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Published on January 20th, 2013 | by Usman Butt
Image © [caption id="attachment_11638" align="alignnone" width="566"] ©(Bilal Hussein/AP/Press Association Images)[/caption]   In my last article, I discussed the situation of Kurds in Turkey, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq receive a lot of attention in the Western media and academia. However, this attention has come at the expense of Kurds in Syria and Iran or the ‘forgotten Kurds’. The UN estimates that 60,000 people have been killed in the two-year Syrian uprising, in-which Kurdish youth movements play an active role. Yet, the Kurds are divided, over whether or not to support the Syrian revolution, Assad Regime or to remain neutral. The divisions have caused serious conflict amongst the various Kurdish factions, which is spilling over into the Syrian civil war.   The Kurds make up 9% (1.7 million) of the Syrian population, making them the largest non-Arab minority. President Assad’s Ba’ath Party, follows a pan-Arab nationalist ideology, which has discriminated against the Kurds as the country’s largest non-Arab minority. 300,000 Syrian Kurds today, are officially stateless as 40-years ago the regime stripped them of their citizenship. In addition to this, restrictions were put in place on the usage of the Kurdish language and celebrations of Kurdish festivals such as Nowruz. These restrictions have caused friction between the Kurds and the regime, friction which boiled over and led to protest in 2004. What began as a football match between an Arab team and a Kurdish team, turned into a riot which in-turn became a national Kurdish uprising. The regime used extreme force to crush the uprising and the memories of the repression colours Kurdish thinking today. When the 2011 uprising began, the Kurds were reluctant to join the uprising, traditional Kurdish parties do not endorse the uprising or the regime. This reluctance was in part due to the bitter memories of their uprising in 2004, as well as, suspicion of the forces behind the revolution. However, as the killing of protestor’s intensified, Kurdish youth disenchanted with both the regime and the traditional parties, began to form youth organisations and revolutionary committees. However, the regime decided to ally itself with the Turkish PKK, in order to help suppress the Kurds from rising up. The Syrian government gave the PKK new training facilities, money and weapons, in-exchange for this the PKK spied on Kurdish activists, violently attacked protestors and set-up checkpoints in Kurdish towns and villages. The internal divisions are exacerbated by the contradictory attitude towards the Kurds, from official opposition bodies such as the Syrian National Council (SNC). The SNC refuses to discuss the future character of the post-Assad Syrian state, whilst at the same time makes overtures on Kurdish rights. Despite the overtures, which are designed to re-assure Kurds about their place in Syria future, the central demand of the Kurdish groups that a future Syrian state should be for all Syrians regardless of their ethnicity has caused issue. During SNC meeting, when Kurdish groups bring the issue of the identity of the state up, the response they get is that Syria is an Arab country and should remain Arab. Thus Kurds are denied an ‘official’ place in the identity of the state, which automatically makes them second class citizens. The second factor that makes Kurdish groups uncertain about the SNC is the apparent Islamist domination of the council. Kurdish groups largely seek a secular Syria and religious and sectarian politics, makes them suspicious about SNC future intensions. Syria’s opposition is extremely fractioned and divided and Syrians inside Syria have largely grown disillusioned with the SNC. This disillusionment has meant that the SNC are in-effective on the ground in Syria, a point which leaves the Kurdish opposition with many doubts about the future of the revolution. Kurdish oppositional groups also faces challenges in relation to the on-going violence which has left many fellow Kurds displaced. Whilst Kurdish opposition becomes more outspoken abroad, at home they have in some places become marginalized. Kurdish groups are often accused of being separatists, a charge which Kurdish groups are sensitive to and often try to distant themselves from. However, some newly-founded Kurdish groups have formed a Kurdish army, with the aim of protecting Syrian Kurdistan from the Government and oppositional forces. There have been consistent rumours, that other religious groups in Syria may seek territorial independence, such as the Alwaites. These rumours are causes for alarm for Kurdish oppositional groups, as their goal for a peaceful, democratic, pluralistic and united country comes under question. Last year, these challenges led to fractures within the opposition, as some chose to break away from the official opposition and to protest against both the opposition and the government. Given the size of the Kurdish population, their participation in either the opposition or the government could prove decisive for the future of the uprising. However, suspicion of both the government and the opposition mean that the Kurds could opt for a third option- separation. Any separation will be long and bloody, it will lead to ethnic and religious cleansing by different sides an attempt to grab more territory. The Kurds are at a crossroads, on the one hand they can see a summer coming with the fall of Assad, but with the future so uncertain it is hard to foresee the dawn.

