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SYRIA COAT OF ARMS
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Syria - Location Map (2013) - SYR - UNOCHA.svg
Location of Syria within the Continent of Europe
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Map of Syria
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Flag Description of Syria:three equal horizontal bands of red (top), white, and black; two small, green, five-pointed stars in a horizontal line centered in the white band; the band colors derive from the Arab Liberation flag and represent oppression (black), overcome through bloody struggle (red), to be replaced by a bright future (white); identical to the former flag of the United Arab Republic (1958-1961) where the two stars represented the constituent states of Syria and Egypt; the current design dates to 1980

note: similar to the flag of Yemen, which has a plain white band, Iraq, which has an Arabic inscription centered in the white band, and that of Egypt, which has a gold Eagle of Saladin centered in the white band

Herbal Remedies and Medicinal Cures for Diseases, Ailments, Sicknesses that afflict Humans and Animals - HOME PAGE
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Aloe Vera Astragalus Bankoro Bilberry Bitter Orange Black Cohosh Cat's Claw Chamomile Chasteberry Coconut Cranberry Dandelion Echinacea Ephedra European Elder Tree Evening Primrose Fenugreek Feverfew Flaxseed Garlic Ginger Ginkgo Ginseng (Asian) Golden Seal Grape Seed Green Tea Hawthorn Hoodia Horse Chestnut Kava Lavender Licorice Malunggay Moringa Oleifera Milk Thistle Mistletoe Passion Flower Peppermint Oil Red Clover Ringworm Bush (Akapulko) – Cassia alata Saw Palmetto St. John's Wort Tawa Tawa Turmeric Valerian Yohimbe
accept the bitter to get better


Official name Al-Jumhūriyyah al-ʿArabiyyah al-Sūriyyah (Syrian Arab Republic)
Form of government unitary multiparty republic with one legislative house (People’s Assembly [250])
Head of state and government President: Bashar al-Assad
Capital Damascus
Official language Arabic
Official religion none1
Monetary unit Syrian pound (S.P)
Population (2013 est.) 21,469,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 71,498
Total area (sq km) 185,180
Urban-rural population

Urban: (2012) 56.1%
Rural: (2012) 43.9%

Life expectancy at birth

Male: (2009) 71.9 years
Female: (2009) 76.7 years

Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate

Male: (2008) 90%
Female: (2008) 77.2%

GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2011) 2,610

1Islam is required to be the religion of the head of state and is the basis of the legal system.

Background of Syria

Syria, country located on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea in southwestern Asia. Its area includes territory in the Golan Heights that has been occupied by Israel since 1967. The present area does not coincide with ancient Syria, which was the strip of fertile land lying between the eastern Mediterranean coast and the desert of northern Arabia. The capital is Damascus (Dimashq), on the Baradā River, situated in an oasis at the foot of Mount Qāsiyūn.

After Syria gained its independence in 1946, political life in the country was highly unstable, owing in large measure to intense friction between the country’s social, religious, and political groups. In 1970 Syria came under the authoritarian rule of Pres. Ḥafiz al-Assad, whose foremost goals included achieving national security and domestic stability and recovering the Syrian territory lost to Israel in 1967. Assad committed his country to an enormous arms buildup, which put severe strains on the national budget, leaving little for development. After Assad’s death in 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad became president. Despite some early steps toward political reform, Bashar al-Assad ultimately continued his father’s authoritarian style of government, using Syria’s powerful military and security services to suppress political dissent. (For a discussion of unrest in Syria in 2011, see Syria Uprising of 2011.)

Geography of Syria

The Land

Syria is bounded by Turkey to the north, by Iraq to the east and southeast, by Jordan to the south, and by Lebanon and Israel to the southwest.

  • Relief

Syria has a relatively short coastline, which stretches for about 110 miles (180 km) along the Mediterranean Sea between the countries of Turkey and Lebanon. Sandy bays dent the shore, alternating with rocky headlands and low cliffs. North of Ṭarṭūs, the narrow coastal strip is interrupted by spurs of the northwestern Al-Anṣariyyah Mountains immediately to the east. It then widens into the ʿAkkār Plain, which continues south across the Lebanon border.

The Al-Anṣariyyah mountain range borders the coastal plain and runs from north to south. The mountains have an average width of 20 miles (32 km), and their average height declines from 3,000 feet (900 metres) in the north to 2,000 feet in the south. Their highest point, at 5,125 feet (1,562 metres), occurs east of Latakia. Directly to the east of the mountains is the Ghāb Depression, a 40-mile (64-km) longitudinal trench that contains the valley of the Orontes River (Nahr Al-ʿĀṣī).

The Anti-Lebanon Mountains (Jabal Al-Sharqī) mark Syria’s border with Lebanon. The main ridge rises to a maximum height of 8,625 feet (2,629 metres) near Al-Nabk, while the mean height is between 6,000 and 7,000 feet (1,800 to 2,100 metres). Mount Hermon (Jabal Al-Shaykh), Syria’s highest point, rises to 9,232 feet (2,814 metres).

Smaller mountains are scattered about the country. Among these are Mount Al-Durūz, which rises to an elevation of some 5,900 feet (1,800 metres) in the extreme south, and the Abū Rujmayn and Bishrī Mountains, which stretch northeastward across the central part of the country.

The undulating plains occupying the rest of the country are known as the Syrian Desert. In general their elevation lies between 980 and 1,640 feet (300 and 500 metres); they are seldom less than 820 feet (250 metres) above sea level. The area is not a sand desert but comprises rock and gravel steppe; a mountainous region in the south-central area is known as Al-Ḥamād.

  • Drainage

The Euphrates River is the most important water source and the only navigable river in Syria. It originates in Turkey and flows southeastward across the eastern part of Syria (see Tigris-Euphrates river system). The Euphrates Dam, constructed on the river at Ṭabaqah, was completed in the 1970s. The reservoir behind the dam, Lake Al-Asad, began to fill in 1973.

The Orontes is the principal river of the mountainous region. It rises in Lebanon, flows northward through the mountains and the Ghāb Depression, and enters the Mediterranean near Antioch, Turkey. The Yarmūk River, a tributary of the Jordan River, drains the Jabal Al-Durūz and Ḥawrān regions and forms part of the border with Jordan in the southwest.

Scattered lakes are found in Syria. The largest is Al-Jabbūl, a seasonal saline lake that permanently covers a minimum area of about 60 square miles (155 square km) southeast of Aleppo. Other major salt lakes are Jayrūd to the northeast of Damascus and Khātūniyyah to the northeast of Al-Ḥasakah. Lake Muzayrīb, a small body of fresh water, is located northwest of Darʿā; the larger Lake Qaṭṭīnah (Lake Homs), a reservoir, is west of Homs.

Most of the country’s drainage flows underground. On the surface, impervious rocks—consisting of clay, marl (clay, sand, or silt), and greensand—cover a relatively small area. Porous rocks cover about half of the country and are mainly sandstone or chalk. Highly porous rocks consist of basalt and limestone. Water penetrates the porous rocks, forming underground springs, rivers, or subterranean water sheets close to the surface. Although the springs are profuse, the water sheets are quickly exhausted and may turn saline in areas of low precipitation.

  • Soils

Because of aridity, vegetation plays only a secondary role in soil composition. With the exception of the black soil in the northeastern region of Al-Jazīrah, soils are deficient in phosphorus and organic matter. The most common soils are various clays and loams (mixtures of clay, sand, and silt). Some are calcareous (chalky); others, especially in the area of the Euphrates valley, contain gypsum. Alluvial soils occur mainly in the valleys of the Euphrates and its tributaries and in the Ghāb Depression.


