In a move that may bolster the legitimacy of Syria’s present opposition leadership, members of the Syrian National Council (SNC) will send a delegation to Ankara this week to meet with officials from the Foreign Ministry, says SNC spokesperson and Syrian dissident Khaled Khoja.
“We plan to meet with members of the Foreign Ministry in order to introduce our policy and a roadmap to the Turkish government,” he told Today’s Zaman in an interview on Monday. Khaled claims that it will be the first time the SNC, which represents a diverse group of opposition voices within Syria, will consult with Ankara over its resistance to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The move would showcase both Ankara’s growing willingness to court formal ties to the Syrian opposition movement and the council’s ongoing quest to gain recognition from the international community.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry denies that the meeting is on its agenda, but sources close to Today’s Zaman, who wish to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter, confirmed reports that the meeting may take place in the coming week. If held, the meeting would be the first step in what Oytun Orhan, a Middle East expert at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), claims would be “a big step in conferring legitimacy on the Syrian Council.” “Granting the Syrian Council a meeting may mean the government will soon be willing to grant them official recognition. This, in turn, would confer international legitimacy on the council. If Turkey stands behind them, it would confirm them as the official opposition movement,” Orhan told Today’s Zaman.
Opposition seeks unified voice
Khaled stated that the meeting will be used to formerly present the aims of the council to the Turkish authorities, which include the demands that “Assad must fall, that his regime must be replaced by a civil constitution and that protests against the regime must remain peaceful.”
The council’s agreement on the broad aims of its mission comes after a period of intense debate between members of the diverse opposition council. The council, which Khaled states is presently made up of “the Muslim Brotherhood, leftist secularists, Syrian Christians, Kurds and Arab nationalists,” has by its very nature led to divisions in the opposition voice. “There are many different groups in the opposition movement. The reason why it has taken six months to make unified decisions is this,” he stated.
Council members said infighting was largely overcome following a meeting last week in İstanbul, where members agreed on a broad framework for regime change and vowed to elect leaders in the coming weeks. “The council had met formerly, but the result was too fragmented, with only the voices of individuals or groups,” Orhan stated, adding that “it seems the most powerful elements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have given their support to the council before they threatened to walk out.”
The council seemed to take yet another step towards solidarity during a meeting in Stockholm on Monday, when AP reported that the SNC had agreed during a meeting in Stockholm on “a democratic framework” for a government which might replace Assad. The council also announced its desire for international observers to monitor the regime’s activities in Syria and declared that international sanctions must be implemented to target individuals loyal to Damascus. The council urged its opposition to impose broad sanctions which would target ordinary Syrians, AP reported.
If the council can develop formal ties with Ankara, it may provide the clearest signal yet to both Syrians and the international community that it should be considered the official representative of Syria’s opposition groups. According to Orhan, backing from Turkey will help cement their official status both at home and abroad. “If Turkey stands behind them, it would confirm them as the official opposition movement. They are not seeking recognition from the United States, for instance, because it could delegitimize them in Syria or among some Arab countries. Support from Turkey could give them support in the West and in the Middle East.”
The meeting between SNC members and Turkish officials would come after a warning by Syrian officials on Sunday that “measures would be taken” against any powers which supported the “illegitimate council.” Syrian officials have also protested Turkish plans to go ahead with sanctions against Damascus, stating on Sunday that “[Turkey’s] hostility will backfire on them.”
Khaled, meanwhile, believes that Turkey’s response to the civil unrest in Syria has been both appropriate and decisive. “The Turkish government has reacted clearly to events in Syria. Since the beginning, it called for an end to the bloodshed. When the sanctions didn’t pass in the Security Council, Turkey showed its clear stance by later saying it would go ahead with sanctions.” What happens between Ankara and the council, the activist says, will now depend on the unity of opposition forces. “There has been a clear response to Assad from Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan. Erdoğan is now waiting for a clear position in the opposition groups.”
10 October 2011, Monday / NOAH BLASER / MEHMET SOLMAZ, İSTANBUL