The Syrian Arab Republic borders Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon. Since the 16th century BCE the region has been controlled by various emperors, among others the Assyrians, Persians and Romans. After the decline of Roman power, Syria was absorbed into the Byzantine empire. During the battle of Yarmouk in 637 A.D, Muslim forces defeated the Byzantine empire. Thereafter, Islam religion spread throughout the region and Damascus became the religious capital. In 1516 the Ottoman empire annexed Syria and would stay for almost 400 years, until World War 1. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, secretly agreed upon by British and French diplomats, divided the Arab world into spheres of influence. The League of Nations approved of the agreement after the war, granting France a mandate over Syria and Lebanon. During the Great Syrian Revolt from 1925-26, the Syrian population united against the rule of the French. But it was only in 1946 that Syria gained independence. In 1958, Syria and Egypt merged to become the United Arab Republic but the union split 3 years later. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel seized the Golan Heights and disputes regarding this territory remain to the present day.
The Syrian population consists of 70% Sunni Muslims, smaller groups include Shia Muslims, Christians, Druze and Alewits that make up 13%. Since 1970, the Alewit Assad family has been ruling the country. Hafez al- Assad overthrew the former president and after his death in 2000, his son Bashar al- Assad took over. Hafez al-Assad violently suppressed an uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in 1982, causing about 200, 000 civilian deaths. When the Arab Spring 2011 inspired the frustrated youth to demonstrate for democracy and freedom, Bashar al- Assad responded with killings and torture. Suppressed internal struggles have led to a civil war that is entering its 11th year. In 2014, ISIS took large parts of Syria. All this violence and misery has caused 6,6 million people to flee Syria while 6,7 million remain displaced inside the country.