Syria is a land that boasts one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world-Damascus-and is where Paul organized the first Christian Church, at Antioch. For more than 4,000 years, Syria has been marched over, fought over, and occupied by the forces of more than a dozen empires. In 1946, Syria gained its independence but entered a period of unstable government. That unsettled era ended in 1970, with a coup led by Hafez al-Assad of the Ba'ath Party. At his death, in 2000, his son Bashar was elected as his successor. Bashar al-Assad is credited with bringing his country into the twenty-first century. Syria today has been criticized for its influence in Lebanese affairs and for suspected terrorist funding. It also has been in serious peace talks with Israel, with Turkey serving as mediator.