By Sîrwan Kajjo, reporting for Kurdistan Commentary
The death toll in Syria has hit 416 according to local and international human rights organizations. Demonstrations have taken place almost everywhere and the locus of anger is spreading all over the country. A small march, which occurred in Damascus six weeks ago, turned into a nationwide uprising that even the most optimistic observers had not expected.
Now the country obviously encounters a very severe shift that might determine the future of 22 million people who always waited for these historical moments.
The question that arises now is should the Kurds actively be involved in these protests or distance themselves from the whole affair? Well, the Kurds, of course, have participated in demonstrations on three consecutive Fridays; demonstrations which other Syrian groups called for. Thousands of Kurds hit the streets of Qamishlo, Amoude, Dirbesiye, Afrin and Kobani. Protesters, unexpectedly, changed their discourse of demands and attempted to show their fellow Syrians that Kurds are not separatists, as the regime is always claiming. The other aspect of these demonstrations that drew attention was the raising of the Syrian flag for the first time among the Kurds; no Kurdish flag was shown in all protests! These new movements by the Kurds made many Syrian Arabs change their stance regarding the Kurdish question as a whole.
The Kurdish political movement, which is the legitimate representative of the Kurds in Syria, has not declared a clear position on what to do in the current situation. A few statements have been made, but they don’t go far enough for people to create an obvious reference point from which to make a new start of the Kurdish struggle for dignity and equality.
Syria now is at a crossroads. Nobody knows how long it will take to achieve the expected change, yet one can safely say that it is never going to be like before, even if the protesters cannot topple the regime. The southern city of Dera’a, where the most violent crackdowns on protesters have taken place, has inspired other cities like Homs, Raqqa, Idleb, Banias and Lattakia. It was clear that all protesters agreed on protesting together despite their religious and ethnic differences, which had the effect of actually legitimizing their demands.
In the meantime, the Syrian regime wanted to approach the Kurds from a different angle. Official state television broadcast clips of Newroz, which was celebrated in several Kurdish cities and in Damascus as well. Buthaina Sha’aban, political advisor to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, stated that Newroz is not just a Kurdish holiday, but rather a Syrian national day. A few days later, Bashar Al-Assad signed a bill, which “granted” citizenship to more than 200,000 Kurds. The bill, of course, has not yet been implemented. The term “granting” itself is still controversial among Kurds and non-Kurds alike. In 1962, an exceptional census occurred in the Kurdish province of Hasakeh that deprived countless numbers of Kurds from their Syrian citizenship. The allegation at the time was—and still is—that those people were illegal immigrants from Turkey and Iraq.
Many political observers believe that such initiatives taken by the regime towards the Kurds are just another way to calm them down during this unrest and to prevent them from joining other Syrians. This is because the regime experienced the Kurdish rage a few years ago, specifically in 2004 and 2005 when hundreds of thousands of Kurds changed their cities into camps of sit-ins. So the regime now wants to bribe the Kurds in some way to avoid any potential challenge. The Syrian regime is apparently not honest with the Kurds, as many Kurds wondered why the regime did not take such a step years ago. Why is it happening now while people are being killed in Dera’a and other cities? Why didn’t the regime did show its beautiful face to the Kurds on March 12, 2004 when 40 civilian Kurds were killed and thousands were arrested?
It is true that people who initiated and backed the protests in Dera’a are anonymous, yet it does not mean that they are necessarily radical Muslims or armed groups as the regime alleges. Muslim brothers and other Islamic groups might have been involved in the demonstrations, but it is risky to say that all protesters in Homs and the Damascus suburbs are Islamists. So maybe having the Kurds participate is not an awkward idea for the time being.
International leaders condemn the crackdowns constantly but no serious steps have been taken by them, except for French President, Nikolas Sarkozy, whose condemnation did not exclude a military invasion. The U.S. administration seems to be hesitant of having a solid position vis-à-vis the Syrian regime despite its consecutive criticisms, which have recently sharpened.
The circumstances are open to any change and Syria, as already mentioned, is encountering a definitive transformation; and so are the Kurds. Kurds in this crucial time should unite their demands and benefit from the experiences their brothers across the borders. Otherwise, consequences would be unpredictable, especially if the country moves into sustained anarchy.