Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)

Modern Countries of the Near East



Capital: Baghdad

Size: 169 000 sq m Popn: 19 290 000

This country now occupies what was once Mesopotamia, the centre of Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations from BC 6000 to AD 100. The Romans conquered it in AD 114 and it was ruled by the native Sassanids from 266-632. The Arabs invaded in 633 and the Turks took over in 1065. The Mongols invaded in 1258 and Tamerlane destroyed Baghdad in 1401. It was annexed by Ottoman Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent in 1533 and became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1638 as the separate regions of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul.

It was occupied by Britain in WWI and put under British administration by the League of Nations in 1920, becoming a fully independent kingdom under Faisal I in 1932. Britain retained political and military control. Faisal died in 1933 and was succeeded by his son, Ghazi but the real power was held by the pro-Western general, Nuri-el-Said who was prime minister from 1930-58. Ghazi died in an accident in 1939 and three-year-old Faisal II became king with his uncle Prince Abdul Ilah as regent until 1953. Iraq signed the Baghdad Pact, which was a regional agreement to protect neighbouring countries against the USSR, and joined Jordan in the Arab Federation in 1958 with King Faisal as head of state.

Faisal, Abdul Ilah and General Nuri were all killed in the revolution in July 1958, the constitution was suspended and a republic was declared under Brig. Abdul Karin Kassem who withdrew from the Baghdad Pact in 1959. He died in the 1963 coup led by Colonel Salem Arif who ended martial law and established a civilian government but died in an air crash in 1966. His brother, left in charge, was ousted and replaced by Maj-Gen Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr in 1968 who gave power to a Revolutionary Command Council with himself as chairman and head of state and government. In 1979, he was replaced by Saddam Hussein who introduced a National Charter and held elections in 1980.

After the 1979 revolution in Iran, with which there had long been tensions, border disputes escalated into full-scale war, which reached a virtual stalemate by 1986 but intensified again in 1987. It was ended by UN ceasefire provisions in 1988 but had done huge damage to property and industry and there was little progress in peace talks over territory and prisoner repatriation. Iraq then moved to support Lebanese Christian forces against the Muslims who had Syrian and Iranian backing. A nuclear test caused concern about Iraq's nuclear weapons development.

There was a coup attempt in 1989 but Saddam Hussein remained president and reactivated the long-standing border dispute with Kuwait in 1990. Iraqi troops invaded and annexed Kuwait in August. It was declared to part of Iraq and a puppet government was set up. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia allowed UN troops to use his country as a base and sanctions were imposed on Iraq. Saddam made peace with Iran, conceding most of what he had fought for in the war in exchange for border security and refused to leave Kuwait by the UN deadline, January 15th although he did free the foreign hostages he had kept in Iraq and Kuwait. The US-led Allied forces began the aerial bombardment of Baghdad and in February drove the Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, many surrendering without a fight. Iraq agreed to a cease-fire and by March, conceded to peace negotiations.

US and allied forces left Iraq in July 1991 and there were uprisings by several factions which were soon put down by government forces. The Kurds in the north and the Shi-ites in the south fled, creating a huge refugee problem and the harassment of the Kurds led continued although talks were resumed. In the Gulf war ceasefire, Saddam Hussein agreed to allow UN inspection of weapon sites and to respect human rights but has continued to violate these terms.


Capital: Damascus

Size: 71 000 sq m Popn: 12 958 000

Part of the Ottoman Empire from 1516 to 1918, this country was occupied by Britain and France in 1918-19 and placed under a French mandate in 1920. It became independent in 1946 but came under military rule in 1949. In 1958, it merged with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic but after an army coup in 1961, Syria left to establish the independent Syrian Arab Republic. A government, mostly formed by the Arab Socialist Renaissance (Ba'ath) Party, was set up in 1963 but the army removed in 1969. In 1970, the moderate wing of the Ba'ath Party led by Lt-Gen Hafez al-Assad, took power in a bloodless coup and Assad was elected president in 1971.

Territory had been lost to Israel during the Six Day War of 1967 and the Golan Heights were annexed by Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Assad became increasingly involved in the Lebanese civil war during 1976. Relations with Egypt grew worse after Israel and Egypt made peace in the Camp David agreements and Assad continued to oppose US-backed peace moves in Lebanon and supported opponents of Yasser Arafat's leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

In 1984, President Assad and the Lebanese president, Amin Gemayel, managed to get Bruse and Shi-ite leaders to agree to a government of national unity in Lebanon but fighting continued and Assad lost credibility. Britain broke off diplomatic relations in 1986, claiming to have proof of Syrian involvement in international terrorism. There was a crackdown on the pro-Iranian Hezbollah party in 1987 but Assad has leaned towards the West with relations with the US improving after a visit by former president, Jimmy Carter, and its efforts to gain the release of Western hostages in the Lebanon. Syria joined other Arab states in the coalition against Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and resumed full diplomatic relations with Britain in November. President Assad agreed to the middle East peace plan in 1991 and was re-elected without opposition, for his fourth term of office in December that year.


