Map: Syria in c. AD 1914

Syria 1871AD – 1914AD


In Syria, as in other parts of the Ottoman empire, standards of administration rose with the appointment of new, western-educated Ottoman officials. The introduction of railways and telegraph integrated the region better, allowed for more centralized administration and control, and stimulated economic expansion. With better security, agriculture continued to expand. In 1908 the Damascus-Hejaz railway was completed, to take pilgrims to Mecca, an important source of revenue for the country. Modern schools were opened, and the urban elite adopted western clothes and other customs. Beirut in particular was now a great international port, with its business community connected to the commercial world of the Mediterranean and Europe (especially France and Britain).

After the 1908-9 “Young Turks” revolution, relations between Turks and Syrians deteriorated, as power now became concentrated in the hands of a narrow group of Turkish military officers. This gave a boost to Arab nationalism.

Since the early 1880’s an increasing number of Jews had been settling in Palestine. The new world-wide Zionist movement, with its yearning for a Jewish homeland after 1500 years of wandering, was behind this development. This well-funded movement purchased land owned largely by local absentee landowners, and established colonies on it. This proliferation of Jewish colonies, and the prospect of many more to come, aroused the hostility of the local Arab population, who feared that they would become foreigners in their own land.

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