Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Decapolis region


Curious how Syria upheaval will unfold? Know history of Syria between 7th and 11th centuries

Syria, known as “Bilad el Sham” during the Arabic Empire, was mainly divided into 3 major provinces. The northern, middle and southern provinces.

Labeling Syria as Bilad el Sham (country to the left, or the western side of the Arabic Peninsula) by the Arabic Empire stems from being located in the other direction to Yemen (on the right side).  You can figure a tribe leader standing in Mecca and gesticulating, facing north and pointing his left hand toward Syria and his right hand toward Yemen.

The northern region included the southern region of current Turkey, all the way to the seashore, the western part of the Euphrates River, Aleppo, Hama and Homs. The Al Assy River was a major source of water for the  flourishing agricultural diversity.  The province situated in north-east Aleppo was called the Kannasrine province.

Homs was the most important city in economy, trade, and population concentration. Invading man-of-war Empires had to capture Homs first for supply route before setting siege to Aleppo.  Aleppo was usually the de-facto Capital of the province, its  administrative center (basically where the prince and his entourage resided) and a strategic military location.

From Aleppo, almost all invading Empire extended their possessions toward Turkey, Mosul, and ultimately toward Damascus and Palestine.

This norther region assembled most of the religious sects, which were upset with any religious central power during all foreign occupations. It had the heaviest concentration of “heretic” Christian sects, and “heretic” non-Sunni Islamic sects such as the 4 varieties of Moslem Shias. The Shias sect of the 12th Imam was most of time governing Aleppo, though they were allied to the Caliphs in Damascus or Bagdad.  The Sunni sect at the time didn’t view this sect as a main threat religiously. (Read explanation in note #2)

The main “Arabic” tribe, meaning the tribe that immigrated from a region in the Arabic Peninsula, was named Kilab.  I was a relatively newly arrived tribe and consequently, had strong connections with its related tribes and clans in the Peninsula, and could expect support in man-of war contingents in time of military crises.

By the middle of the 10th century, successive and steady streams of immigrant tribes and clans converged toward the norther province of Syria.  These tribes were from Christian Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan… (regions in southeast the Lake of Kazwin). Why now? (Read note #3)

The warrying “Arab” tribes and leaders in Aleppo, Homs, and Hama demanded support from these newly arriving “foreign” tribes. By the end of the 11th century, Arab tribes in northern Syria didn’t constitute any weight in current political affairs.

(It is to be noted that the new converted tribes to Islam in the Caucasus region and central Asia were staunch Sunnis and refused any interpretation of the Coran.  Arab/Islam Empire in the East diverged from rational thinking, but resumed in Andalusia (Spain till the 15th century).

Middle Syria province was constituted of Damascus, Baalbak, Houran, Golan Heights, all the way to Tiberias (Tabaraya) and Akka on the current Palestinian sea-shore.  Damascus (formerly the Capital of the Arabic Omayyad Empire) was mostly Sunni Moslems.  The sedentary Sunnis in Damascus seek stability and paid allegiance to the reigning Sunni Caliph, regardless of location of the capital of the Empire, or the main power behind the Caliph.  Thus, Damascus was the main thorn toward the expansion of so-called “Heretic Moslem sects” of Ismaili or Karamita. (Read more on these two sects in note 2)

The southern Syria province included all of current Jordan and Palestine.  The city of Ramleh (close to current Tel Aviv) was the capital of the region.  This province had the most strategic trade and military location in all of Syria, (for example the Nabatean Empire with Capital Petra): What used to be known as the Decapolis region was the crossroad to most land trade and caravans and ships crisscrossing the Red Sea.

Gaza and Eshklan were mostly ruled by the power in Egypt.  The main Arab tribe was Tayy: it was newly established and had still strong connection to its clans and branches in the Arabic Peninsula, and could rely on man-of-war supply in critical crisis. (Might expand in later articles)

When the European crusaders invaded Syria, most of the cities with majority “heretic” sects (both Christians and Moslems) facilitated the occupation of their cities by the crusaders.  Aleppo and Damascus (mostly of sunni sect at the time) remained outside the crusaders’ dominion.  It is from these two cities that the counter attacks were concentraded and kicked the occupiers out, a century later.

What’s happening in Syria now?

The people in Homs have been virulent and demonstrating nightly against the regime. Why?

During late Hafez Assad, the socialist central government invested and funneled money into this major City. In the last five years, and the spread of liberal capitalism that pressured Syria to revise its economic and financial laws, the insiders in the central government and Bashar Assad clan opted to invest outside Syria, in Damascus, and Aleppo. Government funding for Homs disappeared.

