I exist, said the Kurdish dragon

I exist, said the Kurdish dragon
Submitted by Naila Bozo

There was a dead town in Syria. The tombstone read ”Qamişlo” and on the grave lay red, yellow and green plastic roses. My knees are still hurting because I often kneeled down by the grave and begged the town to come back to life. Sometimes I threw myself on it to prevent the dazed youth from joining their parents in the soil. They merely looked at me pitiyingly and pushed me away. They had good reason to do so because what human is alive if he does not exist?

 A Fatal Census

Kime ez? asked Cegerxwîn (1903 -1984), a celebrated Kurdish poet. Who am I? Nobody, the Syrian government answered, you do not exist.

In August 1962 the Syrian government ordered a census in the province of Hasakeh which was carried out in October 1962. The province is situated in the northern parts of Syria and mostly inhabited by Kurds seeing as this area is the western part of Kurdistan that was divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria as a consequence of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923.

The census was fatal for the Kurds as it resulted in 120.000 Kurds loosing their Syrian citizenship and thus their rights. The number of stateless Kurds has according to Human Rights Watch since then only continued to grow to a number of 300.000 because children of the stateless, born and raised in Syria, have not been given citizenship either.

In April 2011 the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad said he would grant the Kurds citizenship. This did not cause much joy for two reasons. First, only registered Kurds would be given official identity papers while non-registered would remain stateless. Second, it was a poor way to keep the Kurds, who consitute 10 -15 % of the Syrian population, from joining the anti-regime protests that had begun only weeks earlier.

You Deserved To Be Gassed!

They say the uprising started in Damascus, March 2011. No, it started in Qamişlo, March 2004. A report from KurdWatch that gathers information about violation of human rights against Kurds within the Syrian borders closely describes what happened on March 12, 2004.

A football match was to be played at the stadium in Qamişlo. The team al-Futuwah was an Arabic team from Deir ez Zor and the other team, al-Jihad, was from Qamişlo. According to the Danish Refugee Council quoted in the report, an eyewitness said that the supporters of al-Futuwah had not been checked by security before entering the stadium and that they brought weapon in the form of knives, sticks and stones with them.

A journalist sitting in the press box observed that the supporters of al-Futuwah prior to the game had kept shouting: “Fallujah, Fallujah!” after which they started attacking the other team’s supporters with the sticks and stones they had brought with them. According to the report, “Fallujah” was a way for the supporters of al-Futuwah to show their support to Saddam Hussein, one of the worst oppressors in the history of Kurds, who in 1988 ordered the gassing of the Kurdish town Halabja which killed more than 5.000 people and injured more than 10.000.

While the attack took place, three young men came to the press box and asked another journalist, who was to comment on the match on radio, if he would announce that three children had been killed during the attack. The news spread and people from the nearest towns came to the stadium in such large numbers that the journalist described the stadium as being besieged. But the death of the three children soon proved wrong and people both inside and outside the stadium grew calm.

The peace did not last long as people soon began to throw with rocks and the police, military and intelligence service arrived to the stadium.

The report remarks that the security made a mistake by shooting into the air and thus frightening people; they should have instead tried dissolving the growing angry crowd with other measures. The first mentioned journalist said according to the report that supporters of al-Futuwah called out to the Kurds: “Saddam Hussein treated you they way you deserve to be treated!”

At this point the security people stepped in and split up the two groups. The Kurds were told to leave while al-Futuwah supporters remained inside the stadium.

According to eyewitnesses the security consisting of the police, military and intelligence shot and even killed Kurds who protested al- Futuwahs discriminating heckling by saying “Long live Kurdistan.” A witness said that security was being untruthful when it later claimed that the Kurds were shooting back: “Even the government have not stated this.”

9 people died on the 12th of March 2004. The Kurdish parties made an agreement with the government; if they were allowed to bury their murdered Kurds without the involvement of the police, they would make sure to keep the funeral procession under control. A journalist described the procession joined by tens of thousands of people as being quiet. Kurds waved the Kurdish flag, a few cried out in anger at Bashar al-Assad and others threw rocks at a statue of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, a man so feared and infamous that before one did not even dare point their fingers at pictures of him. But other Kurds stopped them from throwing stones and the mourners continued walking towards the city hall.

At some point during the march one could hear shots from a military base nearby. Nothing happened and the procession continued. The journalist who had walked with the mourners left them to visit a lawyer whose office had a view over the square where the march had passed through. He was standing near the window when a car drove by. The car was open in the back and 7-8 men were sitting facing the square with their machine guns. They drove up to the few mourners at the back of the funeral procession and shot them. That day 23 people died.

The word about the killings spread and soon hell broke loose. People in the Kurdish towns set public buildings on fire while large demonstrations were held abroad in solidarity with the Kurds and support of the much anticipated uprising against al-Assad.

