Fast Facts

Population:
18,389,000
Capital:
Damascus; 2,228,000
Area:
185,180 square kilometers (71,498 square miles)
Language:
Arabic, Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian, French, English
Religion:
Sunni, Alawite, Druze and other Muslim sects, Christian
Currency:
Syrian pound
Life Expectancy:
70
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $3,700
Literacy Percent:
77
Flag: Syria
Map: Syria

Syria is in southwest Asia in the heart of the Middle East. The Mediterranean coastal plain is backed by a low range of hills, followed by a vast interior desert plateau. Most people live near the coast or near the Euphrates River—which brings life to the desert plateau. Damascus, capital of this desert country, was built on an oasis and is said to be the world's oldest continuously inhabited settlement.

Syrians are mostly Arab, although about 9 percent are Kurds—living mostly in the northeast corner of Syria. Syria's population is about 90 percent Muslim, mostly Sunni—but the Alawite minority (12 percent of Syrians) is politically dominant. The Alawite-controlled Baath (Renaissance) Party has ruled Syria since 1963.

Part of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries, Syria came under French mandate in 1920 and gained independence in 1946. Dreams of a "Greater Syria" were dashed when the smaller states of Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan were created by Britain and France in the 1920s. Together with Egypt, it formed the United Arab Republic between 1958 and 1961. Syria has fought four wars with Israel—losing the Golan Heights in 1967. Recovering the Golan has been a matter of fierce national pride for Syrians.

The 30-year rule of Hafez al-Assad was marked by authoritarian government, an anti-Israeli policy, and military intervention in Lebanon. Some fear that Syria's 16,000 troops in Lebanon are being used to create Greater Syria. Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father as president in 2000 and continues his father's harsh policies.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: Petroleum, textiles, food processing, beverages
  • Agriculture: Wheat, barley, cotton, lentils; beef
  • Exports: Crude oil, petroleum products, fruits and vegetables, cotton fiber, clothing

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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