Russian special presidential envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev announced the upcoming “Congress of the Syrian People” following his recent return from Damascus after meeting with President Assad. Sputnik reported that he said that the event could take place sometime in mid-November in Sochi, and has him on record as saying that “…we believe nevertheless that this forum is an important milestone on the path towards the political reconciliation. We always said that the Syrian people should determine their future themselves, so if all representatives, respected people meet there and discuss what they should do and in which form further participation in political reforms is envisioned, then I think it will be very important.”
This is a very important development that couldn’t come at a more crucial time, since the War on Syria is transitioning from a military conflict to a political one with the imminent defeat of Daesh. It’s still unclear exactly how a “political solution” to the war will look, but what’s certain is that it must abide by the December 2015 UNSC Res. 2254 which mandates that Syria reform its constitution and hold new elections. The “Congress of the Syrian People” is evidently designed to bring all legitimate actors to the negotiating table in ultimately agreeing on a broad consensus for how this would look in action, most likely using the contents of the Russian-written “draft constitution” proposed in late January as the starting point for the talks.
Moscow unveiled this document at the end of the first Astana meeting, and it suggests that Syria carefully “decentralizes” according to several broad parameters. The challenge, however, is that Damascus has yet to resolutely commit to this proposed principle, and its insistence on retaining the Arab Republic’s constitutional unity puts it at odds with the Kurds’ self-declared “federation” in the northeast. Russia is hoping that the “Congress of the Syrian People” can succeed in bringing these polar opposite sides to a “compromise” agreement in settling for Moscow’s suggested “decentralization”, but this will be much easier said than done in practice owing to both parties’ unwavering stance on the issue. Nevertheless, the upcoming gathering is still a welcome development because it shows that some element of progress, however symbolic and superficial, is being made on this front.
Lastly, there remains one uncertain, but nevertheless very sensitive, risk associated with the “Congress of the Syrian People”, and it’s that some of the delegates arrive at the event representing sub-state interests instead of national ones. For example, instead of everyone going there as Syrians, some parties might prefer to identity as Kurdish-Syrians, or only Kurds, while others might see themselves as Sunni Syrians or even just Sunnis first and foremost. If that’s the case, then the gathering might inadvertently add a degree of “legitimacy” to the fracturing of Syrian national identity, but this might in and of itself succeed in compelling Damascus to accept the country’s “decentralization” and its Russian-supported codification in the “new constitution”.
The post presented is the partial transcript of the CONTEXT COUNTDOWN radio program on Sputnik News, aired on Friday Nov 3, 2017:
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