Syria Faith-Based Reconciliation Initiative
President Assad’s succession to power in Syria in 2000 was marked by positive signs of change after decades of internal and external conflict and his father’s hardline politics. Optimism waned fairly quickly, however, and Syria spent the next decade vacillating between conflict and constructive overtures to neighbors and international counterparts. As demands for political reform swept the region in early 2011, in the so-called Arab spring, the Assad regime made calculated concessions to popular demands, while quietly launching campaigns of retribution against anti-regime communities.
The façade fell away completely between 2011 and 2013, as evidence mounted that the government had used chemical weapons against civilians, and armed exchanges took place between Assad’s regime and both Turkey and Israel. Foreign supporters of the rebel movement, however, balked at sending arms when linkages were found with al-Qaeda-related extremist groups. This relieved the pressure on Assad, and allowed him to reclaim some legitimacy – and the complexity of the conflict deepened.
Within this melee, ICRD – with the initial support of the Straus Institute at Pepperdine University and later the Sequoia Foundation – had been building relationships among the varied ethnic and religious groups in Syria through the conduct of faith-based reconciliation seminars (FBR) that included Kurds, Alawites, Syriac Christians, Shi’a and Sunni groups, and Bedouin tribal leaders. After early successes, funding was secured from the U.S. State Department to continue these seminars and to subsequently implement a social contract between the Syriac Christians and Kurds in the al-Hassake region that ICRD was able to facilitate during the course of the seminars.
This contract enabled both parties to articulate their mutual commitment to peaceful coexistence and to establish a Center for Reconciliation in Istanbul to support the further conduct of FBR seminars and promote follow-up initiatives. In January 2015, ICRD laid the framework for the first of two trainings at the Istanbul Center, covering: bridge-building principles and methodology, and; an updated survey of peacebuilding efforts underway in Syria, with a focus on lessons-learned and best-practices.
FBR uses a framework that identifies and elevates shared spiritual values in order to transform tense relationships, promote mutual understanding and generate collaborative problem-solving – while honoring participants’ diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious identities. The effort in Syria is specifically designed to:
• Promote Syrian efforts for regional and national healing and reconciliation;
• Engage members in constructive, joint problem-solving to address the fundamental challenges to peaceful co-existence that must be resolved, and;
• Empower participants to advance reconciliation and transformative problem-solving
Medium-term plans include: supporting collaborative problem-solving in the al-Hassake region; providing an Arabic translation of the social contract as a model for faith leaders in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey; developing a methodology, utilizing the social contract process, to address historical wounds between Syrian Kurds and Syriac Christians, including admissions of guilt and apologies for past wrongs, and; issuing a declaration explaining the process and its outcomes, which explores the “Politics of Forgiveness.”