The Syrian Desert, also known as the Syrio-Arabian desert is a combination of steppe and true desert that is located in the northern Arabian Peninsula covering 500,000 square kilometers of the reign of Syria. The desert is very rocky and flat.
Syrian Desert is a huge stretch of mostly barren land covering parts of four countries which are Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It is also known as the Greater Badiyat al-Sham because it extends between the desert of al-Nufud on the Arabian Peninsula and the Euphrates River. Badiyat al-Sham covers about two-thirds-about 130,000 square kilometer- of the overall area of Syria.
It is divided into two parts: the first, in the northeast, is called Badiyat al-Jazira, and the second, in the southeast, is called alShamiyya or Badiyat al-Sham, that is, the Syrian Desert.
Many mini-deserts exist in the Syrian Desert such as Palmyra. Damascus is located on an Oasis. The desert’s remarkable landscape was formed by lava flows from the volcanic region of the Jebel Druze in the Southern Syria. The Syria Desert is the origin of the ‘Syrian hamster’.
The Syrian Desert is divided into two parts, which differ in their surface structure. The first, a plateau in the southwest, is more elevated than the other part and is also much drier. Receiving on the average less than 5 inches (125 mm) of rainfall annually and largely covered by lava flows, it formed a nearly impenetrable barrier between the populated areas of the Levant and Mesopotamia until modern times; several major routes and oil pipelines now bisect it. In the 1070’s, there was much oil exploration.
The desert, the southern sector of which is commonly known as Al-Hammad, is in habited by several nomadic tribes and breeders of Arabian horses.
The few plants and animals of the Syrian Desert are of the type that can withstand a subtropical climate. The nomads raise sheep and camels, and they move according to the seasons, from one region to the other across political frontiers seeking pasture.
The desert was historically inhabited by Bedouin tribes, and many tribes still remain in the region, their members living mainly in towns and settlements built near oases. Some Bedouin still maintain their traditional way of life in desert. Safaitic inscriptions, proto-Arabic texts written by literate Bedouin, are found throughout the Syrian Desert. These date approximately from the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.
During the Iraq War, the desert served as a major supply line for the Iraqi insurgents, with the Iraq portion of the desert becoming a primary stronghold of the Sunni insurgents operating in the Al Anbar Governorate, particularly after the Coalition capture of Fallujah during ‘Operation Phantom Fury’. A series of Coalition military operations were relatively ineffective at removing the insurgent presence in the Desert. However as the insurgents began to gain control of the surrounding areas the importance of the Syrian Desert as a center of operations was believed to have lessened. By September 2006 insurgents had gained control of virtually all of the Anbar Governorate and had moved most of their forces, equipment and leaders further east to insurgent-controlled cities near the Euphrates River; nevertheless the Syrian Desert remains one of the primary routes for smuggling equipment due to its location near the Syrian border.
Exploration and Economy
Phosphates, oils and butane gas have been discovered in this desert, and modern network of roads and railways makes the exploration of the desert much easier than before.
Conventional Tribes and their culture
Although the desert is, for the most part, unsuitable for farm agriculture, it is good pasture and has been used by Bedouin for thousands of years.
Traditionally, Bedouin divided themselves into three groups based on their main sources of subsistence. The first group was the “true” Bedouin-camel-herders-who made use of the entire desert since camels can live for long periods of time on little or no water. The second group was “small” Bedouin who raised sheep and goats primarily. These tribes migrated for shorter distances, as sheep and goats need water at least once a day. The third group was “herdsmen” who kept flocks of sheep and goats and also practiced farm agriculture.
Economically, socially, and politically, the Bedouin have always been integrated into larger, regional systems. The Bedouin share linguistic and cultural roots with the region’s dominant society. The Bedouin’s mobility, as well as their group and tribal loyalities, have always been seen as threats to the stability and security of centralized states, which have often attempted to sedentarize the Bedouin.
Most of the Bedouin tribes now inhabiting the Syrian desert moved there from the Arabian peninsula during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries during a period of weak ottoman rule. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman government began to reassert its authority and made several attempts to force some Bedouin tribes to settle permanently.
The modern nation-states of Jordan and Syria were created from the former Ottoman provinces of Greater Syria. Lands formally belonging to the Ottoman sultan were given to the Bedouin, which helped cement the close relationship between the Bedouin tribes and the royal family. Tribal lands were registered in the names of the tribal Shaykhs who encouraged tribesman to settle. The desert-formerly protected by the hima Bedouin land used the system that restricted and regularized use of the desert, later opened to unlimited grazing.