Syria

This article is about the modern nation of Syria. For other uses, see Syria.
الجمهورية العربية السورية
Al-Jumhūriyyah al-ʿArabiyyah as-Sūriyyah

Syrian Arab Republic
Coat of arms of Syria
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: none
Anthem: Homat el Diyar
"Guardians of the Homeland"
Capital Damascus
Largest city Damascus
Official language Arabic
Government Presidential republic
 - President Bashar al-Assad
 - Prime Minister Muhammad Naji Etri
Independence from France 
 - Declared (1) September 19361 
 - Declared (2) January 1 1944 
 - Recognized April 17 1946 
Area
 - Total 183,885 km² (88th)
71,479 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 0.06
Population
 - July 2005 estimate 19,043,000 (55th)
 - Density 103/km² (96th)
267/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $71.74 billion (65th)
 - Per capita $5,348 (101st)
HDI  (2004) 0.716 (medium) (107th)
Currency Syrian pound (SYP)
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
 - Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Internet TLD .sy
Calling code +963
1 The Franco-Syrian Treaty of Independence (1936), not ratified by France.

Syria (Arabic: سوريا ‎or سورية ), officially the Syrian Arab Republic (Arabic: الجمهورية العربية السورية ), is a country in the Middle East, bordering Lebanon to the west, Israel to the southwest, Jordan to the south, Iraq to the east, and Turkey to the north. The modern state of Syria attained independence from the French mandate of Syria in 1936, but can trace its historical roots to the fourth millenium BC; its capital city, Damascus, was the seat of the Umayyad Empire and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Empire.

Syria has a population of 19 million, of whom the majority are Arabic-speaking Sunni Muslims, as well as 16% other Muslim groups, including the Alawi, Shi'a, and Druze, and 10% Christian. Since 1963 the country has been governed by the Ba'ath Party; the head of state since 1970 has been a member of the Assad family. Syria's current President is Bashar al-Assad, son of Hafez al-Assad, who ruled from 1970 until his death in 2000.

Historically, Syria has often been taken to include the territories of Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and parts of Jordan, but excluding the Jazira region in the north-east of the modern Syrian state. In this historic sense, the region is also known as Greater Syria or by the Arabic name Bilad al-Sham (بلاد الشام ). Since the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel has occupied the Golan Heights to the southwest of the country; a dispute with Turkey over the Hatay Province has subsided.

Contents

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Etymology

The name Syria comes from the ancient Greek name for the land of Aram at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea between Egypt and Arabia to the south and Cilicia to the north, stretching inland to include Mesopotamia, and having an uncertain border to the northeast that Pliny the Elder describes as including from west to east Commagene, Sophene, and Adiabene, "formerly known as Assyria" (N.H. 5.66). By Pliny's time, however, this larger Syria had been divided into a number of provinces under the Roman Empire (but politically independent from each other): Judaea (or "Judea" and later renamed Palestina in AD 135—the region corresponding to the modern states of Israel and Jordan and the Palestinian territories) in the extreme southwest, Phoenicia corresponding to Lebanon, with Damascena to the inland side of Phoenicia, Coele-Syria (or "Hollow Syria") south of the Eleutheris river, and Mesopotamia.

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History

Map of Syria
Map of Syria
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Ancient Syria

Syrian civilization dates back to at least the fourth millennium BC. Many sites in Syria evoke the beginnings of recorded human history.

Archaeologists have demonstrated that Syria was the centre of one of the most ancient civilizations on Earth. Around the excavated city of Ebla in north-eastern Syria, discovered in 1975, a great Semitic empire spread from the Red Sea north to Turkey and east to Mesopotamia from 2500 to 2400 BC. Scholars believe the language of Ebla to be the oldest recorded Semitic language. At Ebla (Tel Merdikh), a royal palace was discovered containing one of the largest and most comprehensive archives of the ancient world. Ebla's archive consists of more than 17,000 clay tablets dealing with matters of industry, diplomacy, trade, art and agriculture. Ebla became world-famous for two industries: the manufacture of finely carved wood, inlaid with ivory and mother of pearls; and of silk cloth of gold. Today these industries still prosper, with Syrian brocade and mosaics fashioned according to the artisan tradition of ancient Ebla.

Clay tablet from Ebla's archive.
Clay tablet from Ebla's archive.

Other notable cities excavated include Mari, Ugarit and Dura Europos. At Mari (Tel Hariri) numerous palaces, temples and murals were found that reflect advanced cultural and commercial activity. The kingdom of Ugarit (Ras Shamra) offered humankind its first alphabet.

Syria was occupied successively by Canaanites, Hebrews, Arameans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Armenians, Romans, Nabataeans, Byzantines, Arabs, and, in part, Crusaders before finally coming under the control of the Ottoman Turks. Syria is significant in the history of Christianity; Paul was converted on the Road to Damascus and joined the first organized Christian Church in Antioch in ancient Syria (now in Turkey), from which he left on many of his missionary journeys.

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Islamic Era

Damascus, a city that has been inhabited as early as 3,000 BC, is known to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It came under Muslim rule in AD 636. Immediately thereafter, the city's power and prestige reached its peak, and it became the capital of the Umayyad Empire, which extended from Spain to the borders of Central Asia from AD 661 to AD 750. Syria acted as cultural hub that took in influences from many sources and sent them out to other parts of the empire and Damascus achieved a glory unrivalled among cities of the eighth century. The Umayyads were overthrown by the Abbasid dynasty in AD 750, and the seat of the Abbasid caliphate was established at Baghdad, Iraq.

