17th April

1397 Chaucer tells the Canterbury Tales for the first time, to Richard II’s court

Syria Independence Day (from France, 1946):

Syria is part of the Fertile Crescent around the Nile, and has been a place of settlement since 10,000 B.C. Gifts from Pharoahs have been found in ancient graves.

The most important ancient city was Ebla, which had one of the world’s oldest written languages.

From 2500 B.C.  Syria was conquered by Sargon of Akkad and other Semitic peoples, by Indo-European Hittites, the Sumerians (now southern Iraq), Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Canaanites (now around Israel), Phoenicians (now Lebanon), and the Arameans emerged.

Thennnnn the Assyrians took over again, then the Mesopotamians, then the Babylonians again, then the Persians, then Alexander the Great from Greece, then the Romans.

Paul the Apostle was converted on the Road to Damascus about this time.

Then the Palmyran Empire emerged, then it became part of the Byzantine Empire.

Then in around 630 A.D. it became part of the Islamic Empire, which stretched from Spain to India to Central Asia. Damascus became this empire’s capital until 750 A.D., and Syria was split into Damascus, Homs, Palestine and Jordan.

Then the Byzantine Empire came back in by 996 A.D., then the Sejuk Turks from 1084, then Saladin of Egypt.

Then (*sigh*) by Western European Crusaders, Shi’a extremist Assassins and Mongols. In 1400 Tamerlane, a Turko-Mongol ruler trying to recreate Genghis Khan’s empire came in, and in true Genghis style slaughtered everyone except the artisans, who he took back with him.

By the end of the 15th century Syria as a trade route became less important because we could go to the Far East by sea.

In 1516 the Ottoman Empire took Syria. The Turks were Muslims too and respected Arabic as the language of the Koran so not too much changed. Damascus became a bit holier as a stopping point on the way to Mecca.

After WWI, two French and English diplomats had secretly agreed how to divide the Ottoman Empire up between them, and Syria came under French control.

In 1920 Emir Faisal tried to make Syria an independent kingdom, but France booted him out and split Syria up so Britain now owned Palestine.

Sultan al-Altrash led a revolt in 1925, but again the French squished it and sentenced al-Altrash to death. More peaceful and official attempts at gaining independence were also refused, of course.

In WWII Syria became part of Vichy (Nazi) France, then the Brits and the Free French occupied it instead.

Syria declared itself independent in 1941, and the last French troops finally withdrew in April 1946!

In 1948 Syria was part of the Arab-Israeli war opposing the establishment of the state of Israel, which was created by the UN out of a part of British Palestine. During this time most Jews left Syria, as you can imagine.

Since then they had a bunch of military coups, while the economy and peasant classes were ignored.

During the Suez Crisis (Egypt decided to nationalise the Suez Canal; Britain, France and Israel invaded to stop it), Syria sided with the Soviet Union in return for more military equipment.

They also decided to really side with Egypt and the two countries merged into the United Arab Republic in 1958. Again, more military coups, and Syria went back to become the Syrian Arab Republic.

From then there were more coups, a bit more socialism, and problems with Israel “just doing some farming” using armoured tractors backed by military on land that didn’t belong to them.

In 1973 Syria and Egypt launched the Yom Kippur War, a surprise attack on Israel, which didn’t work and Israel ended up owning more of Syria’s land.

In 1976 Syria accidentally occupied Lebanon for 30 years after intervening in its civil war, staying there until Israel popped in to kick them out (and also tried to take southern Lebanon, but Syria stopped them).

In 1982 Syria squashed the Muslim Brotherhood, who were plotting to assassinate the President for not being Muslim enough, by bombing its own city of Hana and leaving 25,000 wounded or dead.

Under President Bashar al-Assad from 2000, there was some hope for political reform but this was repressed, and intellectuals were arrested.

America decided Syria had weapons of mass destruction and was part of the axis of evil. In 2005 Lebanese PM Hariri was assassinated and Syria was suspected; the West stopped being nice to Syria for three years.

In 2007 Israel bombed north Syria, saying there was a nuclear facility being built there with North Korea’s help.

In 2010 America decided Syria was secretly building nuclear weapons and supports terrorist groups.

From 2011 the country has been at civil war. Inspired by the Arab Spring, protests began for reform and political freedom; the army was deployed and it all seems to have spiralled out of control, with 2.5 million people displaced, and thousands of civillians killed.

Culture: Syrian dances include the al-Samah, the Dabkeh and the sword dance. Syrian singers include Asmahan and Farid al-Altrash. Syria’s famous dish is kibbeh.

Other activities that might inspire your play today:

  • FAO Day (Iraq’s Food and Agriculture Organisation helps farmers achieve better harvests through technology and information, and on this day awards top farmers)
  • American Samoa’s Flag Day
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