  • Climate
  • TEMPERATURE AND PRECIPITATION

The coast and the western mountains have a Mediterranean climate with a long dry season from May to October. In the extreme northwest there is some light summer rain. On the coast summers are hot, with mean daily maximum temperatures in the low to mid-80s F (upper 20s C), while the mild winters have daily mean minimum temperatures reaching the low 50s F (low 10s C). Only above about 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) are the summers relatively cool. Inland the climate becomes arid, with colder winters and hotter summers. Maximum temperatures in Damascus and Aleppo average in the 90s F (mid-30s C) in summer, while temperatures reach average lows in the mid-30s to low 40s F (1 to 4 °C) in winter. In the desert, at Tadmur and Dayr al-Zawr, maximum temperatures in the summer reach averages in the upper 90s to low 100s F (upper 30s to low 40s C), with extremes in the 110s F (mid- to upper 40s C). Snow may occur in winter away from the coast, and frosts are common.

The coast and western mountains receive 30 to 40 inches (760 to 1000 mm) of precipitation annually. Annual precipitation decreases rapidly eastward: the steppe receives 10 to 20 inches (250 to 500 mm), Mount Al-Durūz receives more than 8 inches (200 mm), and the desert area of Al-Ḥamād receives less than 5 inches (130 mm). Precipitation is variable from year to year, particularly in the spring and autumn months.

  • THE WINDS

In winter the prevailing winds blow from the east, the north, and the west. In summer the prevailing winds are either northerly or westerly. During the summer the coastal region is subject to westerly winds during the day and easterly ones at night. Once or twice a year sand-bearing winds, or khamsin, raise a wall of dust some 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) high, which darkens the sky.

Plant and animal life Yew, lime, and fir trees grow on the mountain slopes. The date palm is found in the Euphrates valley. In both coastal and inland regions, plants include grains, olive trees, grapevines, apricot trees, oaks, and poplars. Lemon and orange trees grow along the coast. Garigue, a degenerate Mediterranean scrub, and maquis, a thick scrubby underbrush, cover many slopes.

Forests make up only a very small percentage of the country’s total area and are primarily found in the mountains, especially in the Al-Anṣariyyah Mountains. Glossy-leaved and thorny drought-resistant shrubs such as myrtle, boxwood, turpentine, broom, arbutus, and wild olive abound to the south. Excessive exploitation of the forests for their wood has largely turned them into scrub. A reforestation project has been undertaken in the mountains north of Latakia, however, and some forests are protected by the government. Commercially important forest plants include sumac, which is used as a spice, wild pistachio, which is important for its oil-rich fruit, laurel, which is used in the production of cosmetics, and mulberry, whose leaves are fed to silkworms. Pine tree branches are used for smoking tobacco leaves. Other useful plants are winter vegetables such as khubbayzah, a kind of spinach; ʿakkūb, a flowering plant; and truffles. Licorice is widely exploited for its root, which is used in the pharmaceutical industry.

The steppe is characterized by the absence of natural tree cover, except for some sparsely distributed hawthorns. All other trees—such as those in the orchards of Damascus and Aleppo and along the banks of the Orontes and Euphrates rivers—are cultivated.

For a brief period before June, the land is covered with a variety of flowering and grassy plants. Under the implacable sun of June, however, the plants soon wither, casting off their seeds onto the dry ground.

Wild animal life is sparse. Wolves, hyenas, foxes, badgers, wild boar, and jackals can still be found in remote areas. Deer, bears, squirrels, and such small carnivores as martens and polecats are also found, while desert animals include gazelles and jerboas (nocturnal jumping rodents). Vipers, lizards, and chameleons are common in the desert. Eagles, buzzards, kites, and falcons frequent the mountains. Harmful insects include mosquitoes, sandflies, grasshoppers, and occasionally locusts.

The mule is the beast of burden in the mountains, and the camel on the steppe. Other domesticated animals include horses, donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens. Bees also are kept.


Demography of Syria

The People

  • Ethnic and linguistic groups

The Syrian people evolved from several origins over a long period of time. The Greek and Roman ethnic influence was negligible in comparison with that of the Semitic peoples of Arabia and Mesopotamia—Aramaeans, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Canaanites. Later the Turks, like the Greeks and Romans before them, influenced political and economic structures but failed to produce any noticeable change in the dominant Arab character of the Syrian people.

There is a rough correspondence between ethnic and linguistic groupings, although some ethnic groups have been partially assimilated by the Arab majority, which includes the country’s Bedouin population. A Kurdish minority also resides in Syria; much of the Kurdish population is Arabic-speaking and largely resides in the country’s northeast. The country’s Armenian population may be divided into two groups—the early settlers, who have been more or less Arabized, and the later immigrants, who arrived after World War I and retained their identity and language. The Turkmen intermingle freely with the Kurds and Arabs, but they have lost none of their ethnic identity in some northern villages. Syriac-speaking Assyrians who immigrated to Syria from Iraq as refugees in the 1930s quickly assimilated, owing to intermarriage and migration to the cities.

The great majority of the population speaks Arabic. Other languages spoken in Syria include Kurdish, spoken in the extreme northeast and northwest; Armenian, spoken in Aleppo and other major cities; and Turkish, spoken in villages east of the Euphrates and along the border with Turkey. Adyghian, a Kabardian (Circassian) language, is also spoken by a minority of the population (see Caucasian languages: Abkhazo-Adyghian languages). English and French are understood, particularly in urban centres and among the educated.

  • Religion

The overwhelming majority of the population are Muslims. Sunni Muslims account for about three-fourths of Syria’s Muslim population and are in the majority everywhere in the country except in the southern Al-Suwaydāʾ muḥāfaẓah (governorate) and the Latakia governorate in the north. The ʿAlawites (a Shīʿite subsect) are the next largest group, and most live in the Latakia governorate or in the governorates of Homs and Ḥamāh. Most of the country’s Druze population lives in Al-Suwaydāʾ governorate, and the rest in Damascus, Aleppo, and Al-Qunayṭirah.

Christians constitute about one-tenth of the Syrian population. They are divided into several churches, which include Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Apostolic (Orthodox), Syrian Catholic, Maronite, Protestant, Nestorian, Latin, and Chaldean. There is also a very small Jewish population, the remainder of what once had been a flourishing community before being subjected to limitations on travel, employment, and other restrictions imposed by the Syrian government. Following international pressure on Syria to allow them to leave the country, much of the Jewish population chose to emigrate in the late 20th century; many chose to settle in New York City.

  • Settlement patterns
TRADITIONAL REGIONS

Syria’s four traditional regions are the coastal strip, the mountains, the cultivated steppe, and the desert steppe. On the coast the fertile alluvial plains are intensively cultivated in both summer and winter. The region is the site of Syria’s two principal ports of Latakia (Al-Lādhiqiyyah) and Ṭarṭūs.

The area around the northwestern Al-Anṣariyyah Mountains is the only densely forested region. It is the ancient stronghold of the Nuṣayrīs, or ʿAlawites, who form a sect of Shīʿite Islam. The economic resources of the mountains are too meagre to meet the needs of the ever-growing population; as a result there is migration to the Ghāb Depression and coastal towns.

The cultivated steppe region constitutes the principal wheat zone; agriculture is intensively pursued along the banks of the rivers. Some of Syria’s most important cities—Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Ḥamāh, and Al-Qāmishlī—are situated there.

