Below is the letter written after attending the Syria: Moving Beyond the Stalemate , 1-3 July 2015 in St Andrews Scotland, followed by the Conference summary of deliberations. To date, no response has been received to our comments and proposals.
It should be noted that this conference was funded in part by the Asfari Foundation, who also support the Syria Campaign [White Helmets]
“Firstly we would like to thank you for organising the Syria Conference. It was an interesting and informative 3 days and we certainly came away enlightened regarding certain aspects of the conflict in Syria.
You have requested that we complete a survey. We did, however, find the survey limiting in its content and would respectfully ask that you consider the points we would like to make which we believe may be helpful to create a more objective and constructive conference and forum in which to discuss ideas from all perspectives. We hope that you find our observations useful and we would welcome greater involvement in any future such initiatives.
- We were disappointed that there were no representatives from within Syria itself. Apart from Mother Agnes Mariam who resides in Syria, there were no delegates who represented or spoke for the Syrian people. The current Government is internationally recognized as the government of Syria and is, by all measures (including election), supported by a very large proportion of the population that deserves to be represented in any discussion about Syria. Therefore, it seems remiss to ignore or not include the voices of those who comprise the resident electorate of a sovereign nation. The Syria Solidarity Movement is in regular contact with many such spokespeople, much of what was being conveyed, during the conference, ran contrary to their narrative and their version of events on the ground. We will include a report from one such individual at the end of our discourse which we believe demonstrates the frustration that they are simply not being listened to and their opinions marginalised.
- There were no delegates from the Syrian Christian or Muslim leadership. Again this is a big omission. Almost without exception, these leaders are calling for an end to foreign intervention and funding/arming of the “rebel” factions. This was utterly ignored and barely discussed over the 3 days. We include links from two articles that demonstrate the message that is being conveyed by eminent faith leaders within Syria. Why were they not mentioned? “The world leader of Syria’s besieged Christians has issued a heartfelt plea to the West to “stop arming and supporting terrorist groups that are destroying our countries and massacring our people.” The Patriarch of Antioch, Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, said he was not asking the West for military intervention to defend Christians.” [http://www.christiantoday.com/article/syrian.christian.leader.tells.west.stop.arming.terror.groups.who.are.massacring.our.people/57747.htm ] Also an article by SSM’s Eva Bartlett that demonstrates the very real concerns of the Syrian Muslim leadership which echo those of their Christian brothers: https://thewallwillfall.wordpress.com/2015/03/15/the-real-syrian-moderates-voices-of-reason-by-eva-bartlett/
- There were no representatives from within the Syrian Government reconciliation departments. For example, why was Ali Haidar, Minister for Reconciliation [Internal Opposition] not invited to speak, even via skype? Mr Haidar is dedicated to creating a pluralistic secular society within Syria. Surely such efforts should be encouraged and supported before we discuss “regime” replacement or further arming of the so called “moderate” rebels. The Americans have already admitted failure in this sphere “American-led attempts to train up moderates to hold ground against Isil are months behind track because of the difficulty of finding groups which were not linked to the extremists.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/saudiarabia/11753809/British-troops-head-to-Saudi-Arabia-to-train-Syrian-rebels.html
- There was no mention of the barrage of anti- Assad and SAA propaganda that has been virtually universally disproven or at least determined to be questionable. Our own Professor Tim Anderson submitted a paper to the conference that was rejected. Whilst we accept that there is a need for reform within Syria and that it is important to support the internal peace processes and reconciliation projects & movements, we were disturbed to hear the parroting of anti -Assad and pro No Fly Zone propaganda and narratives that harked back to 2011 rather than reflecting our improved knowledge and investigation findings in 2015. It was disturbing to hear at least one delegate call for the bombing of SAA positions despite the impact this would have upon an already beleaguered civilian population in the areas being protected by the SAA and the NDF. Here we will include two reports from within our group that we believe to typify the exposure of the false narratives that distort the reporting of this “conflict”. https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/bbc-upholds-complaint-re-substitution-of-napalm-bomb-footage/. http://dissidentvoice.org/2015/04/seven-steps-of-highly-effective-manipulators/.
