Syria, formally known as the Syrian Arab Republic, is a nation in Western Asia bordered to the west by Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea, to the north by Turkey, to the east by Iraq, to the south by Jordan, and to the southwest by Israel. Damascus is Syria’s capital and biggest city.
Syria, a nation of lush plains, high mountains, and deserts, is home to a varied ethnic and religious population that includes Syrian Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, Circassians, Mandeans, and Turks. Sunnis, Christians, Alawites, Druze, Mandeans, Shiites, Salafis, and Yazidis are among the religious groupings. Sunni Arabs make up the majority of Syria’s population.
The term “Syria” was previously associated with the Levant (known in Arabic as al-Sham), although the current state includes the sites of many ancient kingdoms and empires, notably the Eblan civilisation of the third millennium BC. Its capital, Damascus, is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities. Damascus was the headquarters of the Umayyad Caliphate and a regional capital of Egypt’s Mamluk Sultanate during the Islamic period.
The current Syrian state was formed as a French mandate following the end of decades of Ottoman domination in World War I, and it was the biggest Arab state to emerge from the previously Ottoman-ruled Arab Levant. Syria achieved its independence as a parliamentary republic on October 24, 1945, when it became a founding member of the United Nations, thus ending the previous French mandate — though French forces did not depart the country until April 1946. The post-independence era was turbulent, with a high number of military coups and coup attempts taking place between 1949 and 1971. Syria formed a short union with Egypt called the United Arab Republic in 1958, which was ended by the Syrian coup d’état in 1961. The Arab Republic of Syria was established in late 1961 after a constitutional referendum on December 1, 1961, and was progressively unstable until the Ba’athist coup d’état, after which the Ba’ath Party has held control. From 1963 until 2011, Syria was under Emergency Law, which essentially suspended most constitutional rights for people. Bashar al-Assad has been president since 2000, succeeding his father Hafez al-Assad, who served from 1970 to 2000.
Syria is a member of one international organization other than the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement; it was suspended from the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in November 2011, and it self-imposed suspension from the Union for the Mediterranean. Syria has been engaged in an uprising against Assad and the Ba’athist regime as part of the Arab Spring since March 2011, a crackdown that has contributed to the Syrian Civil War and Syria being one of the world’s most violent nations. Since then, a number of phantom states have formed on Syrian territory, including the Syrian Opposition, the Federation of Northern Syria, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Syria is located between 32° and 38° north latitude and 35° and 43° east longitude. It is mainly made up of dry plateau, with the exception of the northwest corner of the nation, which borders the Mediterranean. The agricultural regions of al-Jazira in the northeast and Hawran in the south are significant. Syria’s most significant river, the Euphrates, runs through the nation toward the east. It is one among the fifteen countries that make up the so-called “Cradle of Civilization.” Its territory is “northwest of the Arabian plate.”
Syria’s climate is arid and hot, with moderate winters. Snowfall occurs on occasion throughout the winter due to the country’s height. In 1956, commercial amounts of petroleum were found in the northeast. Suwaydiyah, Qaratshui, Rumayian, and Tayyem, all near Dayr az–Zawr, are the most significant oil fields. The fields are a natural extension of Mosul’s and Kirkuk’s Iraqi fields. After 1974, petroleum became Syria’s most valuable natural resource and main export. In 1940, natural gas was found in the Jbessa field.
The Euphrates River valley and the coastal plain, a lush stretch between the coastal mountains and the desert, are home to the majority of the population. Syria has a population density of about 99 people per square kilometer (258 per square mile). According to the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants’ World Refugee Survey 2008, Syria had a population of about 1,852,300 refugees and asylum seekers. The overwhelming bulk of this group (1,300,000) came from Iraq, although there were also significant numbers from Palestine (543,400) and Somalia (5,200).
Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in March 2011, about 9.5 million Syrians, or half of the population, have been displaced; 4 million have fled the nation as refugees, according to the United Nations.
Syrians are a Levantine people who are closely connected to their near neighbors, including Lebanese, Palestinians, Iraqis, Maltese, and Jordanians. Syria’s population is estimated to be about 17,065,000 people (2014 est.) Syrian Arabs, together with 600,000 Palestinian Arabs, account for approximately 74% of the population (if Syriac Christiansare excluded).
