THE BLOG

Geneva and What Is Happening on the Ground in Syria

Geneva has been a favorite place for Middle East peace conferences, but with a poor track record of success. Now it is Syria's turn; in the 1980's it was Lebanon's. There will be speeches, statements of intentions, many backdoor dealings and a lot of PR exercises; but NO Pax Syrianna.

In fact, Bashar Assad did his PR exercise just ahead of the conference, wearing again the mantle of the compassionate family man, looking at the cameras, and without blinking, said that he really did not know how to explain to his children why there is a civil war in Syria... surely he did not show them the horror pictures of the mutilated bodies in Syria's jails, which were just published by the UK Guardian, a newspaper which was traditionally in the business of detailing Israel's alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians. So, no "Zionist propaganda" this time...

The truth is that events on the ground are more important than the bombastic statements in Geneva and chief and most recent among them is the Kurdish declaration of self-rule in Northern Syria.

The Kurdish people have a bitter memory of unfulfilled ceremonial declarations of this kind, and the Barazani family of Iraq can attest to it, alongside some old Kurds in Iran, who may still remember the short-lived Kurdish Republic of Mahabad [Dec-1945-6].

Still, the current generation of Barazanis, under Masud Barazani, are in control of the Kurdish region of Iraq, and the present circumstances in the Middle East may offer a historic opportunity to the long-oppressed Syrian Kurds to gain a larger measure than ever of self-rule in an area, which the famous Kurdish author and freedom fighter Ismet Shariff Vanly described as a region subjected to a Ba'ath regime of genocide. The Syrian Jazeera was also the home ground of the famous Badr Khan brothers, two of the early proponents of Kurdish nationalism.

Yet, the celebrations in Qamishli and Hasache should not mislead anyone to believe that ultimate Kurdish redemption is a fait accompli.

The Kurds are disunited; there is Turkey in the background with its long history of suppressing Kurdish aspirations and the borders with Iraq and Turkey are volatile and can explode at any given moment. Besides, the map published by the Kurds stretches until the outskirts of Aleppo, something which may not be justified historically and demographically, though there have always been Kurds in Aleppo and its immediate vicinity.

The full, lasting impact of the Kurdish move is yet to unfold, but it already pinpoints to the only possible solution of the Syrian tragedy, and this is a partition along sectarian lines, possibly leading to a loose federal union, definitely an historic irony in a country which traditionally prided itself as the "Heart of Arabism," but still an inevitable outcome to a crisis which has long developed into an existential struggle for the various Syrian sects.

On the ground, the Kurdish region is already one of three well-defined regions, the other two are the mountains of the Druze and the Alawites.

The Sunnis control large chunks of land, in southwest, central and northwest Syria, but what Sunnis? They are divided, and the Islamists are constantly grabbing new territories, but contrary to those who use this fact, in order to justify the retention of Bashar Assad as the least of all evils, the jihadists DO NOT have real, genuine popular support.

The problem is that whereas the minorities maintain a large measure of internal unity and cohesion, the Sunnis are split, and this fact has become Bashar Assad's trump card, which he and his external backers are taking full advantage of, but their game has its obvious limitations, chief among them the lack of any measure of legitimacy among any significant group of Sunnis, and without that, Bashar Assad cannot be a president of Syria -- at most he is the senior chieftain of the Alawite-led coalition.

So, there is now Geneva 2, possibly Geneva 3 and 4, but not one meaningful peace accord. The civil war will continue, and not many Syrians will be as lucky as a girl aged 17 who was treated medically in Israel, and now appealed to the Israeli High Court against being sent back to Syria...

Most Syrians will continue to suffer, and horror pictures will continue to resurface.