The name Syria formerly comprised the entire region of the Levant, while the modern state encompasses the site of several ancient kingdoms and empires, including the Eblan civilization of the third millennium BC. In the Islamic era, its capital city, Damascus, was the seat of the Umayyad Empire and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Empire. Damascus is widely regarded as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
Modern Syria was created as a French mandate and attained independence in April 1946, as a parliamentary republic. The post-independence period was rocky, and a large number of military coups and coup attempts shook the country in the period 1949-1970. Syria has been under Emergency Law since 1962, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens, and its system of government is considered non-democratic.
The country has been governed by the Baath Party since 1963, although actual power is concentrated to the presidency and a narrow grouping of military and political strongmen. Syria's current president is Bashar al-Assad, who won a referendum on extending his presidency for second term, garnering 97.62 percent of votes in 2007 and is the son of Hafez al-Assad, who held office from 1970 until his death in 2000.Syria has played a major regional role, particularly through its central role in the Arab conflict with Israel, which since 1967 has occupied the Golan Heights, and by active involvement in Lebanese and Palestinian affairs.
The population is mainly Sunni Muslim, with a large Shia and Alawite population, and significant non-Muslim Christian and Druze minorities. Since the 1960s, Alawite military officers have tended to dominate the country's politics. Ethnically, some 80% of the population is Arab, and the state is ruled by the Baath Party according to Arab nationalist principles, while approximately 20% belong to the Kurdish, Armenian, Assyrians, Turkmen, and Circassians minorities