A country with a tumultuous history marked by oppression and unrest, Syria is consistently in a state of flux.
Despite being led by an ostensibly democratically elected leader, this Middle Eastern nation is perpetually on the tipping point between peace and revolt. Read on for an overview of Syria’s long and rocky story.
Early History of Syria
Syria’s earliest days are characterized by instability. Starting with Egypt’s rule in 1500 B.C., the country was conquered by a succession of groups, including the Hebrews and Persians. By 64 B.C., Syria was a possession of the Roman Empire, a reign that would last until 636 A.D.
By 1260, the Mongols had invaded, followed by the the Ottoman Turks in 1516. Syria remained a part of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years. However, this extended period under Turkish rule was not a period of peace and prosperity for the nation. The economic, social and political climate as a whole suffered. As such, it was no surprise that by 1916, a revolt was in the works.
Syria During the World Wars
With the support of Great Britain, Syria overthrew Turkish rule and, by 1918, appointed King Faisal I as leader of the newly independent nation.
However, this independence was short-lived. The French and British worked together to create their own spheres of influence, allowing the French to officially take over Syria by 1923. Revolt was, once again, in the offing.
By 1925, Syria was chafing under the rule of the French regime. After years of fighting, the Franco-Syrian treaty was signed in 1936, allowing Syria limited independence from France. In fact, the French claimed Syria would have full independence after World War II. That promise did not become a reality until 1946, when the United Nations demanded that France end their occupation.
Syria’s renewed independence was dominated by military coups as well as conflicts with Israel. In an effort to stave off outside threats from neighboring nations, including Turkey, the Syrian government partnered with Egypt to create the United Arab Republic in 1958. That alliance lasted until 1961, when the Syrian Arab Republic was formed.
1970s and Beyond
In 1970, Syria made strides toward stability with the election of President Hafiz al-Assad. During the period that followed, the military attempted to regain the land it had lost to Israel. When the US joined the fray against Syria, a United Nations’ ceasefire was accepted.
Following the death of Hafiz al-Assad in 2000, his son, Bashar al-Assad, became president. He was approved for another term in 2007. Unrest began to grow following Assad’s re-election, as anti-government uprisings sought to remove corrupt politicians from power and to overturn restrictive laws, including one that allowed citizens to be arrested before even being charged.
Although that law was repealed, and additional laws were created to reduce government corruption, the uprisings have continued. Syria’s relationship with the US has also suffered, as the nation expressed its opposition to the war in Iraq following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Despite calls for Assad to step down from the presidency, he remains in office. Under his leadership, fighting between the government and members of the opposition has intensified. The government’s response to protestors has been considered violent, drawing international censure. As of 2013, more than 100,000 people in Syria have been killed as a result of political unrest.
- Full name: Syrian Arab Republic
- Population: 22.5 million
- Capital: Damascus
- Major Language: Arabic
- Major Religion: Islam
- Life expectancy: 73 years (for men), 78 years (for women)
- Main exports: minerals, petroleum products, fruits, vegetables, oil, clothing, meat, wheat