|Syrian Arab Republic
الجمهورية العربية السورية
Al-Jumhūriyyah al-ʿArabiyyah as-Sūriyyah
|Anthem: Homat el Diyar
Guardians of the Land
(and largest city)
|Other common languages||Neo-Aramaic languages, Armenian, Kurdish, Turkish|
|Government||Presidential single party republic under Emergency Law since 1963.|
|-||Prime Minister||Muhammad Naji al-Otari|
|-||Speaker of Parliament||Mahmoud al-Abrash|
|Independence||from French mandate|
|-||Evacuation||April 17, 1946|
|-||Total||185,180 km2 (88th)
71,479 sq mi
|-||2009 estimate||21,906,000 (54th)|
|GDP (PPP)||2008 estimate|
|-||Total||$94.563 billion (64th)|
|-||Per capita||$4,756 (113th)|
|GDP (nominal)||2008 estimate|
|-||Total||$55.024 billion (68th)|
|-||Per capita||$2,767 (111th)|
|HDI (2007)||▲ 0.742 (medium) (107th)|
|Currency||Syrian pound (
|Time zone||EET (UTC+2)|
|-||Summer (DST)||EEST (UTC+3)|
|Drives on the||right|
|1||Arabic (de jure), Syrian Arabic (de facto)|
|2||02 from Lebanon|
Syria (pronounced /ˈsɪəriə/ SEER-ee-ə; Arabic: سورية sūriyya or سوريا sūryā), officially the Syrian Arab Republic (Arabic: الجمهورية العربية السورية), is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest.
The name Syria formerly comprised the entire region of the Levant, while the modern state encompasses the site of several ancient kingdoms and empires, including the Eblan civilization of the third millennium BC. In the Islamic era, its capital city, Damascus, was the seat of the Umayyad Empire and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Empire. Damascus is widely regarded as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
Modern Syria was created as a French mandate and attained independence in April 1946, as a parliamentary republic. The post-independence period was rocky, and a large number of military coups and coup attempts shook the country in the period 1949-1970. Syria has been under Emergency Law since 1962, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens, and its system of government is considered non-democratic.
The country has been governed by the Baath Party since 1963, although actual power is concentrated to the presidency and a narrow grouping of military and political strongmen. Syria's current president is Bashar al-Assad, who won a referendum on extending his presidency for second term, garnering 97.62 percent of votes in 2007 and is the son of Hafez al-Assad, who held office from 1970 until his death in 2000. Syria has played a major regional role, particularly through its central role in the Arab conflict with Israel, which since 1967 has been in possession of the Golan Heights, and by active involvement in Lebanese and Palestinian affairs.
The population is mainly Sunni Muslim, but with significant Alawite, Shia, Christian and Druze minorities. Since the 1960s, Alawite military officers have tended to dominate the country's politics. Ethnically, some 80% of the population is Arab, and the state is ruled by the Baath Party according to Arab nationalist principles, while approximately 20% belong to the Kurdish, Armenian, Assyrian, Turkmen, and Circassians minorities.
The name Syria derives from ancient Greek name for Syrians, Σύριοι Syrioi, which the Greeks applied without distinction to the Assyrians. A number of modern scholars argue that the Greek word is traced back to the cognate Ἀσσυρία, Assyria, ultimately derived from the Akkadian 𒀸𒋗𒁺 Aššur. While others believe that it was derived from Siryon, the name that the Sidonians gave to Mount Hermon.
The area designated by the word has changed over time. Classically, Syria lies at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, 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.
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, later renamed Palaestina in AD 135 (the region corresponding to modern day Palestine and Jordan) 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.
Around the excavated city of Ebla near Idlib city in northern 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 Ebla appears to have been founded around 3000 BC, and gradually built its empire through trade with the cities of Sumer and Akkad, as well as with peoples to the northwest. Gifts from Pharaohs, found during excavations, confirm Ebla's contact with Egypt. Scholars believe the language of Ebla to be among the oldest known written Semitic languages, designated as Paleo-Canaanite.
However, more recent classifications of the Eblaite language has shown that it was an East Semitic language, closely related to the Akkadian language. The Eblan civilization was likely conquered by Sargon of Akkad around 2260 BC; the city was restored, as the nation of the Amorites, a few centuries later, and flourished through the early second millennium BC until conquered by the Hittites.
During the second millennium BC, Syria was occupied successively by Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Arameans as part of the general disruptions and exchanges associated with the Sea Peoples. The Phoenicians settled along the coast of Palestine, as well as in the west (Lebanon), which was already known for its towering cedars. Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Hittites variously occupied the strategic ground of Syria during this period; the land between their various empires being marsh.
Eventually, the Persians took Syria as part of their hegemony of Southwest Asia; this dominion was transferred to the Ancient Macedonians after Alexander the Great's conquests and the Seleucid Empire. The capital of this Empire (founded in 312BC) was situated at Antioch, modern day Antakya just inside the Turkish border. But the Seleucid Empire was essentially just one long slow period of decline, and Pompey the Great captured Antioch in 64BC, turning Syria into a Roman province. Thus control of this region passed to the Romans and then the Byzantines.
In the Roman Empire period, the city of Antioch was the third largest city in the empire after Rome and Alexandria. With estimated population of 500,000 at its peak, Antioch was one of the major centres of trade and industry in the ancient world. The population of Syria during the heyday of the empire was probably not exceeded again until the 19th century. Syria's large and prosperous population made Syria one of the most important of the Roman provinces, particularly during the 2nd and 3rd centuries (A.D.).
The Roman Emperor Alexander Severus, who was emperor from 222 to 235, was Syrian. His cousin Elagabalus, who was emperor from 218 to 222, was also Syrian and his family held hereditary rights to the high priesthood of the sun god El-Gabal at Emesa (modern Homs) in Syria. Another Roman emperor who was a Syrian was Marcus Julius Philippus, emperor from 244 to 249.
Syria is significant in the history of Christianity; Saul of Tarsus was converted on the Road to Damascus, thereafter being known as the Apostle Paul, and established the first organized Christian Church at Antioch in ancient Syria, from which he left on many of his missionary journeys.(Acts 9:1-43 )
By AD 640, Syria was conquered by the Rashidun army led by Khaled ibn al-Walid, resulting in the area becoming part of the Islamic empire. In the mid-7th century, the Umayyad dynasty, then rulers of the empire, placed the capital of the empire in Damascus. Syria was divided into four districts: Damascus, Hims, Palestine and Jordan. The Islamic empire stretched from Spain and Morocco to India and parts of Central Asia, thus Syria prospered economically, being the capital of the empire. Early Ummayad rulers such as Abd al-Malik and al-Walid constructed several splendid palaces and mosques throughout Syria, particularly in Damascus, Aleppo and Hims.
There was great toleration of Christians in this era and several held governmental posts. The country's power dramatically declined during later Ummayad rule; mainly due to the totalitarianism and corruption spread among the empire's leaderships, conflict between its general staff, and the successive revolutions by the oppressed and miserable groups. As one Ummayad chieftain responded to a question about the reasons of the decline of their empire: "Rather visiting what needed to be visited, we were more interested in the pleasure and enjoyment of life; we oppressed our people until they gave up and sought relief from us, [...] we trusted our ministers who favoured their own interests and kept secrets from us, and we unhurriedly rewarded our soldiers that we lost their obedience to our enemies."
Ummayad dynasty was then overthrown by the Abbasid dynasty in 750, who moved the capital of empire to Baghdad. Arabic — made official under Ummayad rule — became the dominant language, replacing Greek and Aramaic in the Abbasid era. In 887, the Egypt-based Tulunids annexed Syria from the Abbasids, and were later replaced by the Hamdanids originating in Aleppo founded by Sayf al-Daula.
Sections of the coastline of Syria were briefly held by Frankish overlords during the Crusades of the 12th century, and were known as the Crusader state of the Principality of Antioch. The area was also threatened by Shi'a extremists known as Assassins (Hashshashin). In 1260, the Mongols arrived, led by Hulegu with an army 100,000 strong, destroying cities and irrigation works. Aleppo fell in January 1260, and Damascus in March, but then Hulegu needed to break off his attack to return to China to deal with a succession dispute.
The command of the remaining Mongol troops was placed under Kitbugha, a Christian Mongol. A few months later, the Mamluks arrived with an army from Egypt, and defeated the Mongols in the Battle of Ayn Jalut, in Galilee. The Mamluk leader, Baybars, made his capitals in Cairo and Damascus, linked by a mail service that traveled by both horses and carrier pigeons. When Baybars died, his successor was overthrown, and power was taken by a Turk named Qalawun. In the meantime, an emir named Sunqur al-Ashqar had tried to declare himself ruler of Damascus, but he was defeated by Qalawun on 21 June 1280, and fled to northern Syria.
