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Syria (sērˈēə), officially Syrian Arab Republic, republic (2015 est. pop. 18,735,000), 71,467 sq mi (185,100 sq km), W Asia. It borders on Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea in the west, on Turkey in the northwest and north, on Iraq in the east and south, and on Jordan and Israel in the southwest. Damascus is the country's capital and its largest city.


Syria falls into two main geographical regions, a western region and a much larger eastern region. The western region, which includes about two thirds of the country's population, can be subdivided into four parallel north-south zones. In the far west is a narrow, discontinuous lowland strip along the Mediterranean. It is bordered, and partly cut, by the Jabal al-Nusayriyah, a mountain range (average elevation: 4,000 ft/1,220 m; highest point: 5,123 ft/1,561 m) that is crossed by deep valleys. In the east the Jabal al-Nusayriyah drops sharply to the Great Rift Valley, which continues southward into Africa and which in Syria contains the Orontes River. East of the rift are mountain ranges, including the Anti-Lebanon Mts. (which include Mount Hermon, 9,232 ft/2,814 m, Syria's loftiest point) and scattered ranges in NW Syria. Within these ranges are several fertile basins, including ones occupied by Damascus and Aleppo.

The eastern region is made up of a plateau (average elevation: 2,000 ft/610 m), which is in large part bisected by a series of ranges that fan out northeastward from the Anti-Lebanon Mts. In the south are the Jabal al-Duruz Mts., from which the plain of Hawran extends westward to the Sea of Galilee. Other mountains are located in the north. Much of the southern section of the plateau forms part of the Syrian Desert; otherwise, the plateau is largely covered with steppe. There are irrigated, cultivated areas along the Euphrates River in the east, whose basin makes up part of the Fertile Crescent, as does the Mediterranean coast of Syria. In addition to the capital, other major cities include Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Latakia, Dayr az Zawr, and Al Hasakah.


Syria has a young and rapidly growing population. Most of the people are of Arab descent and speak Arabic, the country's official language; French and English are understood by many, and Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, and Circassian are spoken in some areas. The chief ethnic minority is the Kurds, who constitute about 10% of the population; others include the Armenians, Turkmen or Turkomans (Turks), Circassians, and Assyrians (Nestorian Christians). About 75% of the country's inhabitants are Sunni Muslims. There are also significant numbers of Alawite Muslims, who live in the Jabal al-Nusayriyah; Druze, who live in the south, principally in the Jabal al-Duruz; and smaller Muslim sects; all of these groups comprise about 16% of Syria's population. The largest Christian groups are the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Syrian Orthodox, together comprising about 10% of the population. Before 1992, Syria had a Jewish community of more than 4,000; all but a few hundred left the country after emigration restrictions were lifted in that year.


Syria was an overwhelmingly agricultural country until the early 1960s, when planned large-scale industrialization began. The state has played a major role in the country's economy, but government control eased after 2000. Since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, the economy has been severely disrupted, with economic output shrinking by more than half, exports dropping to a sixth of what they were, and the unemployment rate reaching 40%.

Prior to the conflict, some 17% of the people earned their living by farming; land cultivation had increased more than 50% from 1970, largely because of government incentives and wider use of irrigation. The best farmland is located along the coast and in the Jabal al-Nusayriyah, around Aleppo, in the region between Hama and Homs, in the Damascus area, and in the land between the Euphrates and Khabur rivers, which is known as Al Jazira [Arab.,=the island]. The principal crops include wheat, barley, cotton, lentils, chickpeas, olives, and sugar beets. Poultry, cattle, and sheep are raised, and dairy products are important.

Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs are the chief industrial centers, but all have been affected by the war, especially Aleppo and Homs. The main industries include petroleum refining; food, beverage, and tobacco processing; and the manufacture of textiles, chemicals, and precision-engineered products. Handicrafts such as articles of silk, leather, and glass are widely produced. The principal minerals extracted are petroleum, found mainly at Qarah Shuk (Karachuk) in the extreme northeast; natural gas, found mainly in the Al Jazira region; phosphates; limestone; and salt. Petroleum pipelines from Iraq and Jordan cross Syria, and there is also a pipeline from Qarah Shuk to the Mediterranean coast.

Since 1974 oil has been Syria's most important source of revenue, although production declined in the early 21st cent. even before the civil war. In 2006, petroleum and agriculture together accounted for one half of the country's GDP. Latakia and Tartus are the main seaports.


Syria is governed under the constitution of 2012. The president, who is head of state, is the most powerful political and military figure in the country. He is directly elected to a seven-year term, and is limited to serving two terms. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The unicameral legislature consists of the 250-seat People's Assembly, whose members are popularly elected from multiseat constituencies by proportional representation to four-year terms. Administratively, Syria is divided into 14 provinces or governates.


Early History

Until the 20th cent. the term Syria generally denoted those lands of the Levant, or eastern littoral of the Mediterranean, that correspond to modern Syria and Lebanon, most of Israel and Jordan, W Iraq, and N Saudi Arabia. Three geographical factors have played major parts in determining the history of Syria—its location on the trade and military routes, its varied topography, and the encroaching desert. Syria has always been an object of conquest, and it has been held by foreign powers during much of its history. One of the earliest settlements was probably at Ugarit; human habitation at Tell Hamoukar in NE Syria dates to at least 4000 B.C. The Amorites, coming c.2100 B.C. from the Arabian peninsula, were the first important Semitic people to settle in the region, and they established many small states.

From the 15th to the 13th cent. B.C. the area probably was part of the empire of the Hittites, although it came under Egyptian rule for long periods during that time. The first great indigenous culture was that of Phoenicia (located mostly in present-day Lebanon), which flourished after 1250 B.C. in a group of trading cities along the coast. In the 10th cent. B.C. two Hebrew kingdoms were organized in Palestine (see also Jews). Syria suffered (11th–6th cent. B.C.) long invasions and intermittent control by the empire of Assyria. Babylonian conquerors also found success in Syria, and Egypt constantly sought to reestablish its position there. The Syrians were subjected to massacres, plundering, and forced deportations.

Under the Persian Empire, with its efficient administrative system, Syria's standard of living improved (6th–4th cent. B.C.). Alexander the Great conquered Syria between 333 and 331 B.C., and his short-lived empire was followed by that of the Seleucidae (see Seleucus I), who are usually called kings of Syria. Their control of Syria was constantly threatened by Egypt, which was ruled by the Ptolemies. The Egyptians usually held the south until Antiochus III conquered (early 2d cent. B.C.) the region, which was generally called Coele Syria, a name which had been vaguely applied to all of W Syria. The Seleucids founded cities and military colonies and introduced Hellenistic civilization to Syria. Syria long showed the revivifying effects of this new culture. Many of the cities became cultural Hellenistic centers, but the change did not reach the lower levels of the population.

When invasions began again, first by the Armenians under Tigranes and then by the Parthians—both in the 1st cent. B.C.—the Hellenistic sheen was soon dulled. The Romans under Pompey conquered the region by 63 B.C., but they continued to fight the Parthians there, and the Syrians benefited little from the Roman presence. Many changes in administration occurred, and Rome drew from Syria numerous soldiers and slaves. The old pagan gods of Syria were also taken up by the Romans. More significant for the future of Syria, Christianity was started in Palestine and soon exerted some influence over all of Syria; St. Paul was converted from Judaism to Christianity on the road to Damascus. In central Syria, Palmyra grew (3d cent. A.D.) to considerable power as an autonomous state, but it was conquered by the Romans when it threatened their ascendancy.

After the division of Rome into the Eastern and Western empires in the 4th cent., Syria came under Byzantine rule. In the 5th and 6th cent. Monophysitism, a Christian heresy with political overtones, gained many adherents in Syria. Byzantine control there was seriously weakened by the 7th cent. Between 633 and 640, Muslim Arabs conquered Syria, and during the following centuries most Syrians converted to Islam. Damascus was the usual capital of the Umayyad caliph (661–750) and enjoyed a period of great splendor. The Umayyads were forcibly displaced by the Abbasids, whose residence was in Iraq, thus ending Syria's dominant position in the Islamic world. At the same time the ties between Muslim Syria and the predominantly Christian southwest (later Lebanon) began to loosen.

Crusaders and Conquerers

Groups of Christians remained in the Muslim areas, and they generally rendered aid to the Christians who came to Syria on Crusades (11th–14th cent.). By the late 11th cent. the Seljuk Turks had captured most of Syria, and the Christians fought against them as well as against Saladin, who triumphed (late 12th cent.) over both the Christians and his fellow Muslims. After Saladin's death (1193), Syria fell into disunity, and in the mid-13th cent. it was overrun by the Mongols under Hulagu Khan, who destroyed (1260) much of Aleppo and Damascus, massacring about 50,000 inhabitants of Aleppo. The Mongols were defeated later in 1260 by Baybars, the Mamluk ruler of Egypt.

The Mamluks held control of Syria for most of the time until 1516, when the Ottoman Empire annexed the area. The Mamluk period was largely a time of economic stagnation and political unrest. In 1401 the Central Asian conqueror Timur sacked Aleppo and Damascus. For most of the four centuries of Ottoman control, Syria's economy continued to be weak, and its politics remained fragmented. From the later 16th cent., government in Syria was not directly controlled by the Ottomans but was in the hands of several Syrian families who often fought each other. From the late 18th cent. the European powers took an increasing interest in Syrian affairs, the British as friends of the Druze, the Russians as protectors of the Orthodox Christians, and the French as allies of the Roman Catholics (especially the Maronites).

In 1798–99, Napoleon I of France invaded Egypt and also briefly held parts of the Syrian coast. In 1832–33, Ibrahim Pasha, the son of Muhammad Ali of Egypt, annexed Syria to Egypt. Egypt held Syria until 1840, when the European powers (particularly Great Britain) forced its return to the Ottomans; during this time Syria's economy was revived and numerous schools were established. During the rest of the 19th cent. the Syrian economy was modernized somewhat and educational opportunities were increased. However, conditions were far from good, and growing resentment of Ottoman rule developed among the Syrians. After bloody fighting between Christians and Druze, Lebanon (largely inhabited by Christians) was given considerable autonomy in 1860.

The Foundations of Modern Syria

During World War I the British encouraged Syrian nationalists to fight against the Ottoman Empire. The ambitions of the nationalists were thwarted in the peace settlement, which gave (1920) France a League of Nations mandate over the Levant States (roughly present-day Syria and Lebanon). From this time the term Syria referred approximately to its present territorial extent. France divided Syria into three administrative districts on the pretext that political decentralization would safeguard the rights of minorities. The Arab nationalists angrily asserted that decentralization was also a means of maintaining French control by a divide-and-rule policy.

The French made some concessions after serious disturbances in 1925, which included a rebellion by the Druze and the French bombardment of Damascus. Lebanon was made a completely separate state in 1926, and after long negotiations a treaty was signed (1936) giving Syria a large measure of autonomy. Anti-French feeling continued as a result of the cession of the sanjak of Alexandretta (see Hatay) to Turkey, completed in 1939. In the same year the French suspended the Syrian constitution, and in World War II they garrisoned Syria with a large number of troops, most of whom, after the fall of France in June, 1940, declared loyalty to the Vichy government. Relations with Great Britain deteriorated, and when it was discovered that Syrian airfields had been used by German planes en route to Iraq, British and Free French forces invaded and occupied Syria in June, 1941.

An Independent Nation

In accordance with previous promises, the French proclaimed the creation of an independent Syrian republic in Sept., 1941, and an independent Lebanese republic in Nov., 1941. In 1943, Shukri al-Kuwatli was elected president of Syria, and on Jan. 1, 1944, the country achieved complete independence. However, the continued presence of French troops in Syria caused increasing friction and bloodshed and strained Anglo-French relations. It was not until Apr., 1946, that all foreign troops were withdrawn from the country. In 1945, Syria had become a charter member of the United Nations.

A member of the Arab League, Syria joined other Arab states in the unsuccessful war (1948–49) against Israel (see Arab-Israeli Wars). The defeat at the hands of Israel, coupled with serious internal divisions resulting from disagreements over whether to unite with Iraq (and thus form a “Greater Syria”), undermined confidence in parliamentary government and led to three coups in 1949. Lt. Col. Adib al-Shishakli led the third coup (Dec., 1949), and he governed the country until 1954. A new constitution providing for parliamentary government was promulgated in 1950, but it was suspended in late 1951. From then until 1954, al-Shishakli ruled as a virtual dictator. In 1953 he issued a new constitution establishing a presidential form of government and was elected president.

