Randa Kassis, President of the Astana Platform of the Syrian opposition, affirmed that there are currently no serious initiatives to find a political solution in Syria, pointing out that the battles are ongoing on the ground but became less intense following the ceasefire agreement reached between Russia and Turkey in Moscow days ago. However, she added that this does not necessarily mean that the parties are committed to this agreement, especially Turkey, which will try to arm fighters in Idlib again and send some of its soldiers to Syria.
Kassis told "Youm7" website that the United Nations is unable to impose any political solution in Syria as it lacks the will to launch political initiatives and fears clashes with any influential country.
She called on politicians to take a moment to seriously think about creating a new political initiative, noting that "this is what we seek to achieve in the Astana platform, as we were able to create the Astana initiative in 2015 and worked on establishing a constitutional committee from the beginning of 2017 until 2018."
She pointed out that efforts are ongoing with international parties to create a new political initiative to make a real change in Syria, calling for separating politics from [developments] on the ground so that any new initiative can achieve success.
Al-Watan Newspaper 19/02/2020
Translated Rania Suleiman’s interview with Randa Kassis for the Egyptian newspaper Al-Watan
Randa Kassis is one of the leading figures of the Syrian opposition and is the president of the Astana Platform. She started out as an artist, however upon feeling the urge to change track, she took up theater studies in Paris, where she discovered writing. She wrote about religions, Arab women’s rights, breaking taboos in the Arab world and advocating for freedom of speech and individual rights. She’s also a strong advocate of animal rights and in 2016 she created an animal shelter for stray dogs and cats in Peloponnese, Greece.
This interview is with the Syrian politician and writer Randa Kassis, considered today as one of the most prominent Arab intellectual symbols, who is actively seeking change in Arab communities.
** To begin, from arts, to writing, on to politics… which of these chapters, in your opinion, did you see most of yourself in?
-I see myself in all of them... but I can definitely say that politics allows me to put in service all the tools at my disposal to serve the cause I believe in. A career in politics has become the natural output to all my beliefs and convictions, those completely formed and the ones in constant evolution. In my view, politics helps people develop a more comprehensive understanding of life, able to shift and adapt to ever-changing circumstances. No doubt that my rebellion against all what societies impose upon us was the engine behind my attempts to analyze social behavior and seek continuous improvement, through expanding social awareness towards other cultural models, which in turn, lead us to a freer consciousness. This concept is what drove me to seek new means and tools at every chapter of my life, so as to gain new experiences that help me develop my emotions, consequently triggering my consciousness to rearrange and find new conceptual interpretations of the world. As for politics, it is the tangible tool through which one can realize their vision on the ground through a political platform.
** Haven’t you been slightly worn out by political work… especially after some long lean years?
-I see pleasure in politics in spite of the difficulties I faced throughout the years, especially in Syria, where the situation can be delicate and the road to success quite arduous. I believe that the secret to success is perseverance: Politics is a marathon where all the participants have to strategically plan their run, be patient, and rely on their abilities to adapt to all fluctuating external circumstances, in order to reach their goal. As for painting, I find it linked to an earlier psychological state, where one has to be suspended between fantasy and reality. It is the state of every dreamer, as is the case for many artists, who relentlessly chase after different experiences to blend with imagination and manifest them in their paintings. I am no longer in that state, though at times I miss it, I never have the yearning to go back to it.
How did you use to deal with the difficulties you faced through your journey from art, to writing, on to politics?
Difficulties never end but they are what propels me to keep going and achieve my goals. There’s a big difference between artistic difficulties, mental, and political ones but they all share the same psychological environment needed for one to deal with them, through time and acquired mindfulness.
** And in your opinion, what is the nature of the political solution needed in Syria today?
-The majority is now aware that the only solution available is the political one. However, many other parties still believe that the fight has settled in their favor. What I can say is that a military victory is not a triumph over reality, as change in Syria is an unescapable truth, especially that the Syrian economy is under siege with all the economic sanctions already imposed upon it. The only way to escape and begin rebuilding Syria is through a political maneuver that should impose gradual political change. The solution, however, does not only rest in the hands of the Syrians alone, but also in the hands of the powerful states also present on the political scene, and it is our duty, as the opposition, to create a new status-quo by creating new initiatives. This is what we are able to achieve in Astana, for just as we created this undertaking in Astana, and the Syrian Constitutional Committee, I can also affirm that we are in the process of creating another initiative, but we are still waiting for the right time to instigate it. I truly believe that we will create the suitable atmosphere to initiate the change process in Syria, no matter how long it takes. As I had mentioned, politics is a marathon that necessitates a long-term, composed, patient strategy that is fully aware of the fluctuating circumstances surrounding it.
