SYRIAN CIVIL WAR (2011-2015): LOCAL AGREEMENTS BETWEEN FIGHTING PARTIES AND REFLECTIONS OF NATIONAL PEACE
According to various sources, Syria has become a deadlock country of pain and tears, where at least 500.000 people have lost their lives, tens of thousands of people have been injured, and 6.5 billion of its people have become refugees with reference to the UN data. In 2011, when Arab Spring spread in waves from North Africa to the Middle East, Syria experienced counter-demonstrations and movements, especially against the state of emergency that the government declared in Daara between the 18th and 25th of March, which was met with the violent response of regime soldiers. Mass arrests, torturing, serious human rights violations and death have pulled the trigger for the still on-going civil war, even after the reform decisions of the government of al-Assad.
On the basis of academic data, we may approach for the outbreak of civil wars under two causes. The first of these is when those capable of holding the political and military power in their hands do not ensure constitutional guarantees that will stick to the principles of equal access to the rights and protections of citizenship and justice that is worthy of human dignity. The second is conceptualised within the international academic literature as "power-sharing," meaning the unjust consolidation of the military (security), political and economic power between central and local governments within a single hand or a group. Likewise, emphasizing the importance of human dignity, the first civil liberties law of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany is as follows: "Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority." What sparked the Arab Spring was the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, due to the injustice and humiliation which he underwent.
In the Syrian example, the issues of political power-sharing and human dignity came to a boil following many years of political and judicial history, especially with the serious cases of human rights violations in March of 2011. Against the situation, especially with the leadership of deserted army leaders and along with foreign support and internal solidarity, opponent groups have regrouped for an armed struggle which was determined to be the sole remedy, laying the foundations for the Free Syrian Army. Even when various opponent reorganizations showed differences in ideology and cultural identities, it is not necessarily possible to classify both sides along ethnic lines as of today.
1.How many conflicting parties are in Syria and who is allied or an enemy to whom?
Allies and enemies have been changing in the Syrian civil war due to internal dynamics. It has been proven with the alliance and ceasefire agreements that the parties make pragmatic decisions according to their economic/political powers and human resources within the military-strategically planning framework that they all operate in. There is not much question regarding red lines or refusing to negotiate on local levels with opponent parties. However, we can talk of a great enmity between YPG and ISIS ever since the Kobane War. It has been confirmed by local sources that apart from the Tel-Abyad ceasefire meeting between these two sides, which happened on 18th of July, 2013, there has not been another agreement between the two sides yet. Apart from this, since the start of the war from 2011 until 2015, according to my records, the 19 organizations that I will list now partook in 38 humanitarian or strategically local ceasefires, alliances and retreat agreements:
1. The Syrian government under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad, 2. Free Syrian Army, 3. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), 4. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which constitute 13 Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Assyrian groups, 5. YPG-PYD (also being the greatest military power of Syrian Democratic Forces), 6. Al-Nusra Front (also called the Front for the Conquest of the Levant), 7. Syrian Turkmen Brigades, 8. Hezbollah, 9. Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya (Islamic Movement of the Free People of the Levant), 10. Liwa Asifat al-Shamal (Northern Storm Brigade based in Azaz), 11. Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam), 12. Suqour al-Sham Brigade (Sham Falcons Brigade), 13. Shuhada al-Yarmouk Brigade (Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade), 14. Al-Hamza Division, 15. Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya (Islamic Muthanna Movement), 16. Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest), 17. Ahrar Ghuwayran, which came into being with the merge of Ahrar al-Sham and Al-Nusra Front, 18. Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Supporters, where Chechens are members of), 19. The Fath Halab Operations Room.
There may also have been written or spoken agreements among the groups that I have listed above that remained off records, or they may have been sources that I have not been able to attain.
