Tuesday, 6 February 2007


Syrian Arab Republic
National name: Al-Jumhuriyah al-'Arabiyah as-Suriyah
President: Bashar al-Assad (2000)
Prime Minister: Muhammad Naji al-Otari (2003)
Land area: 71,062 sq mi (184,051 sq km); total area: 71,498 sq mi (sq km)
Current government officials
Population (2006 est.): 18,881,361 (growth rate: 2.3%); birth rate: 27.8/1000; infant mortality rate: 28.6/1000; life expectancy: 70.3; density per sq mi: 266
Capital (2003 est.): Damascus, 2,381,800 (metro. area), 1,861,900
Largest cities: Aleppo, 2,492,100 (metro. area), 1,933,700 (city proper); Homs, 751,500; Latakia, 417,100; Hama, 380,200
Monetary unit: Syrian pound
Languages: Arabic (official); Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; French, English somewhat understood
Ethnicity/race: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7%
Religions: Islam (Sunni) 74%; Alawite, Druze, and other Islamic sects 16%; Christian (various sects) 10%; Jewish (tiny communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli, and Aleppo)
Literacy rate: 77% (2003 est.)
Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2005 est.): $63.31 billion; per capita $3,400. Real growth rate: 4.5%. Inflation: 2.6%. Unemployment: 12.3% (2004 est.). Arable land: 25%. Agriculture: wheat, barley, cotton, lentils, chickpeas, olives, sugar beets; beef, mutton, eggs, poultry, milk. Labor force: 5.12 million (2004 est.); agriculture 30%, industry 27%, services 43% (2002 est.). Industries: petroleum, textiles, food processing, beverages, tobacco, phosphate rock mining. Natural resources: petroleum, phosphates, chrome and manganese ores, asphalt, iron ore, rock salt, marble, gypsum, hydropower. Exports: $6.344 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): crude oil, petroleum products, fruits and vegetables, cotton fiber, clothing, meat and live animals, wheat. Imports: $5.973 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): machinery and transport equipment, electric power machinery, food and livestock, metal and metal products, chemicals and chemical products, plastics, yarn, paper. Major trading partners: Italy, France, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, China, Russia, U.S., South Korea (2004).
Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 1.313 million (1997); mobile cellular: n.a. Radio broadcast stations: AM 14, FM 2, shortwave 1 (1998). Radios: 4.15 million (1997). Television broadcast stations: 44 (plus 17 repeaters) (1995). Televisions: 1.05 million (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000). Internet users: 60,000 (2002).
Transportation: Railways: total: 2,743 km (2002). Highways: total: 43,381 km; paved: 10,021 km (including 877 km of expressways); unpaved: 33,360 km (1999). Waterways: 870 km; minimal economic importance. Ports and harbors: Baniyas, Jablah, Latakia, Tartus. Airports: 92 (2002).
International disputes: Golan Heights is Israeli-occupied; Lebanon claims Shaba'a farms in Golan Heights; Syrian troops have been stationed in Lebanon since October 1976; Syria protests Turkish hydrological projects regulating upper Euphrates waters; Turkey is quick to rebuff any perceived Syrian claim to Hatay province.
Major sources and definitions

Slightly larger than North Dakota, Syria lies at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Lebanon and Israel on the west, Turkey on the north, Iraq on the east, and Jordan on the south. Coastal Syria is a narrow plain, in back of which is a range of coastal mountains, and still farther inland a steppe area. In the east is the Syrian Desert and in the south is the Jebel Druze Range. The highest point in Syria is Mount Hermon (9,232 ft; 2,814 m) on the Lebanese border.

Republic under a military regime since March 1963.

Ancient Syria was conquered by Egypt about 1500 B.C., and after that by Hebrews, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, and Alexander the Great of Macedonia. From 64 B.C. until the Arab conquest in A.D. 636, it was part of the Roman Empire except during brief periods. The Arabs made it a trade center for their extensive empire, but it suffered severely from the Mongol invasion in 1260 and fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1516. Syria remained a Turkish province until World War I.

A secret Anglo-French pact of 1916 put Syria in the French zone of influence. The League of Nations gave France a mandate over Syria after World War I, but the French were forced to put down several nationalist uprisings. In 1930, France recognized Syria as an independent republic but still subject to the mandate. After nationalist demonstrations in 1939, the French high commissioner suspended the Syrian constitution. In 1941, British and Free French forces invaded Syria to eliminate Vichy control. During the rest of World War II, Syria was an Allied base. Again in 1945, nationalist demonstrations broke into actual fighting, and British troops had to restore order. Syrian forces met a series of reverses while participating in the Arab invasion of Palestine in 1948. In 1958, Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic, with Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt as president. However, Syria became independent again on Sept. 29, 1961, following a revolution.