Damascus became a provincial capital of the Mameluke Empire around 1260. It was largely destroyed in 1400 by Tamerlane, the Mongol conqueror, who removed many of its craftsmen to Samarkand. Rebuilt, it continued to serve as a capital until 1516. In 1517, it fell under Ottoman rule. The Ottomans remained for the next four hundred years, except for a brief occupation by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt from 1832 to 1840.

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French mandate

The National Bloc signing the Franco-Syrian Treaty of Independence in Paris in 1936. From left to right: Saadallah al-Jabiri, Jamil Mardam Bey, Hashim al-Atassi (signing), and French Prime Minister Léon Blum.
The National Bloc signing the Franco-Syrian Treaty of Independence in Paris in 1936. From left to right: Saadallah al-Jabiri, Jamil Mardam Bey, Hashim al-Atassi (signing), and French Prime Minister Léon Blum.

The Arabs participated in revolt of Hussein bin Ali against the Ottomans, and in alliance with the British, captured Damascus and other Syrian cities. Faysal, son of Hussein, grand sheriff of Mecca, formed a national government in 1918 in Damascus, which controlled some areas from what was known as greater Syria, which consisted of present day: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine. It controlled all territories except the Syrian coast including Lebanon, and some southern and coastal parts of Palestine that had been declared a French and British controlled areas, and some of them were free territories. Majlis al – Shoura (Advisory counsel) was formed to represent the legislative branch of the government. Faysal appointed Rida al-Rikabi as the first Prime Minister of modern Syria, Rikabi formed the first cabinet of modern Syria. The Istiqlal party (party of independence) was formed in February 6, 1919 as the successor of Jam'iyat al-Arabiyah al-Fatat, as first post-Ottoman Syrian party, and with the leadership of Shukri al-Quwatli, Saadalla al-Jabiri, and Riad al-Sulh. And the Azm party was formed as the successor of the Azm movement. General elections were held in 1919, and the first Parliament was formed under the name of Syrian national congress, with Hashim al-Atassi as the speaker of parliament. Prince Zayed became prime minister in January until March when Rida al-Rikabi was reappointed as prime Minster. In March, 8,1920 the Syrian national congress elected and crowned prince Faysal as the king of Syria. Faysal appointed Hashim al-Atassi as Prime Minster in May, and asked him to appoint the cabinet. Faysal declared Syria a free and Independent kingdom, also appointed a 20 members committee headed by Atasi from the Congress to draw up a constitution. The constitution adapted a new flag, declared the federal and the Parliamentary system, and declared the Syrian kingdom; which consists of 4 autonomous territories; Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine. Each territory has high autonomy with a governor general appointed by the monarch, a chamber of deputies, and a local government. According to the constitution, the monarch and Prime Minster represented the executive branch, and the legislative branch represented by the Syrian national congress (Parliament) that consisted of two houses; elected chamber of deputies, and senate; where members are half elected, and half appointed by the monarch. The congress started to reconstruct the state; it reopened schools, universities, and other educational institutions, and built new ones including the Syrian university in Damascus (1923), and the Arab Academy (1919) also in Damascus. It declared Arabic the official language, and translated school texts into Arabic.

Under the terms of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, France was granted a mandate over Syria by the League of Nations.

The French army attacked Damascus and crushed the Syrian resistance led by Minster of war in Atasi’s government Yusuf al-Azmeh in the Battle of Maysalun. The Syrian national congress and the kingdom were dissolved, Faysal fled to Palestine, and then to Italy. France governed Syria directly by the high commissioner.

In late 1921 and 1922 French authorities divided Syria into six states: Aleppo, Damascus, Jabal el Druze, the Alawite State, Lebanon, and Sanjak Iskenderoun (state of Alexandretta). Autonomy status was granted in Jabal al Druze, Lebanon, and Sanjak Iskenderoun. By the Franco-Turkish agreement of Ankara (1921) France decided to give the state of Alexandretta a special administration, were it was governed under mandate authorities, the autonomous government, and the government of Turkey, and separation from Syria in 1939 was the second Franco-Turkish action toward this state.

