For the past several years, Syria has been in the news due to unrest and war in the country. But there is much more to this Middle Eastern nation than discord and fighting. In fact, it offers some of the most stunning railroads in the entire world, and has been well-known in the past as a center for vibrant woven textiles. So, where is Syria, and what else does it have to offer the world?
Where is Syria?
Syria is located in Western Asia, and shares a border with several countries, including Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, and Lebanon. It is not a large country, particularly in relationship to nearby nations. At roughly 71, 500 square miles, it’s about the same size as a handful of American states, such as Washington.
Syria’s population is similar to that of the state of Florida. Approximately 18 million people call Syria home, 1.7 million of which live in the capital city of Damascus. Syria features a variety of geographical landscapes, from sandy coastline to rugged mountain ranges. In the western part of Syria is the Mediterranean Sea. To the east is the Syrian Desert, and the Jabal al-Arab volcanic region is located to the south.
The climate of Syria is marked by contrasts. The Mediterranean coast can get quite humid, while almost three-quarters of the country is covered in a semiarid steppe zone, which eventually gives way to an arid desert region. Syria is typically dry and hot, though winters can be fairly mild. In higher elevations, snowfall does occasionally occur.
History of Syria
Syria is located in a part of the world sometimes referred to as “the cradle of civilization”. It became a center of Neolithic culture starting around 10,000 BC, and was among the first regions in the world to witness agriculture and cattle breeding.
Syria is mentioned many times in the Bible. Throughout its long history, Syria has been occupied and ruled by several different empires, including the Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and more.
When the Roman Empire fell, Syria would become part of the Byzantine Empire before being conquered once again, this time by Muslim armies around the 7th century AD. From 1516 until 1918, Syria was ruled by the Ottoman Empire.
In 1920, the country was placed under French control by the League of Nations. The Syrian people were not happy about this new reign of power however. In 1946, the country gained independence. Unfortunately, this marked the beginning of growing instability and repeated government coups.
In 1958, Syria merged with Egypt and created the United Arab Republic, but that partnership dissolved in 1961. Increased turmoil would plague Syria throughout the coming years. In 1970, Hafez al-Assad, the Syrian minister of defense, overthrew the de facto leader of Syria, and put himself in power. He would remain in power for 30 years until his death.
Syrian Civil War
Following the death of Hafez al-Assad, his son, Bashar al-Assad, would take over as president. It initially seemed like the younger Assad might loosen some of the oppressive laws of his father. But that ultimately was not the case. He instead used threats and arrests to stop pro-reform activism.
Discord continued in Syria throughout the 2000s. Assad’s suppression of freedoms, as well as a down economy, drought, and a tense religious atmosphere, bred pockets of civilian resistance, and ultimately led to a rebellion.
In 2011, the Syrian Civil War began.
Unfortunately, the good that Syria has to offer is overlooked today, as contention and fighting continues across the country. For more than seven years, Syria has been at civil war, with various groups trying to overtake and rule the country. There are three main groups fighting for power: soldiers who support the Syrian president, rebels who don’t want the current president in power, and an independent group named the Islamic State or IS.
Further complicating this issue is the fact that these groups are backed by other different countries. Iran and Russia, for example, are on the side of Assad. The United States, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, however, support the rebels.
Conditions have become so gruesome and difficult within Syria, that millions of individuals have been forced to flee and leave their homes. While Assad uses chemical weapons against his own people, the US, Britain, and France have retaliated with air strikes. The United Nations reports that more than 354,000 people have lost their lives due to the unrest in Syria, with more than 100,000 of those being civilians.
While there is currently no end in sight for the war in Syria, let’s hope peace is soon on its way.