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 The plight of the Syrian Kurds – the forgotten kindred

 Opinion — Analysis
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The plight of the Syrian Kurds – the forgotten kindred  31.1.2011   
By Bashdar Ismaeel,
a longtime contributing writer for  

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January 31, 2011

Repression, misfortune and suffering has been a common feature of recent Kurdish history across the Middle Eastern plains but often the plight of the Syrian Kurds has been the most overlooked and forgotten - quite literally in the case of thousands of stateless Kurds.

While Kurds in both Iraq and Turkey may have had more focus under the international spotlight, the struggle and suffering of the Syrian Kurds goes on unabated as we enter a new year.

The new found prominence and strategic standing of the Kurds in Iraq is a major milestone in Kurdish nationalism, with the gains less notable but nevertheless significant in Turkey, where Kurds are slowly enjoying greater cultural freedoms and more state focus.

Amidst a new passage for Kurds in the Middle East, the Syrian Kurds have lagged behind without the same rights and privileges enjoyed by their ethnic brethren across the mountainous borders.                     

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel, senior UK Editor.
In spite of increasing pressure from human rights groups and some Western powers in recent years, progress in Syria has been lacking substance and a sense of a genuine desire for reform. Only this week, a report by Humans Rights Watch (HRW) continued to highlight the lack of freedoms and rights in Syria.

In a region hardly noteworthy for freedom and political liberalism, the assessment by the HRW belief that "Syria's authorities were among the worse violators of human rights last year" spoke volumes.

In the last several years it is fair to say that Kurds in Syria have found new leverage and confidence in protesting against the government and seeking greater reform. Many of these motions including rallies, protests and activist movements have been met with suppression by the Syrian government, often via violent means and at the expense of civilian lives.

In March of last year security forces opened fire to disperse Kurdish Newroz celebrations in the northern city of Raqqa, resulting in many wounded and dozens of arrests. According to HRW, at least another 14 Kurdish political and cultural public gatherings have been harshly repressed by the state since 2005.

Only this week, yet more political activists were mercilessly killed. Two members of the People's Confederation of Western Kurdistan (KCK) were killed after been ambushed by Syrian security forces, leading to protests and rising anger in Kurdish circles.

Other cases of disappearances, torture and death of activities have not been met with enquiries, explanations or action by the government

The Syrian Kurds more than ever need international assistance and pressure from the main ruling bodies to entrench their campaign for recognition, cultural rights and greater freedoms.

As such a great moral, national and political responsibility falls on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for diplomatic assistance of the fellow Kurds in Syria and pushing for reconciliation between the Syrian government and the disenfranchised Kurdish minority.

The Kurdish movement should be based on the ideals of international law, dialogue and peaceful resolution, the minimum that any ethnic minority deserves in this day and age.

The oppression and systematic coercion of the Syrian Kurds is not new. They have become the ubiquitous victims of Arab nationalist policies since the granting of Syrian independence from France.

Much like Arabisation policies of the fellow Baathist regime in Baghdad, Syrian created an Arab cordon (Hizam Arabi) along the Turkish border, resulting in 150,000 Kurds been forcibly deported and losing their lands and livelihood.

Of the numerous injustices committed against the Kurds, none requires greater attention than the plight of the 300,000 stateless Kurds that many have accustomed to been "buried alive" - living but unable to live a life. As a result of a special census carried out by Syrian authorities in the densely Kurdish populated north-east in 1962, thousands of Kurds were arbitrarily stripped of their citizenship, leaving them without basic rights, subject to systematic discrimination and in poverty.

Subsequently, most denationalized Kurds were categorized as ajanibs (or "foreigners") with identity documentation to confirm their lack of nationality and furthermore denied access to education, healthcare, judicial and political systems and unable to obtain property, business or even marry. Some further 75-100,000 Kurds, compounded to an even worse status, were labelled as Maktoumeen ("hidden" or "unregistered"), with no identity documents, effectively no existence and having almost no civil rights

In the year 2011, for a country to be able to deprive thousands of its people of nationality and citizenship and openly contravene international law is remarkable. Many of the Western powers and particularly the UN, whose existence is based on upholding such fundamental rights, have not done enough.

The 1962 census is itself a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides the right to a nationality, while Syria is a party to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Prevention of Statelessness.

The Baath Party, headed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has ruled Syria since 1963 after seizing power in a coup and enacting an emergency law which 50 years later is still in force. In this time,
www.ekurd.netpolitical opposition has been widely suppressed with the Arab nationalist ideological framework becoming a mystical cornerstone of the Syrian Republic.

Under the Arab nationalism banner, the Kurds have always been deemed to pose the greatest danger to the regime. After coming to power in 2000 and facing an increasing international spotlight, al-Assad softened the tone towards the Kurds and a number of promises were subsequently made, however, in practice no real steps have been taken.

In fact, as the government drags its heels in implementing concrete steps towards expanding cultural freedoms and resolving the issue of stateless Kurds, the Kurds threaten to become a long-term danger for the establishment.

The Kurds are growing in confidence and for a country that was a long part of the Washington 'axis of evil', it can no longer ignore such a fundamental problem on its doorstep.

Syria does not need to look far to see how civil unrest can spread like wildfire. From what started as an almost trivial social disturbance, Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was dramatically ousted after a 23 year grip on power, when a small protest lead to country wide chaos. In similar vain, growing protests in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak's government threaten to snowball. Once the masses have the confidence to take to the streets and challenge the government, no amount of artillery or firepower can withstand people power.

The EU, US and UN must back up their condemnation of a lack of human rights with firm measures. Trade and political relationships should not be promoted when a government openly commits atrocities against its own people and even refuses to grant rights and basic citizenship.

At this critical juncture, it is important for the historically fractured Syrian Kurdish opposition parties to become united and seek regional and international help on their quest for peaceful resolution of their goals.

The KRG evidently require good relationships with the Syrian government but the interests of the Kurdistan Region should not be safeguarded and prioritised, while fellow Kurds are been repressed.

Ironically, while the Syrian government has provided decades of assistant to thousands of Palestinian and more recently hundreds of Iraqi refugees, they have continued to overlook stateless Kurds within their own borders.

The Syrian government needs to look no further than Turkey. A government can not indefinitely ignore the rights and voices of such a significant minority. If not capped and addressed, the problems will only exasperate and grow and bite the government increasingly harder as the years ensue.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Primary Sources of Republication:, Various Misc.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance writer and analyst,
a regular contributing writer for website. Ismaeel whose primary focus and expertise is on the Kurds, Iraq and Middle Eastern current affairs. The main focus of his writing is to promote peace, justice and increase awareness of the diversity, suffering and at times explosive mix in Iraq and the Middle East. Most recently he has produced work for the Washington Examiner, Asian Times, The Epoch Times, Asia News, The Daily Star (Lebanon), Kurdish Globe, Hewler Post, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), KurdishMedia, PUK Online and OnlineOpinion. He has achieved seminar recommended readings for Le High University (Pennsylvania) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His work has been republished extensively elsewhere on the Internet. You may reach the author via email at: [email protected] , Bashdar's website

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