A First Step towards Dialogue in Syria

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

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Syrian women stand next to a woman taking a picture of a child playing on a destroyed tank outside a mosque that was destroyed during fighting between Syrian rebels and regime forces in the northern city of Azaz on 23 September 2012. (Photo: AFP - Miguel Medina)

By: Marah Mashi

Published Monday, September 24, 2012

Sunday’s National Conference to Save Syria in Damascus saw regime opponents meet with human rights activists and foreign officials from regime-supporting nations to discuss solutions to the ongoing crisis.

Damascus - After several failed attempts and rumors of postponement, the National Conference to Save Syria was held at the Omayad Hotel in Damascus on Sunday.

The conference featured a mix of pro-regime foreign dignitaries, reform-oriented activists and hard-line opposition members committed to the toppling of the regime.

In a statement released following the conclusion of the conference, participants maintained that “the security and military strategy adopted by the regime against a popular revolution calling for freedom, dignity, and democracy led to the spread of violence, and created an enabling environment for many private agendas.”

The conference called “for an immediate cessation of violence” by both sides and for international and Arab monitoring of the ceasefire.

It also called on UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi to initiate talks between “all concerned parties” in order to “discuss the best political means to begin a transitional phase [...] to a plural democratic system.”

The statement also expressed commitment to the National Pact approved by the opposition in Cairo last July, and called for preserving the unity of Syria and coordinating efforts between the many splinter groups opposed to the regime. It also demanded the immediate release of all political prisoners, including members of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change in Syria (NCC), Abdul-Aziz al-Kheir, Ayas Ayyash, Maher al-Tahhan.

Some 23 local political groups were represented, including those of the umbrella of the NCC. The Russian Ambassador to Syria, Azmat Allah Kolmahmedov, was also in attendance, along with Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reda Shibani and several Chinese diplomats.

The Save Syria conference opened with the Syrian national anthem, uniting all participants in a moment of silence for the martyrs of the “Syrian homeland.”

The commemoration of martyrs began with a statement by conference organizer Rajaa al-Nasser, who lost his son a few days before the event.

His personal tragedy did not stop him from helping with the preparations and giving the opening speech in which he sought to “highlight the threats to Syria and its people.”

“Our choice is not one of several,” he said during his speech. “We only have one choice. We can only say: enough killing, enough destruction, enough of this war declared against the people. We’ve had enough of opening Syria up to corruption, backwardness, and making it an arena for international conflicts and agendas.”

“We came to declare without ambiguity that we are part of our people’s revolution,” he continued. “The blame for the events falls squarely on the regime, as usual, which chose the path of violence, at a heavy price in the people’s blood.”

While insisting that the “violence of the state caused the counter-violence,” Nasser went on to declare “peaceful struggle” as “the main foundation” of the conference.

NCC representative Abdul-Majid Manjouna also stressed the opposition’s commitment to “peaceful struggle and the rejection of violence, sectarianism, and military intervention.”

“Overthrowing the regime is our bridge to a civil democratic state,” Manjouna said, adding that the NCC rejects the regime’s practices and “denounces the arrest of our three colleagues.”

He went on to say that the NCC recommends the adoption of the Cairo document, in addition to the transitional phase document presented at the conference.

Russian Ambassador Azmat Allah Kolmahmedov delivered a statement on behalf of his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who wished the participants a successful conference.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Kolmahmedov said he believed there is some mystery regarding the disappearance of the three NCC members. He called for their release and said that the Russians are helping to locate them.

Egyptian activist Salah al-Desouki was also present as a guest speaker. He climbed to the podium and began exalting the people of Syria for their revolution, while clearly adopting the regime rhetoric that claims a universal conspiracy against Syria.

He called for the unification of revolutionary forces against Zionist attempts to abort the revolutions and divert them according to their interests, as had happened in Tunisia and Egypt, he said.

Another statement was read on behalf of Jordanian opposition figure Leith Shubailat, who sent greetings to the “patriotic forces” participating in the conference and commended the NCC’s awareness and its denouncing of sectarianism.

NCC general coordinator Hassan Abdul-Azim told Al-Akhbar that the NCC believes the Free Syrian Army started out as a force to protect peaceful demonstrations, and therefore the government is responsible for militarizing the conflict. But he was quick to add that the NCC rejects the presence of Arab and foreign fighters in the country.

“Syrians are more knowledgeable of their struggle,” he said. “They are capable of change without outside intervention.”

“The coalescence of the national opposition in Syria, with all its parties and the full spectrum of forces, around a common vision, will put an end to the intervention of foreign fighters or any other regional, Arab, or international intervention,” he added.

Al-Akhbar also spoke to Aref Dalila, a prominent regime opponent and conference guest. He said he believed the conference was a good first step that should be followed up on.

He called for a total opening up of political life in Syria, including freedom of media, opinion, expression, protest, holding meetings, forming parties, and other liberties. If Syrians had been given these rights, he said, they would not have fallen into the trap of violence.

“If dialogue had always been open, we would not have heard the sound of bullets,” Dalila said. “Bullets were a result of repression. The current violence is a result of a bigger violence, blocking freedom of opinion and expression after half a decade of repression in Syria.”

Dalila went on to say that the internal opposition had trouble mobilizing citizens because of the restrictions on open public debate.

Conference Participants

Delegates of 23 parties and movements participated in the Save Syria conference on Sunday.

They included the parties of the NCC: the Socialist Arab Democratic Party, Democratic Union Party (PYD), Arab Socialist Democratic Baath Party, Movement of Arab Socialists, Syrian Communist Party - Politburo, League of Syrian Communists, and the Islamic Democratic Current.

Also participating were the National Development Party, al-Ansar Party, al-Tadamun Party, the National Current, Democratic Kurdish Syrian Party, Democratic Assyrian Party, Social Democratic Party, the League of the Sages, and the movement of the New Syrian.

Other participating organizations included the Arab Organization for Human Rights, Association of Syrian Women, Anti-Zionist Association, and some youth groups, in addition to independent figures such as Aref Dalila.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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