Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was in Damascus for this purpose. The talks, which later proved to be inconclusive, started off well. Davutoğlu had an appointment with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus. The venue of the meeting was the building of Turkish diplomatic mission, which has recently been evacuated. Meshal, one of the influential names forced to leave Damascus due to the turmoil in Syria, appeared in the venue with his guards and the meeting kicked off.
During the meeting, in a separate room, we discussed the strength and power of the emerging opposition, the approach of the people of Damascus, the change that the Syrians were asking for and their views on democracy. I have never forgotten what one officer, who had good relations and ties with different circles during this uprising, said.
Based on his contacts with Syrians from different backgrounds, he said it was impossible to go on with Assad. It was obvious that the Baath regime would be gone and that it could not be sustained anyway. But could the heterogeneous Syrian people, who have been repressed under the brutality of a dictatorial regime, establish a new order that would be better than the Baath regime?
The question, which seemed pretty fair, was viewed as Orientalist. It was not really proper for us to treat the Syrians and Syria as if they were people unaware of what was going on in the world, given that we were from a country still governed by a coup constitution and unable to deal with the juntas. The Syrians were carefully following the developments not only in Turkey, but also in the West and the world. Even though the Baath media was one-sided, the Internet and satellite dishes disrupted its monopoly. The Arab Spring provoked the desire for change, but particularly the good ties with Turkey enabled the Syrians to integrate with the world further.
The summary was this: The Syrian people are aware of the problems. However, they do not think that these problems are irresolvable and that for this reason, the only alternative was an authoritarian regime. They were aware of democracy and secularism and they had the ability to introduce and sustain a regime based on these two principles.
From my point of view, this dialogue was pretty fruitful in changing my prejudices because even the efforts and accomplishments of the people in Tunisia and Egypt, who changed the course of history, did not suffice to eliminate the prejudices of some people. Those who held no hope with the opposition in Syria changed their minds slightly in the face of their success and accomplishment vis-à-vis the brutal regime; however, it is still doubtful as to whether they appreciate the desire for change. Those who held doubts for the opposition, arguing that they could not remove Assad from power, now claim that they could not administer the country because their victory would lead to a domestic war and a democratic Syria would not stay united. Maybe they are not aware that these are also the arguments held by the Baath regime. But this attitude is actually a manifestation of the mindset that does not see the people, who have been staging an honorable struggle despite huge support from certain countries for the brutal regime, the massacres and the indifference of the international community, are not entitled to freedom. I wish we could change our approach towards the Middle East slightly, recalling that the Islamist Nahda Party, which won the first democratic elections in Tunisia after Ben Ali, brought a leftist to the office of presidency.
It is true that Syria will have to deal with some difficulties in the event that the Baath regime is toppled. There will be huge difficulties. There are many risks including domestic warfare and partition. However, the Syrian opposition groups including the Kurds, Christians and Sunnis ask nothing but freedom. Those who are curious about what sort of Syria the people want could take a look at the National Pact that the Syrian National Council adopted in Pendik on March 23. Here are some principles in this document:
Syria is a civilized, democratic, pluralist, independent and free country. The transitional government that will be formed in the aftermath of the current illegitimate government pledges its support and commitment to the free and fair elections. The founding parliament to be set up by the transitional government will make a new constitution that will include the principles spelled out in this convention, and this constitution will be voted in a referendum by the people.
The new Syria will be a democratic republic observant of the rule of law where all citizens, regardless of their religious, ethnic and ideological identities, will be treated as equals.
The constitution will guarantee non-discrimination against the religious, ethnic and national elements of the Syrian people (Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkmen and others).