Russia-Turkey-Syria Seminar Held in St. Petersburg
From January 21 – 22, 2017, an international seminar ‘The Syrian and Middle East Regional Order: Russian, Syrian, and Turkish Perspectives’ took place in St. Petersburg and involved Russian, Turkish, and Syrian experts on the Middle East. The event was organized by the HSE Laboratory for Monitoring the Risks of Socio-Political Destabilization and the Department of Asian and African Studies at HSE in St. Petersburg, together with two leading Middle Eastern research centers: the OMRAN Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul and the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) in Ankara. This was the second time the three countries’ experts had met in this format, since last year’s meeting in Istanbul.
One of the key topics discussed was local councils, an important element of the crisis in Syria. According to the speakers, local councils can help restore order and stability by supporting civil society institutions, interacting with NGOs, and achieving national and subnational agreements.
The need for their integration into the political process in post-conflict Syria is one of the most pressing issues today. This means that the ‘Lebanese scenario’ is becoming ever more relevant to conflict resolution in Syria.
Lebanon’s experience was one of the examples raised during discussion of models of how to overcome socio-political instability. Comparisons with other models of post-crisis development, such as Algeria, were also discussed. The Algerian authorities managed to divide the extremists and keep conflict mostly within the parliamentary framework. Furthermore, the authorities won the Islamists over by offering them attractive positions in government. The Syrian regime, on the contrary, refused to treat armed groups as a political opposition, especially those who operate under religious slogans, and has been unwilling to negotiate a peaceful settlement with them.
The meeting also analyzed the prospects for the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of armed groups in Syria using Chechnya’s experience and transitional justice as an example. It was mentioned that reintegration processes in Chechnya were possible because former combatants and opposition leaders took key positions in political and law enforcement bodies. Their loyalty to the government was achieved in exchange for social benefits. A new social contract was concluded on the basis of the loyalty and trust bought in this way. And of course, in this case, it was crucial that Moscow funds over 90% of the republic’s budget.
Another important aspect of the seminar was the discussion of ethnic minorities. One of the discussion’s conclusions was that any agreements achieved would mean a considerable change of authority in Syria and its distribution between various ethnic, religious, and political groups. This approach could save the country from disintegration and further conflict. Any attempt to exert pressure on one of the parties risks immediately reviving old tensions and sparking renewed conflict. Discussion participants also mentioned that there is no single universal formula for conflict resolution in Syria, and the particular local ethnic and religious features of each province will need to be taken into consideration for the coordination mechanisms to work.