Useful Notes / Syria
Syria (Arabic: سوريا / Sūriyā, or سورية Sūrīyah; Syriac: ܣܘܪܝܐ; Kurdish: سوریه‌, Sûrî), officially the Syrian Arab Republic (Arabic: الجمهورية العربية السورية Al-Jumhūrīyah Al-ʻArabīyah As-Sūrīyah) is a state in the Middle East, bordering Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel.

It should be noted that the modern-day country of Syria encompasses less than what the Classical world called "Syria". The term was first used by the Ancient Greeks and is a corrupted rendering of "Assyria", the name of one half of the empires split from the Akkadian Empire, which was actually centered in Mesopotamia/Iraq. Even then, the Assyrian Empire only covered the northeastern part of the country, yet the Ancient Greeks used it to denote everywhere between their world and Mesopotamia: Syria, southern Anatolia (Classical Anatolia only covered the western half of what is now Asian Turkey), and Lebanon. One might find this classification familiar; indeed, the region was almost synonymous with what is called the Levant (French for "east"), which was first applied during the Late Middle Ages to cover the region plus Judea and Transjordan (both were originally separate provinces, but were merged with Syria to batter their increasingly-active rebellions during the Roman period). To this day, some Syrians still call for the restoration of this "Greater Syria", which is why they got rather worked up when their territories were carved out one by one during the interwar period and beyond (Turkey received Antioch/Hatay, that little region in the northern coast which formed a bay with Anatolia; Lebanon was carved out by the French primarily due to its substantial Christian population; while the Golan Heights is currently contested with Israel). It presents a problem, mostly because the real-life demography of Syria isn't homogenous (see below).

One of the earliest centers of human civilization, Syria has long been a crossroads for trade. Cities like Damascus, Aleppo, Homs (formerly Emesa), Antioch (now in Turkey) and Palmyra were historically important for the transfer of goods and ideas. It has been a part of, among other regimes, the Persian Empire, the Hellenistic Empires, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, various Arab caliphates, Crusader states, the empires of the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks, and the French empire after World War One.

Having spent most of its previous life under various empires, it became independent in its current form in 1946. Since 1963, it has been ruled by an authoritarian group of Ba'athists. Yes, that ideology, the same one as Saddam Hussein—although they had a falling-out with the Iraqi branch in 1966 so bad that Syria backed the Americans in the Gulf War.

Since 1970, Syria has been governed by a guy named al-Assad (meaning "the lion"). From 1970 through 2000, it was Hafez, who modernized the country, opposed Israel and sided with Russia at the height of the Cold War. Upon his death in 2000, he was replaced by his son, Bashar, the target of an ongoing Civil War. Assad is an Alawite family, a secretive sect of Shia Islam that's a minority in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. Some Muslims, especially Sunnis, don't think Alawites are really Muslims at all and this has been at the root of the sectarian conflict that has been ongoing with varying intensity between the country's Sunni majority and Alawite minority for a long time. That the Alawites dominate the government under the leadership of the al-Assad clan has not helped matters in recent years. In 1983, there was a major uprising against the Alawite-dominated government launched by the religious Sunni organizations that was crushed with utter brutality. The centers of this revolt coincide with the centers of the current revolt against the Syrian government today.

Syria has been a Russian ally as far back as the Soviet Union, serving as a surrogate in both the Cold War and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. It assisted Egypt in waging several wars with Israel, and unlike Egypt, there is no ceasefire to be had between Israel and Syria. In fact, Israel destroyed what may have been a North Korean controlled nuclear reactor in 2008 and has occupied the Golan Heights (Syrian territory) since 1967. On account of its strategic alliance with Iran, it is widely believed to be a state sponsor of terrorism.

Influenced by the Arab spring, massive protests began mid-March 2011, and later escalated into an armed uprising and (by the summer of 2012) full-fledged Civil War. The war is ongoing, and has killed more than 300,000 people. If you want any testimony in today's world that War Is Hell, look no further than Syria. A lot of the rebel groups have connections to terrorist organizations (including Al-Qaeda), while someone (nobody can agree who) used chemical weapons to attack rebels and civilians, which is clearly in violation of international law. Debate over what, if anything, can be done about this has become very heated, and there isn't an easy answer. Meanwhile, millions of Syrians have fled the country, sparking the largest refugee crisis the world has experienced up until now, (nearly half of the 22 million-population now lives outside of the country, that's about 4.5 million people, which is more than the total population of neighboring Lebanon; while many more live in a war zone every day.

Syria is currently the target of sanctions from the United States, Turkey, Europe, and the Arab League, who accuse the government of crushing the rebellions with an iron fist and a dose of chemical weapons (as said earlier, it's still unknown who used it, so Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment applies).. The Arab League suspended Syria on 16 November 2011, similarly in response to the governments continued crackdown on dissent and rejection of reforms.

Syria's capital, Dimashq (Damascus), is a key city in Christianity, as Paul's conversion took place on the road to it and there is a considerable Christian minority. It's also the oldest city in the world, with its foundations being continuously inhabited since ~8,000BC.

The population of Syria is incredibly diverse. You have the majority the Sunni Arabs who live in the mostly-dry interior, but the periphery presents one of the most clusterf**ked area known to man, mostly due to the mountains: the area near the Mediterranean Sea coast is inhabited by the Alawi Muslims; the area just to the south (surrounding Lebanon) is the home to a Catholic minority known as the Melkite, while further south, in the Golan Heights, is the home of the Druze, a quasi-Muslim ethnoreligious group who branched off Shia Islam years ago. Then you have the north, on the border with Turkey, where one-quarter of the Kurds, an Indo-European group who speak a Persian-like language, call home; the Syrian Turkmens, Turkish-speaking people who have been the Butt-Monkey for almost a hundred years and counting; and the Assyrians itself, a very, very old Christian group who split off from others since at least 1,500 years ago. This diversity is due to the fact that the country was originally a collection of individual provinces during the Ottoman era; the Ottomans, at least before they went berserk during World War I, were known for their leniency against minorities. In fact, up to the middle of the French mandate, most of these provinces were still separate states, until the French suddenly merged them together while giving only Lebanon independence. Considering the recent events, it might have bitten them in the ass.