** After the Russian-Turkish agreement concerning North-East Syria and the deal between the Kurds and the Syrian regime, you stated that this arrangement will not prove fertile and the status-quo of the war will still hold, and you were right… The question, however, remains until when will the state of war still hold in northern Syria?
-The state of war and the ongoing military tensions in the north and the north-east reflect the intricate Syrian state, as well as, the historic conflict between Russia and Turkey. These two countries are not historic allies, but on the contrary, as their allegiance is merely a necessity for the short-run. I believe the war will still persist as long as some parties still do not recognize the need for a radical political solution, not a cosmetic, superficial political solution in an attempt to overcome the economic difficulties present at this time. The war is not Syria’s only problem since the outcome is always the same, all the horrific repercussions of war put aside, they do not differ much from the economic collapse they impose on individuals, communities and the future of Syria.
** In your opinion, how can a secular democratic regime, which is at the base of your political program, be the solution to the Syrian crisis?
-A secular state practices neutrality towards all its citizens regardless of their religions or beliefs, and this is exactly what we need in Syria as it is a melting pot of doctrines. We can never have an open-minded society that can support its individuals to empower their communities and country without providing them with the freedom to choose what they deem suitable for them, free from any taboos imposed upon them. There’s no doubt that the modern Syrian state will not be completely neutral as it most certainly will respect the different communities thriving within it, and give them the right to exercise their will within the confines of a united Syria.
** What about the Syrian Kurds’ equity issue, which is at the heart of the Syrian fabric, and all the violations against them?
-We cannot build a modern Syria without bringing equity and justice to everyone, especially to the Kurds. I have always been a firm supporter of the federal system in Syria because it is the only way for all the constituents of the country to learn how to co-exist without falling into conflicts over majority and minority rights. Throughout history, Syria has always been the state to accommodate many different peoples within its geography. I believe the only way for us to reach a national identity, to which every Syrian can belong to, is by forming a neutral decentralized state that respects the history and ethnic diversity of Syria.
RT FRANCE 11/02/2020
(Transcript translated from French)
** Randa Kassis, Good evening. Thank you for joining us on RT France.
We were just saying that, according to Turkey, at least 150 Syrian soldiers have been neutralized by the Turkish troops. What’s the importance of such statements?
-The Turkish President, Erdogan, will pursue in any case not only his offensive inside Syria but also arming rebels there, particularly those in the province of Idlib. Reciprocally, Russia will continue supporting the Syrian regime in the hope of fighting terrorists. However, for the Syrian regime, it is not only about combatting terrorists but also taking over Idlib and restoring control over the totality of Syrian territory. What happens next? There will be an escalation. All this was really expected in my view. I can even say that the Sochi Agreement was a mere declaration. It is not even in a state of lethargy, it is already dead. I really do not see how Russia and Turkey will continue feigning a true alliance and collaboration on the Syrian territory. The truth is that this collaboration does not exist. Why? Because these two countries have different interests. They diverge on quite a lot of issues, including the political process and, first and foremost, defining who the terrorists are. Turkey does not consider radical Islamists as terrorists, which is not the case for Russia. I believe that the alliance that was forged some time ago was simply indispensable for survival. Will it last? In fact, even historically— if you look at the history between Russia and the Ottomans, it has always been rife with wars and hatred. In my view, [this history] will trace the path of the relationship between these two countries in the near future.
** The current Turkish offensive comes in response to an alleged attack launched by Damascus that claimed the life of five Turkish soldiers stationed at an observation post in Idlib. Would you remind us why the Turkish troops are still in Syria?