Opposition to al-Shishakli's one-man rule led to his downfall in 1954 and the reinstitution of the 1950 constitution. After elections in late 1954 a coalition government uniting the People's, National, and Ba'ath parties and headed by Sabri al-Asali of the National party was established; Shukri al-Kuwatli was again elected president. In the following years the Ba'ath party, which combined Arab nationalism with a socialist program, emerged as the most influential political party in Syria. At the same time, in order to offset growing Western influence in the Middle East (exemplified by the creation in 1955 of the Baghdad Pact alliance, later known as the Central Treaty Organization), both Syria and Egypt signed economic and military accords with the USSR.

To counterbalance Soviet influence, Syria joined with Egypt to form (Feb., 1958) the United Arab Republic (UAR). By late 1959, Egypt had become dominant in the UAR, which led to growing Syrian opposition to continued union with Egypt. In Sept., 1961, a group of Syrian army officers seized control of Syria, withdrew the country from the UAR, and established the Syrian Arab Republic. Elections for a constituent assembly were held in late 1961; the assembly chose Maruf al-Dawalibi as prime minister and Nazim al-Qudsi as president of the country; both were conservatives and members of the People's party. In early 1962 a military coup ended this arrangement, and in late 1962 the 1950 constitution was reinstated.

In 1963 another coup brought a joint Ba'ath-military government to power; this regime was headed, at different times, by Salah al-Din al-Bitar, a moderate leader of the Ba'ath party, and by Gen. Amin al-Hafiz. The government nationalized much of the economy and redistributed land to the peasants. At the same time a split between moderate and radical elements in the Ba'ath party was growing. In early 1966 the radicals staged a successful coup and installed Yusseff Zayen as prime minister and Nureddin al-Attassi as president. The new government strengthened Syria's ties with Egypt and the USSR.

Between 1962 and 1966, Syria agitated Israeli interests by attempting to divert headwaters of the Jordan River, by firing on Israeli fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, and by using the Golan Heights to snipe at Israeli settlements. These conflicts contributed to the Arab-Israeli War of June, 1967. During the war Israel captured the Golan Heights (stretching about 12 mi/19 km into Syria northeast of the Sea of Galilee), and it held on to this territory after a cease-fire went into effect. After the war Syria maintained its anti-Israel stance. In 1968–69 the Ba'ath party was again torn by factional strife, and it divided into the “progressives” (led by al-Attassi), who favored state control of the economy and close cooperation with the USSR, and the “nationalists” (headed by Gen. Hafez al-Assad), who emphasized the need to defeat Israel, to improve relations with other Arab states, and to lessen Syria's economic and military dependence on the USSR.

The Assad Regime

Al-Assad successfully ousted al-Attassi in Nov., 1970. In early 1971, al-Assad was overwhelmingly elected to a seven-year term as president; he was reelected three times. Later in 1971, Syria, Libya, and Egypt agreed to unite loosely in the Federation of Arab Republics. Syria continued to be on good terms with the USSR, which equipped the Syrian army with modern weapons. In early 1973 a new constitution was approved, and the Ba'ath party won 70% of the seats in elections for the people's council. In July–Aug., 1973, about 42 army officers (all Sunni Muslims) were executed after allegedly plotting to assassinate al-Assad, who, they claimed, showed undue favoritism to his fellow Alawite Muslims in the army. (Al-Assad did indeed favor the Alawites in the army and government.)

In Oct., 1973, the fourth Arab-Israeli War erupted; after initial Syrian advances in the Golan Heights, Israel gained the offensive and pushed into Syria a few miles beyond the Golan Heights region. Syria (like Israel) accepted the UN Security Council cease-fire resolution of Oct. 25, 1973, but fighting continued into 1974. In May, 1974, largely through the mediation of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Syria and Israel signed an agreement in Geneva that ended the fighting. Under the terms of the accord, Israel pulled back to the 1967 cease-fire line and also returned the city of Qunaytirah (Kuneitra) to Syria; a buffer zone, patrolled by UN troops, was established in the Golan Heights.

Since the 1970s the rise of Sunni Islamic fundamentalism has challenged Ba'athist ideology. Between 1976 and 1982, urban centers erupted in political unrest. The Muslim Brotherhood, a radical religious and political organization founded in 1928 in Egypt, was largely responsible for extremist attacks. In Feb., 1982, the brotherhood unsuccessfully attempted an uprising in Hama but was quashed by government troops; thousands were killed. Islamic fundamentalists, however, continue to remain active.

In 1976, Syria sent forces to Lebanon as part of a peacekeeping force to help end that country's civil war. The Syrian military remained in Lebanon, and from 1980 to 1981, Syrian troops sided with Lebanese Muslims against the Christian militias. With Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June, 1982, Syrian troops clashed with Israeli forces and were pushed back. Syria was also antagonized by Israel in 1982, when Menachem Begin announced the annexation of the Golan Heights. By the late 1990s, more than 40 Jewish settlements and villages had been developed in the Golan Heights. Although Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 1985, Syrian forces stayed; they remained the dominant military and political force there into 2005.

The Syrian government has been implicated in sponsoring international terrorism, especially in support of Iranian, Palestinian, and Libyan causes. In the 1980s, Syria moved closer to the USSR and espoused hard-line Arab positions. By 1990, however, as the Soviet system faltered, Syria attempted to improve relations with Western countries. That year Syria was the first Arab country to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and it contributed 20,000 soldiers to the coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War (1991).

Syria, along with Lebanon and a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation, became involved in peace talks with Israel in late 1991. As talks progressed between Israel and the PLO and Jordan, Syria's insistence that Israel withdraw from all of the Golan Heights proved a stumbling block in its own negotiations. Talks broke off in 1996, but the Syrian government appeared interested in renewing negotiations following the installation of a Labor government in Israel in 1999. Talks were resumed in Dec., 1999. After what appeared to be initial progress, discussions stalled in Jan., 2000, when a secret draft treaty with Syrian concessions was published in Israel, leading to a public hardening of Syria's position with respect to the Golan.

In June, 2000, Assad died suddenly. His son, Bashar al-Assad, a 34-year-old doctor who had been groomed to succeed his father since 1994, rapidly became commander in chief of the army, head of the Ba'ath party, and then president. The son was regarded as an advocate of a free-market economy and political change, but economic liberalization proceeded slowly and he maintained a monopoly on political power. Syria strongly opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and was accused by U.S. government officials of supplying aid to Iraq and helping Iraqi officials to escape from U.S. forces. The United States later also accused Syria of permitting militants to infilitrate into Iraq. A new cabinet with a mandate to push reforms forward was appointed in Sept., 2003, but subsequently there was little noticeable political or economic reform.

In Oct., 2003, Israel struck at what it called a terrorist training base in Syria in retaliation for suicide-bombing attacks in Israel; it was the first Israeli strike against Syrian territory in 20 years. Simmering grievances among the nation's Kurds erupted into rare antigovernment protests in NE Syria in Mar., 2004.

In Aug. and Sept., 2004, Syria blatantly forced Lebanon to extend President Lahoud's term, an act that was denounced by the UN Security Council. The Feb., 2005, assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who had opposed Syrian interference in Lebanon, led to anti-Syrian demonstrations in Lebanon and increased international pressure on Syria. Syria subsequently agreed to withdraw from Lebanon, and by the end of Apr., 2005, the withdrawal was completed. Syria nonetheless retained considerable influence in Lebanon.

A UN investigation into Hariri's killing implicated senior Syrian and Lebanese officials, but Syria refused to allow UN investigators to interview high-ranking Syrian officials, leading the Security Council to call unanimously for Syria to cooperate. Syria, however, vigorously rejected the vote and attempted to discredit the investigation, publicizing the recanting of one witness. However, a former Syrian vice president, Abdul Halim Khaddam, stated (Dec., 2005) that Syria had threatened Hariri and asserted that the assassination could not have happened without the support of high-ranking Syrian officials. (Khaddam, residing in Paris, also called for Assad to be removed from office.) Resistance to moving forward with the investigation from Syria's allies in Lebanon (most notably then-President Emile Lahoud and Hezbollah) blocked the Lebanese government from establishing an investigative tribunal and stalled any additional progress into 2008. By 2010, however, as the tribunal's investigation progressed, it appeared more likely to indicted members of Hezbollah than Syrian officials; in Apr., 2009, the four Lebanese officers who had been held since 2005 in connection with the case were released for lack of evidence.

Assad was reelected in May, 2007, by referendum (he was the only candidate). In Sept., 2007, the Israeli air force attacked a site in N Syria that some reports suggested was a nuclear facility under construction. International Atomic Energy Agency, which called on Syria to cooperate, ultimately concluded in its reports (2008, 2009, 2011) that evidence indicated that the facility was a nuclear reactor. Syria asserted the installation was a missile facilty. Also in 2009 the IAEA said it had found traces of processed uranium at another site, and it subsequently accused Syria of failing to cooperate.

An Arab League summit held in Syria in Mar., 2008, was attended by only half the Arab heads of state, as many sent lower-ranking officials as a protest against Syria's backing of Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon. In Oct., 2008, U.S. forces launched a raid into Syria from Iraq in which U.S. sources claimed a key figure in the Iraq insurgency was killed; Syria denounced the attack, saying only civilians were killed, and mounted demonstrations against the attack.

Beginning in Mar., 2011, Syria faced ongoing antigovernment demonstrations in a number of cities similar to those in other parts of the Arab world. The protests were especially persistent early on in the southern city of Deraa; Homs, Hama, and many other locations subsequently became centers of protest. Only Damascus and Aleppo were largely free of protests. The government issued some concessions in response, including granting citizenship to thousands of Kurds in NE Syria, ending the 48-year state of emergency, and (later) allowing some opposition parties, but it also accused its opponents of armed insurrection and violently suppressed protests. There also were anti-Alawite attacks by government opponents. Antigovernment demonstrations nonetheless continued, and the unrest turned into civil war as some troops defected and fought against government forces and others also took up arms.

In September leaders of opposition groups announced the formation of the national council, but the opposition continued to lack unity and the council was dominated by exile groups. The Arab League suspended Syria's membership and imposed some economic sanctions in November; other nations also imposed sanctions in 2011 and 2012. In December, Arab League monitors entered Syria to oversee an agreement intended to end the violence, but they had no effect on the situation. The violence continued in 2012, with deadly fighting in many urban areas, including Damascus and Aleppo. Government forces were accused of brutally targeting civilians and of killing them in mass executions.

The 90% vote for a new constitution (Feb., 2012) was denounced by the opposition as a sham; the opposition also boycotted the May parliamentary elections. Former UN head Kofi Annan negotiated a cease-fire in April, but it never really took effect, and the associated UN observers withdrew in August. Relations with Turkey, which was critical of Assad and supportive of Turkmen rebels, became tense after a Turkish fighter jet that crossed into Syrian airspace was downed. In October, cross-border fire into Turkey led to recurring retaliatory bombardment; there were similar incidents with Jordan and Israel. Subsequently, in the following months and years, Israel launched dozens of air strikes in Syria that were said to be directed at military supplies for Hezbollah; it also attacked Syrian military installations and Iranian forces in Syria at times.

Opposition fighters remained ethnically and religiously fragmented. A more broadly based opposition National Coalition was formed in Nov., 2012, as a result of international pressure on opposition groups, but forces aligned with it subsequently became less significant. Kurdish groups sought to establish an autonomous Kurdish area. Hardline Islamist groups, not part of the coalition, became increasingly significant, and often fought other rebels. Shiite fighters from other nations, especially Lebanese Hezbollah, became a significant component of government-aligned forces in 2013, as did support from Iran.

In June, 2014, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a Sunni Islamist rebel group, also launched an offensive in Iraq that gave it control of a large territory in N and E Syria and in NW Iraq; it declared a caliphate as the Islamic State (IS) and became the dominant rebel group in Syria. IS advances and atrocities in Iraq and Syria in 2014 led to U.S. air strikes against it; the first strikes in Syria began in September, and the United States subsequently also targeted other Islamist militant groups in Syria. Other nations subsequently also targeted IS forces with air strikes.