The number of agreements especially has become more frequent in 2014 and 2015. The reason for this can be demonstrated as the pressure resulting from internal determinants and foreign powers, and also the country-wide humanitarian plight and combat fatigue. According to the records, there has not been a single meeting as of now where representatives from all fighting sides have come together. This method is the only one that is not followed for a nation-wide lasting peace, because it has risks. One of the many reasons why some of the fighting sides have not been called to international or regional meetings, or even acknowledged to be addressed, is the policy to prevent the recognition of them on an international level, and thus preventing their recovery from such imputations as "terrorists", "invaders", "gangs", "foreign fighters" etc.
2.Definitional discourse of terror organizations by countries?
The answers to this definition discourse so far have not reached a consensus within the academic debate and they are still highly disputed. To exemplify: while the political party Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), which elected into the Palestinian National Authority, was added to the terror lists of Canada, Israel, EU, USA and Egypt, it is considered a political party in Turkey, Norway, Sweden and Russia. To give another example: while the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which was founded by Kurds in the year 2003 in Northern Syria, is considered a terror group by the officials in Turkey, it is considered a political party by the USA, Russia and EU. These definitions also change for groups that fight in Syria according to different countries. Countries make an effort to procure the acceptance of groups that they define as "terrorists" in other countries as well. The "terrorist" definition is the biggest obstacle preventing the recognition of fighting sides in international and regional meetings and agreements. In this context, as a final emphasis, the biggest objective for the groups that presently fight in Syria is to at least be addressed in regional meetings and being recognized.
3.Is Syria a sectarian warfare?
If it is necessary to address this question, it can be stated that in the first year of the war it was true regarding the war between Assad's government and the Free Syrian Army. However this is certainly not the case today. Except for the Assad government and its supporters who are Alawites, which is a branch of Shia Islam, and the Shia organization Hezbollah, all remaining 17 groups are predominantly Sunni. Since these 17 predominantly Sunni organizations also fight among themselves, it is more correct to regard the Syrian civil war as a war of ideologies and desired political systems for the future of Syria, rather than a sectarian war. To exemplify the political systems desired by predominantly Sunni groups, the FSA desires democracy, the PYD Democratic Confederalism, and ISIS and al-Nusra have differing standpoints on caliphate states. In contrast to these, Bashar al-Assad, as can be understood with interviews made with him, wishes for a pluralistic secular democracy transition rather than a secular Ba'ath regime and is against partition. Conversion of Syria into a federal structure is among the options, and according to the latest statement by the CIA Director John Brennan separation of Syria may be possible.
The Syrian civil war is a many-sided war where regional and international dimensions and actors intertwine. The US and Russia are two key countries for a nation-wide solution. They have close relation with fighting parties and able to stop them for a peace negotiation. However, there are further groups such as the al-Nusra Front, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya and ISIS. They are out of control. These organizations are considered to be terrorists by Russia, the US, the UN and EU and so far they have not been included to, and are not addressed in any international negotiations. However, to agree a nation-wide Syrian peace, negotiations where representatives of all fighting sides are addressed is the only option that has not been tried so far. Indeed, all these groups that are not included to nation-wide resolutions processes or negotiations, they will continue to fight. Even if the Assad government, FSA, and PYD reach a peace agreement, Syria will be not secure or peaceful without of the above mentioned excluded fighting parties. With this kind of partial peace, we may face a case of a new Iraq in Syria in the future.
My advice to the policymakers who assumes that it is not possible to negotiate with terrorists, they may investigate past examples of civil wars and national peace negotiations all around the world. They will realize that in many cases, negotiations and peace talks were made with groups that had previously been designated to be terrorists. This is because ceasefires and peace negotiations are made with enemies and not friends.
When we evaluate national and international dimensions, it is a feasible possibility that a political resolution is to be met in Syria in 2017. A possible Syrian peace will bring the region to life and most importantly stop the human losses and plight.
Dogukan Cansin Karakus, member of International Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), and researcher at the Uppsala University Department of Peace and Conflict Research, doctoral student at Georg-August-University Germany, co-chair of the International Institute for Strategic Outlook (Turkey).