-In my opinion, it was a huge mistake to accept the Turkish offensive on Syrian soil. I am talking here about the northeastern region. This was the first mistake. Second mistake: the regime should not have been allowed to regain control of certain areas or key cities in northeastern Syria. Unfortunately, there is no [political] process. It is very clear that the political process is inexistent. The so-called Syrian Constitutional Committee has been doomed to failure since a very long time. I have already said it quite some time ago and there is nothing surprising [in all this]. There is no process. Interests are disparate. Turkey wants to stay in Syria and seeks at least to preserve its army as well as the Syrian mercenaries serving it in northern Syria. But this will not work. The regime too wants to hold control. It does not understand the need to work seriously on a reasonable and realistic political process. Therefore, I do not see a way out of this chaos.
Sadly, it is clear that the United Nations is very weak. [UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir] Pedersen can do nothing. Perhaps he can play a humanitarian role, just like any other Norwegian. A good Norwegian can only do so much. Maybe he can distribute a few rice bags to refugees as [former French Minister of Foreign Affairs] Bernard Kouchner did in the past.
This is, unfortunately, the situation. With the UN, nothing will happen. We thought that we hit rock bottom with [Former UN Secretary General] Ban Ki-moon and [Former UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan] de Mistura, but then we kept digging in the hope of finding oil. Instead, we found [UN Secretary General, Antonio] Guterres and Pedersen.
** Randa Kassis, in order to better understand the situation— what is the objective of the Syrian army in the region of Idlib right now?
-As I said, the Syrian regime is seeking to gain control over the entire Syrian territory. Why? Because it prefers the absence of a political process in Syria. In the eyes of the Syrian regime, this is the solution. Up to this moment, the regime still believes that the military track is the only solution and sees itself as a victor; and here lies the problem. It is in a schizophrenic state of mind - as I can call it - just as the other parties. The SNC, the Syrian coalition, and the other committees such as the Syrian Negotiation Commission are all in the same state of mind. They are disconnected from reality. Some believe that, with the help of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, they can achieve gains or return to Syria to hold power. On the other hand, the regime is confident that, with the military solution, it can secure control; and then of course it wishes to see the lifting of economic sanctions, which is impossible. Economic sanctions will not be lifted and there will be no reconstruction of Syria. In my view, this situation will persist. It will last for quite some time with Russia, regrettably, being unable to do anything.
** In any case, is there any ongoing dialogue between Damascus and Ankara regarding the operations in the region of Idlib?
-Yes, they have tried [to hold a dialogue] with the help of Russia. But was it really efficient? I believe not. In fact, there is no understanding between Russian and Turkey. As I said, there is significant disagreement [between the two countries]. First, terrorists must be clearly identified. As I mentioned earlier, Erdogan does not consider radical Islamists as terrorists, while others view any person carrying weapons or any political opponent - not even carrying weapons - wishing to see change and a political process in Syria as terrorist.
I cannot see how these two countries - I mean by that the Syrian regime and the Turkish government - can reach a common ground.
** One last question:
A Russian delegation was in Ankara to hold talks aimed at finding a solution to the clashes in Idlib. In light of the recent exchange of hostilities – if confirmed, could these talks be called into question?
-There is no question that doubt surrounds [these talks]. We do not know what happened. We lack clear words and a clear statement. This means that they could not reach an agreement.
As I said, they will nevertheless try to feign [an agreement] and save face. In other terms, [they will try] to sustain this alliance at its minimum. However, after a certain period of time, there will obviously be no alliance. Relations will be back to where they were in 2015 and 2016, and another escalation will possibly take place between the two countries.
** Thank you so much Randa Kassis for your analysis. I would like to remind our viewers that you are the President of the Astana Platform and author of “La Syrie et le retour de la Russie” [Syria and The Return of Russia] published by Éditions des Syrtes. [End of interview]
Sada El-Balad 13/11/2019
With tenacious resolve and perseverance, the President of the Astana Platform, Randa Kassis, stands out in the Syrian landscape with a clear vision on the gist of the solution to the Syrian crisis through a general and comprehensive constitutional framework involving all stakeholders without excluding any person, party, or race. This vision stems from her belief in the deeply-rooted pluralism in [Syrian] history and its legitimate role as the ruling essence of a new constitution that preserves everyone’s right to equality and justice, and guarantees and protects freedoms. Below is the text of the interview:
** As the Constitutional Committee proceedings begin. … What is your take on the content of the future Syrian constitution?
