Syrian opposition groups will be meeting for three days in Antalya, Turkey in a conference organised by the Egypt-based National Organisation of Human Rights (NOHR). The conference, set to begin on Tuesday, 31 May, is to ‘support the revolt in Syria and claims of the Syrian people,’ said Ammar Qurabi, NOHR president. The conference is called ‘Change in Syria’ and attendance is expected to be around 200, including writers, activists and business leaders. According to the conference website, the gathering ‘aims to unite the energies’ of all Syrians of different ethnicities, sects and political affiliations and ‘direct them in a more meaningful way so that the democratic change in Syria will become a reality.’
Attendees will include such figures as Dr Abdul-Razzak Eid, head of the Damascus Declaration and Mamoun Homsi, a former member of the Syrian Parliament. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Independent Industrialists & Businessmen’s Association have also been invited. Some individual activists from the Kurdish opposition will be in attendance, but representation from Kurdish political parties in Syria will be absent.
In an article published in Asharq al-Awsat, a group comprised of 12 Kurdish political parties in Syria (National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria) announced that they intend to boycott the opposition summit. The group stated that ‘any such meeting held in Turkey can only be a detriment to the Kurds in Syria, because Turkey is against the aspirations of the Kurds, not just with regards to northern Kurdistan, but in all four parts of Kurdistan, including the Kurdish region of Syria.’
Kurdish Leftist Party representative Saleh Kado echoed that concern saying that Turkey ‘has negative attitudes towards the Kurdish issue in general’ and that Ankara needs to ‘first resolve the issue of 20 million Kurds living within their territory before seeking to bring together the Kurdish Syrian parties [in Turkey] to come to an agreement on a unified project with regards how to deal with the current events [in Syria].’
Kado stressed that ‘we, the Kurds in Syria, do not trust Turkey or its policies, and that is why we have decided to boycott the summit.’ Kado also said part of the reason for the boycott was the attendance of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But other reasons have also surfaced. Two weeks ago the National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria announced its own plan to resolve the current crisis in Syria. The Kurdish initiative, which outlined a comprehensive plan for democratic change and fundamental reform at all levels, was largely ignored by non-Kurdish groups.
Abdul Baqi Youssef, a leading member of the Kurdish Yekîtî Party in Syria, told AKNews that they do not know who supports this conference or what its goals are. Nor, he said, did the conference organisers make any contact with the Kurdish Movement during the preparations for the conference.
This feeling of lack of inclusion in the process and not receiving any support from other opposition groups in Syria on its own proposal could also be contributing factors in the decision not to attend the Antalya summit.
Additionally, not all Kurdish parties were invited to attend the conference either. Only five of the parties were asked to attend. They are: the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria [KDP-S], the Kurdish Leftist Party in Syria, the Kurdish Azadî Party, the Kurdish Future Movement, and the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party [PDPK-S].
Faisal Yousef, a senior member of the PDPK-S, said that his party would abide by the boycott decision so as not ‘to cause division within the Kurdish ranks, especially during this sensitive time in the history of our people.’
Mustafa Ibrahim, a KDP-S senior leader said that his party’s leader, Dr Abdul Hakeem Bashar was invited to attend the Antalya summit, but that ‘he will not go against the strong decision taken by the Kurdish political forces in Syria, in order to preserve Kurdish unity and discourse.’
But not all Kurdish leaders agree on the boycott. Kurdish Future Movement representative Mohammed Hammo took a contrary position calling the boycott a ‘huge mistake.’ Hammo said that ‘as Kurds, we should take advantage of every opportunity to discuss the future of our people and nation; I do not favour boycotting a summit of this [political] weight, particularly in light of the sensitive and critical situation in Syria today.’ Hammo also stressed that this was his personal opinion and said that he intends to attend this summit in his own personal capacity, not as a representative of the Kurdish Future Movement.
Kurds are not the only ones sceptical of the conference. Ribal al-Assad, the Director of the Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria and cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has criticised some of the ‘Syrian opposition’ involved in the proposed meeting for not being genuine representatives of the Syrian people and called for the ‘evil agenda’ of the conference to be ‘exposed to the international community.’ He says that ‘[a]ny meeting of the Syrian opposition must include a broad coalition of groups that genuinely believe in freedom, democracy, and religious pluralism.’
The meeting, according to the conference Website, will be centred on the following principles and foundations:
1-Support the peaceful revolution of the Syrian people to achieve its goals of getting rid of the authoritarian regime and transfer Syria to a new horizon where the true values of freedom, dignity and citizenship prevail.
2- Establish a temporary National Council to manage the crisis and mobilise all the possible support to protect the lives of the unarmed civilians who are exposed to the worst kinds of oppression by a regime that ignores the rights of citizenship and the responsibility if the State to protect its people.
3-Provide a temporary alternative that helps in moving the country to the brink of safety provided that the mission of the National Council is a temporary alternative and it doesn’t have any custodial authority on the revolution of the Syrian people and its right to determine its fate in a free election where the council has no privileges.
4-Assign experts in Syrian law to prepare a new draft constitution that guarantees the standards of full citizenship, equality in rights and duties of all the components of the Syrian community as a prelude to organize free and fair elections where the ballot box is the only legitimate way to rule the country.
5-Ask all international bodies and NGOs in the world to support the Syrian people in their revolution for freedom and provide all forms of political and volunteer support which contributes in the saving the lives of Syrians and alleviate their suffering in the crisis that they are going through.
6-Emphasising the peaceful nature of the revolution and its national motives that are not associated with any foreign agenda or any international balance or interests, the signatories to this declaration refuse all forms of foreign military interventions in this crisis.
The conference, to be held at the Özkaymak Falez Hotel in Antalya, will start with a reception on Tuesday and conclude on Thursday.