April 3, 2012

The future of Syria can be bright only with the Kurds in it - By Shahin Sorekli

Syria should have learned lessons from the history of Turkey and Iraq dealing with the Kurdish issue.  Their refusal to accept the Kurdish rights in time has lead to disastrous consequences that have cost more than one hundred thousand lives and lead to an immense economical loss, let alone the escalation of hatred and violence.

The Syrian Republic that gained independence in 1946 did not offer the Kurds any rights as a non-Arab ethnic group but no major atrocities were committed against the Kurdish population, however, this changed with the unification of Syria and Egypt in 1958 under the name of the United Arab Republic.  After the separation from Egypt, changing the name of the country to the Syrian Arab Republic and the influence of the nationalistic Baath Party, the discrimination against the Syrian Kurds intensified.  The chauvinistic attitude increased to the degree that the citizenship of thousands of Kurds in the Jazeera district, one of the three Kurdish regions, that is located in the corner where the Syrian, Turkish and Iraqi borders meet were withdrawn and entire Kurdish villages and the land surrounding them were handed over to members of Arab tribes brought in from other areas.

In today’s world we see Arab and Turkish migrants having schools, mosques and equality rights in Europe, the USA and Australia but at the same time we see many refusing equal rights to millions of the Kurds who have been living on their land for thousands of years.   It is so unfortunate that many in the Middle East and the Arab world refuse or fail to see justice and fairness when it comes to the rights of other groups.  It would be difficult for a civilised person living in a democratic society to imagine that THERE IS NOT A SINGLE SCHOOL IN SYRIA WHERE KURDISH IS TAUGHT AS A LANGUAGE!  Teaching Kurdish remains illegal.  A group of 3.5 - 4 million people do not have a single legal newspaper, radio or TV station in their language.  And the activists who struggle for these rights are often arrested and put on trial by the country’s High Security Court.  I have a souvenir myself from an announcement in the state’s official newspaper dating back to 1969 requesting my presence at the High Security Court in Damascus for  “the crime of belonging to a secret organisation that aims to spread racial agitations.”  And that “crime” is supposed to have been committed by a 16-18 year old, because in 1969 I had already been out of Syria for four years.  It is obvious that the policies of the Syrian regimes since 1958 have failed to melt down the Kurdish desire for equality and national/Cultural rights.  Although accused of “separatism” they have never asked for separation from Syria.  The Kurds in Syria have always struggled for their rights within a united Syria, yet the government used such terms to justify its brutality and injustice.

It is sad to now see the Syrian opposition, in particular the Syrian National Council, refusing to openly and fairly commit itself to the rights of the Kurds, taking into consideration that the Kurdish National Council of the Syrian Kurds has from the first day supported SNC and while the demonstrations demanding democracy for all of Syria continue in the Kurdish regions.

There are three large Kurdish regions in Syria with additional hundreds of thousands of Kurds dwelling in the Syrian towns and cities.  They speak a language that is totally different to Arabic.  They have a distinct culture and they feel discriminated against and denied rights that are enjoyed by the Arab citizens.  They pay taxes, they are hard working people and their youth serve in the Syrian army.  They are asking for their identity, language and culture to be accepted and documented in the constitution.  They are asking for democratic elections and local administration, as is the case in many democratic societies.  They are asking for the land forcibly taken from Kurdish communities to be returned to their rightful owners.  And they are asking for respect and inclusion.

It is unfortunate that the international community, including the European Union, the USA and other democracies such as Australia, become aware of the oppressed and their cause and show some reaction only when they see images of war and violence on their TV screens.

The Kurds of Syria are in need of recognition and assistance now and before violence escalates.  It has to be understood that neither democracy, nor tranquillity can last in Syria without the Kurdish partnership.  No peace or calm is possible in a land when 15 – 20% of the population are unhappy with the system.  Let us hope the Syrian opposition will not make the same mistakes committed by those who let the state of affairs in Syria reach this point.  We are living in an era where civilised communities can solve their differences by negotiation based on democratic and humane principles.  The Syrian opposition should realise this before it becomes too late.


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