The arid desert steppe country is the natural domain of the nomads and seminomads. Sheep graze until the beginning of summer, when water becomes scarce, after which the shepherds lead their flocks either westward into the cultivated steppe or to the hills. The area once contained oases that served as caravan towns on the trade route joining Mesopotamia and the Indian Ocean with the countries of the Mediterranean. The most famous of these towns is Palmyra (Tadmur), at the northern edge of the Syrian Desert. The most important feature of the region is the Euphrates River.

RURAL SETTLEMENT

In areas of traditional rural settlement, the choice of a village site is usually determined by the availability of water. Some of the villages in the Al-Anṣariyyah Mountains, however, have given priority to the requirements of defense and fortification. Village dwellings stand close together, and village streets are extremely narrow. Usually, there is a small central common overlooked by a minaret (a tall tower attached to a mosque from which the populace is called to prayer). There are usually a few small shops containing articles manufactured in the cities or towns.

In rural areas, work takes place according to the seasonal rhythm of agriculture. Women generally share in much of the agricultural labour. Agricultural machinery, introduced on a large scale after World War II, caused unemployment and drove many villagers to the cities.

Attempts to restrict the Bedouin took place during Ottoman rule and were later taken up again by the French, who had initially encouraged Bedouin self-government. These efforts continued after Syrian independence in the 1940s, and in 1958 the land of the bādiyah (Syrian Desert)—which accounted for some four-fifths of Syrian territory—was nationalized, and tribal holdings were no longer recognized by the state. Pasturelands were ruined and vast quantities of sheep and camels were lost in the massive drought of 1958–61, which devastated many Syrian Bedouin. Many were forced to seek employment in the urban centres, and some did not return to their pastoral lifestyle after the drought was over. Others, however, became partners with urban merchants who sponsored the restocking of their flocks. With the activation of state-sponsored programs, pastoral activity was revived, albeit in a new form: subsidized fodder and government-drilled wells were used in the nourishment of the herds; migration became increasingly individualized; and pastoral endeavours grew more market-oriented.

URBAN SETTLEMENT

Ten centuries of Greek and Roman rule left an urban mark still visible in the towns of Latakia, Tadmur, and Buṣrā al-Shām (ancient Bostra). The urban tradition of Islam appears in such cities as Damascus and Aleppo. The continuation of old commercial and religious interests enabled the cities to maintain their economic and cultural supremacy under the four centuries of Ottoman rule. Following a period of rapid urbanization in the 1950s and ’60s, rural-to-urban migration abated somewhat. Nevertheless, disparities between rural and urban areas, albeit reduced on several fronts, persisted into the 21st century and contributed to Syrians’ continued movement from rural to urban areas.

The national capital is Damascus, situated in the southeast on the banks of the Baradā River. It is not only the national headquarters of government and the diplomatic community but also the main centre of education, culture, and industry. In addition, it serves as a marketing hub for central Syria and produces traditional handicraft products such as brocades, engraved wood, gold and silver ornaments, and carpets. It is well served by transport facilities and public utilities.

Located between the Orontes and Euphrates rivers, Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, is a trade and light-industry centre. The city is well served by roads and railroads and is surrounded by an area that specializes in the production of sheep for market in Damascus and other countries. The Mediterranean port of Latakia is surrounded by a rich agricultural region and contains some industry. Because of its seaside location, the city is a major tourist centre.

Homs is located in the midst of a fertile plain east of the Orontes River. It is a hub of the country’s road and railway systems. Ḥamāh, to the northeast of Homs, is bisected by the Orontes River. It contains irrigated orchards and is an agricultural trade centre. There is also some light industry. In 1982 the Syrian armed forces leveled the downtown area when they crushed a local rising against the government.

  • Demographic trends

Syria’s population is growing at a rate somewhat higher than the world average. The country’s birth rate is higher than that of most neighbouring countries and is also higher than the world average. Life expectancy in Syria is well above the world average. At the beginning of the 21st century, Syria’s population was on the whole quite young, with more than one-third of Syrians under age 15 and almost another one-third under 30.

Only about half the country’s land can support population, and about half the population is concentrated in the country’s urban centres. The desert steppe, which has the country’s lowest population density, is inhabited largely by Bedouins and oasis dwellers. Population density varies considerably in the rest of the country and is highest in the northwest and southwest and in the northeast. It is also fairly high along the banks of the major rivers.

Regional conflict has affected migration patterns in the country. Much of the population of the Golan Heights was expelled to other parts of Syria after Israel took control of the region in 1967; many, along with their descendants, continue to be internally displaced. After the creation of Israel and the first of the Arab-Israeli wars, some 80,000 Palestinian Arabs found refuge in Syria in 1948, a population that is estimated to have since expanded to number more than 400,000. Likewise, with the outbreak of the Iraq War in 2003, Syria absorbed more than one million Iraqi refugees.

The process of socialist transformation under the Baʿth Party and, less rigorously, under Pres. Ḥafiz al-Assad has been the cause of much social, political, and economic turmoil and has led to emigration among the wealthy and among some religious minorities. Increasing numbers of workers and professionals have been leaving the country since the 1950s for other Arab countries, the United States, and western Europe. This movement has caused an alarming drain on the Syrian workforce.


Economy of Syria

In rural areas, work takes place according to the seasonal rhythm of agriculture. Women generally share in much of the agricultural labour. Agricultural machinery, introduced on a large scale after World War II, caused unemployment and drove many villagers to the cities.

Attempts to restrict the Bedouin took place during Ottoman rule and were later taken up again by the French, who had initially encouraged Bedouin self-government. These efforts continued after Syrian independence in the 1940s, and in 1958 the land of the bādiyah (Syrian Desert)—which accounted for some four-fifths of Syrian territory—was nationalized, and tribal holdings were no longer recognized by the state. Pasturelands were ruined and vast quantities of sheep and camels were lost in the massive drought of 1958–61, which devastated many Syrian Bedouin. Many were forced to seek employment in the urban centres, and some did not return to their pastoral lifestyle after the drought was over. Others, however, became partners with urban merchants who sponsored the restocking of their flocks. With the activation of state-sponsored programs, pastoral activity was revived, albeit in a new form: subsidized fodder and government-drilled wells were used in the nourishment of the herds; migration became increasingly individualized; and pastoral endeavours grew more market-oriented.

URBAN SETTLEMENT

Ten centuries of Greek and Roman rule left an urban mark still visible in the towns of Latakia, Tadmur, and Buṣrā al-Shām (ancient Bostra). The urban tradition of Islam appears in such cities as Damascus and Aleppo. The continuation of old commercial and religious interests enabled the cities to maintain their economic and cultural supremacy under the four centuries of Ottoman rule. Following a period of rapid urbanization in the 1950s and ’60s, rural-to-urban migration abated somewhat. Nevertheless, disparities between rural and urban areas, albeit reduced on several fronts, persisted into the 21st century and contributed to Syrians’ continued movement from rural to urban areas.

The national capital is Damascus, situated in the southeast on the banks of the Baradā River. It is not only the national headquarters of government and the diplomatic community but also the main centre of education, culture, and industry. In addition, it serves as a marketing hub for central Syria and produces traditional handicraft products such as brocades, engraved wood, gold and silver ornaments, and carpets. It is well served by transport facilities and public utilities.

Located between the Orontes and Euphrates rivers, Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, is a trade and light-industry centre. The city is well served by roads and railroads and is surrounded by an area that specializes in the production of sheep for market in Damascus and other countries. The Mediterranean port of Latakia is surrounded by a rich agricultural region and contains some industry. Because of its seaside location, the city is a major tourist centre.

