Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, March 14th, 2007
Abdullah Ghadawi, an Arab reporter in Damascus sent me the following interviews with Kurdish students at the University of Damascus on the topic of Kurdish rights, Kurdish nationalism, and their attitude toward US pressure on Syria and serving in the Syrian military. The students were preparing to go out onto the streets of Damascus to commemorate the 12 March 2004 "Intifadah," as they have named the Kurdish uprising of three years ago.
How the riots began has been the subject of some debate. The version I heard many times is that a football game was being played in Qamishli, a north-eastern provincial capital, which has a mixed Kurdish and Arab population. Kurdish fans began to chant, "Long live George Bush," Arab fans responded by chanting, "Long live Saddam Hussein." A melee broke out and quickly spread to other norther Syrian towns where the Kurdish population is concentrated.
The political context of the riots was linked to events in Iraq. The interim constitution, guaranteeing broad autonomy to the Kurdish north of the country, had just successfully passed the Iraqi parliament, helped by strong American pressure. Included was an article stipulating that no future amendment to the constitution could be made that was blocked by three or more provinces. Because the Kurdish provinces are at least three, this meant that the constitution could not be changed without Kurdish consent. Kurds everywhere were ecstatic. many Syrian Kurds believed it would be the beginning of a sea-change for them as well. They believed America was on their side and that their status in Syria would change as a result. Some saw it as an event that prefigured the establishment of a greater Kurdistan.
Gary Gambill wrote an article arguing that the riots were not spontaneous, but were planned as part of an effort to undermine the Assad regime amid rising tensions with the United States. "Although fueled by popular frustration in the Kurdish community," Gambill claims, "the riots were a politically timed initiative to pressure the Assad regime in the face of heightened Syrian-U.S. tensions and Iraqi Kurdish political gains." The report asserted that the Syrian Kurds were organized by Kurdish leaders in neighboring Iraq.
The Syrian government cracked down on the Kurds, arresting many and later releasing many. The suppression of the Kurdish population in the North-east continues, however. Human rights organizations such as Damascus based Shril continue to list the names of Kurdish intellectuals and activists who are arrested or go on trial each month. There was much hope that stateless Kurds in Syria, which number close to 300,000 would have their citizenship, which was taken from them in 1962 shortly before the Baath took power, restored in 2005. The Baath Party Congress of that summer announced that many would, but nothing has since materialized of this promises.
Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch wrote an op-ed, "The road to Damascus," published the eve of EU President Solana's visit to Damascus yesterday in which he writes, "Javier Solana's visit to president Assad signals a fresh start for the EU's relations with Syria. But human rights must not fall off the agenda." He brings up the issue of stateless Kurds.
Here are the interviews by Abdullah Ghadawi:
- The one thing that brings Kurds together in the Middle East is the Newroz Day. Kurds consider it the Day of Freedom. In this day, Kurds wish that Kurds, and the world at large, will positive in freedom and democracy when the next Newroz comes.
- Kurds gather together on their historical land in the Middle East, that is, The Great Kurdistan which extends from south-east of Turkey to the south of the Syrian and Iraq and north-west of Iran.
- We are proud – Syrian Kurds – of the Kurdish experience in North Iraq. What happened on March 12, 2004 was one of the products of that experience.
- We hope solve the Kurdish case with Damascus. We have always sought to engage in dialogue with the regime.
- We have no social problems with other Syrian ethnic groups. But we have political problem. We do not feel politically integrated.
- I love to be Kurdish.
- In the military service, I do not feel I serve a homeland country.
- When it comes to foreign support and interference, we do not mind diplomatic and political interference from Europe and USA, but not military.
- Kurds in Syria lack the ability of self-expression and their culture and. nothing could achieve this freedom but the existence of the Great Kurdistan.
- We suffer a clearly chauvinistic policy in Syria.
- There exist no problems between Arabs and Kurds in Al-Jazeera (the eastern part of Syria) and this is created by the government. They take lands from Kurds and give them to Arabs. For example, they took around 300 hectares from Hajjo family and granted it to Arabs. This case has reached the European Union but no reply as yet. This problem will have real bad consequences in the future had the government done nothing to sort it out.
- The Kurdish experience in Iraq has inspired the Syrian Kurds in a way that they have started to yearn for federalism like that of the Iraqi Kurds and it is a reasonable solution.
- We are not against the idea of Kurdish-government dialogue but we are hopeless that the government will do something.
- What does Islam mean to you?
Nationalism first and then religion. We can never give up our nationalistic pursuits.
- I love to be Syrian Kurd.
- Military service is obligatory and we have no other choice. We encourage any foreign assistance, no matter what it is.
- To engage in a dialogue with the regime is wasting time. They promise but they do not do. We will continue to demand our civil, cultural and political rights no matter what happens. We will never give up. As for violence, we do not want it and it is the last in our list.
- Integration with the Syrian society is a relative issue. Generally integration depends on the other side – to treat in kind.
- I wish to have a Kurdish identity and character but no problem in being like Iraqi Kurds – to be a Syrian Kurd.
- For the time being, we do not want foreign interference but in case the government doe not listen to us, then foreign interference and support becomes a must for the Kurds.
