“I was only a child when the Great War broke out in 1914, but I had already begun to perceive and comprehend. The first thing that suddenly occurred to me, having witnessed, felt and actually experienced the affliction of my people, was this question: What was it that brought all this woe on my people? Soon after the end of the war, I began to look for an answer to this question and a solution to this chronic political problem which seems to drive my people from one adversity into another, constantly delivering it from a lesser evil to make it an easy prey to a greater one. It then happened that I left the country in 1920 while dormant sectarian rancors were still widespread and the nation had not fully buried its corpses.”
- Antun Saadeh, 1935, responding to an inquiry from his lawyer
On November 12, 1932, Antun Saadeh founded the Syrian Social National Party as a response to the suffering of the Syrian nation, which he defined as a single socioeconomic unit including all of the inhabitants of Natural Syria within the Taurus and Zagros mountains to the Mediterranean Sea and Syrian Desert. Today, all parts of Greater Syria are in equally distressing situations ranging from complete occupation to open conflict, from Palestine to Iraq, resulting in the ethnic cleansing and mass migration of Syrians from their historical lands. The pain and suffering that Saadeh witnessed in his early childhood has not changed, and that is because Syria has remained divided, weak and in constant turmoil, subject to the will of others, not the will of its people.
Saadeh’s response to adversity was not a short term reactionary response to a specific passing event, but a long term solution to build the Syrian nation which had many internal and external problems to deal with from sectarianism, to the interference of the religious clergy in political affairs, to secessionists, imperialists and occupiers who covet Syrian territory from all sides. Saadeh focused his effort toward building the youth, the only asset that remained uncorrupted by the prevailing order of the time to overturn the predominantly sectarian, tribal, corrupt, and foreign forces, much as things still remain today.
Many years later, on the 9th of May 1950, Robert Schuman, the Foreign Minister of France, presented his proposal for the creation of “an organized Europe, indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations,” with the same intent to end a constant cycle of suffering. His proposal, known as the "Schuman declaration", is considered to be the beginning of the creation of what is now the European Union (EU). The motto of the EU today is “United in Diversity” and it was founded in response to all of the conflict and problems that Europe was experiencing from a very diverse group of conflicting parties.
Reading from Schuman’s declaration, we find the rationale:
“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it. The contribution which an organized and living Europe can bring to civilization is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations. In taking upon herself for more than 20 years the role of champion of a united Europe, France has always had as her essential aim the service of peace. A united Europe was not achieved and we had war. Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany. Any action taken must in the first place concern these two countries. With this aim in view, the French Government proposes that action be taken immediately on one limited but decisive point. It proposes that Franco-German production of coal and steel as a whole be placed under a common High Authority, within the framework of an organization open to the participation of the other countries of Europe. The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe, and will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims. The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.”
The European Union was established with the aim of ending the frequent and bloody wars between neighbors, which culminated in the massive destruction of the Second World War, by unifying Europe without liquidating the individual nation-states to lead them all to greater prosperity. The results have been remarkable. In contrast, the situation in the Middle East has not changed for the past 75 years since Antun Saadeh first made his declaration to unite Syria and arguably has gotten far worse than even he witnessed during his early childhood. The countries of Natural Syria must unite to find the stability that they desperately seek and to secure the peace and prosperity of their people. The same practical approach that Europe has taken to its union would likewise not require an all or none situation; it can start with just two countries with the rest having an open invitation for accession talks at any point in time. While Saadeh’s vision was oriented at building the nation-state, a “Syrian Union” arguably could and perhaps should include some type of association agreements with non-Syrian states to bring additional stability, resources and benefits to the people of the region.
The initial sets of agreement should establish industry based cooperation covering energy, water, and the environment, and continue on with health, education, science, finance, security, telecommunications, antiquities, culture, tourism, transport, public policy, trade, humanitarian issues, agriculture, and infrastructure. Important milestones would include the equivalent of the four freedoms that marked a significant milestone for Europe, namely the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor. In the long run, the natural progression of a successful union, as exemplified by the EU, will lead to further foreign policy alignment, combined defense policy and the formation of a common constitution, parliament and currency. Future evolution would blur the political boundaries so that each entity within the union would have its own local authority and representation in a united democratic federal union, without comprising the integrity of existing states.
Time has proven the wisdom of the vision and principles of Saadeh’s Syria and the model a united Europe offers; the people of Greater Syria deserve no less, and can afford no less. It may sound like a far off dream to many, especially the people of the region who ill have the greatest doubts, but so did the idea of a united Europe. Today, the European Union has expanded to include 27 diverse countries and societies with different ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural traditions that have a bloody history of war against one another, yet they achieved unity, prosperity and peace for Europe. Syria can do the same, and must do the same, in a carefully planned process to finally put an end to all of the calamities which have befallen such a beautiful people for far too long. The results will not come over night, but step by step, the ‘history of an ambition’ will be rewritten, and this time, it will be written as a success story, “Greater Syria: The Realization of an Ambition”, and the Syrian people will be its author.
Greater Syria: The Realization of an Ambition
By Robert Ayan