For the first time since the beginning of the conflict, in 2011, a conference uniting 1,500 Syrian delegates, of all origins, confessions, and almost all political opinions was held in Sotchi - the Congress for a Syrian National Dialogue.
This initiative by President Vladimir Putin was placed under the high patronage of Iran, Russia and Turkey . It was denigrated, even rejected, for no reason, by the other powers implicated in the war. De facto, the idea of an inter-Syrian conference excluded them from the peace process.
Does the Congress represent the minorities?
Much pressure was brought to bear by the partisans of the war to ensure that the Congress would not be representative of the Syrian People. In the minds of foreigners, including Russia, Syria shelters minorities who aspire to autonomy -- supposedly the case of the Kurds and the Druzes. However, this view of the situation ignores what the Syrian project has actually been for several thousands of years.
This Asian territory, which reaches from the West of the Euphrates to the Sinaï, is inhabited by a multitude of minorities -- the Kurds and the Druzes of course, but also the Turkmen, the Chechens, the Georgians, the Bedouins, the Armenians, etc., etc. These ethnic minorities are themselves composed of religious minorities with antique confessions, such as the Alaouites (who were Christianised, then Islamised), Christians of all sorts of churches, and the Sunni Muslims. This territory is situated between the five seas, in such a way as to constitute an obligatory waypoint, not only for traders, but also for conquerors. Throughout their history, these peoples have adhered to a common project - Syria. They learned that they needed one another in order to resist all sorts of invaders. They mingled everywhere, to the point that at the start of the 20th century, no minority identified with any particular region. It took British and French colonisation to attempt to make Palestine a Jewish state, Lebanon Christian, and Jordan Muslim. Throughout this vast area, only what is now the Syrian Arab Republic still maintained, just ten years ago, this profound social diversity.
When they were preparing the Congress in Sotchi, the Russian diplomats at first believed, spontaneously, that it would be enough to federalise the country according to its minorities in order to bring peace. In its first version, the Conference was to be called the « Congress for the People of Syria ». Discussing this subject with various participants, they came to understand that the history of Syria is different from that of Russia, and that, geographically, it is not possible to federalise this diversified land. But on the contrary, the Israëlis pursued the idea of separating the Kurds from the Arabs, while France entertained the notion of distinguishing Christians and Muslims, etc. By doing so, they restricted their action to the continuity of the colonial Sykes-Picot-Sozonov agreements.
At their instigation, the Kurds of the PYD boycotted the Congress. But, contrary to a preconceived idea widely held in the West, while the PYD is the only exclusively Kurdish political party, it is nonetheless a minority amongst the Kurds of Syria. In the national culture, all ethnic parties are illegal - the PYD is an exception.
In any case, the people present at the Congress were either elected by direct universal suffrage, the leaders of associations, or recognised personalities. The invitations had been sent as widely as possible in order to leave no-one out.
Does the Congress represent political opinions?
Every power implicated in the war sponsors the Syrians who represent their interests. At first, Turkey and Saudi Arabia organised and financed the Syrian National Council in Istanbul. Then, with the entry of Qatar, it became the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. As events evolved, several groups appeared, each one instrumentalised by a foreign party.
One group refused in advance to participate in the Congress in Sotchi -- the High Negotiations Committee which, contrary to what its title may suggest, refuses all negotiation. It is based in Riyadh and represents Saudi interests (which, within the Syrian population, are supposed to correspond to the wishes of the Bedouin tribes of the Syria-Iraq-Saudi desert). Although it maintains its democratic rhetoric as long as the cameras are running, it promotes desert values - tribalism, a unique religion, and a refusal of History.
The absence of the High Negotiations Committee illustrates the impossibility of extending the values of its Bedouin minority to all of Syria. However, just as there once existed an alliance between the Saudi Kingdom and the Syrian Arab Republic, coexistence is still possible. Indeed, this is why the Ba'athist Riad Hijab, after having been turned by the French secret services, accepted to preside the High Committee. He had been Governor, Minister, then President of the Council of Ministers (and not Prime Minister, as the Western medias stated, knowing nothing of the Syrian Presidential system). From the same tribe as the King of Arabia, he had already tried this solution before the war, and had been fully satisfied.
A second group physically boycotted the Congress, but made this decision known only when they arrived in Sotchi -- they were represented by a third party. Composed mainly of certain Muslim Brothers and some Turkmens, it was sponsored by Turkey. Ankara, which hesitated to make itself too obvious, encouraged the group to denounce the partiality of the organisers -- of which it was a member -- so that it would be absent from the Congress, but gave its authority to the Turkish diplomats.
Its members pretended that the logo of the Congress included the flag of the Syrian Arab Republic and excluded their own (the flag of French colonisation which had remained in force at the beginning of independence). By doing so, they demonstrated the corner into which they had painted themselves -- by assimilating the Syrian flag with the Ba'ath party, and by promoting the flag of colonisation, they demonstrated their contempt for the heroes of the independence and their rallying with foreign occupation. In reality, this has little importance, since they bowed to the power that was paying them -- Turkey- and then, without leaving the airport, took a flight back to Istanbul.
