Syria's Conflict Resolution: Has There Been Any?
Panel Discussion with Carter Center Representatives
(March 26, 2019 – Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs)
Speakers: Hrair Balian, Director of the Conflict Resolution Program at the Carter Center;
Kate Keator, Manager of the Syria Conflict Mapping Project at the Carter Center; Chris McNaboe, Field Representative at the Carter Center
Moderator: Rabie Nasser, Researcher at the Syrian Center for Policy Research
After eight years of ongoing conflict in Syria, reaching a conflict resolution could be in sight. Yet when reflecting on the details of this resolution, many questions arise. To address these questions, AUB's Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) hosted three speakers from the Carter Center to discuss this matter further. During this talk, various factors were tackled, ranging from the wide spectrum of influent state and non-state actors involved in this conflict, to the western powers' policies and the international community's efforts in addressing this situation.
The moderator, Mr. Rabie Nasser, opened the discussion by raising numerous questions about the conflict in Syria. He asked about the Carter Center's approach of the different actors (from UN to Syrian people), its accountability towards the future of the Syrian people, and the challenge of managing ethical issues while producing knowledge in a conflict setting.
Actors in the Syrian Conflict and the Carter Center
Hrair Balian started his presentation by talking about actors in the Syrian conflict, focusing on the importance of forging relations with these actors and on the role that these connections play in conflict resolution. Drawing on the Carter Center's experience in Syria, he highlighted that their interest in that country began before the eruption of the conflict in 2011. Balian mentioned that the Center's relations with the Syria government leadership and the opposition leadership started in 2008.
Based on this prior experience with the regime, he observed that the International community's call for Bashar el-Assad's ouster was premature. In fact, according to Balian, the Center attempted to urge the International Community to moderate their expectations of change in Syria, and to have an inclusive approach for Syria conflict resolution (such as including Iran and the Kurds in the negotiations and processes). On the ground, the Center initiated discussions with various Syrian groups and factions; including pro-regime leaders, members of the opposition, and most importantly, civil society representatives. It also implemented capacity building initiatives with workshops on negotiations strategy to enable different actors to mediate.Mapping the Syrian Conflict
Chris McNaboe followed up by presenting the mapping of the Syrian conflict which the Center has been working on since 2012. He highlighted that their main focus was on sharing general conflict trends and developments, such as identifying major armed group structures and frontlines. Yet there were challenges to completing this exercise; ranging from how to get a representative sample, to knowing who to talk to. Therefore efforts were done to improve the mapping. These efforts included partnering with the UN OCHA, and working on development tools. Subsequently, based on their documentation, the Center managed to find that there has been about 200 000 conflict events and about 7000 armed factions throughout the Syrian conflict.The value of Carter Center's work in Syria
Lastly, Kate Keator spoke about the importance of the Center's work and about its ability to connect Syrian voices. She explained that the center was able to gather a historical data set which helped showcase what was happening to the people on the ground in Syria. In turn, this information was used to anchor the conversation, build connections and help mediators address the conflict (in terms of forecast and resolution).
This talk attracted a diverse audience and was attended by Syrian political activists; journalists; members of UNHCR; NGOs; and students from AUB, Lebanese University, Kings College and LAU.