In the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, Israel quickly vanquished the Syrian army. Before acceding to the UN cease-fire, the Israeli forces took control of the fortified Golan Heights. Syria joined Egypt in attacking Israel in Oct. 1973 in the fourth Arab-Israeli War, but was pushed back from initial successes on the Golan Heights and ended up losing more land. However, in the settlement worked out by U.S. secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger in 1974, the Syrians recovered all the territory lost in 1973.

In the mid-1970s Syria sent some 20,000 troops to support Muslim Lebanese in their armed conflict with Christian militants supported by Israel during the civil war in Lebanon. Syrian troops frequently clashed with Israeli troops during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and remained thereafter as occupiers of large portions of Lebanon.

In 1990, President Assad ruled out any possibility of legalizing opposition political parties. In Dec. 1991 voters approved a fourth term for Assad, giving him 99.98% of the vote.
In the 1990s, the slowdown in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was echoed in the lack of progress in Israeli-Syrian relations. Confronted with a steadily strengthening strategic partnership between Israel and Turkey, Syria took steps to construct a countervailing alliance by improving relations with Iraq, strengthening ties with Iran, and collaborating more closely with Saudi Arabia. In Dec. 1999, Israeli-Syrian talks resumed after a nearly four-year hiatus, but they soon broke down over discussions about the Golan Heights.
On June 10, 2000, President Hafez al-Assad died. He had ruled with an iron fist since taking power in a military coup in 1970. His son, Bashar al-Assad, an ophthalmologist by training, succeeded him. He has emulated his father's autocratic rule.

In the summer of 2001, Syria withdrew nearly all of its 25,000 troops from Beirut. Syrian soldiers, however, remained in the Lebanese countryside.

The U.S. imposed economic sanctions on the country in May, accusing it of continuing to support terrorism.
In Sept. 2004, a UN Security Council resolution asked Syria to withdraw its 15,000 remaining troops from Lebanon. Syria responded by moving about 3,000 troops from the vicinity of Beirut to eastern Lebanon, a gesture viewed by many as merely cosmetic.

On Feb. 14, 2004, Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated. Many implicated Syria in the death of the popular and independent leader, who staunchly opposed Syrian involvement in Lebanon. Huge Lebanese protests called for Syria's withdrawal from the country, a demand backed by the U.S., EU, and UN. In addition to the anti-Syrian demonstrations, however, there were a number of massive pro-Syrian rallies in Lebanon sponsored by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. By the end of April, Syria had withdrawn all its troops, ending a 29-year occupation. In October, the UN released a damning report on Hariri's slaying, concluding that the assassination was carefully organized by Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials, including Syria's military intelligence chief, Asef Shawkat, who is the brother-in-law of President Assad. Syria vehemently denied the charges.

In July 2006, during the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict in Lebanon, Syria was strongly suspected of aiding Hezbollah.
Damascus, Syria
Damascus, the capital of Syria, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. It has occupied a position of importance in the fields of science, culture, politics, art commerce, and industry from the earliest times. It has been called Al-Fayha'a (the fragrant city), Al-Sham, Jollaq, and Pearl of Orient as Emperor Julian named it. It was mentioned in the Holy Qur'an as the many-columns city of Aram, "...whose like has never been built in the land...".
Early references to Damascus such as those in Ebla tablets, confirm that it was as a city of immense economic influence during 3rd millennium BC.
Ancient Pharaonic scripts refers to it as Dameska. It enjoyed great prominence during 2nd millennium BC as center of an Aramaic kingdom under the name of Dar-Misiq (the irrigated house). The Aramites were the original inhabitants of Damascus, and their language was Syriac. Many villages around Damascus are still known by their Aramaic names.
Damascus fell under the domination of Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. They all left their mark on Damascus as visitors can still readily observe today. In the Roman era, Damascus was first among ten most prominent cities (The Decapolis). It received many privileges, especially during the reign of Syrian dynasty of Roman emperors. It was from Damascus that most talented architect of Roman Empire came. This was Apolodor the Damascene, who designed the celebrated Trajan Column in Rome, and the great bridge on the River Danube.
Part of heritage of this era is the remains of the city-plan which Apolodor designed in oblong shape according with Roman architectural style. There is also part of the Roman temple of Jupiter, which was erected on the site of an older Aramaic temple (Hadad) where the Umayyad Mosque stands today; a part distinguished by its huge Corinthian columns with its richly decorated capitals.
In Byzantine era, a great number of churches and monasteries were built, and most of them have survived to present.