Both government and rebel forces were accused of using chemical weapons. An Aug., 2013, attack in Damascus in which more than 1,300 died was linked by Western governments to the government. Under threat of U.S. attack, the Assad regime agreed to the supervised destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile, most which was accomplished by Sept., 2014, but it was unclear if Syria had omitted any weapons. A Dec., 2013, UN report confirmed that the August attack involved chemical weapons, and found credible evidence of the weapons' use in prior incidents. Beginning in 2014, there were many accusations of chlorine gas attacks by the Syrian government; chlorine had not been among the weapons Syria had to declare. A UN report in 2020 found evidence of Syria's use of chlorine and possibly sarin in attacks in 2017. Both sides in the conflict have been accused by human-rights groups of committing war crimes.

Assad was reelected in a vote that occurred (June, 2014) during the civil war and involved minor opponents. He was reported to have won 89% of the vote, with a 73% turnout (voting only occurred in government-controlled areas). The election and result were criticized by the opposition and many foreign governments as a sham.

By mid-2015 the government controlled or contested much of E Syria, having made gains there since 2013, while various rebel groups were in control mainly in the north and west. Syrian Kurds and their Arab and other rebel allies made advances against the IS during 2015, but the Kurds also found themselves coming under occasional attack from Turkish forces, a situation that continued into 2018. In Sept., 2015, Russia began air strikes in Syria against rebels more generally, to bolster Assad and support his forces, which had suffered reverses. Government forces subsquently made significant gains, and Russian air and other forces were key to government gains in the following years. Russian participation in the conflict ultimately involved more than 60,000 troops.

A cease-fire was established in Feb., 2016, but it did not include the IS and other hardline Islamists, and it soon collapsed. In Apr., 2016, legislative elections were held in government-controlled parts of Syria; the opposition denounced the vote. Turkish troops crossed into N Syria in mid-2016 in support of Arab and Turkmen rebels fighting the IS and to thwart Kurdish rebels west of the Euphrates. Attempts to provide humanitarian aid to civilians in besieged rebel-held Aleppo in the second half of 2016 were largely unsuccessful; the Syrian government regained control of the city in Dec., 2016. U.S.-supported Arab-Kurdish forces, meanwhile, had largely secured control of Hasaka prov. in NE Syria by mid-2016, and by late 2017 had largely secured Ar Raqqah (Raqqa), which had been used by the IS as its capital.

A cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey in Dec., 2016, did not include hardline Islamists or the Kurds, and did not halt government offenses aimed at clearing rebels from the Damascus suburbs. In Mar. and Apr., 2017, apparent nerve gas attacks occurred in Hama and Idlib prov. The United States accused Syria of violating the 2013 agreement and launched a missile strike at the air base the United States identified as the origin of the attack; Syria denied using chemical weapons, the United Nations later accused Syria of the attack. Continued offensives by Syrian government forces and their allies ended IS control of most Syrian towns in late 2017. The successes gave the government control of more than half of Syria.

In Jan., 2018, Turkish and Syrian Arab rebels launched an assault on Kurdish positions in NW Syria to seize an enclave the Turkish border that Kurds had controlled since 2012; the main city of Afrin and most of the surrounding region was captured by the Turks and their allies in March. An apparent poison gas attack against the town of Douma, near Damascus, in Apr., 2018, led to missile and air attacks against Syrian facilities by U.S., British, and French forces. By the end of 2018, further fighting in central E and SW Syria had given the government control of nearly all the country except for the rebel-held areas around Idlib, where a demilitarized zone was established in October; Turkish-controlled areas along the northern border; and Kurdish-controlled areas E of the Euphrates, where a pocket of IS-held territory also remained. By Mar., 2019, Kurdish led forces had taken the last IS-held territory, although the IS remained capable of launching attacks, and Al Qaida–aligned forces controlled most of the rebel areas around Idlib, where Syrian government forces continued to advance. Fighting in Idlib prov., in April and then beginning in December, displaced some 400,000 and 350,000 Syrians respectively.

In Aug., 2019, Turkey and the United States agreed to create in N Syria a so-called safe zone, in which Kurdish forces would be withdrawn, along part of the E Syria-Turkey border, and Kurds later began withdrawing from some areas. In October, however, after Turkey again threatened to invade Kurdish-held border areas, U.S. President Trump abruptly ordered U.S. forces allied with the Kurds to be pulled from the border region. (Trump's order was later extended to all of Syria, but subsequently that order was in large part reversed over concerns about the Islamic State.) Turkey and its Syrian Arab allies invaded Kurdish-held border areas, and were accused committing war crimes; tens of thousands fled the fighting. In some areas Kurds ceded control to Syrian government and Russian forces, and there was fighting at times between Turkish and Syrian forces. The United States secured a pause in the fighting to allow Kurds to withdraw from the border; subsequently Russia and Turkey agreed to establish an 18-mi (30-km) safe zone along nearly all of the Syria-Turkey border E of the Euphrates, with Turkey retaining control of areas it had seized.

In early 2020, Syrian advances in Idlib prov. displaced nearly 1 million people, and led to fighting between Syrian and Turkish forces as Turkey increased its outposts and forces in the area. A truce was declared in March after negotiations between Turkey and Russia, but fighting between Syrian and rebel forces flared again in April. The legislative elections were postponed from April to July due to COVID-19, and again were held only in government-controlled parts of Syria. The ruling party again easily won a majority of the seats. During the civil war, many people have been arrested or have disappeared while in government or rebel custody, and approximately 6.8 million have fled the country and approximately the same number were forcibly displaced inside Syria. As of fall 2021, Assad still held power and effectively had "won" the Civil War (although a portion of Northeastern Syria remained out of government control), but the country's economy was in shambles.


See S. H. Longrigg, Syria and Lebanon under French Mandate (1958, repr. 1972); A. H. Hourani, Syria and Lebanon (1977); A. I. Dawisha, Syria and the Lebanese Crisis (1980); L. B. Paton, The Early History of Syria and Palestine (1981); R. W. Olson, The Ba'ath and Syria, 1947–1982 (1982); P. Seale, The Struggle for Syria (1987); F. Ajami, The Syrian Rebellion (2012); N. Hashemi and D. Postel, ed., The Syria Dilemma (2013); C. R. Lister, The Syrian Jihad (2016).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Syrian Arab Republic (al-Jamhouriya al-Arabiya al-Souriya).

Syria is a state in western Asia. It is bounded by Turkey in the north, Iraq in the east and southeast, Jordan in the south, Israel in the southwest, Lebanon in the south and west, and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. Area, 185,400 sq km. Population, 7.3 million (1975). The capital is Damascus. Administratively, Syria is divided into 14 muhafizas (governorates).

Syria is a republic. The present constitution came into force on Mar. 13, 1973. The head of state is the president, elected for a term of seven years by national referendum. The president has broad powers. He appoints the prime minister and ministers and promulgates laws passed by the People’s Council. He has the right to proclaim a state of emergency and to declare war and general mobilization. He ratifies international treaties and other agreements. He is the commander in chief of the armed forces.

Supreme legislative power is vested in the People’s Council, which is elected by the people for a term of four years. All citizens 18 years or older can vote. Between sessions of the People’s Council, the president exercises legislative power; however, the laws he promulgates must be approved by the People’s Council at its next regular session.

Supreme executive power is vested in the government, or Council of Ministers. The Baath Party (Arab Socialist Renaissance Party), which the constitution proclaims as the leading force in society and state, plays a major role in Syria’s governmental and political system. In the muhafizas, cadis (districts), and nahias (localities), elected bodies hold authority.

The judicial system includes courts of the peace, courts of first instance, various appellate courts, and a supreme court—the Court of Cassation. Apart from the regular judicial system, each administrative level has religious courts, such as sharia courts and courts for the Druze and non-Islamic communities. The High Judicial Council exercises judicial supervision.

Terrain. Much of Syria is a plateau, which falls off from 1,000 m in the west to elevations of 500–200 m in the east. In western Syria, two mountain chains, divided by a graben (Al-Ghab and other depressions), extend from north to south. The western chain consists of the Jabal Ansaryia, which rises to an elevation of 1,562 m. The eastern chain comprises the Jabal al-Zaviya, which reaches an elevation of 939 m, and the eastern slopes of the Anti-Lebanon range and its southern extension, Jabal al-Shaykh (Mount Hermon), which reaches an elevation of 2,814 m. The volcanic massif Jabal al-Duruz (Jebel Druze), which rises to an elevation of 1,803 m, occupies southwestern Syria. A part of the Syrian Desert extends from southeastern Syria. The Jazira Plateau (Upper Mesopotamia), with elevations of 200–450 m, dominates the northeast. A narrow coastal lowland, 20 to 30 km wide, stretches along the Mediterranean coast.

Geological structure and mineral resources. The shifting section of the Arabian Platform, with the Aleppo Uplift, underlies northern Syria; the stable section of the Arabian Platform, with the Druze depression and Rutba Uplift, underlies the south. The boundary structure between the two sections is the Palmyra intracratornal folded zone, which originated in the Palmyra aulakogene. The seismic West Arabian Rift Zone runs through western Syria. The edge of the Mesopotamian fore-deep, which toward the south passes into the Euphrates depression, extends into northeastern Syria.

The Arabian Platform is composed of strata of Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic shelf formations measuring 2 to 6 km thick and up to 9 km thick in the Palmyra aulakogene. Volcano-genic sedimentary Triassic and Jurassic rocks of ophiolitic formation, which at the end of the Cretaceous thrust over the cratonic mantle from a northerly direction, crop out in the Basuta region of northwestern Syria. The depressions are filled by Neo-genic molasses; the Druze depression is overlain by Neogenic and Anthropogenic basalts.

The Mesopotamian foredeep is associated with brachyanti-clinal folds, which contain commercially exploitable deposits of oil, for example, at Suwayda, Karachuk, Tall Rumayla, and elsewhere. The Mesozoic and Cenozoic sediments are associated with deposits of iron ore (at Raju), copper and manganese ore, chromium, sulfur, phosphorites, asphalt, common salt, and lignite.

Climate. Syria’s climate is subtropical and Mediterranean. Maximum precipitation occurs in the winter and spring; the summer is dry. The coastal area has a maritime climate, with an average temperature of 12°C in January and 27°C in August; annual precipitation is less than 700 mm. The Jabal Ansaryia is cooler, with an annual precipitation as high as 1,500 mm. Eastern Syria has a dry continental climate. The average temperature in August is 32.8°C; the winter is warm, with temperatures ranging from 4° to 7°C. Here, however, frosts occur almost every year. In the Syrian Desert, annual precipitation is less than 100 mm. In the summer the khamsin, a hot wind, blows in from the Arabian and Syrian deserts, bringing with it large quantities of sand and dust.

Rivers and lakes. Much of Syria has no natural outlet for surface drainage; wadis are typical of the plains areas. The largest river is the Euphrates, which flows through 675 km in Syria. The Khabur and Balikh rivers are its main tributaries within Syria. The Euphrates is navigable. It has been dammed near the city of Tabaqah; here there is a hydroelectric power plant and a reservoir, which covers 730 sq km. The Tigris River forms the northeastern border of Syria. The Orontes River (al-Asi), which empties into the Mediterranean, is a large river in the northwest. Lake Horns is one of Syria’s largest lakes. Groundwater is widely used, with the help of wells and karezes; oases occur where the water table approaches or intersects the ground surface.

Soils. Sandy-loam and loam deserts with coarse sierozems are characteristic of Syria’s plateau region. Hammadas with rocky and detrital surfaces dominate southern Syria, and stretches of sandy deserts dominate western and central Syria. Solonchaks occur in the low areas, and gray-brown and brown soils in the foothills of the Eastern Taurus, along Syria’s northern border. Yellow soils are typical of the coastal lowland; with increases in elevation, mountain-brown and mountain-forest soils appear.

Flora. The dry eastern part of Syria has desert complexes, with shrubs, subshrubs, and forbs, mostly ephemerals. The oases have orchards, vineyards, fields of cotton and other subtropical crops, and groves of date palms. The Mediterranean coast is noted for citrus fruits. The western slopes of the Jabal Ansaryia are covered with broadleaf oak forests, with evergreen trees and shrubs. The eastern slopes of the Jabal Ansaryia, Anti-Lebanon, and Jabal al-Shaykh are covered by mountain steppes, with xeromorphic shrubs; with decrease in mountain steppes the deserts give way to semideserts. Remnant flood-plain forests of poplar, willow, and tamarisk have been preserved in the Euphrates River valley.

