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A country of fertile plains, high mountains, and deserts, Syria is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups , including the majority Syrian Arabs , Kurds , Turkmens , Assyrians , Armenians , Circassians ,  Mandeans ,  and Greeks.
Arabs are the largest ethnic group, and Sunnis are the largest religious group. Syria is a unitary republic consisting of 14 governorates and is the only country that politically espouses Ba'athism.
It is a member of one international organization other than the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement ; it was suspended from the Arab League in November  and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation ,  and self-suspended from the Union for the Mediterranean. The name "Syria" historically referred to a wider region , broadly synonymous with the Levant , and known in Arabic as al-Sham. The modern state encompasses the sites of several ancient kingdoms and empires, including the Eblan civilization of the 3rd millennium BC.
Aleppo and the capital city Damascus are among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The modern Syrian state was established in the midth century after centuries of Ottoman rule, and after a brief period of French mandate.
The newly created state represented the largest Arab state to emerge from the formerly Ottoman -ruled Syrian provinces. It gained de jure independence as a parliamentary republic on 24 October , when the Republic of Syria became a founding member of the United Nations, an act which legally ended the former French Mandate, although French troops did not leave the country until April The post-independence period was tumultuous, with many military coups and coup attempts shaking the country from to Syria was under Emergency Law from to , effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens.
Bashar al-Assad has been president since and was preceded by his father Hafez al-Assad ,  who was in office from to Throughout his rule, Syria and the ruling Ba'ath Party have been condemned and criticized for various human rights abuses , including frequent executions of citizens and political prisoners , and massive censorship.
As a result, a number of self-proclaimed political entities have emerged on Syrian territory, including the Syrian opposition , Rojava , Tahrir al-Sham and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Syria was ranked last on the Global Peace Index from to ,  making it the most violent country in the world due to the war. The conflict has killed more than , people,  caused 7.
The area designated by the word has changed over time. Classically, Syria lies at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, between Arabia to the south and Asia Minor to the north, stretching inland to include parts of Iraq, and having an uncertain border to the northeast that Pliny the Elder describes as including, from west to east, Commagene , Sophene , and Adiabene.
By Pliny's time, however, this larger Syria had been divided into a number of provinces under the Roman Empire but politically independent from each other : Judaea , later renamed Palaestina in AD the region corresponding to modern-day Israel , the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan in the extreme southwest; Phoenice established in AD corresponding to modern Lebanon, Damascus and Homs regions; Coele-Syria or "Hollow Syria" south of the Eleutheris river , and Iraq.
Since approximately 10, BC, Syria was one of the centers of Neolithic culture known as Pre-Pottery Neolithic A where agriculture and cattle breeding appeared for the first time in the world. At the time of the pre-pottery Neolithic, people used vessels made of stone, gyps and burnt lime Vaisselle blanche.
Finds of obsidian tools from Anatolia are evidences of early trade relations. Archaeologists have demonstrated that civilization in Syria was one of the most ancient on earth, perhaps preceded by only those of Mesopotamia. The earliest recorded indigenous civilization in the region was the Kingdom of Ebla  near present-day Idlib , northern Syria.
Ebla appears to have been founded around BC,      and gradually built its fortune through trade with the Mesopotamian states of Sumer , Assyria , and Akkad , as well as with the Hurrian and Hattian peoples to the northwest, in Asia Minor. One of the earliest written texts from Syria is a trading agreement between Vizier Ibrium of Ebla and an ambiguous kingdom called Abarsal c. Recent classifications of the Eblaite language have shown that it was an East Semitic language , closely related to the Akkadian language.
Ebla was weakened by a long war with Mari , and the whole of Syria became part of the Mesopotamian Akkadian Empire after Sargon of Akkad and his grandson Naram-Sin 's conquests ended Eblan domination over Syria in the first half of the 23rd century BC.
By the 21st century BC, Hurrians settled the northern east parts of Syria while the rest of the region was dominated by the Amorites , Syria was called the Land of the Amurru Amorites by their Assyro-Babylonian neighbors. The Northwest Semitic language of the Amorites is the earliest attested of the Canaanite languages. Mari reemerged during this period, and saw renewed prosperity until conquered by Hammurabi of Babylon.
Ugarit also arose during this time, circa BC, close to modern Latakia. Ugaritic was a Semitic language loosely related to the Canaanite languages, and developed the Ugaritic alphabet ,  considered to be the world's earliest known alphabet. The Ugaritic kingdom survived until its destruction at the hands of the marauding Indo-European Sea Peoples in the 12th century BC in what was known as the Late Bronze Age Collapse which saw similar kingdoms and states witness the same destruction at the hand of the Sea Peoples.