Hama is virulent for two major reason:

First, Hama has been punished for over 3 decades from serious government investment related to the 1982 mass uprising. Hafez Assad decreed that: “Every Syrian who is found to be a member of Syria Moslem Brotherhood Party will be executed“.  Hafez was very consistent in his position and many Syrians were persecuted and hanged.

Second, Hama want revenge!

Why Damascus is not currently that excited for reform change?

As usual and historically, Sunnis in Damascus give priority to stability and security. Second, merchant class in Damascus is still reaping the advantages of being resident of the Capital.  When the regime shows definite weaknesses, you can be sure that Damascus will take over and lead the “revolution”: They have to maintain and protect their interest, economically and politically.

The people in Aleppo wish that what is taking place is actually a terrible bad dream: They will wake up from just a nightmarish dream. Aleppo is in a situation of “No Win”, regardless of which side to take.  If it sides with the government, Aleppo will suffer the most from a civil war because it is in the middle of the Sunni Kurds in the north and Sunni “Arabs” in the south.

Note 1: Information on the geopolitical structure of ancient Syria was extracted mostly from the book “Bilad el Sham during Arab Empire till the 10th century” by the late historian Kamal Salibi (he died two months ago).  It was written and published in English in 1982.  I am reading the Arabic version.

Note 2: As the Prophet Mohammad died in 631, many tribes opted to revert to paganism. The first Caliph Abu Bakr, and the second Caliph Omar needed 4 years of skirmishes before bringing back the hostile tribes into Islam.  The third Calif Othman was also from the Quraich tribe, the main powerful tribe of Mecca, from which the Prophet and Ali are from. Othman was assassinated in Medina.  Ali was next in line to be appointed caliph, and he was perceived as reluctant to prosecuting the assassins. The governor of Damascus, Muawiyah, was from the same clan of Othman and claimed the right for the position of Caliph and Imam of the Moslems.

Muaweya begged to differ. Ali was the husband of one of Muhammad daughters (Fatima who died 6 months after Mohammad) and whose two sons are consequently direct descendent from the Prophet. At a critical battle where the troops of Ali had ascendency after three days of war, Muaweyah raised the bloody shirt of Caliph Othman and asked Ali for negotiation by putting their hands on the Coran. Ali accepted a third-party decision for avoiding a civil war.

Two groups of Ali’s followers dissented.  The first group was called the Shias, and the second group Al Khawarej. The Shia said: “We didn’t fight with Ali to having a second opinion on his legitimacy as a descendent of the Prophet.”  The Khawarej said: “Enough is enough. We already had four caliph from the Quraich tribe. We don’t care anymore that a Caliph must necessarily be from the Quraich tribe.”  This extremist group constituted the worst anti-Quraich hegemony and received the worst and most sustained persecution. A member of Khawarej assassinated Ali five years later in Koufa. The same day, another member attempted to assassinate Muawiyah.  Muawiyah was wounded but didn’t succumb to his wounds.

The Shia sects are of four kinds.  Two sects are main and two others are branches. You have the Shia believing that the 12th Imam will return on earth to spread everlasting peace, and those who claim it is the 6th Imam known as the Ismailia sect.  The 12th sect is the predominant sect in Iran, Lebanon, and Aleppo region in north Syria. The 6th sect was predominant in North Africa and was called Fatimid when they conquered Egypt in the 9th century; they are currently dominant in India.

The Druze sect is a branch from the Ismailia sect and majority in the Chouf and west Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, and in Houran and Golan Heights in Syria. The Alawi or Nussairi sect are also a branch of the 6th Imam and mostly a majority in the western region of Syria (this sect claim that Jesus is the one to return to earth and he didn’t die on the cross…)

Historically, the Karamita were a branch of the 6th Imam but would not suffer a centralized religious system in Cairo during the Fatimid dynasty. The Karamita established their headquarter in Al Ihsaa in East Arabic Peninsula, and expanded their territory to all the Arabic Peninsula, Yemen, Palestine and attempted several times to threaten Egypt.  They are still majority in that eastern part of Saudi Arabia.

Note 3: First, Byzantium Empire was re-expanding, and recapturing lost territories, and the strategy was to empty the re-conquered provinces and send the turbulent tribes toward “enemy territories” to forming a buffer zone.

Second, the newly established Seljuk Empire in Iran, which covered its legitimacy by recognizing the Caliph of Bagdad as Islam (Sunni) religious Imam, prohibited the immigrating tribes to settle on the Iranian borders, and encouraged them to move toward north Syria: A strategy meant for these tribes to becoming the front line for future expansion toward all of Syria. The Seljuk Empire managed to conquer Aleppo and Damascus, a couple of decades before the Crusaders waves started.

Note 4: You may read the differences between the rural and sedentary Islam sects




May 2023

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