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Report | The Syrian International Conference in Istanbul: ‘No to Normalization with Assad’

On Sunday, February 20, the Syrian International Conference was held in Istanbul under the title “No to Normalization with Assad” in the presence of a number of independent Syrian personalities from home and abroad, high level international figures, and members of the US Congress. The conference was attended by nearly 200 people including many Syrian figures from a wide variety of sects and ethnicities that have always been components of the population in Syria.

The Syrian International Conference in Istanbul held on Feb. 20, 2022

The opening speaker was one of the organizers of the event, Dr. Zaid Kayali, who explained that the conference was being held at the initiative of independent Syrian organizations in order to address the recent developments involving some Arab countries seeking to normalize relations with the Syrian regime. The organizers felt it was necessary to publicly confront this trend because of the dangerous repercussions it presents for the future of Syria and the Syrian people.

The conference also featured speeches by members of the US Congress and US ambassadors who spoke about the impact of normalization on the political process, the Assad regime’s crimes, and the obstacles they pose in making any headway in the peace process. 

This reaffirms what Ethan Goldrich, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday about the continuing US position regarding normalizing ties with Assad. “When it comes to finding a political solution for the Syrian people, after more than a decade of war, the Assad regime has undoubtedly been the biggest obstacle to progress on that path.”

Dr. Kayali, together with Dr. Tawfiq Shamaa, Mazen Sheikhani, and Muaz Mustafa organized the conference and the speakers included former detainee Omar al-Shogre who shared a lengthy speech.

An independent Syrian journalist who attended the conference explained to SYRIAWISE that “the positive spirit was high, and all the attendees were in agreement on the necessity of emphasizing the rejection of normalization with the Assad regime and its rehabilitation.”

The journalist added that “many organizations and bodies active in the Syrian issue have participated in this conference. It was hugely successful in gathering people together and sparking a revival of the Syrian Revolution for those in attendance.”

The conference was a one-day event and the organizers agreed to issue a public statement containing the recommendations that had been decided upon in the coming days.

Kayali said that the initiative to organize this conference “is an attempt to find a formula that expresses the position of the Syrian people in the camps, the liberated areas and the diaspora, rejecting the steps of normalization and conveying the voice of the free Syrian people to the relevant international organizations through all available means.” 

“Normalization with the Assad regime will erase its responsibility for destroying Syria and everything that accompanied it, and grant international permission for restoration with this criminal regime,” he added.

Syrian opposition artist Haitham al-Halabi, who sang a moving rendition of “Mawtini” (My Home) during the conference that brought everyone to their feet, told SYRIAWISE: “Normalization is not confined to the corridors of politics and politicians alone. It also has an effect on the community of Syrian artists. For example, we see that each faction has a chorus of singers and actors trumpeting the narrative of whichever faction they follow.”

“Also in the Arab countries you will find many who have encouraged the restoration of relations with the criminal regime in Syria. We are here today to say NO to normalization with the Assad regime and whoever establishes relations with him. That is why I came to this conference to express, with my voice, my rejection of this heinous crime against my people and my country.”



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