Syria fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1516; the latter's rule over Syria lasted four centuries which ended in 1918. The British that occupied Egypt falsely and hypocritically promised the Arabs military support along with liberty and full independence from the Ottomans, if the Arabs sided with them in World War I. Under this promise and the violent policy by the Ottomans of Turkification, the Arabs revolted in 1916. By 1918, the Arabs with British support achieved their goal and entered Damascus . Victory did not come cheap; on May 6, 1916 tens of Syrian nationals were hanged by the Ottomans in Damascus and Beirut . Those brave men are still remembered in Syria and Lebanon by National Holidays known as Martyrs' Day .
In 1918, Syria was declared an independent kingdom under the rule of King Faisal I, son of Sharif Hussein of Mecca; famous for the Hussein-McMahon Letters which had promised the Arabs independence. Unfortunately for the Arabs, France , Britain and the Tsar's Russia had their own secret plans for the region. In a secret agreement known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 , France and Britain divided the Middle East into “Spheres of Influence.” Syrian independence was extremely short-lived; in 1920 French troops invaded Syria . After several battles with a poorly equipped and newly established Syrian military, French troops occupied all of Syria and disposed of King Faisal I. In 1923, the League of Nations fully recognized Syria as a French Mandate, in the absence of any prior consultation with the Syrian people.
Syrians resisted the foreign occupiers; in 1925 several battles took place in the region of Jabal el-Arab and in the capital Damascus . The capital was severely damaged by French air raids killing many civilians. It took over ten years of struggle for the French to accept the Franco-Syrian Treaty, which was signed in Paris in 1936. This treaty gave Syria partial independence and a promise of stage withdrawal of French troops from Syria . However, the French did not live up to their promises. During World War II , Syria became a proxy battle arena between French troops loyal to the Vichy government, allied to Nazi Germany and Free French troops allied with Britain . Syria witnessed many battles between the two sides, including air raids, which once again ruined the Syrian capital along with some of the ancient ruins in Palmyra . Syrians however, sided with Free French and British troops as they had promised full independence after the war would be over.
Once again the Syrians had been deceived into fighting a war not their own for nothing in return. France for a second time did not live up to its promise, French occupation of Syria remained and there was a large extent of French influence on Syrian domestic, regional, and international politics. Syrians once again protested; on May 29, 1945 French troops attacked the Syrian Parliament building in Damascus . This move sparked uproar all over Syria and the demand for full independence was stronger than ever. Finally, Syrian independence was discussed at the United Nations Security Council, which demanded a French withdrawal. On April 17, 1946 the last French soldier withdrew from Syria . This day is celebrated as the National Independence Day .
Only two years after independence Syria would be forced into war. After the creation of Israel and the forced Palestinian expulsion from their native lands, the newly independent Syria , sent in its volunteer army along with other newly independent Arab states to help its Palestinian brothers. The Arab fighters, almost all volunteer untrained forces were no match for the British trained and militarily equipped Israelis. Israeli forces managed to occupy seventy-eight percent of the area of what is known as historical Palestine . The Syrian government, among other Arab governments involved in the 1948 war, was not able to purchase weapons from almost any country; on the other hand Israel was heavily financed by the British and the French with all weaponry technologies. U.N. Security Council Resolution 73 (1949) established an Armistice Agreement and the Armistice Line, which in effect set the border from 1949-1967.
Between the years of 1949-1970 Syria witnessed a great deal of political instability. General Hussni al-Zaim and his military followers led the first military coup in modern Syrian history by overthrowing the democratic national government of President Shukri al-Quwatli . Al-Zaim proclaimed himself president of the military junta, executive and legislative branches of the government and all Syrian military forces, in effect sole ruler of the country. Al-Zaim quickly lost any support he might have had due to his western ties, especially the discrete backing of the coup by the United States . Al-Zaim signed several deals with U.S. oil companies for building the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, effectively giving up rights of the country's oil revenue. His rule lasted less than five-months; however, it set the country on a spree of coups that continued for years to come. From independence in 1946 until 1970, Syria had fourteen presidents.
In the late 1950's Syria 's relationship with the west began to worsen due to improving ties with the Soviet Union . In 1957, Turkey , an extremely close U.S. ally and member of NATO, massed its troops on the Turkish-Syrian border and threatened to invade. This and other threats were some of the main reasons Syria agreed to join a union with Egypt . In February 1958, Syria and Egypt formed the United Arab Republic with then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser as president of the union. However, Nasser dissolved all Syrian political parties, this was one of the reasons the union did not last long. In 1961, only three years later, Syria broke from the union.
On March 8, 1963, the Baath Arab Socialist Party succeeded in the March Revolution. Between the years of 1949-1967 Israel received condemnation several times at the U.N. Security Council for diverting water from the Syrian Golan through the Jordan River . In spring of 1967 many attacks were launched on Syria , Lebanon , Egypt and Jordan . Historical records, especially The Personal Diary of Moshe Sharrett (former Israeli minister), indicate that as early as the 1950s, Israeli generals and leaders were devising plans to capture the West Bank, Gaza , the Golan, Suez Canal , and Shebba Farms. By April of 1967, Israeli officials were publicly threatening to invade Syria . This all came after several condemnations by the U.N. Security Council of Israeli practices against Arabs. Israel had claimed that Syrians were firing on innocent Israeli farmers from the Golan; however, every U.N. report dismissed these allegations and confirmed that Syrian troops were not firing. However, when Syrian troops had fired it was within the rules of self-defense. U.N. reports and resolutions such as: Security Council Resolution 93 (1951) .http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/072/12/IMG/NR007212.pdf?OpenElement which instructed Israel to cease land development in the demilitarized zone between it and Syria ; it also stated that Arabs in the demilitarized zone forcibly evicted by Israel must be returned forthwith. Another Security Council Resolution 111 (1956) http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/109/45/IMG/NR010945.pdf?OpenElement condemned Israel 's attack on Syrian forces and crossing into Syrian territory. These were among the many passed against Israel .
On June 5, 1967, Israel launched an aggressive and unprovoked war against its Arab neighbors. On June 10, 1967, Israel occupied the Syrian Golan; both sides accepted the U.N.'s call for a cease-fire. U.N. Security Council issued Resolution 242 (1967)http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/240/94/IMG/NR024094.pdf?OpenElement which calls for the complete Israeli withdrawal from territories it occupied during the War, including the Occupied Syrian Golan.
On November 16, 1970, General Hafez Assad , then Syria 's Minister of Defense and a leading member of the Baath Arab Socialist Party led the Correctionist Movement , which finally brought Syria long-lasting political and economic stability after the many years of political strife. Four months later, on the memory of the March Revolution, the Syrian people elected Hafez Assad as their president. He continued his endless work on all fronts. On the military front, he quickly began to mobilize the country's military forces to take back its occupied Golan. On the domestic political front, he organized the National Progressive Front in order to get the People's Council (Syrian Parliament) back to work.
On October 6, 1973, Syrian and Egyptian troops launched a surprise attack against Israeli forces that were illegally occupying the Sinai and Suez Canal from the Egyptian side and the Golan from the Syrian side. Both sides made their intentions clear: to liberate their occupied territories taken by force in the War of 1967. Syria was able to liberate some of its occupied territories; however, Israeli forces managed to recover due to a massive U.S. airlifts and support. The Egyptian forces then ceased all operations abruptly and the Syrians soon found themselves fighting Israel alone with massive U.S. airlifts and support on its own. The U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 338 (1973) , http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/288/65/IMG/NR028865.pdf?OpenElement which reiterated 242 (1967), and the calling for a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East .
Syria did not want the war to end in this manner. Therefore, it launched a war of attrition against Israeli occupation forces on the Occupied Syrian Golan. Due to Syrian support of their leader and the military along with a strong Arab morale, international pressure began on Israel . The U.S. led talks and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger succeeded in reaching a deal with both the Syrians and Israelis Syrian-Israeli Agreement on Military Disengagement (1974) http://www.damascus-online.com/history/documents/disengage.htm . Under this deal, Syria would regain control of a strip on the Golan including the capital of the Golan, Quneitra. President Assad raised the Syrian flag over the liberated land on June 26, 1974. Yet, this joy was short-lived. When Quneitraian citizens returned to their liberated homes, they were traumatized and stunned to find that every home, building, Mosque and Church in the city had been deliberately demolished by Israeli bulldozers and dynamite. Even the city's graves had been dug and robbed by the Israelis, all just days before the Israeli withdrawal, as documented by the BBC and others. The city remains destroyed as living proof of Israeli aggression towards civilians. On December 14, 1981, Israel annexed, the Occupied Syrian Golan; the international community responded with U.N. Security Council Resolution 497 (1981) http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/418/84/IMG/NR041884.pdf?OpenElement , which unanimously called this move, “null and void” and not one country has legitimized it. Since then, every year the U.N. passes General Assembly resolution titled “The Occupied Syrian Golan” which reaffirms the illegality of the Israeli occupation and annexation of approximately 1,500 square kilometers of Syrian land.