Many nationalists revolted against the French authorities including: Saleh al-Ali in the Alawi state (1919-1921), Ibrahim Hanano in Aleppo (1920-1921), Ramadan Shlash in eastern Syria (1919 – 1921), Sultan Pasha al-Atrash in Jabal Druze (1925 – 1926). Another revolts including: Lebanese revolt, Damascus and its rural areas (1925 – 1927) lead by Damascus notables, Hama and its rural areas (1919 – 1929). However, The French quelled all the revolutions in all parts of Syria. The Druze revolt and Damascus revolt were known as the Great Syrian revolution because they were the best organized revolts in Syria. Damascus revolutionaries took and captured Damascus in 1925 except the Meza area and Damascus citadel, were the French army centered and heavily bombed the city by artillery and aircraft. The remaining revolutionaries in the city surrendered to the French and bombing was stopped. Many parts of the city were destroyed as a result of the bombing lasted 48 hours. The last battles of Damascus’s rural area in 1927 marked the end of the Syrian great revolution in defeat. As a result of this number of revolts against them, French authorities amended their plans in Syria; Aleppo and Damascus states merged to form The State of Syria, but the Alawite state and Jabal Druze kept separated. The state of Lebanon officially separated from Syria in 1926 as the Lebanese republic under French mandate. A Number of political parties were formed including People’s party (1925) and the Communist party of Syria and Lebanon (1924, renamed as the Syrian Communist Party in 1944). The Istiqlal party, and other nationalist groups and parties merged to form a collision national alliance called the National Bloc, headed by Hashim al-Atassi, which called for an independent Syria, and said that independence should be granted by diplomatic talks with France rather than armed resistance. A 67-seated constituent assembly was formed in 1928 to draw up Syria’s first republican constitution, and the national bloc leader, Hashim al-Atassi became speaker of the constituent assembly. The assembly approved a constitution in 1930, and the French high commissioner refused articles that gave the Syrian government power more than the French authorities. The high commissioner adapted the “116 article”, which gave the French authorities a huge power. At the same time the constitutions of Jabal el Druze, the Alawite state, and Alexanderetta where adapted. In 1932 the Syrian republic was declared, and a Parliament was formed under the name of the chamber of deputies, with Subhi Barrakat as the speaker of the Parliament. Muhammad Abid became the president of Syria, and appointed the pro- French Politician Haqqi al-Azm as Prime Minster. Abid appointed a new Prime Minster in 1934, Taj al-Din al-Hasani, who named a pro- French cabinet. Members of the national bloc and Many Syrian nationalists stood against Abid’s regime, and they called for a 60 days strike in February 1936. France, in defeat called the national bloc leaders in March, including Hashim Atasi, to negotiate a treaty with the French leaders in Paris to provide a gradual and substantial Syrian independence. They signed what is known as the Franco-Syrian Treaty of Independence in September, and came back to Syria in the same month. The treaty provided the unity of Syria: Jabal al- Druze and the Alawi state were joined with the Syrian republic. It also provided more authorities to President and Parliament. And the treaty gives Syria gradual independence throw 25 years, when Syria would get full independence. During the previous months, 'Ata Bay al-Ayyubi, replaced Haqqi al- Azm as Prime Minster; declared the end of 60 days strike, dissolved al- Hassani pro French cabinet, and appointed a coalition counsel of ministers (cabinet) Including pro French movements and national movements. A new parliament was elected in 1936, and Hashim al Atasi was elected a president. France started to develop Syria by building schools, roads, and hospitals. In 1939 the French government annulled and refused the Franco-Syrian treaty of independence. Jabal al Druze and the Alawi state were separated from Syria again. Presidential and Parliamentary authorities were abolished. Hashim al- Atasi resigned from presidency. France ceded to turkey the state of Alexandretta (sanjak Iskenderoun) in 1939.

The French dissolved Parliament in 1939 due to the outbreak of World War II. As the chairman of the high commissioners, Bahij al-Khatib headed the state and government.

After the surrender of France to Germany in 1940, Syria came under the control of the Vichy government. British and Free French forces invaded Syria in 1941. Later in the same year Free French authorities asked Khatib to resign. General Charles de Gaulle visited Syria in October 1941, and asked Hashim al- Atasi to resume his duty as president, but Atasi refused to do so. De Gaulle also asked Taj al- din al- Hassani to rule as president without Parliament until elections we be held after the end of World War II, al- Hassani accepted this job. In January, 17, 1943 Taj al- din al- Hassani died in office, a new government was formed in the same year, and a new constitution was promulgated. With the elections in 1943, a new Parliament was formed. Shukri al-Quwatli, a Syrian nationalist, one of the leaders of the 1925 to 1927 uprising against the French, and a member of the national bloc, was elected a president of the Syrian republic. The 1943 constitution declared Syrian republic the official name, declared the Parliamentary system, and provided the freedom of faith and beliefs. The constitution also provided a 120- seated chamber of deputies, which represented the Parliamentary and legislative branch. It also provided a president who serves a 5 years- term, and cannot be reelected until he serves the whole term, who represents the executive branch along with Prime Minster and cabinet.

In 1944 French and Syrian leaders signed an independence treaty and Jabal Druze and the Alwai state were back to the Syrian republic, however, Free French troops surrounded Damascus in 1945, bombed it, just after twenty years from the first raid. As a result, Parliament building and Damascus citadel were destroyed, also many civilian neighborhoods were destroyed with more than 2000 civilian died.

In 1946 the independence treaty of 1944 was recognized, Free French troops and British troops left Syria, the last one left in April 15, 1946. Independence was declared in April 17th, this day is a national holiday and is commemorated each year as the Jalaa Day (Independence Day).

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Independence

Shukri al Quwatli, Syria's first post-independence President.
Shukri al Quwatli, Syria's first post-independence President.

In 1946 Syria was declared as an independent republic, with "Syrian Republic" as its official name (later; Syrian Arab Republic), and with presidency of Shukri al-Quwatli. Parliament was rebuilt in 1947, and under elections a new chamber of deputies was formed, as the first parliament after independence. In March 29, 1947 Shukri al-Quwatli founded the Syrian National Party, as the successor of the National Bloc, with him as it leader. In April 9, 1947 the Baath Party was founded by Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar, it calls for a pan Arab unity with Socialism as the economic doctrine. In June 20, 1947 Prime Minster Saadallah al-Jabiri died in office, and Jamil Mardam Bey replaced him. In March 1948 Parliament amended the constitution to give the constitutional right for the president to serve another 5 years- term, and in the same month Parliament reelected Shukri al-Quwatli a President to another 5 years term. In 1948 Rushdi Kekhia and Nazim al-Kudsi formed the People’s Party, which consisted of former National Bloc members, who refused to join the national party. Syrian army participated in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and is defeated. As a result, Ahmad Sharabati, the Minster of defense, resigned from department of defense, accepting all blames for defeat at war.

