At the beginning of the opening session of the Sochi conference on January 29, head of the session Ghassan Al-Qalaa, the president of Damascus Chamber of Commerce, called on members of what he called the “board of the chairmanship of the congress” to join him at the platform. He began reading the names out before the 1,300 invitees. It was clear that he has not seen these ten names before. At some point, however, he realized that everyone was staring at him as they were surprised by his sudden and unacceptable behavior so he went ahead and asked everyone to say “yes” if they approve of the committee’s members. It seems he asked this question upon a personal initiative. Dozens then answered in the Syrian dialect and said: “Of course we agree.” Qalaa then nodded and wrapped up this pledge of allegiance within minutes. He did not forget to make a hand gesture that implies underestimating the importance of the approval of all the Syrian society's’ “components” as Russia describes them.
The phrase “of course we agree” and lack of a single objection summed up the invitees’ national and historical tasks in Sochi as they will not be returning there later. Russia will not deploy its airplanes again to take them there and it will not celebrate them via welcoming banners at the airport or distributing bags that carry the conference’s slogan and which were given to them so they realize their important and sensitive role that’s represented in agreeing. This committee will play a major role in the future in reaching a political solution as per Russia’s vision. It will be more helpful to Russia despite the latter’s influence on the Syrian regime and opposition delegations. What we witnessed was the birth of a Syrian reference by Russia itself – a reference that gained the approval of 1,300 people. No Syrian conference had this significant number of approvals during the past seven years. This reference will be used for years and its work will not end at the artificial final statement.
The Syrian-Russian child
It was clear to us – the reporters who were there to cover the conference – that the majestic scene carried more significance than the mere fact that certain political parties were attending especially that Russia’s efforts to include the opposition were doubted as during its meetings with the Syrian Negotiations Commission in Vienna on January 25 and 26, it did not provide anything tangible to get the opposition to change its mind and only made threats if the commission did not participate. Moscow was also not hesitant in showing its indifference towards the final statement. Accordingly, Russia, in what seemed like an unprecedented flirtatious approach, renewed its political commitment to the UN’s role in terms of the Syrian constitution to De Mistura - who was present at the conference – to please him. This did not harmonize with the Assad regime’s stance as the regime delegation at Sochi showed their discontent and viewed this as a recognition of a UN mandate over Syria. However, their discontent did not last for long and they immediately went back to playing the role assigned to them and which is simply about agreeing.
The conference ended with a brief statement read out by De Mistura. He blessed the birth of the Syrian-Russian child and the 1,300 participants then went to a dinner which was held in their honor to appreciate their leading role in efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis. They headed to that dinner few hours before leaving Sochi..for good.
Mohamed Dughmosh is a reporter at Al Arabiya News Channel who specializes in Syria affairs.
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