Syrian talks exclude Kurdish-led democratic opposition

PYD leader Saleh Moslem (pictured) condemned the exclusion of the Rojava-based forces from the Geneva talks.

Indirect internationally-brokered peace talks in Geneva between the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and a Saudi-backed coalition of some opposition groups were suspended on February 3 — just two days after they started.

Associated Press said that day that “neither the government nor the opposition even acknowledged that the negotiations had officially begun”.

Inside Syria, meanwhile, fighting intensified and the humanitarian situation deteriorated. Advances by government forces, backed by Russian air strikes, were the apparent cause for the talks' collapse.

Indirect internationally-brokered peace talks in Geneva between the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and a Saudi-backed coalition of some opposition groups were suspended on February 3 — just two days after they started.

Associated Press said that day that “neither the government nor the opposition even acknowledged that the negotiations had officially begun”.

Inside Syria, meanwhile, fighting intensified and the humanitarian situation deteriorated. Advances by government forces, backed by Russian air strikes, were the apparent cause for the talks' collapse.

“It is not the end, and it is not the failure of the talks,” UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura optimistically told reporters.

In reality, the failure of the talks was inevitable because neither Syrian party to the talks actually wants a negotiated settlement. Neither do the talks' international sponsors, who excluded forces other than the Assad government and the Saudi-backed coalition.

The war in Syria has killed more than 300,000 people since 2011. It has created between 7 and 8 million internally displaced people and at least 4 million refugees. It is a multi-sided conflict, rather than a war between two sides. Many global and regional powers are involved — directly or through arming and funding various Syrian factions.

ISIS

One party to the conflict that no one would consider inviting to peace talks is ISIS. There would be no point — ISIS does not believe in negotiating, it believes in fighting to the death against all other forces.

Its legitimacy as a breakaway group from al-Qaeda comes from being the most notorious Islamist terror group in the world — eclipsing al-Qaeda as the West's official arch-enemy.

ISIS's invasion of northern Iraq in 2014 put it on a collision course with the US and its allies, who had created the current Iraqi regime after the US-led 2003 invasion. Its declaration of a global caliphate put them on a collision course with other Islamist groups.

Paradoxically, despite being created by Western invasion and occupation, the Iraqi regime is also an ally of Iran's Shia Islamist regime and Assad's secular dictatorship in Syria.

The talks were sponsored by Western powers and Russia. Russia supports the Assad regime, but the West is supporting a “Higher Negotiations Council” that was formed at a conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in December.

IPS reported on December 16: “The Riyadh conference was attended by political bodies such as the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and the National Co-ordination Committee for Democratic Change, as well as rebel factions like Jaysh al-Islam, the Southern Front and Ahrar al-Sham.”

However, IPS said, at the same time there was a “conference in Dêrîk — called the 'Democratic Syria Congress' — organised by Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies. This conference brought together more than a hundred delegates representing religious and ethnic groups from all over Syria, with an important role reserved for women and youth organisations.

“It was the first peace conference of its kind organised in opposition-controlled territory inside Syria — a fact that goes a long way in pointing out the significance of this particular event.

“Contrary to the one in Riyadh, this was a conference by Syrians, and for Syrians, not controlled by the agendas of powerful international allies nor obstructed by the dogmatic views of some of its participants.”

Democratic Syria Congress

The Dêrîk conference resolved “to form a democratic constitution to enable solutions to the Syrian crisis through democratic, peaceful discussion, dialogue and talks; … to hold free and democratic elections required by the current process in Syria; [and] to secure the faith, culture and identities of all Syrian people.”

The Dêrîk conference formed a “Democratic Syria Congress” to take part in the Geneva talks, but the Western powers prevented their participation.

The groups meeting in Dêrîk did not demand Assad's resignation before a ceasefire and elections, as did those meeting in Riyadh. The Assad regime is unlikely to agree to this demand, as one of its aims in the war is its survival — at least in some of the country.

The Riyadh delegation represents armed opposition groups who have received Western aid overtly and covertly. This aid has come directly and through the West's regional allies, in particular the Sunni Islamist-ruled regimes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

The aid has included some sophisticated weapons, such as TOW anti-tank missiles, but has generally merely been enough to keep them fighting, but not enough to defeat Assad. The regime has received military support from Russia and Iran.

The distribution of military aid from the West and its regional allies helped Sunni Islamist militias become dominant in the opposition by the end of 2012. These militias include the Nusra Front, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda, who were not represented at the Geneva talks.

The Islamist groups represented at Geneva have allied with the Nusra Front, however.

The excluded Dêrîk delegation represents a third force that emerged in 2012 in the Kurdish-majority regions in the north of the country (known to Kurds as Western Kurdistan, or Rojava). An uprising initiated by the left-wing Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) established a system of self-rule based on grassroots participatory democracy, multiculturalism, secularism and gender equality.

Rojava's military forces, the Peoples Defence Units (YPG) and Women's Defence Units (YPJ), have a strategy of armed self-defence — defending liberated areas, but not seeking to conquer territory.

Assad regime forces and various opposition groups attacked Rojava during 2012 and 2013, but all withdrew in the face of tenacious resistance by the YPG and YPJ.

Turkey

The Turkish state also views the democratic revolution in liberated Rojava as a threat — in part for the example it sets for Turkey's oppressed Kurdish minority.

The PYD and TEV-DEM in Syria are ideologically linked to left-wing Kurdish groups in Turkey that are increasingly central to broader progressive and democratic movements.

Turkey gave arms and logistical support to various Islamist groups attacking Rojava, including the Nusra Front. None of them, however, were able to seriously threaten the highly motivated YPJ and YPG fighters until, in 2014, Turkey threw its weight behind ISIS.

Both the Western powers and Russia are carrying out air strikes in Syria. ISIS gives both a legitimate pretext for open military intervention.

The West has accused Russia and Assad of being responsible for the collapse of the Geneva talks. During the talks, regime forces — backed by Russian air strikes that took a horrific civilian toll — made significant advances around Aleppo.

For the US and its allies, ISIS is a valuable pretext for military intervention in the face of high levels of public opposition in Western countries to new wars.

In September 2013, US President Barack Obama threatened war against the Assad regime in response to evidence that it had used chemical weapons against civilians. However, Obama abandoned his plans due to widespread opposition in the US, Britain and France —including within ruling circles.

The main aim of the West's air war against ISIS is to legitimise fighting wars in the Middle East.

The US has been conducting air strikes against ISIS in Iraq since August 2014 and Syria since September 2014. At the same time, the Syrian government benefits from the West bombing one of its many armed opponents.

At the same time the US began its air war in Syria, ISIS began its siege of the Rojava town of Kobane. The town lies on the Syrian-Turkish border — three sides of the town were besieged by ISIS, the fourth by the Turkish military. Contrary to the predictions of US Secretary of State John Kerry, Kobane did not fall to ISIS.

The YPJ and YPG proved themselves the only force capable of defeating ISIS. Domestic political opposition still precludes Western powers sending ground troops. In the absence of any other potential military ally against ISIS in Syria, the US has coordinated air strikes with the YPJ and YPG. Both sides have benefited from this tactical alliance.

The US has also given some arms and ammunition, though not the sophisticated heavy weapons such as TOW missiles that they have given to the opposition groups represented at Riyadh.

However, the exclusion of the Dêrîk delegation from the Geneva talks, at the direct demand of the Turkish government, shows that the strategic political and military alliance with Turkey is a higher priority for the US and its allies. This does not bode well for prospects of an end to the war any time soon.

PYD leader Saleh Moslem condemned the exclusion of the Rojava-based forces from the Geneva talks in a February 1 interview with Firat News Agency.

Moslem said if Western “forces mean to fight terrorism, they cannot ignore [our] power … In consideration of this truth, we say that they will have to accept us. It is mainly regional forces that resist us most, led by Turkey, Saudis, the Syrian regime and Iran …

“We told them that we needed to be present in talks from the beginning, and that we wouldn't recognise the decisions made during talks that would exclude us.”

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