Did the Congress note the inter-Syrian agreements?
Certainly No, but Yes. The 12-point Final Declaration does not include anything new, but has been signed by all the Syrian factions except the PYD and the High Negotiations Committee, which were absent . Delegates from the exterior opposition heckled Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov during his opening speech. However, having made fools of themselves with their infantile behaviour in front of Western cameras, they adopted the Declaration.
Even if we imagined that the two absent groups represented huge numbers of people, the Congress represented at least 90 % of Syrians, which completely overturns the diplomatic equation. The United States, the United Kingdom and France, although they ridiculed this initiative, can not ignore the consensus it has established.
For the last six years, the Syrian factions have been talking in vain, in Geneva, Vienna, Astana and Sotchi. Their failure is due exclusively to the existence of a hidden plan, successively upheld by the Obama administration and by the administration of the UNO -- the total and unconditional surrender of the Syrian Arab Republic and the accession to power by the Muslim Brotherhood under the protection of NATO .
The main points of the Feltman Plan
- the sovereignty of the Syrian People will be abolished;
- the Constitution will be repealed;
- the President will be dismissed (but a Vice-President will remain in charge of formal functions) ;
- the People's Assembly will be dissolved ;
- at least 120 leaders will be considered as guilty and banned from any political function (this probably refers to the list of people sanctioned by the European Union) ;
- the Direction of Military Intelligence, the Direction of Political Security and the Direction of General Security will be deprived of their leaders or dissolved;
- political prisoners will be freed and the Anti-terrorist Courts will be abrogated;
- the Hezbollah and the Guardians of the Revolution must withdraw -- then and only then will the international community fight terrorism.
- In a period of 2 to 3 weeks, an « Organ of government transition » will be constituted and will handle all political, executive, legislative and judiciary powers. It will include;
- 2/5 representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic including members of the loyalist opposition,
- 2/5 representatives of the non-loyalist opposition,
- and 1/5 of personalities from civil society chosen by a representative of the Secretary General of the UNO.
Source : Sous nos yeux. Du 11-Septembre à Donald Trump, éditions Demi-Lune, 2017.
None of the points which figure in this plan were adopted by the Sotchi Congress.
Besides this, the Congress decided the creation of a Constituent Commission composed of 150 delegates nominated by third parties from Ankara, Moscow and Teheran.
Will the Congress affect the Geneva negotiations?
Hoping to sabotage the peace process, France organised a conference against President el-Assad on 23 January in Paris. It was based on the reports of the UN mission relative to chemical weapons in order to accuse Bachar el-Assad and prevent him from presenting himself for a vote by his fellow citizens. This may be resumed as follows -- yes to democracy, but without el-Assad . Let's remember that the UN Mission had refused to verify on site the elements that had been gathered, and that the Security Council had rejected their reports .
Let us note that Turkey was not satisfied with representing a delegation which it sent back to Istanbul. Adept of the use of double language and in extremis 180° changes of position, it participated in the Paris conference and co-organised the Congress in Sotchi.
For the Sotchi consensus to have an impact on the ground, it would have to be endorsed by the UNO, which explains the manœuvres implemented to keep the Organisation out of the process.
But, completely unexpectedly, the special representative of the Secretary General of the UNO, Staffan de Mistura, came to Sotchi. He recognised the legitimacy of the Congress and gave the UN blessing to the Constituent Commission. Unless he changes his mind, this is a decisive advance for the implementation of the el-Assad plan of 12 December 2012, adopted by the international community as Resolution 2254 of the Security Council . As a result, it is also a heavy defeat for the N° 2 of the United Nations , Jeffrey Feltman, who has been working in secret for six years (perhaps even 13 years in other positions) to oblige the Syrian Arab Republic to accept unconditional capitulation.
What are the diplomatic consequences of the Sotchi Congress?
The powers that belittled the Sotchi Congress because they were afraid it would validate the central role of Russia and its Turkish and Iranian allies have lost. No-one until now had been able to unite so many personalities representative of the Syrian People, and no-one had managed to force the adoption of a document common to groups from the interior and the exterior. Yes, Russia and its allies are now centre-stage, and the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Saudi Arabia have excluded themselves.
Saudi Arabia and France are the great losers of this operation. The High Negotiations Committee, which was the only instance of the Syrian opposition in Geneva, are now competing with the consensus of practically all Syrians. The PYD, which France had managed to present as a representative of the Syrian Kurds, has been revealed as just one formation amongst many others, representing nothing other than the weapons it is offered by the Pentagon.
Translation Pete Kimberley
 "Sergey Lavrov's opening remarks at a plenary meeting of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress", Voltaire Network, 30 January 2018.
 "Final statement of the Congress of the Syrian national dialogue", Voltaire Network, 30 January 2018.
 "International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons", Voltaire Network, 23 January 2018.