After Assad Debacle, Syrian Opposition backs Georgia

Precisely a month after Georgia has severed diplomatic relations with the Damascus following Assad regime’s decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Tbilisi has scored a point by achieving the backing of the Syrian opposition for its territorial integrity.

Georgian Public Television has quoted Nasr al-Hariri, President of the Syrian High Negotiation Commission, mentioning that the Syrian opposition upholds the “red lines” of international law – “unity, territorial integrity  of Syria and the unity of Syrian people” and thus, by the same token, wants “these principles to be respected both related to us and to other countries. Therefore, we support Georgia’s territorial integrity. We strictly condemn the “recognition” of the occupied territories of Georgia – Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region / South Ossetia by the Assad regime”.

The statement apparently came after a meeting of the Georgian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Giorgi Janjgava with the Syrian High Negotiation Commission.

Dr. Eka Akobia, who headed the Department for Asia and Africa at Georgian MFA in 2012-2016 and now is the  Dean of the Caucasus School of Governance, tells us that al-Hariri’s statement is of high importance.

“Dr. Hariri is a prominent member of the opposition and a known activist for his country”, says Akobia. “He is holding meetings on behalf of the Syrian Coalition and the SNC with the leaders worldwide, including the UN Secretary General, EU HR Federica Mogherini, heads of state and foreign ministers globally. He is in charge of negotiating matters related to Syria in view of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the Geneva Communiqué, which envisions political transition in Syria.”

Since the Assad government is not recognized as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people by most members of the international community, support from the opposition counts, the expert says.

Dr. Akobia adds, “it is very important that Georgian side continues to inform the Syrian opposition about the situation in Georgia, about the ongoing conflict with Russia and about the nature of Russia as a partner and mediator. This will ensure that once the political transition happens in Syria and people elect their legitimate representatives in free and fair elections, the political elites will be fully informed and ready to rectify mistakes of a previous bloody regime.”

Long-standing concern

After Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia following the 2008 war, Georgian diplomacy has been acutely mindful of the regimes that could be persuaded or pressured to follow Moscow’s lead. Syria, with its historical diaspora of Abkhaz refugees from the 19th century, was considered as one of the weak links internationally.

Back in 2010 Georgia’s then Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze visited Damascus and met with President Bashar al-Assad, talking enhanced cooperation in tourism and economy. As the situation in Syria has deteriorated, however, Georgia has aligned itself firmly with the Western coalition and the UN sanctions, repeatedly condemning violence and chemical attacks. Moreover, despite its economic troubles at home, Tbilisi has pledged USD 100 thousand in humanitarian aid during the crisis in Aleppo.

Syria has been Tbilisi’s headache in another way too. Some Georgian citizens, reportedly mainly from the Muslim Kist community in Georgia’s Pankisi valley have joined the ranks of ISIS. Georgia’s security officials estimated their number at 50 in 2015, after the flow of recruits has already passed its nadir. Reportedly, up to 26 fighters holding Georgian citizenship have died in Syria, most recently in December 2017.