Fauna. Syria has a diverse fauna. The common predators of the deserts are the striped hyena, wolf, jackal, caracal, and fennec; ungulates are represented by the antelope, wild ass, and onager. Rodents and reptiles abound. In forested mountains, Ursus arctos, wild boar, and European wildcat are rare; in bare high mountains, the bezoar goat is found.


Ponikarov, V. P., et al. “Severo-Vostochnaia Afrika i Araviia.” In Geologiia ipoleznye iskopaemye Afriki. Moscow, 1973.
Geologiia i poleznye iskopaemye zarubezhnykh stran: Siriia. Leningrad, 1969.
Vinogradov, B. V., and L. E. Rodin. “Landshafty Siriiskoi pustyni.” In Rastitel’nost’ SSSR i zarubezhnykh stran. Moscow-Leningrad, 1964.
Wolfart, R. Geologie von Syrien und Libanon. Berlin-Nikolassee, 1967. (Beiträge zur regionalen Geologie der Erde, vol. 6.)

M. P. PETROV (physical geography) and E. D. SULIDY-KONDRAFEV (geological stucture)

Arabs make up about 90 percent of Syria’s population; other nationalities include Kurds, Armenians, Turkomans, Turks, Circasians, and Gypsies. Arabic is the official language. Muslims make up about 85 percent of the population; most are Sun-nis, and the rest belong to various Shiite sects. More than 14 percent of the population are Christians, including Orthodox, Catholics, and Maronites. The lunar Hegira is the official calendar; the Gregorian calendar is also used.

Between 1970 and 1973 the population grew at the rate of 3.3 percent per year. Syria’s work force numbers 1.7 million (1972); 53 percent work in agriculture, and 11 percent in industry. The highest population density is in the muhafizas of Latakia and Tartus—170 persons per sq km. The lowest is in Dayr al-Zawr Muhafiza—nine persons per sq km. The proportion of urban population is 43.5 percent. The principal cities are Damascus (837,000 inhabitants in 1973), Aleppo (Halab), Horns (Hims), Hamah, and Latakia.

Ancient Syria (to the fourth century A.D.). The earliest traces of human habitation in what is now Syria date to the Lower Paleolithic, as in the rock-shelters of Jabrud and other sites. Many archaeological remains from the later Stone Age, Bronze Age, and early Iron Age have also been found. From about 2500 B.C. to about 2000 B.C., according to Egyptian sources, nomadic and seminomadic Amorite tribes inhabited Syria. From about 2000 B.C. small city-states, such as Alalakh, Halpa, Qatna, and Kinza or Kadesh, arose in Syria (in ancient and medieval times the term “Syria” referred to a much larger area than it now does); in such cities, kings and notables exploited the free settled population and slaves. The kings gave out land to courtiers and military leaders in return for military service. Trade and usury grew apace.

Because of its favorable location at the junction of trade routes between Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Egypt, and Arabia, Syria was subjected to continual foreign invasion. As early as the third millennium B.C., the states of Mesopotamia, such as Akkad and Ur, tried to extend their influence over northern Syria. In the 18th and 17th centuries B.C., Syria was held by the Hyksos, and from the 16th through early 14th centuries it was an object of contention between Egypt, Mitanni, and the Hatti kingdom. By about 1500 B.C., most of Syria had come under the rule of the Egyptian pharaohs. But Suppiluliumas and later Hatti kings drove the Egyptians out of northern Syria. In the late 14th and early 13th centuries B.C. the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II restored Egypt’s ascendancy in Syria after the battle of Kadesh. In the 14th century B.C. nomadic Aramaean tribes pushed into Syria and were gradually assimilated with the local population.

After Egypt fell into decline and the Hatti kingdom collapsed in the earth 12th century B.C., Syria freed itself from Egyptian and Hatti domination. About 1000 B.C. the various small states in Syria formed alliances, one in the north under the hegemony of the city of Carchemish, the other in the south under Damascus. However, the alliances were too weak to withstand their powerful neighbors. Syria was conquered by Assyria in the late eighth century B.C., by the New Babylonian Empire in the late seventh century B.C., and by the Achaemenids in 539 B.C.

In 333 B.C., Syria fell to Alexander the Great. After the collapse of the Macedonian empire in the late fourth century B.C., Syria formed the nucleus of the Seleucid state. Under the first Seleucids, Greeks and Macedonians emigrated to Syria, founding Greek-type cities, such as Antioch and Laodicea, and reorganizing old cities along Greek lines; the Greek language and culture gained wide acceptance among the Syrian aristocracy. With the decline of the Seleucid state, Syria fell to the Armenian king Tigranes II in the first century B.C. and to Rome in 64 B.C. In the first and second centuries A.D., Syria was one of Rome’s richest and most important provinces; cities located on trade routes, such as Antioch and Palmyra, flourished. Christianity spread widely in the second century A.D. and thereafter.

Rise and growth of feudal relations (fourth to 15th centuries). Syria was a Byzantine province from the late fourth century A.D., a period to which Soviet scholars date the rise of feudal relations in Syria. During the Byzantine-Persian wars, Syria was repeatedly devastated by the Sassanid Persian troops; the Byzantine emperors used Christian Arab tribes against the Sas-sanids and thus helped these tribes penetrate Syria.

In 633, Arab troops, taking advantage of the local population’s alienation by Byzantium’s high taxes and religious intolerance, thrust into Syria from Arabia, won several victories, the most decisive at Yarmuk in 636, and by 640 had subjugated the entire country. In 660 the Arab ruler of Syria, Muawi-yah I, proclaimed himself caliph and moved the capital of the caliphate to Damascus.

Syria remained the cultural and political center of the Umayyad Caliphate until the mid-eighth century. Under the Umayyads, Arab Syrian tribes made up the nucleus of the state’s armed forces. Tribal notables took over large landhold-ings, thus becoming a privileged elite among the ruling class of the caliphate. The people of Syria were gradually arabized and islamized, although Greek remained the official language until the early eighth century; at the same time, the Byzantine administrative system was adopted, and Arab-Muslim culture was enriched by Hellenistic scientific and philosophical traditions. Under the Umayyads, cities and trade made rapid strides, cotton and sugarcane yielded increased harvests, and raw silk was produced and processed in growing quantities.

Under the Abbasids, from the mid-eighth century, Syria toppled from the eminence it had enjoyed under the Umayyads, and the ruling strata of Syrian society were ousted from their posts in the state administration. In 878, as the Abbasid Caliphate disintegrated, Syria was conquered by the Tulunid dynasty of Egypt; in 935 it came under the rule of the Ikhshidid dynasty of Egypt and in 969 under the Fatimids. In the 940’s the bedouin Hamdanid dynasty established itself in northern Syria.

In the late 11th century, most of Syria was conquered by the Seljuks, under whom a system of military fiefs came into broad use. As the Seljuk state broke up into appanages and as the appanages fought among one another and clashed with the Fatimids, the Crusaders found it all the easier to conquer northwestern Syria and, in 1098, to establish the principality of Antioch. Eastern Syria was divided into separate Arab and Seljuk possessions, whose rulers fought the Crusaders and each other. In 1154, Nureddin, the Turkic ruler of Aleppo, brought most of Syria under his sway; in 1174, Saladin succeeded to Nureddin’s legacy and added Syria to his possessions. In 1188, a year after his victory at the Horns of Hattin (Hittin), Saladin drove the Crusaders out of much of the principality of Antioch.

Military conflicts did not preclude an active commercial and cultural exchange between the Crusaders and Arabs in Syria—hence the impetus given to the art of war, fortifications, irrigation, and science, especially medicine. In the late 13th century, Syria came under the rule of the Mamelukes of Egypt; in 1260 the Mongols invaded Syria but were driven back by the Mameluke sultan Qutuz. Devastating epidemics from about 1450 to 1500, foreign invasion, an unstable central power, and heavy taxation took their toll on Syria’s economy and culture in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Ascendancy of feudalism and formation (from the mid- 19th century) of capitalist relations under semicolonial status (from the 16th century to 1943).OTTOMAN RULE (EARLY 16TH CENTURY TO 1918). After the Ottoman sultan Selim I defeated the Mamelukes at Marj Dabik in 1516, Syria was annexed by the Ottoman Empire. An Ottoman military-bureaucratic elite ruled the country, extracting taxes, customs dues, and other levies from the people and sending the money to Istanbul. The sultan confiscated Syrian lands and declared them his property. Part of the lands were turned into military fiefs for the Ottoman spahis, and part were given out for purposes of tax farming (seeILTIZAM) to Syrian ayans (notables), who had strong positions in the urban economy and exerted political influence owing to their participation in the provincial divans, the councils under the Ottoman governors.

The general crisis that overtook the Ottoman Empire beginning in the late 17th century, the increasing decentralization, the higher taxes, and the government’s inability to protect the settled population from bedouin raids all contributed to a decline in Syria’s economy. The rural population decreased, arable land was abandoned, the cities were swelled by an unproductive population, and famines grew more frequent. Foreign trade was increasingly dominated first by Venetian merchants and later by Dutch, British, and French trading companies, whose privileges were guaranteed by capitulations.

During the Egyptian occupation of Syria from 1832 to 1840, the Egyptian pasha Mehemet Ali attempted to restructure the administration and to develop trade and agriculture. However, these attempts, which were motivated by a desire to assure tax revenues and to introduce compulsory military service and a state corvée, only made the economic and political situation worse. As a result, anti-Egyptian uprisings broke out, and Ottoman rule in Syria was thereby easily restored in 1840. In the era of the Tanzimat reforms, the government introduced into Syria a centralized administration, with a separation of financial, military, and administrative functions; it proclaimed religious equality for all, introduced certain elements of municipal government, and drew up commercial and civil legislation.

In the mid-19th century the European powers entered a period of commercial expansion; in the late 19th century the flow of European capital into Syria increased accordingly. The Europeans invested mainly in municipal utilities and in the construction of railroads and the port of Alexandretta; France was especially active in this respect. By the early 20th century, Syria, like the Ottoman Empire as a whole, was little more than a colony of the imperialist powers. Thus, commodity-money relations grew rapidly, the natural economy and handicraft production deteriorated, large landholdings came to prevail, and rudimentary forms of local capitalist entrepreneurship appeared.

Foreign influence and the Ottoman feudal-bureaucratic yoke grew especially oppressive during the reactionary and despotic regime of Abdul-Hamid II (1878–1908). The Syrian and Lebanese intelligentsia were therefore all the more receptive to Arab bourgeois nationalism, which came into full flower in the 20th century. The Young Turk Revolution of 1908 gave an impetus to the peasant movement in Syria—for example, uprisings broke out in Jabal al-Duruz—and to revived activity by legal and underground political organizations among Syrian officers and bourgeois intelligentsia.

With the onset of World War I, martial law was declared in Syria. The Ottoman military authorities requisitioned food and raw materials for export to Germany and shipment to other parts of the Ottoman Empire. During the war, Syrian nationalists began preparations for an anti-Ottoman armed insurrection. However, the Ottomans uncovered the plans for insurrection; mass repressions quashed the Syrian people’s movement for the creation of an independent Arab state.

FRENCH RULE (1919–43). The liberation movement in Syria was greatly influenced by the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 in Russia, by Lenin’s peace program, and by the Soviet government’s publication of the imperialists’ secret treaties on partition of the Arab East. In September 1918 an anti-Ottoman uprising broke out in southern Syria, and on Sept. 30, 1918, Arab detachments liberated Damascus, where “Arab independence” was proclaimed soon thereafter. In October 1918, British troops occupied Syria, and in the autumn of 1919, by the terms of an Anglo-French agreement, French forces replaced the British. In April 1920, at the San Remo Conference, Great Britain and France agreed that France receive a mandate over Syria; in 1923 the League of Nations confirmed the French mandate in Syria.

In July 1920 the French, after overcoming the armed resistance of Syrian patriots, took Damascus. In an attempt to deny the existence of Syria as a state, they divided the country into several small “states”: the “state of Damascus,” the “state of Aleppo,” the “autonomous territory of Alawi,” and the “autonomous region of Jabal al-Duruz,” all of which were directly subordinate to the French high commissioner.