Capital: Amman

Al Asimah, Al Karak, Al Khalil, Al Quds, Ma'an, Nabulus

Size: 34 400 sq m Popn: 4 291 000

This area was occupied by independent Nabataea from the C4th BC and became part of the Roman province of Arabia in 106 AD. From 1099-1187 it was part of the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. Palestine (partly in the West Bank of Jordan) and Transjordan (the East Bank) were part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire until its collapse after WWI and were put under British administration by the League of Nations in 1920. Transjordan took more control of its own affairs and separated in 1923, gaining full independence when the British mandate ended in 1946. Palestine's mandate ran out in 1948 and was claimed by Israel, but Arab nations fought for it until a ceasefire was greed in 1949. Transjordan occupied part of Palestine to add it to the new state of Jordan and they annexed the West Bank in 1950. Israel re-occupied it West Bank during the Six Day War of 1967 and still holds it.

In 1952, the king of Jordan's mental illness led to the early accession of his seventeen-year-old son, Hussein ibn Talai, who was officially made king in 1953. Jordan joined Iraq in the Arab Federation in 1958 but this ended after a few months when the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown. Hussein has remained in power despite attempts to kill him. He banned political parties in 1963, partially restored them in 1971 and banned them again in 1976 and although relations with neighbouring countries have not always been good he has generally been a moderating influence. He has had an important role in peace negotiations, establishing a relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organisation leader, Yassir Arafat, with whom he put together a framework for a Middle East peace settlement in 1985. This would have brought together the two factions in the Arab world, the moderates who included Jordan, Egypt and Yassir's PLO and the militant radicals, Syria, Libya and the militant wing of the PLO, but Israel objected to the inclusion of the PLO.

In 1989, mounting unrest within Jordan led King Hussein to agree to greater democracy and in November elections for an 80 seat parliament were held. The veteran Mudar Badran became prime minister and announced the lifting of martial law which had been imposed in 1967. After pressure from within Jordan, Hussein tried to act as a mediator in the Gulf War and the UN trade embargo on Iraq led to problems as refugees streamed into Jordan. In November 1991, Jordan attended the Middle East peace conference in Spain and published a draft law making political parties legal in 1992. King Hussein continued to campaign for peace until his death early in 1999. His successor is his son, Abdullah.


Capital: Beirut

Al Janub, Ashshamal

Size: 4000 sq m Popn: 2 838 000

This area was once part of the Phoenician empire and came under Roman rule in the C1st AD. The Romans introduced Christianity and the Arabs brought Islam in 635. Lebanon was part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire from the C16th and was France was given administrative control by the League of Nations in 1920. This ended in 1941 and it was declared independent, becoming a republic in 1943 and was fully autonomous by 1944. When the new state of Israel was established in 1948, thousands of Palestinian refugees arrived in Lebanon and the Palestine Liberation Front was founded in Beirut in 1964 and had its headquarters in the country until it moved to Tunis in 1982.

The wide variety of religions and sects co-existed peacefully for many years, giving Lebanon enough stability to become a centre for finance and commerce but the business centre of Beirut was mostly destroyed in 1975-6. Israel had continued to invade due to the PLO presence which has also provoked civil war between left-wing Muslims led by Kamul Jumblatt and his Progressive Socialist Party and conservative Christian groups such as the Phalangist Party. There have also been conflicts between different Muslim sects such as the Druse and Shi-ites. Full-scale war broke out in 1975 and although a cease-fire was agreed in 1976, it resumed in 1978 when Israel invaded Lebanon in pursuit of PLO guerrillas. The UN persuaded Israel to withdraw and a peace-keeping force was set up but the government of Lebanon could not prevent the civil unrest within the country. In 1979, a right-wing Lebanese army officer, Major Saad Haddad, set up an area in the south of the country as 'independent free Lebanon' with Israeli backing, and in 1980 Phalangist soldiers took control of land north of Beirut.

Bachir Gemayel, whose father, Pierre Gemayel, was the founder of the Phalangist Party, became president in 1982 but was assassinated before taking office and replaced by his brother Amin. The US backed talks between Israel and Lebanon led to an agreement to end hostilities and for foreign troops to withdraw but Syria would not recognize it and as it kept its troops in the country, so did Israel. The multi-national force became involved in the conflict between Phalangist and Druse militia before it was withdrawn in spring 1984. The continuing fighting destroyed much of the country's infrastructure and prosperity. The two rival 'administrations' were that of East Beirut under General Michel Aoun, backed by Christian army units and Lebanese militia of whom about 30% are Muslim, and Muslim West Beirut under Premier Selim al-Hoss who is supported by the Syrian army and Muslim militia allies including the Druse.

The Arab league brought about a ceasefire agreement in 1989 and although General Aoun did not agree to it, a peace plan was formed. He was ignored and the Maronite Christian Ren¾ Muawad was elected president instead but was killed days later by a car bomb and succeeded by Elias Hrawi who confirmed the position of acting prime minister al-Hoss. Aoun was replaced as commander in chief of the army but continued to defy the government. During the conflict, about 18 western hostages were taken by pro-Iranian Shi-ite groups, some being held for years. They began to be released in August 1990 and in October Syrian-backed government troops stormed the presidential palace. General Aoun escaped to the French embassy and Hrawi and al-Hoss' government regained control of Beirut. Discussions over a new constitution began and in December Hrawi appointed Umar Karami as prime minister of a new government. Relations with Syria and Iran improved and the rest of the hostages were released by 1992. Aoun was pardoned and allowed to leave the French embassy. Economic problems led to the resignation of Karami in May 1992 and he was replaced by Rashid al-Solh. The elections of September 1992 were boycotted by many Christians and the pro-Syrian administration was re-elected. Rafik al-Hariri became prime minister and remains in power.

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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