According to the report sources say that the Kurdish TV-channel ROJ TV, broadcasting from Denmark, was an important factor in mobilising the Kurds and gathering them at demonstrations in dimensions never seen before in West Kurdistan. The government’s crack down on the protests was brutal, and the Kurdish voice was once again brought to silence.

A Kurdish Dragon

Ketin xewê, ketin xewê, ketin xewa zilm û zorê, ketin xewa bindestiyê. They have been lulled into a deep sleep by the oppressor, Cegerxwîn said about the Kurds.

In the time after the uprising no one dared say a word about al-Assad. Many families had either lost a son to death or to the security service who usually came early in the morning and took the young Kurdish men away. My friend, who had only been out to buy bread on March 12, was brought home to his mom alive after one month in a jail in Damascus, tortured and with his teeth missing.

The grief of Kurds was deeper than the wells in their garden, it was a grief that paralysed the town and rest of West Kurdistan. Qamişlo was dead because its sons were dead. The Kurdish mothers tore their hair and ripped their clothes apart, the Kurdish fathers rocked back and forth with tears dripping down on the palms of their hands and the Kurdish sisters and brothers sat side by side, numb and with their heads falling first against their chest, then the wall.

The windows of Qamişlo are barred. The bars are shaped as flowers, fountains and sunrises but it does not change the fact that the town is a prison. The question is how can dead people tear off the window bars and demand freedom?

I was sitting in a livingroom in Qamişlo in January 2011, only weeks before the uprising in Syria began, and watching the people in Tunis overthrow Ben Ali. I once again asked the elder Kurds what this meant to them and what they would do. Nothing, they answered, never will we rise against al-Assad. I asked the young Kurds what they would do. They did not answer but I could see a fire in them I had never seen before.

Belê em in ejdehayê, ji xewa dili, siyar bûn niha, Cegerxwîn writes. The sleep of the Kurds will not last forever; the Kurdish people is a dragon that will awaken, ready to fight all injustice done to it.

The dragon is my generation, the dragon are the young men and women. Their sleep is not as deep as the sleep of their parents.

They are alive. They are Kurdistan.

RIP Meshal Tammo, 1957-2011

Assassinated today at his home in Qamişlo

Kurdish activist and opposition spokesperson for the Future Movement, Meshaal Tammo, 53, was killed when four masked gunmen stormed his house in Qamişlo and opened fire, also wounding his son, Marcel.

NEWS:

07 October 2011

Kurdish Opponent of Assad  Shot Dead, Financial Times

Syria: Targeted Killing of Syrian Activists and Intellectuals Continues, The POMED Wire

Statement by White House Press Secretary on Violence in Syria, ENEWSPF

One leading Syrian dissident murdered, another assaulted, The National

Syrian Kurdish activist Mishaal al-Tammo shot dead, BBC

New article on Kurdish politics in Syria

Have you ever read a news article that makes mention of Kurdish political parties in Syria? If so, you’ve probably been terribly confused by the many similar party names and who all the players are. Trying to sort out Kurdish politics in Syria is reminiscent of that great scene from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. You may remember all naming of all the parties…the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean Popular People’s Front, the Judean People’s Front, and so on.

Well, an article was just published that sheds some much needed light on Kurdish politics in Syria and was just released on Middle East Report Online. The article, The Evolution of Kurdish Politics in Syria, was written by Christian Sinclair and Sîrwan Kajjo. Sinclair is the assistant director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Kajjo is a Syrian-Kurdish journalist and human rights activist based in DC.

Together they’ve put together a piece that looks at historical origins of the parties, the fractious nature of Kurdish politics, an inside look at party membership, and a framework of how these parties relate to the regime in Damascus, and, now their relationships with the Kurdish youth movements.

You can find the article here: http://www.merip.org/mero/mero083111

Kurdish perspectives on the protests in Syria from an activist and a political leader

A 32-year-old Kurdish activist from Syria, called ‘Jan’ in an interview with KurdWatch, says that there are many different Kurdish groups working together to organise the demonstrations in the Kurdish areas of the country. They primarily work online and in secret, and work together with other Syrian opposition groups in a vast online network.

While Kurds are very active now, Fawzi Shingar, founder of the Kurdish Wifaq Party in Syria, said in a recent interview with Rudaw that the Syrian Kurds were surprisingly quiet when demonstrations started, ‘keeping a wary eye on the protests but not joining them.’ But he calls the organisation of the demonstrations ‘haphazard and without proper leadership.’ Wifaq, a minor political party, was founded in 2005 by splitting from the PYD (Partîya Yekîtî ya Demokratîk or Democratic Union Party), which is closely linked to the PKK. Wifaq is the Arabic name and it is sometimes referred to as ‘Kurdish Accord’ in English. Its Kurdish name is Rêkeftina Demokrat a Kurd ya Sûrî.

Protests in Syria have been going on for more than three months. Kurds began protesting on 01 April, about two weeks after demonstrations started in Dera’a.

