Kurdish Autonomy in Syria Calls Split
By an IWPR-trained reporter
Opposition wants to retain unitary Syrian state,
rejects self-rule for Kurds.
February 26, 2010
A rift has emerged between Kurdish opposition groups
and other Syrian dissidents over calls for Syrian
Kurds to be granted autonomy.
Against the backdrop of Kurdish minorities in
neighbouring Turkey and Iraq gaining more rights,
the Syrian Yakiti party, one of the main Kurdish
opposition groups, declared that the solution to the
Kurdish issue would be to give Kurds the right to
The statement, which came during the party’s
convention last December, sparked a wave of
criticism from other elements of the Syrian
large-scale Kurdish demonstrations in March 2004. In
Qamishli city, Syrian Kurdistan
dissidents, who in 2005 formed a united opposition
front against the Syrian regime known as the
Damascus Declaration for National Democratic Change,
rejected these demands as “untimely” and
The Damascus Declaration is an umbrella gathering of
secular, Kurdish, and Islamist dissidents and other
Kurds constitute around ten per cent of the 22
million Syrian population and live mostly in the
agricultural areas of the north and northeast.
International and local organisations say they
suffer political and cultural discrimination.
The Kurdish language is not recognised and is banned
from being taught in schools. Many Kurds are denied
Syrian nationality even if they were born and live
in the country.
New-York based Human Rights Watch said in a report
in November, “Syria has been especially hostile to
any Kurdish political or cultural expression.”
The report said that repression greatly intensified
following large-scale Kurdish demonstrations in
Fouad Aliko, the Yakiti party’s secretary general,
said Syrian Kurds had a legitimate right to govern
their own affairs and be granted autonomy as long as
this does not harm Syria’s security and geographical
Aliko added that the opening of the Turkish
government towards the Kurds and the autonomy of
Kurds in Iraq had encouraged Syrian Kurds to hope
for a regional solution to the issue.
But neither Aliko nor the Yakiti party have
elaborated on the nature of their demands for
Following their conference, the Syrian authorities
rounded up four leading members of the Kurdish
group, Hassan Saleh, Mohamad Mustafa, Maarouf Mala
Ahmad and Anwar Naso. They remain behind bars.
The human rights watchdog Amnesty International
called for their unconditional release in a January
“Four Kurdish political activists were detained on
December 26 in Syria, and have been held
incommunicado since then. They are at risk of
torture and other ill-treatment,” Amnesty said.
Although Kurdish groups in Syria had been calling
for recognition as the country’s second largest
ethnic group after the Arabs since 1957, it is only
lately that Kurdish dissidents have clearly
expressed their desire for autonomy.
“The universal declaration of human rights gives
Kurds the right to self-determination, like any
other ethnic group in the world,” said a Kurdish
advocate who wished to remain anonymous.
Their demands have clearly irritated other members
of the opposition. Hassan Abdel-Azim, leader of the
Democratic Arab Socialist Union, said, according to
the opposition “rejected categorically the use of
terms like Syrian Kurdistan, self-rule or any
He said that Syrian opposition groups in general
seek solutions to the Kurdish issue “within the
limits of the unity of Syrian land and people”,
adding that they supported granting Kurds equal
citizenship and cultural rights.
Many in the opposition believe that the moment is
not ripe in Syria for talk of self-rule.
Separatist demands are divisive and weaken the
opposition, said Faek al-Mir, a member of the Syrian
Democratic Party, an opposition group.
“Syrians today need to be in a state of total unity
and solidarity in their struggle to build a free
society and democratic state,” he said.
The Syrian opposition has been violently crushed by
the authorities for decades and hundreds of
prisoners of conscience remain in jail for their
peaceful opposition to the regime.
Twelve prominent figures from the Damascus
Declaration are in prison today, serving sentences
of two and a half years.
Another dissident said that there was no point in
raising the issue of autonomy while the whole
country remained under the tyranny of emergency
laws, effective since the Baath party took power in
In 2005, when the Damascus Declaration voiced its
vision for democratic change in Syria, the solutions
presented to the Kurdish issue remained vague and
contentious, according to observers.
“The rejection by Arab groups of the notion of
autonomy results from a misunderstanding of that
principle, which had been confused with separatism,”
He added that Kurdish dissidents were disappointed
with the rest of the opposition, which viewed their
demands the same way the government did.
A lawyer and civil rights activist based in Damascus
who asked to remain anonymous agrees that Kurds
should be allowed to decide their own future.
“Unity cannot be forcefully imposed on people who
see themselves as independent. This only complicates
the situation,” he said.
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