Al-Ashqar, who had married a Mongol woman, appealed for help from the Mongols, and in 1281, they arrived with an army of 50,000 Mongols, and 30,000 Armenian, Georgian, and Turkish auxiliaries, along with Al-Ashqar's rebel force. The Mongols of the Ilkhanate took the city, but Qalawun arrived with a Mamluk force, persuaded Al-Ashqar to switch sides and join him, and they fought against the Mongols on 29 October 1281, in the Second Battle of Homs, a close battle which resulted in the death of the majority of the combatants, but was finally won by the Mamluks.
In 1400, Timur Lenk, or Tamerlane, invaded Syria, sacked Aleppo and captured Damascus after defeating the Mamluk army. The city's inhabitants were massacred, except for the artisans, who were deported to Samarkand. It was during the conquests of Timur that the indigenous Christian population of Syria began to suffer under greater persecutions.
By the end of the 15th century, the discovery of a sea route from Europe to the Far East ended the need for an overland trade route through Syria. Shattered by the Mongols, Syria was easily absorbed into the Ottoman Empire from the 16th through 20th centuries, and found itself largely apart from, and ignored by, world affairs. see also Ottoman Syria
Because the Ottoman Empire fought on the side of Germany during World War I, plans by the Entente powers to dissolve this great Ottoman territory could now begin. Two allied diplomats (Frenchman François Georges-Picot and Briton Mark Sykes) secretly agreed, long before the end of the war, how to split the Ottoman Empire into several zones of influence.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 set the fate of modern Southwest Asia for the coming century; providing France with the northern zone (Syria, with later the upcoming Lebanon), and the United Kingdom with the southern one (Iraq and later, after renegotiations in 1917, Palestine (then still including Jordan) - 'to secure daily transportation of troops from Haifa to Baghdad' - agreement n° 7).
The two territories were only separated with a straight border line from Jordan to Iran. But early discoveries of oil in the region of Mosul just before to end of the war led to yet another negotiation with France in 1918 to cede this region to 'Zone B', or the British zone of influence. The borders between the 'Zone A' and 'Zone B' have not changed from 1918 to this date. Since 1920, the two sides have been recognized internationally under mandate of the League of Nations by the two dominant countries; France and the United Kingdom.
In 1920, an independent Arab Kingdom of Syria was established under Faisal I of the Hashemite family, who later became the King of Iraq. However, his rule over Syria ended after only a few months, following the clash between his Syrian Arab forces and regular French forces at the Battle of Maysalun. French troops occupied Syria later that year after the San Remo conference proposed that the League of Nations put Syria under a French mandate.
In 1925 Sultan Pasha al-Atrash led a revolt which broke out in the Druze Mountain and spread to engulf the whole of Syria and parts of Lebanon. This is considered one of the most important revolutions against the French mandate, as it encompassed the whole of Syria and witnessed fierce battles between rebel and French forces. On August 23, 1925 Sultan Pasha al-Atrash officially declared revolution against France, and soon fighting erupted in Damascus, Homs and Hama. Al-Atrash won several battles against the French at the beginning of revolution, notably the Battle of Al-Kabir on July 21, 1925, the Battle of Al-Mazra'a on August 2, 1925, and the battles of Salkhad, Almsifarh and Suwayda.
After rebel victories against the French, France sent thousands of troops to Syria and Lebanon from Morocco and Senegal, equipped with modern weapons, compared to the few supplies of the rebels. This dramatically altered the results and allowed the French to regain many cities, although resistance lasted until the spring of 1927. The French sentenced Sultan al-Atrash to death, but he had escaped with the rebels to Transjordan and was eventually pardoned. He returned to Syria in 1937 after the signing of the Syrian French Treaty. He was met with a huge public reception.
Syria and France negotiated a treaty of independence in September 1936, and Hashim al-Atassi, who was Prime Minister under King Faisal's brief reign, was the first president to be elected under a new constitution, effectively the first incarnation of the modern republic of Syria. However, the treaty never came into force because the French Legislature refused to ratify it. With the fall of France in 1940 during World War II, Syria came under the control of the Vichy Government until the British and Free French occupied the country in July 1941. Syria proclaimed its independence again in 1941 but it wasn't until 1 January 1944 that it was recognised as an independent republic. Continuing pressure from Syrian nationalist groups and British pressure forced the French to evacuate their troops in April 1946, leaving the country in the hands of a republican government that had been formed during the mandate.
Although rapid economic development followed the declaration of independence, Syrian politics from independence through the late 1960s were marked by upheaval. Between 1946 and 1956, Syria had 20 different cabinets and drafted four separate constitutions. In 1948, Syria was involved in the Arab-Israeli War, aligning with the other local Arab nations who were attempting to prevent the establishment of Israel. The Syrian army was pressed out of most of the Palestine area, but fortified their strongholds on the Golan Heights and managed to keep their old borders and some additional territory (this was converted into "supposed" demilitarized zones under UN supervision ; the status of these territories have proved a stumbling-block for Syrian-Israeli negotiations).
The humiliating defeat suffered by the army was one of several trigger factors for Col. Husni al-Za'im's seizure of power in 1949, in what has been described as the first military coup d'état of the Arab world. since the start of the Second World War. This was soon followed by a new coup, by Col. Sami al-Hinnawi, who was then himself quickly deposed by Col. Adib Shishakli, all within the same year.
After exercising influence behind the scenes for some time, dominating the ravaged parliamentary scene, Shishakli launched a second coup in 1951, entrenching his rule and eventually abolishing multipartyism altogether. Only when president Shishakli was himself overthrown in a 1954 coup, was the parliamentary system restored, but it was fundamentally undermined by continued political maneuvering supported by competing factions in the military.
By this time, civilian politics had been largely gutted of meaning, and power was increasingly concentrated in the military and security establishment, which had now proven itself to be the only force capable of seizing and - perhaps - keeping power. Parliamentary institutions remained weak and ineffectual, dominated by competing parties representing the landowning elites and various Sunni urban notables, while economy and politics were mismanaged, and little done to better the role of Syria's peasant majority. This, as well as the influence of Nasserism and other anti-colonial ideologies, created fertile ground for various Arab nationalist, Syrian nationalist and socialist movements, who represented disaffected elements of society, notably including the religious minorities, and demanded radical reform.
During the Suez Crisis of 1956, after the invasion of the Sinai Peninsula by Israeli troops, and the intervention of British and French troops, martial law was declared in Syria. The November 1956 attacks on Iraqi pipelines were in retaliation for Iraq's acceptance into the Baghdad Pact. In early 1957 Iraq advised Egypt and Syria against a conceivable takeover of Jordan.
In November 1956 Syria signed a pact with the Soviet Union, providing a foothold for Communist influence within the government in exchange for planes, tanks, and other military equipment being sent to Syria. With this increase in the strength of Syrian military technology worried Turkey, as it seemed feasible that Syria might attempt to retake Iskenderun, a matter of dispute between Syria and Turkey. On the other hand, Syria and the U.S.S.R. accused Turkey of massing its troops at the Syrian border. During this standoff, Communists gained more control over the Syrian government and military. Only heated debates in the United Nations (of which Syria was an original member) lessened the threat of war.
Syria's political instability during the years after the 1954 coup, the parallelism of Syrian and Egyptian policies, and the appeal of Egyptian President Gamal Abdal Nasser's leadership in the wake of the Suez crisis created support in Syria for union with Egypt. On 1 February 1958, Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatli and Nasser announced the merging of the two countries, creating the United Arab Republic, and all Syrian political parties, as well as the Communists therein, ceased overt activities.
The union was not a success, however. Following a military coup on 28 September 1961, Syria seceded, reestablishing itself as the Syrian Arab Republic. Instability characterized the next 18 months, with various coups culminating on 8 March 1963, in the installation by leftist Syrian Army officers of the National Council of the Revolutionary Command (NCRC), a group of military and civilian officials who assumed control of all executive and legislative authority. The takeover was engineered by members of the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party (Baath Party), which had been active in Syria and other Arab countries since the late 1940s. The new cabinet was dominated by Baath members.
The Baath takeover in Syria followed a Baath coup in Iraq the previous month. The new Syrian Government explored the possibility of federation with Egypt and with Baath-controlled Iraq. An agreement was concluded in Cairo on 17 April 1963, for a referendum on unity to be held in September 1963. However, serious disagreements among the parties soon developed, and the tripartite federation failed to materialize. Thereafter, the Baath government in Syria and Iraq began to work for bilateral unity. These plans foundered in November 1963, when the Baath government in Iraq was overthrown.