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Syrian army’s role in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War

The Syrian army played a limited role in the war.[1] Despite Syria’s initial losses, its forces quickly were able to occupy a thin strip of Palestinian land running the length of its border during the first two months of the war. Much of this territory was easily taken for the border had been originally drawn by the British in 1923 with water in mind, not its defence.[2] The Palestine-Syrian border was drawn so that all of the Jordan River, Lake Tiberius, and the Hula swamp would be included in Palestinian territory. To ensure the Syrians would not have access to the water, the British had also included a strip of land on the Syrian side: 10-meters wide at Lake Tiberius and ranging from 50 to 400 meters wide along the Jordan River right up to Hula. Palestine also received a thin salient of land stretching east between the Syrian and Jordanian border along the Yarmouk River, the Jordan’s largest tributary, out to the town of al-Hamma – today’s Hamat-Gader. All of this territory east of the Jordan River and Lake Tiberius was indefensible and easily taken by Syrian troops. The Syrian army also managed to cross the Jordan River just south of Lake Hula to occupy Kibbutz Mishmar Hayarden and defend it against several Israeli counter-attacks.

Syrian forces also established a foothold in the extreme northeastern corner of Palestine, just east of the Jewish settlement of Dan. Thus, Syria occupied three distinct enclaves within Palestine in the northern, central, and southern regions of the 1923 border. These three enclaves added to the thin strip of land stretching along the eastern perimeter of the Jordan and Tiberius added up to 66.5 square kilometers of land. It would become part of the demilitarized zone following the 1949 armistice signed between Syria and Israel and remains contested between the two sides to this day.

Other than the two offensive operations to grab villages across the Jordan River, the Syrian army remained largely inactive during the 1948 war. The Arab Liberation Army (ALA) survived in the northern Galilee until November 1948, when it was driven into Lebanon by Jewish forces that were moved up from the south. The Syrian government persisted in denying assistance to the ALA during the summer of 1948, effectively “condemning them to death,” in the words of `Adil Arslan.

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Military coups

Syria’s first coup d’état occurred In March 30, 1949, led by General Husni al-Zaim, a member of the Kurdish minority. Zaim was backed by the British, the French, the CIA, and by civilians who were tired from high prices, and from the leaderless Quwatli. People at that time believed that the coup was a result of the Arabic defeat at the 1948 war, as the officials declared, and at 1952, a similar coup occurred in Egypt for the same reason. Zaim declared that he would support any American pact in the Middle East, if they would support Syria and the area around. Zaim appointed himself a Prime Minster, and appointed a 7 members committee that drew up a secular constitution, that didn’t declare the state or official religion and didn’t declare a specific religion of the president. Zaim dissolved Parliament in April. Zaim Became a President in July 25, 1949 by a popular referendum winning 99.9. Zaim with secular views called women to stop the Islamic practice of veiling. Zaim appointed Muhsin al-Barazi a Prime Minster and then went on to launch large developing scale projects; by building schools, hospitals, roads, and by working on the project of Euphrates river dam to bring water to Aleppo, and initiating the Latakia harbor project. The new regime was overthrown in August by another coup d’état led by Colonel Sami al-Hinnawi in august 14, 1949. Zaim and Barazi were executed after a military trial. Hinawi asked Hashim al-Atassi (president, 1936-39) to form a provisional government. Atasi as Prime Minster appointed a cabinet and under his leadership a counsel that held executive authorities was formed. General elections were held under a new electoral law (for the first time, women voted) in 15-16 November for a constituent assembly, which will draw up a civil constitution. The Aleppo party of Rushdi Kekhia the people’s party won major seats in the assembly. Rushdi Kekhia (leader of the people's party) was elected speaker of the constituent assembly, and Atasi was elected in December 14, 1949 as a head of state. A third coup d’état, led by Colonel Adib al-Shishakli, a former chief of police and head of security, occurred in December. Shishakli arrested the chief of staff, and the coup leader, Sami al- Hinawi, accusing him of instigation about the unity with Iraq, which was governed under the pro- British Hashemite family. The constituent assembly promulgated a new constitution in September 1950 and, assuming responsibility as the chamber of deputies, elected the head of state Hashim al-Atasi, to the presidency in September 7, 1950, and elected Rushdi Kekhia (ex-speaker of the constituent assembly) a speaker of the Parliament. In 1951 Baath party joined the Arab socialist party as the Baath Arab socialist party. .[neutrality disputed]

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Years of influence and presidency of Shishakli

Shishakli asked Atasi to appoint Fawzi Selu (that allied himself with Shishakli) as a Minster of defense. Atasi appointed Maaruf al-Dawalibi (member of the People's Party) a Prime Minster, and asked him to appoint the cabinet. Douwalibi Accepted this job but refused to appoint Selu as a Minster of Defense. In return, Shishakli carried out the forth coup d’état in 29,November, 1951, arresting Prime Minster, Cabinet, and people’s party members, and forced president Atasi to resign. Shishakli, assuming responsibility as the chief of staff, dissolved Parliament, made every single political party and newspaper illegal, and appointed Fawzi selu a president. Shishakli formed his own political party in August 25, 1952 called the Arab Liberation Movement ALM, and it became the only legal party in Syria. On July 11, 1953 Shishakli became a president winning the plebiscite 99.8. Shishakli approved a new constitution in October 24, 1953, Making Syria a presidential republic, Making ALM as the ruling party, creating a 83 seats chamber of deputies composed just of ALM deputies, and restricting all civil liberties which was provided by the 1950 constitution. Shishakli was ousted by coup d’état in February 24, 1954. Shishakli’s successors reinstated Atasi as president, reconvened the 1949 chamber of deputies, restored the constitution of 1950, reinstated cabinet, and restored all Pre- Shishakli political elements..[3]

