Kurds in Syria and the Old Concept of “Good Kurds” and “Bad Kurds”

republished here with the permission of the author

Kurds in Syria and the Old Concept of “Good Kurds” and “Bad Kurds”
Dr Janroj Keles

My Critique of the Henry Jackson Society’s Report on “Unity or PYD Power Play?: Syrian Kurdish Dynamics After the Erbil Agreement

Compared to the Kurds in Kurdistan regions of Turkey and Iraq, the Kurds in Syria have been invisible in political and public spheres in the Middle East for decades. They have been described as “forgotten people” or “the silenced Kurds” in a few academic works and articles. Indeed they are the largest ethnic group after the Arabs in Syria and are the potential catalyst for a possible pluralistic and democratic process in Syria.

They have suffered for decades under the policies of the Arab imagined political community and their ethnic identity and existence have been denied by “Syrian Arab Republic”. They have been subjected to ethnic discrimination, political prosecution, displaced as part of Syrian government’s Arabization policies. After stripping of Syrian citizenship from 20 percent of Syria’s Kurdish population in 1960 [sic], many Kurds were classified as the Ajanib (foreigners) and maktoumeen (meaning “hidden” or ” muted”) and become refugees in their own country for decades before and during the Bath regime. However since the Kurdish Serhildan (Uprising) in 2004 in Kurdish populated Qamishli and so called “Syrian Revolution” in 2011, the “forgotten people” have been receiving increasing attention from the international communities and also considerable attention from journalists, political analysts and the Middle East “experts” who have been publishing some interesting reports and articles on the Kurds in Syria. But some of these reports and articles are problematical because they look the Kurds in Syria from the perspectives of dominant nationalistic discourses in the region e.g. Turkish and Arab nationalism and/or from the perspective of the “common sense” of global powers. In this sense a recently published report[1] entitled “Unity or PYD Power Play?: Syrian Kurdish Dynamics After the Erbil Agreement” needs to be read critically because it is biased, one-sided and political and makes unsubstantial claims about the Kurds in Syria and about Kurdish political organisations in the region. Moreover it attempts to justify and legitimize the hostile intention of Turkish policies toward Kurds in Turkey and Syria in criminalizing and delegitimizing Kurdish political parties. The authors use an old concept of “good Kurds” and “bad Kurds” without any analytic skill and academic credibility and knowledge of multi-connected, multi-referential relationships among Kurdish organisations, parties and networks and between Kurdish and Syrian groups, parties and people.

First of all I would emphasize that I agree with some issues highlighted in conclusion in particular issues related to the KNC and PYD that they should find a rational ways to respect their political differences and share power for a pluralistic and democratic process in the Kurdish populated region. I also firmly agree with the authors that both KNC and PYD should be integrated into the political establishment in the region. However I think the report is also problematic in various respects. Firstly the report divides the Kurdish political groups sharply into “good Kurds” and “bad Kurds”. This old concept has been used by the regional countries and also by USA in accordance to their “national interests” and at the expense of subordinated Kurds. This report repeats the same, old and trivial concept. The “bad Kurds” who are “the militant”(p6),” terrorist” (p11), “radicals in the PKK linked Democratic Union Party (PYD)” (p5), “the Turkish PKK” (p17) and the “good Kurds” who are “moderate Kurds”. It is unclear what the characteristic of “moderate Kurds” (p6) are and how they are qualified as being “good Kurds” and who decides on which criteria that certain groups are “moderate” and others “radical” and therefore need to be isolated (p24). There is a discourse throughout this report based on creating a “folk devil”, a political group who is labeled as a threat. It does not matter for me whether this otherized group is PYD or any other political group. My concern is that a particular group which has considerable popular support in Kurdistan region in Syria is labeled and its legitimacy questioned because it has ideological and political links with the PKK.

Secondly I also criticize the report for ignoring multi-connected, multi-referential relationships among Kurdish organizations, parties and networks and between Kurdish and Syrian groups, parties and people as well as between Kurdish leaders, parties and Turkish government. These multi-connected, multi-referential relationships influence the political position of differently positioned groups, parties and even governments. Let me clarify this with an example. On his way back from a visit to Germany, the Turkish Prime minster Mr Erdogan responded to a question about the “threat” of PYD in Syria and to Turkey as follows: ‘…Barzani… even tried to explain that PYD is not like PKK’ (Barzani … hatta PYD’nin PKK olmadığını anlatmaya çalıştı bize (Hurriyet, 02 November 2012). This statement shows clearly that President of Kurdistan Regional Government, Mr. Barzani mediates between PYD and Turkey in an indirect way and attempts to include PYD into the political field in the region. So the division between “bad Kurds “ and “good Kurds” are not as clearly delineated, because of their multiple connection, attachment, loyalties etc. Therefore I find the language used in this report is based on the deictic juxtaposition and distance rhetoric which attempt to show the “good Kurds” as “moderate” and “bad Kurds” as “threat”. I think that there are no such sharp boundaries in the region. The political positions of parties and groups in the Kurdish populated region and in Syria are constantly changeable due to local, regional and international conditions, search of security within an instable region and hunger for power.

My third reservation about this report is that the accusation of PYD working with Assad regime has been mentioned in this and other reports without any reliable evidence. Instead there is a reliance on suspicions as in the following sentence: “Nevertheless, the fact that the regime ceded such large swaths of territory to the PYD without a struggle raises suspicions that this was a tactical move designed to strengthen the PYD in order to enervate Turkey, which views any build-up of a PKK apparatus in northern Syria as a direct national security threat” (p11). The only supporting statement for this claim highlighted in the report is that “analysts and scholars have speculated as to whether or not the Assad regime withdrew independently from Kurdish areas, or whether it did so in direct collaboration with the PYD” (p11), however there is not any reference to those “analysts and scholars”. Some Kurdish groups I talked to, see such claims made in Turkish and Arab sources as a “conspiracy theory” to delegitimize the political production and position of a certain powerful Kurdish political group within Syria and beyond, in particular on the international level. The report repeats the same “conspiracy theory” without providing any reliable evidence to its readers. The Christian and Druze communities in Syria have been blamed by the so called “Free Syrian Army” in a similar way for working with the regime. I have to emphasize that I do not have any evidence for or against the truth of this claim. I assume that only after the fall of the regime we will know this.

