Semantic wars and the Syrian crisis

Dr. Yahya Al-Aridi 2017-03-21 10:25:00

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UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said in a briefing to the UN Security Council last Thursday that those who still believe in a military solution in Syria are under an illusion. With all due respect to his Excellency, this is true only in theory, but in reality all that is taking place in Syria is war; the Assad regime and its supporters are ONLY talking peace and doing war. This illusion is probably coming from too much reading into the Geneva Communiqué and the pursuant UNSC resolutions. Such a “too much reading” has transpired in several points that have been somehow semantically extended or even altered in the briefing.

The “oneness” of the Syrian opposition delegation turned into one of the hurdles for the "success" of the talks to the pleasure of the regime and its supporters. The UN envoy must have either read too much or misread the statement in the UNSC resolution 2254 that talks about the UNSC taking note of the Cairo and Moscow meetings to necessarily put them on equal footing with the Riyadh conference whose output is the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), the main party to negotiations. It is legally quite clear that when UNSC resolution 2254 says that the HNC was the one formed to launch the peace negotiations, it is the representative of the opposition. And "for launching negotiations" differs a great deal from "taking note for a conference" here or there, because there are scores of those conferences held by Syrians. Such a move by de Mistura plays into the hands of those searching for blocks to hinder the “talks” in the terminology of the head of Assad regime delegation Bashar al-Jaafari and “negotiations” in the dictionary meaning. Al-Jaafari insists on calling what is happening in Geneva "talks", not "negotiations". The semantic difference between the two is clear. "Talks" when it comes to serious issues is informal which is indicative of non-seriousness.

Distorting the semantics of the Geneva Communiqué text is not limited to the lexical or phraseology levels; it goes down to the core of the terms of reference of the negotiation. If one is to go further into the substantial issue in the UNSC resolutions, namely "Political Transition" the Assad regime simply has a totally different interpretation from how the opposition understands it, and from the way the envoy possibly reads it. If de Mistura’s mentioning the term 5 times before the regime’s delegation means to him that it is accepted or agreed to by the regime, he is certainly illusioned not to say completely mistaken. 

The Assad regime has been calling “ethnic cleansing” when it uproots Syrians or displaces them “national compromises”. It is probably normal to play with the semantics of international legality resolutions.

Apocalyptic Semantics does not work with a regime that has been killing its people for 6 years. The details of the three or four baskets presented in the envoy’s procedural paper constitute suitable material for Assad’s “foreign minister” Walid al-Muallem who said one day that he would flood the negotiations with details. And the principle of agreeing on one thing requires the agreement on everything is the best prescription for flooding the negotiations with unending details that would make an agreement impossible.

The Assad regime should be confronted with the principle of calling a spade a spade. First and foremost, an unequivocal declaration of accepting "Political Transition" with the meaning of forming a new governing body to lead a Transition Period in Syria is in demand if the Syrian tragedy is to come to an end. Otherwise, more bloodshed, more devastation of the country and more refugees would be ahead of us in Syria. Procrastinating and derailing the “talks” in al-Jaafari’s terminology is costing Syrians their precious blood.

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