After multiple delays to reach agreement with the Russian ambassador, the U.N. Security Council on Saturday 24 February
2018 adopted a resolution for a 30-day ceasefire "without delay" in Syria. The truce would allow for the delivery of
emergency aid and the evacuation of the wounded, including the beleaguered Eastern Ghouta, home to some 350,000 people
near Damascus. Now, we need to work to have the ceasefire honored. There are those who believe that the ceasefire will
not hold or will not be put into effect at all, especially in the Eastern Ghouta zone. While air attacks have lessened
since the ceasefire resolution, many fear that there will be a ground attack by government forces.
Eastern Ghouta is near Damascus and has been a contested zone since early in the 2011 uprising. Ghouta is close enough
to Damascus so that opposition mortars can be fired on districts in Damascus - close enough also so that rockets and
barrel bombs from government helicopters can increasingly fall on the zone. Hospitals have been hit in Ghouta, probably
Afrin, the scene of new fighting, is in the Aleppo Governorate. It has a large Kurdish population. The Turkish
government suspects all organized Kurdish groups to be "terrorists" or potential terrorists. Moreover the demands for
independence of the Kurdish Autonomous Administration in Iraq being linked to a possible similar Kurdish zone in Syria
is considered by the Turkish government as an active threat to be countered by force. Thus for the past 10 days, Turkish
troops in the mis-named "Operation Olive Branch" have been attacking Afrin and its surrounding area. As an element in
complicated Kurdish politics and alliances, a pro-Syrian government Kurdish militia has joined the battle to defend
It is too early to know if the ceasefire will be respected. There have been ceasefires in the past which did not hold.
However a ceasefire is not an end in itself. It is a time which may create a "breathing space" during which there are
potentially increased possibilities for negotiations on the end to the armed conflict which began in the Spring of 2011.
Currently, there are two sets of inter-related but separate official negotiations undertaken. The most comprehensive is
that of the United Nations carried out largely in Geneva but also at times in Vienna. The second is sponsored largely by
the Russian Federation with some support at different times from Iran and Turkey. There may be less public discussions
carried out in the shadows of the official mediations about which little is made public and which probably involves only
a number of the actors in the conflict.
Mediation is the action taken by a third party to facilitate two (occasionally more) hostile parties coming together to
negotiate. Mediation is not negotiation. Negotiation is the process of bargaining and compromise by which those directly
in conflict can reach an agreement. The function of the mediator is to remove the obstacles to negotiation, in part by
bringing the conflicting parties together for direct discussions.
The impartial mediator sees no enemies but only the mental and physical suffering of war, as much among "the
aggressors"" as among the victims. The hatred and suspicions that nourish the conflict makes the conflict increasingly
complicated. Part of the mediators task is psychological, to lessen the negative emotions so that a slight change of
understanding can occur. But this psychological task must be carried on as though one is discussing political and
military issues. Mediators must present their efforts in such a way that they will be listened to, avoiding words or
ideas that evoke automatically a hostile response.
Mediation is an on-going process with many steps both forward and backward. If skillfully carried out, psychological
advances may be made; some tensions may be eased, some misconceptions dispelled, some fixed ideas diminished. For
parties in a conflict to seek compromise, there needs to be a certain "atmosphere" - an informed public opinion that
will accept the compromise and build better future relations based on an agreement.
The official mediator's role is not to suggest the constitutional or political nature of the settlement to which the
protagonists should arrive. The official mediator can only suggest how constitutional structures might be discussed.
It is chiefly on the issue of constitutional structures that there is a difference between efforts carried out by the
United Nations and the Russian Federation and what can be done by a non-governmental organization such as the
Association of World Citizens. Non-official mediators must be able to speak to the wide range of protagonists in the
Syrian-Iraq conflicts without being seen as supporting one faction or another.
The Association of World Citizens has been concerned with possible con-federal structures for both Syria and Iraq. The
Association of World Citizens (AWC) has a long-standing interest in helping to develop appropriate constitutional
structures for States facing the possibility of prolonged or intensified armed conflicts. An emphasis is placed on the
possibilities of con-federation, autonomy, renewal, and trans-frontier cooperation. The AWC continues the con-federal,
trans-frontier tradition of the world citizens Denis de Rougemont (1906-1985) and Alexandre Marc (1904-2000) (1) In the
recent past, the Association has proposed con-federal structures to deal with conflicts situations in Mali, Ukraine,
Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Libya, Sudan and Cyprus.
The AWC has been actively concerned with Kurdistan issues which involves structures of both Iraq and Syria as well as
positive cooperation among Kurds living in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. While the AWC does not sponsor Kurdish demands
as such, we believe that the Kurdish issues in Syria, Iraq and Turkey merit close attention. Con-federation and autonomy
are broad concepts, capable of covering a multitude of visions extending from very limited local initiatives to complete
control over everything other than foreign policy. The ways in which the elements and patterns of autonomy are put
together require political imagination, far-sighted political leadership, a willingness to compromise, and constant
There are legitimate fears among some in Syria and also in Iraq that consideration of con-federal structures opens the
door to having Syria and Iraq broken into separate zones of influence, dependent on outside powers - the USA, Russia,
Iran, Turkey. Thus we need to stress that autonomy does not mean division. There is also a need to stress trans-frontier
cooperation among groups.
Some sectors demanding greater recognition are not primarily geographically based. The Sunni-Shi'a divisions cut across
zones though there are zones which have a majority of one particular religious tradition. Religion is not the only
dividing factor: Kurd, Turkmen can be considered ethnic factors.
Comprehensive negotiations on the future of Syria and Iraq within the context of the wider Middle East are difficult to
organize. It is not sure that the ceasefire in Syria will hold long enough to create an atmosphere leading to serious
official negotiations. For those of us in the non-governmental field, we must use every opportunity to promote a
broader, more cooperative framework to consider the challenges and to facilitate serious discussions.
1) See Christian Roy. Alexandre Marc et la Jeune Europe (Presse de l'Europe, 1998)
J. Laubert de Boyle. Les non-conformistes des années 30 (Seuil, 1969)
Michel Winock. Esprit. Des intellectuels dans la cité. 1930-1950 (Seuil 1996)
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens