Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Origin and Identity of the arabs - Part 3

Ancient peoples of the Middle East

Arabs are the most recent of all Semitic peoples according to their appearance in history. In fact, it is not possible to speak about Arabs in ancient times, but only about their ancestors.

Most of the Middle East is now formed by conventionally called "Arab countries", recently invented by the British and French rulers after having defeated and dismembered the Ottoman Empire. They created politic entities without any historic background and assigned some of them to the Arabs instead of the peoples that have legitimate right to those lands. That is the case of Egypt, Iraq and the Israeli territories given to the Arabs. They have as well divided the country that rightfully belongs to the Arabs into different states without any historical or cultural reason and over which they established the rulers. That is the case of Kuwayt, Qatar, Bahrayn, the United Arab Emirates and "Saudi" Arabia, names that are impossible to find in any historic record.

Since Arab nationalist and other biased movements claim an alleged historical right over the whole Middle East, they ascribe the Arab ethnicity to all Semitic and Hamitic peoples that existed in that region centuries before the first Arab was born. Consequently, it is helpful to present a brief historic account of the peoples that originally inhabited the Middle East in ancient times, and which of those peoples generated the Arabs.

In order to make this research more comprehensible, we can divide the Ancient Middle East into three main regions: 1) the "Fertile Crescent" and neighbouring lands, from the Zagros Mounts in the east to the Ararat in the north and the Mediterranean shores in the west (Mesopotamia, Ararat, Syria-Canaan); 2) Egypt; 3) the Arabian peninsula.

  1. Mesopotamia, Ararat, Syria-Canaan: This region was inhabited by Semitic and non-Semitic peoples.

Sumerians, Subarians and Hurrians: these non-Semitic peoples cannot be identified nowadays with any defined ethnic entity, but evolved into several different peoples. Most of them were displaced by the Assyrians and emigrated, contributing to the formation of other peoples in India, Central Asia and Europe. Nevertheless, the Kurds are partially descendant of the Subarian/Hurrians, mixed with other elements, and therefore having right to claim a national home in the area -- but their land was given to others that arrived many centuries after them: Turks and Arabs.

Hittites and Canaanites: these peoples were originally non-Semitic but Mediterranean. While the Hittites dwelling in Anatolia built an empire and subsequently entered the Indo-European sphere, those that remained in Canaan were absorbed by the Canaanite tribes.

The Canaanites were culturally conquered by the Arameans, adopting their Semitic language and therefore are generally regarded as a Semitic people. They developed in two different areas: the "coastland Canaanites" are best known in history as Phoenicians, the "mountain Canaanites" were assimilated by the Israelites and disappeared as an identifiable people around the 8th century b.c.e. -- when the Assyrians took the Hebrews into exile they did not make any difference because the Canaanites were already Israelites. Canaanites were NOT Arabs.

Today the ancient Canaanites are represented by two nations: the Phoenicians are Lebanese, while the Yevusites, Hivvites, Amorites and other mountain tribes are now Jews. Lebanon is erroneously considered an "Arab" country, since the Lebanese themselves do not agree with such classification. In the Lebanese constitution the term Arab is not mentioned, except in the article 11 that states that Arabic is the official language (as well as the Argentine constitution establishes that Spanish is the official language, but this does not mean that the inhabitants are to be considered Spaniards). Lebanon's official name is "Lebanese Republic", a western-style denomination, without the word "Arab" that is essential in the official designation of every Arab state.

Philistines: the Philistines were not Semitic peoples, and unlike the Canaanites, they were not autochthonous but a confederation of invaders from the Aegean Sea and the Anatolian areas. They are known in history also as "Sea Peoples". The Philistines are extinct and claims to alleged links with them are utterly false as they are historically impossible to establish. In any case, claiming a Philistine heritage is idle because it cannot legitimate any land in which they were foreign occupants and not native dwellers. Philistines were not Arabs, and the only feature in common between both peoples is that in Israel they should be regarded as invaders, Philistines from the sea and Arabs from the wilderness.

Akkadians, Assyrians and Arameans: These are the only peoples in this region that were fully and originally Semitic. The term Akkadians refers to the early historic period of the peoples that later were identified as Hebrews in Canaan and Assyrians in Mesopotamia, while the Arameans constituted the western branch of the same stock. Assyrians eventually split into two branches, of which the southern is more commonly known as Chaldeans or Babylonians. These peoples were NOT Arabs.

The Assyrians became Christians in the first century c.e. and did never accept Islam, so they have been persecuted and the largest majority of them are still in exile, though there has been a permanent Assyrian presence in the area. They speak their own ancient language and their homeland is until now usurped by an Arab entity called Iraq. Consequently, since Assyrians still exist and are not Arabs, the Arab nationalists cannot ascribe an Arab identity to the ancient Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia.

The Arameans are the only of these peoples that have in some way been related to the original Arabs, as they have intermarried and mixed with the Nabatean tribes, becoming the present-day Syrians, that are the most Semitic of all Arabs. Therefore, even though the ancient Arameans cannot be regarded as Arabs, they are among the ancestors of the northernmost branch of the Arabs, namely, the Syrians.

  1. Egypt:

The ancient Egyptians were a Hamitic people and even though they have been in some way involved with the origin of the Ishmaelite Arabs, they remained a distinguishable people that has not been assimilated by the Arab invaders. The Egyptians became Christians in the first centuries c.e., and their genuine descendants are the Copts, who are not Arabs. Even though at present they are a minority in their own homeland, the Arab majority is anyway the result of a foreign invasion performed in the Middle Ages, when the Arabs made of Egypt the outpost for the conquest of Africa.

  1. Arabia:

The Arabian peninsula is undoubtedly the Arabs' homeland, and the peoples that inhabited it in ancient times are to be regarded as the ancestors of the modern Arabs. Now, the query consists in establishing how Semitic these peoples were and up to what amount did the Ishmaelites contribute to the formation of the Arab identity.

In the most ancient records the whole Arabia was commonly designed under the generic name of "Kush", which was extended throughout the entire region comprised between Southern Mesopotamia in the north and the White Nile Basin in the south, that is, including both sides of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Subsequently, there has been a clear distinction between Northern and Southern Arabia since early times, distinction that endured for centuries. The Arabs are the result of the progressive fusion of both entities developed over the original Kushite background.

Southern Arabian peoples:

    • Seven Kushite peoples: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Ra'mah, Sabtekha, Sheba and Dedan.
    • Twelve Semitic tribes (Yoqtanites): Almodad, Shelef, Hatzarmawt, Yerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diqlah, Obal, Abima'el, Shaba, Hawilah and Yobab.

Northern Arabian peoples:

    • Early Kushite population: Kûsh, Mušuri, Hawilah, Makkan.
    • Eight Semitic tribes (Midyanites/Lihyanites): Zimran, Yoqshan, Medan, Midyan, Yishbaq, Shuwah, Sheba and Dedan.
    • Twelve Ishmaelite tribes: Nebayot, Qedar, Adbe'el, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadar, Teyma, Yetur, Nafish and Qedmah.

The characteristics of these peoples are exposed under the next title.

by Avraham Sándor