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Stretching from the frozen Arctic to the hot Equator, Asia is by far the world's largest and most mountainous continent. Much of the land is barren, with vast, empty deserts in southwest and central Asia, and the remote, windswept plateau of Tibet to the north of the Himalayan mountains. Asia also has some of the world's most fertile plains and valleys beside rivers that include the Mekong, Indus, and Euphrates. In Southeast Asia, the land is mainly mountainous or covered in tropical rain forests that are teeming with wildlife.Away from the mainland, scattered on either side of the Equator, lie thousands of islands, many of them volcanic


The Himalayas, right, form a massive land barrier between the Indian Subcontinent and Tibet. The range is permanently snow-capped and contains the world's highest peak, Mount Everest. The mountains began to form about 50 million years ago when a moving plate, carrying the Subcontinent, began to push against the Eurasian plate. When the plates collided, the edge of the Indian plate was forced under the Eurasian plate, and the seabed in between was folded up to form the Himalayas.


Stretching across two continents -Europe and Asia - and extending halfway around the globe, the Russian Federation is by far the largest country in the world. Because of the bitterly cold climate and harsh living conditions, this vast land is sparsely populated. However, Russia has areas of fertile land, rich mineral deposits, and abundant naturalresources. The country was once the head of a powerful communist state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). After the collapse of communism in 1991, many parts of the old Soviet Union declared independence. The government of the newly formed Russian Fedération is now struggling to establish a Western-style democracy and economy.

The Moscow Kremlin reflects the changing political face of Russia. Once the home of the tsars (emperors), who ruled Russia for many centuries, it later became the headquarters of the world's fïrst communist government in 1917. The government created the USSR, which became an industrial and military superpower, but at great cost to its people. The communist state collapsed in 1991, and the Kremlin is now the symbolic home of the newrulers of the Russian Federation.


The Russian Orthodox church was suppressed for many years by the former soviet government, but becam legal once more with the ending of communism. Today churches and monasteries are reopening across the country, and many people regularly attend religious services. As Russian society continues to change rapidly, the unchangin traditions of the Orthodox Church are a great comfort to many people.




Syria is an ancient land. Its capital, Damascus, is one of the world's oldest cities. Because of its important position on major trade routes, Syria has been invaded and occupied many times - by the Romans, Arabs, Greeks, and Turks. After World War I, it came under French control, becoming independent in 1946. Since then Syria has been involved in several wars with Israël. Most Syrians are Muslim and speak Arabic. More than half of Syria is desert, but the river floodplains provide fertile land.


The rich and varied history of Syria is reflected in the many ancient ruins from past civilizations found scattered throughout the country. In the 3rd century AD, Palmyra, with its palaces, temples, and theaters, was a flourishing city, but it was destroyed bv the Romans for refusing to give up its independence. It lies in an oasis on the edge of the desert, and is one of the best preserved ancient cities in the world.


The majority of Syrians belong to the traditionally powerful Sunni Muslim group. But there are other Muslim sects, such as the Shi'as, Ismailis, and Alawis. The Alawis believe not only in Islam, but in some aspects of Christianity. For example, they celebrate Christmas and Easter. The Alawis were persecuted in the past, but many have now become rich and powerful. President Assad of Syria is an Alawi Muslim.


The Euphrates River flows through the northeast of Syria on its journey from Turkey to Iraq. A gigantic dam has been built across the river to harness the power of the water and produce hydro-electricity. The dam's hydro-electric plants now provide three-quarters of Syria's electricity. A huge lake, Lake Assad, was also created by the dam. Water from the lake is used to grow crops.


The mountainous area known as the Golan Heights was seized from Syria by Israël in 1967. It is important to the Israelis because it overlooks the Hula Valley in Israël, offering a good strategie position. It is a major issue in recent peace talks between the two countries, and it has been suggested that the Golan Heights should become a nonmilitary zone and be returned to Syria.


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