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.

———-

The interview with Fawzi Shingar is at Rudaw here.

The interview with ‘Jan’ is at KurdWatch here.

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