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 Kurds must feel included in the Syrian opposition

 Opinion — Analysis  
  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author

 


Kurds must feel included in the Syrian opposition  26.7.2012 
By Fazel Hawramy
The Guardian 








The first new Kurdish police car in Kobane, the first Kurdish city freed from Assad forces in Syrian Kurdistan (Western Kurdistan). Photo: Benjamin Hiller/Corbis See Related Links
July 26, 2012

Almost unnoticed last week, as attention focused on battles in Damascus, Kurdish activists in north-eastern Syria started taking over control of a few towns without encountering much resistance from the Assad regime's security forces.

It was a significant development, as Syria's Kurds number about 2 million people and could potentially tilt the balance of power towards the opposition.

President Masoud Barzani of the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) in northern Iraq, who is a fierce opponent of the Assad regime, is credited with bringing together the main Kurdish opposition groups from Syria to form a united front.

A few days before last week's attack that killed four of Assad's top aides in Damascus, the main Syrian Kurdish groups – the Kurdish National Councils (KNC) and the Democratic Union party (PYD) – signed an important agreement in Erbil to set up a Supreme Kurdish Council to co-ordinate their efforts.

They agreed to form a popular defence force consisting mainly of Kurdish Syrian soldiers who have defected to Iraqi Kurdistan since the uprising began in March last year. These soldiers are being retrained in military camps funded by the oil-rich KRG and are preparing to enter the Kurdish areas in Syria to defend towns such as Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) that are in the hands of the Kurdish activists.

President Barzani is also developing close political and commercial ties with Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has considerable influence over the Syrian National Council (SNC). It seems almost inevitable that in the near future the SNC and the Kurdish opposition groups will co-ordinate their efforts to accelerate the downfall of the Assad regime.

Against this backdrop, the Syrian National Council, the main umbrella organisation for Syrian opposition groups, has tried to alleviate the concerns of the Kurdish people during the last 16 months of the struggle against Assad. Last month the council took the unprecedented step of appointing an independent Kurdish activist, Abdulbaset Sieda as its leader.

In April, the SNC issued a National Charter to "redress the injustice … the Kurdish people have faced for decades …" and work towards "the abolition of all discriminatory policies … and compensate those affected."

While this is an important starting point, the Kurds – who have faced years of discrimination at the hands of successive "Arab" regimes in Syria – find it difficult to trust a guarantee by the SNC, which is dominated by Arab nationalists and members of Muslim Brotherhood movement. The Kurdish parties believe the charter falls short of full constitutional recognition.

The insistence of SNC members to retain the word "Arab" in the official name of the country – the "Syrian Arab Republic" – has been one of the main stumbling blocks for the Kurds to trust the SNC as their legitimate voice in a post-Assad Syria.

For the Kurds, there have been some key events that have fuelled their suspicion of successive governments in Syria. In November 1960, between 200-300 Syrian Kurdish schoolchildren were burnt alive at a screening of an Egyptian film. No proper investigation into the fire was conducted to find out what happened. Since then many Kurds have come to believe that the nationalist Arab government was responsible for the atrocity,
www.ekurd.net since Kurds were seen as a threat to the unity of the Arab nations.

Two years later in 1962, the Syrian regime carried out a census in the Kurdish areas that resulted in the government stripping more than 120,000 Kurds of their citizenship.

A decade later, in 1973, Hafez Assad, the father of current leader Bashar, started creating an Arab cordon around the Kurdish areas by bringing in Arab Bedouin tribes in order to create ethnic tension and keep the Kurdish people in check.

What Hafez Assad sowed in 1973, his son reaped in March 2004. After a clash broke out between Arab and Kurdish football fans in the main Kurdish city of Qamishlo, Bashar's security forces intervened, killing 32 Kurds and arresting 2,000.

Despite this acrimonious and tragic history, the Kurds have been staging massive protests in solidarity with people throughout Syria since the beginning of the uprising to topple Assad's regime. Bashar al-Assad initially tried to appease the Kurds by pledging to offer citizenship to 300,000 Kurds. He has also tried to restrain his security forces in the Kurdish areas for fear of collective action by Kurds, who account for 10% of the population.

Although the SNC has been mired in political bickering and slow to listen to the legitimate demands of the Kurdish people, it has taken important steps in the right direction in recent months. However, this is not enough. The SNC must become more inclusive, as the Kurdish people in Syria will be essential to a successful transition of power.

Copyright ©, respective author or news agency, guardian.co.uk  

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  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author

 
 

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