Middle East

Syria country profile

Map of Syria

Once the centre of the Islamic Caliphate, Syria covers an area that has seen invasions and occupations over the ages, from Romans and Mongols to Crusaders and Turks.

A country of fertile plains, high mountains and deserts, it is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Christians, Druze, Alawite Shia and Arab Sunnis, the last of who make up a majority of the Muslim population.

Modern Syria gained its independence from France in 1946, but has lived through periods of political instability driven by the conflicting interests of these various groups.

Since 2011 political power, long held by a small mainly Alawite elite, has been contested in a bitter civil conflict initially sparked by the Arab Spring


The Syrian Arab Republic

Capital: Damascus

  • Population 21.1 million

  • Area 185,180 sq km (71,498 sq miles)

  • Major language Arabic

  • Major religion Islam, Christianity

  • Life expectancy 74 years (men), 78 years (women)

  • Currency Syrian pound

Getty Images


President: Bashar al-Assad

Image copyright Getty Images

In power since succeeding his father 2000, Bashar al-Assad is fighting for control of his country after protests against his rule turned into a full-scale armed rebellion.

He inherited a tightly controlled and repressive political structure from long-time dictator Hafez al-Assad, with an inner circle dominated by members of the Assad family's minority Alawite Shia community.

But cracks began to appear in early 2011, in the wake of the "Arab Spring" wave of popular dissent that swept across North Africa and the Middle East.


Image copyright Getty Images

The Syrian uprising has left a fractured media environment, split between areas controlled by the government, Islamic State militants and other armed groups.

Scores of journalists and citizen journalists have been killed since the start of the revolt in 2011.

Syria was the world's deadliest country for journalists in 2014, says Reporters Without Borders. Islamic State jihadists "enforce an information dictatorship" in the areas they control.


Some key dates in Syria's history:

1918 - Arab troops led by Emir Feisal, and supported by British forces, capture Damascus, ending 400 years of Ottoman rule.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ottoman governor of Syria, Jamal Pasha riding through the streets of Damascus in 1917

1919 - Emir Feisal backs Arab self-rule at the Versailles peace conference, following the defeat of Germany and the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

1920 - The National Congress proclaims Emir Feisal king of Syria "in its natural boundaries" from the Taurus mountains in Turkey to the Sinai desert in Egypt. French forces occupy Damascus, forcing Feisal to flee abroad.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Market in Damascus

1925-6 - Nationalist agitation against French rule develops into a national uprising.

1941 - British and Free French troops occupy Syria. General De Gaulle promises to end the French mandate.

1946 - Last French troops leave Syria.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The city of Aleppo has suffered huge destruction in Syria's civil war

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