Homs is located in the midst of a fertile plain east of the Orontes River. It is a hub of the country’s road and railway systems. Ḥamāh, to the northeast of Homs, is bisected by the Orontes River. It contains irrigated orchards and is an agricultural trade centre. There is also some light industry. In 1982 the Syrian armed forces leveled the downtown area when they crushed a local rising against the government.

  • Demographic trends

Syria’s population is growing at a rate somewhat higher than the world average. The country’s birth rate is higher than that of most neighbouring countries and is also higher than the world average. Life expectancy in Syria is well above the world average. At the beginning of the 21st century, Syria’s population was on the whole quite young, with more than one-third of Syrians under age 15 and almost another one-third under 30.

Only about half the country’s land can support population, and about half the population is concentrated in the country’s urban centres. The desert steppe, which has the country’s lowest population density, is inhabited largely by Bedouins and oasis dwellers. Population density varies considerably in the rest of the country and is highest in the northwest and southwest and in the northeast. It is also fairly high along the banks of the major rivers.

Regional conflict has affected migration patterns in the country. Much of the population of the Golan Heights was expelled to other parts of Syria after Israel took control of the region in 1967; many, along with their descendants, continue to be internally displaced. After the creation of Israel and the first of the Arab-Israeli wars, some 80,000 Palestinian Arabs found refuge in Syria in 1948, a population that is estimated to have since expanded to number more than 400,000. Likewise, with the outbreak of the Iraq War in 2003, Syria absorbed more than one million Iraqi refugees.

The process of socialist transformation under the Baʿth Party and, less rigorously, under Pres. Ḥafiz al-Assad has been the cause of much social, political, and economic turmoil and has led to emigration among the wealthy and among some religious minorities. Increasing numbers of workers and professionals have been leaving the country since the 1950s for other Arab countries, the United States, and western Europe. This movement has caused an alarming drain on the Syrian workforce.

The government encourages private savings by paying higher rates of interest on deposits and by guaranteeing investment by citizens of other Arab countries. There are severe restrictions on all luxury imports. At the same time, strenuous efforts are made to mobilize economic potential, combat underemployment, and discourage emigration. Despite modest steps toward privatization since 1990, the Syrian government has been largely hesitant to pursue economic liberalization, wary of its potential to endanger political stability.

  • Agriculture, forestry, and fishing

Agriculture constitutes an important source of income. It provides work for about one-fourth of the population, including a significant proportion of townspeople. Wheat is the most important food crop, although its production is constantly subject to great fluctuations in rainfall; sugar beet production is also significant. Barley, corn (maize), and millet are the other important grains. Cotton is the largest and most reliable export crop. Lentils are a major domestic food, but they also are exported. Other fruits and vegetables include tomatoes, potatoes, melons, and onions. Olives, grapes, and apples are grown at high altitudes, while citrus fruits are cultivated along the coast. High-grade tobacco is grown in the area around Latakia. Raising livestock, including sheep, cattle, camels, and poultry, is also an important agricultural activity.

Forests make up a very small percentage of the country’s total area. Most of the country’s timber has to be imported. Syria’s small number of fishermen use small and medium-size boats. The annual fish catch includes sardines, tuna, groupers, tunny, and both red and gray mullet.

  • Resources and power

Syria’s principal limestone quarries are located north and west of Damascus, especially near the city of Aleppo, which itself is built of limestone. Basalt, used for road pavement, is quarried in areas such as those near Homs and Aleppo. Marl is used in the cement industry; the main quarries are in the vicinity of Damascus and Aleppo and at Al-Rastan. Phosphate ore is mined in areas near Palmyra, and rock salt is extracted from the mid-Euphrates region. Asphalt and gypsum are also mined, and table salt is produced from the salt lakes. Syria has scattered reserves of chrome and manganese.

Petroleum in commercial quantities was first discovered in the northeast in 1956. Among the most important oil fields are those of Suwaydiyyah, Qaratshūk, and Rumaylān, near Dayr al-Zawr. The fields are a natural extension of the Iraqi fields of Mosul and Kirkūk. Petroleum became Syria’s leading natural resource and chief export after 1974; production peaked in the mid-1990s, however, before beginning a steady decline. Natural gas was discovered at the field of Jbessa in 1940. Since that time natural gas production in Syria has expanded to form an important energy export; in addition, some of the country’s oil-fired power stations have been converted to run on natural gas, freeing more Syrian petroleum for export.

Raw phosphates were discovered in 1962; some of the richest beds are located at Khunayfis, Ghadīr al-Jamal, and Wadi Al-Rakhim. Iron ore is found in the Zabadānī region. Asphalt has been found northeast of Latakia and west of Dayr al-Zawr.

Syria’s primary source of power is derived from local oil supplies, and domestic natural gas reserves are becoming an increasingly important resource as well. Electricity is largely generated by thermal stations fired by natural gas or oil. With the exception of the Euphrates River, rivers flowing through Syria produce only small amounts of hydroelectric power. There are small hydroelectric stations, such as those on the Orontes and Baradā rivers, and a larger hydroelectric development at the Euphrates Dam at Ṭabaqah (inaugurated in 1978). However, insufficient dam maintenance, coupled with Turkish usage upstream and unpredictable precipitation, have decreased productivity.

Owing in part to the increasing industrialization initiatives of the late 20th century, Syria’s electricity supply struggled to meet demand. In the early 21st century, several new thermal power stations were completed, largely alleviating shortages. In light of increasing demand, further expansion of the infrastructure continued to be needed, though Syria was able to export electricity to some of its neighbours, including Iraq and Lebanon.

  • Manufacturing

Wool, cotton, and nylon textiles are Syria’s most important manufactures, and mills are mainly in Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, and Ḥamāh; natural silk is also produced. Also of importance are the technical engineering industries, most of which are located in Damascus. Chemical and industrial engineering products include cement; glass panes, bottles, and utensils; pharmaceuticals; plywood; and batteries.

The food-processing industry produces salt, vegetable oils, cotton cake, canned fruit and vegetables, tobacco, and a variety of dairy products. Other industries include the preparation of superphosphates and urea and petroleum refining.

Most of the traditional handmade manufactures—damask steel, swords and blades, brass and copper work, wood engravings, gold and silver ornaments, mother-of-pearl inlays, silk brocades—have decreased since the introduction of industrial processing.

  • Finance

The Central Bank of Syria issues the national currency, the Syrian pound, and exercises control over all other banks that operate in the country. The Commercial Bank of Syria finances trade, markets agricultural products, and carries out foreign-exchange operations. The Real Estate Bank finances the building industry and carries out all ordinary banking operations. An industrial development bank finances the private industrial sector, while an agricultural bank extends loans to farmers and agricultural cooperatives. The Popular Credit Bank makes loans to small manufacturers, artisans, and production cooperatives. There is a nationalized insurance company. Since 2000 a number of small private banks have been established as part of the gradual approach toward liberal economic reform. A stock exchange, the Damascus Securities Exchange, formally opened for trading in Damascus in 2009.

During the Cold War, Syria was offered financial and technical assistance free or at minimum interest rates from socialist countries such as China, Bulgaria, and the Soviet Union, and it has continued to receive aid at favourable conditions from China into the 21st century. At the end of the 20th century, Syria received substantial sums from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for its support in the Persian Gulf War (1990–91); aid with more-stringent conditions has been sought from France and other Western countries.

