Syrian opposition activists have launched a social media campaign in opposition to talks about Syria’s future held in Sochi, Russia.
The discussions so far have involved Russia and Iran, who support the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, which has supported rebel groups but is increasingly close to Russia and fearful of the influence gained by Kurdish militias, including those backed by the US.
The latest talks ended on Wednesday, but opened the way for a further, theoretically broader, conference, also in Sochi, which is expected to take place next week.
Turkey, Russia and Iran released a joint statement after the talks, which called on the Syrian regime and mainstream opposition to join the planned conference “constructively”.
The Hashtag Revolution campaign has urged people around the world to join its social media activism using the hashtag #SochiAssad, and is in solidarity with street protests against Sochi in Syria itself.
“We, the Syrian people who joined the revolution against the Bashar al-Assad regime, believe that the Sochi conference is a distraction,” Ghossoun Abou Dahab, one of the campaign organisers, told the Lens Post.
“We reject any negotiations outside the UN and will continue to insist that Assad must step down and face charges in the International Criminal Court because he is a war criminal.”
Many activists feel that the voices of ordinary Syrians have been drowned out by talks between world leaders, especially those who they see as leading the violence against them. The campaign calls on all foreign entities to leave Syria, and insists on keeping the country united as one.
“Surrounding countries are looking out for their own interests in Syria, and that is the reason Assad has remained in power until now,” said Ghossoun.
“Russia is Assad’s partner in crime in Syria, so we do not trust it and it is not acceptable that it would be part of any negotiations to defend the Syrian people.”
Ghossoun also had little faith in a rival conference held by opposition groups in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
“In all honesty, we no longer have any trust in negotiations,” said Ghossoun. “We wish that the results of such negotiations will be better than its predecessors.
“The best way for peace would be for a transitional government without Assad.”
A string of protests has also taken place in Syria against the Sochi talks.
Obeda Abo Omar, an activist in eastern Ghoutta, an area being devastated by regime attacks and siege, told the Lens Post, “All the towns of Ghoutta stood up against Sochi. Here in Ghoutta, these events have been taking place since the proposal of the Sochi conference.”
Omar added that a large event was being planned for the near future, but that so far up to 50 people had attended each of the Syrian protests and vigils. He said they would have been bigger were it not for the constant “fear of targeting and shelling”.
The six-year war in Syria, which started when the Assad regime brutally tried to crush the Arab Spring movement against him in 2011, has seen hundreds of thousands of people killed and has forced millions of people to flee the country, creating the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.
The Syrian regime saw signs of being defeated at the hands of the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups, but recovered after support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. This military onslaught, which has included the dropping of barrel bombs and chemical gas on opposition areas, turned the tide in the conflict, with Russian airpower reducing cities to rubble.
The involvement of Islamic State and a variety of other Sunni fundamentalist groups allowed the regime to present its war as being a battle against terrorism. The revolutionaries, though, want the world to know that they are still a force in Syria.
The coalition of Syrian revolutionaries behind the #SochiAssad campaign released a statement online that also rejected the Sochi conference.
“Russia has spilled the blood of our people due to the use of its veto power as well as its aircraft strikes that caused the destruction of infrastructure, especially hospitals, which is contrary to international norms,” said the statement. “We therefore categorically reject any political solution sponsored by an occupier.”
It continued, “We also demand that the opposition forces, represented by the coalition and the High Commission, all who speak on our behalf, stick to our revolution and the aspirations of our people with freedom and dignity, and any negotiations should be under the umbrella of the United Nations and the Security Council in accordance with the decisions of Geneva and the rejection of any outside interference in the drafting of the Syrian constitution.”
Journalist Salwa Amor used the #SochiAssad tag to post on Facebook, “Russia has senselessly bombed civilians in Syria for the sixth year straight, it seems surreal that it is now entrusted with deciding what is best for Syria and Syrians.”
Twitter user Robert Robert also used the hashtag, tweeting, “Self-determination means that Syrians, not the Russian/Iran government, determines the fate of the people.”
The activists, both in and out of Syria, are planning to build on their campaign.