- There was no acceptance of the elected Government in Syria. Despite all attempts to portray the election as illegal/rigged/unrepresentative, it was clear to our many independent observers in Syria for the election, that much of the genuine popular support was largely downplayed by Western media and Government officials. We include an article written by Prof Tim Anderson [whose paper was rejected] who was one of those independent observers: http://www.globalresearch.ca/why-syrians-support-bashar-al-assad/5405208
- Whilst there was no end of information presented on the alleged atrocities carried out by the Syrian Government & the SAA, there was minimal coverage of the verified and horrific barbarism of the “terrorist” factions. Once more this mirrors the inbalance in the mainstream media reporting of the events taking place in Syria. Why no mention of the snipers, the hell canons, Turkey supplying ingredients for chemical weapons to “rebel” factions, the mass grave in Ghota, the incessant mortar attacks. Again, a report from one of our members, Eva Bartlett on the “rebel” mortar attacks on Damascus [which landed close to the hotel where they were staying and resulted in mortalities and wounded civilians]. http://zeroanthropology.net/2014/09/11/the-terrorism-we-support-in-syria-a-first-hand-account-of-the-use-of-mortars-against-civilians/
Our perception was that the focus of the Conference was unfortunately biased towards the “opposition” and towards certain geopolitical agendas. In our opinion, both diplomatically and academically it failed to adequately present all aspects of the debate in order to arrive at a universally acceptable conclusion.
We must also emphasize that our views are upheld by the majority of Syrian civilians, peace activists, faith leaders, diplomats and government officials who have received details of the Conference content. We received the following comments from a politically aware and impartial Syrian resident the day after the conference. We would like to share it with you as we believe it conveys the general frustration and rage that the fate of these proud and courageous people is being determined far from the epicentre of their suffering at the hands of external forces and interventionists.
“We didn’t sleep all the night. The attacks of yesterday 2nd July started around afternoon and continued up till today 8:30 am 3rd July.
They said that 3-4 civilians died, but 87 civilians injured. The ambulance voices didn’t stop all night long.
You had to hear the people over here. Aren’t they Syrians? After all these years and after all these attacks on them and after they lost their income sources and family members, they are asking the Syrian army to terminate the attackers and their nests, which became like cancer in our body. They don’t care if that termination was by chemical weapons, bombs, or whatever. Yet, around the world and in the mainstream media, they dare to demonize the so called “barrel bombs” and talk about the lost in lives of the terrorists as lost of lives of Syrian peaceful moderate opposition who had been killed by dictator! That injustice is unlimited and makes me and many feel as if we want to explode with all the nonsense that people are lecturing in the “peace” conferences in Britain or people of the UN who repeat nothing but lies and hypocrisy.
The people are crying and terrified by the “moderate peaceful opposition”. But we can’t bomb them because the “international community” will blame the Syrian army of using their unprecedented super ultra weapon that is way stronger than a nuclear bomb: Barrel bombs!
The terrorists are using mortars, explosive bullets, cooking-gas cylinders bombs and water-warming long cylinders bombs, filled up with explosives and shrapnel and nails, in what they call “Hell Canon”. (google these weapons or see their YouTube clips. The cooking-gas cylinder is made of steel, and it weighs around 25 kg. Imagine it thrown by a canon to hit civilians? And imagine knowing that it’s full with explosives?… Yet, the media is busy with the legendary weapon of “barrel bombs”! They came to spread “freedom” among Syrians! How dare they say that Syrian army shouldn’t fight them back?
For the first time last night, we smelled gunpowder. The shelling was so extreme to smell gunpowder in the air.
Results were nothing but new innocent victims. I mean, the terrorists failed in gaining new land, or occupying new buildings or quarters. They lost many of their “zombies”, but they don’t count, because they have no families or friends to weep on them like the case with civilians.
I apologize that I’m very upset, mostly not from the attackers and whoever is supporting them in Turkey over here (and Israel and Jordan in the south); but mainly from the liars in that conference in Britain or at the UN , who keep lying and lying, piles and tons of lies, about “freedom” and “barrel bombs” and live in their perfumed and ironed suites and ties, happy with their Ph.D. degrees, having no problem in obtaining clean water, electricity, warm food, and the rest of services that we are suffering over here to obtain part of them. Those people travel in 1st class airlines, and live in 5 stars hotels, and ready to come on tv channels to weep upon the “Syrian people” and blame the “regime” while giving a blind eye upon all the terrorists they are funding and supporting. I wish these people, whether they were Arabs or Westerns, Muslims or Christians, Syrians or others.. I wish they could taste and suffer the same pain they are causing to innocent people.”
Once again, thank you for your hospitality and for at least entertaining our questions over the 3 days, however we do strongly advocate a more open forum and debating style for any future events with the inclusion of representatives from all concerned & deeply involved spheres of the internal Syrian peace process.
SYRIA 2015 CONFERENCE
SUMMARY OF DELIBERATIONS OF PARTICIPANTS PROSPECTS FOR GETTING BEYOND THE STALEMATE
Prof. Raymond Hinnebusch, Director, Centre for Syrian Studies
The Syria 2015 Conference, “Getting Beyond the Stalemate,” held several panels focusing on the prospects for a diplomatically-driven political compromise in the Syrian conflict. The panels included several internationally recognized experts on Syria or diplomats who had been involved in various capacities in consultations with the Syrian parties; knowledgeable Syrians responded with their own insights. While there was no consensus view, the deliberations suggested several alternative possible scenarios.
