George Ajjan | Political TV pundit United States
April 25th, 2009

Re: ‘Syria is ...

Syria is a cartographic abortion.

Why must it be so?

She was conceived centuries ago, practically at the dawn of history. Poets, prophets, and troubadours alike knew of her and wrote for her. She captivated the mind of civilization since its dawn, nourished it and cradled it.

Before being born in the age of nationalism, she endured many turbulent periods. Yet when her long dormancy in the womb neared its ending, she unfortunately came under the accidental care of a team of hack midwives, who grotesquely disfigured her in utero. Thus, she greeted the world a piece at a time, and each of these arbitrary segments was given a different name unrelated to the others.

The largest of these aborted fragments, however, was nonetheless given the name reserved for the whole: “Syria”. Why? Should it not have been called something else, perhaps related to some geographical sub-feature, as Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine were?

As it happened, history was betrayed. Thus, the rest of the world hears the word “Syria” and thinks of some illegitimate retro-fitted Republic rump-state that looks perfectly respectable in a Rand McNally World Atlas, but spits in the face of a geographical and cultural concept that possesses one of the richest histories on Earth.

What today we call Syria (the Syrian Republic, and later, the Syrian Arab Republic) is not Syria. Sorry! But this is a historical fact.

Let’s be clear: if Arab nationalists and champions of the Arab resistance refer to Israel as al-kiyan al-sahiouni (الكيان الصهيوني – the Zionist Entity), then these same people should refer to what the world at large calls Syria in the modern sense al-kiyan al-souri (الكيان السوري- the Syrian Entity).

Some citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic will take offense to the comparison, and consider it disrespectful to the martyrs of the colonial period, as well as those who fought in the wars of 1948, 1967, and 1973. Regardless of history, they will say, we believe in our Syrian nation. This perspective is perfectly justified, except that the nation to which they pledge allegiance should have been called otherwise so as not to distort its own history as its cartography was grossly distorted.

Others will happily accept a disparagement of the modern nation-state called Syria, because they too view Syria in its historical context, commonly called “Greater Syria” or “Bilad al-Sham”. Yet their perspective often manifests itself in an ugly fashion, particularly as it concerns the kiyan al-libnani (the Lebanese Entity). Because they correctly surmise that Lebanon is only a mountain range within Syria, they therefore see no problem with a decades-long, unnecessary military occupation of one faux-state by the other, which in its latter days consisted of about 15,000 personnel whose job description could best be described as “uniformed extortionist”. But they are wrong: one lie swallowing another does not create a truth.

(Though, I must note that these misguided citizens of the Syrian nation-state could hardly be blamed for desiring continued domination over their Lebanese counterparts upon seeing approximately 10,452 obnoxious ingrates waving signs saying “ موووووو” as a parting gesture.)

Furthermore, he who waxes poetic about Lebanon as a mere region of Syria from one side of his mouth – while proclaiming “the Palestinian cause” from the other – is a hypocrite. Is the bitterness toward Israeli occupation so intense that it clouds the fact that Palestine, too, belongs to the historical Syria? Not to mention, the “kingdom” (what a laugh!) on the East Bank. And don’t forget the Alexandretta province, which resembles on the map of Turkey a…never mind, this is a polite website.

Sadly, the Syrian people, from Gaza to Qamishli and everywhere in between, are too wrapped in their post-colonials identities – now going on 3 generations – to spend much time trying to comprehend the historical truth. Yes, I admit, I have the luxury as someone whose family has been in the United States for nearly a century, of lecturing the people who actually inhabit Syria (the whole thing) on the mindset of their ancestors that they abandoned – the mindset that was passed down to me from late Ottoman times. I recognize that I did not suffer through wars and displacements for the sake of what I have the nerve to call “aborted pieces”.

But of course I have no choice but to accept that the map of the region that currently exists will continue to exist. For history’s sake, we can dream of a “Greater Syrian Union” or a “United States of Syria” or some other fantasy in which all the various components join together and all the inhabitants put aside their petty jealousies and rivalries.

But that’s a long shot. In the meantime, Syria – for lack of a better word – will remain a cartographic abortion.

George Ajjan is an American political analyst of Aleppine origin.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (6 votes, average: 3.83 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

19 Responses to the Article

ayman hakki Says:

George.

Do you really Syria is a cartographic abortion but that “you have no choice but to accept that the map of the region that currently exists will continue to exist” or are you just being controversial?

