The Syrian Arab Republic 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. The current President is Bashar al-Assad, son of the previous ruler. Syria has been a Soviet/Russian ally for a long period and is also a major player in the Arab Israeli Conflict, with Israel destroying what may have been a nuclear reactor in 2008. 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 60,000 people. 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: Syria has been described 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.