The indigenous Christian Western Aramaic-speakers and Assyrians are estimated to number about 400,000 people, with Western Aramaic-speakers residing across the nation, especially in large cities, and Assyrians mostly in the north and northeast (Homs, Aleppo, Qamishli, Hasakah). Many people (especially the Assyrians) still speak and write Neo-Aramaic dialects, while the villages of Ma’loula, Jubb’adin, and Bakh’a still speak and write Western Aramaic.
The Kurds are Syria’s second biggest ethnic group. They account for about 1.6 million individuals, or about 9% to 10% of the population (including 40,000 Yazidis). The majority of Kurds live in Syria’s northeastern region, where they speak the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish.
The Turkish-speaking Syrian Turkmen are Syria’s third biggest ethnic group, accounting for about 4-5 percent of the country’s population. Their population, however, is considerably larger when Arabized Turkmen are included. Their exact population is unknown, with estimates ranging from a few hundred thousand to 3.5 million people.
The Assyrians (3-4%) are the fourth biggest ethnic group, followed by the Circassians (1.5%) and Armenians (1%), the majority of whom are descendants of refugees who came in Syria during the Armenian Genocide. Syria has the world’s seventh-largest Armenian population. Aleppo, Qamishli, Damascus, and Kesab are the major gathering points.
Albanians, Bosnians, Georgians, Greeks, Persians, Pashtuns, and Russians are among the smaller ethnic minority groups. Most of these ethnic minorities, especially those who embrace Islam, have been Arabized to some extent.
Syria historically had a sizable Jewish population, with significant Jewish communities in Damascus, Aleppo, and Qamishii. In the second part of the nineteenth century, Jews started to move to Great Britain, the United States, and Israel as a result of a mixture of persecution in Syria and possibilities abroad. With the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the process was finished. Only a few Jews exist in Syria today.
Brazil, which has millions of individuals of Arab and other Near Eastern ancestry, has the biggest Syrian diaspora outside of the Arab world. Brazil is the first nation in the Americas to grant Syrian refugees humanitarian visas. The vast majority of Arab Argentines are of Lebanese or Syrian descent.
Sunni Muslims account for roughly 74 percent of Syria’s population, with Sunni Arabs accounting for 59–60 percent of the population. Most Kurds (8.5 percent) and Turkomans (3 percent) are also Sunni, while Shia Muslims (particularly Alawite, Twelvers, and Ismailis but also Arabs, Kurds, and Turkoman) account for 13 percent of Syrians. Druze are approximately 500,000 people and live mostly in Jabal al-southern Druze’s region.
President Bashar al-family Assad’s is Alawite, and Alawites are the majority in Syria’s administration and military. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), at least 41,000 Alawites were murdered during the Syrian Civil War.
Christians (2.5 million), who make up a significant portion of Syria’s Palestinian refugee population, are split into various sects. The Chalcedonian Antiochian Orthodox account for 45.7 percent of the Christian population; Catholics (Melkite, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Maronite, Chaldean Catholic, and Latin) 16.2 percent; Armenian Apostolic Church 10.9 percent; Syriac Orthodox 22.4 percent; Assyrian Church of the East and several smaller Christian denominations make up the rest. There are many Christian monasteries as well. Many Christians in Syria come from a wealthy family.
As of 2015, the Syrian economy is reliant on fundamentally unstable revenue streams such as decreasing customs and income taxes, which are supported in part by Iranian lines of credit. During the Syrian Civil War, Iran is thought to invest between $6 billion and $20 billion dollars each year on Syria. The Syrian economy has shrunk by 60%, and the Syrian pound has lost 80% of its value, as the country’s economy has shifted from state-owned to war-driven. Syria was categorized as a “lower middle income nation” by the World Bank at the start of the current Syrian Civil War. Syria’s economy remained reliant on oil and agriculture in 2010. About 40% of export profits came from the oil industry. Large amounts of oil are believed to exist on the Mediterranean Sea bottom between Syria and Cyprus, according to proven offshore missions. Agriculture accounts for about 20% of GDP and 20% of employment in the United States. In the next years, oil reserves are projected to decline, and Syria has already become a net oil importer. The Syrian economy has shrunk by 35% since the civil war started, and the Syrian pound has plummeted to one-sixth of its prewar value. Iran, Russia, and China are progressively providing loans to the government.
