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Negotiating table Syrians in Switzerland on the ‘Geneva 3’ talks

The start of the talks in Geneva was met with protests


How do Syrians living in Switzerland view the peace talks taking place on their doorstep? asked five people what their hopes were for an outcome and what role they think the Swiss should be playing.

The United Nations announced the formal start of  talks in Geneva for Syria on Monday and urged world powers to push for a ceasefire. Two days later the UN envoy for Syria announced a "temporary pause" in the talks amid intensified fighting, saying the process would resume on February 25.

Hani Abbas, a Syrian-Palestinian cartoonist

Enough! We cannot be in the 21st century and look on while a people are being completely annihilated. 

I do not hold any hope for these talks for a number of reasons, including the failure of the “Geneva 1” and “Geneva 2” talks and the presence of many obstacles that are essentially related to the nature of the talks. After five years of criminality, bombardment and displacement, the eyes of the world and Syrians should be looking towards the International Criminal Court to put on trial all war criminals, instead of focusing on re-polishing and re-manufacturing the Syrian regime and involving it in these Geneva talks. 

Talks should instead revolve around the stage following the departure of the [Bashar] al-Assad regime, and on the formation of a liberal civil society and a government with powers and international support on the ground. This government should lay the first building block of a free, pluralist, democratic and liberal Syria. Additionally, support for all non-Syrian groups that have entered Syria must be stopped. 

Abbas has been living in Geneva for two years. When asked about his personal suggestions and views of the Swiss role, he expressed hope that the confederation and all countries that have influential powers and the ability to exercise pressure will have a role and say to the international community.

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Taoufik Chammaa, doctor

The political side will be relatively complicated. We do not hold much hope because we went through “Geneva 1” and “Geneva 2” and they did not produce any practical results. The hope that is now pinned on this conference is to reach a solution to humanitarian issues. We hope the international community will understand that this is the last opportunity. 

I believe that the priorities are the cessation of bombardment and delivery of humanitarian aid. The international community should give priority to saving civilians at this conference. 

For politicians, al-Assad's exit from power may be the priority but the problem in Syria today is no longer about one person. The decision today is in the hands of the Russians, the Iranians, the Americans and every party that has an interest in the region, not al-Assad. That is why I do not think the key issue is whether al-Assad should leave or stay. 

Chammaa has been living in Geneva for a long time and is a co-founder of the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organisations, a non-government institution that provides medical supplies to Syria.

He believes that Switzerland can intervene more directly to address this situation, in view of the historical role it plays in negotiations for solving problems of this kind, as was the case with Iran, Lebanon and others.

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Chadi*, human rights activist

[UN special envoy Staffan] De Mistura preferred to dedicate the first three weeks to the problem of delivering food supplies, which is not supposed to require negotiations, given that it is covered by international laws and UN Security Council resolutions. He would then like to continue with humanitarian talks – already guaranteed by the rule of law – for the other weeks. Therefore, even these will not be achieved in the end. 

Before anything else, justice must be administered. This would help solve the humanitarian problem as soon as possible, but also create Syrian unity when all its citizens become equal, regardless of their religion or ethnicity. Justice will also ensure the departure of Bashar al-Assad, which is the key to all other issues.  

Chadi (*full name known to has been in Switzerland for two years and hopes that Switzerland will train Syrian students or refugees that could help rebuild Syria through expertise drawn from the Swiss administrative, legal, financial and economic system.

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Zyed Akkad, aid organiser

Given that it’s almost five years of the catastrophic Syrian crisis, the “Geneva 1” and “Geneva 2” and Vienna talks have concluded, and in the light of the internal Syrian situation and the on-going war, I do not expect any positive result. Unfortunately, the talks will be held between regional powers, rather than among the Syrian people who really should have a say in these talks. 

When the Syrian revolution erupted, the students, intellectuals and others called for freedom and dignity, which the regime met with brutality. That is why our priority is to get rid of this regime, which has destroyed the country and displaced the people.

Today, according to the UN reports, there are around seven million displaced people inside Syria, in addition to no less than 2.5 million destroyed buildings, including schools, mosques, hospitals and houses. It is not appropriate to negotiate with such a regime.  

Akkad has been living in Switzerland since 1992 and is the head of the Friends of the Syrian People Association, which was established by a group of people from different nationalities in 2012 with the purpose of providing humanitarian aid to the various segments of the Syrian people. 

He hopes Switzerland will stand by the oppressed Syrian people and expose the crimes of the ruling regime and its allies, and not open its doors to the criminals and killers, and indeed monitor their infiltration into the country, whether as individuals or through depositing funds in its banks.

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Khaldoun*, human rights activist

The majority of Syrians support a political solution through any talks, no matter how difficult they are. But what is important is to arrive at a genuine solution. These are the hopes of the people. As far as expectations are concerned, I do not envisage these talks leading to a real solution.

 The order of priorities starts with the cessation of fighting and immediate provision of medical and food supplies. Certainly, protecting the unity of the country is one of the priorities, but only after the creation of a new national charter that respects the cultural and ethnic specificities of the people as part of a new Syria.

Khaldoun (*full name known to has been living in Switzerland for nearly two years. He hopes that Switzerland will play a part that is in line with its image among Syrian people - by bringing together all Syrian rivals without discrimination, opting to support the persecuted regardless of where they come from, and bringing to book those responsible for committing war crimes, whether from the opposition or the ruling regime.

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The views expressed by the interviewees do not necessarily represent the standpoints of the overwhelming majority of Syrian migrants in Switzerland, but they could be representative of a significant part of the community.

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Adapted from Arabic by Mohamed Ibrahim,

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