The authors provide space for such accusations made by Syrian-Arabs and highlight that there is a “frustration and anger at the Kurds for not sufficiently participating in our uprising” (p15). However there is no statement of some Kurdish groups who are for a “peaceful transition from dictatorial regime to a democratic and pluralistic system”. There are clearly two different positions. The first one (mainly Sunni-Arabs) believe that Assad regime can be changed by armed struggle, the other one (mainly held by minority groups including Kurds, Christians, Armenians, Assyrians and Druze) who distrust the Muslim brotherhood and nationalists and prefer to seek a peaceful rather than militant solution, they are scared both of the regime and also of the Islamist opposition.

The report goes further: “The KNC failed to reach an agreement with the SNC, as was demonstrated in the July Istanbul meeting, and the PYD refused to even attend”. However the Kurds I spoke to blame the SNC for blocking the Kurdish active participation in “revolution” because SNC insists to continue the policies of Baath regime in the way in which SNC has reject the Kurdish demands for constitutional recognition of Kurdish ethnic group and their political representation through autonomy or federalism, secularist, pluralistic and democratic Syria. The Kurds from Kurdistan region in Syria I have connection with, see SNC as “still an Arab nationalist organization with strong tendencies of Arab Islamists” which does not recognize the ethnic and religious plurality of the country’s population.

I am really disappointed to see that “intellectual and moral leadership” in the political reproduction of the hegemonic form of Turkish and/or Arab nationalism over subordinated Kurdish people are legitimized through Henry Jackson Society.

25.10.2012, London

Kurdish rights and constitutional exclusion in Syria

Kurdish rights and constitutional exclusion in Syria
by Christian Sinclair

In my first column, I’m going to recap a talk I gave last weekend in Istanbul at a conference called “On the Way to a New Constitution.”

What events of Syrian history have helped contribute to the brutal repression of that country’s Kurdish population? As the country’s largest ethnic minority, the Kurds in Syria make up approximately 10% of the country’s population and have long been denied the most basic expressions of identity in a ruthless push by the state to promote Arab nationalism and preserve its territorial integrity.  If we look at the evolution of Syria’s constitutions we may begin to understand the situation and how it has come to pass that Kurdish rights have been trampled on so thoroughly. Then, maybe, we can understand Kurdish calls for recognition under a new, post-Assad, post-Ba’ath constitution and ask what this long repressed group may need to feel like equal partners in a new Syria.

Since Syria’s separation from the Ottoman Empire, the country has experienced many constitutions, constitutional reforms, and constitutional setbacks. The nation’s 1920 constitution (its first) called the Syrian government an Arab government. This came on the heels of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the new nation became the “Arab Kingdom of Syria” under King Faisal, who announced that his would be an Arab government “based on justice and equality for all Arabs regardless of religion.” His government only lasted four months before the French took control.

In 1927 French Mandate Authorities set up a Constituent Assembly to begin drafting a new constitution. In the summer of 1928 a Kurdish delegation to the Constituent Assembly petitioned for political, cultural, and linguistic rights, including the use of Kurdish as a medium for teaching. However, worried about what was happening in neighboring countries and fearing nationalist aspirations, the French Mandate Authorities declined the Kurdish request.

Syria gained complete independence in 1946 and not too long after a major regional development would affect the long-term evolution of Syria’s many constitutions: the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. In Syria’s constitution of 1950 the addition of an article stating that Syria is “a part of the Arab nation” was added for the first time. The can be seen as a direct, defensive response to the formation of the state of Israel.

In an article from the Middle East Journal in 1951, Majid Khadduri discusses the question of Syrian unity as an additional factor that influenced Syria’s constitutional evolution. The French had parceled up “Greater Syria” doling out chunks of land to neighboring countries and establishing Lebanon as an independent entity. This created a Syrian version of Turkey’s “Sèvres Syndrome.”

Part of preamble to 1950 Constitution

Khadduri also said that “[s]tability in government presupposes the development of constitutional traditions. Frequent changes of regime…hardly afforded an opportunity of developing the tradition of responsibility necessary for stable government.” So if the tradition of responsibility wasn’t developing, what was? A fear of territorial disintegration, rising nationalism, worries about political stability, and regional geo-political shifts outside the government’s control. In 1953 another constitution was declared which added (in Article 3) that the Syrian Republic should pursue the goal of a “United Arab Nation.” But that constitution didn’t last long and the 1950 Constitution was reinstated in 1954.

From independence and through the early 1950s, a large-scale Kurdish political movement emerged, culminating in Syria’s first Kurdish political party in 1957. Some of the demands of the movement were: constitutional recognition, Kurdish participation in the administration of the state’s affairs, Kurdish as an official language, recognition of Newroz, and, some form of administrative autonomy. These demands, however, were only seen as risks. They were viewed through the developing lens of rising Arab nationalism and a fear of territorial disintegration. The Kurds were slowly inching up the list as the young nation’s most dangerous threat.

From 1958-1961 Syria was united with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic (UAR) and it was during this time that Arab nationalism flourished. The union provided the means and opportunity to implement assimilation policies to safeguard its existence. For example, Egyptian schoolteachers were sent to Kurdish regions in Syria to replace Kurds and to oversee the Arabic-only language policies. Syria withdrew from the UAR in 1961 and announced the formation of the Syrian “Arab” Republic. The union ended but the assimilation policies continued full force, including the now infamous census in 1962 that stripped 120,000 Kurds of their Syrian citizenship.

In April 2012 Rudaw interviewed the leader of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, who said: “The Kurdish history in the pre-Ba’ath era was different from that of the Ba’ath era. Kurds are not different from other citizens in Syria. This feeling emerged under the Ba’ath, because the Ba’ath Party really pursued a discriminatory, racist, and marginalizing policy against the Kurds.” He says that Kurds were part of the political and social landscape and there were no problems prior to 1963. Perhaps there were fewer problems, but he is whitewashing a discriminatory history. When the Ba`ath party came to power in 1963 it simply continued the existing policies of denying Kurdish identity.

In 1964 a temporary constitution stated in Article One that: “Syria is part of the Arab homeland. And the people of the Syrian Arab region are a part of the Arab nation. They work and struggle to achieve the Arab nation’s comprehensive unity.” Article 22 offered rights and freedoms only “under the condition of not endangering the national security” or “Arab unity.” This was a continuation of the constitutional exclusion and criminalization of non-Arab identities.

