Syrian Kurds 'waiting to take to the
streets,' academic says
By David Wilkinson, CNN
Kurdistan,— The Kurdish people of Syria have not
joined the current wave of unrest with any
significant demonstrations against President Bashar
al-Assad and his ruling Baath party. But that could
The Kurds, representing around 10% of the country's
population, are "ready, watching and waiting to take
to the streets, as their cause is the strongest,"
according to Robert Lowe, manager of the Middle East
Centre at the London School of Economics and
Largely concentrated along the borders with Turkey
and Iraq in the northeast of the country, the Kurds
have long been described as a repressed minority in
Syria. Since the break-up of the Ottoman Empire
after World War I, they have fought for an
independent Kurdistan with fellow Kurds in Iran,
Iraq and Turkey. Their situation in Syria has been
particularly difficult in the past five decades.
Kurds in Syria 'waiting to take to the streets,'
"They didn't have
problems before this regime," said Obeida Nahas,
director of the Levant Institute, a London-based
Syrian think tank. "Now they are denied the right to
speak or even write in their own language and are
told to use Arab names."
The government has been regularly accused of
sanctioning a heavy-handed and in some cases violent
approach to controlling the annual Newroz, or
Kurdish new year celebrations, which have become
increasingly politicized since the Baath party took
office in 1963. That is, until this year.
On Sunday, Newroz festivities across Syria passed
without any major incidents and members of the
Kurdish community noted that police allowed them an
unusual level of freedom.
Nahas said this was a government attempt to "bribe"
the Kurdish people into not following the example of
the largely Sunni Muslim tribes demonstrating in the
south of the country. Presidential advisor Buthaina
Shaaban offered her greeting of "Newroz Mubarak" or
"happy new year," to the Kurdish people Thursday,
when she told a news conference about the "wonderful
coexistence" among Syrian people.
The political move won't work, though, according to
Ribal al-Assad, the first cousin of President al-Assad
now living in exile in London. "They can't suddenly
give the Kurds freedom to celebrate Newroz without
expecting them to ask for their other rights,www.ekurd.netlike
owning an ID card or using their own language," al-Assad
said. "The Syrian secret service and police are very
good at dividing people, but most Kurds want to be
part of Syria."
The Kurdish community is not expected to keep quiet.
"There has been a lack of trust from the Kurds since
2004," said Khalaf Dahowd, co-chair of the
International Support Kurds in Syria Association.
Violence involving Kurds, Arabs and police broke out
after a soccer match in Qamishli in March 2004.
Several people were killed and over a hundred were
Dahowd, a Syrian Kurdish refugee now living in
England, believes that the resentment felt by many
Kurds toward Arabs after that event has also divided
Kurdish people. He speculates that many will find it
very difficult to join their Arab neighbors in
protest against President al-Assad and his
As an activist for Kurdish rights and a united
Syria, Dahowd argues that Kurds should put aside any
bad feeling they have for other opposition factions.
"Everybody in Syria needs to rise up. This regime
needs to go," he said.
With several leading Kurds already imprisoned for
speaking out and the Kurdish political movement
divided between as many as 15 parties, the impetus
to demonstrate will need to come from ordinary
Kurds, many of them classed as "stateless" without
"These people are desperately poor and weak, but
ripe for protesting," Lowe said.
After a week of anti-regime protests in Syria, it
has become clear that the opposition there is
divided along lines of ethnicity, religion, tribes
and families. Presidential advisor Shaaban may have
stated the government's intention to avoid referring
to Syrians based on their 'religious, ethnic or
sectarian identity" but, according to Lowe, "there
is a weak sense of Syrian identity because the
country is such an artificial creation."
However, the big challenge for Kurds and other
minority groups according to, Ribal al-Assad, the
president's cousin, is to show the overwhelming
scale of feeling against the government. "Everybody
is in opposition in Syria," he said.
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