When asked who is involved in the demonstrations, Jan responded that it is ‘mostly young people,’ but that demonstrations attract people from all walks of life. He also said that some join the protests because they are ‘unhappy with their own personal situation and are hoping for improvement.’ And they all take part despite the fact that they know they could be arrested. He also adds that there are many who are ‘sympathetic to our demonstrations, but don’t take part.’ One reason for their reluctance, he says, is ‘the absence of Arabs and Christians’ at the protests in Qamişlo.

Fawzi Shingar of Wifaq

Shingar seems to agree with Jan’s observation that participants are ‘mostly young people’ saying that the ‘biggest influence on the demonstrations is the Kurdish youth.’ Wifaq and other parties have participated in the protests, but ‘those who started and continue them today are the youth,’ said Shingar.

Jan, the activist, said a general representative from the Kurdish groups is in constant contact with the representatives of other Syrian groups. They make suggestions for the slogan for the weekly Friday demonstrations online and then the representatives of the various groups agree on one. On 19 May the slogan was Azadî (Freedom in Kurdish). This was done, said Jan, ‘to show that the Kurds and the Kurdish language are a part of Syria.’

By the middle of the week the slogan is agreed upon and banners are distributed in each city. In Qamişlo activists gather at the Qasimo Mosque every Friday and wait until people are finished with the Friday prayer and then join the activists. Most demonstrators come to the mosque not to pray, but just to take part in the demonstration. In the days before the demonstration, Jan says, flyers, word of mouth, and Facebook are main tools used to notify everyone of the demonstration, which lasts half an hour. It usually ends with various speeches by parties and other organisations. Afterwards, the banners are immediately destroyed.

Shingar said that the government’s policy so far has been to make the Kurdish areas neutral so they won’t have to attack them. Some military outposts that the Syrian regime stationed in the Kurdish areas after the 2004 uprising were withdrawn at the outset of the protests. According to Shingar, the area is now mainly controlled by the police and intelligence services.

Says Jan, intelligence services are ever present and observe the demonstrations and film them, but have orders not to attack the demonstrators. After the demonstrations, some activists are routinely arrested and later released from custody. They are often charged with participating in an unauthorised demonstration.

Jan says that the activists are in regular contact with the Kurdish parties. The Kurdish Union Party in Syria (Yekîtî), The Kurdish Freedom Party in Syria (Azadî) and the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria in particular support the demonstrations and take part in them and many activists have a partisan political background.

Shingar said that some Kurdish parties, mentioning the same three that Jan makes note of, joined the protests, adopting the motto of regime removal, after Syrian security forces had intervened and made the situation worse. Referring back to the importance of the youth in the demonstrations, Shingar said however that ‘the political parties cannot be compared to the power of the people.’

Each of us has a task related to getting information out, says Jan. Some record videos and others take photos with their cell phones. Material are immediately whisked off to a secret location and sent to the media or published online. Being so close to the Turkish border, many activists have Turkish Internet connections, which allow for faster and easier transfer of information.

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The interview with Fawzi Shingar is at Rudaw here.

The interview with ‘Jan’ is at KurdWatch here.

Azadî Friday in full swing

Thousands of protesters are in the streets today in Qamişlo, Amûde, Kobanî and other cities calling for the fall of the regime. Here’s a video from Qamişlo with the crowds screaming in Arabic, ‘The people want the fall of the regime!’ And another video here.

In Kobanî demonstrators marched through the streets shouting ‘Azadî, azadî!’ (freedom, freedom). Signs read ‘No to violence, yes to freedom’ and one sign in English said ‘Syrian people want freedom!’

The video below is from Kobanî:

From Qamişlo there are reports that thirteen members of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria were arrested today. According to reports on Sûriye Nû, security forces also raided the homes of many activists in Qamişlo.

In Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-‘Ain) Saadoun Mahmoud Sheikhu, a recently released leader in the Azadî Party, and Mahmoud Amo, a member of the Political Committee of the Kurdish Yekîtî Party in Syria, addressed the crowds there in Arabic and Kurdish. They the demanded a halt to violations against demonstrators, the lifting of the siege on cities in the country and the release of all political prisoners. Another message was that the youth are the backbone of revolution and they thanked them for their participation in the struggle for freedom.

Azadî Friday: from Qamişlo to Houran

20 May 2011

Îna Azadî   جمعة آزادي   Freedom Friday

Kurdish opposition sites on Facebook have come together to make Şoreşa Ciwanên Kurd the official FB site of the Kurdish revolution in Syria and they are calling this Friday ‘Îna Azadî’ or Freedom Friday in Kurdish. Other opposition FB groups have followed suit and put up banners that have ‘azadî’ in Kurdish, and also spelled out in Arabic letters ( آزادي). Many have also included the Arabic word for freedom (الحرية). Some sites have included the tag lines ‘From Qamişlo to Houran’ to show support for protesters nationwide, and ‘The Syrian people will not be humiliated.’ Everyone will be protesting tomorrow to demand freedom and the restoration of dignity to the people.

Below are some of the creative banners on these FB sites.