Another temporary constitution was announced in 1969, which included an article stating: “The educational system aims at upbringing an Arab nationalist socialist generation.” This reflected policies already in place. The Kurdish language had already been banned in public and in education. In 1967 school geography texts removed any mention of the Kurds. Yet other non-Arab minorities (Armenians and Assyrians in particular) had their own schools and clubs where their languages were taught. Why? They were not seen as a threat to the Arab nation.

Syria’s 1973 (and current) constitution is meaningless as the country’s penal codes supplant constitutional principles. These penal codes are used to prosecute Kurdish activists, politicians, and students, as Kurds are afforded no constitutional protections. They are charged with: “attempting to sever part of the Syrian territory to annex it to a foreign state” (Article 267); “involvement in cells seeking to weaken nationalist consciousness and to stir up racial sectarian strife” (Article 285); and, “involvement in an unauthorized organizations” (Article 288).

What do Kurds in Syria want today? Well, what have the Kurds been asking for since the French Mandate? Mother-tongue education in Kurdish, political freedoms, and de-criminalization of Kurdish identity through constitutional recognition. Demands have not changed much over time. What then needs to change for Kurds to achieve their long-sought-after goals? Syria needs to reconceptualize itself as a multi-ethnic, pluralistic democracy modeled on the idea of integration without assimilation and governance by the will of the people.

That notion of “the will of the people” as “the basis of the authority of the government” [Article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] somehow got lost along the way in Syria’s history to a point where it is now “the needs of the state” functioning as the sole basis of the authority of the government. Who will form “the people” upon which the authority of a future Syrian government will rest? Does the Syrian National Council truly represent the people? With accusations of foreign influence and declarations from the SNC leadership that Kurds will not be given group rights, the answer is no. The SNC or any representative body requires a willingness to integrate rather than exclude in whole or in part. At some point a new constitutional will be drafted. However, a new constitution will not resolve the current issues without a total overhaul of the country’s political structures and a reframing of the national mindset.

(follow Christian Sinclair on Twitter: @sinclair_c)

The role of technology and the Internet in facilitating Kurdish nationalism

The following post was submitted by a reader, ZH.

‘New media technologies’ have facilitated and advanced Kurdish unification and nationalism and will continue to do so by reducing barriers such as time and space. The Internet has connected the Kurdish diaspora to the land and people still occupying the Kurdish territories. This argument is built on the idea that people can share their common sense of identity and feelings of attachment without governmental censorship. The use of digital broadcasting satellite (DBS) and now the Internet provide nations with the tools to relay information, images, ideas, and a sense of identity across borders. This brief article discusses the role of Kurdish satellite television and the Internet in shaping the Kurdish diaspora and Kurdish nationalism. The objective is to determine the impact of satellite television and the Internet in shaping the past and the future of Kurdish nationalism and in particular the Kurdish diaspora in the West. Specifically, the article examines the degree to which technology and the Internet have facilitated modern Kurdish nationalism in the Middle East and across the diaspora.

The Kurdish diaspora is relatively new to the West as they are recruits of the 1960s’ labor force to Europe and products of the several wars that erupted in the last quarter of the twentieth century [1]. Figures for the Kurdish diaspora are difficult to ascertain, but the Institut kurde de Paris estimates that the Kurdish diaspora numbers over one million [2]. As a consequence of poor organization and lack of financial resources, the Kurdish diaspora was weak and ineffectual in its political activism in the West and the Middle East. This changed in 1995 with the launching of the first Kurdish satellite television station, MED-TV, broadcast out of London, UK. The channel was central in articulating Kurdish grievances against Turkey and Iraq and was protected from the censorship against the Kurdish language. The objective of the channel was to broadcast programming in Kurdish languages and to assert the Kurdish identity. For example, the channel’s logo, which was omnipresent during programming, was colored in red, yellow, and green; representing the colors of the Kurdish flag. Moreover, the channel’s daily opening began with the singing of the Kurdish national anthem [3].

MED-TV was closed a short four years after opening due to its alleged connections to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), the terrorist Kurdish group in Turkey. However, Medya TV in France immediately succeeded it. Then between 1999 and 2000 Kurdistan TV and Kurdsat were launched out of the Kurdish region of Iraq. This demonstrated that governments (Turkey and Iraq in particular) were incapable of regulating Kurdish nationalism. Television would come to constitute a very important tool for advancing Kurdish nationalism. Indeed, since the launch of MED-TV, there have emerged several other Kurdish satellite channels from Iraq, Iran, and Europe (Medya TV in France and Roj TV in Denmark). Such developments have led academics to argue that technologies such as satellite television and the Internet have facilitated and contributed to the development of the Kurdish identity [4]. Jaffer Sheyholislami, for example, concludes that Kurdistan TV (from the Kurdish region of Iraqi) constructs and reproduces a “cross-border Kurdish identity…with its own language and signs[5].” These satellite channels reach the Kurdish diaspora in the West and provide it with information related to Kurdish issues. More importantly, however, it is a tool used to preserve and advance the Kurdish identity.

Kurdish use of the Internet is also noteworthy. Researchers argue that the Kurds have used the Internet, e-mail and social networking sites, for organizing protests, meetings, and ‘nationalist projects [6].’ Moreover, the Internet provides the Kurds with a forum wherein they can discuss issues and subjects that are otherwise banned. This is particularly true of the Kurds from Turkey who use the Internet to disseminate banned publications and to make them available to the Kurds in Turkey [7]. Facebook, for example, is popular for creating groups that discuss the Kurdish language, culture, and history. Twitter has also become a popular destination for expressing Kurdish nationalism. For example, Twitter was used to organize a campaign to highlight the oppression of Kurds in Turkey and to garner attention and support for the Kurds [8].

The use of the Internet by the Kurdish diaspora and those in the Middle East represents what Benedict Anderson has called ‘long-distance nationalism [9].’ Unfettered access to the Internet has allowed the Kurdish diaspora, and some in the Middle East to perpetuate the ‘imagined community’ that is Kurdistan. It allows disparate groups to “imagine themselves as nations” and provides a voice to those who otherwise would not have one [10]. This suggests that the Internet is important for the development of Kurdish, and indeed other, national identities given that it provides a forum where those in the diaspora can maintain their connection to those in the homeland. Essentially, the Internet has diminished the importance of time and space by offering the Kurds a sort of ‘cyber space’ wherein they can express their identity and reinforce Kurdish nationalism.

