Saturday, May 07, 2005

"Syria's stability may well be in Kurdish hands," by Hamidi

Ibrahim Hamidi, al-Hayat's bureau chief in Damascus, has written an excellent article on the growing force of the Kurds in Syrian politics. After Islamic fundamentalists, he considers the emerging Kurdish council to be one of the most effective political movements in Syria. Here is the last half of his article published in the Daily Star. This fits nicely with my recent post: Roots of the "Kurdish Problem" .

Syria's stability may well be in Kurdish hands
Friday, May 06, 2005
Ibrahim Hamidi

Syrian Kurds were angry with the Syrian regime for preventing them from accepting condolences after a series of terrorist attacks killed Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq in February 2004. Soon afterward, Kurdish disgruntlement led to more violent protests in Qamishli and Aleppo (particularly the northern part of the city, where PKK supporters live. Demonstrators held up banners with slogans never before seen among Syria's Kurds, such as "liberation," "free Kurdistan," "kick out the Arab settlers," and "Intifada until the occupation ends." For the first time in their political history, the Kurds, who had hitherto demanded only their cultural, political and social rights within a unified Syria, expressed the issue as one of liberation.

The violence that ensued led to the deaths of around 40 people, including members of the police, and to the burning by Kurds of public and private institutions and schools. In retaliation, some 2,000 Kurds from all over Syria were detained. Most of them have since been released. The authorities used considerable force to curb the Kurds' rebellion. Now, however, it seems they are leaning toward finding a more practical political solution to the issue. Following the one-year anniversary of the Qamishli events, the appointment of Talabani to the Iraqi presidency and the success of the Iraqi Kurdish alliance in the Iraqi elections, the Syrian regime seems willing to be more conciliatory.

The Kurds and the Syrian authorities came to an agreement in March. Kurds in the province of Hasakeh staged a demonstration in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad and refrained from celebrating their traditional Nawrouz feast, an occasion to reaffirm Kurdish identity. In return, Assad granted an amnesty to 312 Kurdish detainees still imprisoned after the 2004 rioting. Well-informed sources confirmed to me that the authorities have also started conducting a census and are working out the modalities of granting Syrian nationality to Kurds, and giving it back to those from who it had been withdrawn. Estimates indicate that of the 300,000 Kurds without nationality, 225,000 were deprived of it after the 1962 census, while 75,000 are said to be "of unknown origin." However, a potential source of disagreement is that, according to official Syrian sources, the number of stateless Kurds is closer to 150,000.

Kurdish representatives told me that the authorities also planned to establish a Kurdish council to look after the interests of the community "within the Syrian context." The council would mainly deal with cultural, social and language issues. The positive signals that Damascus sent to Talabani after his appointment and its subsequent granting of permission to his supporters to organize a large reception in the center of Damascus, during which the Kurdish national anthem was played and guests wore traditional garb, were signs of a new attitude.

Why did the Syrian authorities change so abruptly? There are several overlapping reasons, as there are several points of view within the Syrian regime on how best to address the Kurdish issue. There are nationalist extremists, but also practical politicians, and it seems that for now the latter have gained the upper hand. This is a good thing, since it is time to realize that the destiny of the Kurds in neighboring countries has irrevocably changed. Moreover, the United States is exerting considerable pressure on Syria, both for specific regional reasons and because of its human rights record. There is also no doubt that the Syrian authorities realized full well that the Kurds hold considerable political power.

Looking closely at the situation in Syria, one discerns three distinct political forces: the regime with the security, political, military and others means at its disposal; the Islamists, who have religion and the mosques, but otherwise no other political means at their disposal; and the Kurds, whose behavior may have considerable influence on Syria's stability if their situation is not adequately dealt with.

With at least 11 different unlicensed political parties, the Kurds have proven that they are well organized, that their leadership and people are closely knit, and that the Kurdish street can be mobilized at will. They can rely on regional networks through their political, family and tribal relationships with Kurds in Iraq and Turkey. They can bank on international support thanks to the sympathy the Kurds have aroused over the years in Europe and the U.S. They can also reportedly resort to ties with the Islamists, and I've been told that the Muslim Brotherhood has proposed that the two sides explore joint action for the future.

All this proves beyond a doubt that the Kurds are at the nexus point of a series of domestic Syrian, regional and international dynamics. The Syrian authorities did well to change their attitude from intransigence toward the Kurds to something more pragmatic and spontaneous. They will prove even more astute if they translate this heightened realism and sensibility into concrete action by granting the Kurds their rights.


At 5/08/2005 07:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To whom it may concern,

It has never been in the history of middle-east and a country called Kurdistan. What is going on now in that region is a big conspiracy led by the Mossad with the help of the Kurdish leader to divide the region, and that has been known as a fact for a while.

At 5/09/2005 09:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leverett: "Look, I think it's pretty clear at a minimum that Syria is not doing everything it could to constrain the flow of weapons, people, money, et cetera, from Syria to support Iraqi insurgents."

This makes it look like stopping the exile Iraqi Baathists from supporting the insurgency would be really difficult. That's absolute nonsense.

Syria is a police state. That means no one comes in and takes up residence, much less engages in any activities, without the government knowing it. If the Iraqi Baathists are supporting the insurgency, it is because Bashar has given them his blessing to do so. If he wanted them out, they would be gone in a day.

From what I have read, when the Iraq war ended, the Baathists fled to Syria, which welcomed them with open arms. This was for two reasons. One, the Baathists had billions of dollars in overseas bank accounts, so they could pay good money to stay. Secondly, the the prospect of a Shite democracy in Iraq was a grave threat to Bashar, so he wanted the Iraqi Baathists to try to subvert it.

Today it looks like the insurgency can't succeed, so now Bashar is using it to try to blackmail the US: "If you give a lot of money and promise to prop up my regime, then I will stop the Iraqi Baathists from killing your troups." The US would be insane to accept this deal.

Leverett spins everything in Bashar's favor. He says Bashar is a genuine pro-western reformer, but then says he didn't get it in London. In that case, where did he, the son of a very nasty dictator, come to his supposed views? Maybe he is just coning Leverett, or Leverett has an ideological agenda that is clouding his judgement.

I wouldn't trust a word Leverett says about Syria. Did you notice how he completely avoided the ethnic issue, including how Bashar is in a weak position because he is an Alawite? If Leverett told me the sky is blue, I would go outside and check for myself.

At 6/07/2005 09:33:00 PM, Anonymous Zamboni Boy said...

Who cares whether or not there is a country with a certain name? And of course Mossad is to blame whenever racists must acknowledge the ignorance of their ways. Yo mamma is Kurdistan and yo daddy gonna get carved like Turkey. There is a little something called self-determination, and I also think borders should be abolished and people could move freely along with ideas. People should also be able to say whatever they want (Kurdistan) when they want (Kurdistan). And if it bothers ya, turn off your TV.


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