In May 1964, President Amin Hafiz of the NCRC promulgated a provisional constitution providing for a National Council of the Revolution (NCR), an appointed legislature composed of representatives of mass organizations—labour, peasant, and professional unions—a presidential council, in which executive power was vested, and a cabinet. On 23 February 1966, a group of army officers carried out a successful, intra-party coup, imprisoned President Hafiz, dissolved the cabinet and the NCR, abrogated the provisional constitution, and designated a regionalist, civilian Baath government on 1 March. The coup leaders described it as a "rectification" of Baath Party principles.
When Nasser closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Eilat-bound ships, the Baath government supported the Egyptian leader, amassed troops in the strategic Golan Heights to defend itself against Israeli shellings into Syria. According to the UN office in Jerusalem from 1955 until 1967 65 of the 69 border flare-ups between Syria and Israel were initiated by Israelis. The New York Times reported in 1997 that "Moshe Dayan, the celebrated commander who, a Defense Minister in 1967, gave the order to conquer the Golan…[said] many of the firefights with the Syrians were deliberately provoked by Israel, and the kibbutz residents who pressed the government to take the Golan Heights did so less for security than for their farmland."
In May 1967, Hafez al-Assad, then Syria's Defense Minister declared: "Our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse the aggression, but to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian Army, with its finger on the trigger, is united... I, as a military man, believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation."
After Israel launched a preemptive strike on Egypt to begin the June 1967 war, Syria joined the battle against Israel as well. In the final days of the war, after having captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, as well as the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem from Jordan, Israel turned its attention to Syria, capturing the entire Golan Heights in under 48 hours.
Conflict developed between an extremist military wing and a more moderate civilian wing of the Baath Party. The 1970 retreat of Syrian forces sent to aid the PLO during the "Black September" hostilities with Jordan reflected this political disagreement within the ruling Baath leadership. By 13 November 1970, Minister of Defense Hafez al-Assad was solidly established as the strongman of the government, when he effected a bloodless military coup ("The Corrective Movement").
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 Baath Socialist Party nominated a 173-member legislature, the People's Council, in which the Baath 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 Baath 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.
On 6 October 1973, Syria and Egypt began the Yom Kippur War by staging a surprise attack against Israeli forces returning the Syrian Golan Heights and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. After early successes, the Israeli military reversed the initial Syrian gains, pushing the Syrian army out of the Golan and invaded into Syrian territory beyond the 1967 border. As a result, Israel continued to occupy the Golan Heights as part of the Israeli-occupied territories.
In early 1976, the Lebanese civil war was going poorly for the Maronite Christians. Syria sent 40,000 troops into the country to prevent them from being overrun, but soon became embroiled in the Lebanese Civil War, beginning the 30 year Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Many crimes in Lebanon were associated to the Syrians' forces and intelligences (among others, the assassinations of Kamal Jumblat and Bachir Gemayel are usually connected to Syria or Syrian backed groups). Over the following 15 years of civil war, Syria fought both for control over Lebanon, and as an attempt to undermine Israel in southern Lebanon, through extensive use of Lebanese allies as proxy fighters. Many see the Syrian Army's presence in Lebanon as an occupation, especially following the end of the civil war in 1990, after the Syrian-sponsored Taif Agreement. Syria then remained in Lebanon until 2005, exerting a heavy-handed influence over Lebanese politics, that was deeply resented by many.
About one million Syrian workers came into Lebanon after the war ended to find jobs in the reconstruction of the country. Syrian workers were preferred over Palestinian and Lebanese workers because they could be paid lower wages, but some have argued that the Syrian government's encouragement of citizens entering its small and militarily dominated neighbor in search of work, was in fact an attempt at Syrian colonization of Lebanon. Now, the economies of Syria and Lebanon are completely interdependent. In 1994, under pressure from Damascus, the Lebanese government controversially granted citizenship to over 200,000 Syrian residents in the country. (For more on these issues, see Demographics of Lebanon)
The authoritarian government was not without its critics, though open dissent was repressed. A serious challenge arose in the late 1970s, however, from fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, who reject the basic values of the secular Baath program and object to rule by the Alawis, whom they consider heretical. From 1976 until its suppression in 1982, the arch-conservative Muslim Brotherhood led an armed insurgency against the government. In response to an attempted uprising by the brotherhood in February 1982, the government crushed the fundamentalist opposition centered in the city of Hama, leveling parts of the city with artillery fire and causing between 10.000 and 25.000 of dead and wounded, mostly civilians (see Hama massacre). Since then, public manifestations of anti-government activity have been limited.
Syria's 1990 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 Western world. Syria participated in the multilateral Southwest Asia 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 direct Syrian-Israeli talks since President Hafiz al-Assad's meeting with then President Bill Clinton in Geneva in March 2000.
Hafiz al-Assad died on 10 June 2000, after 30 years in power. Immediately following al-Assad's death, the Parliament amended the constitution, reducing the mandatory minimum age of the President from 40 to 34. This allowed his son, Bashar al-Assad, to become legally eligible for nomination by the ruling Baath party. On 10 July 2000, Bashar al-Assad was elected President by referendum in which he ran unopposed, garnering 97.29% of the vote, according to Syrian Government statistics. He was inaugurated into office on 17 July 2000 for a 7-year term. He is married to Asma al-Assad, an activist herself and advocate of reforms.
Under Bashar al-Assad hundreds of political prisoners were released and a steps were taken towards easing media restrictions. However, Bashar al-Assad has made it clear that his priority is economic rather than political reform.
On 5 October 2003, Israel bombed a site near Damascus, charging it was a terrorist training facility for members of Islamic Jihad. The raid was in retaliation for the bombing of a restaurant in the Israeli town of Haifa that killed 19. Islamic Jihad said the camp was not in use; Syria said the attack was on a civilian area.
The United States moved closer to imposing sanctions on Syria, following the adoption of the Syria Accountability Act by the House of Representatives International Relations committee. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, all included in what the EU and the U.S view as terrorist groups, all take refuge and enjoy strong relationships with the Syrian government.
Syrian Kurds protest in Brussels, Geneva, in Germany at the US and UK embassies and in Turkey, against violence in north-east Syria starting Friday, 12 March 2004, and reportedly extending over the weekend resulting in several deaths, according to reports. The Kurds allege the Syrian government encouraged and armed the attackers. Signs of rioting were seen in the towns of Qameshli and Hassakeh.
On 6 September 2007, Israeli jet fighters carried out an air strike in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate, known as Operation Orchard, on a target claimed to be a nuclear reactor under construction by North Korean technicians. Reportedly a number of the technicians were killed.
In April, 2008, President Assad told a Qatari newspaper that Syria and Israel had been discussing a peace treaty for a year, with Turkey acting as a mediator. This was confirmed in May, 2008, by a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The status of the Golan Heights, a major obstacle to a peace treaty, is being discussed. President Assad was quoted in the The Guardian as telling the Qatari paper:
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Syria is formally a republic which has the following executive branches of government: the president, two vice presidents, prime minister, Council of Ministers (cabinet). Syria's legislative branch is the unicameral People's Council. It is usually described by foreign observers as a hereditary dictatorship
Syria's judicial branches include the Supreme Constitutional Court, the High Judicial Council, the Court of Cassation, and the State Security Courts. Islamic jurisprudence is a main source of legislation and Syria's judicial system has elements of Ottoman, French, and Islamic laws. Syria has three levels of courts: courts of first instance, courts of appeals, and the constitutional court, the highest tribunal. Religious courts handle questions of personal and family law.
Political parties: the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party (Baath Party) is the dominant party, Arab Socialist Movement, Arab Socialist Union, Syrian Communist Party, Democratic Socialist Unionist Party, and around 15 minor tolerated political parties and 14 existent Kurdish political parties which are, in fact, illegal.
Suffrage: Universal at the age of 18.
Syria's constitution was adopted 13 March 1971. It vests the Baath Party with leadership functions in the state and society. The president is approved by referendum for a 7-year term in principle. However, in practice people must elect the leader of the Baath Party as president. The president also serves as Secretary General of the Baath Party and leader of the National Progressive Front. The National Progressive Front is a coalition of 10 political parties authorized by the government.
The constitution requires the president to be a Muslim, but does not make Islam the state religion. The constitution gives the president the right to appoint ministers, to declare war and state 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. The president of Syria is President Al-Assad since the year 2000.
Syria has a poor record on human rights. The Assad government has been criticized for arresting democracy and human rights activists, censoring websites, detaining bloggers, and imposing travel bans. Arbitrary detention, torture, and disappearances are widespread. Although Syria's constitution guarantees gender equality, critics say that personal status laws and the penal code discriminate against women and girls. Moreover, it also grants leniency for so-called "honor" crimes.
Recent arrests contrary to basic human rights include that of Muhannad Al-Hasani, a prominent lawyer and a courageous defender of Syrian prisoners of conscience. Prior to his arrest, Muhannad Al-Hassani had come under increasing pressure from the Syrian authorities because of his work as a lawyer and human rights defender, including his monitoring of Supreme State Security Court (SSSC), which is a special court that exists outside the ordinary criminal justice system to try those perceived as endangering the regime. Activists have called for personal intervention to secure the release of Muhannad Al-Hasani along with other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Syria.
Kareem Arabji, a 31 year old business consultant, wrote numerous articles under a pseudonym criticizing corruption and dictatorship in Syria. On June 7, 2007 Arabji was arrested by Syrian security forces and held incommunicado at the Palestine Branch of Military Intelligence in Damascus. He was charged with, "broadcasting false or exaggerated news which would affect the morale of the country."
Since 1963 the Emergency Law has been in effect, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for Syrians. Syrian governments have justified the state of emergency in the light of the continuing war with Israel. Syrian citizens approve the President in a referendum. Syria does not hold multi-party elections for the legislature.
Syria is divided into fourteen governorates, or muhafazat (singular: muhafazah). The governorates are divided into a total of sixty districts, or manatiq (sing. mintaqah), which are further divided into sub-districts, or nawahi (sing. nahiya).
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. Most of the Quneitra Governorate has been unilaterally annexed by Israel as the Golan Heights territory.
The capital Damascus is the largest city in Syria, and the metropolitan area is a governorate on its own. Aleppo (population 1,671,673) in northern Syria, the second largest city, is also a major industrial, urban and cultural center. Aleppo's old town has been designated by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Latakia (population 554,000) along with Tartus are Syria's main ports on the Mediterranean sea. Other major cities include Homs (population 1,033,000) in central Syria and Deir ez-Zor (population 230,000) on the Euphrates river in eastern Syria.
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".
The climate in Syria is dry and hot, and winters are mild. Because of the country's elevation, snowfall does occasionally occur during winter. Petroleum in commercial quantities was first discovered in the northeast in 1956. The most important oil fields are those of Suwaydiyah, Qaratshui, Rumayian, and Tayyem, near Dayr az–Zawr. The fields are a natural extension of the Iraqi fields of Mosul and Kirkuk. Petroleum became Syria's leading natural resource and chief export after 1974. Natural gas was discovered at the field of Jbessa in 1940.
At present Syrians hold the view that this land is historically Syrian and was illegally ceded in the late 1930s to Turkey by France - the mandatory occupying power of Syria (between 1920 and 1946). The Turks remember Syria as a former Ottoman Turkish vilayet with embitterment.
In 1938, the province declared its independence from France and the following 29 June, the parliament of the newly declared Hatay Republic voted to join Turkey. The Syrian government does not recognize this decision, and considers Hatay (Alexandretta) to be part of Syria.
Contemporary Syria and Syrians still consider this land as integral Syrian territory. 60 000 Christian and alawite Syrians fled Iskandaron deeper into Syria after 1938. Syrians call this land Liwaaa aliskenderuna rather than the Turkish name of Hatay.
The Golan Heights is a strategic plateau and mountainous region in southwestern Syria. Two-thirds of the area is currently occupied by Israel. It comprises 1,850 square kilometres (714 sq mi) and includes mountains reaching an altitude of 2,880 metres (9,449 ft) above sea level.
The heights dominate the plains below. The Jordan River, Lake Tiberias and the Hula Valley border the region on the west. To the east is the Raqqad Valley and the south is Yarmok River and valley. The northern boundary of the region is the mountain Jabal al-Sheikh (Mount Hermon), one of the highest in Southwest Asia.
An agreement to establish a demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria was signed on 20 July 1949, but border clashes continued. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War. Between 80,000 and 109,000 of the inhabitants fled, mostly Druze and Circassians.
In 1973, Syria tried to regain control of the Golan Heights in a surprise attack on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Despite initial Syrian advances and heavy Israeli losses, the Golan Heights remained in Israeli hands after a successful Israeli counter attack.
Syria and Israel signed an armistice agreement in 1974, and a United Nations observer force was stationed there. Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, although the Syrian government continues to demand the return of this territory, possibly in the context of a peace treaty. Israel has given the Druze citizens in the Golan Heights an Israeli citizenship after the annexation of the Golan Heights.
After the Six-Day War, a population of 20,000 Syrians remained in the Golan Heights, most of them Druze. Since 2005, Israel has allowed Druze apple farmers in the Golan to sell their produce to Syria. In 2006, the export total reached 8,000 tons of apples. Syrian residents of the Golan are also permitted to study at universities in Syria, where they are entitled to free tuition, books and lodging.
Syria is a middle-income country, with an economy based on agriculture, oil, industry, and tourism. However, Syria's economy faces serious problems and challenges and impediments to growth, including: a large and poorly performing public sector; declining rates of oil production; widening non-oil deficit; wide scale corruption; weak financial and capital markets; and high rates of unemployment tied to a high population growth rate.
As a result of an inefficient and corrupt centrally planned economy, Syria has low rates of investment, and low levels of industrial and agricultural productivity. Its GDP growth rate was approximately 2.9% in 2005, according to IMF statistics. The two main pillars of the Syrian economy have been agriculture and oil. Agriculture, for instance, accounts for 25% of GDP and employs 42% of the total labor force. The government hopes to attract new investment in the tourism, natural gas, and service sectors to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil and agriculture. The government has begun to institute economic reforms aimed at liberalizing most markets, but reform thus far has been slow and ad hoc. For ideological reasons, privatization of government enterprises is explicitly rejected. Therefore major sectors of the economy including refining, ports operation, air transportation, power generation, and water distribution, remain firmly controlled by the government.
Syria has produced heavy-grade oil from fields located in the northeast since the late 1960s. In the early 1980s, light-grade, low-sulphur oil was discovered near Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria. Syria's rate of oil production has been decreasing steadily, from a peak close to 600,000 barrels per day (95,000 m3/d) (bpd) in 1995 down to approximately 425,000 bbl/d (67,600 m3/d) in 2005. Experts generally agree that Syria will become a net importer of petroleum not later than 2012. Syria exported roughly 200,000 bbl/d (32,000 m3/d) in 2005, and oil still accounts for a majority of the country's export income. Syria also produces 22 million cubic meters of gas per day, with estimated reserves around 8.5 trillion cubic feet (240 km3). While the government has begun to work with international energy companies in the hopes of eventually becoming a gas exporter, all gas currently produced is consumed domestically.
Some basic commodities, such as diesel, continue to be heavily subsidized, and social services are provided for nominal charges. The subsidies are becoming harder to sustain as the gap between consumption and production continues to increase. Syria has a population of approximately 19 million people, and Syrian Government figures place the population growth rate at 2.45%, with 75% of the population under the age of 35 and more than 40% under the age of 15.
Approximately 200,000 people enter the labor market every year. According to Syrian Government statistics, the unemployment rate is 7.5%, however, more accurate independent sources place it closer to 20%. Government and public sector employees constitute over one quarter of the total labor force . Government officials acknowledge that the economy is not growing at a pace sufficient to create enough new jobs annually to match population growth. The UNDP announced in 2005 that 30% of the Syrian population lives in poverty and 11.4% live below the subsistence level.
Given the policies adopted from the 1960s through the late 1980s, which included nationalization of companies and private assets, Syria failed to join an increasingly interconnected global economy. Syria withdrew from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1951 because of Israel's accession. It is not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), although it submitted a request to begin the accession process in 2001. Syria is developing regional free trade agreements. As of 1 January 2005, the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA) came into effect and customs duties were eliminated between Syria and all other members of GAFTA.
In addition, Syria has signed a free trade agreement with Turkey, which came into force in January 2007, and initialed an Association Agreement with the European Union, which has yet to be signed. Although Syria claims a recent boom in non-oil exports, its trade numbers are notoriously inaccurate and out-of-date. Syria's main exports include crude oil, refined products, raw cotton, clothing, fruits, and grains. The bulk of Syrian imports are raw materials essential for industry, vehicles, agricultural equipment, and heavy machinery. Earnings from oil exports as well as remittances from Syrian workers are the government's most important sources of foreign exchange.
Syria has three principal airports - Damascus, Aleppo and Lattakia which serve as hubs for Syrian Air and are also served by a variety of foreign carriers.
The majority of Syrian cargo is carried by Chemins de Fer Syriens (CFS) (the Syrian Railway company) which links up with TCDD (the Turkish counterpart). For a relatively under developed country Syria's railway infrastructure is of a high quality with many high speed services.
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 in Syria is about 99 per km² (258 per square mile). According to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Syria hosted a population of refugees and asylum seekers number approximately 1,852,300. The vast majority of this population was from Iraq (1,300,000), but sizeable populations from the former British Mandate of Palestine (543,400) and Somalia (5,200) also lived in the country.
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 enrollment at post-secondary schools is over 150,000. The literacy rate of Syrians aged 15 and older is 86% for males and 73.6% for females.
Syrians today are an overall indigenous Levantine people, closely related to their immediate neighbours, like the Lebanese, the Palestinians, and Jordanians. 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 largely a blend of the various Aramaic speaking groups indigenous to the region who were Arabized when Muslim Arabs from South Arabia arrived and settled following the Arab expansion.
Syrian Arabs, together with some 400,000 UNRWA Palestinian Arabs (Muslim, Christian or other) make up over 90% of the population. Syria also hosts non-Arab ethnic minorities. The largest of these groups, the Kurds, constitute about 9% of the population (1,800,000 people). Most Kurds reside in the northeastern corner of Syria and many still speak the Kurdish language. Sizeable Kurdish communities live in most major Syrian cities as well.
The majority of Syrian Turkmen live in Aleppo, Damascus and Latakia. Assyrians are a significant Christian minority that live in the north and northeast (al-Qamishli, al-Hasakah) and number around 700,000 in Syria. Although their numbers have been boosted by many Iraqi refugees since the Iraq War. The Assyrian Democratic Organization, is also banned in Syria by the current Syrian government.
Armenians number approximately 190,000. Syria holds the 7th largest Armenian population in the world. In addition, approximately 1,300,000 Iraqi refugees were estimated to live in Syria in 2007. Roughly 50 percent of these refugees were Sunni Arab Muslims, 24 percent Shi'a Arab Muslim, and 20 percent Christian. During the Mandate years, there was a significant French population, many of whom left Syria after the end of French rule. As of 1987, approximately 100,000 Circassians lived in Syria.
The Americas have long been a destination for Arab migration, with Syrians arriving in some countries at least as early as the 19th century. The largest concentration of Syrians outside the Middle East is in Brazil, which has over 9 million Brazilians of Arab ancestry. The majority of the 3.5 million Arab Argentines are from either Lebanese or Syrian background.
Muslim 87% (Sunnis account for 74% of the population, while the remaining 13% are Alawite, Twelvers, and Ismailis combined), Druze 3%, Christian 10% (majority Greek Orthodox, other Christian include Greek Catholic, Protestants and other various denominations).
Christians, a sizable number of which are also found among Syrian Palestinians, are divided into several groups. Chalcedonian Antiochian Orthodox ("Greek Orthodox"; Arabic: الروم الارثوذكس, ar-Rūmu 'l-Urṯūḏuks) make up 50–55% of the Christian population; the Catholics (Melkite, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Maronite, Chaldean and Latin) make up 18%; the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Nestorian Assyrians and several smaller Christian denominations account for the remainder. Many Christian monasteries also exist. Many Christian Syrians belong to a high socio-economic class.
Syria also has a tiny population of Jews, confined mainly to Damascus, a remnant of a formerly 40,000 strong community. After the 1947 UN Partition plan, pogroms against the Jews erupted in Damascus and Aleppo, and Jewish property was confiscated or burned. When the State of Israel was established in 1948, many Syrian Jews sought refuge there. Of the remaining 5,000 Jews, 4,000 left in the 1990s, in the wake of an agreement with the United States. As of 2007, the Jewish community has dwindled to less than 70 Jews, most of them elderly.
Mountains of Syria near St. George's Monastery
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 and French. Armenian and Turkmen are spoken among the Armenian and Turkmen 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.
The strong educational system in Syria was based on the old French system. Education is free in all public schools and obligatory up to the 9th grade. Schools are divided into three levels:
Final exams of the 9th grade are carried out nationally at the same time. The result of these exams determines if the student goes to the "general" secondary schools or the technical secondary schools. Technical secondary schools include industrial and agricultural schools for male students, crafts school for female students, and commercial and computer science schools for both.
At the beginning of the 11th grade, those who go to "general" secondary school have to choose to continue their study in either the "literary branch" or the "scientific branch".
The final exams of the 12th grade (the baccalaureate) are also carried out nationally and at the same time. The result of these exams determines which university, college and specialization the student goes to. To do that the student has to apply through a complicated system called Mufadalah.
Colleges charge modest fees ($10–20 a year) if the student achieves the sufficient marks in his Baccalaureate exams. If not, the student may opt to pay higher fees ($1500–3000) to enroll. There are some private schools and colleges but their fees are much higher.
Most universities in Syria follow the French model of the high education, the university stages and the academic degrees are:
There are 5 state universities in Syria, and 11 private universities. The top two are University of Damascus (180,000 students), and University of Aleppo. One school is a joint Syrian-European program; the Higher Institute of Business Administration (HIBA) offer undergraduate and gradudate degrees.
The President of Syria is commander in chief of the Syrian armed forces, comprising some 400,000 troops upon mobilization. The military is a conscripted force; males serve 20 months in the military upon reaching the age of 18. About 20,000 Syrian soldiers were deployed in Lebanon until April 27, 2005, when the last of Syria's troops left the country after three decades.
The breakup of the Soviet Union — long the principal source of training, material, and credit for the Syrian forces — may have slowed Syria's ability to acquire modern military equipment. It has an arsenal of surface-to-surface missiles. In the early 1990s, Scud-C missiles with a 500-kilometer range were procured from North Korea, and Scud-D, with a range of up to 700 kilometers, is allegedly being developed by Syria with the help of North Korea and Iran, according to Zisser.
Syria received significant financial aid from Persian Gulf Arab states as a result of its participation in the Persian Gulf War, with a sizable portion of these funds earmarked for military spending. In addition, Syria is buying additional weapons to either counter Israel's abilities to attack it or as preparation to take back the Golan Heights at some point in the future.
The military intelligence service Shu'bat al-Mukhabarat al-'Askariyya is influential.
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 Dabkeh 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 grays 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, Muhammad Maghout, Haidar Haidar, Ghada al-Samman, Nizar Qabbani and Zakariyya Tamer.
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 handicraft industry still employs thousands.
The Syrian cuisine is rich and varies in its ingredients which is linked to the region of Syria where a specific dish has originated. Syrian food mostly consists of Southern Mediterranean, Greek, and Southwest Asian dishes. Some Syrian dishes also evolved from Turkish and French cooking. Dishes like shish kebab, stuffed zucchini, yabra' (stuffed grape leaves, the word yapra' derıves from the Turkish word 'yaprak' meaning leaf). the main dishes that form the Syrian cuisine are kibbeh, wara' enab, hummus, tabbouleh, fattoush, labneh, shawarma, mujaddara, shanklish, pastırma, sujuk and ba'lawa. Ba'lawa is made of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in honey. Syrians often serve selections of appetizers, known as meze, before the main course. za'atar, minced beef, and cheese manakish are popular hors d'œuvres. The Arabic flatbread khubz is always eaten together with meze. Syrians are also well-known for their cheese. The very popular string cheese jibbneh mashallale is made of curd cheese and is pulled and twisted together. Syrians also make cookies to usually accompany their cheese called ka'ak. These are made of farina and other ingredients, rolled out, shaped into rings and baked. Another form of a similar cookie is to fill with crushed dates mixed with butter to accompany their jibbneh mashallale. Drinks in Syria vary depending on the time of the day and the occasion. Arabic coffee, also known asTurkish coffee is the most well-known hot drink usually prepared in the morning at breakfast or in the evening. it is usually served for guests or after food. Alcoholic drink Arak is also a well-known beverage served mostly in occasions. more examples of Syrian beverages include Ayran, Jallab, and White coffee. there is also a well-known locally manufactured beer called Al Shark.
Syria's capital and largest city, Damascus, has long been one of the Arab world's centers for cultural and artistic innovation, especially in the field of classical Arab music. Syria has also produced several pan-Arab stars, often in exile, including George Wassouf, Nur Mahana, Farid al-Atrash and singer Lena Chamamyan. The city of Aleppo is known for its muwashshah, a form of Andalous sung poetry popularized by Sabri Moudallal, as well as popular stars like Sabah Fakhri. Dabka and other forms of dance music are also popular.
Also, Syria was one of the earliest centers of Christian hymnody, in a repertory known as Syrian chant, which continues to be the liturgical music of some of the various Syrian Christians. There was formerly a distinctive tradition of Syrian Jewish religious music, which still flourishes in the Syrian-Jewish community of New York: see The Weekly Maqam, Baqashot and Pizmonim.
Syrian literature has been influenced by the country's political history.
Under Ottoman rule, literary production was subjected to censorship. In the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, aspiring Syrian writers often chose emigration, moving primarily to Egypt -where they contributed to al-Nahda, the renaissance of Arabic literature- and to the United States, developing Syrian literature from abroad.
In 1948, the partitioning of neighbouring Palestine and the establishment of Israel brought about a new turning point in Syrian writing. Adab al-Iltizam, the "literature of political commitment", deeply marked by social realism, mostly replaced the romantic trend of the previous decades. Hanna Mina, rejecting art for art's sake and confronting the social and political issues of his time, was arguably the most prominent Syrian novellist of this era. Following the Six-Day War in 1967, Adab al-Naksa, the "literature of defeat", grappled with the causes of the Arab defeat.
In this context, the genre of the historical novel, spearheaded by Nabil Sulayman, Fawwaz Haddad, Khyri al-Dhahabi and Nihad Siris, is sometimes used as a means of expressing dissent, critiquing the present through a depiction of the past. Syrian folk narrative, as a subgenre of historical fiction, is imbued with magical realism, and is also used as a means of veiled criticism of the present. Salim Barakat, a Syrian émigré living in Sweden, is one of the leading figures of the genre.
Mohja Kahf has argued that literary dissent is typically expressed through the "poetics of Syrian silence":
|Assyrian New Year Festival||Qamishli||April|
|Newroz Kurdish New Year Festival||Qamishli||21 March|
|International Flower Fair||Damascus||May|
|Syrian Song Festival||Aleppo||July|
|Festival of le Crac des Chevaliers and the Valley for Arts&Culture||Hims||August|
|Vine Festival||As Suwayda||September|
|Damascus International Fair||Damascus||September|
|Festival of Love and Peace||Lattakia||2–12 August|
|Film and Theatre Festival||Damascus||November|
|Cultural Festival of Jableh||Jableh||July|
|Institute for Economics and Peace ||Global Peace Index||92 out of 144|
|United Nations Development Programme||Human Development Index||107 out of 182|
|Transparency International||Corruption Perceptions Index||126 out of 180|
|World Economic Forum||Global Competitiveness Report||94 out of 133|
|Cyprus • Mediterranean||Iraq|
|Lebanon||Jordan • Iraq||Iraq|
Syria ( 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 1946, but can trace its roots to the fourth millennium BC; its capital city, Damascus, was the seat of the Umayyad Empire and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Empire.
|Government||Republic under Emergency Law|
|Currency||Syrian pound (SYP)|
|Population||19,747,586 (July 2008 est)|
|Religion||Sunni Muslim 74%, Alawite, Druze, and other Muslim sects 16%, Christian (various denominations) 10%, Jewish (tiny communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli, and Aleppo)|
|Electricity||220/50 Hz (European plug)|
|Time Zone||UTC +2(Winter) / +3(Summer)|
Syria (الجمهوريّة العربيّة السّوريّة Al-Jumhuriya al-`Arabiya as-Suriya, the Syrian Arab Republic ) is one of the larger states of the Middle East and has its capital in Damascus. Syria is bordered to the north by Turkey, to the east by Iraq, by Jordan and Israel to the south, and by Lebanon to the south-west. In addition, the country has a short coastline on the east Mediterranean Sea.
Syria has 14 governorates (or muhafazat - singular: muhafazah): Aleppo, Al Hasakah, Ar Raqqah, As Suwayda, Dara, Damascus, Deir-az-Zur, Hama, Homs, Idlib, Latakia, Quneitra, Rif Dimashq, Tartous.
Syria has a population of 21,906,000 million people (UN, 2009 estimate), of which 6 million are concentrated in the capital Damascus. A moderately large country (185,180 sq km or 72,150 sq miles), Syria is situated centrally within the Middle East region and has land borders with Turkey in the north, with Israel and Lebanon in the south, and with Iraq and Jordan in the east and south-east respectively.
The population of Syria is predominately Arab (90%), with large minorities from other ethnic groups: Kurds, Armenians, Circassians and Turks. The official language is Arabic, but other tongues that are occasionally understood include Kurdish, Armenian, Turkish, French and English. The Syrian Republic is officially secular. Nonetheless, it is greatly influenced by the majority religion of Islam (90% of the population, split between 74% Sunni Muslim and 16% other Muslim). There is a large Christian minority that amounts to about 10% of the population.
The President of Syria is Bashar al-Assad, who replaced his father Hafez al-Assad soon after his death on 10 June 2000. Having studied to become an opthalmologist (eye doctor) in Damascus and London, Bashar was groomed for the presidency after the 1994 car accident of his elder brother Basil. As a consequence, he joined the army and became colonel in 1999. Bashar's modernising credentials were somewhat boosted by his role in a domestic anti-corruption drive. More recently, however, after an initial period of increased openness. Bashar's position as head of the Syrian state rests on his presidency of the Baath Party and his command-in-chief of the army.
Assad's regime and the Baath Party own or control the vast majority of Syria's media. Criticism of the president and his family is not permitted and the press (both foreign and domestic) are heavily censored for material deemed threatening or embarrassing to the government. A brief period of relative press freedom arose after Bashar became president in 2000 and saw the licensing of the first private publications in almost 40 years. A later crackdown, however, imposed a range of restrictions regarding licensing and content. In a more relaxed manner (perhaps owing more to the fact that these matters are largely beyond possible government control), many Syrians have gained access to foreign television broadcasts (usually via satellite) as well as the three state-run networks. In 2002 the government set out conditions for licensing private, commercial FM radio stations, ruling at the same time, however, that radio stations could not broadcast news or political content.
Entry will be refused to citizens of Israel and travelers with any evidence of visiting Israel: not just Israeli entry stamps, but Egyptian/Jordanian neighboring land borders with Israel, any products with Hebrew labeling, etc.
Visas  are needed for most individual travelers. These are available in 6-month (single/multiple entry), 3-month (single) and 15 day (land borders only) versions. Citizens of Arab countries do not require visa. Getting visas in advance is expensive and confusing. Americans are required to apply in advance at the Syrian embassy in Washington DC, even if they live elsewhere, and pay US$131. Most other travellers, though, can get them anywhere, a popular choice being Istanbul (Turkey) where they are generally issued within one day for €20 (Canadians) or €30 (EU citizens). A "letter of recommendation" stating that your consulate has "no objection" to your visit to Syria may be required. The visa issued must have two stamps and a signature, otherwise the visa is considered invalid and you will be turned back at the border. It is necessary to keep the blue arrival form as it must be submitted upon departure.
Official policy says that, if your country has a Syrian embassy or consulate, you should apply for your visa in advance. Most nationals must apply for a Syrian visa in the country in which they are a citizen. Alternatively a foreign national may apply for a Syrian visa from a Syrian Consulate in a country other than their own if they hold a residency visa valid for at least 6 months for the country in which they are applying. There are very few exceptions to this rule. It is not possible to obtain a visa on the border for most nationals.
If going by land, and you are planning to get a visa on the border, bring US Dollars or Syrian Pounds. Foreign currency will not get a good exchange rate and at most crossing there are no facilities for credit/debit cards. Travelers checks are also not accepted.
American citizens need to beware of sanctions on Syria. While traveling and spending money in Syria is permitted, you may not fly with Syrian Arab Airlines, and more importantly, many US banks err on the safe side and ban all business with Syria. Not only will your credit card or ATM card not work, but one traveler had his bank account frozen because he attempted to log into online banking from a Syrian IP!
Syria has three international airports: Damascus International Airport (DAM), 35km (22miles) SE of the capital, Aleppo International Airport (ALP) just northeast of Aleppo in the north of the country, Lattakia International Airport (LTK), south of Lattakia, main sea port of the country. The first two airports have regular direct flights served by Syrian Arab Airlines and the British airline bmi to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, while the third one for the time being is connected only with the capital city of Egypt, Cairo and with Kuwait (through jazeera Airways, since mid 2009). Flights from Damascus and Aleppo compete with other international carriers serving the same destinations, and Syrian Arab Airlines has code share arrangements with many airlines, including the Turkish Airlines flights to Istanbul.
Damascus international airport is served by many of the larger European carriers to the Middle East including Lufthansa, bmi, Turkish Airlines and Aeroflot. Low-price tickets from Europe can sometimes be found, but until the recent war in Lebanon, cheaper fairs could sometimes be obtained through Czech Airlines, Cyprus Air or Malev. Royal Jordanian can be reasonable through Amman. Some low-cost airlines from the Middle East such as Air Arabia (UAE/Sharjah), flydubai (UAE/Dubai) and jazeera Airways (Kuwait) serve Damascus frequently, and many other Gulf carriers such as Gulf Air, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways have up to several daily flights to Damascus. To cut down on airfare from Europe some people catch a charter flight to Turkey (Antalya) and then take the bus to Aleppo.
The only connection to America is served by Conviasa in a non-stop flight from Damascus to Caracas.
Upon arrival, a free entry visa can be delivered to almost all travelers if they are being received by local Travel Agency. Call the Syrian Embassy in your home country for more information.
Syria levies a departure tax of 550 Syrian Pounds (~US$13) at land and sea borders. Since Summer 2009 airport departure tax is included in the ticket price, and airlines will put a manual stamp on your boarding pass.
Flying to Istanbul followed a train/coach down to Damascus is a very cheap alternative to flying direct to Damascus(£200 return flights from the UK to Istanbul) it takes about 36 hours max to Aleppo (leaves on Sunday morning; see ). Contrary to popular belief it does not continue to Damascus, you have to change trains. Seat61  is very accurate and should be consulted.
All trains from Istanbul (Hydar Pasha train station on the Asian side of the Bosporus)] are operated jointly between TTCD (Turkish) and CFS (Syria) and are by far the cheapest way into Syria from Europe, flying to Istanbul and continuing by rail can cost €200 - €300 less than a flight to Damascus.
Tur-ista  travel agency can book your train tickets before you get to Istanbul, this is a good idea with trains booking up very quickly (Tur-ista tel: +90 (212) 334 2600).
Buses run from Turkey, with frequent connections from the city of Antakya (Hatay). You can also travel by bus from Jordan & Lebanon.
When arriving into Damascus by bus, make sure to move away from the bus terminal to find a taxi to the centre of town. Otherwise, you run the risk of paying several times the going rate, which should be around SYP150, as cars posing as taxis operate next to the terminal.
This is normally a two-man operation, with one person trying to distract you, while the driver puts your suitcase into the trunk of the "taxi" and locks it.
When traveling from Lebanon, service taxis (taxis that follow a fixed route only, usually from near one bus station to another) are a convenient way to reach Damascus, Homs, Tartus, Aleppo or other Syrian towns. A shared service taxi from Beirut to Damascus will cost about $10 per person ($20 to Aleppo) and $75 for a private taxi. In most cases it is necessary to buy a Syrian visa before leaving home, often costing about $100 or less, depending of the country of residency. It's possible, to obtain free entry visa for tourists if being received by a local Travel Agency. It is also possible to arrive by car from Turkey. A private taxi from Gaziantep Airport (Turkey) will cost about $60.
Service taxis run from Dar'a across the Jordanian border to Ramtha; from there microbuses are available to Irbid and Amman -- the stop in Dar'a permits a side trip to Bosra, with UNESCO-recognised Roman theater and ruins.
The taxis (usually yellow, and always clearly marked) are an easy way to get around Damascus, Aleppo and other cities. Arabic would be helpful: most taxi drivers do not speak English. All licensed taxis carry meters, and it is best to insist that the driver puts the meter on, and watch that it stays on. Most drivers expect to haggle prices with foreign travellers rather than use the meter. A taxi ride across Damascus might come to £S30. Taxis from the airport to the downtown Damascus cost about £600-800, slightly more at night. Private cab services (which advertise prominently at the airport) charge substantially more.
However, there is also a bus from Baramkeh station to the airport for 25S£.
Cars can be rented at various Budget and Europcar locations. Cham Tours (formerly Hertz) has an office next to the Cham Palace Hotel, which offers competitive rates starting at about USD 50 / day incl. tax, insurance and unlimited kilometers.
If you have never driven in Syria before, make sure you take a taxi first in order to get a first-hand idea of what traffic is like. Especially in Damascus and Aleppo, near-constant congestion, a very aggressive driving style, bad roads and highly dubious quality of road signs make driving there an interesting experience. There are basically no rules that are actually enforced or adhered to – so always expect other cars to run red lights, or cut you off, or drive in the wrong direction (providing pleasant little adrenaline highs if this happens on a highway at night and the oncoming car has no lights). It might seem as if the system is working, but Syria has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the world, so do be careful.
Note that the only road rule that might come in handy is that, as opposed to most of the rest of the world, in roundabouts, the entering cars have the right of way, and the cars that are already in the roundabout have to wait. Aside from that, it seems that motorists are fairly free to do as they please.
If you have an accident in a rental car, you must obtain a police report, no matter how small the damage or how clear it is who is at fault – otherwise, you will be liable for the damage.
Gas comes at SYP 40 a liter (Sept. 2008).
The microbuses (locally called servees, or meecro) are little white vans that carry ten, or so, passengers around cities on set routes for about £S10. The destinations are written on the front of microbus in Arabic. Usually, the passenger sitting behind the driver deals with the money. You can ask the driver to stop anywhere along his route.
Often, microbuses will do longer routes, for example, to surrounding villages around Damascus and Aleppo, or from Homs to Tadmor or Krak des Chevaliers. They are often more uncomfortable and crowded than the larger buses, but cheaper. Especially for shorter distances they have usually more frequent departures than buses.
Air-conditioned coaches are one of the easy ways to make longer hauls around Syria, for example, the trip from Damascus to Palmyra. Coaches are cheap, fast and reliable way to get around the country, however the schedules, when they exist, are not to be trusted. For the busy routes it's best to simply go to the coach station when you want to leave and catch the next coach, you'll have to wait a bit, but most of the time it's less of a chore than finding out when the best coach will be leaving, and then often finding it's late.
The Syrian railways are reasonably modern. Rail travel is inexpensive and generally punctual, although railway stations are often a reasonable distance out of town centres. The main line connects Damascus, Aleppo, Deir ez-Zur, Hassake and Qamishle. A secondary line serves stations along the Mediterranean coast.
In the summer, on Fridays, a little steam train leaves from the Hejaz Railway Station in Damascus (which has a good restaurant) and climbs into the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Many locals enjoy the ride to picnic in the cooler mountains.
While traveling by bicycle may not be for everyone, and Syria is by no means a cycle tourist's paradise, there are definite advantages. Syria is a good size for cycling, accommodation is frequent enough that even a budget traveller can get away with "credit card" touring (though in the case of Syria, it might be better to refer to it as fat-wad-of-cash touring). There are sites that one can not get to with public transportation like the Dead Cities and the people are incredibly friendly often inviting a tired cyclist for a break, cup of tea, meal or night's accommodation. The problem of children throwing stones at cyclists or running behind the bicycle begging for candy and pens (such as in parts of Morocco) does not seem to have appeared in Syria. Locals young and old alike will, however, be very curious about your travels and your bicycle and if you stop in a town you can expect a large crowd to gather for friendly banter about where you are from and your trip.
Wild camping is quite easy in Syria. Perhaps the biggest challenge is not so much finding a place for your tent but picking a spot where locals will not wander by and try to convince you to come back to their home. Olive groves and other orchards can make a good spot for your tent, except on a rainy day when the mud will make life difficult. Another option is to ask to pitch your tent in a private garden or beside an official post like a police station. It is unlikely you will be refused as long as you can get your message across. A letter in Arabic explaining your trip will help with communication.
Unfortunately, the standard of driving skills in Syria is extremely low and other road users tend to drive very aggressively. They do seem used to seeing slow moving traffic and normally give plenty of room as they pass. Motorcycles are perhaps the biggest danger as their drivers like to pull up alongside cyclists to chat or fly by your bike for a look at the strange traveller and then perform a u-turn in the middle of the road to go back home. Perhaps the safest option in this case is to stop, talk for a few minutes and then carry on.
Finding good maps tends to be another problem. You should bring a map with you as good maps are hard to find in Syria. Free ones are available from the tourist bureaus but they are not very good for cycle touring. Even foreign-produced maps can contain errors or roads that don't exist, making excursions away from the main route a challenge. Asking several locals for the right road is a good idea when you come to a crossroads. Without good maps it can be hard to avoid riding on the main highway, which while safe enough (a good wide shoulder exists on almost all the highways) is not very pleasant due to the smokey trucks and uninteresting scenery.
You should think about bringing a water filter or water treatment tablets with you. Bottled water is not always available in the smaller towns. Finding local water is easy. Tall metal water coolers in many town centres dispense free local water and water is always available near mosques. The Syrian word for water is pronounced like the English word “my” (as in “that is my pen”) and if you ask at any shop or home for water they will happily refill your bottles.
The unit of currency in Syria is the Syrian pound or 'lira' (£S). All prices are now in even numbers of pounds, so the subdivision 'piastre' is obsolete.
Exchange rates (current in October 2009):
In recent years, a number of ATMs have become available in most major cities: banks, main squares, and 5 star hotels. However, it should be noted that not all ATMs access the international networks. The Real Estate bank has the widest network that will accept foreign cards but cards may also be used in machines run by the Bank of Syria and Overseas and the Commercial Bank of Syria. There have also been instances of foreigners finding ATMs not in working order.