-Before discussing any content, we should be wary of this committee and question its capacity to introduce any change to the Syrian constitution, knowing that [the Syrian president] Bashar Al-Assad, the regime media outlets, and the participating government delegation kept asserting that they [the delegation members] do not represent the Syrian government but are rather supported by it, which means they are not bound to any decision adopted by the Committee.
Despite all this, the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, did not utter any objection against this change and did not try to correct it, as if he is involved in this process in the hope of adding a “victory” to his record and, most importantly, taking advantage of such an addition to work in the private sector upon his retirement. As for the UN, it is eager to establish any peace, albeit fake, especially after failing miserably in multiple crisis.
** In 2017, you took the initiative to hold meetings with several Syrian and international experts in order to set up a constitutional committee. This initiative evolved to become an international one. Why did you choose this path in your quest for a solution?
-In 2015, I conveyed to President [Nursultan] Nazarbayev my request to bring together [Syrian opposition parties] in Astana so that we, as political opposition forces, have a platform in the Kazakh capital. After several meetings, we came up with a set of decisions, including the drafting of a new Syrian constitution. That said, we, at the Astana Platform, decided in 2017 to invite Syrian and non-Syrian experts along with a number of Syrian stakeholders to work jointly on establishing a Syrian constitutional committee that could awaken a stagnant political process, especially in light of the fiasco of the UN and its former envoy [Staffan] de Mistura in Geneva 4 [the fourth round of UN-sponsored talks on the Syrian conflict].
We were convinced of the need to have clear provisions in the Syrian constitution that secure the rights and equality of everyone without any discrimination, in contrast with the current Syrian constitution. There was also a political impetus to start implementing one of the decisions adopted during the Astana meeting, i.e. drafting a modern constitution based on the history and diversity of Syria.
We were keen on developing a draft constitution that is realistic and respects Syria’s population diversity. Consequently, in the general provisions of the Astana draft, Article 2 states that Syria is the common and indivisible homeland of all Syrians, while recognizing the right of autonomous regions to organize their own institutions and reserving to the State the judicial power in matters pertaining to international relations, laws of naturalization and immigration, justice, finance, defense, etc. Article 7 requires the dissemination of education; the rejection of provisions that entail sanctions restricting individual rights, legal guarantees, and the responsibility of public authorities; and the prohibition of any repressive acts by the latter. It also prohibits discrimination on the basis of the place of birth; race; religion; opinion; or any personal, social, or other situation or condition. It grants every Syrian adult, without any exception, the right to choose the personal status that applies to them. According to the same draft, any Syrian, whether inside Syria or abroad, has the right to stand as candidate for any office. The draft dedicates as well a chapter to the relationship between the government and the parliament and their respective powers in a mixed system.
** Where are these constitutional principles now? Why have they not been put to use?
-A good number of the Astana Platform members were present in Sochi as part of our delegation. I was a member of the presidency of the Sochi Conference. We clearly voiced our requests and I emphasized in my address the need to form a constitutional committee. And we succeeded in establishing this committee. However, as this initiative was taken over by the UN, it has become a tool to waste time and blur the vision that sought actual reform in Syria to the point that it seems to be serving the vision of the Syrian regime who categorically rejects any process of gradual change. In such case, it would be better to think of new initiatives that have the potential to induce a real process of change.
** How is the drafting of a new constitution taking place despite the status quo that shows no developments when it comes to the ongoing war? Wouldn’t it have been better to resolve the current situation before drafting a new constitution?
It is unlikely that the Syrian regime will accept any new constitution emanating from this committee – that is if we assume that the Committee members can even agree on a few points, which is elusive. The Syrian government officials and the regime media outlets indicated clearly in their statements that the delegation in Geneva did not represent them, but rather was supported by them, which makes disavowal easier later on. At best, the Syrian regime would amend a number of provisions deemed innocuous. As for the situation on the ground, I do not expect any stabilization in northeastern Syria. On the contrary, the region will witness continuous rounds of escalation and de-escalation for an indefinite period of time.
** In this context, what is the situation of the Kurds under this constitution in light of their current worsening problem?
