Kalamoon and Deirattiah

Nowhere in Syria is there a district or a region, with clear natural boundaries and a cultural and historical background derived from its own environment and the historical events around it, as is the case with the Al-Kalamoon region

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Al-Kalamoon is defined from the geographical view as the raised terrain, situated between Damascus lowland and the plateau of Homs, consisting of a number of mountains, hills, and highland facing south-west/north-east, and adjoining Lebanon's Eastern Mountain series from one side and the Syrian steppe or semi-desert from the other. Its hills and mountain ranges

gradually slope at a level of 1,700 meters at one side, down to 800 meters at the other side except for certain peaks, reaching a height of up to 1,850 meters above sea level at Deirattiah's Mountain. Lebanon's Eastern Mountain range plays a remarkable role in the life of Al-Kalamoon inhabitants. The mountain peaks, which in some areas reach heights of over 2,000 meters, even though they prevent a portion of the rainfall from reaching the region, still have the advantage of attracting passing humid clouds that yield large amounts of snow, which as they thaw in spring and summer, provide the area with a large portion of its water needs. They also led in the past to the formation of a forest of pine and other trees, which constituted a source of timber for the population. Most of these forest trees have already been cut off. The history of Al-Kalamoon is characterized by being cultural and social. In other words, that history has never been one of wars, disputes or social conflicts.

It was rather a quiet history, whose events developed in harmony, peace and unbroken contacts with the others. This is an indication of continuity, perseverance, and persistence to attain hard-earned objectives and get to well-defined targets.

The distinctive cultural history of ancient Al-Kalamoon with its Aramaic-Syriac (associated with the East Syrian Church) background was the communication with other nations. This heritage was also reflected on architecture, village design, water conveyance techniques for irrigation and other agricultural purposes, as well as the local handcraft industries. The different historical eras in that region, starting from the prehistoric one, have yielded a large amount of valuable cultural heritage. Prehistory man, for instance, in the vicinity of Yabroud, created a very distinctive stone culture 300,000 years ago, with a large number of implements and wonderful relics. This city was and is still a shining example of creativity and development in Kalamoon.

After the Arab Muslim conquest and its fast diffusion, Islam and Arabic reached Al-Kalamoon much later. That was due to the fact that major activities and movements of people in the form of caravans, immigrations, and armies, very often by-passed Al- Kalamoon region on account of its rough natural characteristics, high altitude, rugged mountains, cold weather in winter, as well as the great number of torrential floods. Therefore, armies and caravans used to avoid taking insurmountable risks and preferred to cross the two main surrounding roads in the east and the Biqa' valley road in the west.

The use of Arabic in AL-Kalamoon started in the early 13th century in the open regions of the Syrian semi-desert in the north and east, as well as in the parts adjoining the Biqa' to the west. Deirattiah town was pioneer in this field due to its geographic position and its opening up onto the Palmyra region as well as its link to Biqa' region through al-Zamrani valley.

Thus, Al-Kalamoon remained an Aramaic-Syriac area until the end of the Crusade wars maintaining its social and spiritual character through the various monasteries, created in that region during the Byzantine period, and imparted an air of sanctity to the Aramaic-Syriac language as the language of worship at the monasteries and churches. The influence of that language can still be found in some villages till today.

Regarding the mountainous terrain of Al-Kalamoon, no big towns have emerged. There were large villages which grew relatively into small towns with the increase in population, most important of which are located in the northern part of Orontes river basin; Yabroud, Nabek, Deirattiah and Qara. The towns of Qutaifeh and Jaiyroud also appeared in the southern part of Kalamoon, whose drainage system ends up at closed basins.

It is observed that the most important population centers in this region are located in the hilly areas between the three mountain ranges of Al-Kalamoon in which water springs are found, allowing ground water to help build irrigation systems, using the ground water appearing on the surface in the direction of the water drain in what is called culverts or spouts. The water flowing from those springs was used to irrigate the lowlands and the adjacent slopes, which turned into oasis rich in fruit trees and cereals.

In recent times, Al-Kalamoon region has witnessed a revival in all fields, in particular in transport and communication between northern and southern Syria in view of its central position. Despite all this, the opening of missionary schools and other institutions accorded attention to Arabic much greater than the attention given to the few schools built under the Ottoman rule which used Turkish as a medium of instruction. Al- Kalamoon region's closeness to Lebanon also played a role in this connection, in addition to the period of the rule of Ibrahim Basha in Syria, in the first part of the 20th century.

Al-Kalamoon played an important role in the scientific and national awakening. Some of its personalities were linked to Abdul-Hameed Al-Zahrawi. the leader of that movement. Back in 1998, Deirattiah itself marked the centennial anniversary of the foundation of Abdul-Kader al-Qassab School, who was a graduate of al-Azhar University of Cairo, who returned to his hometown in order to establish a college built along the model of al-Azhar University which graduated a large number of imams of mosques and teachers, not only in region, but also in the neighboring Lebanese Biqaa' district. This region has, therefore, remained at the forefront regarding the cultural and social activities and other fields. Emigration to different parts of the world has played an important role as well.

Establishing the University of Kalamoon is a shining example of that cultural and scientific thrust which will hopefully be positively reflected not only on Al-Kalamoon region, but also across our country and the Arab states.