Nour Chammas | Attorney Cleveland, Ohio
April 17th, 2009

Re: ‘Syria is ...

Due to the various foreign forces that have occupied our land and the ensuing division and fragmentation that resulted from such occupations, our national identity has been compromised, and as such the true meaning of the name of our homeland, namely Syria, has been lost.  While historians and other intellectuals continue to identify Syria, albeit without an accurate delineation of Syria’s borders, as that region that encompasses the general area of the Fertile Crescent where civilization was brought to this earth, most people today associate the name Syria with the current Syrian Arab Republic, which is a product of western colonial carving of the natural geographic environment that gave rise to the Syrian nation.  Seeing Syria with such a narrow lens gives an inaccurate and falsified image of our identity as a people.

It is impossible for a society to form and take shape without it being attached to a particular geographic territory, which is the fundamental factor that shapes the character and temperament of such society.  It follows from this sociological principle that when a nation is no longer conscious of its natural environment it thereby loses its national identity, leading to its impending fragmentation, which can only bring it woes and disasters.  This has been the case of our Syrian nation, where our loss of national consciousness has pitted various particularistic groups against each other and drained the nation of its energy, making it an easy prey for foreign designs and agendas.  Nevertheless, with our proper understanding of the true meaning of Syria the homeland, we can once again retrieve our lost national identity and Syrians can once again occupy their rightful place among the living nations of the world.

The Syrian homeland is that stretch of geographic territory where the Syrian nation was formed, and it has natural geographic boundaries that differentiate it from other lands, stretching from the Taurus Mountains from the northwest and the Zagros Mountains in the northeast to the Suez Canal in the south, including the Sinai Peninsula, and from the Syrian (Mediterranean) Sea in the west, including the island of Cyprus, to the arch of the Arabian Desert and the Persian Gulf in the east.  It can be expressed with the general description “The Syrian Fertile Crescent, with Cyprus being its star.”

It is here where civilizations that enlightened the world and contributed to humanity in general were born.  These civilizations include the Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Akkadians, Chaldeans, Arameans, Hittites, and Canaanites.  Syria was the birthplace of the alphabet, the first musical notation, the first code of laws, the wheel, the sail, the numbers, astronomy, mathematics, engineering, architecture, chemistry, physics, art, and philosophy.  Syria thus can be accurately said to encompass all science, all philosophy, and all art in the world.  It is from this land that the world was transferred from an age of darkness to an age of enlightenment, allowing mankind to advance and develop into where we are today.  Syria has historically played a crucial role in the advancement of human civilization and it shall inevitably reassume this role once the Syrians become aware of their national identity and return their nation to vitality and strength.

Every Syrian should keep imprinted in their mind the vastness of their homeland, the symbol of their heritage, from the glorious mountains of Lebanon to the peaceful hills of Palestine and to the grand plains of Sham (Syrian Arab Republic) and Iraq if they are to transform their nation from a weak fragmented body into a strong, advanced, and dynamic society, where they shall continue to contribute to the world from their wide array of talents and intellectual capacities.  While our forefathers experienced conquerors in the past and tread on their remains, it is our job to put an end to conquests and to proceed therefrom to our natural position as global leaders in scientific, philosophical, and artistic achievements.  Only then will the true image of Syria finally be uncovered.

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8 Responses to the Article

ayman hakki Says:

I love your learned and well researched essay’s spirit but must gently disagree with you about Syria’s boundaries. If you were talking about Bilad al Sham then you’d have a better case to make. El-Sham could include Cypress and may stretch as far as the Gulf, but Syria may not. Being a Syrian is after all a choice. In villages near Antalia in middle southern Turkey I found third generation Turks who when I asked them (in Turkish) what are you; they said “Syrian”. But no Cypriote or Bahraini I’ve met has ever said that. In Saudi Arabia us Levantines are called disparagingly Shawam not Soorieen, so even the un-cultured nomads of Arabia can distinguish between a Syrian and a Bilad Shami.

Nour Says:

Dear Ayman,

Thank you for your comment. However, your conclusion about the confines of the name Syria is wrong. Our nation was historically called Syria, not bilad el-sham. Bilad el-sham was the name given to us by the Arabs (some historians argue that “sham” in this case was derived from “shimal,” i.e. north) and its usage became more common after the Arab conquests under Islamic rule.

The name Syria, however, or Souria in Arabic, and Aramaic before it, goes back thousands of years , probably to the second millenium BC, and is most likely derived from Assyria, with a dropping of the “a”. It was then used to refer to the nation as a whole within the boundaries defined in my article. If you read the Gospel, during the time of Christ the entire area was referred to as Syria. Under the Seleucid state Syria was used to identify the entire homeland. Our people in general, and not merely those living within the borders of the current entity of the Syrian Arab Republic, identified themselves as “Syrian.” Old records from Jerusalem and Beirut refer to these cities as Jerusalem, Syria and Beirut, Syria respectively and not “bilad el-sham”.