What nomenclature would suit your sensibilities? How about the Levant (French based word that suggests that the sun rises off of the eastern shore of the Mediterranean)? I’m a proud Syrian American but being a Levantine American suits me even better because Levantine has a hedonistic “devil may care” ring to it. And yes Syria a mere seventy years ago included all of Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and some of Iraq and the southern coast of Turkey, but the fact that it has gotten smaller isn’t our fault others have pulled us apart.

You also seem enamored with big words like cartographic abortion! It may be a cathartic metaphor for you, but it is incorrect. Abortion means the fatal expulsion of a fetus and Syria’s present condition isn’t fatal by any measure: Syria is alive and kicking. It may look like it has a low Apgar score but it is alive. Syria is also the least fetal of all nations, With the exception of Iraq which is now divided, Syria is the least fetal of nations. So, it isn’t a fetus and it hasn’t been aborted. If you haven’t recently been atop Qasyoon at night with a glass of Arak in hand you (not Syria) have not lived. If you read my post you would realize that I was just back home having surgery…and the Syria I just saw is the opposite of distorted abortion, it is actually sitting pretty.

Your essay, I think is a metaphore; it lambastes Syrian for their grandiose semantic flourishes, and though I realize that your attack is “present day based,” your attack is equally semantically grandiose and imprecise. I guess your family having lived in the states for a hundred years hasn’t cured it or you of our Syrian ills. And if two wrongs don’t make a right…then your third wrong doesn’t make it right either. Compare Syria to its neighbors and you’ll see that few are as alive, as diverse, as hardy and (with the exception of Lebanon) as pretty. Its system isn’t an example of Lockian liberal governance and mistakes have been made, but look what happened here after 9/11…habeas corpus went right out of the window. It is amazing that Syria has survived so many 9/11 like attacks over 10 millennia without unduly oppressing its minorities, or making a mockery of its ideals.

Ayman.

Hassan Raymond Tahhan Says:

George,

Thank you for raising the most pertinent issue of Syria’s identity.

The word Syria is very likely a contraction of the word Assyria.
And Assyria had its epicenter in Middle and Upper Mesopotamia.

We may have to abandon the current name of Syrian Arab Republic and look into that of “Aram Federation” which would be appropriate for the Aleppo-Hama-Homs-Damascus corridor; that would be fine; note that our own native Levantine Mizrahi Jews call Bilad Al Sham “South Aram” and they call “North Aram” Aleppo and its region.

There are also other names, but I would never use them: Amoriteland would sound immoral and impractical since the Turks do not use the name Hittiteland for their country, Mitanni would sugest a second rate status, Al-Sham would be too restrictive, Western Trans-Mesopotamia would be too complicated and it could be challenged by the Eastern (Persian) Trans-Mesopotamians.

About “al kiyan al sahyouni”: it is an usurping entity, the fruit of colonialism. It has known aims, and these aims are the negation of the Levantine culture; other entities are also nefarious to the dying (NOT) Levantine culture, but that is the clearest and most present danger.

Arab Nationalism is quite different; it has minimalistic versions, like the SSNP’s version whereby Greater Syria is one of four spheres of the Arab speaking world, the others being Arabia, Egypt-Sudan, and the Maghreb. On the other hand, there are some maximalistic versions of Arab Nationalism; those are rabid Unionists who believe that all Arab countries should be united.

National boundaries were gerrymandered by the dominant nations that won the last two official World Wars. For us, a modified version of the Sykes-Picot colonial machinations has resulted into the current map of the Levant, with a definitely truncated Syria, various other incongruities (apparently, but in fact, we are divided so that others can reign) and, most importantly, a transplanted usurping identity that has created a cascade of serious problems in the Levant.

So my Syria would be… the good old Levant: all of Palestine, all of Jordan, all of the SAR, a status akin to Nevada or Florida for Mount Lebanon (good for tourism), all of Mesopotamia/Iraq, as well as all of the territories ceded by the French on behalf of Syria: Antioch and Alexandretta, and also a large band of territory that covers (at least) three cities whose citizens considered themselves Syrians until they were outnumbered and forced out: Mardin, Diyarbakir, and Urfa.

ayman hakki Says:

So true, the people of Mardin do consider themselves Syrian, I talked to them recently in Antalya. So Hassan, why not use the term Levant?

