Syrians (Arabic: سوريون), also known as the Syrian people (Arabic: الشعب السوري, ALA-LC: al-sha‘ab al-Sūrī; Syriac: ܣܘܪܝܝܢ), are the majority inhabitants of Syria, who share a common LevantineSemitic ancestry. The cultural and linguistic heritage of the Syrian people is a blend of both indigenous elements and the foreign cultures that have come to rule the land and its people over the course of thousands of years.
The Syrian Arab Republic has a population of 19.5 million as of 2018, in addition to 6 million Syrian refugees abroad, which includes minorities such as Kurds and others. The dominant racial group are the Syrian descendants of the old indigenous peoples who mixed with Arabs and identify themselves as such in addition to ethnic Arameans.
The name "Syrians" was employed by the Greeks and Romans to denote the inhabitants of Syria; however, they called themselves Arameans and Assyrians. The ethnic designation "Syrian" is derived from the word "Assyrian" and appeared in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Some argue that the discovery of the Çineköy inscription in 2000 seems to support the theory that the term Syria derives from Assyria.
Appellation of the name
The Greeks used the terms "Syrian" and "Assyrian" interchangeably to indicate the indigenous Arameans, Assyrians and other inhabitants of the Near East, Herodotus considered "Syria" west of the Euphrates. Starting from the 2nd century BC onwards, ancient writers referred to the Seleucid ruler as the King of Syria or King of the Syrians. The Seleucids designated the districts of Seleucis and Coele-Syria explicitly as Syria and ruled the Syrians as indigenous populations residing west of the Euphrates (Aramea) in contrast to Assyrians who had their native homeland in Mesopotamia east of the Euphrates. However, the interchangeability between Assyrians and Syrians persisted during the Hellenistic period.
In one instance, the Ptolemies of Egypt reserved the term "Syrian Village" as the name of a settlement in Fayoum. The term "Syrians" is under debate whether it referred to Jews or to Arameans, as the Ptolemies referred to all peoples originating from Modern Syria and Palestine as Syrian.
The term Syrian was imposed upon Arameans of modern Levant by the Romans. Pompey created the province of Syria, which included modern-day Lebanon and Syria west of the Euphrates, framing the province as a regional social category with civic implications.Plutarch described the indigenous people of this newly created Roman province as "Syrians", so did Strabo, who observed that Syrians resided west of the Euphrates in Roman Syria, and he explicitly mentions that those Syrians are the Arameans, whom he calls Aramaei, indicating an extant ethnicity.Posidonius noted that the people called Syrians by the Greeks refer to themselves as Arameans.
In his book The Great Roman-Jewish War, Josephus, a Hebrew native to the Levant, mentioned the Syrians as the non-Hebrew, non-Greek indigenous inhabitants of Syria.
The Arabs called Syria and the Levant Al-Sham. The national and ethnic designation "Syrian" is one that has been reused, accepted and espoused by the Syrian people since the advent of modern nationalism, which emanated from Europe and began with the culmination of the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s.
Syrians emerged from various origins; the main influence came from ancient Semitic peoples, populations from Arabia and Mesopotamia, while Greco-Roman influence is marginal. Ancient Syria of the first millennium BC was dominated by the Aramaeans; they originated in the Northern Levant as a continuum of the Bronze Age populations of Syria. The Seleucids ruled the Syrians as a conquered nation; Syrians were not assimilated into Greek communities, and many local peasants were exploited financially as they had to pay rent for Greek landlords. Outside Greek colonies, the Syrians lived in districts governed by local temples that did not use the Greek civic system of poleis and colonies. The situation changed after the Roman conquest in 64 BC; Syrians obtained the citizenship of Greek poleis, and the line separating between the colonists and the colonized blurred. The idioms Syrian and Greek were used by Rome to denote civic societies instead of separate ethnic groups.
The Aramaeans assimilated the earlier populations through their language; combined with the common religion, Christianity, most of the inhabitants turned into Syrians (Aramaeans). Islam and the Arabic language had a similar effect where the Aramaeans themselves became Arabs regardless of their ethnic origin following the Muslim conquest of the Levant.