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Civilian rule: 1954–1958

Free elections were held in September 1955, with a new chamber of deputies formed, and with Shukri al-Quwatli (president, 1943-49, and leader of the Syrian national party) as president. Sabri al-Asali was appointed Prime Minster in place of Faris Khouri by the following months. After 1955 many members of government became leftwing radical socialists. The Syrian Communist Party and Baath Party were allied with other leftwing socialist parties, and in 1957 they were in control of the government. Syria was declared pro soviet-anti western, resulting from deep disappointment with the west, especially with the British and the French and their actions toward Arabs in Paris conference. And it reached to a high pitch after the creation of Isreal and the invasion of Sinai Peninsula. Syrian leaders initiated close and friendly relations with Egypt, under the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser, as a result, president Shukri al-Quwatli dismissed the French and British ambassadors, and ordered the army to destroy the Tapline, running through Syria. Close relations with the Soviet Union were initiated; many civil and military treaties were signed. In 1957 Syria recieved aids from the Soviet Union, who agreed to provide aid to Syria for 12 years. The government teamed up with the USSR in 1955 against the creation of the Baghdad Pact, a defensive alliance formed in that year by Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. Syria also stood against the Eisenhower Doctrine, promulgated in January 1957 to face potential Communist spread in the Middle East. Conservatives tried to cut off the radicals, but failed. However a number of Conservative and right-wing parties’ deputies were accused of high treason in the same year.

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United Arab Republic

In February 22, 1958, Syria and Egypt merged as one state and created the United Arab Republic UAR, with Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, a president. Nasser appointed the UAR cabinet, and Syrian politicians held a number of departments. In the following months Nasser dissolved all Syrian political parties. From September 1958 to February 1959 a land reform program was introduced, and private agricultural farms and territories were nationalized and were given to peasants. In July 1961 a socialist program was introduced, nationalizing all private banks and factories. In September 28, 1961 a group of army officers led by Karim an-Nahlawi seized power and declared Syria independent again. Nasser decided not to resist the separatists.

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Post- union Regime

Civilian government was created in Damascus, and Syrian Arab Republic was declared the official name. Nazim al-Kudsi was elected a president, who appointed Marouf al-Douwalibi a Prime Minster. Marking anti-socialism sentiment, President Qudsi restored some of the nationalized factories and lands to their old owners. Qudsi regime was overthrown in March 28, 1962 by a military coup, lead also by Karim an-Nahlawi, who arrested president Qudsi and his Prime Minister Douwalibi. The 1950 constitution was restored with some amendments as the provisional constitution. Another military coup occurred in April 2, 1962, lead by Abdul Karim Zahreddin, who released Qudsi and Douwalibi, and dismissed Nahlawi from the Syrian army. President Qudsi appointed Khalid al-Azm a Prime Minster.

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Ba'ath takeover

In March 8, 1963, the military committee of the Baath party carried out Syria's most bloody coup d’état, the Baath Party took control of the government. The Revolutionary Command Counsel (RCC) chaired by Luai al-Atassi was formed in the same year, and Atasi as the chairman of the RCC headed the state, and asked Salah al-Din al-Bitar to appoint the cabinet. The RCC dissolved Parliament also in the same year. In July 1963, Amin Hafez, a member of the Baath party replaced Atasi in Chairing the RCC. A provisional constitution was promulgated in 1964, which declared the Baath party as the ruling party, and allowed the RCC to represent the legislative branch, and to elect a presidential counsel that appoints the cabinet, and both represent the executive branch. Amin Hafez, chairman of the RCC, became the chairman of the presidential counsel, and In January, he introduced another socialist program, nationalizing all private schools and universities, western churches and missionaries which backed to the 19th century, plus more than one hundred private companies, to extend state’s ownership to electricity generation, oil companies and distribution, ginning of cotton, trade, and religious institutions. In February 23, 1966, a military coup lead by Hafez al-Assad and Salah Jadid, both are members of the Baath party, forcing Amin Hafez to resign. Asad and Jadid appointed Nureddin al-Atassi a president, and replaced the provisional constitution with the 1966 provisional constitution; however, another provisional constitution was approved in 1969.

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1970–2000

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Consolidation of power

Upon assuming power, Hafez al-Assad moved quickly to create an organizational infrastructure for his government and to consolidate control. The Provisional Regional Command of Assad's Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party nominated a 173-member legislature, the People's Council, in which the Ba'ath Party took 87 seats. The remaining seats were divided among "popular organizations" and other minor parties. In March 1971, the party held its regional congress and elected a new 21-member Regional Command headed by Assad. In the same month, a national referendum was held to confirm Assad as President for a 7-year term. In March 1972, to broaden the base of his government, Assad formed the National Progressive Front, a coalition of parties led by the Ba'ath Party, and elections were held to establish local councils in each of Syria's 14 governorates. In March 1973, a new Syrian constitution went into effect followed shortly thereafter by parliamentary elections for the People's Council, the first such elections since 1962.

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Yom Kippur War

Later in 1973, the Yom Kippur War broke out and "Syria mounted air attacks and heavy artillery shelling, and moved three divisions with some 1,400 tanks into the" Golan Heights to try and reclaim them from Israel.[1] Despite some initial successes, Syria's military was once again defeated by the IDF. At the end of the Yom Kippur war Israel still held the military advantage over Syria. Subsequent shuttle negotiations by Henry Kissinger resulted in Syria regaining control of part of the Golan, which the government portrayed as proof of victory. Since 1974, the Syrian-Israeli front has been quiet, with few disturbances of the cease-fire.

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Involvement in Lebanon

In early 1976, Syrian troops entered Lebanon at the request of the Lebanese government to stop the civil war. Syria at first entered on the side of the Maronites. Syria sent troops that later became the main core of the Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) established by the Arab League in October 1976. Syria brought the warring factions together in the Taif Agreement to end the civil war. The civil war was declared over on October 13, 1990. Syria helped the Lebanese government to reestablish control over much of the country. In April 26, 2005, Syria withdrew all of its troops from Lebanon, after the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri.

