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Syrian Talks in Sochi and the Turkish Operation in Syria: What Is Going On?


Sochi hosted Syrian National Dialogue Congress that has brought together over 1500 delegates, representing various groups of Syrian society including the government and the opposition.

With the support of the UN, the Congress was sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran, the leaders of the three countries having agreed to the all-Syrian Congress in November.

As the sponsors and organizers of the All-Syrian Congress claim, it was aimed at boosting the peace process and kicking-off the efforts to draft a new constitution. The foundation for a peaceful future for the war-torn country was also one of the top agenda issues. So, the expected result of the Congress is to start working on a new constitution and discuss reconciliation in Syria.

The main goal of the meeting was to gather delegates from various political parties, internal and external opposition, ethnic and confessional groups at the negotiating table. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted, the Sochi Congress is a unique event since it represents different segments of Syrian society.

The UN Security Council permanent member-states as well as Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia were also invited to participate in the event as observers. However, a number of states including the US and France, refused to attend.

Besides, the Saudi Arabia-based High Negotiations Committee (HNC), that was created in order to represent some of the Syrian opposition groups at the Geneva talks, decided to boycott the Congress, just days before its launch. The group claimed it was supporting ''credible political transition'' in the Geneva format instead.

The HNC, however, had not demonstrated unity in boycotting the Sochi Congress. The decision to boycott was allegedly supported by 24 members of HNC, while 26 votes were needed for a decisive result

So, they missed the chance to be heard at a large international meeting.

Besides, more than 80 delegates refused to leave the airport until all logos and emblems representing the government were removed. The logo of the event contains the dove of peace spreading its wings in front of the Syrian Arab Republic flags. These symbols became the apple of dischord for a group of Syrian opposition figures, who refused to sit down for talks under the country’s official flag. Those delegates left for Turkey after spending several hours at the Sochi airport, having kept 1511 other the participants waiting for them.

Some of the delegates were sure the Syrians have to kick-off the process themselves and that this Congress is an important step, which, unfortunately, was not accepted by some political figures.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, peace talks have been held in various locations around the world, among them Astana, Vienna, Geneva and Lausanne. Now, the fact that Russia hosted Syrian Congress demonstrates that it still aims to be the top mediator in Syrian issue and is not going to make any diplomatic concessions to the West. This seems to have generated distrust from the West, so the Western-backed Syrian opposition has repeatedly claimed that the Sochi Congress would somehow jeopardize the international peace process, it was embraced by the main sponsor of the Geneva talks – the UN.

In response to these claims Russia said, that the Congress was not organized to replace the UN-sponsored Geneva talks, which have stalled for years. According to Russia, the Syrian opposition representatives are responsible for that, as they push forward unrealistic preconditions before engaging in talks with the country’s government. The aim of the Congress is just on the contrary- to boost the Syrian peace process and make Geneva talks more fruitful. Thus, Russians claim that one should not expect that the political reconciliation will be achieved in Sochi.

Besides, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, also participates in the Congress after accepting Moscow’s invitation days before the event. Staffan de Mistura said that the propositions that are approved during the Congress will be taken to Geneva.

''The Secretary-General is confident that the Congress in Sochi will be an important contribution to a revived intra-Syrian talks process under the auspices of the United Nations in Geneva, based on the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué (2012) and Security Council resolution 2254 (2015),'' spokesman for the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement on Friday.

It seems that the Congress reached one of its main goals: Syrian political groups finally started communicating. Starting from Monday, Syrian tribal and religious leaders, politicians, prominent opposition figures were discussing the post-war future of their country. Congress discussed forming a committee to address constitutional issues, stressing that this will be carried out by the Syrians alone, as they are the only ones responsible for formulating the Syrian constitution. It requested the UN Secretary General to assist in organizing the work of the constitutional committee, whose mandate will be outlined as part of the Geneva reconciliation process.

Besies, on January 30 Participants of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress adopted a 12-point statement outlining the Syrians’ view on their country’s future.  The main idea of the document was that Syria should preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and its future can be determined only by the people of Syria through elections. The document touches upon the issues of Syria’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence and unity. It is important to note that the delegates agreed Syria should be "a democratic and non-sectarian state based on political pluralism and equal citizenship irrespective of religion, ethnicity and gender."

They agreed that Syria should have a strong national army and fight against terrorism, fanaticism, extremism and sectarianism in all its forms and to tackle conditions conducive to their spread.

It is important to note that the Congress in Sochi took place in the light of the military operations by Turkey being one of the sponsors of the Congress. It took part in the Congress representing the Syrian opposition and is to monitor the work for establishing a constitutional commission.

Actually, Kurdish parties and groups of Syria were among the ones that refused to participate in the Congress as Russia itself supported Turkey’s actions in Afrin. According to them, Russia gave the chance for Turkey to instigate a new flame of war, thus the peace talks in this conditions are at least meaningless. Kurds claim that Moscow withdrew its troops and military police from Afrin after Turkey launched the attack.

Unlike Kurds, ethnic Armenian lawmakers of the Syrian parliament Nora Arisian and Jirair Reisian, as well as the Primate of the Armenian Diocese of Damascus Bishop Armash Nalbandian participated in the Syrian Congress.

Of course, the resolution of the Syrian conflict couldn't be found in Sochi, however this was a decisive step to bring the parties together in spite of various disagreements. At the same time it is obvious that until all the external players cease carrying out this or that kind of operation for the sake of their own interests, ignoring everything and everyone else, it would not be possible to talk about peace in Syria. Thus, the main task of the international community today, should be restraining those external players. 

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