Settled about 2500 B.C., Damascus is thought to be the world's oldest inhabited city. Last month, two years of civil war culminated in the suspected use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians on its outskirts.
The United States may intervene in the coming days with a limited series of retaliatory strikes against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, thought to be responsible for the attacks. American President Barack Obama's pleas of support for the plan to the United Nations and G8 haven't gotten very far. Obama is now focused on building American support, with a round of TV appearances on Monday and a nationwide address on Tuesday night. The Senate is expected to vote on the plan this week.
Strife and bloodshed aren't new in Syria. The country has been occupied by, among others, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Mongols, and Ottoman Turks—the last of which ruled for more than 400 years until 1920, when Syria went under a French mandate and Palestine was assigned British rule. Foreign forces didn't completely leave until 1946. In that decade, there were three internal shifts of power, including coups. The 1960s saw a half a dozen more.
Modern Syria is a nation whose borders were drawn by European colonizers. The country they outlined ultimately included peoples of multiple religions and ethnicities—Sunni, Shiite, Alawi, Druze, Christian, Kurd, Arab, Armenian—tucked, often uncomfortably, into an area about the size of Washington state.
Today, about 22,500,000 people live in Syria—90 percent are Arab, 76 percent are Sunni Muslim—and about a fifth of them reside in the capital, Damascus.