Of course, today our nation is divided and fragmented and many of our people refuse to identify themselves as either Syrian or Shami. It is natural that the Cypriot today will not refer to himself/herself as Syrian, but neither will they do so as Shami because we currently suffer from a lack of national consciousness. As for the Bahraini, they are not Syrian to begin with so it is of no surprise that they wouldn’t identify with the name.

ayman hakki Says:

I was told -but I can’t verify this- that when Hotel Sham Palace was being built a French historian was commissioned to find out why the word Sham doesn’t come up in writing as often as it comes up in speach. He concluded that one of the possible origins of the word is that it refers to Shem, son of Noah (the father of all Semites). Yaphit went north to father Europe, Shem stayed put, and Ham went south to father Africa. Damascus is the Roman abbreviation of Dimashq-El-Shem or Damascus-um: The rose of Shem. I understand that the story or the Ark is fiction but I feel that there is a possibility that Bilad al-Shem is older and geographically larger than Souria…but I may be wrong. Both ways Jerusalem and Beirut were definitely cities in Syria. Talcott Seelye the departed US ambassador to Syria showed me his old US passport; it said born in Beirut, Syria. This may be an issue of semantics but I would really like to know what’s what; who’s older Syria or Shem and which is more inclusive Syria or bilad el- Sham. The fact that Sham means Damascus in modern parlance is not an issue.

offended Says:

Nour,

Having read several legal thrillers by John Grisham, I should know better than to try and debate with an attorney :) but I am going to try my luck anyway.

I am a Syrian and I was born in Syria. These two facts are enough for me to identify with this nation. We can argue forever about the perimeter, but the core is there. As you yourself rightly said, we can’t impose this vision on the people of Mesopotamia or Cyprus. How do we, then, consummate our vision for a nation? You’d agree with me that forceful conquest is ruled out. Is Syria an exclusive concept that can’t be realized except within the geographical context you’ve outlined? I don’t think so. But on the other hand, is Syria an inclusive concept that accepts and attracts its neighbors to join hands and unite? Why not, I could certainly see that happening.

Nour Says:

Aman,

Thank you for the response. You are right, there are several interpretations regarding the origin of the name, Sham, as it is not fully agreed-upon by historians and other intellectuals. However, regardless of the age of the name itself, and whether it preceded the name “Syria”, the basic point is that historically our people used the term Syria to identify their homeland and referred to themselves as “Syrian.” The usage of the term “bilad el-sham” did not come about until after the Arab conquests and only referred to the western part of natural Syria. In any case, regardless of the name itself, the important thing is that we become aware that we are one people and one nation and rid ourselves of divisive mentalities that have plagued us for too long.

Nour Says:

Offended,

I applaud you for attempting to engage in a debate with an attorney ;-) . However, in the end, it shouldn’t be my debating skills that win people over, but rather the soundness of the ideas I’m presenting. The main idea I am conveying is that the people of this entire homeland, within the boundaries I specificed above, form a single socio-economic life-cycle, and thus a single nation.

Now, you ask how we consummate our vision for a nation, and I believe this is the fundamental question we have to answer before we engage in attempting to define our national indentity. This of course requires us a more comprehensive, thorough study of nation-formation, which would require more time and space than we have here. I would thus invite you to read Antoun Saadeh’s “The Genesis of Nations” to have a better understanding of how we came to the conclusions I highlighted above.

To summarize the basic idea, however, the formation of nations begins with man’s interaction with the land on which he lives. This interaction is two-fold: a horizontal interaction with other groups within the same geographic territory, and a vertical interaction with the land itself, in attempting to shape and exploit the land. Of course, just as man is able to shape the physical environment to satisfy his needs, so is he limited by his very physical environment in the extent of this shaping. Saadeh states:

“Although man molds the physical environment it is the physical environment itself that determines the extent and content of this molding. At the same time man strives to mold his physical environment in order to satisfy his livelihood needs, he also finds himself having to adapt his needs to conform with the region he had come to inhabit.”

The horizontal and vertical interaction on and with the land inhabited by man helped shape human development in three basic ways: its topography greatly determined the nature and scope of human adaptation as well as the form of human resources and their combinations; its natural composition influenced the outward and psychological makeup of peoples; and, finally, its natural division into zones facilitated internal group unity and prevented the integration of mankind into a single community.

The geographic barriers of the Syrian homeland allowed the various groups that inhabited this territory to interact and intermix with each other, and prevented their interaction and intermixing with peoples outside these boundaries, helping to create a distinct national composite that is of a different character than that of other nations around us. Thus, the basic definition of a nation is a group of people who inhabit a specific geographic territory who, after a long period of interaction on and with the land it inhabits, and through a process of evolution, develops distinct characteristics differentiating it from other groups. And according to this definition the people of natural Syria form a single nation based on this continuous interaction and unity of life that have existed on this land for thousands of years.

As for the inclusivity of this concept, the philosophy of Social Nationalism is different from other nationalist schools in that it incorporates all elements of the society into the definition of the nation. In other words, as opposed to the racial, ethnic, or religious nationalisms of other movements, the Social Nationalist philosophy regards the single society, with all its parts, as the basis of the national identity. Therefore, all groups who have settled in the Syrian homeland and who have intermixed with and melted into Syrian society are seen as Syrian by definition.

I hope this sheds some light on the idea I was attempting to present in my article. If you have any further questions please continue to ask them. Thank you.

ayman hakki Says:

My issue with the word Syria is not out of hatred, but out of love.
Syrian Nationalism is exclusive and Bilad al-sham is inclusive, I think.
Exclusivness is often defined by; first to market forces of Branding.
Syria’s Nationalist Party was just that a relic of the Nationalist era.
I reffer you to my Brand Syria post in creative Syria, last year… If you want me to e-mail it to you please reply to my e-mail address; babadoc1@aol.com. I really enjoyed your essay and would love to share with you mine, but it’s a tewnty page collection too long to post here, so keep up the good work and I’ll be follwing your writing.

cheapdrdrebeats Says:

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