-I do not believe that the Committee can change anything on the ground. The Kurds lost nothing by not attending these meetings. However, we should realize the gravity of what is happening in northeastern Syria and the loss of a secular autonomous model in Syria. This model of self-administration and diversity in northeastern Syria is the cornerstone of a State that respects diversity and involves all its components in governance. We should know that there is no solution in Syria without the participation and contribution of all the Syrian communities.
** We have a war situation in northern Syria… After the conclusion of the agreement on northeastern Syria between Russia and Turkey and the Russian-brokered deal between the Kurds and the regime, do you see an end to the current crisis in northern Syria?
-No, of course… The agreements will not be implemented. Concerned parties have different and even conflicting interests. On the other hand, it is in no one’s interest to speak up at this time about their full or actual role. As for the Russia-Turkey agreement in particular, it is necessary at times to read history and reflect on the relationship between Turkey since the Ottoman era and Russia since the tsarist times to conclude that this alliance is not a long-term one.
** In the midst of these tense and escalating developments and given the UN inability to find a real political solution in Syria, what is, from your perspective, the possible way-out of this stalemate?
-I know that assiduity and perseverance in developing initiatives will undoubtedly be crowned with success one day and lead to change in Syria, even if that happens after a while. Countries where wars erupted and regimes clung to power and refused to offer any concessions were all doomed to fall, even after a long period of time. I am also convinced that one of these initiatives will succeed provided that we keep devising similar initiatives and focusing on solutions that lay down the foundation of change in Syria.
The Turkish army has launched a military operation in northern Syria against the Kurdish forces. Alexandre del Valle discusses the abandonment of the Kurds and touches upon this issue with Randa Kassis, President of Astana platform and a moderate and secular opponent of the Syrian regime.
With Alexandre Del Valle
After the previous abandonment of the Kurds of Afrin and western Syria where the Turkish Army and pro-Turkey Islamist militias have since been massacring and displacing Kurds in areas to the west of the Euphrates River, this time around it is the abandonment of the Kurds in eastern Syria that was decided Sunday evening by US President Donald Trump, who "agreed'' on this point with the Turkish neo-Sultan Erdogan during a phone call. Alexandre del Valle brings up the issue of this abandonment of the Kurds – rightly criticized by a number of political and moral authorities in the West – which was in reality announced, foreseeable, and inevitable for evident reasons related to the intangibility of borders and cynical Realpolitik. To discuss this matter and get a clearer understanding of the situation, he met with the Syrian moderate and secular opposition figure, Randa Kassis, President of the Astana Platform, who champions the idea of a pluralistic, secular, and democratic post-Assad Syria that is free from the Baathist-Assad dictatorship and radical Islamism and open to political and ethno-sectarian pluralism, where Sunnis, Shiites, Christians (Arameans, Armenians, Arabs, etc.), Alaouites, Druze, and of course Kurds have the right to preserve their cultures and religions within a pluralistic federal system that is neither to the liking of the centralist Syrian regime nor to that of Turkey, who is existentially anti-Kurd and labels the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and its Kurdish Syrian allies of the YPG [People's Protection Units] and the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] as “terrorists”.
** Atlantico / Alexandre Del Valle: Ms. Randa Kassis, as a political figure who is largely engaged in talks about Syria, what is your reaction to the announcement made by US President Donald Trump last Sunday regarding the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria? Is it some sort of abandonment?
-Randa Kassis: The hasty decision of the United States to withdraw its troops from northeastern Syria is a grave strategic error and a moral and geostrategic mistake all at once. It will turn out to be unproductive if we wish to “one day” establish peace in Syria. In fact, the population displacement sought by Erdogan in the name of his obsession about establishing a “safe corridor” along northeastern Syria will foment the “war within the war” and can only be of service to ISIS jihadists who relish already the idea of having Turks free ISIS detainees held in the prisons of the SDF/YPG Kurds.
**ADV: Since then, has Donald Trump slightly changed [his position] under the pressure of his own republican camp? He confirms that the Turkish economy would be “destroyed” if Erdogan massacres the Kurds and that not all the American soldiers are leaving.
-RK: The stance of President Trump changes on a daily basis. It is therefore hard to understand his real reaction to the violent Turkish offensive, as he started off with threats to “destroy the Turkish economy” and then adopted a more measured response yesterday when the Turkish operation began… “It is a bad idea, the Turks must avoid a humanitarian crisis”, he commented. So, I think that his reactions are rather erratic.
