Facts About Syria
Background: Following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire during
World War I, Syria was administered by the French until independence in
1946. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to
Israel. Since 1976, Syrian troops have been stationed in Lebanon,
ostensibly in a peacekeeping capacity. In recent years, Syria and Israel
have held occasional peace talks over the return of the Golan Heights.
Geography of Syria
Location: Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Lebanon and
People of Syria
Ethnic Syrians are of Semitic stock. Syria's population is 90% Muslim, 74% Sunni, and 16% other Muslim groups, including the Alawi, Shia, and Druze--and 10% Christian. There also is a tiny Syrian Jewish community.
Arabic is the official, and most widely spoken, language. Arabs, including some 400,000 Palestinian refugees, make up 90% of the population. Many educated Syrians also speak English or French, but English is the more widely understood. The Kurds, many of whom speak Kurdish, make up 9% of the population and live mostly in the northeast corner of Syria, though sizable Kurdish communities live in most major Syrian cities as well. Armenian and Turkic are spoken among the small Armenian and Turkoman populations.
Most people live in the Euphrates River valley and along the coastal plain, a fertile strip between the coastal mountains and the desert. Overall population density is about 140 per sq. mi. Education is free and compulsory from ages 6 to 11. Schooling consists of 6 years of primary education followed by a 3-year general or vocational training period and a 3-year academic or vocational program. The second 3-year period of academic training is required for university admission. Total enrollment at post-secondary schools is over 150,000. The literacy rate of Syrians aged 15 and older is 78% for males and 51% for females.
Ancient Syria's cultural and artistic achievements and contributions are many. Archaeologists have discovered extensive writings and evidence of a brilliant culture rivaling those of Mesopotamia and Egypt in and around the ancient city of Ebla. Later Syrian scholars and artists contributed to Hellenistic and Roman thought and culture. Zeno of Sidon founded the Epicurean school; Cicero was a pupil of Antiochus of Ascalon at Athens; and the writings of Posidonius of Apamea influenced Livy and Plutarch. Syrians have contributed to Arabic literature and music and have a proud tradition of oral and written poetry. Although declining, the world-famous handicraft industry still employs thousands.
Population: 18,448,752 (July 2005 est.)
SOURCES: The World Factbook, U.S. Department of State
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