About one million Syrian workers came into Lebanon after the civil war ended, to find employment and pursue business opportunities. In 1994 200,000 Syrians resident in the country were granted citizenship (see Demographics of Lebanon).

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Opposition and repression

The authoritarian regime was not without its critics, though most were quickly dealt with. A serious challenge arose in the late 1970s, however, from Sunni Muslims called the Muslim Brotherhood who reject the basic values of the secular Ba'ath program and object to rule by the Alawis, whom they consider heretical. From 1976 until its suppression in 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood led an armed insurgency against the regime. In response to an attempted uprising by the brotherhood in February 1982, the government crushed the opposition centred in the city of Hama, levelling parts of the city with artillery fire and causing many thousands of dead and wounded. Since then, public manifestations of anti-regime activity have been very limited. A challenge from within the regime came in 1984, when Hafez was hospitalized after a heart attack. His brother Rifaat then attempted to seize power using internal security forces under his control. Despite his poor health, Hafez managed to assert control and sent Rifaat into exile.

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Gulf War

Syria's 1991 participation in the U.S.-led multinational coalition aligned against Saddam Hussein marked a dramatic watershed in Syria's relations both with other Arab states and with the West. Syria participated in the multilateral Middle East Peace Conference in Madrid in October 1991, and during the 1990s engaged in direct, face-to-face negotiations with Israel. These negotiations failed, and there have been no further Syrian-Israeli talks since President Hafez Al-Assad's meeting with then US President Bill Clinton in Geneva in March 2000.

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Death and succession of Hafez al-Assad

Hafez Al-Assad died on June 10, 2000, after thirty years in power. Within a few hours following Al-Assad's death, the Parliament amended the constitution, reducing the mandatory minimum age of the President from 40 to 34 years old, which allowed his son, Bashar al-Assad legally to be eligible for nomination by the ruling Ba'ath party. On July 10, 2000, Bashar Al-Assad was elected President by referendum in which he ran unopposed, garnering 97.29% of the vote.

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2000–2004

In his inauguration speech delivered at the People's Council on July 17, 2000, Bashar Al-Assad promised political and democratic reform. Human rights activists and other civil society advocates, as well as some parliamentarians, became more outspoken during a period referred to as "Damascus Spring" (July 2000 to February 2001). Enthusiasm faded quickly as the government cracked down on civil forums and reform activists, but there was still a notable liberalization compared to the totalitarianism of Hafez. The lifting of bans on Internet access, mobile telephones and the spread of computer technology has had a great impact on the previously isolated Syrian society, and the secret police's presence in society has been eased. Today there exists a small but growing number of dissident intellectuals, as well as several formerly illegal opposition parties. However, government power rests firmly in the hands of the Ba'ath, and police surveillance and occasional crackdowns keeps opposition activities limited.

Syria opposed the Iraq war in March 2003, and bilateral relations with the U.S. swiftly deteriorated. At the moment there are negotiations on an Association Agreement between Syria and the European Union which would liberalize mutual trade. Syria is required to make certain political and economic reforms in order for this process to come into effect.

Syria has been alleged by some to be a state giving safe haven to Palestinian militant groups and financing Hezbollah's actions in Lebanon. [2] The offices of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad reside in Damascus with Sheikh Abdullah Ramadan being the most notable figure.

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Events since 2004

On February 14, 2005, Rafik Hariri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, was killed by a car bomb. Many members of the Lebanese opposition and international observers alleged that Hariri was assassinated by Syria. Popular protests soon arose, composed primarily of Christians, Druze and Sunni Muslims, demanding the resignation of the pro-Syria government led by Omar Karami, as well as the withdrawal of all Syrian troops and intelligence operatives. On February 28, 2005, Karami's government resigned, although he was reappointed a few days later. On March 5, 2005, after intense international pressure, president Bashar al-Assad of Syria made a speech before the Syrian Parliament, where he announced that Syria would complete a full withdrawal from Lebanon by May of 2005, ending thereby a 30-year of military presence in this neighbouring country.

Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon on April 26, 2005 under intense pressure from the Lebanese opposition and the international community. After two UN investigations (the FitzGerald Report and the Mehlis report) implicated Syrian officials in the Hariri killing, the Assad regime entered a turbulent period, the seriousness of the crisis signalled by the suicide of interior minister Ghazi Kanaan, as well as Western threats of economic sanctions. Mehlis was replaced as head of the UN investigation team by the Belgian Serge Brammertz on December 15 2005.[4] Under the second part of the investigation, led by the Belgian Serge Brammertz, there has clearly been a better tone between the UN investigative team and the Syrian authorities. Brammertz, unlike his predecessor Mehlis, has also chosen to be discreet about his findings – making his final conclusions all the more unpredictable[5] – but he praised Syria's "full co-operation" with the UN investigators.

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Administrative divisions

Syria has fourteen governorates, or muhafazat (singular: muhafazah). A governor, whose appointment is proposed by the minister of the interior, approved by the cabinet, and announced by executive decree, heads each governorate. The governor is assisted by an elected provincial council. Note that parts that used to be under the Quneitra governorate are under Israeli control since 1967 (see Golan Heights).

