By Massoud Akko
March 30, 2011 Many observers and analysts have been questioning the silence of Syria’s Kurdish community towards the recent upheaval in the country. After some children were arrested in Der’aa in the South of Syria, tens of demonstrators demanding their release were killed, and the protests have spread to other Syrian towns and cities including Latakia, Hama, Homs and Aleppo.
I have to note that the Kurdish opposition has always been clear in its struggle for the national rights of the Kurdish people in Syria, as defined by the UN and human rights declarations, since the establishment of the first Kurdish political party on 14 June, 1957, up to now. None of the Kurdish political parties have ever made any compromises regarding those demands, even if some declare that they only want simple cultural rights.
The Kurdish people have struggled for their legitimate rights, while holding on to their Syrian nationalism and always refuting accusations that they want independence from Syria. On the contrary, the Kurdish movement has joined with Syrian groups to oppose the regime, with the Damascus Declaration the best evidence of this.
So why haven’t the Kurds participated in any demonstrations until now?
The truth is that the Kurds are waiting for a clearer idea of what is really happening in Syria, after which they will take a stand and decide on whether to participate or not.
It might be enlightening here to remember the events of March 2004, when demonstrations broke out in Qamishli in the north-east of Syria and Syrian intelligence killed more than 30 young Kurds. All of it happened after a game of football between Kurdish and Arab teams. When the Arab audience started to throw stones at the Kurdish audience, the Syrian police just stood there watching. The Kurds hit back in self-defence, and that was when the police opened fire, killing tens of people and wounding hundreds. Around 2,000 Kurds were later arrested, especially after the demonstrations moved to bigger cities like Damascus and Aleppo.
At that time, not a single Arab Syrian group condemned what had happened to the Kurds. On the contrary, some tribal Arab militias, who were armed by the Baath party, attacked the demonstrators and threatened to kill them. Some of those militias even looted Kurdish shops in Qamishli and Hasaka.
Similar incidents took place in June 2005. Tens of thousands of Kurds in Qamishli walked in a demonstration to object to the assassination of Kurdish sheikh Mohammad Maashouk Khaznawi, who was kidnapped and later found dead in a cemetery in Deir al Zour. Armed Arab Baathist militias attacked the Kurdish demonstrators, beat them up, and robbed their shops without any interference from the Syrian authorities. Thus, the Kurds feel that the stand of the Arab opposition on the Kurdish cause is still unclear.
Sceptiscm towards the “Kurdish Cause”
Even the term “the Kurdish cause” does not appeal to many in the Syrian opposition. They sometimes seem to share to some extent the Baath party’s perception of the Kurds, considering them no more than a minority that should have the right to speak and learn their mother tongue. Most would probably also acknowledge that the stateless Kurds should be allowed to regain Syrian nationality (after 300,000 Kurds were denounced of the Syrian nationality in an exceptional census that was made only in Hasaka in 1962).
But that was the solution to the Kurdish cause as far as the Damascus Declaration was concerned. Although this was not satisfactory for the Kurdish opposition in general, many Kurdish parties signed the manifesto in pursuit of a unified Syrian opposition inside and outside the country.
The Kurds are cautious. They want to know: are these demonstrations demanding the fall of the regime, like in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya? Or is it just public fury because of the Der’aa victims? If the latter is the case, then the Kurds will suffice with manifestos and maybe small peaceful sit-ins.
But if those were a serious revolution against the regime, then the Kurds will definitely participate, according to many Kurdish leaders, and they’ll demonstrate in all their cities. The Kurds refute charges that there is a secret agreement between them and the regime after they were allowed to celebrate Nourouz (The Kurdish New year) this year, as well as being able to commemorate the March 2004 uprising, quietly and with no problems with the authorities.
No secret deal over Nouruz celebrations
The Kurds do not see any governmental affirmation in the fact that Bouthayna Shaaban, the media and political advisor to the president, sent Nourouz greetings to the Kurds. On the contrary, the Kurds realised that the regime does not intend to give them any real political or cultural rights.
There is a confidence gap between the Arab and Kurdish oppositions. The Kurds feel defenceless, especially worried that if they participate in demonstrations they may face the usual accusations of wanting separation and independence from Syria and that they are trying to take advantage of the winds of change blowing in the Arab world. And despite all the tangible evidence and the geopolitical conditions that would doom such a venture to failure, the regime – and unfortunately some of the Arab opposition – still see Kurdish activism for their national rights as an attempt to achieve an independent Kurdistan in the north and north-east of Syria.
But the truth is that the Kurds do not aim to separate themselves from Syria as a whole – even though they consider greater Kurdistan to be a legitimate dream. The Kurds are quite ready to join the revolution for change in Syria, but up to now they have been cautious. They do not want to serve just a lever for the Arab opposition which has not yet adopted all the national demands of the Kurds in Syria. Moreover, the demonstrations that depart from mosques may not please the Kurdish or the Arab opposition that considers itself secular and civic.
As a result, the Kurds will not remain silent towards what’s happening in the country. They are just being a little more patient and observant.