Syria سوريا or The Syrian Arab Republic الجمهورية العربية السورية is a small Arab state bordering Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon. In 2000 Syria had a population of approximately 16.5 million. By 2025 it is estimated to grow to 26.9 million.
Syria has been the cradle of some of the world's oldest civilizations, and has been part of the Hittite, Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Phoenician empires, before becoming part of the (Eastern) Roman Empire.
Having been a cradle of Christianity, with the expansion of Islam in the Middle East in the 7th century, Syria became one of the centres of the new religion. After invasions by the Seljuk Turks and the Crusades, Syria came under Arab control until 1516, when it was conquered by the Ottomans.
Following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, Syria was administered by France as a League of Nations Mandated Territory - the French had proclaimed themselves protectors of the region as early as the 18th century. The country was liberated from the Vichy government, and independence was declared in 1944, although foreign troops remained until 1946. Syria was a charter member of the United Nations.
In 1948, coincident with Israel declaring its independence, Syria joined with other Arab states in attacking and attempting to destroy Israel. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel. Since 1976, Syrian troops have been stationed in Lebanon, ostensibly in a peacekeeping capacity. In recent years, Syria and Israel have held occasional peace talks over the return of the Golan Heights.
Long regarded as a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States of America and other Western countries - one of several states in the so-called "Axis of Evil" - Syria became the target of limited American sanctions signed into law by US President George W. Bush in 2004.
Syria has been led by a military regime since a 1963 coup by the secular Baath Party. This party holds a two-thirds majority in the Syrian parliament (which has 250 seats), while the remainder is occupied by independent representatives. The country has been under a state of emergency laws since 1963.
The head of state is president Bashar al-Assad, the son of president Hafez al-Assad, who led the country from 1971 until his death in 2000. The president appoints a council of ministers and a prime minister, who together form the executive branch of the Syrian government.
Syria consists mostly of arid plateau, although there is a small strip with plain along the coast line with the Mediterranean. The Euphrates, Syria's most important river, crosses the country in the east. It is considered to be one of the fifteen states that comprise the so-called "Cradle of Humanity."
Major cities include the capital Damascus in the southwest, Aleppo in the north, and Homs. Most of the other important cities are located along the coast line. Damascus has been inhabited since 3,000 BC and is recognized as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world together woth Acoma and Jericho.
The climate in Syria is dry and hot, although winters are mild. Because of the country's elevation, snowfall does also occur occasionally during winter.
Syria's mixed economy has been growing, on average, more slowly than its 2.4% annual population growth rate, causing a persistent decline in per capita GDP. Recent legislation allows private banks to operate in Syria, although a private banking sector will take years and further government cooperation to develop. External factors such as the international war on terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the war between the US-led coalition and Iraq probably will drive real annual GDP growth levels back below their 3.5% spike in 2002.
The important long-run economic constraints facing Syria include the need to maintain an oversize military-security establishment because of the external Israeli military threat and the internal Muslim Brotherhood threat and the pressure on water supplies caused by rapid population growth, industrial expansion, and increased water pollution. In 2000 the per capita water withdrawal was 844 cubic meters while the recharge was only 244 cubic meters.
Syria's economy suffers from wide=spread corruption and government interference.
Most of the Syrian population (90%) are Arabs, but there are also sizeable Kurdish and Armenian minorities. This diversity is also reflected in the languages spoken. Arabic is the official language of the country, but Kurdish, Turkish, Armenian and Circassian are spoken by the minorities. Syriac is still used as a canonical langauge within the Syrian Orthodox Church.
Most of the Arabic population of Syria are Sunni Muslims, who make up some 74% of the population. Other Muslim sects--Druze and Alawite--comprising 16% of the population. The remainder are mostly Christian, although there is a small Jewish community.
Israel has occupied Syrian territory--the Golan Heights or هضبة الجولان--since 1967. Although Syria owns the territory under international as the governate of Al Qunaytirah, Israel asserts that it was annexed in 1981 with the passage of the Golan Heights Law. When Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem traveled in Baghdad for discussions about Iraq (helping the U.S. extract otself from the Republcian War in Iraq) on November 19, 2006, it was reported that the Syrian governemnt would demand that the U.S. force Israel to return of the Golan Heights as a quid pro quo for its cooperation. Source: n.a. "Report: Syria to Demand Golan as Price for Aiding U.S. on Iraq." Associated Press. November 19, 2006.
Human rights issues
Syria has been run under emergency laws since 1963.Under this law , anyone can be arrested and detained anytime without an arrest warrant or sufficient proof. Under this law the Syrian regime has engaged in systematic repression of opposition voices like Michelle Kilo and Anwar al-Bunni amongst many others.
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