On the eve of the Rashidun Caliphate conquest of the Levant, 634 AD, Syria's population mainly spoke Aramaic; Greek was the official language of administration. Arabization and Islamization of Syria began in the 7th century, and it took several centuries for Islam, the Arab identity, and language to spread; the Arabs of the Caliphate did not attempt to spread their language or religion in the early periods of the conquest, and formed an isolated aristocracy. The Arabs accommodated many new tribes in isolated areas to avoid conflict with the locals; caliph Uthman ordered his governor, Muawiyah I, to settle the new tribes away from the original population. Syrians who belonged to Monophysitic denominations welcomed the Arabs as liberators.
The Abbasids in the eighth and ninth century sought to integrate the peoples under their authority, and the arabization of the administration was one of the tools. Arabization gained momentum with the increasing numbers of Muslim converts; the ascendancy of Arabic as the formal language of the state prompted the cultural and linguistic assimilation of Syrian converts. Those who remained Christian also became arabized; it was probably during the Abbasid period in the ninth century that Christians adopted Arabic as their first language; the first translation of the gospels into Arabic took place in this century. Many historians, such as Claude Cahen and Bernard Hamilton, proposed that the arabization of Christians was completed before the First Crusade. By the thirteenth century, Arabic language achieved dominance in the region and its speakers became Arabs.
Those who were able to avoid losing the Aramaic language are divided between two groups:
The Western Neo-Aramaic-speaking group, that is, the inhabitants of Bakh'a, Jubb'adin and Ma'loula. The residents of Bakh'a and Jubb'adin converted to Islam in the eighteenth century, while in Ma'loula, the majority are Christians, mainly belonging to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, but also to the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, in addition to a Muslim minority, who speaks the same Aramaic dialect of the Christian residents. The people of those villages use Arabic intensively to communicate with each others and the rest of the country; this led to a noticeable Arabic influence on their Aramaic language where around 20% of its vocabulary is of Arabic roots. Bakh'a is steadily losing its dialect; by 1971, people aged younger than 40 could no longer use the Aramaic language properly, although they could understand it. The situation of Bakh'a will eventually lead to the extinction of its Aramaic dialect.
Besides religious identities, the Syrian people are split among three identities, the Arab, Syriac, and Syrian identities. Many Muslims and some Arabic-speaking Christians describe themselves as Arabs, while many Aramaic-speaking Christians and some Muslims prefer to describe themselves as Syriacs or Arameans. Also some people from Syria, mainly Syrian nationalists, describe themselves only as Syrians or ethnic Syrians.
Most of the divisions in ethnic nomenclature are actually due to religious backgrounds.
Middle Eastern ancestral component Levantine ancestral component Other ancestral components
Genetic tests on Syrians were included in many genetic studies. The genetic marker which identifies descendants of the ancient Levantines is found the Syrians in high proportion. Modern Syrians exhibit "high affinity to the Levant" based on studies comparing modern and ancient DNA samples. Syrians cluster closely with ancient Levantine populations of the Neolithic and Bronze ages. A Levantine ancestral genetic component was identified; it is estimated that the Levantine and the Middle Eastern (Arabian Peninsula/East African) ancestral components diverged 23,700-15,500 years ago, while the divergence between the Levantine and European components happened 15,900-9,100 years ago. The Levantine ancestral component is the most recurrent in Levantines (42–68%); the Middle Eastern component represents around 25% of Syrian genetic make-up.
The paternal Y-DNA haplogroups J1, which reaches it highest frequencies in Yemen 72.6% and Qatar 58.3%, accounted for 33.6% of Syrians. The J2 group accounted for 20.8% of Syrians; other Y-DNA haplogroups includes the E1B1B 12.0%, I 5.0%, R1a 10.0% and R1b 15.0%. The Syrians are closest to other Levantine populations: the Palestinians, Lebanese and Jordanians; this closeness can be explained with the common Canaanite ancestry and geographical unity which was broken only in the twentieth century with the advent of British and French mandates. Regarding the genetic relation between the Syrians and the Lebanese based on Y-DNA, Muslims from Lebanon show closer relation to Syrians than their Christian compatriots. The people of Western Syria show close relation with the people of Northern Lebanon.
