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Will the Geneva talks really produce a solution to Syria?

Will the Geneva talks really produce a solution to Syria?

Josh Zakary - Syrian Refugees in Vienna.

All eyes have turned to the Geneva III peace conference on Syria. Representatives of the Assad regime are expected to meet with the opposition at the conference, where a road map to peace is expected to be drawn up. However, the continuing uncertainty and turmoil in Syria have been reflected in these negotiations. The talks, which should have started on January 25 were postponed to last Friday because of disagreements and uncertainty about the participants. On Friday, however, opposition groups refused to take part because their preconditions had not been met.

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC),  an opposition platform established in Saudi Arabia in December last year, had asked the UN for various conditions to be met in order for the opposition delegation to attend the Geneva talks. The three main points were an end to aerial bombing, the release of political detainees and the lifting of the blockade of civilian areas by regime forces, particularly Madaya.

At first, since no response to the demands was forthcoming from the UN, the committee announced it would not be attending Geneva III. Later, they were given guarantees for the meeting of their conditions by the UN and US Secretary of State John Kerry, and they decided to attend the talks on subsequent days.

Under these conditions, only the Assad regime delegation, headed by UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, attended the first day of the Syria talks on Friday.

One of the main subjects of debate regarding the talks was whether or not the PYD, the Syrian branch of the PKK group, should be invited to the talks. Turkey stood firm in its intention to boycott the talks in the event that PYD representatives were invited to them, on the grounds that PYD is exactly the same terror organisation as the PKK and is in blatant collaboration with the Assad regime.

During an interview with Christiane Amanpour from CNN TV at Davos last Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this on the subject of the PYD being invited to the Geneva talks: “We want Syrian Kurds around the table (in Geneva). Without Syrian Kurds, the table cannot be complete. Why we are against the YPG? The YPG is an extension of the PKK, a terrorist organisation, recognised as a terrorist organisation not only by Turkey, by the EU, and by the US.”

Asked by Amanpour, “You may call them terrorists, the EU may call them terrorists. But the US has been working with them. They are the ground force. So is it time to recognise reality?”, Davutoglu replied: “Those who are recognising them as a legitimate partner, they do not live in the reality of the region. Nobody can convince us that these people are for peace.”

The PYD was duly not invited to Geneva III. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius issued a statement saying, “Mr (Staffan) de Mistura (UN special envoy for Syria) sent invitations ... the PYD group was causing the most problems, and Mr de Mistura told me he had not sent them an invitation letter.”

Indeed, a report dated January 18 by the SNHR (Syrian Network for Human Rights) concerning blatant violations by the PYD of the human rights of civilians in areas it had occupied since its foundation confirmed Turkey’s worries regarding this group.

The report contained photographs, videos and witness statements concerning countless human rights violations by the PYD, from ethnic cleansing to arbitrary detentions, and from forcing people, particularly children, to take up arms as well as driving local Arab and Turkmen populations from their homes.

According to the report, some striking features of the inhuman actions perpetrated by the organisation in parts of the north and northeast of Syria that the regime forces had pulled out of and handed over to the PYD in 2012 include:

  • Ninety-one civilians, including seven women and seventeen children, were killed in massacres in 2013 and 2014 in al-Aghabeesh, Tal Barak, al-Hajiya and Tal Khalil in Al Hassaka governorate.
  • PYD forces arbitrarily detained not less than 1,651 people in various parts of Al Hassaka.
  • More than 16 people died under torture.
  • A local media activist’s family confirmed their son’s death under torture on July 15, 2014.
  • A 44-year-old woman was killed in the village of al-Hajiya together with her six children on September 13th, 2013.
  • The YPG, the military wing of the PYD, has forced women from al-Hassaka, al-Qameshli and Efreen to join the organisation, with 88 women, 34 of them still minors, being arrested between 2014 and October 2015.
  • As of December 31, 2015, PYD forces had killed 51 children, either by sniper fire or by random shootings. Up until November 20th, 2015, 111 children had been arbitrarily detained, while 1,876 children had been forcibly recruited into the YPG forces.
  • PYD forces have forced thousands of people from their homes by destroying 30 small towns and villages, mostly Arab, in Al Hassaka.
  • The report also describes how Turkmens interviewed have had to move to other parts of the country due to violence, injustice, torture and oppression at the hands of PYD forces, after which they fled to Turkey to escape the harsh conditions there.

The list of similar inhuman measures in the report goes on, accompanied by documents and witness statements describing crimes against humanity and terror actions committed by the YPG and PKK in Iraq.

These are the concrete facts about the PYD, which certain global forces are using as proxies for their own interests and plans in the region, and which explains why they are supporting the organisation and trying to cover up its crimes. Yet these incidents, which appear in official records, are only a very small part of the total.

Meanwhile, in the latest reports, it emerged that PYD co-president Saleh Muslim, Syrian Democratic Council co-leaders Haytham Manna and Ilham Ahmed and the former Syrian minister and opposition leader Qadri Jamil secretly met with a special team from UN envoy de Mistura last Thursday. At the meeting, de Mistura’s team apparently told the PYD that even if it is not at Geneva for the first round, it would be there for the second round sessions, and told them just to wait for about two or three weeks.

This initiative may at first sight be interpreted by some people that with backing from the US, Britain and Russia, the UN is trying to establish a balance among the participants but one should avoid unnecessary optimism and remember the fact that an organisation, considered by terrorist by many countries, may be one of the interlocutors. While the UN and national powers seem to be searching for various formulae and arrangements to ensure that Geneva III goes ahead without the Syrian opposition and Turkey boycotting the talks, developments should be carefully monitored to make sure that the PYD, the same as the PKK, does not take part in the talks.

Readers will recall that a few months ago the UN signed a resolution allowing all member countries to take part in the war in Syria without securing the approval of the government. The days ahead will show whether in the wake of that resolution, the latest initiatives really bring a solution to the devastated people of Syria or whether they are merely impositions of the interests of various global powers to carve up the region for their own benefit. (Picture: Josh Zakary - Syrian Refugees in Vienna - Wall of Police)

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