Hassan Raymond Tahhan Says:

Ayman,
Syria covers the Levant, but some do not like to be part of “Syria” but they would say yes to a Levantine Federation.
I am fine with both, but the fact is that Syrians of various ethnic and religious groups have earned the right for the share of the lion in “calling” the area. I am not denying that others, Palestinians, Lebanese, etc… have shown great patriotism as well.

ayman hakki Says:

Seventy years ago everyone in Lebanon and Palestine considered themselves Syrians, today they do not, while some in Turkey still do. That’s why Levantine appeals to me. I agree that Syria under any name will always be Syria; I’m just being sensitive to others who don’t. The issue of identity will be the defining issue of the next century. Are we Syrians (my Lebanese uncles want to be Lebanese), are we Arabs (my Turkish cousins want to be Turks), are we Muslims (my Christian cousin wants to be a Catholic). I say let them be what they want to be and let us all be Levantines. It’s a non-issue if we are in agreement. I personally consider my self a Shami first which I define as son of Shem and the original word for Semite because that way I can include all non-Zionist non-religious Jews. Semitism was actually a term used by a German scholar to describe Semites as Jewish tribes of the Levant. From it came anti-Semitism and Arab anti-shawm insults.

Hassan Raymond Tahhan Says:

Ayman,
I agree with you.
As a pathologist, and being obsessed with nomenclature, I would not mind “Levant Federation” at all.
Being a member of the cosmopolitan tendency within the patriotic bunch, I like Federation because it is inclusive.

Alex Says:

Great! … I am for a federation with whatever name they give it.

But can we find a capital to the liking of everyone in the Levant? .. Damascus is the oldest and most distinguished city in the region … but it would probably be seen as a symbol of “Syrian” dominance in the new Levant Federation.

And … will there be any quotas (at government posts, parliament …) for people from each of the original member states?

Alex Says:

And while I’m here, I would like to suggest to you this beautiful post by our friend Yazan Badran

http://yazanbadran.com/blog/2009/05/before-i-go-to-sleep/

He is 23 I think … studying Engineering in Japan.

He just came back from a visit to Syria.

Hassan Raymond Tahhan Says:

Alex,
Thank you for the link. Luckily, it was Yazan Badran, and not Tony Badran(t). I found it very refreshing. Note that, deep inside, I do not believe in nationalities, only in many versions of a universal culture.
Also, the tiny cosmopolitan little voice in my head has asked me to expand the Levant to Turkish, Iranian, Armenian, and Azeri territories, and to make a place for a real Kurdistan in the Federation. The Arabic Peninsula is to join too, but the price may be exhorbitant for their rulers: rejoin the historical culture of the area and stop the obsession with Western materialism, neoliberalism and neoconservatism.

ayman hakki Says:

I like your new federation but I’ not too happy with the Arab peninsula joining us as long as Bani Saud and by proxy Bani Abdul Wahab rule it.

I am not an enemy of Arabs and consider myself one, I’m an AArabi antagonist (see Elie AlHadj’s post comments) they’re holier than thou.

Kurds, Armenians, Kaldanians and even Phoenicians have issues with us Levantines but at least they are not trying to forcibly convert us.

Damascus or Aleppo would be fine capitals, but being a Shami I’m leaning towards Damascus though Aleppo may even be an older city.

Cosmopolitan means citizen of the world, civilized means a culture that is city driven so I think the later suits us Levantines best.

ayman hakki Says:

Hassan.

I understand your obsession with names; I too did a year of surgical pathology (and then five years of surgery and two more years of plastic surgery). But you think of yourself as a cosmopolitan while my guess is that you are not. Let me ask you a simple test question; as a dinner partner is a grungy hermit ascetic man as appealing to you as a clean worldly scientist? Al Maari vs. Ibn Khaldoon? Ibn Khaldoon was a cultured man who was very civilized; he saved Damascus from the Mongol Hordes by negotiating with Timor an infamous treaty sparing us from the fate that befell the citizens of Baghdad and other cities. Ibn Al Khaldoon-an emissary of the Fatimides-was civilized while Abu Al Aalaa was a spiritual cosmopolitan who transcended civilization-and unlike Ibn Khaldoon-lived miserably. Levantines are not cosmopolitan because we’re biased against the rest of the cosmos; we secretly consider them Johnny-come-lately city dwellers and mostly un-couth.

Ayman.