From about 1925 the national liberation movement in Syria entered a new and higher stage. The main liberation forces were primarily workers, urban petit bourgeois elements, and the toiling peasantry but also included the national intelligentsia, part of the national bourgeoisie, and some feudal lords. The Syrian Communist Party (SCP), founded in 1924, was prominent in the national liberation movement. The anti-imperialist struggle spawned several nationalist bourgeois parties, including the Party of the People, or People’s Party (Hizb al-Shaab, 1925), and the National Bloc (Kutla Wataniyya, 1927).

Anti-imperialist uprisings broke out in Hawran District in August 1920, in northern Syria in 1921 and 1922, and in Jabal al-Duruz in 1922 and 1923. From 1925 to 1927 all Syria was caught up in a national liberation uprising. The uprising was brutally suppressed. However, the French government was compelled to make changes in the colonial administration of Syria and to enlist the political and economic cooperation of the national bourgeoisie and large landowners. In 1925 the state of Aleppo and the state of Damascus were joined together in the state of Syria. In 1928 elections were held for a constituent assembly. In May 1930 the Organic Statute (constitution) was introduced in Syria, proclaiming the country a republic, although the French mandate remained in force. The regions of Jabal al-Duruz and Latakia (formerly the autonomous territory of Alawi) were kept separate from Syria and under French administration.

The national liberation movement in Syria forced the French to open negotiations with National Bloc leaders on treaty recognition of Syrian independence. In 1936 a Franco-Syrian treaty was signed. It recognized the sovereignty of Syria, promised French noninterference in Syria’s internal affairs, and guaranteed the country’s unity and integrity; Jabal al-Duruz and Latakia were reunited with the rest of Syria. The treaty further provided a three-year transition period for bringing the French mandate regime to an end and for Syria’s admission to the League of Nations; it placed limitations on where, when, and how long French troops could be stationed on Syrian soil. At the same time, France kept its troops and military bases in Syria and retained the right to move its troops within and through Syria; the interests of French capital in Syria were guaranteed. The Syrian parliament ratified the treaty; however, the French government, under pressure from reactionary circles, announced in January 1939 that it would not ratify the treaty.

French colonial rule slowed the growth of the Syrian national economy. French financial monopolies held sway over the country’s economic life. The French-owned Bank of Syria and Lebanon had the right of issue. The French owned the railroads, water mains, electric power plants, ports, and the tobacco monopoly. The development of a national industry was retarded, and feudal agrarian relations and extensive agriculture were preserved. The overwhelming majority of the country’s population was illiterate.

In September 1939, with the onset of World War II, martial law was proclaimed in Syria, and large contingents of French troops were stationed in Syria. After France capitulated to fascist Germany in June 1940, a Vichy administration moved into Syria and handed over control to a German-Italian armistice commission. In May 1941 fascist Germany flew aircraft in and out of Syrian airfields.

The wartime disruption of Syria’s traditional trade relations with its neighbors and the country’s plunder at the hands of the Vichy authorities brought growing economic difficulties and a sharp decline in the standard of living. Famine broke out in the winter of 1940–41. Early in 1940, in an attempt to forestall mass demonstrations, the French high commissioner entered into negotiations with representatives of the Syrian nationalists and announced France’s “acceptance” of the Syrian people’s demands for independence. However, neither attempted deals with the bourgeois-landowner elite nor mass repressions could stem the antifascist national liberation movement of the Syrian people. Several antifascist organizations were active, and the communists took an active part in them; the League of Struggle Against Fascism, founded in 1939, had a great impact on public opinion.

On June 8, 1941, British troops and Free French units entered Syria as part of the Allied powers’ military operations in the Near East. The Free French government and Great Britain officially promised to grant Syria freedom and independence. In fact, however, Free French representatives tried to maintain French dominance in Syria. The British command, for its part, attempted to exploit wartime conditions to extend British influence over Syria.

The collapse of the Vichy regime gave greater freedom of action to the Syrian patriotic forces, headed by the SCP. All progressive elements, including the communists, emerged from the underground, and the League of Struggle Against Fascism resumed its activity. Mass demonstrations and similar popular actions were held in 1942 and 1943. In 1943, owing to the unyielding struggle of Syrian patriots, the constitution of 1930, which had been suspended in 1939, was restored. Parliamentary elections in July 1943 brought victory to the National Bloc (Kutla Wataniyya). On Aug. 17, 1943, the new parliament elected a president of Syria—Shukri al-Kuwatli, general secretary of the Kutla Wataniyya.

INDEPENDENT SYRIA (LATE 1943—FEBRUARY 1963). The Syrian people’s stubborn struggle for independence finally came to fruition. In December 1943 the French mandate was abolished, and on Jan. 1, 1944, the Syrian government assumed jurisdiction over all fundamental questions of government. Independent Syria took several measures to strengthen its sovereignty in foreign affairs. On July 22, 1944, upon the initiative of the Syrian government, diplomatic relations were established between Syria and the Soviet Union. In February 1945, Syria declared war on fascist Germany and Japan. In March 1945 it took part in the founding of the Arab League. On Oct. 24, 1945, it was admitted to the United Nations.

Nevertheless, British and French troops remained in Syria. The French government agreed to withdraw its troops if Syria granted France certain economic and strategic privileges. The Syrian government refused these demands, and in May 1945 clashes broke out between French troops and the populace of several cities. The French subjected Damascus, Horns, and several other cities to artillery bombardment. In the autumn of 1945 the Syrian government demanded that Great Britain and France immediately evacuate their troops. In January 1946 it requested the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution on the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops; the USSR, Poland, Yugoslavia, and Egypt supported its request. Although the Security Council did not adopt a resolution in favor of Syria, the pressure of world opinion, the courageous struggle of the Syrian people, and the vigorous support of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries compelled Great Britain and France to withdraw their troops from Syria. Liberation Day, the commemoration of Apr. 17, 1946, the day the last foreign soldier left Syria, is the Syrian national holiday.

Even after Syria won its independence, foreign capital, primarily French capital, was a force to be reckoned with; British and American capital expansion increased. Large feudal land-holdings were the rule, and most peasants remained métayers, or leaseholders. Nevertheless, independence stimulated national economic growth to a limited extent; banks and national industrial enterprises, which primarily produced textiles and foodstuffs, came into existence. Between 1951 and 1955 several foreign companies were nationalized with compensation. The basis for a state sector in the economy was laid. Agreements in 1955 and 1956 with Great Britain’s Iraq Petroleum Company and the USA’s Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company provided that Syria receive 50 percent of the companies’ profits from transporting oil through pipelines across Syria. The working class grew, from 33,000 in 1937 to 70,000 in 1957. In 1946 parliament passed a labor law. However, the ruling big bourgeoisie clamped down harder on the progressive forces; in 1947 the SCP was outlawed and had to go underground.

Political instability in this period was unavoidable—the imperialists were embroiled in a growing rivalry over Syria, Great Britain and the USA were increasingly attempting to draw Syria into their own orbits and, indeed, interfering in Syria’s internal affairs, and various political groupings were contending for power. Thus, there were four coups d’etat in Syria between 1949 and 1951. In December 1951, Adib al-Shishakli seized power and established a military dictatorship; in July 1953 he became president. All parties and public organizations were disbanded, parliament was prorogued, and workers’ demonstrations were put down by force. The constitution of 1950, which had proclaimed Syria a democratic parliamentary Arab republic and guaranteed certain rights for the workers, was abolished.

A national democratic movement, in which the SCP was active, overthrew the Shishakli regime in February 1954, and the constitution of 1950 was restored. The SCP again emerged from the underground. In the parliamentary elections of September and October 1954, those who advocated a stronger national independence were in the majority. For the first time a communist—Halad Bagdash, general secretary of the SCP— was elected a deputy to parliament. Syria’s foreign policy turned clearly anti-imperialist. The imperialist powers’ attempts to lure Syria into the Baghdad Pact came to naught; Syria took part in the Bandung Conference of 1955 and strongly supported Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956. The Syrian government also rejected the Eisenhower Doctrine. The democratic movement gained strength and momentum, and the SCP, greater influence. The Parliamentary National Front, which included the SCP, was founded in 1957.

In February 1958, Syria and Egypt merged to form a single state, the United Arab Republic (UAR). In September 1958, in the Syrian part of the UAR, a new agrarian reform law provided for alienation of much of the large landowners’ land and redistribution to landless and land-poor peasants. Between 1959 and 1961 several measures were taken to strengthen the state sector and limit the influence of the big bourgeoisie; the largest industrial companies were nationalized. The Syrian big bourgeoisie and large landowners were hostile to this policy. At the same time, economic instability (drought-induced poor harvests; supply irregularities) brought widespread discontent. Political parties, including the SCP, were outlawed.

Political conditions soon came to a head in Syria. The Syrian big bourgeoisie and large landowners disliked the policy measures directed against them, especially President Nasser’s decree of July 1961 introducing state planning and strengthening the state sector in Syria. On Sept. 28, 1961, in a move prepared by these social strata, Syria seceded from the UAR. Power passed to the Syrian big bourgeoisie and large landowners. In early 1962 the government repealed the progressive measures enacted in the period 1958–61; in so doing, it fed popular discontent.

In March 1962, Syrian army leaders staged another coup d’etat. Moderate circles of the bourgeoisie and military took power. The agrarian reform and nationalization of the largest industrial companies were resurrected. A constituent assembly, convoked in September 1962, restored the constitution of 1950.

On the path of national democratic transformations (since March 1963). On Mar. 8, 1963, a military coup brought the Baath Party to power in Syria. The head of government was the rightist Baath leader Salah al-Din al-Bitar, who remained in office until October 1964. In 1963, however, under pressure from the Baath left, the government nationalized the banks and insurance companies and passed a new agrarian reform law that, among other things, lowered the maximum limits on land-ownership. As the leftists grew stronger in the Baath leadership and in the government, the big bourgeoisie lost more ground. The trade unions and peasant organizations grew in strength. The National Revolutionary Council, established in August 1965, included workers’ and peasants’ representatives.

In December 1965 the Baath rightists ousted the Baath leftists from all party and government posts. The big bourgeoisie once again stepped up its activity, demanding a review of the nationalization laws. The government tried to gain control of the General Federation of Trade Unions, which had been founded in 1945 (according to some sources, 1938). This move brought widespread popular consternation, and protest strikes and demonstrations were held in Damascus and Aleppo. On Feb. 23, 1966, the Baath leftists, supported by the army and trade unions, expelled the Baath rightists from the party and drove them out of the country altogether.

The new government included Baath leftists, other leftists, and one communist. It announced its resolve to rely on the toiling masses and to cooperate with all progressive forces in Syria, in the Arab world, and in the international arena. It proposed a program of social and economic reforms. The state sector became the dominant sector in the economy; in 1967 it accounted for about 85 percent of all industrial output in Syria. Agrarian reform went forward at a faster pace,

In November 1970 internal disagreements on questions of domestic and inter-Arab politics led to a crisis within Baath. A reform movement, headed by Hafiz al-Assad (president of Syria since Mar. 12, 1971), sprang up. New leaders took charge of the party and state. They carried forward progressive social and economic reforms and embarked on the democratization of the country’s social and political life. In 1972 the National Progressive Front took final form; it included the Baath Party, the SCP, the Arab Socialist Union of Syria (founded 1964), and several other parties.

The National Progressive Front adopted a charter that proclaimed the socialist transformation of society, the consolidation and extension of social and economic gains, the expansion of the state sector in the economy, and the development of cooperative agriculture. In a referendum on Mar. 12, 1973, the Syrian people approved a new constitution, which declared the Syrian Arab Republic a socialist national democratic state. Progressive social, economic, and political measures have encountered opposition from large landowners, the big bourgeoisie, and proimperialist elements.

In June 1967, Syria was attacked by Israel. Israeli troops seized Syria’s Golan Heights, and Syria suffered great material losses. The Soviet Union resolutely condemned Israeli aggression and demanded the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Syrian territory. On June 6, 1967, the UN Security Council passed a cease-fire resolution. However, Israeli troops remained in Syria and subjected Damascus and other Syrian communities to bombardment.

In October 1973, Syria joined other Arab countries in military operations against Israel. In 1974, in accord with an agreement between Syria and Israel on a pullback of Syrian and Israeli troops, Israel withdrew from part of the Golan Heights region it had previously occupied. The Syrian government demands the liberation of all Arab lands occupied by Israel in 1967 and the satisfaction of the legitimate national rights of the Arab nation of Palestine.

