Anticipating the fall of the Ottoman Empire, European powers divided up the Middle East with the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916, which placed Syria under French rule. After the Ottoman Empire did collapse, Syria began to take shape as a nation with territorial boundaries about the same as they are today under "The French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon." It was divided into 6 states, many of them primarily occupied by only one religious group and autonomously ruled, a sharp contrast from the Syria of today, with rule over a very ethnoreligiously diverse population mainly reserved for Alawi Muslims, a minority sect. Relatively quickly after the start of French rule, people rose up against it in 1925. Significant progress in this pursuit was not made until 1936, when France agrees to work towards an independent Syria. After many false-independences and a French bombardment of Damascus in 1945, Syria achieves its true independence in 1946.
After an already tumultous struggle for independence, the newly independent Syria turns into the object of a large number of coups d'état. One of these coups, in March 1949, was even sponsored by the United States through the CIA. Egypt and Syria unify into one and become the United Arab Republic in 1958, but this is soon to dissolve with yet another forced seizure of power in Damascus in 1961 motivated by dissatisfaction with an Egyptian-dominated leadership. Syria goes from being the Syrian Republic to being the Syrian Arab Republic, emphasizing the Syrian belief in Arab nationalism.
In 1963, the Ba'athist military officers seized power from this administration, and in 1966, internal conflict within the Ba'ath party leads to yet another coup that leaves Hafez al-Assad as defense minister and head of the Syrian Air Force. Hafez al-Assad is the leader of the air force during the Six Day War, in which Syria and Syrians are left extremely frustrated after the loss of the Golan Heights to Israeli occupiers; the blame for this loss is thrown around between civilian and military leadership. During the "Corrective Movement" of 1970, the last successful coup in Syria's modern history, Hafez al-Assad's supporters assisted in his overthrowing of Salah Jadid, the ruler of Syria. Assad's government attempts to retake the Golan Heights in 1973, but fails. Sunni Islamists, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, attempt to rise up against Assad's government starting in the late 70's, but in 1982 the Syrian Army sternly and violently rebukes the Islamists during the Hama Massacre. The Massacre was an incredibly painful occurence for the people of Hama, one that was shrouded in mystery until decades later, when photos of the destruction were finally released. Estimates of dead range from thousands to tens of thousands, and large sections of the city were completely destroyed. This harsh tactic successfully quashed any major attempts at rising up against the government, until 2011, the beginning of the Arab Spring.