Is there a path to peace in Syria?

  As with so many armed conflicts, seeking peace means both addressing the causes of the fighting and arranging a ceasefire. But in the case of Syria this is far from straightforward, thanks to the conflicting agendas of the many foreign parties involved and the predominant self interest of their governments. None of these parties wants to abandon their objectives in fighting or sponsoring the fighting in Syria. While the blame for this failure has consistently been put on the Syrian government by the Opposition and its Western supporters and media organisations, this claim is misleading and its premise unreasonable.

The Syrian government, backed by much of the Syrian population, and internationally by Russia, considers that it is fighting a foreign-backed armed insurgency rather than a legitimate popular movement, and considers that the use of its army and security forces is entirely justified and necessary.(1)

At the same time, representatives of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ who claimed initially that they took up arms to defend protestors against brutal government repression, now demonstrate that their aim is simply ‘regime change’.(2) These armed groups and the political Opposition group outside the country have consistently opposed any ceasefire without the precondition that the Syrian army must first return to barracks.

Under pressure from the UN observers group set up by the Arab league, the Syrian government conceded to such a withdrawal; the immediate consequence of this was that some groups of fighters took advantage of the security vacuum to push forward and gain territory. Whether this action was condoned by the Syrian National Council is hardly relevant, as many of the armed groups do not recognise its authority. The many changes in leader and composition of this Opposition body, and inability to agree internally or with the Armed opposition within Syria, make nonsense of further attempts to broker a ceasefire. (3)

Despite this, and in one of the most disingenuous and hypocritical acts of the whole Syrian crisis, many Western governments have followed France’s lead and recognised this body as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian People”.  It is worth spending a little time looking at this political action, and asking why its clear offence against any standards of democracy or legality have not been challenged in Western media.

How can it be said to ‘represent the Syrian people’, when all its members live outside Syria, many in exile following their expulsion in the ‘80s? Have any of its members been elected, or even selected, by significant numbers of Syrian residents? Have Syrians even been polled or surveyed to see if it has their general support? How otherwise can this body, or any incarnation of it, be said to be ‘legitimate’, and what does that say about our governments’ conception of ‘democracy’.

This body, now calling itself the ‘National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces’, has NO legitimacy even among its members and supporting nations, leave alone as a representative of ‘the Syrian People’, and yet we are supposed to accept it as a fair and equal party to discussions over the future of Syria with Syria’s legitimate elected government?

The first Geneva conference, held in June 2012, saw an agreement on talks between Syrian government representatives and representatives of the Opposition – both armed and external – stymied consistently by Opposition preconditions; the insistence that Assad must go, that the Syrian defence forces must ceasefire first, or that prisoners must be released by the government. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, the main negotiator on behalf of Syria, consistently stated that the agreement with the US did not have these preconditions included, and particularly the insistence that Assad must play no part in a transitional government. The recent announcement of a ‘new agreement’ between Russia and the US that could lead to success in the Geneva talks merely acknowledged Russia’s continuing insistence that the Syrian people must decide who would be their leader, but again the US and its allies fudged on this; they simply cannot accept that their campaign for regime change in Syria contradicts the principles of the democracy they claim to advocate.(2)(4)

Most recently, plans for a resolution of the conflict have taken a more bizarre turn, with NATO and Gulf allies claiming that by supplying more lethal weaponry to the armed groups and jihadis now fighting a losing battle to hold their ground against the Syrian army, they would somehow encourage the parties to come to the table in Geneva. Only days after this commitment to ongoing war, the meeting in Ireland of the G8, where President Putin was the only real voice for peace in Syria, produced  a feel-good statement focussing on Iran and Hezbollah and Russia as the enemies of peace and freedom; Putin’s clear statements on the defensive nature of arms supplied to Syria were simply ignored, by Western leaders and their complicit media.

The role played by media organisations in the Syrian conflict has been fundamental in turning popular protests into an armed rebellion. Most important in this has been the role of Al Jazeera in spreading a misleading or false story about the nature of the Opposition, on behalf of its owner/operators – the government of Qatar and its Emir. As chief weapons provider and political driver of the campaign against the Libyan government and now the Syrian government, Qatar and its TV station are now hated by many Syrians; sadly the same cannot be said for the West, where its distorted presentation of the conflict is accepted as truth, and its content widely copied. Saudi station Al Arabiya has played a similar role, and both provide a platform for the Jihad calls from fundamentalist preachers allied to these undemocratic regimes. (5)

Despite the dreadful death toll and the terrible destruction of infrastructure and homes over the last two years, there is increasing disillusion with the Opposition and its armed insurgency amongst Syrians. (6) It is important to understand that there have been as many deaths amongst supporters of the government as of the Opposition, including a staggering 24,000 Syrian soldiers and security forces. At the same time, some unreported moves for reconciliation and peace have been made, and the Syrian government has shown a willingness to deal fairly with people who are prepared to abandon the armed struggle. The extraordinary commitment of some individuals such as Mother Agnes Mariam to bringing people back to the table and inspiring communities to reconcile shows that there still is a path to peace in Syria, based on its peoples’ love of their country and spirit of tolerance and independence(7) Each week sees hundreds of former fighters abandoning ‘the revolution’ as they see what is happening to their country at the hands of violent fundamentalists, who drew them into their campaign for an Islamic state. So such a peaceful resolution of the conflict and restoration of the country is still possible, which is why the fuelling of the fire by the “Friends of Syria” is so appalling.(8)

(1) Sergei Lavrov talks to RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze

(2) The mistaken case for regime change, by Aisling Byrne, Conflicts Forum:

(3)Sharmine Narwani on the first UN observer mission report:

(4)Analysis of President Assad’s recent interviews by Stephen Gowans:

(5)Manufacturing Dissent – Lizzie Phelan documentary:

(6) Opposition supporter ‘Edward Dark’ writes on the loss of the idealistic dream, and reality of the ‘rebel army’:

(7) Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire writes on her recent visit to Damascus and Lebanon with Mother Agnes Mariam, and the possibilities of reconciliation:

(8) Op-ed by Philosophy and Ethics teacher Sonia Mansour Robaey: