchants. When he was twenty-five, he married her. Khadijah, who was forty, was still quite beautiful and had a fine mind. Mohamed himself was a handsome young man with broad shoulders and a curly black beard. His speech was musical, rolling from his tongue with the rhythm of poetry. In spite of the difference in their ages, their marriage was a happy one. Most men in those days kept as many wives as they could afford, but Mohammed refused to take any wife but Khadijah as long as she lived. Like most people of his time, Mohammed could not read or write. Even so, he was a thoughtful person, eager for knowledge. He listened to Jews and Christians tell about their beliefs and heard some of his pagan neighbours make fun of the gods their fathers had worshiped. Slowly he came to believe that there was really only one true God. He called him Allah, after Allah Taala, the Most High God of the Kaaba. During his travels he had seen much that troubled him. The half-wild Bedouins drank …

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Arabia, Mother of Religions 3000 B. C. – 570 A. D

ARABIA

ARABIA, the big, boot-shaped peninsula off the northeast corner of Africa, is one of the hottest and driest regions on earth. It is also extremely rugged. Almost all of it is made up of mountains‚ deserts and immense plains of sand broken by hills. Not a single river crosses it, only dry riverbeds called wadis which quickly carry away the little rain that falls. Water is so scarce that trees and plants can grow only along some of the coasts and in small “islands” of green called oases, mostly found in the wadis, which dot the vast interior. Yet this bleak‚ patched land was once the home of a people, the Semites, who gave the world much of its learning and three of its greatest religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Thousands of years ago some Semitic tribesmen migrated north to the fertile region by the Mediterranean Sea. Over many generations they developed the principles of Judaism, the religion of the Jews. Much later Christianity also came into being there. Before the coming of the third great Semitic faith, Islam, Judaism and Christianity had long been established in Arabia. Most of the people still worshiped the sun, moon, stars and the spirits of hills, caves, rocks, springs and palm trees. They bowed down before the day idols of hundreds of gods, goddesses and demons. THE BEDOUINS Most Arabians were herdsmen called Bedouins. They roamed endlessly across the empty spaces, looking for water and grass for their camels, goats and sheep. They ate dates and a mixture of flour with water or goat’s milk and slept in tents woven from the hair of camels or goats. They wore flowing head-scarves and long shirts and went barefoot. They owned very little. A Bedouin’s most prized possessions were his camels and his sword. For …

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Byzantine Glory A.D. 610-1057

Byzantine

The period from 610 to 717 was one of the darkest in Byzantine history. During that time, the edges of the empire crumbled under the pressure of powerful enemies. A people from northern Italy, the Lombards, conquered more than half of Italy. In central Arabia, the Arab tribes had joined together under the religion of Mohammed and marched against their neighbors. They took the kingdom of Persia, invaded Palestine and in 658 captured Jerusalem. The conquering Moslems, as the followers of Mohammed were called, swept on and soon took over Syria and Egypt. They marched along the northern shore of Africa and took Carthage in 697, then sailed across the Mediterranean and captured Spain. By this time the empire seemed all but doomed. It had been reduced to Asia Minor, the Balkan Peninsula and southern Italy. Shortly after Leo III had been crowned emperor he was forced to defend Constantinople during the Arab siege of 717-718. Later he drove them back on the Taurus front. After saving the empire from the Arabs, he organized the country into military districts and placed a military government over each of them. This system, together with Justinian’s fortresses, made the empire’s defenses stronger than ever before. The empire reached the height of its glory under Basil I and his descendants, a period lasting from 867 to 1057. Most of the emperors of this period were brilliant military leaders and good administrators. Under them the empire regained its strength, beat back the Arabs in South Italy and in the East forced the Arabs back to the Euphrates, overran Cilicia and Syria, and pushed down into Palestine to the gates of Jerusalem. On the European side, Basil II crushed the mighty empire of the Bulgars. DIPLOMACY AND TREACHERY Byzantine emperors often used treachery to weaken their …

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The New Capital: Constantinople A. D. 306-532

CONSTANTINOPLE

EMPEROR Constantine’s decision to build a new capital for the Roman Empire in the East did not come as a surprise to the people of the empire. Rome had lost much of its influence as the seat of government and emperors avoided the city. They preferred to build castles for themselves in distant provincial cities. Emperor Maximian, for example, had ruled from Milan. Emperor Diocletian had moved to Nicomedia, far to the east in Asia Minor and ruled from there. Constantine had many good reasons for turning eastward in searching for a site for his new capital. Most of the important activities and interests of the empire lay far to the east of Rome. The great trade centers at Ephesus, Antioch and Alexandria were all in the East. For centuries, the kingdoms beyond the eastern frontiers had been weak and peaceful. Now the Sassanids, a new royal family of Persia, had risen to power and become a serious threat. The East German tribes, particularly the Goths, had also become a threat, building up their strength on the Danube. As a man of the sword, Constantine knew well that the empire was in danger of being invaded. A capital city in the East, within striking distance of the Danube and the eastern front, would help the empire standoff attacks from either direction. There was also an advantage in having the capital city close to the Balkans, for there the empire recruited its finest soldiers. Constantine himself had come from there. His personal pride may have been still another reason. Many Roman emperors were great builders. They were proud men and they liked to build roads and great buildings which would stand for centuries as memorials to their greatness. A new capital city would bring him fame and glorify his memory for …

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