Hassan Raymond Tahhan Says:

Ayman,
Cosmopolitism is an acceptance of other cultures, and mixing the best of all cultures, thus elevating yourself and others, intellectually and spiritually.  It is not a dilution of one’s own culture in a mix of trendy cultural shortcuts to other cultures.
Also, I am not of the opinion that we are “the chosen people” (there is no such thing) as Levantines, but rather that we have historically lived in the crossroads and have thus a better shot than anybody to be the ultimate cosmopolitans.
Incidentally, Abu Alaa is my favorite classical Arab author while Voltaire is my favorite classic French author; I am French educated. My culture in Arabic, once superficial, gained significantly when my father moved out of Beirut and settled near me; I am ashamed, however, to say that I’ve never read his books; luckily, he periodically reads large excerpts to us, the members of his immediate family.

Contemporary true cosmopolitan individuals from the Levant include Jibran, and more recently Georges Corm (NOT Charles Corm, of course); I also believe that Nizar Qabbani is a great cosmopolitan poet.My Syrian or Levantine preferences in the current context are cultural, historical, and political.  The cosmopolitan packaging is our key to universalism; we should provide far more to true world culture.

One key ingredient to our political cosmopolitan role is in spreading awareness about the plight of the Palestinian people; we succeed every time a non-Arab, even a very humble member or seemingly unimportant member of any society, is invested in the universal appeal of the Palestinian cause. 

I recommend the article recently written by As’ad Abu-Khalil (“the dangerous man…”) that you can find on Angry Arab, with an excellent translation by Karim K posted a few hours ago. Incidentally: at a minimum a Levantine state should include all the areas where the fraternal solidarity with the Palestinian people resonnates the most: Palestine (all of Palestine), Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq.

I am interested in the comparative history of Aleppo and Damascus; both were lucky to be off the path of Genghis Khan, but not so with Hulagu (with Damascus suffering more than Aleppo, but Aleppo suffering far longer, in fact for decades) and Timur (Ibn Khaldun’s role was ineffective, as the Mongols massacred the Damascene, thus renegging on the agreement they had made with the Fatimides’ envoy).

I would compare Ibn Khaldun to a man today that has encyclopedic knowledge but superficial human and spiritual values; today, that would be an erudite but impotent UN or EC peace envoy.  At the other side of the spectrum, I would compare Abu Alaa to a principled individual who is defending Palestinians; a list of such minded people can be found upon reading the recently created International Russell Tribunal in favor of Palestine (not all are great, but most are).

ayman hakki Says:

Hassan.

Timor did not massacre many Damascenes. Supposedly 37 were killed and they were all “ruffians”. Ibn Khaldun was very effective, but Arab historians slight him because of the seemingly of the “shameful” unconditional surrender his agreement guaranteed Timor. It assured our survival and we haven’t looked back since that fateful day.

A civilized reading of the three part agreement shows that by buying 3 days for Damascus he allowed the population to get acclimatized to the inevitability of vanquish he even got them to throw rose petals at Timor’s army. It was the Damascenes not Timor who reneged on their promise to not harass his army once they left on the road to Egypt.

I never claimed chosen status for Levantines (only Jewish Levantines have that distinction and it has been both a curse and a blessing on them) I do claim oldest cohesive “civilization” status (again with the exception of Iraq which is now divided). I think that civilized and cosmopolitan are not the same though many of us are Cosmopolitan.

If you can’t read Risalat al Ghufran it is a shame. You should try, it’s seemingly impenetrable, but if you read Dante’s rip off of it you will be surprised at how Dante’ plagiarized it. Scene after scene form it are reproduced in that work. We are the first but not the best. We are the original civilized people, with all the baggage of civilization.

Ayman.

Hassan Raymond Tahhan Says:

Ayman,

The Timurlane invasion of Damascus was very bloody according to Western sources (some available through Wikipedia) but, interestingly, my father says that your version is more accurate.

As to Dante, he is extremely overrated, and he is an anti-Moslim of low standards. Oddly, even Voltaire had some (obscure and relatively unknown) anti-Moslim writings, but he was not a rabid Judeo-Christian.

As to Jewish Levantines, I am very open-minded. I always argue with my friends who are SSNP sympathizers, as they equate Jewish and Israeli and Zionist; incidentally, the SSNP charter denies ANY Jew the honor of being part of the citizenry of Greater Syria.