**ADV: In what sense do you consider the US abandonment [of the Kurds] as a moral mistake? Isn’t the lack of morality a law of international relations, geostrategy, and power?
-RK: Leaving a part of Syria at the mercy of the Turks who will in no way hesitate to massively attack the region and who do not even hide their plan of demographic replacement is a real shame on the part of the Turkish regime. Let it be clear though that, whereas Ankara had never promised anything to the Kurds and keeps fighting them in full geostrategic consistency, the United States and all those (Westerners/Europeans) keeping silence today are betraying their own commitments and strategic line in their de facto collaboration with the army of Ankara. Turkey will not be evicting “foreign” Kurds in Syria, as Turkish nationalists would have us believe, but a component of the plural Syrian nation, given that non-Arab populations have been living in the region for hundreds and even thousands of years in the case of certain minorities like the Kurds and the Syriac-Arameans. I would add that this major Western – and certainly American – mistake will not only jeopardize the life of Kurdish, Syriac, Arab, and Yazidi citizens, as well as other residents of northern Syria, but will also automatically and almost inevitably pave the way once again for the resurgence of ISIS, who received direct assistance from the regime of Erdogan at some point in time. This will be a nightmare for Western democracies who must also take into account the fact that the Kurds will not be able to keep under their control 2000 Western jihadists who will be out in the wild and some of whom will reappear in Europe…
** ADV: On this point particularly, how will the issue of jihadist prisoners held by the Kurds be dealt with? Is Trump being naïve when he states that the Turkish army and government will be supervising jihadists held in Kurdish prisons once they are stationed in the famous safe zone in northern Syria?
-RK: It would be an illusion to think that the current very pro-Islamist Turkish government of Erdogan is capable of managing or controlling 118,000 Islamist and jihadist prisoners (if we count the fighters and their families). On the contrary, these Islamist human bombs will turn into a currency in the hands of a country that is hostile to every culture different than its own within its “sphere of influence”, and will be used by this country to monetize some kind of strategic advantage with Western countries that it is already blackmailing or to threaten any country or minority in the region that is in disagreement with it. This is the neo-Ottoman imperial rationale embraced by Erdogan and his nationalist-Islamist regime. In addition, these Sunni Islamist fighters will finish the “dirty job” started by the Turks by killing our fellow Kurdish citizens and, “on their way”, others who are in their territories.
** ADV: Around 20 members of the Kurdish fighting forces have already died as a result of the Turkish offensive on Friday and, so far, thousands of civilians have fled the bombing areas in northern Syria. The Turkish army is shelling civilians, not only Kurdish militias. How long can the Kurdish forces resist? Will it be possible to avoid an ethnic cleansing?
-RK: I believe that the fighting will last even longer. History tells us that any military engagement leads to humanitarian chaos and civilian casualties. President Trump should have had a better perception of the extent and gravity of his decision when he allowed the Turks to intervene.
** ADV: What do you make of the fact that the nationalist-Islamist regime of Erdogan is today bringing up the “political process” and the “battle against terrorism” in order to set the stage for and legitimize its operation against the Kurds in northern Syria?
-RK: In my opinion, the Constitutional Committee invoked by the three guarantor countries is nothing but a farce used by Turkey simply to occupy a part of Syria and ultimately massacre Syrian Kurds who would be replaced by millions of predominantly Sunni Arab Syrians and surrounded by pro-Turkey Islamist militias. It is not so surprising to learn that the Turks have already started setting up Islamic institutions in certain zones under their control, which will enable President Erdogan to realize his ultimate dream of becoming the new contemporary caliph. In the midst of these tragic developments, the UN remains, as is its custom, contentedly enthusiastic about organizing a meeting of the Constitutional Committee which is a ridiculous farce…
** ADV: As for the UN negotiations to end the conflict in Syria that you follow closely, do you think that Geir Pedersen, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, who stated that the efforts of the Constitutional Committee will help “overcome differences between Syrian parties” and then “open the door for a wider political process”, is heading in the right direction?