Mitochondrial DNA shows the Syrians to have affinity with Europe; main haplogroups are H and R. Based on Mitochondrial DNA, the Syrians, Palestinian, Lebanese and Jordanians form a close cluster. Compared to the Lebanese, Bedouins and Palestinians, the Syrians have noticeably more Northern European component, estimated at 7%. Regarding the HLA alleles, Syrians, and other Levantine populations, exhibit "key differences" from other Arab populations; based on HLA-DRB1 alleles, Syrians were close to eastern Mediterranean populations, such as the Cretans and Lebanese Armenians. Studying the genetic relation between Jews and Syrians showed that the two populations share close affinity. Apparently, the cultural influence of Arab expansion in the Middle East in the seventh century was more prominent than the genetic influx. The expansion of Islam did leave an impact on the Levant however; religion drove Levantine Muslims to mix with other Muslim populations, who were close culturally despite the geographic distance, and this produced genetic similarities between the Levantine Muslims and populations such as the Moroccans and Yemenis. Christians and Druze became a genetic isolate in the predominantly Islamic world.
The Syrian people's beliefs and outlooks, similar to those of most Arabs and people of the wider Middle-East, are a mosaic of West and East. Conservative and liberally minded people will live right next to each other. Like the other countries in the region, religion permeates life; the government registers every Syrian's religious affiliation.
Before the main courses, Syrians eat meze, which is basically an appetizer. Meze is usually served with Arab-style tea - highly concentrated black tea, which is highly sweetened and served in small glass cups. Another popular drink, especially with Christians and non-practicing Muslims, is the arak, a liquor produced from grapes or dates and flavored with anise that can have an alcohol content of over 90% ABV (however, most commercial Syrian arak brands are about 40-60% ABV).
Jorge Sahade, founder of the University of Buenos Aires Institute of Astronomy and Physics of Space (IAFE) and the first Latin American to achieve the presidency of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
^Jordan, Levi. "Syria Steps into Latin America". Americas Society Council of the Americas. Retrieved 15 January 2017. Syria hopes will serve as an avenue to attract investment dollars from the one-million-strong community of Venezuelans of Syrian descent
^Vasquez, Fidel (October 2010). "Venezuela afianza relaciones con Siria" (in Spanish). Aristobulo Isturiz PSUV. Retrieved 15 January 2017. En Venezuela residen un poco más de 700 mil árabes de origen sirio
^Nachawati, Leila (March 2013). "Cómo será recordado Chávez en Siria" (in Spanish). ElDiario.es. Retrieved 15 January 2017. Se calcula que cerca de un millón de habitantes del país tiene origen sirio, personal o familiar.
^Commins et al. 2018. Quote:"The Syrian people evolved from several origins over a long period of time. The Greek and Roman ethnic influence was negligible in comparison with that of the Semitic peoples of Arabia and Mesopotamia—Aramaeans, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Canaanites."
^Perry 2007. Quote:"The marker, known as the J2 haplogroup, was found in an unusually high proportion among Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians tested by Zalloua during more than five years of research. He tested 1,000 people in the region."
^Marshall et al. 2016. Quote:"The mixed Near Eastern–Middle Eastern localisation of the Druze, shown using both modern and ancient DNA data, is distinct from that of neighbouring Syrians, Palestinians and most of the Lebanese, who exhibit a high affinity to the Levant."
^Marshall et al. 2016. Quote:" Druze exhibited genetic similarity to Chalcolithic and Bronze Age Armenians and a Chalcolithic Anatolian. In that study, Druze clustered remotely from all Bronze Age and Neolithic Levantines, whereas Palestinians, Bedouins, Syrians and a few Lebanese clustered with Levantine populations."
^Haber et al. 2013. Quote:"Our estimates show that the Levantine and the Arabian Peninsula/East African components diverged ∼23,700-15,500 y.a., while the Levantine and European components diverged ∼15,900-9,100 y.a."
^Haber et al. 2013. Quote:1-"ADMIXTURE identifies at K = 10 an ancestral component (light green) with a geographically restricted distribution representing ∼50% of the individual component in Ethiopians, Yemenis, Saudis, and Bedouins, decreasing towards the Levant, with higher frequency (∼25%) in Syrians, Jordanians, and Palestinians, compared with other Levantines (4%–20%). The geographical distribution pattern of this component (Figure 4A, 4B) correlates with the pattern of the Islamic expansion, but its presence in Lebanese Christians, Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews, Cypriots and Armenians might suggest that its spread to the Levant could also represent an earlier event." 2-"Besides this component, the most frequent ancestral component (shown in dark blue) in the Levantines (42–68%) is also present, at lower frequencies, in Europe and Central Asia."
