Syria (officially the Syrian Arab Republic), which is slightly larger than the American state of North Dakota, came into existence as an independent county in 1946. It had been a province of the former Ottoman Empire and then, following World War I, it was administered by France. According to an agreement between France and Britain, the defeated Ottoman Empire was divided between the two countries.
The map shown above is from the CIA World Factbook.
In 1920, Faisal I of the Hashemite family established the independent Kingdom of Syria, but this lasted only a few months. French troops occupied Syria and Syria was placed under a French mandate by the League of Nations. In 1925, Sultan al-Atrash led a revolt which started in the Druze Mountain region and spread throughout Syria and Lebanon. The French regained control in 1927.
A treaty of independence was negotiated in 1936, but the French legislature refused to ratify it. In 1940, Syria came under control of Vichy France and in 1941 it was occupied by the British and Free French.
Full independence finally came following World War II. Like many new countries which came into existence following World War II, Syria lacked political stability and experienced a number of military coups during its first decade.
In 1956, Syria signed an agreement with the Soviet Union which provided the Communists influence in the government in exchange for military equipment.
In 1958, Syria was united with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic. In 1961, the Syrian Arab Republic was established and the two entities forming the United Arab Republic separated. From 1963 until 2011, Syria was under Emergency Law which suspended most constitutional protections for citizens.
In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel. Syria and Israel have held some talks regarding the return of the Golan Heights to Syria.
In 1970, Hafiz al-Assad, a member of the socialist Ba’th Party and the minority Alawi sect, seized power in a bloodless coup. With this, political stability was established. Following the death of President al-Assad his son, Bashar al-Assad, was approved as president by popular referendum in 2000 (he was unopposed).
In 1976, Syria stationed troops in Lebanon as a part of a peace-keeping mission. These troops were withdrawn in 2005.
Bashar al-Assad’s second term as president was approved by popular referendum in May 2007.
In 2010, Human Rights Watch called Syria’s record regarding human rights as one of the worst in the world. Freedom House lists Syria as “not free.”
In 2011, antigovernment protests were held in the southern province of Dar’a. The protestors called for the repeal of the restrictive Emergency Law allowing arrests without charge, the legalization of political parties, and the removal of corrupt local officials. Demonstrations and unrest spread to other cities and regions. The government responded to these protests with a mix of concessions - including the repeal of the Emergency Law and approving new laws permitting new political parties and liberalizing local and national elections - and force. However, 2011 marks the beginning of the current civil war.
With regard to ethnicity in Syria, 90% are Arab while 10% are Kurds, Armenians, and other groups. There are about 2 million Kurds in Syria. The Kurds live in the northeastern corner of the country. There is an assumption that the Syrian Kurds, like the Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran, would prefer to have an independent Kurdistan. There are about 190,000 Armenian in Syria.
Islam is the official religion of the state. With regard to religion, 74% are Sunni Muslim and 16% are other Muslim (Alawite, Druze). Christians make up about 10% of the population.
With regard to total population, Syria ranks 53rd in the world with 22.5 million. Over half of the population in under 25 years of age. Life expectancy is 75 years.
Damascus, Syria’s capital, is shown above.
Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, is shown above.