Like other desert and grassland areas with arid climates in the world, the vast Middle East is also galloping with many nomadic groups, the most famous of which are the Bedouins.
As early as thousands of years ago, Bedouin led livestock to live in deserts and grasslands chasing water and grass, thus forming a unique cultural tradition and lifestyle.
However, it is such an ethnic group with a long history that has been shrinking under the impact of the tide of modern civilization after the Industrial Revolution, the population is declining, and the tradition is annihilated.
The Bedouins are disappearing. The desert is still so huge, even bigger, but the Bedouins, the sons of the desert, are gradually leaving here.
Nomads looting for a living
The name “Bedouin” is a transliteration of the Arabic word Badawīn, and its root Badw means “desert, tent”. From this it is not difficult to infer that Bedouin refers to people who live in deserts or tents. Corresponding to the settled urban residents.
Bedouin culture has become a precious cultural heritage in the world, and a sign of decline has become a heritage.
As early as 6000 BC, the Bedouins began to engage in nomadic, fishing, and agricultural activities in the Syrian grasslands, and left their mark in ancient documents-the Edomites in the Old Testament of the Bible, The nomadic Arabs (Arāb, different from Arab Arabs) in the Quran and the Shasu (Shasu) referred to by the ancient Egyptians are all related to Bedouins.
In the nomadic process, Bedouins mainly graze goats, sheep and camels. These livestock are often used for milk production, wool production or as meat after slaughter. The living conditions are quite harsh, and every step must be prepared for the future. Because they are in arid areas and the rainfall is unpredictable, Bedouins have to move camps irregularly according to the conditions of the pastures. In other areas where the winter rainfall is more punctual, the Bedouin will also grow grains along the road during the nomadic process to provide winter rations for the animals.
Around 850 BC, the Bedouins established a complex network of settlements and temporary camps in the Syrian steppes. At this time, their source of income was not just animal husbandry. The tribute they received from non-Bedouin settlements and the taxes paid by caravans also became an important source of funds.
Trade caravans across the grassland-desert will pass through this place, as long as they stay to buy road money, you are allowed to take shortcuts.
How did the nomadic Bedouin collect “protection money”? This is naturally related to their military advantage.
As a nomadic tribe that lives by water and grass, the Bedouins do not have a standing army and judicial system like fixed residents to maintain law and order. The protection of personal and property safety relies on swords in their hands and mounts under the hips. Their high mobility and aggressive cold-weapon combat capabilities have made them “ground snakes” on the inaccessible desert grasslands.
The bravery and skillful warfare of the nomads is honed in nature, and the soldiers who are screened out are all warriors.
Over time, the Bedouins developed a tradition of plundering-“Ghazwa” (Ghazwa?), which refers to a limited form of warfare that focuses on obtaining trophies such as herds through raids and looting while avoiding frontal conflicts , The participant is called “Ghazi” (Ghazi).
Clan organizations form the basis of Bedouin society. The tribes formed based on blood relations have strong cohesion and can effectively face harsh environments and foreign invasions.
The Bedouin poet Al-Kutami of the Umayyad dynasty once wrote: “Our livelihood depends on launching surprise attacks on enemies and even our neighbors, and when there is no one to plunder, we Then we will launch a surprise attack on our own brother.” It can be seen that the Bedouin’s plundering tradition is semi-institutionalized and part of their lives.
Some of the aborigines on the Arabian Peninsula participated in the grand journey of the Arab Empire and became the ruling class.
Others continue to live a life of robbery and are regarded as barbarians, which shows that Bedouins are essentially a way of survival.
Moroccan Bedouin children in the Sahara Desert. Living, traditional Moroccan oven and tent.
Integrate into the country
With the passage of time, more and more countries with fixed residents as the main body appeared on the land of the Middle East. These political entities with standing armies became stronger and stronger, and the Bedouin gradually could no longer looting wantonly. In order to maintain their livelihoods, they chose to cooperate with the country established by regular residents. The “bandits” accepted the recruitment and became the “policeman” responsible for maintaining public order on the commercial roads and borders.
Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta pointed out in his book that on his way from Egypt to Gaza in 1326, the Mamluk dynasty that ruled Egypt at that time had a customs on the northern coast of the Sinai Peninsula and hired Bedouins to take charge. Guard the road and hunt for those who cross the border illegally.
However, once the power of the fixed-resident country declines or the security system is paralyzed, the Bedouins will start plundering again.
Most Bedouins are Sunni Islamists. They will make an effort to make a Hajj in Mecca once in their lives, but their faith has never defeated the tradition of plundering and the desire for survival.
From September to late October 1757, four Bedouin tribes attacked the Hajj regiment led by Hussein Pasha bin Makki, the governor of Damascus in the Ottoman Empire. Although the Hajj regiment was protected by the Ottoman army, it was still defeated by the Bedouin tribe’s repeated attacks. The hajj regiment’s caravan was looted and as many as 20,000 pilgrims were killed directly or died of hunger and thirst.
After entering the 19th century, with the wave of the Industrial Revolution, the arrival of new technologies and new inventions made the Ottoman Empire gradually able to completely control remote areas including grasslands and deserts.
Not participating in disputes does not mean that you can stay away from them. The outbreak of the Syrian war broke the peaceful nomadic life of the Bedouins. They are located in central and northeastern Syria that borders Iraq. It is not only a hotspot for Syrian government forces and the opposition, but also a frontline zone for the extremist organization “Islamic State” to invade Syria from Iraq. The homeland of the Bedouin has become an arena for many forces.