-RK: I think that the Special Envoy Geir Pedersen has been, for the last year, restricting himself to talking to opponents of the regime who are mostly collaborators of Turkey… This proves either that he is naive or that he had decided, since the beginning of his mandate, to dismiss any creative solution. In my view, a good solution must inevitably seek a genuine inclusion of all opposition components, not only the pro-Turkey Sunni Islamists. In reality, I regret saying that this “constitutional committee” is left with only few independent dissidents who are lost in the mass of Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s paid opponents. The role played by UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, creates nothing but a sense of dismay and assumed helplessness. But we should not expect otherwise from an obsolete agonizing institution unable to find one single idea to manage or resolve crisis like those of Cyprus, Libya, Syria, and Kashmir, as well as many other situations that remained unchanged…
To go back to Mr. Geir Pedersen, the question that must be asked is the following: what are we expecting from a UN special envoy to Syria who wishes nothing but launching a “political process” based on the illusion of trust between a psychopathic regime and an opposition represented by an HNC (High Negotiations Committee) paid by destructive Islamist powers? At the end of the day, this “political committee” was an important subject of arduous discussions for one year and seven months between the three guarantor countries (Russia, Turkey, and Iran) and the UN, and ironically saw the light of day only a few days before the Turkish military operation against the Kurds, dubbed sadly “SPRING of Peace”… It is such a weird peace where death already hovers over the Turkish borders and where Kurds will be ethnically cleansed and replaced by pro-Ankara Sunni Arabs while the Kurdish resistance fighters of the YPG/SDF will be substituted by Islamist militias controlled by the regime of Erdogan…
** ADV: How do you respond to Erdogan’s claim about the 3.5 million Syrian refugees who are in Turkey and their necessary return to Syria and that he would like to deploy buffer forces between Turkey and the Kurdish areas along the famous “safe zone” in northeastern Syria?
-RK: It is unrealistic to think that 3.5 million [refugees] will return to Syria, but there are concerns that Turkey might force refugees to go back to Syria, which will turn them into mere human shields. This “Spring of Peace” operation should have been named “Spring of Chaos”. Giving free rein to the Turks for such an intervention is far from being the “great wisdom” referred to by the US President and is much closer to irresponsibility.
Astana Platform 08/10/2019
The President of the Astana Platform, Randa Kassis, regrets the apparent decision of the US authorities to withdraw their troops from Syria, especially near the Turkish border.
Even if there may be doubts regarding how long the withdrawal of troops will take, it will nonetheless put in jeopardy the security of northern Syria.
Victory against the Islamic State, which remains to this day a potential danger, would have been impossible without the courage and strength of the Kurds in Syria.
The SDF forces have been and continue to be fundamental in the fight against the Islamic State.
It is delusional to believe that Turkey is capable of tackling on its own the threat from IS prisoners and their families.
This hasty decision not only puts the lives of many Syrians at risk, but could also lead to the resurgence of the Islamic State.
The Astana Platform will soon announce an initiative regarding this issue.
The successive destruction of Palmyra by the Islamic State, in 2015 and 2017, has been interpreted as a purge of the ancient history of Syria.
Maamoun AbdelKarim, the Head of the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and [Museums], used to say “The battle for Palmyra is cultural, not political”. However, this analysis leaves out the political dimension of what was as well – and perhaps above all – a pillage. The Franco-Syrian essayist and female politician, Randa Kassis, emphasizes this point of view.
** Guillaume de Sardes: Western media have largely been focusing on the symbolic dimension of Palmyra’s destruction. During the recapture of occupied territories, it has become clear that the financial cadres of ISIS had been illegally granting rights to carry out excavations at archaeological sites. In return for these permits, the terrorist organization collected taxes on sold objects. What is your take on this trafficking?
-Randa Kassis: There is not doubt that ISIS carried out an organized looting of Syrian heritage, as well as the Iraqi one, during its occupation of these territories. This illegal trafficking has become the second source of funding for the Islamic State, after oil trafficking. According to the CIA, these sales generated in 2015 a few billions to the terrorist organization. Nevertheless, we must not forget that archaeological sites were not sacked by ISIS exclusively. Other proponents of the Syrian regime, armed brigades of the Syrian opposition, and local looters have also illegally excavated sites and sold cultural objects that were transported out of Syria through intermediaries in neighboring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, in order to be ultimately delivered to private collectors or traders in Europe. This market is estimated to be the largest in the world.