Damascus became capital of the first Arab state at time of the Umayyads in 661 AD. This marked the beginning of its golden epoch, and for a whole century it was the center of the youthful Islamic Empire. This reached its peak of expansion during this period, and came to stretch from shores of Atlantic and Pyrennese in west, to river Indus and China in east. Umayyads took a genuine interest in building up Damascus, organizing its souqs (bazaars) and districts, improving its water supply, erecting palaces, and hospitals.
Nowadays, Damascus is a living museum spanning thousands of years. A city measuring time not by hours, days, months, and years but by empires it has seen rise and crumble to ruin.
Of the most important landmarks at Damascus are: Umayyad Mosque, Azem Palace, St. Ananias Church, Damascus Citadel, Old Souqs like Al-Hamidieyeh and Midhat Pasha, Bimarstan Al-Nory, Saladin's Tomb, St. Paul Church, and Al-Takieh Al-Suleimaniyeh.

Aleppo, Syria
This is the second capital of Syria 350 km north of Damascus, and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in history. Abraham (pbuh) is said to have camped on the acropolis which, long before his time, served as the foundation of a fortress where the Aleppo citadel is standing now. He milked his grey cow there, hence Aleppo's name "Halab Al-Shahba".
Ever since the 3rd millennium BC, Aleppo has been a flourishing city, with a unique strategic position. This position gave the city a distinctive role from the days of the Akkadian and Amorite kingdoms until modern times.
It was the meeting point of several important commercial roads in the north. This enabled Aleppo to be the link in trade between Mesopotamia, the Fertile Crescent and Egypt. The Amorites made it their capital in the 18th century BC. This position also made it subject to invasions from various races; from Hittites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans.
Aleppo was prominent in the Christian era; it became a Bishopric and a huge cathedral was built in it, which is still standing.
The conflict between Byzantium and Persia, however, resulted in the latter's occupation of Aleppo in 440 AD. The Persians robbed the city, burned considerable parts of it and damaged many of its features. Though expelled by Justinian, the Persians still threatened Aleppo and frightened its inhabitants until the Arab Islamic conquest came in 636 AD.
The city then regained its status, both cultural and commercial. Apart from the Umayyad and Abbasid periods in which Aleppo flourished, the Hamadani state established by Sayf Addawla in 944 AD made Aleppo the northern capital of Syria. Sayf Addawla built Aleppo's famous citadel, and in his days the city enjoyed great prosperity and fame in science, literature and medicine, despite this leader's military ambitions. Mention should be made of the two most prominent poets, Al-Mutanabbi and Abu Al-Firas Al-Hamadani; of the philosopher and scientist, Al-Farabi; and of the linguist, Ibn Kahlaweh, all of whom lived in Sayf Addawla's court and were renowned for great knowledge and scholarship.
Aleppo was famous for its architecture; for its attractive churches, mosques, schools, tombs and baths. As an important center of trade between the eastern Mediterranean kingdoms and the merchants of Venice, Aleppo became prosperous and famous in the centuries preceding the Ottoman era. Many of its khans (caravanserai) are still in use even today; one of them is called Banadiqa Khan, Banadiqa in Arabic being the term for inhabitants of Venice.

In the Ottoman age, Aleppo remained an important center of trade with Turkey, France, England and Holland. This caused various types of European architecture to be adopted in Aleppo which can be seen in many buildings today.
Nowadays, Aleppo is famous for its ancient citadel with medieval fortress, the great Umayyad mosque, and the extraordinary souqs (bazaars) with every conceivable kind of article for sale. It was and still the far distant trade center when Shakespeare mentioned it in Macbeth and Othello.
The old city was surrounded by a wall incorporating defense towers and fortified gates built during the Islamic period. A large part of the wall still standing.
The Archaeological Museum of Aleppo contains exhibits from the stone age to modern times.
It has particularly interesting collection of antiquities from some of the most ancient sites in Syria including Mari, Ugarit, and Ebla, as well as objects found in the Euphrates Basin, Hama, Tell Halaf and Ayn Dara, in addition to remains from Greek, Roman, Arab and Islamic periods.
Lattakia, Syria
Lattakia is Syria's busiest and most modern seaport located 186 km south west of Aleppo.
Until the fall of Ugarit, the area was part of that kingdom. This was an important ancient Canaanite urban center and its language has had a marked effect on our knowledge of early religion and literature and Biblical studies.
After the division of Alexander's Empire it fell under the influence of the Seleucids and became a major city and port. Seleucus Nicator renamed the city to Laodicea, in honor of his mother, and today's name is a corruption of that Greek name.
Laodicea had an important early Christian community, a fact attested by being mentioned in Revelations and Paul's letter to the Colossians. After the fall of Rome, possession of the city seesawed between Byzantines, Arab, Seljuk, Crusaders, Mamluks and finally Ottomans.
Not many ancient remains have survived in Lattakia, but there are four columns and a Roman arch from the time of Septimus Severus (Circa - 200 AD), in addition to a beautiful Ottoman construction called Khan Al-Dukhan, which is now a museum.

Accomodation in Cham Hotel, near the seaside http://www.chamhotels.com/

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