Within the vast territory of Ottoman, there are huge differences between different places, and the semi-desert areas that are difficult to control are remote and unprofitable. Before modern times, the empire was beyond reach.
At the end of the 19th century, Osman Sudan Abdul Hamid II introduced the Circassians from the Balkans and the Caucasus, and allowed them to settle in the “unowned land” of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine. The land was originally owned by the nomadic Bedouins, but it is now leased to the new immigrants by the Ottoman government for planting and agricultural production.
At the same time, due to the increasing influence of the British and French and other European powers in the Middle East, many areas that originally belonged to the Ottoman Empire have been reduced to British and French colonies.
A group of Bedouins and their camels in the rocky mountains and red sand of the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan.
In order to prevent further penetration by Britain, France and other countries, the Ottoman government played the role of “generalizing the family”, forcing the Bedouins considered as a “threat to rule” to settle down, and in the desert area beyond the reach of Constantinople. Import law and order. Under the influence of land ownership changes and the policies of the Ottoman Empire, many Bedouins began to transition to a semi-nomadic and semi-settlement lifestyle.
Settlement is convenient for a country to control these freedom-loving ethnic groups, and the Ottoman approach was also imitated by many subsequent countries.
Survive under war
With the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the deepening of the British and French colonial powers, the Middle East was divided into several countries. The Bedouins, who were originally free, are now bound by the artificial boundaries drawn by the colonists regardless of the realities of the ethnic group. As a result, the Bedouin can no longer freely obtain the pasture and water resources needed for nomadic pastoralism.
After Britain and France and other countries withdrew from the Middle East due to the decline of the country during World War II, the original colonies gradually gained independence. The newly established Arab countries such as Iraq, Jordan, and Syria attempted to provide Bedouin people with education, medical care, and public security and other modern national services to attract them to settle down. On the other hand, they seized the settled Bedouin before grazing. Land used. Although they are divided into different countries and different camps, they hope to group Bedouins into Qimin.
Before Israel’s independence, the Negev Desert was an important settlement for the Bedouins. After independence, Israel also imitated the Ottoman Empire and settled these “wanderers”. The largest Bedouin city in the Negev Desert was La Hart.
Under the influence of the “carrot and stick” policy and the shrinkage of pastures due to environmental damage, the vast majority of Bedouins eager to improve their living standards gave up their traditional nomadic life. With the adaptation from generation to generation, the traditional customs of nomads seem to exist only in festival celebrations.
Most Bedouins in Syria settled in cities and villages in central and western regions such as Aleppo, Deir al-Zor, Homs and Raqqah between 1958 and 1961. Bedouins or Started farming, or worked as an urban dweller. The ability to domesticate camels also brings many special job opportunities.
Affected by this, the proportion of Bedouins still living a traditional nomadic life in the total population of Syria dropped from 13% in 1930 to 7% in 1953, and only 2% to 3% by the millennium. Today it is even less. These Bedouins, who adhere to the traditional way of life, graze their animals on the semi-arid grasslands and make a living by selling livestock products such as milk, cheese and meat.
But not participating in disputes does not mean that you can stay away from them. The outbreak of the Syrian war broke the peaceful nomadic life of the Bedouins. They are located in central and northeastern Syria that borders Iraq. It is not only a hotspot for Syrian government forces and the opposition, but also a frontline zone for the extremist organization “Islamic State” to invade Syria from Iraq. The homeland of the Bedouin has become an arena for many forces.
If the Bedouins had moved to Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa, and Aleppo before, I am sorry that the wars there are more violent and cruel. After the escalation of the war, the Bedouins in Syria could hardly live in chasing waters and grasses everywhere. Their priority in life is no longer to take care of the herds, but to protect themselves from various armed forces. The herd was hit by artillery fire due to untimely transfer and suffered heavy losses. The power of modern weapons is already terrifying, and the brave Bedouins are now just poor herders.
Sand painting bottles sold in the Bedouin market.
As the armed conflict continued, the feed needed by the herd became more and more difficult to obtain, and the veterinary services provided by the Syrian government became more and more difficult to maintain. The Bedouin herd was in more and more difficult conditions. Many cattle and sheep died of illness and survived. The animals in Syria are either slaughtered and eaten by owners who are unable to make ends meet, or they are transported to neighboring countries and sold in exchange for subsistence expenses, because the animals cannot be sold at a good price in Syria.
In addition, the Bedouins caught between the parties to the conflict are also facing targeted attacks by the Syrian government forces and the “Islamic State” because of their unsettled and undisclosed lifestyle of alliances, which not only makes them Loyalty is suspected by the Syrian government, and it is also regarded by the “Islamic State” as a factor of instability.
For example, in 2018, Syrian government forces bombed the Bedouin tribe’s tents and pastures near the city of Palmyra and claimed that they were members of the “Islamic State”. The attack caused the deaths of 4 Bedouins, and most of the sheep were turned into barbecues. In the same year, the Bedouins of the same tribe were unable to withstand the repressive rule and brutal conquest of the “Islamic State” in the rural areas near Palmyra, and they were forced to go north and flee to Raqqa, which had just been liberated by the Syrian government forces…
Now, it has continued. There is still no sign of the end of the Syrian War in the past 10 years, and more and more Bedouins who adhere to the millennium tradition may be forced to abandon their horseback life and integrate into the settled Arabs. Bedouin people are disappearing, and Bedouin culture, as an important part of Syria’s cultural heritage, will probably only be seen in old paper piles in the future.