GP Insights

GP Insights # 223, 19 January 2020

Syria: Sectarian leaders have a successful meeting in Berlin
Lakshmi V Menon

In the news
On 15 January 2020, away from politics and publicity, leading figures from Syria's most significant communities, cliques and families held a secret meeting in Berlin to overcome the sectarian schisms tearing their nation apart. It is a momentous event in the Syrian conflict, that witnessed Alawaite dignitaries (close to Assad regime), Sunni tribal chiefs (with their own militias), a Kurdish Yazidi leader, a Syrian ambassador to the UK, Christians, and Druze around the same table challenging the idea that religious and ethnic divisions are insurmountable. 

Many attendees flew in directly from Damascus, risking their lives to partake as collaborating with other communities may call for wrath of the Assad government or Islamist rebels who consider it an act of treachery. 

A pledge that no one would be held responsible for crimes committed by members of their religion, ethnicity or family was signed.

Issues at large
In November 2017, the "Code of Conduct for Syrian Coexistence" containing principles agreeable to all Syrian societies, upholding the commitment to equality for all Syrians irrespective of religion or ethnicity, was first signed by this group's founders. Since then, more leading figures have joined. 

Berlin was chosen owing to the large Syrian community in Germany as a result of the influx since the commence of the Syrian war in 2011. 

Syria is a multi-ethnic country where religion and ethnicity are intertwined but facilitates Syrian nationalism, a supra-religious and supra-ethnic political identity. In the Syrian Civil war, the ruling minority Alwaites (15 per cent of the population) backed by Iran and other Shia regimes are pitted against the Sunni majority (70 per cent), allied armed opposition and Sunni state supporters (Turkey, Persian Gulf). The conflict spiralled, hauling in Syrian ethno-religious minorities like Yazidis, Kurds (10per cent), Armenians (2 per cent), Assyrians (4 per cent), Druze, Palestinians, Mhallami, Mandeneans, Arab Christians, Turkmens (4 per cent), and Greeks. Doms, Levantine (10 per cent), Shia Ismailis (3%), orthodox Twelver Shias (2 per cent) and Circassians (1per cent ) are other Syrian minorities. The complex sectarian conflict has transformed into a proxy war.

In perspective
Assad's government has failed time and again to fulfil the long-promised economic and political reforms and appose all Syrians. 

The 15 January meeting may ensure continued societal success than the peace processes by Russia or UN as it is a social process of reconciliation. In contrast, global initiatives attempt to find political solutions for the Assad regime and opposition. The newly signed commitment will avoid violent retribution against a group while still holding persons accountable for their crimes; paving the way for post-conflict reconstruction. Despite the formation of a UN-backed constitutional committee in 2019, sluggish political talks and swelling economic distress persist. 2020 will be crucial, being the preparation year for 2021 Syrian Presidential elections.

With over 5.7 million registered Syrian refugees and over 6.2 million internally displaced, the war is a global menace and a fertile playground for regional and global powers. Creating national and regional hindrances to the otherwise promising social reconciliation initiative.

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