  • Trade

Syria has an unfavourable balance of trade, a deficit that is offset by revenues from tourism, transit trade returns, foreign aid, and earnings of Syrians overseas. Goods from the European Union (EU), China, and Turkey account for the bulk of Syria’s imports. Major import items include industrial and agricultural machinery, motor vehicles and accessories, drugs, food, and fabric. The EU consumes a significant proportion of Syrian exports, which include petroleum, phosphates, ginned cotton, cotton seeds, barley, lentils, cotton and woolen fabrics, dried fruit, vegetables, skins, and raw wool. Other major purchasers of exports include the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. Foreign trade is regulated by the state.

  • Services

Syria’s service sector contributes heavily to the country’s overall income, and at the beginning of the 21st century the sector employed about half of the country’s workforce. Syria attracts tourism with a rich treasure trove of historical attractions that includes ancient and Classical ruins, Muslim and Christian religious sites, and Crusader and medieval Islamic architecture; some of these have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. Most tourists come from Arab countries, Iran, and Turkey, attracted to Syria’s relatively mild summer climate and popular entertainment. A much smaller proportion of tourists come from Europe and the United States. Privatization of the tourism sector stimulated growth in revenues during the 1990s. Since the early 2000s, privatization in the areas of real estate, insurance, and trade has played a greater role in stimulating growth.

  • Labour and taxation

The General Federation of Workers was founded in 1938 and has grown tremendously in power and scope. Composed only of industrial employees, it is represented on industrial boards and is responsible for a wide range of social services. There is also a federation for artisans and vocational workers, and there are associations for the professions and a General Federation of Farmers. Trade unions are obliged to organize under the Baʿth-controlled General Federation of Trade Unions.

Labour legislation establishes minimum-wage limits, prohibits child labour, and organizes relations between workers and employers. But economic and social conditions as well as the extent of unemployment make rigorous enforcement impractical. Employees in heavy industry receive the highest industrial wages, textile workers the lowest. State employees have more job security. The major portion of the average salary is generally spent on housing and food.

Tax income accounts for more than one-third of governmental revenue. Indirect taxes, which produce the most tax revenue, are levied on industrial products, customs, exports, and state domains. Direct taxes are levied on wages, circulating capital, livestock, and the transfer of property.

  • Transportation

Syria’s road network is the chief means of transporting goods and passengers. Major roads include the highway between Damascus and Aleppo and the road between Damascus and Baghdad.

Syria’s railways are well developed. A northern line runs northeastward from Aleppo into Turkey and then east along the border to Al-Qāmishlī, where it crosses the northeastern extremity of Syria en route to Baghdad. The Hejaz Railway runs from Damascus to Amman, and another runs from Aleppo to Tripoli. Aleppo and Damascus are also linked by rail. Smaller lines run between Homs and Rīyāq (Lebanon) and between Beirut and Damascus. A railway also runs from Latakia to Aleppo, Al-Ḥasakah (passing by the Euphrates Dam), and Al-Qāmishlī. Another line extends northwest from Aleppo to the Turkish border at Maydān Ikbiz. From Homs a line runs west to the port of Ṭarṭūs, and a line also runs east to the phosphate mines near Tadmur, opening up the desert interior to the Mediterranean.

The country’s chief ports, Latakia and Ṭarṭūs, were built after independence. Latakia has two main jetties, as well as wharves and warehouses. Port commerce was dampened by the closure of the Syrian border with Iraq in the early 1980s, although with the border’s reopening in the late 1990s, shipments to Iraq as part of the United Nations (UN) oil for food program boosted the Syrian shipping industry.

Syria has international airports at Damascus and Aleppo, and several domestic airports are located throughout the country, including those at Al-Qāmishlī, Latakia, Dayr al-Zawr, and Tadmur. International services connect Syria with Arab, other Asian, and European countries. Domestic and international services are provided by Syrian Arab Airlines.


Government and Society of Syria

  • Constitutional framework

The constitution of 1973 declares that Syria constitutes an integral part of the Arab homeland, that all legislative power lies with the people, and that freedom of expression and equality before the law are guaranteed. However, the enforcement of these principles has not been thorough; especially from the late 1970s, constitutionally guaranteed rights were increasingly suppressed under Pres. Ḥafiz al-Assad’s rule.

Syria is a unitary multiparty republic with one legislative house. The regional (Syrian) leadership of the Arab Socialist Baʿth (Renaissance) Party elects the head of state, who must be a Muslim, and appoints the cabinet, which exercises legislative as well as executive powers. Legislative power is vested in the People’s Council, members of which are elected by popular vote to four-year terms. The Baʿth Party is constitutionally guaranteed an absolute majority.

  • Local government

Syria is divided into governorates (one of which, Damascus, is a governorate-level city), manāṭiq (districts), and nawāḥī (subdistricts). The governors, or muḥāfiẓūn, enjoy some power within their administrative divisions, but local government is centralized and is dependent upon the minister of the interior in the national government.

  • Justice

The principles of Syrian law and equity derive basically from Islamic jurisprudence and secondarily from the French civil code. Summary courts try civil, commercial, and penal cases. The headquarters of each administrative district has a First Instance Court for criminal cases. The capital city of each governorate also has a court of appeal. Damascus houses a high court of appeal and a constitutional court, as well as a military tribunal and the mufti’s court for the maintenance of Islamic law. Various non-Muslim sects each have their own courts with jurisdiction over personal-status cases.

  • Political process

Most authority is wielded by the ruling Arab Socialist Baʿth Party. Since its foundation in the 1940s, the party has undergone radical internal changes as a result of successive coups d’état and internal power struggles. The party has branch organizations in many Arab countries, each headed by its own regional leadership. The organs of administration are the National Command, the Regional Command, and the People’s Council; the latter operates as a legislature. The supreme national leadership is composed of representatives from each regional branch, who are elected by their own party congresses. The regional leadership for Syria is the highest authority in the country but is subordinate to the national leadership. Actual power resides in the presidency. All political parties are officially linked together as the National Progressive Front, which is dominated by the Baʿth Party.

Although Syria has universal adult suffrage, elections are generally not held by international observers as free and fair. Women are able to participate in the political system and have held a number of positions, and in the early 21st century almost one-eighth of the members of parliament were women. The ʿAlawites, one of Syria’s religious minorities, have dominated Syrian politics since the 1960s.

  • Security

Military service is compulsory for all adult males; college students receive deferments. Military service provides general and technical—as well as military—education and training. The army is the largest contingent of Syria’s armed forces and is responsible for defense, public works, road construction, and public health. There is also an air force, a small navy, and reserve units for all three branches. Palestinian Arab guerrilla organizations operate from Syria and have training facilities there.

  • Health and welfare

Most endemic diseases in Syria have been eliminated. Health facilities include state and private hospitals and sanatoriums, as well as hospitals and outpatient clinics of the armed forces. There are also a number of public and private outpatient clinics, as well as maternal and child-care, antituberculosis, malaria eradication, and rural health centres. Child mortality is caused mostly by measles and diseases of the digestive and respiratory systems. Tuberculosis and trachoma are widespread, particularly among the Bedouin, peasants, and residents of poorer urban areas.

Health conditions and sanitation in the cities, towns, and larger villages are generally satisfactory. Running water is supplied to almost all houses, buildings, and public places. Each municipality maintains its streets and collects refuse regularly. Although the government has offered incentives for doctors to serve rural areas, medical services are unevenly distributed, with the majority of doctors concentrated in the large cities.

The Ministry of Social Welfare and Labour is empowered to find work for, and distribute cash allowances to, the unemployed. The ministry also encourages such youth activities as athletics, scouting, literacy campaigns, and the organization of cooperatives. The government gives substantial grants to private welfare societies.

The high birth rate in Syria has caused family lands to be broken up into ever smaller lots and has reduced the standard of living of many rural inhabitants.