Yamhad was described in the tablets of Mari as the mightiest state in the near east and as having more vassals than Hammurabi of Babylon.
The Egyptians initially occupied much of the south, while the Hittites, and the Mitanni, much of the north. However, Assyria eventually gained the upper hand, destroying the Mitanni Empire and annexing huge swathes of territory previously held by the Hittites and Babylon. Around the 14th century BC, various Semitic peoples appeared in the area, such as the semi-nomadic Suteans who came into an unsuccessful conflict with Babylonia to the east, and the West Semitic speaking Arameans who subsumed the earlier Amorites.
They too were subjugated by Assyria and the Hittites for centuries. The Egyptians fought the Hittites for control over western Syria; the fighting reached its zenith in BC with the Battle of Kadesh. From this point, the region became known as Aramea or Aram. There was also a synthesis between the Semitic Arameans and the remnants of the Indo-European Hittites , with the founding of a number of Syro-Hittite states centered in north central Aram Syria and south central Asia Minor modern Turkey , including Palistin , Carchemish and Sam'al.
From these coastal regions, they eventually spread their influence throughout the Mediterranean , including building colonies in Malta , Sicily, the Iberian peninsula modern Spain and Portugal , and the coasts of North Africa and most significantly, founding the major city state of Carthage in modern Tunisia in the 9th century BC, which was much later to become the center of a major empire, rivaling the Roman Empire.
The Assyrians introduced Imperial Aramaic as the lingua franca of their empire. This language was to remain dominant in Syria and the entire Near East until after the Arab Islamic conquest in the 7th and 8th centuries AD, and was to be a vehicle for the spread of Christianity.
Assyrian domination ended after the Assyrians greatly weakened themselves in a series of brutal internal civil wars, followed by attacks from: the Medes , Babylonians , Chaldeans , Persians , Scythians and Cimmerians. During the fall of Assyria, the Scythians ravaged and plundered much of Syria. During this period, Syria became a battle ground between Babylonia and another former Assyrian colony, that of Egypt. The Babylonians, like their Assyrian relations, were victorious over Egypt.
Thus, it was the Greeks who introduced the name "Syria" to the region. Originally an Indo-European corruption of "Assyria" in northern Mesopotamia, the Greeks used this term to describe not only Assyria itself but also the lands to the west which had for centuries been under Assyrian dominion. Eventually parts of southern Seleucid Syria were taken by Judean Hasmoneans upon the slow disintegration of the Hellenistic Empire.
Syria briefly came under Armenian control from 83 BC, with the conquests of the Armenian king Tigranes the Great , who was welcomed as a savior from the Seleucids and Romans by the Syrian people. However, Pompey the Great , a general of the Roman Empire , rode to Syria and captured Antioch , its capital, and turned Syria into a Roman province in 64 BC, thus ending Armenian control over the region which had lasted two decades.
Syria prospered under Roman rule, being strategically located on the silk road, which gave it massive wealth and importance, making it the battleground for the rivaling Romans and Persians. Palmyra , a rich and sometimes powerful native Aramaic -speaking kingdom arose in northern Syria in the 2nd century; the Palmyrene established a trade network that made the city one of the richest in the Roman empire.
The Aramaic language has been found as far afield as Hadrians Wall in Ancient Britain,  with an inscription written by a Palmyrene emigrant at the site of Fort Arbeia. Control of Syria eventually passed from the Romans to the Byzantines , with the split in the Roman Empire. The largely Aramaic -speaking population of Syria during the heyday of the Byzantine Empire was probably not exceeded again until the 19th century.
Prior to the Arab Islamic Conquest in the 7th century AD, the bulk of the population were Arameans , but Syria was also home to Greek and Roman ruling classes, Assyrians still dwelt in the north east, Phoenicians along the coasts, and Jewish and Armenian communities was also extant in major cities, with Nabateans and pre-Islamic Arabs such as the Lakhmids and Ghassanids dwelling in the deserts of southern Syria.
Syria's large and prosperous population made Syria one of the most important of the Roman and Byzantine provinces, particularly during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Syrians held considerable amounts of power during the Severan dynasty. The matriarch of the family and Empress of Rome as wife of emperor Septimius Severus was Julia Domna , a Syrian from the city of Emesa modern day Homs , whose family held hereditary rights to the priesthood of the god El-Gabal.
Her great nephews, also Arabs from Syria, would also become Roman Emperors, the first being Elagabalus and the second, his cousin Alexander Severus. He was emperor from to ,  and ruled briefly during the Crisis of the Third Century. During his reign, he focused on his home town of Philippopolis modern day Shahba and began many construction projects to improve the city, most of which were halted after his death.