- Do you trust Arabs?
Arabs cancelled 'the other' and they are racists. In this case, we can not live together.
- All the Kurds in Syria share one real tragedy, which is the lack of freedom and democracy and the absence of the civil and cultural rights.
- Kurds in Syria do not believe in military struggle. It is unacceptable in the international society, which is why it is not accepted in the Kurdish mentality.
- Foreign interference will happen anyway, whether we like it or not. I believe that we need to make use of the foreign interference for our benefit. We have no problem with any side interfering in Syria affair as far as it is to our interest.
- We will defend Syria forever but we are not going to defend the regime.
- Economically, Kurds are suffering a lot and the problem is exacerbated by the regime trying to make Kurds poorer and poorer.
- The Kurdish experience in Iraq is, in effect, of no paramount influence as the Kurdish political movement in Syria has always been strong before the war and till now.
- Kurdish parties and Kurds in general are not against making a coalition with Muslim Brothers as a political party because the Brothers Party was the only Syrian party that supported and stood with the Kurdish uprising on March 2004.
Students demonstrating in Baramke in front of the Economics faculty. More about the commemoration can be read here. (Arabic)
- It is the Newroz Day that unites Kurds and brings them together. Each Newroz, Kurds wish that the Kurdish people will be free with all their cultural and human rights acknowledged. In this day, we wish that we will be recognized as a nationality and as humans.
- Kurds live in fear and anxiety all the time in Syria.
- Our everlasting message is to engage in a dialogue with the authorities and only the government has the key to solve the problems and it seems that the government does not want to do anything.
- When it comes to integrity, generally we do not feel it with the Arabs. 'The other' think that we want to take something from them, even when we demand our own human and cultural rights. They feel that we do not have the right to have these rights. Even at school or university, nothing is mentioned about Kurds – Saladin in one example.
- If the regime does not like foreign interference, let it solve the problems by itself.
- We feel that we do not exist in Syria and we do not belong. Many Kurds are still treated like foreigners in Syria with no acknowledged rights. They do not have identity cards and they can not enter school or universities as if they did not exist.
- It is difficult to integrate in the Syrian society. Many Syrians do not know who the Kurds are.
- Separation from Syria is the solution. The solution to our national and cultural and existence problems and it is a very good solution for Kurds but it is also a difficult choice.
- I wish to be Kurdish.
- In fact, we do not want foreign interference but reality entails that that, whatever the interference is.
- Our goal, in general terms, is to establish the Great State (Kurdistan). In fact, all Kurds in the Middle East agree on the same case.
- If Kurds obtain their civil and political rights it is then one step, but the ultimate goal is still the Great Kurdistan.
- We are not separatists from the countries that we live in. We only seek self-determination in Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. It is actually the step towards the Great Kurdistan.
- Iraqi Kurdish experience has a great influence on Kurds in Syria. But now, before independence, we want an acknowledgement of us as a nationality and after that will work to achieve of the Kurdish Dream.
- Dialogue with the regime is like talking to the deaf. Nobody hears and nobody understands the other. What the regime is concerned in is only its own self interest.
- I can not work for a party whose slogan is: One Arab Nation. We are serving a group of people not a homeland.
- Kurds, as a community, can and is willing to integrate with all communities and have no problems with any group, but the main problem is with the regime.
- What will make Kurds more secure is a constitution-based recognition of their due rights. This recognition help Kurds live side by side with Arabs and encourage them give up the idea of independence or federalism.
- We struggle for our full rights and equality with other Syrians.
- Foreign interference is useful for us as well as other Syrians.
- Kurds have existed in nations not by their own will but because certain foreign colonist powers wanted that. No Kurd can forget that he or she belongs to a greater state, which is Kurdistan. Kurdish mentality is programmed on this Great Kurdistan.
- The Kurdish problem in Syria is not solely with the regime. It has started to be social as well. The government is trying to deepen it.
- The demise of the Iraqi regime and the rise of constitutional Iraqi Kurdistan has given some vent to the Syrian Kurds. Kurds in Syria do not accept Damascus as their capital and so as the Kurds in Iraq, as far as I know. At the same time, it appears that Kurds is relying too much on a foreign interference to change unlike the Kurds in Iraq.
- As for the centre of Kurds, they consider Amid ( Diar Bakr) as their Mecca and their political and historical centre.
- We have no problem when it comes to engaging in a dialogue with the regime, as far as there is a genuine will to dialogue on the part of the regime. Today, it is the Syrian regime that needs us not the other way round. That is because it needs the Kurds to make a democratic change in the area.
- Kurdish social integrity is something positive and they are integrated but not with the political system, and this is something shared with the majority of Syrians.
- I only accept to be a Kurd.
- Foreign interference is something sensitive because if we deal with the USA, we will lose Arabs and we live with Arabs not with Americans. However, we are not against European and US support of our human rights, and it is the optimal solution for us.
As far as the military service is concerned, there is a common saying among Kurds that goes like this: Instead of serving a country that is not our own, serve your homeland country, Kurdistan. This hints at the Kurdish revolution in Turkey caried out by the Kurdish Workers Party, led by Abdullah Ojalan.
By: Abdullah Ghadawi