1

A Summer Without Dawn: The Syrian Kurds and the revolution

©(Bilal Hussein/AP/Press Association Images)

 

In my last article, I discussed the situation of Kurds in Turkey, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq receive a lot of attention in the Western media and academia. However, this attention has come at the expense of Kurds in Syria and Iran or the ‘forgotten Kurds’. The UN estimates that 60,000 people have been killed in the two-year Syrian uprising, in-which Kurdish youth movements play an active role. Yet, the Kurds are divided, over whether or not to support the Syrian revolution, Assad Regime or to remain neutral. The divisions have caused serious conflict amongst the various Kurdish factions, which is spilling over into the Syrian civil war.  

The Kurds make up 9% (1.7 million) of the Syrian population, making them the largest non-Arab minority. President Assad’s Ba’ath Party, follows a pan-Arab nationalist ideology, which has discriminated against the Kurds as the country’s largest non-Arab minority. 300,000 Syrian Kurds today, are officially stateless as 40-years ago the regime stripped them of their citizenship. In addition to this, restrictions were put in place on the usage of the Kurdish language and celebrations of Kurdish festivals such as Nowruz. These restrictions have caused friction between the Kurds and the regime, friction which boiled over and led to protest in 2004. What began as a football match between an Arab team and a Kurdish team, turned into a riot which in-turn became a national Kurdish uprising. The regime used extreme force to crush the uprising and the memories of the repression colours Kurdish thinking today.

When the 2011 uprising began, the Kurds were reluctant to join the uprising, traditional Kurdish parties do not endorse the uprising or the regime. This reluctance was in part due to the bitter memories of their uprising in 2004, as well as, suspicion of the forces behind the revolution. However, as the killing of protestor’s intensified, Kurdish youth disenchanted with both the regime and the traditional parties, began to form youth organisations and revolutionary committees. However, the regime decided to ally itself with the Turkish PKK, in order to help suppress the Kurds from rising up. The Syrian government gave the PKK new training facilities, money and weapons, in-exchange for this the PKK spied on Kurdish activists, violently attacked protestors and set-up checkpoints in Kurdish towns and villages.

The internal divisions are exacerbated by the contradictory attitude towards the Kurds, from official opposition bodies such as the Syrian National Council (SNC). The SNC refuses to discuss the future character of the post-Assad Syrian state, whilst at the same time makes overtures on Kurdish rights. Despite the overtures, which are designed to re-assure Kurds about their place in Syria future, the central demand of the Kurdish groups that a future Syrian state should be for all Syrians regardless of their ethnicity has caused issue. During SNC meeting, when Kurdish groups bring the issue of the identity of the state up, the response they get is that Syria is an Arab country and should remain Arab. Thus Kurds are denied an ‘official’ place in the identity of the state, which automatically makes them second class citizens. The second factor that makes Kurdish groups uncertain about the SNC is the apparent Islamist domination of the council. Kurdish groups largely seek a secular Syria and religious and sectarian politics, makes them suspicious about SNC future intensions. Syria’s opposition is extremely fractioned and divided and Syrians inside Syria have largely grown disillusioned with the SNC. This disillusionment has meant that the SNC are in-effective on the ground in Syria, a point which leaves the Kurdish opposition with many doubts about the future of the revolution.

Kurdish oppositional groups also faces challenges in relation to the on-going violence which has left many fellow Kurds displaced. Whilst Kurdish opposition becomes more outspoken abroad, at home they have in some places become marginalized. Kurdish groups are often accused of being separatists, a charge which Kurdish groups are sensitive to and often try to distant themselves from. However, some newly-founded Kurdish groups have formed a Kurdish army, with the aim of protecting Syrian Kurdistan from the Government and oppositional forces. There have been consistent rumours, that other religious groups in Syria may seek territorial independence, such as the Alwaites. These rumours are causes for alarm for Kurdish oppositional groups, as their goal for a peaceful, democratic, pluralistic and united country comes under question. Last year, these challenges led to fractures within the opposition, as some chose to break away from the official opposition and to protest against both the opposition and the government.

Given the size of the Kurdish population, their participation in either the opposition or the government could prove decisive for the future of the uprising. However, suspicion of both the government and the opposition mean that the Kurds could opt for a third option- separation. Any separation will be long and bloody, it will lead to ethnic and religious cleansing by different sides an attempt to grab more territory. The Kurds are at a crossroads, on the one hand they can see a summer coming with the fall of Assad, but with the future so uncertain it is hard to foresee the dawn.

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About the Author

Usman Butt

Usman graduated in 2012 with an MA in Palestine Studies from the University Of Exeter. Before that he read Arabic Language and International Relations at the University of Westminster. Amongst his proudest achievements include winning a muffin for public speaking, winning a Lego set at age 5 and helping Palestinian refugees learn English. Usually writes about genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, Israel/Palestinian politics, Iranian/Syrian/Lebanese politics, the Arab Spring, philosophy, religion, British politics, Foreign Policy, history and social issues. He enjoys writing as he sees it as an outlet to express his opinions about the public discourse on these issues. He believes writing is a good way of keeping productive and teaching yourself new things.



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