Satellite channels from the West and the Middle East have mediated Kurdish nationalism. That is, the Kurdish diaspora is no longer detached from the Kurds in the Middle East. On the contrary, the diaspora appears to be contributing to the construction of a ‘new’ Kurdish nationalism. One based on the evolving realities in the Middle East and the West. It is important to note that satellite television allows the Kurds to maintain a connection with Kurds in the Middle East and therefore acquire the belief that Kurdish nationalism is innate and natural. The Internet is also contributing to this notion. Use of the Internet allows Kurds of the diaspora and the Middle East to maintain their shared identity despite the difference in space and time.

Sources:

[1] Amir Hassanpour, “Diaspora, homeland and communication technologies,” in Karim H. Karim (ed.). The Media of Diaspora (London: Routledge, 2003), 78.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 82.
[4] Jaffer Sheyholislami, Kurdish Identity, Discourse, and New Media (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 79.
[5] Jaffer Sheyholislami, 170-172.
[6] David Romano, “Modern Communications Technology in Ethnic Nationalist Hands: The Case of the Kurds,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vo. 35, No. 1 (2002): 127-149.
[7] Jaffer Sheyholislami, 91.
[8] “#TwitterKurds takes the civil disobedience campaign online,” Kurdistan Commentary. 25 May 2011. http://kurdistancommentary.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/twitterkurds-takes-the-civil-disobedience-campaign-online.
[9] Benedict Anderson, “Long-Distance Nationalism: World Capitalism and the Rise of Identity Politics,” Centre for Asian Studies Amsterdam. The Wertheim Lecture, 1992.
[10] Jaffer Sheyholislami, 179.

SERIOUSLY, FACEBOOK?!?!?

A former Facebook employee who used to filter out offensive content has leaked the website’s secret rulebook. Aggrieved Moroccan worker, Amine Derkaoui, 21, who was paid a mere $1 an hour by oDesk – a third-party content-moderation firm used by Facebook – let the cat out of the bag when he revealed FB’s nasty secrets. See story here.

In addition to banning images of butt cracks, people sleeping with things drawn on their faces, decapitated humans, and earwax (huh?), Facebook includes as graphic content: maps of Kurdistan. Yes, maps of Kurdistan. See image below (3rd column towards the bottom–click to enlarge).

Seriously, Facebook? This is truly disgusting.

Cartoon: Who’s doing what to topple the regime?

Click image to enlarge

Cartoon from Soparo perhaps represents the disagreements amongst some Kurdish political parties in Syria and the ‘Kurdish street.’ Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president, sits comfortably atop a chair. The Arab on the right is holding a sign that reads ‘The people want the fall of the regime’, which has become a common refrain in Syria in all parts of the country, and shows him standing with a Kurd, united in their call. The guy with the ax, maybe representing the Kurdish youth and their groups, is also trying to ‘topple the regime.’  But the cartoon shows some of the Kurdish political parties on the left who, according to some, haven’t yet put their full weight behind that slogan. Hence the impression that they are propping up the regime instead of helping to topple it. The sign held up by the man in grey reads ‘لجنة التنسيق’, meaning Coordinating Committee, which is a group of three Kurdish political parties in Syria: the Future Movement, Yekîtî, and Azadî. The PYD (Partîya Yekîtî ya Demokratîk or Democratic Union Party),  is closely linked to the PKK, hence Öcalan’s figure on the left.  These groups are the most anti-regime of the Kurdish political parties and the most actionist. Members of the PYD and the Coordinating Committee do support the protests and have been out protesting. So this cartoon is all about perceptions. If  you have any other interpretations of this, leave a comment.

Hatip Dicle and Kurdish Soul Force

Hatip Dicle, independent Kurdish candidate for Turkish Parliament, has been stripped of his parliamentary victory by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) of Turkey. With it, Turkey has stripped away the last veneer of its façade of presumptive innocence. Any claim now that Turkey, whether from its judiciary or any other branch of government, is in any way shape or form working towards a rapprochement with the Kurds, can be, and must be, labelled a figment of nationalist imagination or collective delusion.

Mr Dicle won a seat on 12 June with 78,220 votes, or 11.2% of the total votes in the Diyarbakır province. He lost that seat on 21 June with 7 votes, or 100% of the total votes of the YSK judges. Their decision is symptomatic of deep-rooted antipathy towards Kurdish aspirations of parity in Turkish society.

Mr Dicle sits in prison charged with terrorism, as outlined by the country’s rigidly militaristic constitution and legal codes, which are only fraught with antediluvian notions of racism and intolerance. The judges claim that they are bound by the law of the land and have no choice. The AKP shrugs and says it is out of their hands. This nonchalant attitude is unacceptable and morally unconscionable.

The new Parliament, from which Dicle has been excluded, will be tasked with drafting a new, inclusive constitution, which everyone agrees is long overdue. However, a civilian constitution, regardless of its form or offerings, would only be a structural change. A new constitutional landscape is not going to change the deeply embedded attitudes or the psychocultural dynamics driving those attitudes. More simply, as Gandhi said, ‘The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms. It requires change of heart.’

Any structural change needs to be accompanied by something deeper, more profound. A start would be an acknowledgement by the Turkish government of the decades of oppression and repressive policies against the Kurds, followed by a formally negotiated, public apology. It is from this point where ‘change of heart’ may begin to flourish, with the constitution as a guide, to begin national healing.

The Kurdish Democratic Society Congress has announced that without Dicle, no one from the newly-elected Block will enter Parliament. At the same time thousands are in the streets venting anger over the YSK decision and years of political harassment. What happens in the coming days will be crucial if any progress is to be made.

Martin Luther King, Jr, the great American civil rights leader, gave a speech in the summer of 1963 in which he said, ‘We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.’

The decision not to enter Parliament can be seen as dignity and discipline. The street protests must remain peaceful, for no healing can come from violence. Soul force, only. Kurdish soul force. And this too will be seen as coming from ‘the high plane.’

King continues in his speech, ‘In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.’

Let the cup of bitterness and hatred be drained. Let Hatip Dicle stand now, proudly, as the new symbol of Kurdish soul force. Let the name ‘Hatip Dicle’ ring out as a call for all Kurds to come together peacefully to overcome the ingrained institution of bigotry. Drink now from the cup of Kurdish soul force.