  1. Damascus
  2. Rif Dimashq
  3. Quneitra
  4. Dara
  5. As Suwaydā'
  6. Homs
  7. Tartous
  8. Latakia
  9. Hama
  10. Idlib
  11. Aleppo
  12. Ar Raqqah
  13. Dayr az Zawr
  14. Al Hasakah
Map of administrative divisions of Syria.
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Major cities

Damascus - Aleppo - Latakia - Homs - Hama

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Minor cities

Al Hasakah - Dayr az Zawr - Ar Raqqah - Idlib - Dara -Suwayda - Tartous

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Towns

Kamichli - Masyaf - Safita - Jableh - Al-Thawrah - Duma - Banias - Al-Nabk

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Villages

Albaida - Marmarita - Mashta Al helou

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Politics

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

Syria is a parliamentary republic. All three branches of government are guided by the views of the Ba'ath Party, whose primacy in state institutions is assured by the constitution. In addition, six other political parties are permitted to exist and, along with the Ba'ath Party, make up the National Progressive Front (NPF), a grouping of parties that represents the sole framework of legal political party participation for citizens. While created ostensibly to give the appearance of a multi-party system, the NPF is dominated by the Ba'ath Party and does not change the essentially one-party character of the political system. The Ba'ath Party dominates the Parliament, which is known as the People's Council (majlis ash-sha'b). Elected every four years, the Council has no independent authority. Although parliamentarians may criticize policies and modify draft laws, they cannot initiate laws, and the executive branch retains ultimate control over the legislative process. It essentially functions as a rubber-stamp for the executive authority.

There was a surge of interest in political reform after Bashar al-Assad assumed power in 2000. Human rights activists and other civil society advocates, as well as some Parliamentarians, became more outspoken during a period referred to as "Damascus Spring" (July 2000-February 2001).

Government

The Syrian constitution vests the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party with leadership functions in the state and society and provides broad powers to the president. The president, approved by referendum for a 7-year term, also is Secretary General of the Ba'ath Party and leader of the National Progressive Front. The president has the right to appoint ministers, to declare war and states of emergency, to issue laws (which, except in the case of emergency, require ratification by the People's Council), to declare amnesty, to amend the constitution, and to appoint civil servants and military personnel. Along with the National Progressive Front, the president decides issues of war and peace and approves the state's 5-year economic plans. The National Progressive Front also acts as a forum in which economic policies are debated and the country's political orientation is determined.

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Human rights

A state of emergency has been in effect since 1963. Since then, security forces have committed human rights abuses including arbitrary arrest and detention, prolonged detention without trial, unfair trials in the security courts, and infringement on privacy rights. Amnesty International estimates around 600 political prisoners remain.

Prison conditions do not meet international standards for health and sanitation. The regime restricts freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and political opposition. According to Arab Press Freedom Watch, the current government has a poor record on freedom of expression.

In 2005, the Freedom House rated political rights in Syria as "7" (1 representing the most free and 7 the least free rating), civil liberties as "7" and gave it the freedom rating of "Not Free". [3]

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Geography

Satellite image of Syria (border lines added).
Satellite image of Syria (border lines added).

Syria consists mostly of arid plateau, although the northwest part of the country bordering the Mediterranean is fairly green. The Northeast of the country "Al Jazira" and the South "Hawran" are important agricultural areas. 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 Civilization".

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 (see List of cities in Syria).

The climate in Syria is dry and hot, and winters are mild. Because of the country's elevation, snowfall does occasionally occur during winter.

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Economy

Syria is a middle-income, developing country with a diversified economy based on agriculture, industry, and energy. During the 1960s, citing its state socialist ideology, the government nationalized most major enterprises and adopted economic policies designed to address regional and class disparities. This legacy of state intervention and price, trade, and foreign exchange controls still hampers economic growth, although the government has begun to revisit many of these policies, especially in the financial sector and the country's trade regime. Despite a number of significant reforms and ambitious development projects of the early 1990s, as well as more modest reform efforts currently underway, Syria's economy still is slowed by large numbers of poorly performing public sector firms, low investment levels, and relatively low industrial and agricultural productivity.

Despite the mitigation of the severe drought that plagued the region in the late 1990s and the recovery of energy export revenues, Syria's economy faces serious challenges. With almost 60% of its population under the age of 20, unemployment higher than the current estimated range of 20%-25% is a real possibility unless sustained and strong economic growth takes off. Oil production has levelled off, but recent agreements allowing increased foreign investment in the petroleum sector may boost production in two to three years.

The bulk of Syrian imports have been raw materials essential for industry, agriculture, equipment, and machinery. Major exports include crude oil, refined products, raw cotton, clothing, fruits, and cereal grains. Earnings from oil exports are one of the government's most important sources of foreign exchange.

Of Syria's 72,000 square miles (186,000 km²), roughly one-third is arable, with 80% of cultivated areas dependent on rainfall for water. In recent years, the agriculture sector has recovered from years of government inattentiveness and drought. Most farms are privately owned, but the government controls important elements of marketing and transportation.

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Demographics

Most people live in the Euphrates River valley and along the coastal plain, a fertile strip between the coastal mountains and the desert. Overall population density is about 258 per square mile (99/km²). Education is free and compulsory from ages 6 to 11. Schooling consists of 6 years of primary education followed by a 3-year general or vocational training period and a 3-year academic or vocational program. The second 3-year period of academic training is required for university admission. Total enrolment at post-secondary schools is over 150,000. The literacy rate of Syrians aged 15 and older is 89% for males and 64% for females.

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Ethnic groups

Arabs (including some 400,000 Palestinian refugees) make up over 85% of the population. The Kurds, linguistically an Indo-Iranian people, constitute the largest ethnic minority, making up 10% of the population. Most Kurds reside in the northeast corner of Syria and many still speak the Kurdish language. Sizable Kurdish communities live in most major Syrian cities as well. The Assyrian Christians are also a notable minority (about 3%) that live in north and northeast Syria.

Ethnic Syrians are an overall Semitic Levantine people. While modern-day Syrians are commonly described as Arabs by virtue of their modern-day language and bonds to Arab culture and history — they are in fact a blend of the various ancient Semitic groups indigenous to the region who in turn admixed with later arriving Arabs. There is also a smaller degree of admixture from non-Semitic peoples that have occupied the region over time.