Syria maintains friendly relations with the USSR and other socialist countries.


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A. I. PAVLOVSKAIA, I. SH. SHIFMAN (to the fourth century A.D.), I. M. SMILIANSKAIA (fourth century to 1914), K. S. MAKSIMOV (1914–45), and N. MALAIAN (since 1946)

The Baath Party, or Arab Socialist Renaissance Party (Hizb al-Baath al-Arabi al-Ishtiraki), founded in 1947, has been the ruling party in Syria since March 1963. The Syrian Communist Party (SCP; Hizb al-Shuyui al-Suri) was founded in 1924, and the Syrian Arab Socialist Union (Al-Ittihad al-Arabi al-Ishtiraki) in 1964. The Arab Socialist Party (Hizb al-Ishtiraki al-Arabi) was founded in 1950, and the Socialist Unionist movement in 1961. The National Progressive Front, founded in March 1972, unites the Baath Party, the SCP, and other parties.

The General Federation of Trade Unions was founded in 1945 (according to some sources, 1938). The General Union of Peasants was founded in 1964, and the General Women’s Federation in 1967. The Revolutionary Youth Organization was founded in 1968, and the National Union of Students in 1964. The Union of Democratic Youth was established in 1949. The Soviet-Syrian Friendship Society was founded in 1967.


General state of the economy. Syria is an agrarian country, whose economic development was slowed by Ottoman and French colonial rule. When the Baath Party came to power in the 1960’s, it proclaimed a course of noncapitalist development and enacted progressive social and economic reforms. By 1974, the state controlled all large industry, 60 percent of the export operations, and 50 percent of the import operations. However, the private sector still dominates agriculture, domestic commerce, and handicraft production. In 1973 agriculture accounted for 18 percent of the gross national product, industry 20 percent, construction 4 percent, transportation and communications 10 percent, services 28 percent, and trade 18 percent. The per capita national income was US $351.

Economic and social development programs have been under way in Syria since 1955. The five-year program for 1971–75 provided for 8 billion Syrian pounds in appropriations. Of this, 28 percent went to industry and the construction of the Euphrates hydropower complex, which consists of a hydroelectric power plant with a capacity of 800,000 kilowatts and a reservoir that covers 730 sq km. Twelve percent went to agriculture and irrigation, 11 percent to infrastructure, and 19 percent to construction.

Technical and economic cooperation with the USSR and other socialist countries is of great importance to Syria’s economic development. The credits granted by the socialist countries go to the state sector of the economy, such as the construction of new industrial enterprises, the opening up of new lands for cultivation, improvement of agricultural production, and road construction. With the economic and technical aid of the Soviet Union, Syria in 1975 completed work on the first unit of the Euphrates hydropower complex and on the 750-km-long railroad between Latakia and Qamishli; it also brought the new-found Jabisah oil deposit under exploitation.

Agriculture. Agriculture is the mainstay of the Syrian economy. Until the 1960’s, large landholdings and small peasant plots prevailed. Large landowners made up less than 3 percent of all landowners but owned about 80 percent of all the cultivated land. Landless and land-poor peasants, by contrast, made up about 70 percent of all peasants but had to lease land from the

Table 1. Sown area and harvest of major crops
 Sown area (ha)Harvest (tons)
*Annual average
Tomatoes ...................10,00017,00027,00084,000171,000384,000
Cotton .....................246,000266,000181,000268,000373,000376,000

landlords on difficult, often oppressive, terms. Hired labor was common.

The agrarian reform law of 1958 established maximums for landholdings: 300 hectares (ha) for nonirrigated land and 80 ha for irrigated land. Approximately 1.5 million ha were to be confiscated (and their owners compensated) and redistributed among the peasants, who had to pay for the parcels of land they received. In 1963 the law was amended: maximum private landownership was reduced to 15–50 ha for irrigated lands and 80–200 for nonirrigated lands, depending on such factors as regional differences and extent of irrigation.

Between 1959 and 1965 the government sequestered large landholdings in excess of the maximums. Since 1966, the primary purpose of the agrarian reform has been to redistribute confiscated lands and state lands to the peasants. By 1973, of 1.4 million ha of lands expropriated, 800,000 ha had been redistributed among landless and land-poor peasants, and 300,000 ha were given over to cooperatives and state farms. The cooperative movement has grown as the agrarian reform has moved forward; in 1974, 1,725 agricultural supply-and-marketing cooperatives served 129,000 peasant farms. Syria has 17,400 tractors and 2,200 combines (1973). The USSR and other socialist countries have made great contributions to the development of Syrian agriculture—for example, the USSR to plant cultivation and Bulgaria to animal husbandry.

Syria has 8.5 million ha of land suitable for agriculture; 6 million ha are already under cultivation. Shifting crop cultivation and extensive methods are the rule. Nonirrigated lands cover 4.7 million ha; the rest is irrigated, by means of pumps, water-wheels, and other devices. With the completion of the Euphrates hydropower complex, which is being constructed with the USSR’s assistance, 640,000 more ha will be irrigated.

About 70 percent of the sown area is planted every year in grains and legumes. Wheat is the basic food crop; barley, oats, corn, lentils, and broad beans are also grown, notably in the muhafizas of Hamah, Aleppo, and Hasakah. As for industrial crops, cotton is grown in the muhafizas of Raqqah, Dayr al-Zawr, and Aleppo, sugar beets in the muhafizas of Homs and Hamah, and tobacco in the muhafizas of Latakia and Tartus. Northwestern Syria—the Mediterranean coast and the valleys of the Orontes, Kuwayk, and Afrin rivers—is noted for its apricots, figs, citrus fruits, wine grapes, olives, melons and gourds, and vegetables. Table 1 shows the major agricultural crops in Syria by area sown and size of harvest.

Animal husbandry is also extensive. Syria has 5.9 million sheep, 500,000 head of cattle, 700,000 goats, and 300,000 asses (1974); horses and mules are also raised. Seminomadic and nomadic herdsmen roam the semidesert regions. Syria’s waters yielded 1,700 tons of fish in 1974.

Industry. Syria’s industrial enterprises are typically small in scale and usually involve at least some crafts work. Oil is extracted at Karachuk, al-Suwayda, and Tall Rumayla, phosphorites at Wadi al-Rawdah and Vostochnoe, and common salt east of Dayr al-Zawr. The main energy source is oil, which is used to fuel electric power plants. The installed capacity of Syria’s electric power plants totals 437 megawatts (1973).

Manufacturing in Syria is represented primarily by the textile industry, which accounts for more than one-third of Syria’s total industrial output; textile production is concentrated in Damascus, Aleppo, Hamah, and Horms. The food-processing industry produces flour, vegetable oil, wines, canned goods, and sugar, the last at Jisr al-Shughur and Adhra. Other enterprises produce tobacco (Latakia), leather, footwear, building materials, and nonalcoholic beverages. Table 2 shows output by major type of industry.

Several plants were built in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, including a steel-rolling mill in Hamah, an oil refinery (capacity, 2.7 million tons per year) and mineral-fertilizer plant in Homs, a tractor-assembly plant in Aleppo, and an electric-power plant in Latakia. The USSR has helped build a nitrogen-fertilizer plant on Lake Homs, a plant producing rein-forced-concrete railroad sleepers in the Aleppo area, and the Rastan Dam and hydroelectric power plant on the Orontes River. Syria has long been known for its crafts, especially its rugs, leather goods, and articles of copper, gold, and silver.

Transportation. Syria has 2,200 km of railroads (1974), 13,700 km of roads (1974), including 9,800 km of paved roads, and 57,800 motor vehicles (1973), including 34,700 passenger cars and 23,100 trucks. Motor vehicles carry 85 percent of all domestic freight traffic. The chief seaports are Latakia, Tartus, and Baniyas, with freight turnovers of 1.8 million tons, 5 million tons, and 30.1 million tons, respectively (1973). Foreign ships carry Syria’s maritime trade. In 1975, Syria undertook the construction of its own merchant marine. The main airport is in Damascus. Syria has 1,800 km of pipelines (1973); oil pipelines link the oil fields in Iraq and Saudi Arabia with Baniyas and Tartus, Syria’s Mediterranean ports. Petroleum-products pipelines branch out from Homs to Aleppo, Latakia, and Damascus.

Foreign trade. In 1974, Syria’s exports totaled 2.914 billion

Table 2. Output of leading industrial products
Oil (tons).............................................................4,243,0006,535,000
Phosphates (tons).............................................650,000
Common salt (tons)...........................................9,80046,30035,100*
Electric power (kilowatt-hours).........................368,000,000947,000,0001,120,000,000
Cement (tons)....................................................449,000964,000946,000
Cotton yarn (tons)..............................................9,70020,00028,500*
Fabrics silk and cotton (tons)............................27,00029,700*
Refined sugar (tons; from domestic raw)........11,00028,00046,000*

Syrian pounds (excluding reexports), and its imports 4.571 billion Syrian pounds. Cotton accounts for 26.1 percent of the country’s exports (1974), petroleum and petroleum products 55.2 percent, and wool 2 percent. Other exports include yarn, cotton fabrics and garments, livestock, fruits, vegetables, grains, tobacco, and hides. Foodstuffs account for 23.8 percent of Syria’s imports, machines and equipment 13.2 percent, and metal and metal products 18.8 percent; chemicals are also imported. As for Syria’s main trading partners, the USSR accounts for 14.3 percent of Syria’s exports and 3.8 percent of its imports, Lebanon for 7 percent of exports and 7.8 percent of imports, the Federal Republic of Germany for 15.1 percent of exports and 12.5 percent of imports, Great Britain for 9.7 percent of exports and 3.1 percent of imports, Greece for 17.5 percent of exports, and Italy for 9 percent of imports. Syria has a well-developed tourist industry; the 454,800 foreign tourists who visited the country in 1973 generated revenues of $56 million. The monetary unit is the Syrian pound. At the exchange rate offered by the State Bank of the USSR in February 1976, 100 Syrian pounds equaled 20 rubles 63 kopeks.


Syria’s armed forces consist of ground troops, an air force, and a navy, with a combined strength of 177,500 (1975). Syria’s police force numbers about 9,500. The president has general command over the armed forces, and the minister of defense and general staff have direct command. Armed forces personnel include draftees, volunteers, and professionals; the term of active military duty is 2.5 years. Command cadres are trained at military schools and abroad.

The ground troops number 150,000, in three motorized infantry divisions, two armored divisions, eight detached brigades, and detached units of artillery troops, engineer troops, signal corpsmen, and logistics troops. The air force has 25,000 personnel and about 400 combat aircraft. The navy has 2,500 personnel, with rocket and torpedo boats and minesweepers. Most of Syria’s armaments and combat equipment are foreign-made.

Medicine and public health. According to World Health Organization statistics, the birthrate in Syria is 47.5 per 1,000 people, and the death rate 15.3 per 1,000 people (1973). Infant mortality is 22 per 1,000 live births (1972). Infectious and parasitic diseases prevail. Gastrointestinal diseases are common; for example, as many as 85 percent of all children suffer from amoebic dysentery. Tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, children’s infections, and venereal diseases are also common. In some areas as many as 86 percent of the inhabitants have trachoma. Leprosy, typhus, dengue, leishmaniases, and helminthiases occur, the last in a variety of forms, such as ankylostomiasis, genitourinary schistosomiasis, ascariasis, trichocephaliasis, fascioliasis, enterobiasis, echinococcosis, and strongyloidiasis. The incidence of parasitic diseases is highest in northern Syria; for example, genitourinary schistosomiasis and cutaneous leishmaniasis are commonest along the Euphrates and its tributaries. Ankylostomiasis occurs primarily in eastern Syria.

Smallpox vaccination is compulsory in Syria, and there are vaccination programs against tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, and poliomyelitis. In 1956, when 25 percent of Syria’s population lived in areas where malaria was endemic, a malaria eradication program was set under way. Although the incidence of malaria dropped sharply and mortality fell almost to zero, malaria remains widespread in some areas owing to the presence of a great number of nomads, the constant seasonal migration of agricultural workers, and natural conditions favorable to the disease.