^Fernandes et al. 2015. Quote:1-"In the Near East, we included Iraq, Jordan, Israel/Palestine, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria." 2-"Here it is already possible to distinguish between a Southwest Asian/Caucasian and an Arabian/North African component; these two components have similar proportions of ∼30% each in Yemen and UAE, but the Arabian/North African proportion increases to 52–60% in Saudi and Bedouin. In Near Eastern populations, correspondingly, the Southwest Asian/Caucasian component rises to ∼50% and the Arabian/North African cluster decreases to ∼20–30%, even in Palestinians (similar to the Samaritans and some of the Druze), highlighting their primarily indigenous origin, with the most extreme values for the Druze, carrying the Southwest Asian/Caucasian component at ∼80%."
^El‐Sibai et al. 2009. Quote:"J1 frequencies in Syria, Akka and Jordan were more comparable to Lebanon than to the remaining Arabic countries (58.3% in Qatar and 72.5% in Yemen; Fig. 2G")
^Hajjej et al. 2018. Quote:"Using genetic distances, correspondence analysis and NJ trees, we showed earlier [61, 62] and in this study that Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians are closely related to each other."
^Hajjej et al. 2018. Quote:"The strong relatedness between Levant Arab populations is explained by their common ancestry, the ancient Canaanites, who came either from Africa or Arabian Peninsula via Egypt in 3300 BC , and settled in Levant lowlands after collapse of Ghassulian civilization in 3800–3350 BC . The relatedness is also attributed to the close geographical proximity, which constituted one territory before 19th century British and French colonization."
^Haber et al. 2013. Quote:"Lebanese Christians and all Druze cluster together, and Lebanese Muslims are extended towards Syrians, Palestinians, and Jordanians."
^Haber et al. 2011. Quote:"Syria is contained within the range of variation of the Lebanese samples. West Syrian samples lie closest to LN Sunnis, and not far from LN, LB, and LM Maronites."
^Badro et al. 2013. Quote:"The haplogroups' geographical distribution shows affinity between the Northern Levant (modern day Lebanon and Syria) and Europe with clear distinctions between the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula with regards to Africa (Fig. 1, Table 1). The main mtDNA haplogroups for both Europe and the Northern Levant are H and R*."
^Badro et al. 2013. Quote:"Yemenis and Saudis both associate strongly with Egyptians, whereas the Jordanian, Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian populations clustered together."
^Marshall et al. 2016. Quote:"Druze and Syrians possess a significantly larger amount of the Northern European component (X = 7%) when compared with their neighbouring populations, such as Palestinians (X = 5%) and Lebanese and Bedouins (X = 2%)."
^Hajjej et al. 2018. Quote:"On the contrary, key differences were noted between Levant Arabs (Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians), and other Arab populations, highlighted by high frequencies of A*24, B*35, DRB1*11:01, DQB1*03:01, and DRB1*11:01-DQB1*03:01 haplotype in Levantine Arabs compared to other Arab populations."
^Hajjej et al. 2018. Quote:"Syrians are genetically close to Eastern Mediterranean, as Cretans (-0.0001) and Lebanese Armenians (0.0050)."
^Hammer et al. 2000. Quote:"This Jewish cluster was interspersed with the Palestinian and Syrian populations, whereas the other Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations (Saudi Arabians, Lebanese, and Druze) closely surrounded it."
^Hajjej et al. 2018. Quote:1-"The extent of gene Arab exchange with these autochthonous groups is undetermined but is thought to be lower than religious/cultural influence." 2-"On the other hand, Levant Arabs are distant from Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Yeminis, an indication that the contribution of the Arabian Peninsula populations to Levantine gene pool is low, probably due to the absence of the demographic aspect of 7th century invasion."
^Haber et al. 2013. Quote:1-"We show that religious affiliation had a strong impact on the genomes of the Levantines. In particular, conversion of the region's populations to Islam appears to have introduced major rearrangements in populations' relations through admixture with culturally similar but geographically remote populations, leading to genetic similarities between remarkably distant populations like Jordanians, Moroccans, and Yemenis. Conversely, other populations, like Christians and Druze, became genetically isolated in the new cultural environment. We reconstructed the genetic structure of the Levantines and found that a pre-Islamic expansion Levant was more genetically similar to Europeans than to Middle Easterners." 2-"The predominantly Muslim populations of Syrians, Palestinians and Jordanians cluster on branches with other Muslim populations as distant as Morocco and Yemen." 3-Lebanese Christians and all Druze cluster together, and Lebanese Muslims are extended towards Syrians, Palestinians, and Jordanians, which are close to Saudis and Bedouins."
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