Some might be surprised at the title, mostly because it is never mentioned in the news and because it is a fairly unknown fact that Syria has an island, it actually has a total of five islands; Arwad, Al-Abbas, Al-Faris, Al-Faniyas and Maqrud, but only Arwad is inhabited and it will be the focus of this article. Some might have heard about the island of Arwad and this could be an opportunity for them to learn a bit more about it. For those interested, locations of other islands are south of Arwad and the main reason they are uninhabited is because of their relatively small area, to compare how small they are, area that Arwad occupies is 0.2 square kilometers ( 0.08 square miles)
Photo showing island of Arwad. Source: AramcoWorld
Arwad is located near the city of Tartous, distance separating them is around 3 kilometers (1.9 miles), ferry ride from Tartous to Arwad takes around 20 minutes. Island of Arwad has a rich history dating back to 2nd millennium BC with records of it being settled by Phoenicians. It was even used as a staging area by the Crusaders and it was the last piece of land Crusaders held in the “Holy Land”. Island was later controlled by Mamluks and then Ottomans. Compared to its historical role as a strategic island fortress, Arwad has sunk down to almost being forgotten and irrelevant in today’s world.
Island had a population of 4,400 in 2004, today’s estimates are that population is somewhere between 8 and 10 thousand. Interestingly enough, majority of the population are Sunni Muslims and have been pretty loyal to the government. Island is all built up with tight labyrinth-like alleyways that make motor vehicles impossible to operate in. Fortress from the Crusader era can be seen near the center, although it has been influenced by the Ottomans motives and on the eastern side there is a smaller, square Ayyubid Arab castle from the 12th century. Fish restaurants and bars are very common on the island.
Arwad is mainly a fishing town, however, it relies on boat building and tourism, especially since the war broke out and economical situation deteriorated across the country. The island might be one of the only places in Syria that hasn’t been affected by the war destruction-wise, sadly even Tartous experiences an occasional suicide attack.
UNHCR has made several deliveries to the families that sought refuge from Aleppo and Homs, it is estimated that there is at least 300 IDPs on the island. All of the IDPs have been hosted by the locals in their homes, part of them being friends and relatives. Aid was also delivered to 119 local families, showing that situation on island is far from ideal, what keeps Arwad in a relatively good shape is its close proximity to the mainland Syria, more precisely Tartous. This link between Arwad and Tartous is important because it allows the former access to the most of the goods not made or available on the island.
Since Arwad was mainly untouched by war, besides economic situation, Syrian Ministry of Tourism revealed plans in the May of 2016 to renovate the island and make it a touristic attraction. Plan includes development of historical and archaeological sites on the island, as well as building new infrastructure aimed at increasing capacity and making island more appealing to the tourists.
Projection showing how Arwad should look when the plan is realized. Source: SANA
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