Scenario I: Geneva III. The majority view of conference panellists was that, despite the seeming existence for a long time of a “hurting stalemate” (in which neither side can realistically expect to “win”), , the moment, as of summer 2015, was not “ripe” for successful negotiations. However, a minority view was that Geneva III might, nevertheless, come about because of the activism of the UN special representative, Staffan de Mistura, as well as efforts by Moscow and Cairo to explore possible areas of agreement between the parties. Insofar as Geneva II failed chiefly because the regime had believed it had the upper hand and was therefore uninterested in making concessions, it seemed possible that, with Damascus now on the defensive and being urged by its patrons, Iran and Russia, to retrench and possibly to be more flexible, that regime obduracy might now be easing.
A split in the regime, more plausible in view of evidence of some infighting about regime elites, raised the prospect of increased pressure from within on the regime to seriously bid for a negotiated transition in which the remnants of the state/regime would share power with those elements of the opposition willing to strike such a deal. This would presumably involve a transition period of power sharing in which the role of Bashar al-Asad and his inner circle would be increasingly constrained and checked by some sort of balance of power on the ground as well as by international guarantees.
Working against this scenario, however, was the fact that the opposition now appears to believe that it has the upper hand; emboldened by regime setbacks, from Idlib, Jisr esh-Shaghour to Palmyra, as well as its increasingly apparent vulnerabilities, but even more so by the newly cooperating Sunni axis linking Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar, coordinating and backing the most militant jihadist elements against the regime, Asad’s enemies apparently now believed they had the momentum, could win militarily and saw no need for a compromise settlement.
Given the fact that the moment is not, seemingly “ripe” for a negotiated settlement, two alternative pathways seemed possible, protracted conflict and regime collapse.
Scenario 2: Protracted Conflict, Spheres of Influence: First, is the possibility that protracted conflict will continue since the expectation of victory by the opposition is unrealistic; the balance of power between regime and opposition has periodically shifted, without either side ever getting a permanent upper hand, since neither has the decisive combination of resources to prevail. Indeed, given that the conflict is now at least a three- sided contest among regime, opposition and ISIS, “victory” by any party seems all the more problematic. However, this deepened phase of conflict is likely to be one of increased spheres of influence in which regional actors increase their intervention and seek to consolidate secure territory cleansed of opposition forces. Iran and Hizbollah will seek to consolidate their position in Damascus, Kalamoun, western Homs and Tartous. Jordan and Gulf (and Israel) will support opposition FSA groups in Deraa and Qunaitra. Turkey and Qatar will support Islamist factions in the rural areas of Idlib and Aleppo that seek to overrun the regime-controlled part of Aleppo city. IS will preserve its own state in the East, battling the Kurds, Islamist rivals and the regime. The de-facto separation of the country will harden.
Notwithstanding this, a second possible pathway is the fall of the regime. Nobody was predicting this outcome in the immediate future but regime vulnerabilities have become more apparent and many of its opponents appeared looking forward to such a “victory.” Supposing that the regime did suddenly unravel and collapse, it is not self-evident, however, what would follow and at least three possible pathways had some plausibility and evidence for them could be seen in the presentations at the conference.
Scenario 3: Democratic Transformation: First, for those who put their faith in the power and intentions of “moderate” Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood as well as in the discourse of the exiled National Coalition, which advocates a civil state, there was hope that regime collapse could lead to democratization, possibly with Islamic characteristics.
Scenario 4: A Caliphate: Other panellists, believed the more radical elements of the opposition had the upper hand on the ground, notably Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS and various other jihadi groups, making a salafist/jihadist-dominated Islamist state—a “caliphate”—of sorts, the more likely outcome, although this depended on the fractured Islamist groups ability to share power or on the weaker groups bandwagoning with/and submitting to a dominant faction.
Scenario 5: Anarchy: A third possible pathway was fragmentation and deepened struggle for power. In this scenario, the regime might lose control of all or parts of Damascus, but, already considerably de-centralized and “militia-ized”, it and its various local components would remain active in the power struggle and would retrench to more defensive Western parts of the country. Rival jihadi Islamists, including the two al-Qaida avatars, Nusra and IS, would fall on each other in a struggle for dominance. Localized warlords and militias would attempt to defend their own turf, with the PYD in Kurdish areas the most successful. Considerably increased refugees flows, ethnic cleansing and destruction would accompany the power struggle.
At the time of the conference, the preponderance of evidence and opinion could not be said to be behind any one of the scenarios. Mixes of several of them were also possible.