  • Housing

The old houses in Damascus are built of soft unbaked bricks, wood, and stone. Contemporary buildings are built of concrete, while hewn stone is reserved for official buildings, mosques, and churches.

The pace of change from an agricultural to an industrial economy, and the accompanying migration to the cities, led to an acute shortage of housing. Aggravating the shortage, young adult males migrating from rural areas to the cities are increasingly breaking with tradition by leaving their parental homes for their own. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs undertakes the construction of blocks of low-income flats in the cities.

  • Education

About four-fifths of the Syrian population is literate. Schooling, which begins at age six, is divided into six years of compulsory primary, three years of lower secondary, and three years of upper secondary education. Lower and upper secondary schools provide general (which prepares for university entrance) or vocational curricula. Secondary schools are open to all elementary students who wish to continue their education. Within this framework, increased attention is being given to technical education. The University of Damascus, founded in 1923, is the country’s oldest university. Other universities include the University of Aleppo (1960), Tishrīn University (1971) in Latakia, and Al-Baʿth University (1979) in Homs. All levels of education have been expanded substantially since 1963.

Culture Life of Syria

History of Syria

Early History

Until the 20th cent. the term Syria generally denoted those lands of the Levant, or eastern littoral of the Mediterranean, that correspond to modern Syria and Lebanon, most of Israel and Jordan, W Iraq, and N Saudi Arabia. Three geographical factors have played major parts in determining the history of Syria—its location on the trade and military routes, its varied topography, and the encroaching desert. Syria has always been an object of conquest, and it has been held by foreign powers during much of its history. One of the earliest settlements was probably at Ugarit; human habitation at Tell Hamoukar in NE Syria dates to at least 4000 B.C. The Amorites, coming c.2100 B.C. from the Arabian peninsula, were the first important Semitic people to settle in the region, and they established many small states.

From the 15th to the 13th cent. B.C. the area probably was part of the empire of the Hittites, although it came under Egyptian rule for long periods during that time. The first great indigenous culture was that of Phoenicia (located mostly in present-day Lebanon), which flourished after 1250 B.C. in a group of trading cities along the coast. In the 10th cent. B.C. two Hebrew kingdoms were organized in Palestine (see also Jews). Syria suffered (11th–6th cent. B.C.) long invasions and intermittent control by the empire of Assyria. Babylonian conquerors also found success in Syria, and Egypt constantly sought to reestablish its position there. The Syrians were subjected to massacres, plundering, and forced deportations.

Under the Persian Empire, with its efficient administrative system, Syria's standard of living improved (6th–4th cent. B.C.). Alexander the Great conquered Syria between 333 and 331 B.C., and his short-lived empire was followed by that of the Seleucidae (see Seleucus I), who are usually called kings of Syria. Their control of Syria was constantly threatened by Egypt, which was ruled by the Ptolemies. The Egyptians usually held the south until Antiochus III conquered (early 2d cent. B.C.) the region, which was generally called Coele Syria, a name which had been vaguely applied to all of W Syria. The Seleucids founded cities and military colonies and introduced Hellenistic civilization to Syria. Syria long showed the revivifying effects of this new culture. Many of the cities became cultural Hellenistic centers, but the change did not reach the lower levels of the population.

When invasions began again, first by the Armenians under Tigranes and then by the Parthians—both in the 1st cent. B.C.—the Hellenistic sheen was soon dulled. The Romans under Pompey conquered the region by 63 B.C., but they continued to fight the Parthians there, and the Syrians benefited little from the Roman presence. Many changes in administration occurred, and Rome drew from Syria numerous soldiers and slaves. The old pagan gods of Syria were also taken up by the Romans. More significant for the future of Syria, Christianity was started in Palestine and soon exerted some influence over all of Syria; St. Paul was converted from Judaism to Christianity on the road to Damascus. In central Syria, Palmyra grew (3d cent. A.D.) to considerable power as an autonomous state, but it was conquered by the Romans when it threatened their ascendancy.

After the division of Rome into the Eastern and Western empires in the 4th cent., Syria came under Byzantine rule. In the 5th and 6th cent. Monophysitism, a Christian heresy with political overtones, gained many adherents in Syria. Byzantine control there was seriously weakened by the 7th cent. Between 633 and 640, Muslim Arabs conquered Syria, and during the following centuries most Syrians converted to Islam. Damascus was the usual capital of the Umayyad caliph (661–750) and enjoyed a period of great splendor. The Umayyads were forcibly displaced by the Abbasids, whose residence was in Iraq, thus ending Syria's dominant position in the Islamic world. At the same time the ties between Muslim Syria and the predominantly Christian southwest (later Lebanon) began to loosen.

  • Crusaders and Conquerers

Groups of Christians remained in the Muslim areas, and they generally rendered aid to the Christians who came to Syria on Crusades (11th–14th cent.). By the late 11th cent. the Seljuk Turks had captured most of Syria, and the Christians fought against them as well as against Saladin, who triumphed (late 12th cent.) over both the Christians and his fellow Muslims. After Saladin's death (1193), Syria fell into disunity, and in the mid-13th cent. it was overrun by the Mongols under Hulagu Khan, who destroyed (1260) much of Aleppo and Damascus, massacring about 50,000 inhabitants of Aleppo. The Mongols were defeated later in 1260 by Baybars, the Mamluk ruler of Egypt.

The Mamluks held control of Syria for most of the time until 1516, when the Ottoman Empire annexed the area. The Mamluk period was largely a time of economic stagnation and political unrest. In 1401 the Central Asian conqueror Timur sacked Aleppo and Damascus. For most of the four centuries of Ottoman control, Syria's economy continued to be weak, and its politics remained fragmented. From the later 16th cent., government in Syria was not directly controlled by the Ottomans but was in the hands of several Syrian families who often fought each other. From the late 18th cent. the European powers took an increasing interest in Syrian affairs, the British as friends of the Druze, the Russians as protectors of the Orthodox Christians, and the French as allies of the Roman Catholics (especially the Maronites).

In 1798–99, Napoleon I of France invaded Egypt and also briefly held parts of the Syrian coast. In 1832–33, Ibrahim Pasha, the son of Muhammad Ali of Egypt, annexed Syria to Egypt. Egypt held Syria until 1840, when the European powers (particularly Great Britain) forced its return to the Ottomans; during this time Syria's economy was revived and numerous schools were established. During the rest of the 19th cent. the Syrian economy was modernized somewhat and educational opportunities were increased. However, conditions were far from good, and growing resentment of Ottoman rule developed among the Syrians. After bloody fighting between Christians and Druze, Lebanon (largely inhabited by Christians) was given considerable autonomy in 1860.

  • The Foundations of Modern Syria

During World War I the British encouraged Syrian nationalists to fight against the Ottoman Empire. The ambitions of the nationalists were thwarted in the peace settlement, which gave (1920) France a League of Nations mandate over the Levant States (roughly present-day Syria and Lebanon). From this time the term Syria referred approximately to its present territorial extent. France divided Syria into three administrative districts on the pretext that political decentralization would safeguard the rights of minorities. The Arab nationalists angrily asserted that decentralization was also a means of maintaining French control by a divide-and-rule policy.