I happen to belong to the last Syro-Lebanese generation that actually had Mizrahi Jewish classmates, in Damascus before I turned nine, and in Lebanon, where I attended school after 1967. Most Mizrahi (Levantine) Jews are in fact very close to us, Levantine Christians and Moslims, atheists and agnostics, but the problem is that the usurping entity has created a lose-lose situation for Levantine Jews, hence their exit from Syria and Lebanon in the 1980ies. A few remained, in Lebanon more particularly, and some (many) are rabidly anti-Zionist, not unlike Maghrebine Jews who criticize the Morroccan King for his favorable stance towards the Zionist entity. As to most Western Zionist Israeli Jews, most are colonists with imperialists views and… with negationist views; the OTHER negationism, the one that says that they are a people without land that occupied a land without people, the negationism that, by affirming their rights on Palestinian lands, has negated the full rights of Palestinians of all religions to the whole land of Palestine.

I hope you have had time to look at the International Russell Tribunal for Palestine; I was agreably surprised to find that Raymond Aubrac, the famous French Resistant, and husband to French Resistante Lucie Aubrac, is a member; he is Jewish, and so are several other members.

HRT.

PS: My wife, who grew up in Rawdha, had a neighbour belonging to the Hakki family, Omar, while she was growing up in Damascus.

ayman hakki Says:

Thanks Hassan. Omar is my dear cousin, and he’s now a dentist in Houston. I’ll look up the tribunal. I do believe your Dad is correct: They call us Banadeeq Shwam because of that fateful treaty. If you saw my dad (and my uncle Basil) you’d see Asiatic features beautifully displayed. What is considered a shameful surrender by the “Aarabis” is (to me) part of Syria’s survivalist lore. We did not wish rape and pillage upon ourselves, we just dealt with the hand God gave us. This only proves that Syria is the original melting pot, and I’m proud of all our ethnic ingredients. Mendelian genetics prove the benefit of far flung intermarriages and the ills of marriages that are from within the clan.

Jad Says:

Ayman,
That is the funniest comment I read in your intelligent exchange with Hassan.
I have the same issue of ‘Asiatic features’ you are writing about in my family too. Me and my brother used to make ‘bad’ jokes that my grandmother had some ‘affair’ with the Japanese ambassador and my uncles are the results..the funny thing is that my cousins still have the same Asiatic features, so the jocks continue to my uncle’s wives with the new ambassador(really bad jokes)

ayman hakki Says:

Jad.
If you e-mail me (aymanhakki@msn.com) I’ll send you a scan of photos of my dad and cousin Faris. They basically look like they jumped off a Mongol horse, and that’s a clear result of the rape of my great great great …grandmother. To some that seems shameful, but if you knew my dad and my cousin, you would appreciate the strength of Timor.
Ayman. ; )

Jad Says:

Ayman,
Reading what you wrote about something happened 800 years ago is amazing; can you imagine how open minded and flexible our ancestors were then comparing to some communities now in the 21st century where a raped women would get stoned to death or killed in the most violent way in the name of ‘honor’ while she is a VICTIM.
I don’t understand how we managed to get that much backward since then.

ayman hakki Says:

Jad.

It is so easy to go backward …moving forward is what takes guts.

For a Melina the voices of regression have drowned out the voices of our enlightenment. It all started with an honorable enough thought; Mohammad (peace be upon him) is the perfect man. From the moment that that deceptively appealing notion was sold to us we went from a nation of thoughtful believers to a nation of mimickers.

Interestingly Sirat al-Nabi tells us that the Prophet himself walked around saying I’m only human and fallible, to the point that he prohibited his followers from writing down al-Habith, reserving transcription for the Holy Quran. So saddly, we have based half of our world view on what a self proclaimed fallible man said, and did?

Thank you for appreciating the humor in our situation. Its funny how we Shwam got the “Banadqa” label. On a more somber note; I agree with you women are not the guilty parties when rape is concerned. Anyone who disagrees with this simple fact is not only evil he doesn’t understand a basic concept; God only knows, and only He can judge.

Ayman.

PS. The older I get the more I sound religious! It could be early dementia or it may be that I am starting to get that all religions say the same thing, the religious hear something else and then they all distort what was said to some degree. So being religious is no longer equated -in my mind- with being stupid, being dogmatically sure of anything-to the exclusion of other’s certainty-is what is very stupid.

Leave a Reply

« Return to Main Page