To stress out what has been said for other Muslim-majority countries in Western Asia, Syria is NOT all desert. The country/region did give its name to the titular rocky desert with little dunes which cover the Levant, but it only covers the northern and eastern part. The Mediterranean coast region is like, well, other Mediterranean coast regions, be it in Italy, Croatia, or Spain (there's a reason that "Mediterranean climate" classification exists). It has a lot of beautiful beaches; in fact, the port city of Latakia wass the tourist hotspot of the country before the Civil War. The coast is bounded by a series of mountain ranges, a continuation of the Mount Lebanon range from the south, separating the fertile coast with the dry interior. Damascus is, contrary to popular depictions, not built in the desert, but in a fertile land near another mountain range called the Anti-Lebanon, which contains Mount Hermon (the one where the fallen angels were banished in Genesis). Near it is the contested Golan Heights, which, contrary to Left Behind, is very fertile and hilly. Most of the largest cities are built in these fertile highlands; the only one that isn't is Deir ez-Zor, which is indeed built in the middle of the desert.

Produces a lot of Arab literature and soap operas, more than any Arab country other than Egypt. The civil war has severely limited Syria's output, much to the Egyptian TV industry's guilty delight.

Famous Syrians

  • Saint Raphel of Brooklyn, an Orthodox Christian saint and the first to be consecrated in North American soil. No kidding.
  • Hafez al-Assad and his son, Bashar, two of the country's presidents. Both are members of the Alawi, a branch of Shia Islam which most Muslims don't consider as true Islam, in part due to its extreme secrecy. The latter is subject to the current Civil War.
  • Paula Abdul - US singer, actress, television personality, and so on. Born to a Syrian Jewish father from Aleppo.
  • Freaking Steve Jobs - Yes, him. Co-founder and former CEO of Apple Macintosh, the largest shareholder of Disney, former CEO of Pixar, and possibly one of the most famous figure in of the computer and entertainment businesses in the world. Born to a Syrian Muslim father who emigrated to the US, but didn't know it until much, much later. Though of course, everyone already knew this by now.
  • Queen Noor of Jordan - Widow of former King Hussein of Jordan. Born Lisa Halaby to a Syrian father and a Swedish mother.
  • Shannon Elizabeth - US actress, best known for starring in American Pie. Born to a Syrian-Lebanese Christian father.
  • René Angélil - Canadian musical producer and singer and husband of CÚline Dion. Paternal Syrian Catholic father.
  • Teri Hatcher - US actress, famous for starring in Desperate Housewives. You may also know her as the voice of the Other Mother. Part-Syrian.
  • Ghassan Massoud - Actor. Best known in the western world for playing Saladin in Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Carlos Menem - Former president of Argentina. A full-blooded Syrian and is a Muslim-turned-Christian.

In fiction:

Due to its alliance with Iran and Russia, Syria has been portrayed as being a second-tier global bad guy, part of the "axis of not-so-evil". Syrian agents are highly likely to get involved in spying operations on the West.

  • Assassin's Creed I and Revelations take place in Masyaf, a historic city near Homs. Our hero, Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, is also a Syrian himself. Famous for presenting the country in a non-stereotypical way.
  • Battlefield 2
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider - Lara goes to Syria to find the Tomb of the Prophet of Constantinople. It's empty.
  • The Unit has Jonas Blaine's daughter Betsy kidnapped and held in Syria by terrorists. The team ignore orders and go across from Iraq to rescue her.
  • In Spooks, Fiona Carter was first married to a Syrian, who she thought was hanged. He wasn't and came to the UK, where he killed her
  • A few levels in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception take place in a Crusades-era castle in Syria.
  • Inescapable - Canadian film about a former Syrian spy who has to evade the corrupt government, who accuse him of being an Israeli spy. Starring Alexander Siddig.
  • Eddy - A 2015 Ripped from the Headlines Italian short film about a volunteer who goes to Syria to take care of the war victims. Massive Tear Jerker follows. Declared "Official Human Rights Movie 2015" by the Council of Europe.
  • Phantom - A 2015 also Ripped from the Headlines Indian film about the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Infamous due to an incident during production when the filmmakers built a set for Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, which the Lebanese government thought was a real militia camp.

The Official Syrian flag
The flag is officially used by the Ba'ath Party of al-Assad. The flag's red-white-black stripe design is very similar to that of Egypt, except in the center are two green stars, alluding to the short-lived United Arab Republic (UAR) with Egypt, or at least the aspirations of unity of both countries' Ba'athist parties (there was once a third green star, to denote Iraq's Ba'athists).

The Rebel Syrian flag
The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces reuse Syria's first flag, originally flown from 1932 (independence) to 1958 (incorporation into the UAR), and again from 1961 (collapse of the UAR) to 1963 (the Ba'ath coup). Its green, white and black stripes symbolize the Rashidun, Umayyad and Abbasid Calipates, respectively, which once ruled the Arab world from Syria. At the center are three red stars, symbolizing Syria's major regions: the core Syrian cities of Aleppo, Damascus and Deir ez-Zor (which once were the three stars themselves), and later additions Alawite and Jabal Druze States.