Also represented are Turks; Armenians, most of whom fled Turkey between 19; and small numbers of Circassians, Assyrians, and Jews. They were originally nomadic, but many have been forced to settle in towns and villages. Arabic is the official language, and 90 percent of the population speaks it.
However, his tight-reined rule averted the civil war and political anarchy that plagued Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon.
In 1992, he won his fourth consecutive bid for election with 99.9 percent of the vote.
Some ancient languages are still spoken in parts of the country, including Maalua, Aramaic, and Syriac.
As a result of colonial influence, French and English (French in particular) are understood and used in interactions with tourists and other foreigners. The coat of arms displays a hawk, which is the emblem of Muhammad, the founder of the Islamic faith.
Syria is the name that was given to the region by the Greeks and Romans and probably derives from the Babylonian suri.
Arabs traditionally referred to Syria and a large, vaguely defined surrounding area as Sham, which translates as "the northern region," "the north," "Syria," or "Damascus." Arabs continued to refer to the area as Sham up until the twentieth century.
Hafez al-Assad, the leader of a radical wing of the Arab Socialist party, the Baath, seized control in 1971.
He cracked down hard on dissent and in 1982 killed thousands of members of the the Muslim Brotherhood opposition organization.
One-third of the land is arable, and one-third is pasturable.
The terrain is mostly desert, and home to drought resistant plants such as myrtle, boxwood, and wild olive. Remote areas have wolves, hyenas, and foxes; the desert has lizards, eagles, and buzzards.
It has a favorable location in a fertile area close to the desert and has historically served as a refueling stop and commercial center for traders making trips through the desert.