A republic in W Asia, on the Mediterranean: ruled by the Ottoman Turks (1516-1918); made a French mandate in 1920; became independent in 1944; joined Egypt in the United Arab Republic (1958-61). Official language: Arabic. Religion: Muslim majority. Currency: Syrian pound. Capital: Damascus. Population: 15, 335,000 (1998 est.). Area: 185,180 sq. km (71,498 sq. miles).