The French made some concessions after serious disturbances in 1925, which included a rebellion by the Druze and the French bombardment of Damascus. Lebanon was made a completely separate state in 1926, and after long negotiations a treaty was signed (1936) giving Syria a large measure of autonomy. Anti-French feeling continued as a result of the cession of the sanjak of Alexandretta (see Hatay) to Turkey, completed in 1939. In the same year the French suspended the Syrian constitution, and in World War II they garrisoned Syria with a large number of troops, most of whom, after the fall of France in June, 1940, declared loyalty to the Vichy government. Relations with Great Britain deteriorated, and when it was discovered that Syrian airfields had been used by German planes en route to Iraq, British and Free French forces invaded and occupied Syria in June, 1941.

  • An Independent Nation

In accordance with previous promises, the French proclaimed the creation of an independent Syrian republic in Sept., 1941, and an independent Lebanese republic in Nov., 1941. In 1943, Shukri al-Kuwatli was elected president of Syria, and on Jan. 1, 1944, the country achieved complete independence. However, the continued presence of French troops in Syria caused increasing friction and bloodshed and strained Anglo-French relations. It was not until Apr., 1946, that all foreign troops were withdrawn from the country. In 1945, Syria had become a charter member of the United Nations.

A member of the Arab League, Syria joined other Arab states in the unsuccessful war (1948–49) against Israel (see Arab-Israeli Wars). The defeat at the hands of Israel, coupled with serious internal divisions resulting from disagreements over whether to unite with Iraq (and thus form a "Greater Syria"), undermined confidence in parliamentary government and led to three coups in 1949. Lt. Col. Adib al-Shishakli led the third coup (Dec., 1949), and he governed the country until 1954. A new constitution providing for parliamentary government was promulgated in 1950, but it was suspended in late 1951. From then until 1954, al-Shishakli ruled as a virtual dictator. In 1953 he issued a new constitution establishing a presidential form of government and was elected president.

Opposition to al-Shishakli's one-man rule led to his downfall in 1954 and the reinstitution of the 1950 constitution. After elections in late 1954 a coalition government uniting the People's, National, and Ba'ath parties and headed by Sabri al-Asali of the National party was established; Shukri al-Kuwatli was again elected president. In the following years the Ba'ath party, which combined Arab nationalism with a socialist program, emerged as the most influential political party in Syria. At the same time, in order to offset growing Western influence in the Middle East (exemplified by the creation in 1955 of the Baghdad Pact alliance, later known as the Central Treaty Organization), both Syria and Egypt signed economic and military accords with the USSR.

To counterbalance Soviet influence, Syria joined with Egypt to form (Feb., 1958) the United Arab Republic (UAR). By late 1959, Egypt had become dominant in the UAR, which led to growing Syrian opposition to continued union with Egypt. In Sept., 1961, a group of Syrian army officers seized control of Syria, withdrew the country from the UAR, and established the Syrian Arab Republic. Elections for a constituent assembly were held in late 1961; the assembly chose Maruf al-Dawalibi as prime minister and Nazim al-Qudsi as president of the country; both were conservatives and members of the People's party. In early 1962 a military coup ended this arrangement, and in late 1962 the 1950 constitution was reinstated.

In 1963 another coup brought a joint Ba'ath-military government to power; this regime was headed, at different times, by Salah al-Din al-Bitar, a moderate leader of the Ba'ath party, and by Gen. Amin al-Hafiz. The government nationalized much of the economy and redistributed land to the peasants. At the same time a split between moderate and radical elements in the Ba'ath party was growing. In early 1966 the radicals staged a successful coup and installed Yusseff Zayen as prime minister and Nureddin al-Attassi as president. The new government strengthened Syria's ties with Egypt and the USSR.

Between 1962 and 1966, Syria agitated Israeli interests by attempting to divert headwaters of the Jordan River, by firing on Israeli fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, and by using the Golan Heights to snipe at Israeli settlements. These conflicts contributed to the Arab-Israeli War of June, 1967. During the war Israel captured the Golan Heights (stretching about 12 mi/19 km into Syria northeast of the Sea of Galilee), and it held on to this territory after a cease-fire went into effect. After the war Syria maintained its anti-Israel stance. In 1968–69 the Ba'ath party was again torn by factional strife, and it divided into the "progressives" (led by al-Attassi), who favored state control of the economy and close cooperation with the USSR, and the "nationalists" (headed by Gen. Hafez al-Assad), who emphasized the need to defeat Israel, to improve relations with other Arab states, and to lessen Syria's economic and military dependence on the USSR.

  • The Assad Regime

Al-Assad successfully ousted al-Attassi in Nov., 1970. In early 1971, al-Assad was overwhelmingly elected to a seven-year term as president; he was reelected three times. Later in 1971, Syria, Libya, and Egypt agreed to unite loosely in the Federation of Arab Republics. Syria continued to be on good terms with the USSR, which equipped the Syrian army with modern weapons. In early 1973 a new constitution was approved, and the Ba'ath party won 70% of the seats in elections for the people's council. In July–Aug., 1973, about 42 army officers (all Sunni Muslims) were executed after allegedly plotting to assassinate al-Assad, who, they claimed, showed undue favoritism to his fellow Alawite Muslims in the army. (Al-Assad did indeed favor the Alawites in the army and government.)

In Oct., 1973, the fourth Arab-Israeli War erupted; after initial Syrian advances in the Golan Heights, Israel gained the offensive and pushed into Syria a few miles beyond the Golan Heights region. Syria (like Israel) accepted the UN Security Council cease-fire resolution of Oct. 25, 1973, but fighting continued into 1974. In May, 1974, largely through the mediation of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Syria and Israel signed an agreement in Geneva that ended the fighting. Under the terms of the accord, Israel pulled back to the 1967 cease-fire line and also returned the city of Qunaytirah (Kuneitra) to Syria; a buffer zone, patrolled by UN troops, was established in the Golan Heights.

Since the 1970s the rise of Sunni Islamic fundamentalism has challenged Ba'athist ideology. Between 1976 and 1982, urban centers erupted in political unrest. The Muslim Brotherhood, a radical religious and political organization founded in 1928 in Egypt, was largely responsible for extremist attacks. In Feb., 1982, the brotherhood unsuccessfully attempted an uprising in Hama but was quashed by government troops; thousands were killed. Islamic fundamentalists, however, continue to remain active.

In 1976, Syria sent forces to Lebanon as part of a peacekeeping force to help end that country's civil war. The Syrian military remained in Lebanon, and from 1980 to 1981, Syrian troops sided with Lebanese Muslims against the Christian militias. With Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June, 1982, Syrian troops clashed with Israeli forces and were pushed back. Syria was also antagonized by Israel in 1982, when Menachem Begin announced the annexation of the Golan Heights. By the late 1990s, more than 40 Jewish settlements and villages had been developed in the Golan Heights. Although Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 1985, Syrian forces stayed; they remained the dominant military and political force there into 2005.

The Syrian government has been implicated in sponsoring international terrorism, especially in support of Iranian, Palestinian, and Libyan causes. In the 1980s, Syria moved closer to the USSR and espoused hard-line Arab positions. By 1990, however, as the Soviet system faltered, Syria attempted to improve relations with Western countries. That year Syria was the first Arab country to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and it contributed 20,000 soldiers to the coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War (1991).

Syria, along with Lebanon and a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation, became involved in peace talks with Israel in late 1991. As talks progressed between Israel and the PLO and Jordan, Syria's insistence that Israel withdraw from all of the Golan Heights proved a stumbling block in its own negotiations. Talks broke off in 1996, but the Syrian government appeared interested in renewing negotiations following the installation of a Labor government in Israel in 1999. Talks were resumed in Dec., 1999. After what appeared to be initial progress, discussions stalled in Jan., 2000, when a secret draft treaty with Syrian concessions was published in Israel, leading to a public hardening of Syria's position with respect to the Golan.

