North Africa, West Asia

Is there any hope for a peaceful result to the Geneva talks on Syria?

If a lasting peace is to be achieved, the main motivation behind the talks cannot be simply ‘to restore political order.’

Salih Dogan Emre Turkut
8 March 2016

Flickr/UN Geneva. Some rights reserved.The Geneva talks that began on 29 January aiming to end the civil war in Syria were suspended and will be re-opened on 14 March. By the looks of the current status on the ground internationally, the talks will be trapped in a dead-end street.

It would be extremely wrong to put the responsibility for the suspension of the talks on the shoulders of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which is composed of the members of the political and armed opposition in Syria, because the Geneva Talks were a dead duck to begin with. This op-ed will briefly articulate three reasons for this.

First it needs to be clarified that Russia is not a reliable partner to put an end to this humanitarian crisis. The Russian administration started to support the Syrian government with airstrikes in September 2015; they continued to carry out airstrikes in Syria while a number of peace talks were on-going in Geneva a while ago. It goes without saying that their presence in Syria hampered peaceful international efforts.

Moreover, as long as Russia keeps its involvement in the Syrian quagmire dependent solely on national interests rather than promoting a humanitarian point of view to stop the civil war, there is no point gathering people in Geneva to find solutions. If this continues to be the case, we will be reading more news about civil casualties in Syria.

If peace is yearned for in Syria, first of all, the Syrian government and all opposition groups must have a seat at the table without any wrangling. However, after five years of great suffering, these two parties, claiming to represent the Syrian people, do not have enough courage and desire to build a peaceful future for Syria.

Secondly, we have witnessed many high-profile foreign policies fail in Syria. Although analysing these failures is not the objective of this piece, we would like to draw attention to one point: in the first two heated years of the Syrian war, the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) was a vague threat and Bashar al-Assad was a “hostis humani generis” (enemy of mankind) according to western countries. In this vein, they backed the Syrian opposition, never articulating a need for “peace talks” at the time.

When Assad maintained power and the ISIL became the ultimate threat in the region, making them the top target for western powers, Russia and Syria found no point in initiating a peace process. However, the west has always been adept at disguising their failures, and today their Syrian arguments are dangerously being based on the notion of “the lesser evil”, with the international media unsurprisingly covering many stories about western leaders stating that ‘Syria with Assad is more tolerable than a Syria under the dominance of ISIL’. There is no doubt that a so-called ‘Geneva III’ process formed by this western vision would not pan out.

In the current refugee crisis, the west (specifically the EU) has tried to ‘bribe’ Turkey to close the borders and keep the millions inside the country, rather than analyse the underlying reasons for the human flood and making long-term plans. This, indeed, reveals the mentality of the west towards the Syrian crisis.

Thirdly, there was no consensus on which countries and groups would be invited and participate in the Geneva talks. As many researchers observed, the Syrian opposition is not monolithic but consists of many dissimilar groups, and some of them are not currently represented in the High Negotiations Committee. This being the case, there are many concerns about the fact that, even if the peace talks were to transform into a ‘political process’, this process may not be embraced on the ground.

Moreover, this implies that the Geneva talks were mainly aimed at getting a (quick and cursory) political deal rather than advancing a framework to address the roots of the Syrian issue. The main motivation behind the Geneva talks cannot be simply ‘to restore political order in Syria’ – more than a quarter of a million people died in the Syrian civil war.

The states who are parties to the Geneva talks must review their approaches regarding Syria once again. They must take responsibility by all means to prevent Syria from becoming a baleful legacy in the history of mankind. Otherwise, Syria will be the ‘Rwanda’ of the 21st century.

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