Syria is significant in the history of Christianity ; Saulus of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul , was converted on the Road to Damascus and emerged as a significant figure in the Christian Church at Antioch in ancient Syria, from which he left on many of his missionary journeys. Acts — Muhammad 's first interaction with the people and tribes of Syria was during the Invasion of Dumatul Jandal in July  where he ordered his followers to invade Duma, because Muhammad received intelligence that some tribes there were involved in highway robbery and preparing to attack Medina itself.
William Montgomery Watt claims that this was the most significant expedition Muhammad ordered at the time, even though it received little notice in the primary sources. Watt says "It is tempting to suppose that Muhammad was already envisaging something of the expansion which took place after his death", and that the rapid march of his troops must have "impressed all those who heard of it".
William Muir also believes that the expedition was important as Muhammad followed by men reached the confines of Syria, where distant tribes had now learnt his name, while the political horizon of Muhammad was extended.
In the mid-7th century, the Umayyad dynasty , then rulers of the empire, placed the capital of the empire in Damascus. The country's power declined during later Umayyad rule; this was mainly due to totalitarianism, corruption and the resulting revolutions. The Umayyad dynasty was then overthrown in by the Abbasid dynasty , which moved the capital of empire to Baghdad.
Arabic — made official under Umayyad rule  — became the dominant language, replacing Greek and Aramaic of the Byzantine era.
In , the Egypt-based Tulunids annexed Syria from the Abbasids, and were later replaced by once the Egypt-based Ikhshidids and still later by the Hamdanids originating in Aleppo founded by Sayf al-Dawla. Sections of Syria were held by French, English, Italian and German overlords between and AD during the Crusades and were known collectively as the Crusader states among which the primary one in Syria was the Principality of Antioch.
The coastal mountainous region was also occupied in part by the Nizari Ismailis , the so-called Assassins , who had intermittent confrontations and truces with the Crusader States. Later in history when "the Nizaris faced renewed Frankish hostilities, they received timely assistance from the Ayyubids.
After a century of Seljuk rule, Syria was largely conquered — by the Kurdish liberator Salah ad-Din , founder of the Ayyubid dynasty of Egypt. Aleppo fell to the Mongols of Hulegu in January , and Damascus in March, but then Hulegu was forced to break off his attack to return to China to deal with a succession dispute.
The Mamluk leader, Baibars , made Damascus a provincial capital. When he died, power was taken by Qalawun. In the meantime, an emir named Sunqur al-Ashqar had tried to declare himself ruler of Damascus, but he was defeated by Qalawun on 21 June , and fled to northern Syria.
Al-Ashqar, who had married a Mongol woman, appealed for help from the Mongols. In , the Muslim Turco-Mongol conqueror Tamurlane invaded Syria, in which he sacked Aleppo ,  and captured Damascus after defeating the Mamluk army. The city's inhabitants were massacred, except for the artisans, who were deported to Samarkand. In , the Ottoman Empire invaded the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt , conquering Syria, and incorporating it into its empire.
The Ottoman system was not burdensome to Syrians because the Turks respected Arabic as the language of the Quran , and accepted the mantle of defenders of the faith. Damascus was made the major entrepot for Mecca , and as such it acquired a holy character to Muslims, because of the beneficial results of the countless pilgrims who passed through on the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Ottoman administration followed a system that led to peaceful coexistence. His short-term rule over the domain attempted to change the demographics and social structure of the region: he brought thousands of Egyptian villagers to populate the plains of Southern Syria , rebuilt Jaffa and settled it with veteran Egyptian soldiers aiming to turn it into a regional capital, and he crushed peasant and Druze rebellions and deported non-loyal tribesmen.
By , however, he had to surrender the area back to the Ottomans. From , Tanzimat reforms were applied on Ottoman Syria, carving out the provinces vilayets of Aleppo , Zor , Beirut and Damascus Vilayet ; Mutasarrifate of Mount Lebanon was created, as well, and soon after the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem was given a separate status. During the conflict, genocide against indigenous Christian peoples was carried out by the Ottomans and their allies in the form of the Armenian Genocide and Assyrian Genocide , of which Deir ez-Zor , in Ottoman Syria, was the final destination of these death marches.
Initially, the two territories were separated by a border that ran in an almost straight line from Jordan to Iran. However, the discovery of oil in the region of Mosul just before the end of the war led to yet another negotiation with France in to cede this region to the British zone of influence, which was to become Iraq.
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