A country in the Middle East, Syria was occupied successively by Canaanites, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines, before finally coming under the control of the Ottoman Turks.
Following World War I, France acquired a mandate over Syria, and the French administered the area until granting it independence in 1946. Since independence, however, the country has lived through periods of political instability driven by the conflicting interests of various ethnic and religious groups.
Syria united with Egypt in 1958 to form the United Arab Republic, but the two entities separated in 1961 and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished.
In 1963 the Baath (Renaissance) party took control of the country, which rules to this day. Baath government has seen authoritarian rule at home and a strong anti-Israeli policy abroad, particularly under former President Hafez al-Assad.
In 1967 Syria lost the Golan Heights to the Israelis, while civil war in neighboring Lebanon allowed it to extend its political and military influence in the region. Syrian troops stationed in Lebanon since 1976 withdrew in April 2005.
Following the death of Hafez al-Assad in 2000, Syria underwent a degree of relaxation, and hundreds of political prisoners were released. But real political freedoms have not been granted, and the economy remains dominated by the state.
In 2011, Syria -- along with many of other countries -- was plagued with anti-government unrest in the "Arab Spring" sweeping the region. A harsh crackdown by the Assad regime led to global condemnation and saw Syria subject to unprecedented sanctions by the Arab League.
Like many of its neighbors in the Middle East, Syria’s economy depends heavily on oil production and export.