36 seats in Parliament. Now what?

Labour, Freedom and Democracy Block

It has been a week since the 12 June elections in Turkey. The dust is settling and a clearer picture is emerging of what’s in store for the new parliament once the next legislative session begins around 01 October. High on the agenda is the drafting of a new, civilian constitution. The current constitution, put into effect in 1982 on the heels of the 1980 military coup, is based on a Kemalist notion of Turkish national identity, which is homogeneous and leaves no room for ethnic and religious difference. It is a ‘straightjacket’ on Turkish democracy, limiting the rights of individuals and privileging the state at the expense of the citizen.

The swearing in ceremony for MPs in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly of Turkey (Turkish Parliament, or simply Meclis in Turkish) will be 24 June. The day before the swearing-in, a newly formed commission from the pro-Kurdish Labour, Democracy and Freedom Block (in Kurdish, Bloka Ked, Azadî û Demokrasî, or KAD), which won 36 seats, will issue a declaration. The statement will clarify the KAD-Block’s standing in the parliament, the way, methods and strategies to be followed for a solution to problems. The KAD-Block was created and supported by the BDP, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party.

On Sunday evening last, as results were still coming in, Turkish PM Erdoğan said that the nation had not only given his party a mandate to govern, but to draft a new constitution: ‘The people gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation.’ He said that the AKP would discuss the new constitution with opposition parties and parties outside of parliament, in ‘all-encompassing’ negotiations.

With their 36 seats, the KAD-Block will play an important role in any future constitutional debate, and the Kurdish question looks set to move to the top of the political agenda. Said Sebahat Tuncel, Kurdish MP from Istanbul in a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Erdoğan ‘now faces a major domestic challenge,’ referring to the writing up a new, inclusive constitution. She also said that the 36-MP strong block ‘will be the most effective check on the AKP’s destructive policy’ of repressing the Kurds.

However, some are expressing caution regarding the KAD-Block’s calls for specific demands. Taha Akyol, for example, a political analyst with CNNTürk and Milliyet newspaper, said that while the BDP has become ‘a force that cannot be ignored’ it ‘must know the limits of its demands.’ While Akyol is a Turkish nationalist, this will certainly be an issue in the constitutional negotiations, as the AKP is not going to want to be seen as caving in to Kurdish demands. After all, Erdoğan ran a very nationalist campaign to garner MHP (far-right, nationalist party) votes. But, after the election, Erdoğan apologised to his rivals for his actions and language during the campaigns. Erdoğan’s words were probably meant more to take votes from the MHP party to keep them from reaching the 10% election threshold. But still, it will be hard now to backpedal.

Ahmet Türk, newly elected KAD MP from Mêrdîn said that the ‘new constitution must be based on democratic autonomy, which must be a topic in the open for discussion and we will work towards this. If these demands are ignored by the state, the people will create their own method to establish the system they are aiming for.’

Leyla Zana speaks in Diyarbakır

Leyla Zana, elected from Diyarbakır, speaking in Kurdish to an audience of tens of thousands at a rally last Monday said, ‘The Kurds will be a partner of this state.’ While the logical assumption is that MPs elected from the pro-Kurdish KAD Block will be partners (the AKP needs partners), it is not clear to what extent Kurds will be included in the process of re-writing the country’s constitution.

Murat Yetkin, writing for Hürriyet Daily News, says the ‘CHP (centre-left, People’s Republican Party) is always a safer partner for the AKP for major political projects like amending or rewriting the constitution, in order to secure a consensus acceptable for a wider base in society. The BDP, which is focused more on Kurdish rights, might be an easier partner for Erdoğan at first sight, but such a partnership, which might exclude both the CHP and the MHP, might cause new fault lines in Turkey’s political arena. It may cast a shadow, says Yetkin, over the new constitution, creating doubts whether the government sort of bargained for the presidential system in return for group – not individual – rights for Kurds.’

Some of the conditions the Kurds will expect in any new constitution, says KAD MP-elect Hasip Kaplan from southeastern province of Şırnak, are the implementation of democratic autonomy, the use of mother tongues and the granting of constitutional citizenship.’ He also said that it should contain ‘expansion of freedom of thought in its largest sense.’

These are ‘demands’ that may be outside of the ‘limits’ referred to by Akyol. But what then is left? How can the Kurds accept anything less than full equality as Kurdish citizens of the Turkish Republic? In a meeting of Turkish intellectuals, journalists and lawyers earlier last week, Osman Can, one of the lawyers present, called on political parties to abandon what they earlier termed ‘red lines’ and said parties must decide to talk without preconditions. One of the ‘reddest’ of lines is that of mother-tongue education in Kurdish. It is a flashpoint in the debate on Kurdish rights and a key theme of the Kurd’s political agenda. Abandoning red lines may be easier said than done.

Nabi Avcı, a newly elected AKP deputy from Eskişehir and former senior media advisor to Erdoğan, said at a meeting with members of the foreign press that the ‘Kurdish issue’ is also on the government’s agenda ‘not as a problem but as a broader issue.’ He also said that ‘it is not right to highlight any priorities at the moment.’

Some of these comments may not bode well for Kurdish expectations. Ahmet Türk says that ‘the election results mean that the Kurdish people are united and our demands are going to be on the national agenda. If not, there will be more pain and more problems in the future’ and that if their ‘demands are ignored by the state, the people will create their own method to establish the system they are aiming for.’

The threat of ‘more pain and more problems in the future’ that Türk mentioned is real, according to the deputy head of the ruling AKP in Diyarbakır, Mohammed Akar. He says that if there is disappointment, the whole idea of integration will end. Separation and conflict will come to the fore. Akar added that ‘the danger that is lying ahead is a nightmare.’

The AKP may have received the largest percentage of popular votes at 49.95%, but the fact is that in 2002 they had 363 seats in the Meclis, in 2007 they had 341 seats, and now, in 2011, the AKP will seat only 326 parliamentarians. From 2007 to 2011, the overall percentage of votes increased by 3.3%, but their percentage of seats in the Meclis will decline by 4.5%.

