Syria (Arabic: سوريا / Sūriyā, or سورية Sūrīyah; Syriac: ܣܘܪܝܐ; Kurdish: سوریه, Sūrī), officially the Syrian Arab Republic (Arabic: الجمهورية العربية السورية Al-Jumhūrīyah Al-ʻArabīyah As-Sūrīyah) is a state in the Middle East, bordering Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. One of the earliest centers of human civilization, Syria has long been a crossroads for trade. Cities like Damascus, Aleppo, Homs (formerly Emesa), Antioch (now in Turkey) and Palmyra have historically important for the transfer of goods and ideas. It has been a part of, among other regimes, the Persian Empire, the Hellenistic Empires, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, various Arab caliphates, Crusader states, the empires of the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks, and the French empire after World War One. Having spent most of its previous life under various empires, it became independent in its current form in 1946. Since 1963, it has been ruled by an authoritarian group of Ba'athists. Yes, that ideology, the same one as Saddam Hussein—although they had a falling-out with the Iraqi branch in 1966 so bad that Syria backed the Americans in the Gulf War. Since 1970, Syria has been governed by a guy named al-Assad (meaning "the lion"). From 1970 through 2000, it was Hafez, who modernized the country, opposed Israel and sided with Russia at the height of the Cold War. Upon his death in 2000, he was replaced by his son, Bashar, the target of an ongoing Civil War. Assad is an Alawite family, a secretive sect of Shia Islam that's a minority in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. Some Muslims, especially Sunnis, don't think Alawites are really Muslims at all and this has been at the root of the sectarian conflict that has been ongoing with varying intensity between the country's Sunni majority and Alawite minority for a long time. That the Alawites dominate the government under the leadership of the al-Assad clan has not helped matters in recent years. In 1983, there was a major uprising against the Alawite-dominated government launched by the religious Sunni organizations that was crushed with utter brutality. The centers of this revolt coincide with the centers of the current revolt against Syrian government today. Syria has been a Russian ally as far back as the Soviet Union, serving as a surrogate in both the Cold War and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. It assisted Egypt in waging several wars with Israel, and unlike Egypt, there is no ceasefire to be had between Israel and Syria. In fact, Israel destroyed what may have been a nuclear reactor in 2008 and has occupied the Golan Heights (Syrian territory) since 1967. On account of its strategic alliance with Iran, it is widely believed to be a state sponsor of terrorism. Influenced by the Arab spring, massive protests began mid-March 2011, and later escalated into an armed uprising and (by the summer of 2012) full-fledged Civil War. The war is ongoing, and has killed more than 100,000 - 120,000 people. If you want any testimony in today's world that War Is Hell, look no further than Syria. A lot of the rebel groups have connections to terrorist organizations (including Al-Qaeda), while someone (nobody can agree who) used chemical weapons to attack rebels and civilians, which is clearly in violation of international law. Debate over what, if anything, can be done about this has become very heated, and there isn't an easy answer. Meanwhile, millions of Syrians have fled the country, while many more live in a war zone every day. Syria is currently the target of sanctions from the United States, Turkey, Europe, and the Arab League. The Arab League suspended Syria on 16 November 2011, in response the governments continued crackdown on dissent and rejection of reforms. Syria's capital, Dimashq (Damascus), is a key city in Christianity, as Paul's conversion took place on the road to it and there is a considerable Christian minority. It's also the oldest city in the world, with its foundations being continously inhabited since ~8,000BC. Produces a lot of Arab literature and soap operas, more than any Arab country other than Egypt. The civil war has severely limited Syria's output, much to the Egyptian TV industry's guilty delight. In fiction: Due to its alliance with Iran and Russia, Syria has been portrayed as being a second-tier global bad guy, part of the "axis of not-so-evil". Syrian agents are highly likely to get involved in spying operations on the West.
The Official Syrian flag
The flag is officially used by the Ba'ath Party of al-Assad. The flag's red-white-black stripe design is very similar to that of Egypt, except in the center are two green stars, alluding to the short-lived United Arab Republic (UAR) with Egypt, or at least the aspirations of unity of both countries' Ba'athist parties (there was once a third green star, to denote Iraq's Ba'athists).
The Rebel Syrian flag
The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces reuse Syria's first flag, originally flown from 1932 (independence) to 1958 (incorporation into the UAR), and again from 1961 (collapse of the UAR) to 1963 (the Ba'ath coup). Its green, white and black stripes symbolize the Rashidun, Umayyad and Abbasid Calipates, respectively, which once ruled the Arab world from Syria. At the center are three red stars, symbolizing Syria's major regions: the core Syrian cities of Aleppo, Damascus and Deir ez-Zor (which once were the three stars themselves), and later additions Alawite and Jabal Druze States.