Peace in Syria can only come from the democratic empowerment of Syrians

December 18, 2016

The Socialist Alliance released the statement below on December 18.

The capture of formerly rebel-held East Aleppo by the forces of the Bashar Assad dictatorship and its foreign allies has been hailed by Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers as a decisive victory over their opponents that will end the war that has devastated the country since Assad used military force against a civilian protest movement in 2011.

However, the violence that has accompanied the regime’s reunification of Aleppo, the sporadically implemented evacuation of civilians and rebel fighters from East Aleppo, the continued division of Syria between competing armed groups, the continued military operations by various foreign armies pursuing a variety of agendas, and the continued denial of basic humanitarian needs to civilians in Aleppo and elsewhere all suggest the conflict is far from over.

Estimates suggest about 1000 civilians have been killed since pro-Assad forces launched their offensive to take East Aleppo on November 25, with three-quarters of these deaths at the hands of pro-Assad forces. Since 2011, almost 500,000 Syrians have been killed.

Air strikes by the Syrian and Russian air forces have been responsible for most civilian deaths. However, high numbers of civilian casualties have been caused by other violence by Syrian and foreign pro-Assad forces, armed opposition groups affiliated to the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Islamist terrorists including ISIS, the Turkish armed forces and the air forces of the US-led coalition (which includes Australia).

The Socialist Alliance unreservedly condemns Russian and Syrian government air strikes and other violence by pro-Assad forces. SA affirms the position we have held since 2011 in support of the Syrian people’s right to rebel against the Assad dictatorship.

However, we note the role played by the US, other Western powers (including Australia) and Western regional allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar and especially Turkey, in sponsoring armed groups to serve their own agendas and thereby militarising the conflict. This caused the marginalisation of democratic opposition forces by feuding unaccountable armed groups.

SA notes that not only Islamist terrorist groups like ISIS, but also the pro-regime and pro-SNC forces have promoted religious sectarian division and the subjugation of ethnic minorities.

Since the division of Aleppo in 2012 into the government-held west of the city and rebel-held east, the civilian population suffered in both halves under the undemocratic rule of unaccountable armed groups. Pro-Assad, pro-SNC and Islamist forces have all targeted civilians. The proliferation of armed groups not subject to democratic civilian control has been a major contributor to Syrians’ suffering.

The principles of ethnic inclusiveness and religious tolerance behind the feminist, democratic, secular ecosocialist revolution that began in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) in 2012, which is now represented by the Democratic Federation of North Syria-Rojava and the Syrian Democratic Council (MSD), offers an example of the sort of model that could end the conflict.

The Socialist Alliance also, therefore, opposes the blockade of Rojava by Western-allied governments in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey and the West’s exclusion of the MSD from international talks.

SA opposed the deployment of Australian forces to Syria in 2014 and continues to call for the withdrawal of the US-led coalition forces. We believe the benefits from Western air strikes to the SDF’s fight against ISIS are less than what would be gained by the West ending the blockade of Rojava and ceasing military and political aid to Turkey. We oppose also Western air support to occupying Turkish forces.

The war has displaced 11 million people — half the population of Syria. Of these, 4 million have sought refuge outside the country. The Socialist Alliance strongly opposes Australia’s racist anti-refugee policies and shameful record as the worst abuser of refugees in the developed world, and we note the influence this has had in encouraging European and other Western states to closed their borders to Syrian refugees.

In response to the humanitarian disaster, the Australian government should:

  • End its anti-refugee policies, gives permanent residency to refugees now jailed in off-shore camps and those currently on temporary visas, and take more Syrian refugees in numbers appropriate to Australia’s position as one the world’s wealthiest and least densely populated countries.

  • Withdraw Australian forces from Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries and oppose all foreign military involvement in Syria.

  • Support the inclusion of the MSD in international talks on Syria, cease recognising the discredited SNC as the legitimate government of Syria, and diplomatically support MSD proposals for a conference of opposition forces in liberated Syrian territory with no involvement from foreign countries.

  • Oppose Western support for the blockade of Rojava and respond immediately and positively to the requests by the democratic administration in Rojava and Sheikh Maqsoud for humanitarian assistance to aid internal refugees.

  • Provide non-military humanitarian aid to as many Syrian civilians as possible and cease all assistance to unaccountable armed groups.

  • End all military ties with Turkey and oppose Western military aid to Turkey, which is a NATO member.

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