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SYRIA_THE LAND AND ITS PEOPLE
From Persia, Asia stretches a great arm westward to the Mediterranean and Red Seas, and northward to the Black and Caspian Seas. The northern part of this immense region, which may be likened to our Western States both in size and scarcity of water supply, is traversed by several short mountain ranges, such as the Taurus, Anti-Taurus, Lebanon, and Anti-Lebanon. The southern part is really a continuation of the African desert and is occupied by the peninsula of Arabia. Between these two regions lies a cultivatable fringe of the desert made habitable for a settled population by the water supply for irrigation which comes from the northern mountains and hills.
This bowlike piece of tillable land, one hundred miles across, bends from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. The western end is Palestine, ancient Assyria occupies the center, and Babylonia lies at the far eastern end. “This fertile crescent," a borderland between desert and mountain, was, as has been said before, the earliest home of man. It has been many times the seat of a struggle between the peoples of the north and the nomads of the desert for possession of the fertile soil. We have studied about Mesopotamia or the eastern portion. Let us consider Syria with the exception of Palestine, which we shall visit later.
LOCATION, PHYSICAL FEATURES, CLIMATE, AND PRODUCTS
Syria, if placed in the United States, would occupy a strip of land 300 miles wide, stretching from central Texas to the middle of Kansas. Its area equals that of Montana. Slopes and rivers.--Syria contains several ranges of mountains with tracts of fertile land at their bases. These lands are drained by small rivers, some of which flow down from the mountains into the Mediterranean Sea. Others having carved gorges in the rocks, flow eastward, watering oases in the desert and lose themselves in great marshes or shallow lakes. No river in Syria is more than 250 miles long, and none are useful for transportation.
Fertile plains.-The country has several plains of great fertility. One of them, Hauran, or ancient Bashan, long has been noted for its grain. It was thickly populated when the children of Israel captured it on their way to Canaan. The account says, “And we took all his cities at that time, there was not a city which we took not from them, threescore cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these cities were fenced with high walls, gates, and bars; beside unwalled towns a great many” (Deut. 3. 4, 5).
Climate. The surface of the country is very uneven, therefore there are a variety of climates and products. On the more elevated northern and eastern portions the climate is cooler and the higher mountains are snow-covered, while groves of oranges and date palms thrive along the coast. Frosts are seldom severe, even at Aleppo, and the leaves frequently stay on the trees until December. Snow usually remains on the ground only a day or two. The samiel, or hot wind from the desert, often sweeps over the country in summer. Earthquakes are rather frequent during that season, but never occur in the winter. There are heavy rains in the spring and autumn, but the summers are dry, long, and very warm except in the elevated regions.
Locusts are a scourge in this part of Asia, destroying the crops as they did in ancient times when God said, “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten. . . . And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God” (Joel 2. 25, 26).
Products.—There are forests of pine, fir, and oak on the mountain and hillsides and groves of laurel in the valleys. The dwarf oaks yield the gall-nuts of commerce. The quick-growing poplar supplies poles in many parts of the country. Wheat, rye, barley, dhurra, sesame, lentils, beans, rice, cotton, delicious melons and grapes, hemp, madder, and indigo are produced on the farms. The agricultural implements used are crude and the methods of farming simple. Figs, oranges, date palms, lemons, peaches, pomegranates, mulberries, olives, and almonds grow in orchards surrounded by low mud walls.
Many animals are raised, the small horse, donkey, and camels for transportation, and sheep and goats for food and wool. Ten thousand pounds of sponges from the Mediterranean shores are exported annually. Brass, leather, silk, linen, rugs, and carpets are the chief manufactured goods, but most of them are made in the homes or small shops.
The people and their future.—Syria has a population of about two and three fourths million people, chiefly of mixed races. A majority are of Semitic blood, as are the Arabs and the Jews. Arabic is the chief language used, and one hears the old Syriac or Aramaic tongue but seldom. French is much spoken by people of the higher classes.
Tribal divisions in Syria are made on a basis of religion rather than of origin or race.
There are Mohammedans, Druses, Greeks, Protestants, Maronites, Roman Catholics, and Jews,
Copyright by Underwood & Underwood.
besides Yezidis, who practice a form of idol worship. Most of the Christians belong to some branch of the Eastern Church, which has many bishops, priests, and convents. As might be expected, many of these people are religious
fanatics, and frequent quarrels arise which result in raids and massacres. One of these uprisings in 1860 headed by the Druses made it necessary for
the French (who had interests in Syria) to send an army there. After this massacre ten thousand
orphans were left to be cared for, and the appeal for help caused more Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries to go to that country. These workers
have established BEDOUIN LIFE IN THE WILDERNESS, EAST OF
schools and imTHE DEAD SEA, PALESTINE
proved conditions. The future.—Syria has a great future as an agricultural nation. Splendid ruins of ancient cities such as Baalbek, which was situated in the center of a fertile plain, show that these plains are able to support as dense a population now as in the days when the Romans collected a heavy tax from the country annually.
Copyright by Underwood & Underwood.
Since the tenth century, when the Mohammedans captured Acre, Syria has been under Turkish rule most of the time until the Arabs and English gained possession of it during the World War. General Allenby and Colonel Lawrence carried on one of the most romantic and brilliant campaigns ever staged in that region, where many of the world's great nations have warred for centuries. France has now been given a mandate over Syria by the League of Nations. When the various peoples are united under a good government, factories will spring up to manufacture the native raw materials. More people will find profitable employment, but the individuality will disappear from the artistic linens, silks, carpets, rugs, and brasses which the Syrians now manufacture by hand.
Syria occupies an important position for commerce and will always be a great world highway. Outside nations will therefore want it. In the commercial life of the future it is linked with Mesopotamia, and through it with India. The Bagdad Railway undoubtedly will make it a great thoroughfare for passenger and freight traffic. 1. Why would an uneven surface in a country like Syria lead you
to expect a variety of products? State some other regions
in the world where the same conditions are found. 2. Hunt up and report to class the common uses to which gall
nuts are put. From what regions are they shipped? 3. Make a list of the products of Syria and tell to what countries
they are probably shipped. By what routes? 4. Why will it be a difficult matter to unite the people of Syria
under one strong government? 5. Hunt on your map for the names of the mountain ranges of
Syria and the rivers that flow from them.