Damascus Talks Split Already Divided Opposition

Article Summary
An opposition conference scheduled to be held Sunday in Damascus is deflecting criticism for holding the event in the Syrian capital. Some groups have withdrawn, and others won’t come, writes Tareq al-Abed for As-Safir. But the UN and Russia have endorsed the effort.

In the heart of the Umayyad capital, preparations are under way for a conference that Syrians will remember for a long time to come. The conference is an attempt to save the country from the hysteria of daily violence and death, and return it to a mode conducive to starting a political process.

There has been international skepticism over the usefulness of holding such a conference given that it will be held in Damascus, under the roof of the regime. However, the opposition in Syria has ignored all skepticism and moved forward with preparations. It has already received guarantees from several countries.

The National Coordination Committee (NCC) — a key component of the opposition spectrum inside Syria — announced that the opposition conference will be held on Sunday [Sept. 23], as the Maan and Building The Syrian State (opposition) movements announced their withdrawal from the conference.

They claimed that some partners had taken unilateral measures and derailed the conference from its main objectives, which were the principal reason for calling for such a conference in the country.

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The Building the Syrian State movement released a statement explaining the reason for its withdrawal:

The aim of the conference was not to unify the opposition forces, but to enhance cooperation among the democratic forces to address the threats against the nation and citizens. Moreover, the aim was not to create a political polarity, or pit one against another.”

Safwan Akkash, representative of the NCC’s conference preparatory committee, said that the committee was working on ensuring the success of the conference, as they were gradually receiving more and more guarantees.

In an interview with As-Safir, Akkash talked about “guarantees from Russia and [United Nations envoy] Lakhdar Brahimi, in addition to guarantees we are seeking to obtain from the United Nations and other sides.”

Akkash said: “An invitation was sent to Brahimi, who expressed support for holding the conference and urged that it move forward with preparations. In his view, holding a successful conference would be a first step toward achieving the unity of the opposition and forming a realistic vision of the solution in Syria.”

Invitations have also been sent to representatives of several regional and international groups, and to several groups abroad, including the Syrian National Council (SNC). Akkash said it was unlikely that the SNC would take part in the conference since “they are fighting windmills, and they are planning for another conference and fighting ours."

According to Akkash, more than one opposition group had emerged since the start of the revolution and peaceful movements, but the groups were under two main banners: the NCC and SNC.

They have clear and specific differences, which are still crystallizing on issues related to foreign intervention, militarization, sectarianism etc., Akkash said.

He noted that the forces of the revolutionary movements would be represented at the conference in one way or another — as was the case with the NCC’s first conference — in addition to intellectual and national youths, independent figures and peaceful activists.

Akkash hopes that the conference will be representative of all forces of the revolutionary movements. He said that the task of unifying the opposition was based on clear grounds depending on a solution that would achieve two things: Bringing down the regime along with all its symbols and components, and building a democratic Syria. 

The concept of democratic national change, which seeks to unite the opposition parties, stemmed from these two points.

Akkash said: “It is normal for us to envision solutions for the problems [in Syria]. We have presented our visions to the Arab League, the United Nations and international powers. We have also presented a cease-fire initiative, which was welcomed by many forces [at street level], including some armed movements. The latter stipulated the regime’s approval of the initiatives, but the regime did not respond. Today, the situation is further deteriorating, and it is our duty to stop Syrian bloodshed while adhering to the principles and forces of the revolution.”

Speaking about the withdrawal of opposition movements from the conference, Akkash said: “The opposition forces have proved to be somewhat irresponsible. On the other hand, we must accept that [changes in allegiances] happen at critical times. We always see people parting ways, while others become new partners. We now have new partners, which include licensed parties and new youth forces. This reflects a state of political consciousness taking root.”

In contrast, he pointed out that “the empty promises of military interventions and no-fly zones, and the illusions that were sold to the [Syrian] people, have proven to be ineffective.”

Akkash underlined the importance of not confusing the opposition conference with Moscow’s proposal to hold a meeting between opposition groups and the regime.

“This conference aims to unify some opposition parties behind one vision for a political solution, which we believe is capable of saving the country,” he said. “We are not talking about holding negotiations or dialogue with the regime, which some are promoting in an intentional attempt to undermine the conference.”

Akkash welcomed “all international initiatives and constructive efforts to stop the daily bloodshed that is affecting hundreds and hundreds of thousands of refugees. We have entered the phase of humanitarian catastrophe.”

Participating Kurdish forces and movements believe that the goal of the conference is to start a general national dialogue with all parties rather than the regime, since holding dialogue with just the regime would include several requirements such as ending violence and achieving change while maintaining the structure of the state and its institutions.

The Kurdish parties have a special interest in highlighting the Kurdish issue. The existence of the Kurds is an important issue, and they are a key component of the Syrian national fabric. It is necessary to find a solution to their cause and recognize them under the constitution, within the framework of the unity of the country and the people.

An agreement on this issue will be reached with the new forces participating in the conference. The Kurds are a veteran opposition force with considerable political maturity, and (recent) circumstances have certainly played out in their favor.

The Kurds alone have maintained the peacefulness of the movements in Afrin, Ayn al-Arab, Aleppo and the Syrian desert in the northeast of the country. Until today, not a single bullet has been fired in areas with a Kurdish presence. The Kurds today run their own affairs after the withdrawal of the authority for its own reasons.

According to the Kurdish opposition participating in the conference: “There are no grounds for believing that the Kurds are secretly mobilizing to change the methods of popular mobility, but, rather, that there is an attempt today to leave the decision to the Syrian people betting on an international conflict.”

In a related context, it is noteworthy that a new party, which emerged under the recently issued Party Law, is participating in the conference.

Khalil al-Sayyed, secretary of the National Development Party, says it is the only licensed party that will take part in the “rescue conference.” The party was launched in 2004 without a license. Its leaders were repeatedly arrested, and some of the party’s activists are still being arrested due to their involvement in relief operations.

Sayyed said the conference was in line with the party’s ambition and vision based on the slogan of building a strong Syria governed by the will of its people, adding that (the summit) was a first step in the right direction. Sayyed admitted that violence would not immediately stop after the conference, and (that that would require) the efforts of the states involved in the Syrian affair at a time when the main obstacle lies in the regime’s unwillingness to forge a political solution and its insistence in sticking with a purely security-based solution.

The external opposition does not have the courage to hold talks within Syria.

“We have a just cause which we seek to work on from within the country. After the conference, the door will be open to the various opposition parties, on the basis of rejecting violence and foreign interference,” Sayyed said.

He concluded: “The regime has foiled all regional and international initiatives [aimed at ending the violence]. It is required to abandon the security solution and commit to a political solution. Also, the international community is required to exert pressure on the Syrian regime to respond to the political solution, change all current figures of the authority, preserve the structure of the state and refrain from taking military action, which has not served the regime or the opposition.”

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Found in: syrian regime, syrian, syria opposition, lakhdar brahimi, kurdish issue
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