Erdoğan’s AKP had been vying for a 2/3’s super majority (367 seats), which would have allowed it to rewrite the constitution single-handedly with no input from any other parties. A 3/5’s majority (330 seats) would have offered the AKP the option of drafting a new constitution on its own and then submitting it to a public referendum. They are only four seats from a 3/5’s majority and could try and look for defectors to make up the gap.

click to enlarge

However, the Kurds are the ones who are really gaining ground. In 2007 they captured 20 seats in parliament. This time round the pro-Kurdish KAD-Block managed to get 6.85% of the national vote, which resulted in 36 of its candidates getting elected. Not all of them are Kurdish, which was a strategy the BDP had to broaden its support base. And 11 of the 36 are women. A list of the 36 and election percentages can be found here.

In an attempt to draw support from religious voters, an alliance was formed with two other pro-Kurdish parties—the Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) and the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR). Former KADEP leader Şerafettin Elçi was picked as a candidate in Diyarbakır.

Political Science at Istanbul University, Dr Nuray Mert, noted that this was ‘a very successful outcome for the Block but it goes unnoticed that the Block didn’t participate in the elections as a political party. Therefore, the elections already began unfair[ly].’

In Diyarbakır, seven KAD-Block candidates got 429,000 votes and won six seats, whereas the AKP received five seats with only 231,000 votes. Without the 10 percent threshold, says Henri Barkey, KAD-Block candidates would have probably gotten as many as 50 seats. In other words, BDP is stronger than the number of seats it will control in the new parliament.

The Kurdish political group may be stronger than the number of seats, but for now they have to work with their strength in parliament. A change in the 10% election threshold will also be a necessary component in any new constitution to ensure more inclusivity in the future.

For now there is a major battle ahead as political camps scramble to put together their bargaining points and prepare for October. It will be interesting to see too what happens between now and the opening of that new, legislative session.

Since the election, the Turkish government has shut down Kurdish media outlets and has continued its arrest waves of Kurdish politicians. More than 100 have been detained in the past week alone. In spite of this, a PKK ceasefire has been extended to see what will happen with reforms and constitutional change. If the repressive methods continue and Erdoğan fails to take an historic step in partnering with the Kurds in the drafting of the new constitution, all hell will break loose.

Speaking of the failure of the AKP to garner its wished-for super-majority and rewrite the constitution by itself, former US Ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, said that ‘[g]iven concerns about Erdoğan’s megalomania and authoritarian tendencies that have gained traction in Turkey in recent months, the outcome is good for Turkish democracy.’ Let’s hope it is good too for Kurdish aspirations.

Turkish policy towards Kurds leads to boycott of Antalya Conference by Kurdish parties in Syria

Syrian opposition groups will be meeting for three days in Antalya, Turkey in a conference organised by the Egypt-based National Organisation of Human Rights (NOHR). The conference, set to begin on Tuesday, 31 May, is to ‘support the revolt in Syria and claims of the Syrian people,’ said Ammar Qurabi, NOHR president. The conference is called ‘Change in Syria’ and attendance is expected to be around 200, including writers, activists and business leaders. According to the conference website, the gathering ‘aims to unite the energies’ of all Syrians of different ethnicities, sects and political affiliations and ‘direct them in a more meaningful way so that the democratic change in Syria will become a reality.’

Attendees will include such figures as Dr Abdul-Razzak Eid, head of the Damascus Declaration and Mamoun Homsi, a former member of the Syrian Parliament. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Independent Industrialists & Businessmen’s Association have also been invited. Some individual activists from the Kurdish opposition will be in attendance, but representation from Kurdish political parties in Syria will be absent.

In an article published in Asharq al-Awsat, a group comprised of 12 Kurdish political parties in Syria (National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria) announced that they intend to boycott the opposition summit. The group stated that ‘any such meeting held in Turkey can only be a detriment to the Kurds in Syria, because Turkey is against the aspirations of the Kurds, not just with regards to northern Kurdistan, but in all four parts of Kurdistan, including the Kurdish region of Syria.’

Kurdish Leftist Party representative Saleh Kado echoed that concern saying that Turkey ‘has negative attitudes towards the Kurdish issue in general’ and that Ankara needs to ‘first resolve the issue of 20 million Kurds living within their territory before seeking to bring together the Kurdish Syrian parties [in Turkey] to come to an agreement on a unified project with regards how to deal with the current events [in Syria].’

Kado stressed that ‘we, the Kurds in Syria, do not trust Turkey or its policies, and that is why we have decided to boycott the summit.’ Kado also said part of the reason for the boycott was the attendance of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But other reasons have also surfaced. Two weeks ago the National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria announced its own plan to resolve the current crisis in Syria. The Kurdish initiative, which outlined a comprehensive plan for democratic change and fundamental reform at all levels, was largely ignored by non-Kurdish groups.

Abdul Baqi Youssef, a leading member of the Kurdish Yekîtî Party in Syria, told AKNews that they do not know who supports this conference or what its goals are. Nor, he said, did the conference organisers make any contact with the Kurdish Movement during the preparations for the conference.

This feeling of lack of inclusion in the process and not receiving any support from other opposition groups in Syria on its own proposal could also be contributing factors in the decision not to attend the Antalya summit.

Additionally, not all Kurdish parties were invited to attend the conference either. Only five of the parties were asked to attend. They are: the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria [KDP-S], the Kurdish Leftist Party in Syria, the Kurdish Azadî Party, the Kurdish Future Movement, and the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party [PDPK-S].

Faisal Yousef, a senior member of the PDPK-S, said that his party would abide by the boycott decision so as not ‘to cause division within the Kurdish ranks, especially during this sensitive time in the history of our people.’

Mustafa Ibrahim, a KDP-S senior leader said that his party’s leader, Dr Abdul Hakeem Bashar was invited to attend the Antalya summit, but that ‘he will not go against the strong decision taken by the Kurdish political forces in Syria, in order to preserve Kurdish unity and discourse.’

But not all Kurdish leaders agree on the boycott. Kurdish Future Movement representative Mohammed Hammo took a contrary position calling the boycott a ‘huge mistake.’ Hammo said that ‘as Kurds, we should take advantage of every opportunity to discuss the future of our people and nation; I do not favour boycotting a summit of this [political] weight, particularly in light of the sensitive and critical situation in Syria today.’ Hammo also stressed that this was his personal opinion and said that he intends to attend this summit in his own personal capacity, not as a representative of the Kurdish Future Movement.

