A Discussion in Gaziantep about the Future of Syria – by Piroz Perik
Surour Sheikhmous, 33, a Syrian activist, has made a habit of stopping by the Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria in the city of Gaziantep, Turkey, to debate the future of Syria with fellow exiles.
During one such recent visit, he was pointing to the map hanging on the wall to denote areas of sectarian and ethnic conflict in Syria as he discussed a recent interview with the American academic Noam Chomsky in which he anticipated that Syria will be divided, and that the Sykes-Picot agreement is failing.
“There is no sign of a solution that takes into account the desire of the Syrian people to get rid of dictatorship and repression,” said Sheikhmous. “Rather, the interests of the international and regional powers will play the greatest role in determining any future resolution.”
“Despite the chaos and the length of the war and the weapons supply, both publicly and secretly, the will to find a political solution to end the bloodshed and preserve what is left of the country’s resources and infrastructure must not die,” he concluded.
The regime has made clear military gains in the past month following its victory at the battle of Qusair, which was met by a pledge to directly fund the opposition by the “Friends of Syria” in Doha on June 22. This announcement sparked much controversy among Syrians, be they politicians, civilian activists, aid workers or journalists.
Among the Syrians living in Gaziantep, southern Turkey, most considered it necessary to arm the opposition, in order to even the military playing field between the rebels and President Bashar al-Assad’s Assad’s forces; many also agreed it would also draw out the conflict.
Gaziantep remains a gathering place for Syrians due to its proximity to the border and relative safety compared to Antakya and Reyhanli, which have both seen anti-Syrian violence as a reprisal to the bombings that took place in the two cities in May. Thus, many activists choose to settle in Gaziantep, where they continue their activism a safe distance from the arrests, bombings and brutality of the Syrian regime and the generally dire circumstances back home.
Naji al-Jarf is the editor of Hentah, an independent publication distributed openly in areas controlled by the opposition and secretly in some areas controlled by the regime. Jarf agreed with Sheikhmous that supplying weapons to the opposition while the regime continues to receive logistical support from its allies will only prolong the conflict.
“The aim is to eat away at the infrastructure and weaken any civilian movement, which makes it imperative for the Syrians to reach an internal, life-affirming consensus in order to push out the external elements as much as possible,” said Jarf, sipping from a cup of hot hibiscus at one of the summer cafes near the University of Gaziantep.
“I’m not afraid of political Islam or religious extremism, and I think that the concerns in this regard are exaggerated,” he continued. “Rather, I think the greatest danger lies in the fragmentation of the country into regions controlled by zaims [local strongmen], tribes and local military groups that impose their influence by bribing with aid and intimidating with weapons.”
Darius Darwish, a founding member of the Syrian Center for Transitional Justice who was recently in Gaziantep to attend a workshop with other Syrians, disagreed with Sheikhmous and Jarf that direct military aid to the opposition will lead to more death and destruction.
“[Military support] will create the balance needed to reach a political solution, not perpetuate the conflict,” he said.
In response to a question regarding the role of Islamists in Syria’s future, Darwish said that the continued weakening and fragmentation of the secular movement will only strengthen the Islamists, and particularly the Jihadists who, he said, “Already managed to turn a conflict between an authoritarian regime and an opposition calling for democracy and freedoms into a Sunni-Alawite [conflict] in the minds of many Syrians.”
“Thus, the revolution was co-opted from its original purpose as many people follow the group that holds power on the ground,” Darwish added.
Likewise, the suggestion by Moaz Khatib, the former president of the Syrian National Coalition, that the opposition negotiate directly with the regime has provoked many Syrians to anger, especially those who see negotiations as an act of leniency towards the crimes committed by Assad and his forces.
But Rajaa al-Talli, the head of public relations at the Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria, believes that negotiation is the only way to break the cycle of violence.
“With the rising flow of weapons into Syria and the increased violence and repression used by the regime against the Syrian people, as well as the growing strength of parties affiliated with the opposition, which have also committed major human rights violations, the only glimmer of hope I see is in all parties agreeing to come to the table in order to start a dialogue to put Syria on the path of transition into a civil, pluralistic, democratic state,” said Talli.
Of course, the conversation about the shape of the future Syrian state is no less controversial than the negotiations. For example, while many activists, particularly Sunni Arabs, see Kurdish autonomy as a prelude to the division of Syria, Kurdish activists and intellectuals consider federalism the only solution for guaranteeing Syria’s unity. By contrast, Kurds see the prospect of a centralized state after all the bloodshed, civil strife and marginalization of traditional Kurdish parties as a pretext for imposing a new dictatorship and obstructing the fair distribution of wealth.
The editor of Hentah Naji al-Jarf, who is Arab and hails from Salamiyya in the province of Hama, said that Kurdish independence should be within the limits of administrative decentralization rather than a federal government.
“Administrative decentralization is an acceptable solution, but there are fears that the growing calls for regionalism will undermine the structure of Syrian society, especially in such areas as Deir El-Zor, which is rich in oil,” Jarf explained. “So the issue is not so much about the Kurds wanting to control areas where they are a majority. In general, decentralized administration should not exceed these limits.”
But Darius Darwish, from the Syrian Center for Transitional Justice, who is Kurdish, had a different view.
“No component [of society] will allow another to control its future,” he said. “Federalism will promote development and the distribution of wealth in the provinces based on the unique characteristics of each region, with no component overshadowing, another as has been the case in the past.”
date : 11/07/2013