The term “Arab Spring” refers to the revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests that took place in Arab region during 2011 and 2012. After peaceful transitions in Tunisia and Egypt, Arab Spring’s third station was Libya. However, Libyan Revolution was different than Tunisia and Egypt examples and it involved first a civil war between pro-regime militia and revolutionary rebels and later NATO air bombarding operations that lasted near 6 months. The Arab Spring’s fourth station was Syria. However, in Syria the Arab Spring has turned into a long and cold winter since there have been violent armed clashes (a civil war) going on within the country between the security forces of Bashar al-Assad regime and protesters going on for months and more than 80.000 people were already death. In addition, hundred thousands of people escaped from Syrian regime into Turkey and Jordan, which created serious socioeconomic problems in these neighboring countries. Syrian cities and historical sites were destroyed and violence has become a daily routine for Syrian people. Although what has happened in Syria until now is terrible, we should focus on the solution of problem rather than discussing “who is right”.
Civil war in Syria is not an easy-to-solve problem because Syrian Civil War is like a Spanish Civil War of our age, in which national/regional actors represent not only themselves, but also important international blocs. On the one hand, there is the side of pro-Assad forces representing the Eastern Bloc; including Russian Federation, People’s Republic of China, Islamic Republic of Iran and radical Shiite forces such as Hezbollah. On the other hand, there is the side of anti-Assad revolutionary forces representing the Western Bloc; including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United States of America, Turkey and radical Salafi groups such as al-Nusra Front. In that sense, Syrian war is a typical example of a proxy war, where stronger actors test their rivals’ powers in a micro-scale war and conduct a war from the shadows.
For the solution of the Syrian crisis, -with the initiatives of American and Russian Foreign Ministers (John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov)- soon a new international conference will be held in Geneva. However, the conference would probably turn out to be an unfruitful effort because two countries and in general two blocks hold harsh and contradicting positions about the role of al-Assad in the new period. Russia insists on keeping al-Assad because of its fears against radical Islamism and the loss of a new friendly regime after Libya, whereas USA seems decisive about sending al-Assad and creating a totally new allied regime in Syria as in the case of Saddam Hussein of Iraq in the recent past. Since there are two powerful blocs having contradictory positions, diplomatic effort is needed in order to find a reasonable “middle” position and to reach peace. From my perspective this could be done in that way;
ü First of all, a ceasefire must be declared on both sides in order to prevent further civilian deaths.
ü Secondly, with the efforts of USA and Russia, a transitional government must be formed as a coalition between Ba’ath Party and a party that will be established by the oppositional Syrian National Council.
ü Thirdly, current President Bashar al-Assad must continue to keep his position until a new election to be made in 2014. Believe it or not, Assad still seems to be the “least evil” and strongest actor compared to other alternatives. He has clearly authoritarian tendencies and blood in his hands, but at least he has better understanding of the world and a closer approach to democracy than his father. We should also hope that he had learned something from what has happened in his country in the last two years; you could not have international legitimacy in 21st century’s world without having a multi-party democratic system in your country. A transitional government under al-Assad’s leadership could be the only way to stop civil war in Syria. Otherwise, the military victory of one side over the over will mean further bloodshed and even sectarian wars that could turn into ethnic and sectarian cleansing. Since there could be no internationally legitimate military solution to Syrian Civil War coming from UN Security Council, al-Assad seems to be the only plausible alternative.
ü Fourthly, with a resolution that comes out from United Nations Security Council, an international committee composed of diplomats among many countries (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Russia, USA, China, EU, Jordan etc.) and a small army of United Nations Peace Force must be sent to Syria in order to follow developments in the country closely. This committee and special military force should stay in Syria until the formation of a new government and the election of a new Syrian President in 2014.
ü Fifthly, this new coalition government should make a new constitution for Syria, which would bring certain guarantees to all groups in Syria (Nusayri and Christian minorities as well as Kurds). This constitution must also create a check and balance mechanism in order to avoid one side to be too powerful. However, a federative system should be avoided since it could create many new problems in the country such as in Iraq.
ü Sixthly, an international human rights tribunal should be established in order to investigate human rights abuses made by both sides’ warriors in Syria during the civil war. This tribunal must also put some international actors who provoked civil war in Syria into trial.
ü Seventhly, under the supervision of UN, there must be free and fair elections in Syria in 2014 both for Presidency and for the Parliament. Assad and all other important political actors should be given chance to engage in Presidential race.
ü Eightly, Syrian opposition should be encouraged by the Western political elite and international media to embrace a liberal democratic ideology, not a revolutionary radical Islamist one. Oppositional forces should include people from other ethnic and religious identities in top positions in order to avoid further politicization of ethnic or sectarian differences.
With such a plan and al-Assad’s transitional Presidency, at least further bloodshed in Syria could be avoided. However, what is more important than this plan, is the will of USA and Russia to end the civil war and find a middle way between their positions. Syrian Civil War also shows that Turkey should get rid of neo-Ottoman dreams and should continue to increase its regional influence via its soft power (economics, culture, entertainment industry etc) rather than militaristic tendencies.
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