I am Osmane Arslanian, Ambassador of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations Organization, and I am deeply privileged to speak about my country and its people.
Syria first referred to the land of Aram East of the Mediterranean Sea between Egypt and Arabia to the south and Cilicia to the north, crossing inland, including Mesopotamia (Wikipedia 2004) and from west to east Commagene, Sophene and Adiabene, or what was known as Assyria. This was the larger Syria, which consisted of smaller regions, such as Palestine in the southwest, Phoenicia along the coast, Coele-Syria north of the Eleutheris River, and Mesopotamia. Palestine, later known as Israel, is now composed of the states of Israel and Jordan
My country, Syria, is considered the center of one of the most ancient civilizations in the world, rooted in particular on the origin of the language of Ebla in Northern Syria, credited by scholars as the oldest Semitic language (Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs 2004). It was spoken by a great Semitic empire that spread from the Red Sea north to Turkey and east to Mesopotamia between 2500 and 2400 BC by an estimated population of 260,000.
Cultures poured into Syria as it was occupied successively by Canaanites, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Arameans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Nabataeans, Byzantines, and somewhat, by the Crusaders before its conquest by the Ottoman Turks (Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs 2004). It has a special place in the history of Christianity because of Damascus, where Paul the Apostle was headed for when converted and then organized the Christian Church in Antioch in ancient Syria.
Damascus is believed to have been founded in 2500 BC and remains as one of the oldest and still surviving cities in the world. It fell to the Muslims in AD 636 under whom it prospered and became powerful under the Omayyad Empire. When the Abbasid caliphate was installed in Baghdad, Iraq, it became the capital of the empire, which stretched from Spain to India from 661 to 750 (BNEA). Around the year 1260, Damascus became the provincial capital of the Mameluke Empire before it was severely destroyed by Tamerlane, the Mongol conqueror, in 1400. It was rebuilt in 1516 but fell the following year to the Ottoman Turks the following year and remained under their rule for four centuries, save for a brief conquest by Egypt's Ibrahim Pasha from 1832 to 1840 (BNEA).
In 1920, Syria became an independent Arab kingdom under King Faysal of the Hashemite family. King Faysal later became King of Iraq (Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs 2004). He only briefly ruled Syria for a few months, though. It was conquered by French forces following the battle of Maysalun. When France fell in 1940, the control of Syria passed on to the Vichy government, a republican group, which put much pressure for the evacuation of French troops in April 1946 (BNEA). The kingdom went through swift economic growth after the declaration of independence on April 17, 1946 but it also experienced much political turbulence along with it. Military coups destabilized civilian rule and put army colonel Adib Shishakli into power in 1951, only to be overthrown by another coup in 1954. More political conflicts followed until Arab nationalist and socialist forces enshrined themselves (BNEA).
This troubled state of affairs following the 1954 coup, the compatibility between Syrian and Egyptian policies and the attraction of then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser occurring simultaneously with the 1956 Suez Canal crisis led to the unification between Syria and Egypt (Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs 2004) on February 1, 1958 into the United Arab Republic. This merger ended all the political dissension in Syria for a while, until a military coup on September 28, 1961 by Syria, which seceded from the unification and re-established itself as the Syrian Arab Republic. But more coups followed in the succeeding 18 months that ended on March 8, 1963 with the establishment of the Syrian army officers of the National Council of Revolutionary Command or NCRC. They took over all executive and legislative powers of government. Behind the action were the members of the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party or the Ba'ath Party. The Ba'ath then remained active in Syria and other Arab countries since the 40s and it controlled the new cabinet (BNEA). It worked at a federation with Egypt and Ba'ath-controlled Iraq and an agreement was attempted in Cairo on April 17, 1963 for a referendum on unity in September that year. But serious discords among the parties prevented a tripartite unity. Instead, efforts were directed at a bilateral unity between Syria and Iraq. But plans and efforts had to be abandoned when the Ba'aths in Iraq were overthrown in November 1963.
In May of 1964, Amin Hafiz, president of the National Council of the Revolutionary Command, promulgated a constitution that provided for a National Council of the Revolution. This Council consisted of representatives from mass labor, peasant and professional organizations with a presidential council, which exercised executive power and had a cabinet (Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs 2004). An intra-party coup by a group of army officers on February 23, 1966 overturned the government of President Hafiz and imprisoned him, dissolved his cabinet and the council, Instead, it altered the provisional constitution and installed a regionalist civilian Ba'ath government, describing the action as a "rectification" of the Ba'ath Party principles (BNEA).
The Arab-Israeli War was waged and lost by the Syrians and Egyptians in June 1967 and Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel (Central Intelligence Agency 2004). This defeat also weakened the radical socialist rule of the 1966 coup takers, as dissension developed between the moderate military and the extremist civilian factions of the Ba'ath Party. This was illustrated by the infamous Black September hostilities with Jordan.
In November 1970, a bloodless military coup was led by Minister of Defense Hafiz al-Asad, who assumed power as prime minister (Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs 2004). He immediately set up an organizational infrastructure and control. His socialist party set up a 173-member legislature, called the People's Council, where 87 of this party won and shared seats with popular and minor organizations. A national referendum was held and confirmed Asad's presidency for another seven years (BNEA). He formed the National Progressive Front, led by the Ba'ath Party, which set up local councils in Syria's 14 provinces or governorates. A new Syrian Constitution then became effective in March 1973 and re-enabled parliamentary elections for the people's councils, which ceased in 1962 (BNEA).
Hafiz al-Asad's government had opponents and challengers, most seriously the fundamentalist Sunni Muslims in the late 1970s. These contenders rejected the basic principles of the secular Ba'ath program and the rule by the Alawis, which they viewed as heretical (Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs 2004). They belonged to the archconservative Muslim Brotherhood that attempted an uprising against the government in February 1982. Government forces, instead, crushed the rebellion by razing their center at the city of Hama with artillery fire, killing and wounding thousands. This show of force and superiority discouraged any more opposition activity against the government (BNEA).
Syrian troops have been stationed in Lebanon since the loss of Golan Heights to Israel in the Arab-Israeli War of 1976 and retained a peace-keeping stance. There have been occasional peace talks between Syria and Israel about the restoration of Golan Heights to Syria (Wikipedia 2004) when Syria joined the U.S.-led multinational coalition against Saddam Hussein in 1990, which started during the multilateral Middle East Peace Conference in Madrid in October 1991. The direct negotiations failed, however, and no further attempts were undertaken since President Hafiz Al-Asad's meeting with then U.S. President Bill Clinton in Geneva in March 2000 (Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs 2004). Hafiz Al-Asad died on June 10, 2000 after a 30-year rule.
Immediately after the death of Hafiz Al-Asad, the parliament amended the minimum age for president from 40 to 34, in order to accommodate the nomination of his son, Bashar Al-Asad, by the ruling Ba'ath party (Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs 2004) and his eventual and virtually un-opposed election as President on July 10, 2000 by a 97.29% vote.
Since the September 11, 2001 bombing of the Twin Towers in New York City, Syria's cooperation with the U.S. In its global war against terrorism dwindled. It opposed the Iraq War in March 2003. The position did not only result in the deterioration of cooperative relations with the U.S. But also led the U.S. And its Western allies to categorize Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism (Wikipedia 2004). As such, it became the limited target of eventual American sanctions, which U.S. President George W. Bush signed into law in December 2003 as the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003. It imposed the sanctions on Syria if it would cease supporting Palestinian terrorist groups and its military and security presence in Lebanon, securing weapons of mass destruction and unless it paid its obligations for the reconstruction and stabilization of Iraq,…