In 1979, the Islamic Revolution in Iran overthrew the Shah which ended Iran 's alliance with the west, mainly the U.S. , and thus declared its full support for the Palestinian cause. A year later in 1980, Saddam Hussein's Iraq launched war against Iran . Syria voiced its opposition to this, calling it the wrong war, at the wrong time and against the wrong enemy. Syria was standing by its Arab Nationalistic standpoint, by stating that there must be unity to confront an Israeli occupier rather than regional conflicts. In this case Iraq and Iran had a common policy towards Israel , which they should have focused on. Unfortunately for Syria very few Arab states supported this position. After an eight-year war with nothing accomplished but heavy losses and causalities on both sides, Iraq invaded the small Gulf state of Kuwait in August 1990. This sparked wide international condemnation. Syria took part in the U.N. led coalition to liberate Kuwait , at the same time pointing to the double standards between Iraq and Israel . The quick response to Iraq 's violation of sovereignty had largely outweighed any international response to Israeli aggression. Directly after the first Gulf War, Syria accepted the U.S. invitation to the Madrid Peace Conference , an international peace conference for the Middle East . Letter of Invitation to the Madrid Peace Conference (1991) . http://www.damascus-online.com/history/documents/invitation.htm The conference started in November 1991 and marked the launch of bilateral Arab-Israeli peace talks. These talks were based on U.N. resolutions calling for Israel 's withdrawal from Arab territories occupied in 1967, and on the so-called “land for peace” formula. Yet, these talks were stalled because of Israel 's constant refusal to give back any of the Arab land it occupies.
Syrian-Israeli peace talks came to a dead end in 1996 when Israel refused to discuss a complete withdrawal from the occupied Syrian Golan. For Syrians a complete withdrawal from the Syrian Golan is seen as a key condition of any peace deal with Israel . This was drafted as a condition that if Israel truly wants peace and good relations with its Arab neighbors as it proclaims to the world then it would simply withdraw from the territories it illegally occupies. The Israeli government continues to claim the occupied Syrian Golan is needed for a “buffer zone” from an alleged "hostile Syria " and for water resources needed by Israel . However, it is known that this so-called “buffer zone” is not only illegal by international law, but it also does not stand as a valid argument due to the immediate push for settlements in the occupied Syrian Golan by Israelis directly after the War in 1967. Furthermore, as the late Syrian President Hafez Assad stated “Syrians have an undeniable right to their Syrian Golan than Israelis have to its natural resources.” By late 1999, Israel signaled through the U.S. its will to accept a move to withdraw from the occupied Syrian Golan. This time high level peace talks continued in Washington D.C. between Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sahara and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. In 2000, Barak tried to exclude the northeastern shore of Lake Tiberis and parts of Jabal al-Sheikh because Israel receives 30 percent of its water resources from the occupied Syrian Golan. Syria made it clear that no single centimeter of Syrian soil will be given away. Statement by Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa at the Opening Ceremony of the Syrian-Israeli Peace Talks (2000) http://www.damascus-online.com/history/documents/shepherdstown.htm
After serving Syria for thirty years, President Hafez Assad passed away in Damascus in 2000. The country mourned its beloved leader; he had done a great deal for Syria . His leadership and support of the political process in the People's Council (Syrian Parliament) helped the drafting of a new Constitution , http://www.damascus-online.com/history/documents/constitution.htm which laid the foundation of a stable and prosperous Syria . Late President Hafez Assad from his first term in office began land reforms to give rights to the working and farming classes along with building a transportation network. Political stability along with trust in the government and its institutions allowed for economic revenue and the standard of living increased. After his death, the People's Council nominated Bashar Assad, M.D. for the national presidential referendum. On July 10, 2000, Bashar Assad was elected president by the Syrian people for a seven-year term H.E. President Bashar Assad's inauguration Speech to the Syrian People's Council (Parliament) http://www.damascus-online.com/history/documents/bashar.htm . President Bashar Assad has continued on the solid foundation laid by the late President Hafez Assad. Syria continues on the road of political and economic reform, while at the same time witnessing technological advances in science and medicine along with trade and manufacturing.
Syria continues to be a major positive player in the Middle East while at the same time a strong supporter of Arab Nationalism and peace. Syria was a member of the U.N. Security Council during the U.S. 's preparation for invading Iraq . Although Syria , like France , Germany , Russia , China and many other member states, was in political disagreement with the U.S. , Syria has always called for talks with all nations including Israel . However, there must be a true diplomatic sprit in the negotiations and respect for international law. Syria also welcomed the Iraq Study Group's Report on the situation in Iraq and hopes the U.S. administration will not unilaterally act on issues that affect the Middle East . Additionally, Syria continues to work with all friends, partners and allies around the world towards a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region.