The government regulates the economy heavily, increasing subsidies and tightening trade restrictions to appease protestors and preserve foreign currency reserves. Foreign trade restrictions, decreasing oil output, high unemployment, growing budget deficits, and increasing pressure on water resources due to heavy usage in agriculture, fast population growth, industrial development, and water pollution are all long-term economic limitations. According to the UNDP, 30% of the Syrian population lives in poverty, with 11.4 percent living below the poverty line.
Since 2001, Syria’s proportion in world exports has steadily decreased. During the years 2000–2008, real per capita GDP growth was just 2.5 percent per year. Unemployment is at a peak of more than 10%. The poverty rate has risen from 11% in 2004 to 12.3 percent in 2007. Crude oil, processed goods, raw cotton, textiles, fruits, and cereals were among Syria’s major exports in 2007. Raw materials for industry, cars, agricultural equipment, and heavy machinery account for the majority of Syrian imports. The government’s main sources of foreign currency are earnings from oil exports and remittances from Syrian employees.
Political instability is a major risk to future economic growth. Violence, government limitations, economic sanctions, and international isolation all limit foreign investment. Syria’s economy is additionally hampered by the government’s bureaucracy, declining oil output, increasing budget deficits, and inflation.
Prior to the civil conflict in 2011, the government intended to diversify its economy and decrease its reliance on oil and agriculture by attracting new investment in tourism, natural gas, and service industries. The administration started to implement economic changes aiming at liberalizing most markets, but they were sluggish and haphazard, and they have been entirely overturned since the war began in 2011.
The value of Syria’s total exports has been reduced by two-thirds since 2010, from US$12 billion in 2010 to just US$4 billion in 2012. This is due to the continuing Syrian civil conflict. Syria’s GDP dropped by more than 3% in 2011 and is projected to drop by another 20% in 2012.
Syria’s oil and tourist sectors, in particular, have been decimated since 2012, with the continuing civil war costing the country $5 billion. The continuing civil conflict will need reconstruction costs of up to $10 billion. The government’s finances have been drained by sanctions. Oil import restrictions imposed by the United States and the European Union in 2012 are expected to cost Syria $400 million per month.
Tourism revenues have plummeted, with hotel occupancy rates plummeting from 90 percent before the conflict to less than 15 percent in May 2012. Since the commencement of the conflict, about 40% of all tourist workers have lost their employment.
ISIS took control of Syria’s phosphate mines in May 2015, cutting off one of the Assad regime’s last major sources of revenue. ISIS blew up a gas pipeline to Damascus that was used to produce heating and power in Damascus and Homs the next month; “the name of its game for now is denial of critical resources to the government,” according to one expert. In addition, ISIS is closing in on the Shaer gas field and three other nearby facilities—Hayan, Jihar, and Ebla—with the loss of these western gas resources potentially causing Iran to support the Assad government even more.
Syria’s petroleum sector has been on the decline for a long time. In September 2014, ISIS was producing more oil than the regime, at 80,000 barrels per day (13,000 m3/d) compared to the regime’s 17,000 barrels per day (2,700 m3/d), with the Syrian Oil Ministry reporting that by the end of 2014, oil production had plummeted to 9,329 barrels per day (1,483.2 m3/d); ISIS has since captured another oil field, resulting in a projected oil production of 6,829 barrels per day (1, Syria’s two major oil refineries were working at less than 10% capacity in the third year of the Syrian Civil War, according to deputy economics minister Salman Hayan.
Since the late 1960s, the nation has been producing heavy-grade oil from sources in the northeast. Light-grade, low-sulphur oil was found in Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria in the early 1980s. Syria’s oil output has plummeted from a high of over 600,000 barrels per day (95,000 m3/d) in 1995 to less than 182,500 barrels per day (29,020 m3/d) in 2012. Since 2012, output has dropped even more, reaching 32,000 barrels per day (5,100 m3/d) in 2014. (bpd). Official statistics put production at 27,000 barrels per day (4,300 m3/d) in 2015, but such data should be interpreted with care since it’s impossible to determine how much oil is being produced in rebel-controlled regions.
Prior to the revolt, over 90% of Syria’s oil exports went to EU nations, with the rest going to Turkey. In 2012, oil and gas income accounted for about 20% of overall GDP and 25% of total government revenue.