Kurds are not the only ones sceptical of the conference. Ribal al-Assad, the Director of the Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria and cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has criticised some of the ‘Syrian opposition’ involved in the proposed meeting for not being genuine representatives of the Syrian people and called for the ‘evil agenda’ of the conference to be ‘exposed to the international community.’ He says that ‘[a]ny meeting of the Syrian opposition must include a broad coalition of groups that genuinely believe in freedom, democracy, and religious pluralism.’

The meeting, according to the conference Website, will be centred on the following principles and foundations:

1-Support the peaceful revolution of the Syrian people to achieve its goals of getting rid of the authoritarian regime and transfer Syria to a new horizon where the true values of freedom, dignity and citizenship prevail.

2- Establish a temporary National Council to manage the crisis and mobilise all the possible support to protect the lives of the unarmed civilians who are exposed to the worst kinds of oppression by a regime that ignores the rights of citizenship and the responsibility if the State to protect its people.

3-Provide a temporary alternative that helps in moving the country to the brink of safety provided that the mission of the National Council is a temporary alternative and it doesn’t have any custodial authority on the revolution of the Syrian people and its right to determine its fate in a free election where the council has no privileges.

4-Assign experts in Syrian law to prepare a new draft constitution that guarantees the standards of full citizenship, equality in rights and duties of all the components of the Syrian community as a prelude to organize free and fair elections where the ballot box is the only legitimate way to rule the country.

5-Ask all international bodies and NGOs in the world to support the Syrian people in their revolution for freedom and provide all forms of political and volunteer support which contributes in the saving the lives of Syrians and alleviate their suffering in the crisis that they are going through.

6-Emphasising the peaceful nature of the revolution and its national motives that are not associated with any foreign agenda or any international balance or interests, the signatories to this declaration refuse all forms of foreign military interventions in this crisis.

The conference, to be held at the Özkaymak Falez Hotel in Antalya, will start with a reception on Tuesday and conclude on Thursday.

New Book: The Margins of Empire

The Margins of Empire: Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone
Janet Klein, Associate Professor of History at The University of Akron

Stanford University Press, 2011 (forthcoming)

About the book

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Ottoman state identified multiple threats in its eastern regions. In an attempt to control remote Kurdish populations, Ottoman authorities organized them into a tribal militia and gave them the task of subduing a perceived Armenian threat. Following the story of this militia, Klein explores the contradictory logic of how states incorporate groups they ultimately aim to suppress and how groups who seek autonomy from the state often attempt to do so through state channels.

In the end, Armenian revolutionaries were not suppressed and Kurdish leaders, whose authority the state sought to diminish, were empowered. The tribal militia left a lasting impact on the region and on state-society and Kurdish-Turkish relations. Putting a human face on Ottoman-Kurdish histories while also addressing issues of state-building, local power dynamics, violence, and dispossession, this book engages vividly in the study of the paradoxes inherent in modern statecraft.

Reviews

‘Klein sheds light on some of the most important and complicated relations and negotiations the Ottoman officials were engaged in as their empire crumbled around them. She never loses sight of the broader implications of her work in this original, highly valuable look at a significant period in the history of the Middle East.’—Resat Kasaba, University of Washington

‘This is a most welcome and very significant contribution to Kurdish history and to the history of the eastern provinces during the late Ottoman period. The rich documentation of the saga of the Kurds as they undergo a very difficult transformation will generate healthy scholarly debate. An excellent book.’—Fatma Müge Göçek, University of Michigan

See Table of Contents here.

Read an excerpt from the Introduction here.

Order book here.

Umur Hozatlı’s film about JİTEM, ‘Lost Freedom’

2011, 91 minutes in Turkish and Kurdish (click for larger image)

The film, ‘Lost Freedom’ (Kayıp Özgürlük in Turkish and Azadîya Wenda in Kurdish), by director Umur Hozatlı describes one of the most brutal organisations in the Turkey, JİTEM (Turkish: Jandarma İstihbarat ve Terörle Mücadele), the über-clandestine Intelligence and Counterterrorism Police Force) which was formed by the Turkish government and is believed to be responsible for thousands of disappearances in the country’s Kurdish dominated regions in the ‘90s. Hozatlı describes his film as a ‘call to confrontation.’

‘Lost Freedom’ reveals the dark side of JİTEM to the rest of the Turkish community, which remains ignorant of its own history. This is the first film of its kind to hold JİTEM accountable and openly criticise the organisation.

Hozatlı discusses what inspired him to make his first full-length movie: ‘Kurds launched an organised fight after a long-period of slavery and captivity. Since then, Kurdish people have been living in a time of enormous tragedy. Ignoring this tragedy is a vital mistake. I cannot be one of those people who turn a blind eye to this problem.’

Hozatlı’s ‘Lost Freedom’ was previously shown at a number of festivals. It had its public release last week but was screened at only two movie theatres in Istanbul and in two theatres in the mainly Kurdish cities of Diyarbakır and Batman. The director has not commented on the reasons why so few movie theatres have been interested in the film, but the film is highly political and takes a daring look at the abyss of thousands of disappearances and unsolved murders in Turkey’s recent history. In an earlier interview with news site Bianet, Hozatlı said the film had limited funding and he took out personal loans to fund the project. The film was two years in the making.

The movie is set in Istanbul some time in the mid-90s. It starts with the abduction of a young man, Deniz Şahin, by a group of armed individuals not wearing gendarmerie uniforms although they later prove to be JİTEM officers. He is taken to the interrogation centre of a gendarmerie black ops unit, JİTEM. Their aim is to extract information from Deniz, whom they accuse of belonging to a terrorist organisation. The cast includes actors Serdar Kavak, Vedat Perçin, Musa Yıldırım and Öznur Kula.

Umur Hozatlı: 'In making this film, I wanted to translate for the world the trauma that Kurds face while keeping in mind that art, as well as people and states, can be fascist too.’

The existence of JİTEM was first reported by Ayşe Önal in 1994. Önal was introduced to JİTEM’s founder, Veli Küçük, by fellow journalist, Tuncay Güney. She wrote about what she learned at that meeting and was fired immediately thereafter (along with 19 of her co-workers) from her position at Ateş Magazine.

Rationale and speculation around JİTEM’s mission are varied. Some say it existed to foment infighting in the PKK and to raise stakes in the fight against PKK terror. The Turkish military needed the PKK (as the US military needs al-Qaeda) to keep it operational. JİTEM carried out assassinations and bombings that were blamed on the PKK and gave the military justification to continue its operations and presence in Kurdish areas. One well-known example is the 2005 bookstore bomb attack in Semdinli.