The first collateral consequence of this looting and the destruction of cultural heritage is the loss of Syria’s historical memory, which needed by the country to reconstruct itself in the future. Without this historical memory, it will be hard for Syria to reconcile all the ethnic and religious components who have been living on this territory since the early days of the Syrian civilization. We must realize the importance of preserving this heritage. It will help Syrians overcome their suffering and recreate a national identity anchored in the history of the country. This is why it is imperative to restore Syria’s culture heritage as soon as a real political process is launched.
** Guillaume de Sardes: In 2017, the Security Council adopted unanimously a resolution aimed at enhancing available means to protect endangered sites in conflict zones. The text of this resolution underlines that attacks against cultural or religious heritage “may constitute, in some circumstances and according to international law, war crimes”. What do you think about this resolution? What are its limitations?
-Randa Kassis: This resolution is definitely important, but it is still limited. We all know that very few works of art will ever be returned unless countries have a genuine will to combat this illegal trade. Such will can be demonstrated by imposing severe sentences on traffickers and receivers, and in particular by bolstering the fight against the concealment of antiquities in an attempt to break this market in Europe. Heritage restoration should also be taken into account and included in the political process. For this reason, in my capacity as President of the Astana Platform, I have been collaborating with other stakeholders to devise a political and cultural plan in a bid to seek a way out of the current political deadlock. Unfortunately, I am no longer expecting much from the United Nations who has proved repetitively to be unable to even come up with a single idea to address any crisis around the world. Every day, it looks more like the "machin" [thing] referred to by General de Gaulle or a machine that recycles incompetent politicians or diplomats disposed of by their home countries. In my view, a real political process and a permanent reconciliation can only be accomplished through a cultural process and the reconstruction of collective historical memory.
** Guillaume de Sardes: Where shall culture stand in the reconstruction phase which should begin soon?
-Randa Kassis: It is still early to talk about a reconstruction plan in Syria. As long as there is no real political process, Syria will regrettably remain embroiled in partial chaos. Economic sanctions will persist and be intensified. The return of refugees will not be practically possible; the regime of Bashar al-Assad will hold on but stay fragile. History is made by individuals. That is why I believe in the efforts and perseverance of every person who strives for the future of Syria. As I mentioned in my previous answer, I am holding consultations with other dissidents and European institutions in order to come up with a politico-cultural initiative for Syria in which restoration will be included. I am still stunned by the statements of some archaeologists who recommend that destroyed heritage should be kept as is under the pretext that it is part of history… Here is my response: we too are part of this history and we will rebuild all what was destroyed by barbarians and we will revive the historic identity of Syria. The attitude of these archaeologists who seem to wallow in the morbid contemplation of destruction speaks to the level of cowardice and complacency that contemporary society has reached.
Astana Platform 17/03/2019
Randa Kassis, President of the Astana platform, and Joel D. Rayburn, US Special Envoy for Syria and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, met this Saturday on March 16th 2019 in Paris. During their discussion they found a common vision on the political process needed in Syria.
They also discussed the need to support the constructive and balanced approach of the new UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen.
Astana Platform 26/02/2019
Meeting between Beibut Atamkulov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Randa Kassis, President of the Astana Platform, and Fabien Baussart, President of CPFA, in the presence of Deputy Minister Roman Vassilenko and Aidarbek Tumatov, Director of the Middle East.
They had a friendly and fruitful discussion, where they spoke about the crisis in Syria and the need to achieve peace negotiated in respect for plurality.
Fabien Baussart noted the crucial and historic role of President N. Nazarbayev in the fight against nuclear non-proliferation since the 1990s.
Randa Kassis thanked President Nazarbayev and Kazakhstan for agreeing to initiate political talks in 2015, after the appeal she launched, and for hosting negotiations at the end of 2016. Kazakhstan’s contribution to peace has been paramount.
The Syrian opposition on Monday presented a “road map” to peace, including steps to be taken ahead of an election and guidelines for a plan to write the country’s post-war constitution. The document, drawn up by representatives of the opposition invited to Rome by the Catholic Sant’Egidio community, will be presented to key players in the conflict — from Russia to Turkey and the EU — over the next few weeks.
(put the photo of the press conference in Rome)
More details in Italian: