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Historical Context of the Levant Region

In exploring the idea of a rejuvenated ‘Aramea’ stretching across the Levant, it is important to have some understanding of the historical context of the region.

The Levant gave rise to many of the world’s oldest cultures and civilizations, starting from the earliest human settlements and continuing through several major pre- and post-Islamic Empires, to today’s modern collection of nation-states.

The region in Ancient times

Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh.

Mesopotamia was home to several powerful empires that came to rule almost the entire Middle East, particularly the Assyrian Empires of 1365–1076 BC and the Neo-Assyrian Empire of 911–605 BC.

From the early 7th century BC and onwards, the Iranian Medes followed by Achaemenid Persia and other subsequent Iranian states empires dominated the region.

The Levant in the first Millennium

In the 1st century BC, the expanding Roman Republic absorbed the whole Eastern Mediterranean, which included much of the Near East.

The Eastern Roman Empire, today commonly known as the Byzantine Empire, ruling from the Balkans to the Euphrates, became increasingly defined by and dogmatic about Christianity, gradually creating religious rifts between the doctrines dictated by the establishment in Constantinople and believers in many parts of the Middle East.

From the 3rd up to the course of the 7th century AD, the entire Middle East was dominated by the Byzantines and Sassanid Persia.

From the 7th century, the new power of Islam grew in the Middle East.

The dominance of the Arabs came to a sudden end in the mid-11th century with the arrival of the Seljuq Turks, and in the early 13th century a new wave of invaders, the armies of the Mongol Empire, swept through the region.

The Middle Ages

By the early 15th century, a new power had arisen in western Anatolia, the Ottoman emirs, linguistically Turkic and religiously Islamic, who in 1453 captured the Christian Byzantine capital of Constantinople and made themselves sultans.

Large parts of the Levant became a war ground between the Ottomans and Iranian Safavids for centuries starting in the early 16th century.

Western influences

By 1700, the Ottomans had been driven out of Balkans and the balance of power along the frontier had shifted decisively in favour of the West.

The British also established effective control of the Arabic (Persian) Gulf, and the French extended their influence into Lebanon and Syria.

In 1912, the Italians seized Libya and the Dodecanese islands, just off the coast of the Ottoman heartland of Anatolia.

A turning point in the history of the Middle East came when oil was discovered, first in Persia in 1908 and later in Saudi Arabia (in 1938) and the other Gulf states, and also in Libya and Algeria. A Western dependence on Middle Eastern oil and the decline of British influence led to a growing American interest in the region.

During the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, Syria and Egypt made moves towards independence.

WWII and beyond

The British, the French, and the Soviets departed from many parts of the Middle East during and after World War II (1939–1945). The struggle between the Arabs and the Jews in Palestine culminated in the 1947 United Nations plan to partition Palestine. Later in the midst of Cold War tensions, the Arabic-speaking countries of Western Asia and Northern Africa saw the rise of pan-Arabism.

The modern Levant region

The departure of the European powers from direct control of the region, the establishment of Israel, and the increasing importance of the oil industry marked the creation of the modern Middle East.

In most Middle Eastern countries, the growth of market economies was inhibited by political restrictions, corruption and cronyism, overspending on arms and prestige projects, and over-dependence on oil revenues. The wealthiest economies in the region per capita are the small oil-rich countries of the Arabic (Persian) Gulf.

The Levant today

Since the Islamic Iranian Revolution of 1979 and similar changes in other Muslim-majority countries throughout the 1980s, the region has been experiencing an ideological trend in favour of Islamism.

Starting in the early 2010s, a protest wave popularly known as the Arab Spring brought major uprisings, and even revolutions to several Middle Eastern and Maghreb countries, and turned to violence in some countries like Libya, Yemen and Syria.