All of the parties involved in the Syrian crisis have at some point or another proclaimed that any solution should depend on the wishes of the Syrian people.
The Syrian opposition, from the Islamists to the leftists, has continued to criticize Bashar al-Assad’s regime, claiming that they are struggling “for the sake of the people.”
For his part, Assad claims he is defending his people against terrorists and external forces. He insists on staying in power because “the people want it.”
The international actors involved in Syria — whether pro or anti-Assad — are also the most ardent defenders of the Syrian people. Just as in previous meetings, the conference that took place in Geneva [on June 30 to July 1] was full of references to what the Syrian people want.
However, nobody can be sure which people exactly they are talking about. All actors in the crisis seem to refer to the specific groups of people that fit their own mindsets or interests.
A Dubious Agreement
Although the Geneva conference did lead to the issuance of a joint statement, this does not necessarily mean that the opposing poles of Russia/China and the West have agreed upon a joint strategy.
Even before the ink on the joint statement was dry, the US secretary of state and the Russian foreign minister revealed how divergent their positions were.
A decision was taken to set up a transitional, national-unity government in Damascus in which both loyalists to the Assad regime and the opposition will take part. This may look good on paper, but the fact of the matter is that the opposition doesn’t even want to hear Assad’s name. They have stated that they will never engage in a partnership with an administration that oppresses the people instead of representing them. On the other hand, Assad has continuously stated that those resistance elements he defines as terrorists cannot take part in a government. According to him, these are the elements that don’t represent the Syrian people.
The international players deeply involved in the crisis also have opposing views. Given this, the fate of the Geneva accord will not be any different than that of the six-point peace plan Kofi Annan came up with. This plan was impossible to implement.
The real divide revolves around the fate of Assad and his close circles. More specifically, the real issue is whether or not the solution to the crisis will involve Assad.
The US, Turkey and the West in general want Assad to leave, while Russia, China and Iran want him to stay. Because the statement issued in Geneva was so vague, these parties will stick to their positions.
The Situation on the Ground
Turkey is happy to have participated in the meeting alongside the five permanent members of the Security Council and a few Middle Eastern countries. However, the Turkish Foreign minister did not go to Geneva expecting to find a solution in the first place, because Ankara does not believe that any solution can include Assad.
The government hardened its position after Syria shot down a Turkish jet on June 22. As it flexes its military muscle in the border areas with Syria, Ankara continues to provide active support to the opposition. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addressed the opposition in Cairo: “Our only interlocutor is the Syrian people and the opposition, that is, you.”
Ankara’s ties with the opposition are deepening. Military maneuvers along the border indicate that in addition to political and diplomatic measures, military pressure is also in the works. It has been reported that because of the Turkish military maneuvers, the Syrian army has pulled back 30 kilometers from the Turkish border, which has given the opposition a bit of breathing room.
There used to be was talk of a “buffer” and “no-fly zone” for Syria. Ankara seems determined to achieve these goals.