Al-Assad’s Baathist regime tries to dampen
By Bashdar Ismaeel,
longtime contributing writer for ekurd.net
Syria issues decree to grant historic citizenship to
stateless Kurds and reaches out to the long
repressed minority knowing that the Kurds can serve
its knock-out blow. However, with the regime
reeling, is it a case of too little too late?
If ever a regime was frantically trying to dampen
fires before they rage, it is the Baathist Syrian
state of Bashar al-Assad. However, a mixture of
limited concessions and a conciliatory tone on the
one hand and violent suppression of protests on the
other hand, has only served to stoke the fires and
the regime is choking under its smoke.
As the storms of change have gripped the Middle
Eastern landscape in spectacular and unprecedented
style, the next country under threat of been swept
under the fierce revolutionary waves is Syria.
Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel, senior UK Editor.
Growing Arab Syrian protests in recent weeks were
met with violent resistance as dozens of protestors
were brutally shot. This was only compounded further
in recent days by a further public outcry, more
deaths at the hand of security forces and more
fanatic protests from Deraa, Latakia to Qamishli.
As we have seen with Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, once
the greater public lose fear and deem that they have
nothing to lose, government reprisals do not deter
people but ironically only add fuel to the fire.
Al-Assad is fully aware in the exponentially smaller
world that any protests that snowball will put the
regime squarely in the international eye and an
incident in one part of the country will spread like
wildfire throughout the rest.
As a result, al-Assad scrambled from outright
defiance and violence at the outset to a more
moderate and conciliatory tone, sacking a number of
governors in places where the crackdown was worst as
well his entire cabinet and vowing to push towards
reform and listen to the demands of the protestors.
In the past weeks, he has tried to appease a cross
spectrum of society from conservative Muslims to
Arab minorities and the general public.
Above all, al-Assad is fully aware the greatest
danger to his regime is the long disenfranchised and
largely repressed Kurdish minority. If the Arab
majority in the south had a qualm with the regime
and complained with a lack of freedom or state
control, just imagine how the long embittered Kurds
Although, the Kurds have been largely on the
sidelines thus far as they diligently asses how the
demonstrations unfold, al-Assad knows that they hold
the real gearbox to the Syrian revolutionary
If the Arab majority can bring the al-Assad
government to its knees, the authorities know that
the Kurdish minority can serve the knock-out blow.
The Kurds were weary of their protests been
manipulated as ethnic or separatist demands, but
voices of discontent finally grew as demonstrations
ensued in Kurdish cities, with the Kurds firmly
emphasising their brotherhood with the Arabs.
The government's anxiety of not stoking Kurdish
sentiments could be seen with the largely peaceful
way Newroz celebrations were tolerated this year.
This is in comparison to previous years where Newroz
celebrations were synonymous with government
reprisals, arrests and violent dispersal of crowds.
In a bold show of intent, al-Assad even met Kurdish
leaders in Hasaka to hear their demands and even
more remarkably issued a decree to finally grant
citizenship to over 300,000 stateless Kurds. These
Kurds were arbitrarily stripped of citizenship in a
special census that was conducted in 1962. Such
Kurds not only became the subject of systematic
discrimination but were denied even the basic of
human rights and left to languish in an invisible
existence in poverty.
The Syrian Kurds have had a worse bargain than the
current Arab protestors who complain of a lack of
freedom, corruption, state dominance and
unemployment. Although, on the surface these
concessions by al-Assad may seem historic,www.ekurd.netthe
Kurds must not be fooled by such empty gestures of
Citizenship is a basic right of every human being as
is access to education, healthcare and employment.
However, for nearly half a century the stateless
Kurds did not even have this. Any viewing of the
granting of citizenship as a major concession is
blind sighted. The Kurds that did have citizenship
did not fair a great deal better under programs of
cultural denial, repression and assimilation.
In the dawn of the new era, there is a growing
Kurdish renaissance across the Middle Eastern
plains. However, the Syrian Kurds have painfully
While Kurdistan may have been cruelly and selfishly
carved amongst imperial power and regional
dictators, the Kurds in this day and age must not
allow the borders amongst their ethnic brethren to
Kurdish disunity has long been a nationalist
handicap, and even in the respective countries where
Kurds reside there are often divisions and lack of a
common consensus to drive Kurdish aspirations
With the Kurdistan Region growing in stature,
prosperity and strategic standing, it serves as the
ideal platform to boost Kurdish nationalist
aspirations elsewhere via political and diplomatic
In the not so distant future, greater Kurdistan
could well become multi-federal regions. This may be
short of outright independence, but nevertheless
unique and de facto reunion of all parts of
Kurdistan as the borders they are divided by slowly
The Kurds in Syria hold a strong set of cards and
must not cave in to token gestures by the Syrian
regime. After all, it is this same regime that
deprived basic citizenship, denied Kurdish culture
and forcibly relocated thousands of Kurds as part of
their own systematic brand of Arabisation.
Real and meaningful reform is needed across Syrian
but particularly in Syrian Kurdistan. The proposed
lifting of the emergency law after almost 50 years
is not an enhancement of freedom or reform, but much
like the Kurdish citizenship decree only gives the
very basic rights back to the people.
Out of the all countries currently reeling from
instability in the public domain, the fall of the
Syrian regime would be the greatest scalp of the
revolutionary wave. Syria is in many ways at the
fulcrum of all Middle Eastern affairs. It continues
to have a hand in Lebanon and the prominence of
Hezbollah, it still very much epitomises
anti-Israeli sentiment in the region, has an
influential hand with Hamas, it has close ties to
Tehran and has been accused numerous times of
fuelling insurgency in Iraq.
If the regime of al-Assad is toppled it will have
far greater consequences than currently seen
Even the Turkish government, who has slowly becoming
instrumental in the region in reminiscence of their
Ottoman days, has a weary eye on developments.
Turkish officials have whispered more than gentle
words of advise in the ears of the al-Assad
government and this may well have resulted in the
increasing reforms on offer.
Foreign response to the protests and killings thus
far has been muted and weak. As the UK, French, US
and allied aircraft continue to pound Colonel
Gaddafi forces in Libya, the pressing question is
what becomes the criteria for foreign intervention?
If violent crackdowns on protestors grow even
stronger than today in Syria, would this be any
different than Libya? No doubt that al-Assad judging
by his failed quest to appease public sentiment does
not want to find out.
He is undoubtedly under pressure in the background
from the West, Turkey and major Arab powers to abide
by the demands of the protestors and dampen the
voices of dissent.
Al-Assad has appointed Adel Safar, a reformist and
former minister of agriculture, to form a new
government and it waits to be seen how the Syrian
However, as the Kurds have seen, with the right
pressure, lose of fear and mass media coverage, what
people try to achieve in decades can be achieved in
With the Kurds holding such significant advantage,
the time is ripe not to settle for second best but
ensure real reforms are attained. The danger is that
once the situation cools down, the Kurdish
aspirations may well become hit once more.
As for the Kurds in Iraq, Kurdistan is already
divided. For the sake of propelling and safeguarding
Kurdish interests, real reforms must be implemented
and opposition and ruling parties must ensure that
Kurdish aspirations are not hit by further internal
divisions, at a critical and historical juncture for
the Kurdish people across the Middle East.
First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Primary Sources of Republication: eKurd.net,
Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance
writer and analyst,
contributing writer for ekurd.net 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:
, Bashdar's website
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