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 From Iraqi Kurdistan to Syria: Kurdish youth call for change

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From Iraqi Kurdistan to Syria: Kurdish youth call for change  3.11.2011  
By Maria Fantappie - Beirut, Niqash

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November 3, 2011

Kurdish politicians in Syria are using unrest there to extract concessions from the Syrian regime. And Iraqi Kurdistan is benefitting from this too. But younger Kurds in Iraq and Syria don’t necessarily agree and are calling for change.

On Friday Oct. 7 several men entered the house of Mish'al Tammo, a Syrian-Kurdish opponent of the current Syrian regime. Although the exact circumstances of what happened next are unknown, it is clear the men shot Tammo, the leader of Kurdish Future Movement, one of an estimated 12 to 15 Kurdish political parties operating in Syria (numbers are estimated because the ruling Baath party is supposed to be the only party in Syria and the only parties that acknowledge the Baath party are allowed to exist legally, albeit in a very restricted manner).

Tammo was one of the only Kurdish leaders to be openly          

A Kurd opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad, with Kurdistan flag in his hands, shouts slogans during a demonstration against the Syrian regime, during a sit-in in front of the Syrian embassy, in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011. Photo: AP
opposed to the regime, which is led by President Bashar al-Assad. He had recently been released from prison, after spending more than two years in jail. Death threats had been made and an attempt had been made on his life a month previously.

In an interview with Kurdwatch, which monitors human rights abuses of Kurds in Syria, in September after the attempt on his life, Tammo told the organisation that: “We have received information that attempts will be made on the lives of well-known figures. When we made our stance on the regime and our stance on Kurdish participation in the Syrian revolution clear, we knew that such a thing could happen. The regime issues the order. But, of course, acquaintances will carry out the order.”

In the conversation with Kurdwatch, Tammo mentioned other cases of attacks on anti-regime activists where members of another Kurdish political party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), apparently took part, and indicated that he felt that his fellow Kurds might be responsible, Kurdwatch explained.

Which is why this assassination is more than just another example of the thousands of violent incidents occurring in Syria as protests against the current regime there go on. It also indicates an escalation in the struggle between various Kurdish Syrian political parties that wish to dominate ethnic politics there and become the flag bearers of the Kurdish cause in Syria.

The struggle reaches beyond Syria’s borders. It involves all of Kurdistan. The Kurdish people are one of the largest stateless minorities in the world – the majority of Kurdish people live in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria and if they did have a state it would straddle the borders of all of those countries.
And the main players in the Syrian Kurdish drama are also the main players in Iraq and Turkey: the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) of Iraq and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Iraq (PUK), both of which share power in the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan. In Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organisation by some countries, has an impact on Syria.

The Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party (PDKS) and the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria (KDPS) report directly to the leaders of their Iraqi counterparts, Massoud Barzani of the KDP and Jalal Talabani of the PUK. And as the economic ties between Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria have flourished, the Iraqis have been pushing their Syrian peers to follow the road laid by the Syrian leadership in Damascus. When thousands of Syrian Kurds took to the streets of Qamishli, a north eastern Syrian city close to both Iraqi and Turkish borders, in 2004, neither the PDKS nor the KDPS encouraged the protestors.

When demonstrations against the Syrian regime began in late February of this year and spread throughout eastern Syria, neither party backed the protestors then either. They only went as far as denouncing the brutality of the Syrian crackdown.

It seems as though the government of Iraqi Kurdistan is trying to become more influential on the Syrian Kurdish scene through their Syrian counterparts, who are getting involved in negotiations with both the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition. Both Syrian Kurdish parties, the PDKS and the KDPS, took part in the opposition’s conference but at the same time they have also made deals with the regime, coming away with as many concessions as possible in the process.

Since early March, the Syrian regime has granted several concessions the Kurdish have long been asking for: in April the Syrian regime said that over 50,000 Kurds who had previously been denied nationality would be allowed to claim Syrian nationality as well as access to state subsidies and employment.

The Syrian state’s passage of Decree 43 in March makes it easier to own land in the border areas, like Hasaka, where many Kurdish live. Previously the transfer of land ownership between, for example, family members, required authorisation from Damascus. If more concessions like this are forthcoming, Iraq’s Kurds may well push Syria’s Kurds to negotiate further. Should the Syrian regime survive the current protests and should the KDPS and the PDKS have more power, this would mean ongoing political influence for Iraqi Kurdistan inside Syria.

But in the middle of these political games, there is also a third voice – and it is one that is getting louder. A younger generation of Kurds in Syria are becoming united in their call for “Azadi” – which means “freedom” in Kurdish – and they are speaking out both against the existing Syrian regime and against the Kurdish political parties’ stance.

These younger Kurds in Syria value their ethnic identity but they also show strong solidarity with those Syrians taking to the streets in Arab-majority cities like Homs and Hama. And as they do so, the new generation of Kurds is demonstrating that, unlike their elders, they have the ability to conciliate demands for Kurdish rights and demands for democratic and human rights.

In the meantime the rift between the Kurdish youth and the established Kurdish political parties, both in Syria and Iraq, continue to widen. What they are fighting for in reality is generational turnover in politics.

The words of slain Syrian Kurdish opponent of the Syrian regime, Mish'al Tammo reflect the determination with which this third party of interest is proceeding. Tammo’s funeral turned into the largest demonstration in Qamishli since February, with people chanting “Azadí”. And as Tammo told Kurdwatch the month before he was killed: “We decided that we will win our freedom. Either we will win our freedom alive or we will die honourably. We will never stray from this course.”


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