The regional and international agreements on Syria remain restrictive and exclude Syrian participation. As such, many of these agreements do not reflect the aspirations of Syrian people who, in return, consider them as no more than tools to ease the humanitarian crisis. Their hopes of a political solution that will permanently alleviate suffering and end the violence remain unfulfilled.
This report attempts to shed light on the Sochi Agreement reached by Turkey and Russia on September 17, 2018, to stave off an offensive to retake Idlib province – Syria’s last remaining opposition stronghold– and to create a buffer zone that hosts a significant number civilians as well as internally displaced persons (IDPs) from other Syrian provinces.
About the Turkish-Russian Sochi Agreement
The Sochi Agreement outlined ten items, in which Turkey and Russia pledged to establish a demilitarized zone between the Government of Syria (GoS) and opposition armed groups, and conduct joint patrols to enforce this compromise.
The agreement sets up a mechanism for ridding Idlib of extremist rebel fighters and calls for a 15 km to 20 km demilitarized zone to be established by October 15, 2018, between opposition armed groups and government-controlled areas. By October 10, 2018, all heavy weaponry would be removed from this area, according to the agreement.
In addition, both sides stated their commitment to combat terrorism in Syria in any of its forms and manifestations, and before the end of 2018 to restore the transport links that were cut off by the war, such as the roads linking Aleppo with the provinces of Latakia and Hama. This would be achieved through the Joint Coordination Center between Russia, Iran and Turkey.
Following the announcement of the agreement, Turkey informed the opposition armed groups located in neighboring areas that the agreement should be implemented. These groups responded by withdrawing heavy weaponry from the designated demilitarized zone. The National Front for Liberation, Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement and Suqour al-Sham Brigades withdrew from Aleppo’s southern countryside as well as Sinjar, Sikk and Atshan in Hama northern countryside. Furtherer, these groups withdrew from the following areas in the northeast of Hama; Jabal Shehshabu, Habit, Qalaat al-Madiq, Sharia, Beit al-Ras Bridge and Khirba.
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is designated a terrorist organization by the United States, has implicitly accepted the agreement and it has no heavy weaponry in the demilitarized zone except for medium and light weapons.
The agreement has had an impact on the situation of civilians as well as members of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) operating in the region, as the following were noted:
- Roughly 60,000 IDPs returned to their areas;
- CSOs have resumed their activities in the region after a pause of more than five months;
- Markets have been revived and restored, and construction has begun on a limited level;
- Many hospitals and medical centers have started developing plans to improve the medical situation in the region, after initial preparations had been made for the anticipated air bombardments;
- Most schools resumed the education process, which was suspended for fear of a possible military operation.
Public Opinion in Idlib
“The agreement has achieved what is important and required, namely a ceasefire and a safe area. This would help restore services, education and health services to the region.”
Mohammed .S, civil activist from the local council of Ain Larouz.
The threats that preceded the military campaign in Idlib prompted civilians to hold many demonstrations in the streets, aiming to convey their voices to the international community, which in turn, could possibly halt the military offensive.
In total, 136 demonstrations were documented in the main cities in Idlib province. These include Idlib city, Dana, Ihsem, Khan Sheikhun, Maarat al-Nu’man, Jirjnaz, Deir Sunbul, Ksafra, Malayat, Ariha, al-Mastumah and Hizano.
This agreement has been relatively accepted by civilians, as the stability of the region has been notably increased and a possible war has been halted. For example, there had been demonstrations for over a month both prior to and after the initial implementation of the agreement.
However, the agreement did not meet the expectations of IDPs living in Idlib, as it did not include plans to secure their return to their areas under international protection. Furthermore, the agreement fell far short of the expectations of the detainees’ families, as it did not include any references to Syrian detainees in GoS prisons.
To conclude, the Syrian Civic Platform (SPC) commends all agreements that aim to avoid a deterioration of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and end the violence and military operations against civilians. Moreover, it stresses the need for Syria to participate in any future agreement concerning its citizens and their future
|Abu Abdo, a man who was displaced with his family from the Damascus countryside and currently lives in a camp located on the outskirts of Idlib, expressed his fierce rejection of the agreement, as it has failed to address the minimum requirements of life, and did not tackle the most prominent problems facing IDPS.
Rani. A, an IDP from Daraa, expressed the same opinion that the agreement is no more than a military one and did not meet any of the IDPs demands.
Finally, the SCP emphasize that all agreements should to be part of a United Nations sponsored political process, in particular UNSC resolution 2254 as well as other resolutions that constitute a path to a comprehensive political solution in Syria.