One thing to keep in mind is that exchange rates using the ATM system are lower than the official rate which is still lower than street rate. Many private money changing offices exist, but will change cash only. Note that it is nearly impossible to change traveller's cheques in Syria, so do not rely on them but bring cash or credit cards instead. (If you're feeling lucky or desperate, the Commercial Bank of Syria may be able to exchange them.)
Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted, and are even accepted at many smaller shops and budget hotels. Don't count on acceptance, though, as it is far from universal. It is also virtually impossible to get an advance on your credit card in Syria if you are out of Damascus and Aleppo.
An international student card reduces the entry fees to many tourist sites to 10% of the normal price, if you are younger than 26 years. Depending on who is checking your card it is even possible to get the reduction when you are older than 26 or have only an expired card. It is possible to buy an international student card in Syria (around U$ 15). Ask around discretely.
Falafel, deep-fried chickpea patties, are available for 15 to 30 SP. Another popular vegetarian meal is Foul. Don't let the name put you off. It's actually pronounced “fool” and this fava bean paste – topped off with cumin, paprika and olive oil and served with bread, fresh mint and onion – is not only tasty but filling.
You may also be able to order a salad of Fatoush with your soup. Chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and herbs are mixed together in a dressing and finished off with a sprinkling of fried bread that resembles croutons. Cheese may also be grated on top.
Meat wraps such as shwarma cost 35 to 50 SP. A half-chicken with bread and mayonnaise dip to take away costs 175 SP.
Lunch or dinner in a fair restaurant costs 450 SP. An expensive restaurant lunch or dinner will run about 1000 SP.
Generally you can drink water from the tap, it is extremely safe, but if you're unsure ask the locals first. This water is free compared to bottled water, which comes at anywhere between 15-25 Syrian Pound for 1.5 litres.
Fresh fruit juices are available from street stalls in most towns. A large glass of mixed juice (usually banana, orange juice and a few exotic fruits like pomegranate) costs 40-50 SP.
Beer is cheap, costing from 35 SP in a shop and anywhere from 50 to 100 SP in most budget accommodation and local bars for a half litre bottle or can. Syrian wine can be found starting at about 150 SP and Lebanese and French wines are also available in a higher price bracket, starting at 350-400 SP.
A budget traveler spends about 250 to 500 SP a night for a rooftop.
A double room you can find for around 800 SP, although this cost may be higher in Damascus. A double room in a three stars hotel costs about $50 USD, $80 USD for four stars, and can reach $250 USD in a five star hotel.
There are several institutions in Damascus that teach Arabic:
If you entered the country on a tourist visa, don't try to work and earn money. Foreign workers should always get official approval to work.
Syria is generally safe for travelers, partly because crime is considered shameful and is heavily punished. However, the renewed conflict between Israel and Lebanon in 2006 prompted large demonstrations throughout the Middle East. Travelers are advised to avoid all large gatherings as they may turn violent. Late in 2006 gunmen attacked the US Embassy in Damascus. Occasionally foreign travelers have been targeted by political groups, especially in the south of the country.
There are no hostile feelings towards Americans or Westerners in general (although Americans tend to be subjected to more scrutiny by the authorities than other nationalities). You could, however, find yourself in trouble if you engage in open criticism of and against the Syrian government or the president. Your best bet is to avoid political conversations all together just to avoid any possible problems. If you do engage in political discussions with Syrians, be aware that they might face intense questioning by the secret police (mukhabarat) if you are overheard. As a general rule, always assume that you are being watched by plainclothes policemen. You will notice that not many uniformed policemen can be seen in the streets, but this is because the police have a wide network of plainclothes officers and informants.
Women traveling alone may find that they draw a little too much attention from Syrian men. However, this is generally limited to stares or feeble attempts at making conversation. If it goes beyond that the best approach is to remain polite but be clear that approaches are unwelcome. Be loud and involve bystanders as they will often be very chivalrous and helpful.
Slightly inconvenient for some is the attention of children begging for money, pens, or snacks around some tourist sites (usually those outside of Damascus). Compared to many third world countries beggars are rare in much of Syria.
Since beggary is common in some parts of Syria, particularly outside of tourist attractions, mosques, and churches, it has been known that beggars occasionally demand money and may follow you around until you give. Some have even been known to "attack" some tourists just for money and food. It is advised to wear appropriate Arab clothing and try to blend yourself in. It also better to keep your money in your front pockets and safe with you. Many scams by beggars have also led many foreign tourists to lose quite a bit of money; be aware of these scams.
Local pharmacies are well stocked with treatments for most common ailments such as stomach bugs and traveller's diarrhea. Pharmacists often speak a little bit of English. You can ask your hotel to call a doctor if necessary and a visit to your hotel room will cost about 700-1000 SP as of November 2007.
The best treatment of all, of course, is to stay healthy in the first place. When eating, pick restaurants that are busy.
If you have a treatment, take it with you. Don't expect to find all medicine in Syria. If you have to buy something from a pharmacy, ask for a "foreign" EU or US brand. You will have to pay a premium for that, but at least you will increase the chances to have an actual medicine. Some products come from uncertain origin and are ineffective according to certain local pharmacists.
Male and female visitors should wear modest/conservative clothing. It is best to wear loose-fitting clothes and not to reveal too much skin. For women, long-sleeved (or at least bracelet-length) T-shirts and skirts or pants coming to below the knee are fine. Men should wear long trousers, but (unlike women) can wear short sleeves in hot weather. A headscarf is generally not necessary other than when visiting mosques. Current youthful styles in the West ARE worn in Syria (in the bigger cities), but the girls wear an undergarment with crotch snaps. The jeans are skin-tight and low-slung; the tops are high-cropped, but no midriff is revealed.
In Aleppo, clothing styles are markedly different in different parts of the city. In the Armenian or Christian areas women can be commonly seen in tight-fitting clothes; a contrast to the burkas and head scarves throughout most of the city. Lattakia as well has far less conservative dress than most of Aleppo.
Tourist Information Offices; Damascus: 2323953, Damascus Int'l Airport: 2248473, Aleppo: 2121228, Daraa (Jordanian-Syrian border gate): 239023, Lattakia: 216924, Palmyra (Tadmur): 910636, Deir-az-Zur: 358990
The international calling code for Syria is +963.
Syrians are allowed access to internet although there is heavy filtering of many popular Websites (including YouTube, Facebook and Blogspot, among others). Internet is very common around the cities at internet cafes. There are a few sites blocked such as YouTube and others. The cafes are very friendly but beware that foreigners may be charged more than others. It is usually 50 SP per hour (1$ US). The restrictions on the internet are anything with connections to the Syrian government, terrorism, Israeli sites and any site with political debates and there is one registered pleas for internet services for Foreigners in Damascus (souk saroja).
Prices for high-speed access are quite varied. As of November 2007, Aleppo's Concord internet cafe was charging a hefty 100 SP an hour, while in Hama the going rate seemed to be 75 SP for an hour and in Damascus the price dropped to around 50 SP an hour (less if you pay for several hours in advance).
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(Heb. Aram), the name in the Old Testament given to the whole country which lay to the north-east of Phoenicia, extending to beyond the Euphrates and the Tigris. Mesopotamia is called (Gen 24:10; Deut 23:4) Aram-naharain (=Syria of the two rivers), also Padan-aram (Gen 25:20). Other portions of Syria were also known by separate names, as Aram-maahah (1Chr 19:6), Aram-beth-rehob (2 Sam 10:6), Aram-zobah (2 Sam 10:6, 2 Sam 10:8). All these separate little kingdoms afterwards became subject to Damascus. In the time of the Romans, Syria included also a part of Palestine and Asia Minor.
"From the historic annals now accessible to us, the history of Syria may be divided into three periods: The first, the period when the power of the Pharaohs was dominant over the fertile fields or plains of Syria and the merchant cities of Tyre and Sidon, and when such mighty conquerors as Thothmes III. and Rameses II. could claim dominion and levy tribute from the nations from the banks of the Euphrates to the borders of the Libyan desert. Second, this was followed by a short period of independence, when the Jewish nation in the south was growing in power, until it reached its early zenith in the golden days of Solomon; and when Tyre and Sidon were rich cities, sending their traders far and wide, over land and sea, as missionaries of civilization, while in the north the confederate tribes of the Hittites held back the armies of the kings of Assyria. The third, and to us most interesting, period is that during which the kings of Assyria were dominant over the plains of Syria; when Tyre, Sidon, Ashdod, and Jerusalem bowed beneath the conquering armies of Shalmaneser, Sargon, and Sennacherib; and when at last Memphis and Thebes yielded to the power of the rulers of Nineveh and Babylon, and the kings of Assyria completed with terrible fulness the bruising of the reed of Egypt so clearly foretold by the Hebrew prophets.", Boscawen.
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