This week, the Syrian civil war reached a possible turning point in the eight years since it began, as a constitutional committee, seen as the center point for a political solution, set to work.
The attempts to find a political solution via a constitutional committee are taking place at the U.N. headquarters in Geneva. This has received mounting support from the international community for the most part with many welcoming the launch of talks.
The top diplomats from the U.S., U.K., Germany, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia issued a joint statement late Thursday and saluted U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen for their efforts on Syria and the constitutional committee.
"We support the efforts to create a safe and neutral environment that enables Syria to hold free and fair elections, under U.N. supervision," the statement said, adding the political solution in the war-weary country should be based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254.
In addition to many countries supporting the process, opposition figures also expressed their hope for the future. An opposition member who did not want to be named expressed "cautious optimism" about Thursday's meeting saying 50 people addressed the proceedings.
"At least the atmosphere is not a collision or something unexpected, the views are not close to each other, but hopefully there will be an intention to accomplish something," said the member. "The relative optimism stems from a determination to accomplish something.”
On Friday the Syrian constitutional committee, made up of members from the opposition, civil society and regime, concluded a third day of talks on finding a constitutional road map to help end the lingering crisis in Syria.
The 150-member committee is mandated, within the context of a U.N.-facilitated Geneva process, to prepare and draft constitutional reforms.
From within this 150-member committee, a sub-committee with 45 members is responsible for preparing a draft of the new constitution.
According to the plan, once the draft is ready, and proposed to the larger committee, a 75% consensus is needed in order for it to be approved. The committee is seen as key to paving the way for political reform and free and fair U.N.-supervised elections in the country, where the war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced millions to flee. The meeting, with support from powers backing both sides, marks the first political negotiations between the Syrian regime and the oppositions.
Pedersen together with committee co-chairs Ahmad Kuzbari from the Syrian regime and Hadi al-Bahra from the opposition have been presiding the talks.
While saying their meeting is a "sign of hope," Pedersen said the committee was "duty bound to strive to take on board the views of all your fellow citizens."
"Before Monday the group has to agree to a 45-strong body – 15 from each of the Syrian regime, the opposition and the civil society blocs – to start work on the new constitution aiming for U.N.-supervised elections," he added.
Previously, Pedersen underscored that the final document will be an entirely Syrian product.
"Do not expect me or my team to tell you what to write in your constitution," he said at the opening ceremony on Wednesday. "The future constitution belongs to Syrians, to the Syrian people and them alone," Pedersen added.
So far, the Geneva talks initiated by U.N. have failed to come up with a solution to the Syrian crisis, which created a negative impression for some pundits on efforts of the constitutional committee itself, and that they may also fail eventually. However, just like Pedersen, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is hopeful on the future of a political process despite previous disappointments.
Praising the efforts on Thursday, Guterres said this step may put an end to the conflict.
Underlining that the civilians have been the ones who suffered the most from the eight years of conflict, Guterres pointed at the importance of diplomatic efforts.
“There cannot be a better example to show the importance of a political solution,” he said, adding that he hopes this to be the first step to a solution to the conflict.
Many opposition figures also expressed hope with the process. "Turkmens are best represented on the committee qualitatively. We will voice the demands of Turkmens in a national framework," said Abdul Majeed Barakat. Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA) on the first day of the meeting, Barakat, the youngest member of the committee, said the talks were held in a “positive atmosphere.”
Barakat added that they are not representing just one society but the whole of Syria and almost all countries were “very happy” with the result. "Therefore, the [Syrian] regime felt obliged to be tied to the process," Barakat said.
The regime’s uncooperative stance has been known for a while now, many pundits expect it may quit the talks with confidence gained from military achievements in the field. The main problem for the regime is thought to be the necessity to compromise, perhaps to the point of coming up with a new constitution and eventually giving up existing authority. Yet, pundits also suggest that the presence of Russia as a pressure point may cause the regime to conform with the committee and the process as a whole.
The statements from the regime prove that Bashar Assad will continue to cause problems and will not easily compromise from his privileged position in favor of the Syrian people’s peace and future.
In an interview with Syrian national television on Thursday, Assad said that the Syrian regime is not part of these negotiations nor of these discussions. There are merely delegates in Geneva who have the support of the government and who share its views, he said. He even called the opposition delegates “terrorists” and said that the talks could not pave the way to a broader peace process.
“The regime tries to make these efforts go in vain. However, it receives international pressure,” said Mohammad Ahmad, the only Turkmen member who is participating in the 45-member writing sub-committee.
Ahmad added that thanks to Turkey’s diplomatic successes during Operation Peace Spring and the deal signed with Russia there is higher chance for achievement in the committee. “Russia would be able to pressure the regime thanks to this deal, which would enable us to have achievements on the table,” he said.
Although Russia is not the main country behind the idea of a committee, it is one of the guarantor countries that paved the way for it. Last month, a trilateral summit in Ankara between Turkey, Russia and Iran, the fifth such meeting under the scope of the Astana talks, laid the foundation for a permanent solution in Syria by forming a constitutional committee.
Following which the formation of a constitutional committee for Syria was announced. The Astana talks support the establishment of the U.N.-backed constitutional committee in Syria as part of finding a political solution.
Ahmad also said that so far the regime’s main topics in the meetings were the successes of the regime’s army, the achievements gained on terrorists and economic difficulties of Syrians still living in Syria.
Opposition members, on the other hand, Ahmad reported, focused on the main pillars of the Syrian revolution, freedom and honor and a constitution that would fulfill the demands of all of Syrian society.
While opposition members look for an entirely new constitution, which might cause a change in the country’s leadership, the regime demands only some changes over the already existing one.
Ahmad further expressed that the balance that came to the region through Operation Peace would have positive effects on the committee’s work as well.
“We believe that Operation Peace Spring has moved the constitutional committee even further,” he said.