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 Who is the Syrian-Kurdish opposition? The development of Kurdish parties, 1956-2011

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Who is the Syrian-Kurdish opposition? The development of Kurdish parties, 1956-2011  1.1.2012  
By KurdWatch - Report 8

January 1, 2012

The purpose of this essay is to analyze the current landscape of Kurdish political parties in Syria, including their protagonists, their political goals, their concrete political actions, and their significance for society. Given the current situation, a political analysis of the Kurdish parties, which form a significant part of the Syrian opposition, is of considerable importance. Since the middle of March 2011, mass dissident demonstrations have challenged the Bath regime. However, the outcome of the Syrian revolution thus far remains unforeseeable.

If President Bashar al‑Assad and the Ba'th regime fall, the Kurdish parties will try to implement their political visions of a »new Syria.« What do these visions actually look like? Do they extend beyond Kurd-specific demands? Who is leading the Kurdish parties, and which supporters do they have at their disposal? What roll have the Kurdish parties thus far played in the revolution and within the Syrian opposition as a whole?

The first section is concerned with the beginnings of the Kurdish parties in Syria; in other words with the history of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria (Partiya Demokrat a Kurdî li Sûriyê), KDPS for short, from its formation in 1957 until its split into three wings in 1970. The difficulties and internal conflicts apparent in this early phase of the party are interesting insofar as they remain relevant to the present day.

The second section of the essay addresses the current landscape of the Kurdish parties: fourteen parties, of which eleven have arisen out of the KDPS. The programmatic direction as well as the social and political relevance of the parties will be discussed. Among other things, our analysis will make clear that the Syrian Kurdish movement distinguishes itself from the Kurdish movements in Turkey and Iraq in several significant ways. In contrast, the differences in content between the individual parties are generally marginal and only responsible for a fraction of the conflicts and divisions within the party spectrum.

From formation to division: The history of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria (KDPS) from 1957 to 1970

Until the second half of the 1950s, there was no Kurdish party in Syria with a Kurdish-nationalist agenda that focused specifically on Syria. The nationalist Khoybun Committee (1927‒1944), which was founded in Beirut and whose most important actors lived in Syria, focused primarily on the fight against Turkey. This was also the case for the organization that followed Khoybun, the Kurdish League (1945-1946), as well as for the brothers Jaladat and Kamiran Badrkhan, who were initially active in Khoybun and later acted independently. Thus, for example, after the Second World War, the Kurds gave up the opportunity to demand specific rights for Syria’s Kurds from the Allies 1.

The situation of Syria’s Kurds and their position with regards to the government in Damascus was only of central concern to the Christian‑Kurdish autonomy movement (1932-1939), which was led by Hajo Agha among others 2.

Although both during the French mandate and into the 1950s, individual Kurdish figures from the traditional tribal elite were elected to the Syrian parliament—among them were Jamil and Akram Ibrahim Pasha, Hasan and Akram Hajo, and Hasan’s son Sulayman Hajo — there were no attempts to build a Kurdish-nationalist party around them. Insofar as politicized Kurds were engaged in party politics, they were involved above all in the Syrian Communist Party.It was not until 1956 that ʿUthman Sabri, a former Khoybun activist and a member of the Society of Pacific
Syrians (Civata Aştîxwazên Sûrî), a Communist party group 3 the law student ʿAbdulhamid Hajji Darwish and Hamzah Niweran, who came from Raʾs al‑ʿAyn (Serê Kaniyê), began to think about forming a Kurdish party under the name »Partiya Kurdên Demoqratên Sûrî (P. K. D. S.)« (Syrian Democratic Kurd’s Party). With the support of Nuruddin Zaza and Jalal Talabani, who at this point was living as a student in Syria, they composed a party program »Rêzname« (»charter«).4

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