Turkey represented the Syrian opposition at a congress yesterday in Russia aiming to bring the seven-year civil war to an end after the group decided to boycott the event, a diplomatic source has said.
Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, invited 1,600 representatives to the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue to the congress that convened in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Mainly the government and opposition representatives tolerated by Damascus showed up, while Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) boycotted the talks.
The main aim of the talks is to establish a committee to create a post-war constitution for Syria backed by the U.N., according to a draft statement.
The Syrian opposition delegation that departed from Ankara arrived in Sochi, but decided not to attend the gathering in protest of “pictures and logos” depicting the “Syrian regime flag” that were on display at the Russian airport and at the congress center, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told Hürriyet Daily News.
The official said Turkey would represent the group at the Sochi meeting and would monitor the work for establishing a constitutional commission, which is expected to be formed at the congress.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had two separate phone talks on Jan. 30 in order to resolve the problem of the opposition group’s rejection to move to congress after seeing the regime flags and the logo of the gathering.
A rebel source told AFP that Russia had promised to change or remove the symbol of the congress, which features only the Syrian regime flag.
However, the airport, the road to the conference center and the congress hall itself were still decorated with banners and billboards bearing the logo when the rebels arrived on Monday night, leading to hours of ongoing negotiations.
Sharp disagreements between those attending the conference were clear, with some interrupting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech by chanting pro and anti-Russian slogans forcing him to say, “Please allow me to continue my speech.”
“We can confidently say that all the suitable circumstances to end the painful page in the history of the Syrian people are present,” Lavrov said. “There is a dire need for a comprehensive Syrian dialogue for the sake of a comprehensive deal for the Syrian crisis.”
Lavrov said Moscow has worked to have this conference represent more Syrians, adding that “only the Syrian people have the right to determine their future.”
“I call upon you in the name of millions of Syrians to have mercy upon our country,” Syrian government official Ghassan al-Qalaa said to the congress.
U.N.-sponsored talks in Vienna, Austria ended last week, as had many previous rounds, with accusations hurled back and forth at the media between the representatives of the warring sides in Syria.
Following the two days of talks, the SNC said it would not attend the Sochi congress.
The opposition group accused the Syrian president and his Russian backers of continuing to rely on military might and showing no willingness to enter into honest negotiations.
However, the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura was expected to take part in the Sochi conference, though he had not shown up in the conference room Tuesday as the gathering started.
Moscow said Syrian society would be fully represented at the meeting—the first of its kind held in Russia—but almost all confirmed delegates are either from al-Assad’s ruling Ba’ath Party, allied movements or the regime’s “tolerated opposition.”