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Arak (Arabic: آراك, also spelled Urak or Araq) is a village in eastern Syria, administratively part of the Homs Governorate. It is situated on an oasis in the Syrian Desert along the road between Palmyra which is 28 kilometers to the southwest and al-Sukhnah to the northeast. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics of Syria (CBS), Arak had a population of 111 in the 2004 census.
Settlement in Arak existed at least from the Roman Empire-era in Syria when it was known "Aracha." Milestones were found in the village dating back to 75 CE and indicated that the Roman governor of Syria at the time, Marcus Ulpius Traianus, was ordering the construction of a road connecting Palmyra with Sura on the Euphrates River.
An altar in Arak during this era was dedicated to Yarhibol, the local deity of pagan Palmyra who was worshiped as the patron of the Efqa spring in that city since the Amorite period. The altar, which was built in 209 CE, read "The altar which Maliku son 'mrbn erected to Yarhibol, to the one who irrigates Arak, to the Gad of the locality, the bountiful god."
Khalid ibn al-Walid, the Arab general of the Rashidun army, conquered Arak during the initial stage of the Muslim conquest of Syria in 634. The town was fortified and defended by an Arab Christian garrison led by a Roman officer. Following their sighting of Khalid's army, the troops retreated to the fort and were subsequently besieged. An elderly scholar in Arak warned the Roman officer of Khalid's successful war record, telling him "beware of fighting this army." Consequently, the garrison surrendered the fort and negotiated terms with Khalid who imposed a jizya tax on the residents, but otherwise did not attack or plunder the town. The Rashidun army camped outside of Arak before continuing their march towards al-Sukhnah.
There has also been evidence of Umayyad and early Abbasid occupation at Arak. During Ayyubid rule, Syrian geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi noted Arak was a "small town on the border of the Aleppo Desert, near Palmyra and 'Urd, possessing palms and olives."
In 1838 Arak was classified as a seasonal village or khirba by English scholar Eli Smith. In the late 19th-century, Arak consisted of 15 huts and contained an Ottoman Army garrison. Not long after the garrison's establishment in the 1870s, the soldiers stationed in the village were withdrawn. Regular raids by Bedouin tribesmen ensued and made life increasingly difficult for Arak's inhabitants.
The al-Abd Allah tribe of the region reportedly plundered the village along with nearby al-Sukhnah in 1917, taking with them large hoards of furnishings and household goods. Consequently, Arak's residents largely abandoned the village and settled in Palmyra.
- General Census of Population and Housing 2004. Syria Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). Homs Governorate. (Arabic)
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