In 1971, Syria had 79 hospitals, with 5,900 beds, that is, about one bed per 1,000 inhabitants. About 5,000 beds were located in 32 state institutions. Outpatient services are provided by the polyclinic divisions of hospitals, 38 public-health centers, 192 dispensaries, three first-aid stations, and three mobile health-care units. Syria also had 54 maternity centers, five hygiene centers at schools, two rehabilitation centers, two psychoneurological dispensaries, eight tuberculosis dispensaries, 13 antimalaria centers, two antischistosomiasis centers, and one center for the treatment of ankylostomiasis.

In 1971, Syria had 1,700 doctors, or one doctor for every 3,900 inhabitants. It also had 445 dentists, 874 pharmacists, and about 3,000 paramedical personnel. Medical care must be paid for. Those whose family income is less than 200 Syrian pounds per month can obtain cards for free medical care at state medical facilities. Syria has two schools for training physicians, one for dentists, and one for pharmacists; paramedical personnel are trained at five nursing schools. In 1970 public health expenditures amounted to 4 percent of Syria’s budget.

Veterinary services. Infectious diseases, such as anthrax and blackleg, are common in Syria. Sheep brucellosis, cattle tuberculosis, foot-and-mouth disease, cattle plague, glanders, rabies, and several other diseases also occur. Helminthiases, hypoder-moses, salmonelloses, and mycoses are widespread and have an adverse effect on animal husbandry in Syria. Veterinary services do not extend over all the country. In 1974, Syria had 33 veterinary specialists. In 1969 a veterinary faculty was opened at the university in Aleppo.

Since Syria won its independence, it has annually made increases in appropriations for public education and the training of national cadres; between 1945 and 1963 it appropriated about 850 million Syrian pounds for education, between 1964 and 1970, about 1.2 billion Syrian pounds, and in 1973 alone, 368 million Syrian pounds. Between 1946 and 1972 the number of state schools increased more than nine times; instruction is free of charge. In 1971 compulsory elementary education was introduced. Syria also has various religious schools. In 1970, 60 percent of the population was illiterate. In 1974, 300,000 students were enrolled in courses for the eradication of illiteracy, and about 7,000 students were enrolled in adult education programs.

Syria’s educational system is fully comprehensive, running from primary schools to universities. Primary schools have a six-year program. Secondary schools are of two types, those with a three-year incomplete (preparatory) program and those with a three-year complete program. The latter have several major fields of study, which, if completed, confer the right to enter the corresponding department of higher educational institutions.

In the 1971–72 school year, Syria had, at the primary-school level, 5,681 state schools, 160 private schools, and 73 schools built with UNESCO assistance; 1 million pupils were enrolled in these schools. At the secondary level, Syria had 775 state schools, 90 private schools, and 39 UNESCO schools, with 353,000 students in all. It also had 49 four-year vocational and technical schools, with 13,300 students. Teachers for primary and incomplete secondary schools receive training at 22 pedagogical colleges, which in the 1971–72 academic year had more than 4,700 students. A training center for vocational and technical education has been built in Aleppo with the assistance of the USSR; it has graduated about 3,000 highly qualified workers and craftsmen.

Syria has three universities. The university in Damascus was founded in 1923, the university in Aleppo in 1960, and the university in Latakia in 1971. Syria also has 83 higher schools and intermediate institutes, which train highly qualified technicians; such institutes include the Institute of Technology, the Oriental Institute of Music, the Higher Industrial School, and the Technical Institute for Agriculture—all in Damascus. All higher educational institutions are state-run but charge tuition. In the 1971–72 academic year about 49,000 students were enrolled in Syria’s higher educational institutions.

Syria has several major libraries. The Al-Zahiriah national library in Damascus, founded in 1880, has 68,000 volumes and 12,000 manuscripts. The Damascus University library, founded in 1924, has 103,000 volumes. The National Library in Aleppo was founded in 1924. The major museums are the National Museum (founded 1919) and the Azem Palace (Museum of Folk Art), both in Damascus, and the National Museum in Aleppo (1960) and the Palmyra Museum (1961).


The Higher Council for Science generally coordinates research and publications in the natural and technical sciences. The Higher Council for Art, Literature, and the Social Sciences translates and publishes scholarly works in relevant fields and also runs the documentary archives on the Palestinian problem. The Arab Academy of Damascus, founded in 1919, conducts research on the Arabic language, literature, and culture; the Academy of Damascus was also founded in 1919.

The Syrian universities have various affiliated scientific research institutes. The University of Aleppo has the Agricultural Research Center. The University of Damascus has the Higher Institute of Social Work, which was founded in 1962 and does economic and social research. Damascus’ French Institute of Arab Studies, founded in 1922, deals with Arabic philology, history, and archaeology.

The USSR has helped Syria design hydropower installations, explore for oil, iron ore, phosphorites, and other minerals, and establish three agricultural scientific research centers, with laboratories and experimental fields; the three institutes are in Latakia, Raqqah and Qamishli.


Sowemennaia Siriia. Moscow, 1974.

In 1974, Syria had seven daily newspapers, with a total circulation of more than 70,000, and more than 40 other periodical publications. Al-Thawrah, a daily newspaper founded in 1963, with a circulation of 20,000, is the official government organ. Al-Baath, a daily newspaper published since 1962, with a circulation of 20,000, is the organ of the Baath Party. Kifah al-Oum-mal al-Ishtiraki, a weekly published since 1966, with a circulation of 10,000, is the organ of the General Federation of Trade Unions. Al-Muallem al-Arabi, a monthly journal founded in 1948, is published by the Ministry of Education. Nidal al-Fellahin, a weekly published since 1965, with a circulation of 10,000, is the organ of the General Union of Peasants.

The Syrian Arab Information Agency is a government agency; established in 1966, it is headquartered in Damascus. Syrian radio and television are also government-run. Radio programs have been broadcast since 1950. Programs are in Arabic and in various other languages, including French, English, Russian, German, Spanish, Polish, Turkish, and Bulgarian. Television broadcasts were inaugurated in 1960.

Syrian folklore can be traced to earliest Babylonia and Assyria. From the second to 14th centuries A.D., Syrian writers used Syriac; from the eighth century, they used Arabic as well. By the 14th century, Arabic had completely displaced Syriac from profane literature; Syriac persisted only in sacred literature. In the medieval period, several prominent figures in classical Arabic literature made Syria their home, including Abu Tammam (c. 796–845), al-Buhturi (819–97), al-Mutanabbi (915–65), Abu Firas (932–67), and the philosopher Abu al-Ala al-Maari (973–1057 or 1058). The Arabic literature of Syria developed along the same general lines as did Arabic culture at large.

The 19th century ushered in a period of enlightenment and literary revival, a period known to the Arabs as al-Nahdah, or the Resurgence. In Syria (including Lebanon and Palestine), older figures in this movement included Nasif al-Yaziji (1800–71) and Butrus al-Bustani (1819–83), whose names are synonymous with the rise of national schools and a national press. The first newspaper, Hadiqat al-Akhbar, was founded in 1858. Francis Marrash (1836–73) was influenced by J.-J. Rousseau and, in his book The Forest of Truth (1866), presented a philosophical justification of the concept of freedom. The ideas of the enlightenment also found expression among various writers, including Adib Ishaq (1856–85), the historical novelist Jirji Zaydan (1861–1914), and Jamil ibn Nakhlah al-Mudawwar (1862–1907), Farah An tun (1874–1922), and sheikh Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi (1849–1903). Rizk Allah Hassun (1825–80) published the first Arabic translation of I. A. Krylov’s fables. Until the mid-19th century, Syrian literature preserved the traditions of the later Arabic classical writers. Religious qasidas adorned the poetry of the period.

The French mandate over Syria from 1923 furthered the Western European penetration of all aspects of Syrian life. A group of Syrian philologists, who formed the core of the Arab Academy in Damascus, represented a response to Western influence; the group, which included Muhammad Kurd Ali (1876–1953), Khalil Mardam (1895–1959), Badr al-Din al-Hamid, and Salim al-Jundi, urged study of the classics of medieval Arabic literature. The enlightened Westernizers, though respectful of the classics, thought it necessary to reform the educational system along European lines and to incorporate new cultural values in the Arab national character.

In the 1920’s, a new generation of Syrian writers took their place alongside the traditionalists; most had been educated in Europe, primarily in France. Subha Abu Ganim’s collection of short stories, Songs of the Night (1922), are suffused with romantic nuance. Sami al-Kayyali’s collections of short stories, The Tragedy (1926) and The First Page (1930), reconcile romanticism and realism. In the 1930’s these works imparted a greater refinement to the genre of the short story. Maruf Ahmad al-Ar-naut’s (1892–1948) articles on literary criticism influenced such writers as Shakib al-Jabiri (born 1898), Fuad al-Shayib, author of The Story of a Wound, Muhammad al-Najjar, author of In the Palaces of Damascus, Liyan Deirani, and Khalil al-Hindawi.

In the 1930’s poetry served with distinction at the forefront of the national liberation movement. The poets Khayr al-Din al-Zirickli (born 1893), Muhammad al-Bizm (1887–1955), Badawi al-Jabal (born 1903), and Umar Abu Rishah (born 1910) heaped scorn upon the French colonialists. Lyric poetry, such as the verses of Umar Abu Rishah, were of high artistic merit. Another distinguished poet of this generation was Wasfi al-Qurunfuli, who assumed the legacy of the finest Arabic classical traditions. By the mid-1930’s the democratic motif resounds more clearly in literature. This trend was greatly influenced by the journal al-Taliah (1937); writers associated with al-Taliah translated into Arabic and, after World War II, published many works of K. Marx, F. Engels, and V. I. Lenin and many Russian classics.

World War II and the struggle against fascism unified the forces of democracy. Al-Tariq, a Lebanese journal published in Beirut from December 1941, printed works by Syrian writers. Young writers whose works reflected the people’s struggle for independence appeared on the literary scene. Short stories increasingly turned to the toiling masses’ life in city and countryside, to their concerns and dreams, a trend exemplified by the short stories of Hanna Minah (born 1922) and Wasfi al-Bunni.

The Union of Syrian Writers, founded in 1951, published various books, including several collections of short stories, for example, White Kerchiefs by Mawahib al-Kayyali (born 1919), several collections by Hasib al-Kayyali (born 1923), There Is Joy in People (published 1953) by Said Hauraniya, and Our Block Spits in Blood (1954) by Shauki Baghdadi. Hanna Minah’s novella The Blue Lamps (1954) was highly praised by literary critics as an outstanding example of Arabic realist literature. Hanna Minah also wrote the novel The Sail and the Storm (1965).

In the 1950’s realism gained a secure foothold in Syrian literature. The best-known writers include Abd al-Salam al-Ujayli, Widad Sakakini, Faris Zarzur, Fadil al-Sibai, Iskandar Luga, Kulit Suhayl al-Khuri, Zakariya Tamir, and Adil Abu Shanab. Many poets have denounced the imperialists’ infringements of Syria’s independence; they include Ahmad Sulayman al-Ahmad, Shauki Baghdadi, Muhammad al-Hariri, Nadim Muhammad, Sulayman al-Isa, Muhammad Kamil, Yusuf al-Khatib, and Ali al-Jundi.

Syria’s post-World War II writers have attempted to affirm the national character and national spirit; in the 1960’s, nonetheless, some novelists unveiled a new type of hero, one who often wallows in depression and disenchantment—as is seen in al-Ujayli’s The Lamp of Seville (1963) and Love and Soul (1967) and Zakariya Tamir’s Neighing of the White Horse. After the Israeli aggression against the Arab countries in 1967, a literature increasingly evocative of resistance appeared, such as the poetry of Ahmad Sulayman al-Ahmad and Ali al-Jundi and the prose of Muta Safadi and Zakariya Tamir. The poets Nizar Qabbani and Ali Ahmad Said are well known in many Arab countries. Several major works of literary criticism have been published, such as Sami al-Kayyali’s Contemporary Syrian Literature (2nd ed., 1968) and Adnan Ibn Zurayl’s Syrian Prose (1966).


Krachkovskii, I. Iu. Arabskaia literatura v XX v. Leningrad, 1946.
Iusupov, D. I. “Literatura Sirii.” In the collection Sowemennaia Siriia. Moscow, 1958.
Solov’ev, V., I. Fil’shtinskii, and D. I. Iusupov. Arabskaia literatura. Moscow, 1964.
Dolinina, A. A. Ocherki istorii arabskoi literatury novogo wemeni: Egipet i Siriia. Moscow, 1973.
Salah Dihni and Yasin Rifayya Adil Abu Shahab. Al-Kissafi Suriyah. Damascus, 1959.