Abdulkadir Aygan, a former PKK member and later a JİTEM operative, claimed that JİTEM executed between 600 and 700 Kurds in the 1990s and that ‘JİTEM operations always ended in death…those who were reported to JİTEM as having any relationship with the PKK were executed.’ Aygan is now living in political exile in Sweden.

Tuncay Güney, a suspected former member of Ergenekon now living in Canada, said a large number of the Kurds executed by JİTEM in the 1990s were doused with acid and buried in wells located near facilities of the state-owned Turkish Pipeline Corporation (BOTAŞ) in Silopi.

Both Güney and Aygan have said that many Kurds were thrown into wells between Şırnak and Cizre. Aygan claims to have knowledge of 16 such wells. Güney also claimed that one of the torture centres of JİTEM was based in northern Iraq.

The Turksih Human Rights Association (IHD) estimates that between 1989 and 2008 JİTEM was involved in 5,000 unsolved killings of journalists, human rights defenders, intellectuals and political activists and was responsible for 1,500 cases of ‘disappearances.’ Former chair of Diyarbakır Bar Association Sezgin Tanrıkulu put the figures above 4,000, close to 5,000.

Director Umur Hozatlı was born in 1969 in Dersim (Tunceli). He began his career in journalism in 1992, working for Özgür Gündem, Özgür Ülke, Yeni Politika, Demokrasi, Özgür Bakış and Yeni Gündem as a reporter, editor and columnist. Because of an article he wrote in 1993 on the Kurdish issue he was sentenced to three years and 9 months in prison and fined 400 million Turkish Lira.

Watch trailer:

sources:

JİTEM movie has restricted screening in first week. Today’s Zaman, 27 April 2011.

JİTEM and the ‘deep state’. Kurdistan Commentary, 09 February 2009.

Kayıp Özgürlük. Politik Sinema.

Missing Freedom reveals horror of Jitem. Firat News Agency, 28 April 2011.

Kayıp Özgürlük, Bir Yüzleşme Çağrısıdır. bianet, 25 April 2011.

Interrogations and arrests of Kurdish activists continue in Syria

Are security forces trying to provoke clashes in the Kurdish areas of Syria? This is what seems to be happening as State Security Intelligence and Military Security have begun summoning activists for questioning and arresting some, including members of Kurdish political parties. Today arrests have been reported in Qamişlo and Ra’s al-‘Ayn (Serê Kaniyê) of members of the Kurdish Yekîtî Party of Syria, a poet, and several young activists.

Kurds began demonstrating on 01 April; somewhat later than others in the country. To date, the Kurdish regions have been spared the horrific violence and bloodshed that have defined the protests in Dera’a, Banyas, Homs and other places in the western part of Syria. But in the Kurdish areas of the northeast there have been no incidents of clashes with police, security, or anyone else. Demonstrations have been peaceful with no interference whatsoever.

On Thursday Emergency Laws were lifted in the country. This is only symbolic as there are many other laws that the state apparatus can use to continue its repressive policies. And it has been since Friday that there has been a noticeable increase of harassment of Kurds involved in the protests. So why the sudden about-face in policy?

Desperation is one possibility. The state does not want to see a full-scale Kurdish revolt on top everything else. So they are reverting to their old tactics of sowing fear and intimidation amongst the populace. But it will not work any longer! They are only provoking what they don’t want.

Kurdish Syrian news sites have reported that there are plans to demonstrate tomorrow and the next day in front of the Security Branch in Qamişlo to demand the release of those who have been arrested. On Twitter, #SyriaKurdishRev is calling on those who have been summoned by State Security not to give themselves up.

The Kurdish Yekîtî Party of Syria has condemned the arrests and interrogations and calls for the immediate release of the detainees and the halt to further provocations. They further stated that if the security apparatus continue their actions against the Kurds, that the Kurdish street would no longer remain silent.

In addition to calling for national unity, Kurds have been supporting protesters in Dera’a, Lattakia, Homs, and other cities that have suffered the most. But the Kurds have also been calling for recognition of the Kurdish people and more respect. Below are some of the signs seen in Qamişlo and Amûde.

Elimination of Article 8 of the constitution

Constitutional acknowledgment of the Kurdish people in Syria

Kurds and Arabs together for peaceful change (freedom)

Freedom is respect of the people

We want the Kurdish language taught in the schools

Thousands of Kurds take to the streets in Syria

Tens of thousands of Kurds protested today in Qamişlo, Amûde, Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Ayn) and other Kurdish towns.

They carried 25-metre long Syrian flags through the streets, waved placards in Arabic, Kurdish, and English, chanting mostly in Arabic, but sometimes in Kurdish. They shouted ‘God, Syria, Freedom, and that’s it!’ They also shouted in Kurdish ‘Azadî, Azadî, Azadî!’ (Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!)

One of the most common refrains was: ‘Wahid, wahid, wahid! Al-sha’ab al-suri wahid!’ ‘One, one, one! The Syrian people are united (one). (‘!واحد واحد واحد الشعب السوري واحد’) Arabic

In the city of Qamişlo (al-Qamishli) between 8,000-10,000 mainly Kurdish demonstrators took to the streets chanting for freedom and their rejection of sectarianism (‘We want national unity!’). In Amûde more than 2,000 marched through the streets.

Some signs and slogans were:

‘No to hypocrisy, no to corruption!’

‘Arabs and Kurds are brothers.’

‘Arabs and Kurds against corruption!’ (‘العرب والأكراد ضد الفساد’) Arabic

‘Freedom and equality do not mean conspiracy and corruption.’ (‘الحرية والمساواة لا تعني المؤامرة والطائفية’) Arabic

‘Freedom is respect of the people.’ (Azadî rûmeta gelan e!) Kurdish

‘From Amûde to Hawran, the Syrian people won’t be dishonoured/insulted!’ (Hawran is the region in SW Syria where Dera’a is located). Protesters in Qamişlo were saying the same thing, replacing Amûde: ‘من القامشلي لحوران الشعب السوري ما بينهان’ Arabic

Unlike in other parts of the country, no army or security forces intervened in the protests.

One protester in Qamişlo said, ‘We want freedom. This is not an issue of citizenship, but an issue of being a citizen.’

Below are some videos from earlier today (first two from Qamişlo, next two from Amûde):