In June, 2000, Assad died suddenly. His son, Bashar al-Assad, a 34-year-old doctor who had been groomed to succeed his father since 1994, rapidly became commander in chief of the army, head of the Ba'ath party, and then president. The son was regarded as an advocate of a free-market economy and political change, but economic liberalization proceeded slowly and he maintained a monopoly on political power. Syria strongly opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and was accused by U.S. government officials of supplying aid to Iraq and helping Iraqi officials to escape from U.S. forces. The United States later also accused Syria of permitting militants to infilitrate into Iraq. A new cabinet with a mandate to push reforms forward was appointed in Sept., 2003, but subsequently there was little noticeable political or economic reform.

In Oct., 2003, Israel struck at what it called a terrorist training base in Syria in retaliation for suicide-bombing attacks in Israel; it was the first Israeli strike against Syrian territory in 20 years. Simmering grievances among the nation's Kurds erupted into rare antigovernment protests in NE Syria in Mar., 2004.

In Aug. and Sept., 2004, Syria blatantly forced Lebanon to extend President Lahoud's term, an act that was denounced by the UN Security Council. The Feb., 2005, assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who had opposed Syrian interference in Lebanon, led to anti-Syrian demonstrations in Lebanon and increased international pressure on Syria. Syria subsequently agreed to withdraw from Lebanon, and by the end of Apr., 2005, the withdrawal was completed. Syria nonetheless retained considerable influence in Lebanon.

A UN investigation into Hariri's killing implicated senior Syrian and Lebanese officials, but Syria refused to allow UN investigators to interview high-ranking Syrian officials, leading the Security Council to call unanimously for Syria to cooperate. Syria, however, vigorously rejected the vote and attempted to discredit the investigation, publicizing the recanting of one witness. However, a former Syrian vice president, Abdul Halim Khaddam, stated (Dec., 2005) that Syria had threatened Hariri and asserted that the assassination could not have happened without the support of high-ranking Syrian officials. (Khaddam, residing in Paris, also called for Assad to be removed from office.) Resistance to moving forward with the investigation from Syria's allies in Lebanon (most notably then-President Emile Lahoud and Hezbollah) blocked the Lebanese government from establishing an investigative tribunal and stalled any additional progress into 2008. By 2010, however, as the tribunal's investigation progressed, it appeared more likely to indicted members of Hezbollah than Syrian officials; in Apr., 2009, the four Lebanese officers who had been held since 2005 in connection with the case were released for lack of evidence.

Assad was reelected in May, 2007, by referendum (he was the only candidate). In Sept., 2007, the Israeli air force attacked a site in N Syria that some reports suggested was a nuclear facility under construction. International Atomic Energy Agency, which called on Syria to cooperate, ultimately concluded in its reports (2008, 2009, 2011) that evidence indicated that the facility was a nuclear reactor. Syria asserted the installation was a missile facilty. Also in 2009 the IAEA said it had found traces of processed uranium at another site, and it subsequently accused Syria of failing to cooperate.

An Arab League summit held in Syria in Mar., 2008, was attended by only half the Arab heads of state, as many sent lower-ranking officials as a protest against Syria's backing of Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon. In Oct., 2008, U.S. forces launched a raid into Syria from Iraq in which U.S. sources claimed a key figure in the Iraq insurgency was killed; Syria denounced the attack, saying only civilians were killed, and mounted demonstrations against the attack.

Beginning in Mar., 2011, Syria faced ongoing antigovernment demonstrations in a number of cities similar to those in other parts of the Arab world. The protests were especially persistent early on in the southern city of Deraa; Homs, Hama, and many other locations subsequently became centers of protest. Only Damascus and Aleppo were largely free of protests. The government issued some concessions in response, including granting citizenship to thousands of Kurds in NE Syria, ending the 48-year state of emergency, and (later) allowing some opposition parties, but it also accused its opponents of armed insurrection and violently suppressed protests. There also were anti-Alawite attacks by government opponents. Antigovernment demonstrations nonetheless continued, and the unrest turned into civil war as some troops defected and fought against government forces and others also took up arms.

In September leaders of opposition groups announced the formation of the Syrian National Council, but the opposition continued to lack unity and the council was dominated by exile groups. The Arab League suspended Syria's membership and imposed some economic sanctions in November; other nations also imposed sanctions in 2011 and 2012. In December, Arab League monitors entered Syria to oversee an agreement intended to end the violence, but they had no effect on the situation. The violence continued in 2012, with deadly fighting in many urban areas; government forces were accused of brutally targeting civilians and of killing them in mass executions. A new constitution was approved by 90% of those voting in a February referendum, but Assad's opponents called the result as a sham. The opposition also boycotted the subsequent May parliamentary elections.

Former UN head Kofi Annan negotiated a cease-fire in Apr., 2012, but it was quickly violated and never really took effect. The associated UN observers were withdrawn in August; also that month the Syria prime minister defected. In June, relations with Turkey became tense after Syria downed a Turkish fighter jet that had crossed into Syrian airspace; the Turkish government was a strong critic of Assad's attempts to crush the uprising. In October, cross-border fire into Turkey led to recurring retaliatory bombardment by Turkish forces. There were similar incidents involving Jordan and Israel, and subsequently occasional air strikes by Israel in Syria that were said to be directed at military supplies for Hezbollah.

A more broadly based opposition National Coalition was established in Nov., 2012, as a result of international pressure on opposition groups inside and outside Syria to unify, and some 100 nations subsequently recognized the group. Attempts to established a broadly supported opposition government, however, proved difficult. Opposition fighters remained ethnically and religiously fragmented, with militant Islamists, including some aligned with Al Qaeda and others from outside Syria, becoming increasingly significant and rejecting cooperation with other rebels. Kurdish groups sought to established an autonomous Kurdish area. The civil war was increasingly marked by the opposition's divisions, with rebel groups sometimes fighting each other. In Jan., 2014, an alliance of Syrian rebel forces engaged in prolonged fighting in N Syria with an Al Qaeda–aligned rebel group that included many foreigners and was accused of serious human rights abuses. Shiite fighters from other nations, especially Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, became an increasing and significant component of those forces fighting in support of the government in 2013.

By July, 2013, more than 100,000 were believed to have died in the fighting since Mar., 2011 (according to UN estimates; the United Nations subsequently stopped updating its estimates because it could not verify the figures). The conflict had spread to Damascus and Aleppo; the latter's old city was severely damaged by fighting. The government controlled or contested much of E Syria, making gains there by in 2013, while various rebel groups were in control mainly in the north and west. Many people had been arrested or had disappeared while in government custody, and at least 2 million had fled the country and more than 4 million were displaced inside Syria by September, 2013.

Both government and rebel forces were accused of using chemical weapons, but though there was evidence of the use of sarin, definitive proof was difficult to come by. An Aug., 2013, chemical attack in Damascus in which more than 1,300 died was linked by Western governments to the government, and subsequently, under threat of U.S. attack, the Assad regime agreed to the supervised destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile. A December UN report confirmed that the August attack involved chemical weapons, and found credible evidence of the weapons probably use in a number of prior incidents. Both sides in the conflict have also been accused by human-rights groups of committing war crimes.

Disclaimer

This is not the official site of this country. Most of the information in this site were taken from the U.S. Department of State, The Central Intelligence Agency, The United Nations, [1],[2], [3], [4], [5],[6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14],[15], [16], [17], [18], [19], [20], [21], [22], [23], [24],[25], [26], [27], [28], [29], [30],[31], [32], [33], [34], and the [35].

Other sources of information will be mentioned as they are posted.