Posted February 5, 2016
By Bethany Dotson
As the conflict in Syria continues, so does interest in the history of the political situation that led us here. To better understand the context, I’ve traced a small portion of the history of the conflict using historical sources found in primary source collections from Gale. A quick search in Gale Artemis: Primary Sources unearths documents that contribute to the discussion.
The earliest source that I discovered related to the Syrian Ba’ath party was from the 1950s. One of these early sources, from the Economist Historical Archive, outlines the growth of an Arab League now seen as likely to include Syria, after its recent change in government:
"Arab Leaguelet?" Economist 12 Mar. 1955: 884. The Economist Historical Archive, 1843-2011.
Approximately a decade later, a CIA report available in U.S. Declassified Documents Online fills in the history and current status of the Ba’ath party, providing interesting insight especially into what the CIA perceived to be the likely outlook for the Syrian government.
Background information on Arab Socialist Resurrection Party commonly known as the Baath, the Party that has led Syria for the past 3 years. United States: Central Intelligence Agency, 20 May 1966. U.S. Declassified Documents Online.
A Department of State document from 3 years later, in 1969, provides a progress update on both pan-Arab nationalism in general as well as the Ba’ath party. The major concern of the report was the status of Israel, as well as Arab-USSR relations and potential actions. At this point, the Ba’ath party had split, resulting in further radicalization.
Moreover, the USSR’s increased presence in Syria and the Middle East is a point of concern.
Department of State (DOS) report entitled: "Volume VI - International Situation in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia." United States: Department Of State, 1 Jan. 1969. U.S. Declassified Documents Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
To look more specifically at US/Syrian relations slightly closer to the present, one set of sources caught my eye, illustrating the value of having newspaper articles side-by-side with previously classified documents.
By Our Foreign Staff. "Syria Blame Christians and Israel." Financial Times 14 Mar. 1980: 6. The Financial Times Historical Archive, 1888-2010. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
In 1980, Syrian leadership accused the U.S. CIA of backing opponents to the regime; a quick search for ‘Syria’ in the 1978-1980 date range brought up many documents, 40 of which were rated ‘top secret’. In them, notes from the White House for National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski in March 1980:
National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski is provided with noon notes on world events. United States: White House, 12 Mar. 1980. U.S. Declassified Documents Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
These few snippets of sources tell one infinitisimally small piece of a decades-long story of the Ba’ath party in Syria. We catch a small glimpse of the external and internal forces affecting both Syria’s political trajectory and its foreign relations; I encourage you to take a closer look at the primary sources within Gale Artemis: Primary Sources to get a fuller picture of this long and tumultuous history.
About the Author
Bethany is an avid reader, coffee enthusiast, and travel maven. She’s a proud UMich alum with a BA in English & Spanish. While currently working on her MBA, she looks forward to graduating so she has time for hobbies again!