Ottoman Syria refers to divisions of the Ottoman Empire within the Levant, usually defined as the region east of the Mediterranean Sea, west of the Euphrates River, north of the Arabian Desert and south of the Taurus Mountains.
Ottoman Syria became organized by the Ottomans upon conquest from the Mamluks in the early 16th century into eyalets (provinces) of Damascus and Aleppo. Eyalet of Tripoli was formed in 1579 and later Eyalet of Adana was split from Aleppo. In 1660, Eyalet of Safed was established and shortly renamed into Eyalet of Sidon. The eyalets were later transformed into the Vilayet of Syria, the Vilayet of Aleppo and the Vilayet of Beirut, following the 1864 Tanzimat reforms.
Before 1516, Syria was part of the Mamluk Empire centered in Egypt. The Ottoman Sultan Selim I conquered Syria in 1516 after defeating the Mamlukes at the Battle of Marj Dabiq near Aleppo in northern Syria. Selim carried on his victorious campaign against the Mamlukes and conquered Egypt in 1517 following the Battle of Ridanieh, bringing an end to the Mamluk Sultanate.
When he first seized Syria in 1516, Selim I kept the administrative subdivisions of the Mamluk period unchanged. After he came back from Egypt in July 1517, he reorganized Syria into one large province or eyalet named Şam (Arabic/Turkish for "Syria"). The eyalet was subdivided into several districts or sanjaks.
In 1549, Syria was reorganized into two eyalets. The northern Sanjak of Aleppo became the center of the new Eyalet of Aleppo. At this time, the two Syrian Eyalets were subdivided as follows:
- The Eyalet of Aleppo (Arabic: إيالة حلب)
- The Sanjak of Aleppo (حلب)
- The Sanjak of Adana (أضنة)
- The Sanjak of Ablistan (Marash (مرعش))
- The Sanjak of Aintab (عينتاب)
- The Sanjak of Birejik (البيرة) (Urfa (أورفة))
- The Sanjak of Kilis (كلز)
- The Sanjak of Ma'arra (معرة النعمان)
- The Sanjak of Hama (حماة)
- The Sanjak of Salamiya (سلمية)
- The Sanjak of Homs (حمص)
- The Eyalet of Damascus (Arabic: إيالة العرب)
In 1579, the Eyalet of Tripoli was established under the name of Tripoli of Syria (Turkish:Trablusşam) (Arabic: طرابلس الشام). At this time, the eyalets became as follows:
"The governments of Candia and Egypt are continued to Mahomet Ali. And in reference to his special claim, I have granted him the provinces of Damascus, Tripoli-in-Syria, Sidon, Saphet, Aleppo, the districts of Jerusalem and Nablous, with the conduct of pilgrims and the commandment of the Tcherde (the yearly offering to the tomb of the Prophet). His son, Ibrahim Pacha, has again the title of Sheikh and Harem of Mekka, and the district of Jedda; and farther, I have acquiesced in his request to have the district of Adana ruled by the Treasury of Taurus, with the title of Mohassil." 
In this period, the Sublime Porte's firmans (decrees) of 1839 and, more decisively, of 1856 — equalizing the status of Muslim and non-Muslim subjects — produced a
"dramatic alienation of Muslims from Christians. The former resented the implied loss of superiority and recurrently assaulted and massacred Christian communities — in Aleppo in 1850, in Nablus in 1856, and in Damascus and Lebanon in 1860. Among the long-term consequences of these bitter internecine conflicts were the emergence of a Christian-dominated Lebanon in the 1920s - 40s and the deep fissure between Christian and Muslim Palestinian Arabs as they confronted the Zionist influx after World War I. "
Following the massacre of thousands of Christian civilians during the 1860 Lebanon conflict, and under a growing European pressure, mainly from France, an Ottoman edict issued in 1861 transformed "Al Kaimaqumyateen", the former regime based on religious rule that led to civil war, into the Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate, governed by a mutasarrıf who, according to law, had to be a non-Lebanese Christian.
As part of the Tanzimat reforms, an Ottoman law passed in 1864 provided for a standard provincial administration throughout the empire with the eyalets becoming smaller vilayets, governed by a vali (governor) still appointed by the imperial Porte but with new provincial assemblies participating in administration.
From 1872 until World War I subdivisions of Syria were:
- Aleppo Vilayet (Arabic: ولاية حلب)
- Sanjak of Zor (Arabic: سنجق دير الزور)
- Beirut Vilayet (Arabic: ولاية بيروت)
- Damascus Vilayet (Arabic: ولاية سورية)
- Mutasarrifate of Mount Lebanon (Arabic: متصرفية جبل لبنان)
- Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem (Arabic: متصرفية القدس الشريف)
The sanjak Zor and the major part of the vilayet Aleppo may or may not be included in Ottoman Syria. The Geographical Dictionary of the World, published in 1906, describes Syria as:
"a country in the [south-west] part of Asia, forming part of the Turkish Empire. It extends eastward from the Mediterranean Sea to the river Euphrates and the Syrian Desert (the prolongation northward of the Arabian Desert), and southward from the Alma-Dagh (ancient Amanus), one of the ranges of the Taurus, to the frontiers of Egypt (Isthmus of Suez) It lies between the parallels of 31° and 37° [north latitude]. It comprises the vilayet of Syria (Suria), or of Damascus, the vilayet of Beirut, the [south-west] part of the vilayet of Aleppo, and the mutessarrifliks of Jerusalem and the Lebanon.
Palestine is included in [the country] Syria, comprising the mutessarriflik of Jerusalem and part of the vilayets of Beirut and Syria.The designation Syria is sometimes used in wider sense so as to include the whole of the vilayet of Aleppo and the Zor Sanjak, a large part of Mesopotamia being thus added."
About Syria in 1915, a British report says:
"The term Syria in those days was generally used to denote the whole of geographical and historic Syria, that is to say the whole of the country lying between the Taurus Mountains and the Sinai Peninsula, which was made up of part of the Vilayet of Aleppo, the Vilayet of Bairut, the Vilayet of Syria, the Sanjaq of the Lebanon, and the Sanjaq of Jerusalem. It included that part of the country which was afterwards detached from it to form the mandated territory of Palestine."
Contemporary maps, showing Eyalets (pre-Tanzimat reforms)
|Maps of Contemporary Ottoman Syria showing Eyalets (pre 1864 Vilayet Law)|
Contemporary maps, showing Vilayets (post-Tanzimat reforms)
|Maps of Contemporary Ottoman Syria showing Vilayets (post-Tanzimat reforms)|
- History of Syria
- Roman Syria
- Sykes-Picot Agreement
- Arab Kingdom of Syria
- French Mandate of Syria
- Southern Syria
- The Ottomans: Europe's Muslim Emperors
- The Middle East and North Africa: 2004, Routledge, page 1015: "Syria"
- The Syrian Question, 1841
- Benny Morris, Excerpt from Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999, accessed 27 September 2015
- Geographical Dictionary of the World in the early 20th Century. Logos Press, New Delhi, 1906. ISBN 8172680120
- Report of a Committee set up to consider certain correspondence between Sir Henry McMahon (his majesty's high commissioner in egypt) and the Sharif of Mecca in 1915 and 1916, ANNEX A, para. 3. British Secretary of State for the Colonies, 16 maart 1939 (doc.nr. Cmd. 5974). unispal
- Bayyat, Fadil, The Ottoman State in the Arab Scope (in Arabic; 2007)
- Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, Appendix II: On the Political Divisions of Syria
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