The earliest works of Syrian art date from the Neolithic, such as the petroglyphs at Demir Qapu and stone and clay statuettes and pottery from Sakçegôzü (Sakje-Geuzi); the pottery is reminiscent of similar items from painted pottery cultures. Neolithic and Aeneolithic settlements with mud-brick structures have been excavated in Ugarit and Tall Halaf. The Aeneolithic pottery found at Tall Halaf has geometric designs, with schematic representations of animals. The early Bronze Age art of northern Syria was noticeably influenced by Sumerian culture. Syria’s high artistic development in the first half of the second millennium B.C. was intimately linked with the prosperity of the city-states of Mari, Ugarit, and Yamkhad; labyrinthine palaces, temples with outdoor altars, and stone statuary of monumental dimension and laconic form date from this period.

From the 16th to 14th centuries B.C., Syrian architecture came under the influence of the ancient Egyptian and Aegean cultures. After the Hittites overran much of Syria, Hittite and Syrian art entered into a period of complex interaction. By about 1000 B.C. the bit-hilani, a palace-temple with a portico framed with caryatid figures and numerous orthostates (reliefs), took definitive form; the bit-hilani was typical of the architecture of ancient Syria. In the ninth century B.C. the influence of Assyrian art is clearly evident. From the end of the fourth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D., the art of Syria followed the Hellenistic style, most notably in Dura-Europus and Palmyra.

In the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., a local variant of early Byzantine architecture took shape in Syria. Religious architecture was dominated by austere and ponderous three-aisled basilicas, with arcades set on low pillars; the basilica at Qalb Lauzeh (c. 480) is a fine example of this style. Various kinds of domed basilicas also date from this period—for example, the Church Outside the Walls (569–86) in Rusafa. The representational art of the period includes wood and bone carvings, mosaic pavements, and crudely expressive manuscript miniatures, for example, the gospel book of Rabula (586), now in Florence’s Lau-renziana Library.

After the Arab conquest of the seventh century, Syria enjoyed a cultural preeminence in the medieval Arab world. Architecture drew on Roman and Byzantine styles; columned mosques, such as the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, and fortified palaces, such as Qasr al-Khayr al-Gharbi, were built. The representational arts remained within the Hellenistic and early Byzantine traditions—for example, the mosaics in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus (eighth century); however, they tended toward two-dimensionality and intricate ornamentation.

From the tenth century, medieval Arab cities, typically divided into separate fortified quarters, made their appearance in Syria. The cities of the period teemed with mosques, madrasas, maristans (hospitals), covered markets, caravansaries, public baths, and other structures, all characteristically marked by a precise plan and austere facade, with a deeply recessed entry arch; honeycomb domes are especially common. Ruins of the Crusaders’ Romanesque castles, such as the Krak des Chevaliers (12th century), are preserved in Syria. Under the Ayyubids (from 1187), Syrian architecture became highly austere and fortresslike; under the Mamelukes (13th century to 1516), the decorative principle holds sway, as is seen, for example, in the universal use of alternating bands of light and dark stone facing.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, manuscript miniatures ascended to the level of high art; their ornamental generality of composition went hand in hand with their lively expression of gesture and pose. The decorative and applied art of the period is distinguished for its lusterware, art objects made of glass (with enamel painting) and metal (with chasing, silver inlays, and engraving), wood carvings, and decorative woven fabrics.

When Syria was under Ottoman rule (1516–1918), the compositional techniques characteristic of Turkish architecture dominated Syrian architecture; decoration was copious and omnipresent. In the representational arts, the Turkish presence was felt especially in the more naturalistic style of ornamentation.

Syrian architecture of the 1920’s and 1930’s followed French styles. In the 1950’s architects such as Wahbi al-Hariri sought solutions that would reconcile modern industrial design with national forms. Tawfiq Tariq and Michel Karsha, the founders of modern Syrian painting, imbued their work with ideas drawn from the struggle for independence. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Syrian painting to some extent experienced the impact of modernism; however, as is evident in the work of Mahmud Jalal, Naim Ismail, and Luayi al-Kayyali, there are strong currents that join progressive social content with the forms of European realism or with national medieval artistic traditions. Sculpture, in which progressive and democratic realism are also sovereign, has not risen to as high a level of achievement; the work of Mahmud Jalal, Jacques Warda, and Muhammad Fathi is prominent. Contemporary Syria is also noted for traditional types of applied art, such as embroidery, items woven of colored straw, and fancy metalwork.


Vseobshchaia istoriia iskusstv, vol. 2, book 2; vol. 6, book 1. Moscow, 1961–65.
Vseobshchaia istoriia arkhitektury, vols. 8 and 11. Moscow, 1969–73.
Veimarn, B. V. Iskusstvo arabskikh stran i Irana VII-XVII vekov. Moscow, 1974.
Klengel, H. Syria anliqua: Vorislamische Denkmäler der Syrischen Ara-bischen Republik. Leipzig, 1971.

Because of historical circumstances, Syrian music was long undifferentiated from Arabic music in general. Not until the late 19th and early 20th centuries did the common Arab culture begin to break up into separate national cultures, including the Syrian national culture. Syrian folk and traditional music is characterized by a highly developed scalar system with many scales, known as maqams. The foremost musical genre is singing to the accompaniment of an orchestra of folk instruments. The most common such instruments are the ud (lute), rabab (a simple viol), ghijak (bowed string instrument), and qanun (a type of psaltery). Folk orchestras also include European instruments, such as the violin, cello, and double bass.

The revitalization of Syrian music in the late 19th century stems from the music school opened in Aleppo in 1870 on the initiative of Mustafa al-Bashnak, a prolific composer; the school taught voice and the various Syrian folk instruments. Modern Syria is rapidly assimilating the achievements of European musical culture; Damascus is the center of Syria’s musical life. Radio and television play a conspicuous role in popularizing music. Radio Damascus has two national orchestras; Yasin Aashe and Amin Hayat are the directors. A professional composers’ school has made significant progress. Contemporary composers include Solhi Uaddi and Diq Suqqari. The former has written several ensembles of chamber music and works for piano and cello based on Arabic folk melodies; the latter has written symphonies and other works. The folk singers Shaqir Brehan, Mutiya Mafi, and Sabah Fahri are quite popular; another popular performer is the pianist Hozvan Zirqli, who won first prize at the Arab Piano Competition. Musicians in Syria are trained at the conservatories in Damascus (founded 1962) and Aleppo (1963). The Damascus Conservatory has a chamber orchestra, the only group in Syria that performs European music; it also has violin and cello ensembles. All appear in concert with some frequency. Soviet musicians have rendered great aid to their Syrian counterparts. Several Soviet music teachers have worked at the Damascus Conservatory since 1964; they also present concerts and other performances.

The origins of Syrian theater lie in folk rituals and festivities; Syrian theater has likewise absorbed all the special features of Arab drama. A professional theater appeared for the first time in the mid-19th century, when Abu Khalil al-Qabbani formed a theater troupe in Damascus. In the period between the two world wars, Egyptian theater troupes performed in Syria, making a great impact on the formation of professional theater in Syria. In the 1940’s, Abd al-Latif Fathi and others founded a theater group in Damascus; in 1945 and 1946 it staged plays in the Syrian dialect of Arabic—the first such occurrence in the history of the Arabic theater. In 1952, Say ad al-Din Baqdunis organized a troupe that performed in Damascus and Aleppo until 1957. The semiprofessional Free Theater, established in Damascus in 1956 and directed by Rafiq Jabri, Nazar Fuad, and Tawfiq al-Atari, presented many plays with social content. The People’s Theater has been based in Aleppo since 1956; among its performers are the well-known actresses Sara and Sana Dabsi. A national pantomime troupe was founded in 1957.

The opening of the National Theater in Damascus was a major event in Syria’s cultural life. Its troupe includes the country’s best actors and actresses and the directors Ali Aklah Arsan and Asad Foudha, both of whom were educated in the West; since 1971 it has also included Alexander Kinni, who graduated from the A. V. Lunacharskii State Institute of Theatrical Arts in Moscow. The theater’s repertoire includes Arabic plays, European classical drama, and Russian and Soviet drama—for example, Husayn Homzi’s The Field and the Rain and V. V. Vishnevskij’s An Optimistic Tragedy. Current acting styles are suggestive of the realist manner. By the mid-1970’s, the youthful Syrian theater was dominated by plays with sharp social content, plays that depict the life of the workers—such as Yus-suf Maqdissi’s The Smoke of the Cellars. The satirical theater Al-Shavq (The Thorn) is quite popular. Other Damascus theaters include the Military Theater, the Dured Liyaham Theater of Satire and Comedy, and a puppet theater. Since 1967 all Syrian actors have been members of a single trade union.

The first Syrian full-length motion picture, The Innocent Convicted, directed by A. Badri, appeared in 1928. Motion pictures of the 1930’s include Under the Sky of Damascus (1932), directed by I. Anzur, and Duty Commands (1938) and The Cabaret Singer (1939), both directed by Badri. At the same time, several documentary films and newsreels were produced under the direction of N. Rifai. After World War II, attempts to activate the Syrian motion-picture industry resulted in such films as Light and Shadow (1948), directed by N. Shalbandar, and The Passerby (1950), directed by A. Arafan.

The Syrian National Organization of Cinema, established in Damascus in 1964, also leases, imports, and exports films. Syria has released several major films in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Deceived (1972) is based on G. al-Kanafani’s novella entitled Men Under the Sun and was directed by T. Saleh. The Leopard (1972), directed by N. Maleh, won prizes at the international festivals in Karlovy Vary, Locarno, and Damascus. Kafr Kassem (1975) was directed by B. Elwi. Syria also produces advertising, tourist, educational, and other films. Other well-known figures in the Syrian cinema include the directors M. al-Chahine, B. al-Sabuni, and V. Yusef and the actors M. Wassef, H. al-Rumani, M. al-Saleh, and A. al-Rashi. In 1974 the Syrian motion-picture industry produced 14 feature films. Syria has 118 motion-picture theaters, 113 privately owned and five state-owned.


Sovremennaia Siriia. Moscow, 1974.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Syrian Arab Republic

Capital city: Damascus

Internet country code: .sy

Flag description: Three equal horizontal bands of red (top), white, and black, colors associated with the Arab Libera­tion flag; two small green five-pointed stars in a horizon­tal line centered in the white band; former flag of the United Arab Republic where the two stars represented the constituent states of Syria and Egypt; similar to the flag of Yemen, which has a plain white band, Iraq, which has three green stars (plus an Arabic inscription) in a hor­izontal line centered in the white band, and that of Egypt, which has a gold Eagle of Saladin centered in the white band; the current design dates to 1980

Geographical description: Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Lebanon and Turkey

Total area: 71,504 sq. mi. (185,170 sq. km.)

Climate: Mostly desert; hot, dry, sunny summers (June to August) and mild, rainy winters (December to February) along coast; cold weather with snow or sleet periodically in Damascus

Nationality: noun: Syrian(s); adjective: Syrian

Population: 19,314,747 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Arab 90.3%, Kurds 9%, Armenians, Circas­sians, Turkomans 0.7%

Languages spoken: Arabic (official); Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; French, English somewhat understood

Religions: Sunni Muslims 74%, Alawis 12%, Christians 10%, Druze 3%, and small numbers of other Muslim sects, Jews, and Yazidis

Legal Holidays:

Christmas DayDec 25
Commemoration of the EvacuationApr 17
Commemoration of the RevolutionMar 8
Martyrs' DayMay 6
May DayMay 1
Mothers' DayMar 21
New Year's DayJan 1
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


1. a republic in W Asia, on the Mediterranean: ruled by the Ottoman Turks (1516--1918); made a French mandate in 1920; became independent in 1944; joined Egypt in the United Arab Republic (1958--61). Official language: Arabic. Religion: Muslim majority. Currency: Syrian pound. Capital: Damascus. Pop.: 18 223 000 (2004 est.). Area: 185 180 sq. km (71 498 sq. miles)
2. (formerly) the region between the Mediterranean, the Euphrates, the Taurus, and the Arabian Desert
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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