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Religion

Syria's population is approximately 90% Muslim and 10% Christian. Among Muslims, 75% are Sunni [4]; the rest are divided among other Muslim sects, mainly Alawis and Druze, but also a small number of Isma'ili and twelver Shi'a, which has increased dramatically due to the influx of Iraqi refugees. Christians, a sizable number of which are also found among Syrian Palestinians, are divided into several groups. Chalcedonian Antiochian Orthodox ("Greek Orthodox") make up half of the Christian population; the Syriac, Maronites and other Catholics 15%, Assyrian Christians, Armenian Oriental Orthodox centred in Aleppo, the native Syriac Orthodox Church and several smaller Christians groups account for the remainder. There also is a tiny Syrian Jewish community that is confined mainly to Damascus; remnants of a formerly 40,000 strong community. After the 1947 UN Partition plan in Palestine, there were heavy pogroms against Jews in Damascus and Aleppo. The Jewish property was confiscated or burned and after the establishment of the State of Israel, many fled to Israel and only 5000 Jews were left in Syria. Of these, 4000 more left after agreement with the United States in the 1990s. As of 2006, there are only 100-200 Jews left in Syria.

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Languages

Arabic is the official and most widely spoken language. Kurdish is widely spoken in the Kurdish regions of Syria. Many educated Syrians also speak English or French, but English is more widely understood. Armenian and Türkmen are spoken among the Armenian and Türkmen minorities. Aramaic, the lingua franca of the region before the advent of Islam and Arabic, is spoken among certain ethnic groups: as Syriac, it is used as the liturgical language of various Syriac denominations; modern Aramaic (particularly, Turoyo language and Assyrian Neo-Aramaic) is spoken in Al-Jazira region. Most remarkably, Western Neo-Aramaic is still spoken in the village of Ma`loula, and two neighbouring villages, 35 miles (56 km) northeast of Damascus.

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Culture

Syria offered the world the Ugarit cuneiform, the root for the Phoenician alphabet, which dates back to the fourteenth century BC. The alphabet was written in the familiar order we use today.

Archaeologists have discovered extensive writings and evidence of a culture rivaling those of Mesopotamia and Egypt in and around the ancient city of Ebla. Later Syrian scholars and artists contributed to Hellenistic and Roman thought and culture. Cicero was a pupil of Antiochus of Ascalon at Athens; and the writings of Posidonius of Apamea influenced Livy and Plutarch.

Philip Hitti claimed, "the scholars consider Syria as the teacher for the human characteristics," and Andrea Parrout writes, "each civilized person in the world should admit that he has two home countries: the one he was born in, and Syria."

Syria is a traditional society with a long cultural history. Importance is placed on family, religion, education and self discipline and respect. The Syrian's taste for the traditional arts is expressed in dances such as the al-Samah, the Dabkes in all their variations and the sword dance. Marriage ceremonies and the birth of children are occasions for the lively demonstration of folk customs.

Traditional Houses of the Old Cities in Damascus, Aleppo and the other Syrian cities are preserved and traditionally the living quarters are arranged around one or more courtyards, typically with a fountain in the middle supplied by spring water, and decorated with citrus trees, grape vines, and flowers.

Outside of larger city areas such as Damascus, Aleppo or Homs, residential areas are often clustered in smaller villages. The buildings themselves are often quite old (perhaps a few hundred years old), passed down to family members over several generations. Residential construction of rough concrete and blockwork is usually unpainted, and the palette of a Syrian village is therefore simple tones of greys and browns.

Syrians have contributed to Arabic literature and music and have a proud tradition of oral and written poetry. Syrian writers, many of whom immigrated to Egypt, played a crucial role in the nahda or Arab literary and cultural revival of the nineteenth century. Prominent contemporary Syrian writers include, among others, Adonis, Haidar Haidar, Ghada al-Samman, Nizar Qabbani and Zakariyya Tamer.

Syria has a small cinema industry, with production entirely in the hands of the state National Cinema Organisation, which employs film-makers as civil servants. Funding is only sufficient to produce approximately one feature film every year, and these are often then banned by the political censor, but have won prizes at international festivals. Notable directors include Omar Amirali, Usama Muhammad, and Abd al-Latif Abd al-Hamid. Syrian directors have also worked abroad, in Egypt and Europe.

There was a private sector presence in the Syrian cinema industry until the end of the 1970s, but private investment has since preferred the more lucrative television serial business. Syrian soap operas, in a variety of styles (all melodramatic, however), have considerable market penetration throughout the eastern Arab world.

Although declining, Syria's world-famous handicraft industry still employs thousands.

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Fairs and festivals

Festival/Fair City Month
Marmarita Carnival Marmarita August
Flower Festival Latakia April
Traditional Festival Palmyra May
International Flower Fair Damascus May
MARMARITA Carniva Marmarita August
Vine Festival As Suwayda September
Cotton Festival Aleppo September
Damascus International Fair Damascus September
Festival of Love Lattakia September
Bosra Festival Bosra September
Film and Theatre Festival Damascus November
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Miscellaneous topics

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References and footnotes

  1. "Arab-Israeli Conflict." The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Ed. Avraham Sela. New York: Continuum, 2002. pp. 58-121.
  2. Sponsoring Terrorism: Syria and Islamic Jihad
  3. Freedom in the World 2006 (PDF). Freedom House (2005-12-16). Retrieved on 2006-07-27.
    See also Freedom in the World 2006, List of indices of freedom
  4. https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/sy.html
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External links

Government
Culture
Economy
News
Syrian Cities, towns & Villages websites

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