The region is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea and Lebanon, north by Turkey, east by Iraq, south by Israel and Jordan.
The country has seen many of the great civilizations and empires of the past. Among those who occupied the region were the Amorites, the Hittites, the Phoenicians, and the Persians.
Alexander the Great conquered the area in the 4th century B.C. The Seleucid kings, Alexanders's successors, ruled the area until the coming of the Roman Empire in the 1st century of the Christian Era.
From the 7th century the area saw Islamic rule. It suffered the Seljuk and Ottoman empires before becoming part of the French Levant in 1920.
The area has an area of 71,210 square miles and a population of over 19 million. Although most of the citizens are Sunni Muslims, some 500,000 or so are nomadic Bedouins. It is traversed by the Orantes and Euphrates Rivers. Damascus is the capital and is the oldest inhabited city on the earth.
Only about one half of the area is suitable for farming. Sandy deserts are common. Tobacco, wheat, fruits, cotton, barley, corn, sorghums, hemp, and silk are produced. Besides foodstuffs, manufacturing includes matches, alcohol, soap, cotton cloth, and cement. There are agricultural, engineering and teacher training colleges as well as universities in Damascus and Aleppo.
The land was formerly a province of the Turkish Empire, and from 1920 until its independence in 1943, was once a French mandate. While under this authority, the country set up a republican form of government with a one-house legislature. In 1958 the country and Egypt joined to form the United Arab Republic as a hoped for nucleus of a federation of all Arab states. Three years later the government was overthrown and the union with Egypt was dissolved. In 1964 a provisional constitution was adopted. A permanant constitution was adoped in 1973.
OFFICIAL NAME(S) Al Jumhuriyah al Arabiyah as Suriyah CAPITAL: Damascus FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Republic HEAD OF STATE: President Bashar al-ASAD; Vice President Farouk al-SHARA oversees foreign policy; Vice President Najah al-ATTAR oversees cultural policy HEAD OF GOVERNMENT: Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-UTRI ; Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdallah al-DARDARI MONETARY UNIT: Pound (SYP) OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: Arabic (official); Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; French, English somewhat understood POPULATION: 19,747,586 note: in addition, about 40,000 live in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights - 20,000 Arabs (18,000 Druze and 2,000 Alawites) and about 20,000 Israeli settlers RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION: Sunni Muslim 74%, other Muslim (includes Alawite, Druze) 16%, Christian (various denominations) 10%, Jewish (tiny communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli, and Aleppo) ETHNIC COMPOSITION: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7% LIFE EXPECTANCY AT BIRTH : total population: 70.61 yrs male: 69.27 female: 72.02
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