We celebrated Independence Day alongside thousands and thousands of Jordanians this week – even Google’s home page in Jordan featured Jordanian colours on May 25th. Jordan is a strongly patriotic nation – that day, almost every car on the road had 1 or more flags flying out their windows. The traffic was incredible – a normally 7-minute journey took us over an hour.
We joined the celebrations at King Hussein park, proudly carrying our massive Jordanian flag through the crowds, amidst many people shouting to us (the seemingly only foreigners present) “Welcome! Welcome to Jordan!” At the park, we watched as a dozen sky-divers floated to the ground, their parachutes proudly bearing the colours of the Jordanian flag. The sky-divers also had a cord attached from their trousers to their parachutes, off of which another Jordanian flag flew out into the wind as they descended – it was one of the coolest displays I’ve seen at a national celebration – to look up and see one after another parachute descending proudly bearing your national colours is amazing.
We shouted and waved at police and army helicopters who circled just above the crowd, swooping down over us to screams and clapping. (And this wasn’t just young folk screaming – the old ladies were right there alongside us, arms in the air!) We took pictures, had our pictures taken, oohed and aahed at the stealth planes and the F16s as they proudly circled the skies, and watched as trick-planes did loops and upside-down stunts and stalled their engines and caused our hearts to jump into our throats in the airshow. We enjoyed snacks from vendors – popcorn and roasted nuts and fried bread – and played Frisbee and football and tried our best Arabic with some very curious children in the park trying to make friends with the foreigners. We laughed a lot and thoroughly enjoyed celebrating Independence – istiklal (in Arabic) – with Jordan.
But the whole celebration made me realize I don’t know that much about Jordan’s independence story. So I thought I’d just compile a summary of points about the history of Jordan (thank you Wikipedia), and how Independence Day came to be:
- 1200 BC – Moab, Ammon, and Edom: Jordan has been populated for a loooong time (remnants of communities from 20,000 years ago have been found here). But three nations emerged in the land currently known as Jordan around 1200 BC (~ish): Moab, Ammon, and Edom. These guys are referenced quite frequently in the Old Testament of the Bible as enemies of Israel and Judah.
- 300 BC – the Nabateans: Around 300 BC, the Nabatean Kingdom was established in the south of Jordan, with Petra named as their capital (you might know Petra from the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”). The Nabateans were nomadic Arabs who had a pretty big monopoly on trade routes through the desert – thus becoming very wealthy. They also had an impressive water storage and pipe scheme – you’ll see it when you visit Petra – as a water engineer, that was one of my favourite parts.
- 300 BC – The Greeks: The Greeks (under Alexander the Great) influenced northern Jordan, creating cities such as Amman, Jerash, and Um Qays (all places you can still go and visit today – the ancient structures are incredible).
- 63 BC – the Romans: The people in the Jordan area were assimilated into the Roman Empire around 63 BC. An interesting note is that the Romans (in many places) took all the Greek structures (and gods and temples) and just re-named them to the Roman equivalents.
- 390 AD – the Byzantines: Christianity became the official religion of the area around 390 AD, under the Byzantine Empire. Churches built between around 400 AD in Jordan had incredible mosaic floors, which you can still visit today around the Madaba area – as many of them were preserved after being buried by a massive earthquake in 749 AD, and only re-discovered around the beginning of the 1900s.
- 600 AD – the Muslims. Islam swept through the Jordan area around the 600s AD. A few empires existed during this period – there was the Rashidun caliphate, then the Ummayads, then the Abbasid caliphate, then the Fatimids. From this time period, you can go and visit the “desert castles” in northern Jordan.
- 1100s AD – the Crusades: Then came “The Crusades” – nine crusader castles were built in the Jordan area – during the 1100s. Karak castle is a remnant of this period, with some pretty gruesome stories.
- 1200s AD – Saladin and the Ayyubids: Saladin, a Muslim military and political leader, defeated the crusaders and established the Ayyubids dynasty, which existed from the end of the 1100s to mid-1200s. You can visit Ajloun castle from this period (a castle Saladin had built).
- 1200s – 1500s AD – the Mamluks: Then came the Mamluks, who ruled the area from the 1200s to the early 1500s.
- 1516 – 1918 – the Ottomans: The Ottoman Empire took over the Levant area, including Jordan, in 1516. Jordan was quite important as a way-point in the Muslim pilgrimage by rail from Istanbul to Mecca.
- 1916 – The Great Arab Revolt: The Hashemite army secured present-day Jordan from the Ottomans (the Ottoman authorites apparently neglected the areas and peoples of the Levant). They were supported by local Bedouins, Circassians and Christians, as well as by the Allies during WWI. (2016 marks the 100th anniversary of this revolt – we celebrate this next week!)
- 1921 – the Emirate of Transjordan: After World War 1, the Ottoman Empire was broken up, and the “Emirate of Transjordan” was created in 1921. This emirate was a British “protectorate” – which essentially means they were autonomous, but still under the rule of the sovereign state of Britain.
- 1946 – INDEPENDENCE! Then, on May 25, 1946, Jordan became an independent sovereign state – named “The Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan”. (Today, the Hashemites include descendants of the man who initiated the Great Arab Revolt – but their long-ago ancestor after whom they are named was “Hashim ibn Abd Manaf”, the great-grandfather of Prophet Mohammed)
- 1948 – Arab-Israeli War: The story didn’t end there. There was the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, which followed the creation of the state of Israel, when Jordan captured the West Bank (the other side of the Jordan River). That’s when Jordan took its current name: “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” on December 1st, 1948. During this period, over 700,000 refugees (Arab Palestinians) fled Israel, many landing in current-day Jordan.
- 1967 – Six Day War: the West Bank became under Israeli control during the Six-Day War. Another 300,000 Palestinian refugees fled the West Bank, again, many to Jordan. Resentment towards Israel is still strongly felt among the Palestinian refugee groups of 1948 and 1967, especially among older Palestinians who feel that they can “never go to their homeland” because of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine. There were continued tensions through the 1970s and 1980s between Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and Lebanese contingents.
- 1994 – Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty: Even today, you can actually visit Israel from Jordan. No stamps are put on your passport (as an Israeli stamp on your passport can prevent you from entering several other countries, including Lebanon and Sudan), but there is general acceptance of the current state of peace.
- 2003 – the Iraq War: When the US invaded Iraq, many Iraqi refugees fled to Jordan. Jordan, at this point, was starting to become the peaceful island in the midst of regional turmoil, and was playing a large part in becoming a country of refuge to fleeing peoples.
- 2011 – the Arab Spring: This period has seen King Abdullah II try to put in place political reform to ensure stability in the country. This has largely been successful, as no large-scale destabilization or revolt has occurred in the country. But during this period, Jordan has also taken in about 1.5 million refugees from neighbouring Syria as a result of their civil war.
So that’s a quick summary of Jordan’s history – and this last point about the Syrian refugees – that’s why we’re here! And maybe Independence Day is not just about 1946, but maybe it’s because of all the pride people feel at being Jordanian, or at living in a country that has adopted them, adopted their ancestors, and it’s a place we all feel proud to call “our home”.