With Newroz representing the victory of the oppressed over tyranny, I want to draw attention to the Kurdish city of Qamişlo (Arabic: al-Qamishli) and its struggles against oppression at the hands of the Syrian government. Qamişlo is an ethnically-mixed city of approximately 200,000, predominantly Kurdish, and located in NE Syria on the border with Turkey.
Kurdish residents of Qamişlo are subject to disproportionate levels of suppression, violence, and surveillance, creating a state of fear that limits the most basic expressions of Kurdish identity. Human rights abuses are rampant. Qamişlo has seen its share of riots and demonstrations over the years. These typically occur during Newroz, but not always.
In March of 2004, with tensions apparent and just over a week before Newroz, two football teams (one from Qamişlo and the other from Deir ez-Zor) met to play a match. Clashes broke out between the supporters of the rival teams. Security forces opened fire on the crowds to quell to skirmishes. Seven Kurds were left dead and many injured. In the following days police, security services, and the military clashed with Kurds who were demonstrating against the violence and oppression. Again they were fired upon with live ammunition.
Unrest broke out around the country. In the weeks that followed there were more deaths and mass arrests. In total 30 were killed and almost 200 injured. Hundreds were arrested; many suffered from torture at the hands of state security agents. Last week Syrian security services arrested 30 Kurdish students at the University of Aleppo who stood for five minutes of silence to mark the fifth anniversary of the events in Qamişlo.
Newroz celebrations in 2004 were very subdued.
One year ago, 20 March 2008, Syrian security forces again opened fire into a crowd during a Newroz celebration in Qamişlo, leaving three Kurds dead and at least five wounded.
Use of force, lamentably, is the modus operandi for state security in Syria. In March 2006, security officers arrested dozens of Kurds and used teargas and batons to stop a candle-lit night procession in celebration of Newroz.
Newroz has been banned in some years by the Syrian authorities. When Kurds tried to celebrate in 1995 (a banned year), some 60 were arrested.
I’m wondering what 2009 (2621) will bring for our friends in Qamişlo. Newroz pîroz be to everyone there and all over Kurdistan. May your celebrations bring strength, peace, and courage.
As I write this I’m listening to Abbas Ahmed’s beautiful song Qamişlo. You can download it here: www.kurdish-musik.com?SID=7. I am waking you up with the voice of a dream…
In Syria, Kurdish Students Arrested for Marking Qamishli Events. 13 March 2009. The MEMRI Blog. http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/14606.htm
Syria: Investigate Killing of Kurds. Human Rights Watch, 23 March 2008.
Yildiz, Karim (2005). The Kurds in Syria: The Forgotten People. London: Pluto Press.
Photos from the website Qado Şêrîn.