Monday, April 03, 2006

"New Year, Old Problems for Kurds in Syria," by Denselow and Taa'i

James Denselow and Abdallah Taa'i have written an article for "Syria Comment" about the recent Nawruz demonstration of the Kurds in Syria and its suppression. BBC writes about the ongoing violence in Turkey which has cost 12 Kurds their lives in recent days. The government is blaming it on the PKK. Both Iran and Syria have promised Istanbul to crack down on the PKK, which has begun to reorganize in Syria, as reported earlier by "Syria Comment." Turkey says that three of those killed were Syrian nationals. Razzan Zaytouneh's "SHRIL" notice this week gives the names of many Syria Kurds who have been given jail terms for being separatists. Robert Lowe of Chatham House in London has just published an excellent overview of the Kurdish Problem in Syria.

New Year, Old Problems for Kurds in Syria
Students Demonstrate in Damascus
By James Denselow and Abdallah Taa’i
For Syria Comment: 28/3/06

On Tuesday the 21st of March Kurds across the Middle East celebrated the ‘Nowruz’ or Kurdish New Year. In Northern parts of Iraq huge processions of people carrying burning torches danced the day away following the symbolic raising of the Kurdish flag and singing of national anthems. As the Baghdad burns the Kurdish North is increasingly standing out as a zone of comparative stability, with development plans able to go ahead under the watchful security provided by the Kurdish peshmerga-turned Iraqi army.

At the Northern Yaroubiyeh border crossing point with Syria over 600 Lorries were recently backed up on the Syrian side, most carrying construction materials to help the building boom in Iraqi Kurdistan. On the Syrian sides dynamics are starkly different. The NE ‘Jazira’ corner of the Country is characterized by the worst incidence of national poverty. A UNDP report identified that 58.1% of the poor in Syria live in the NE Region (which in their survey included Idleb, Aleppo, Al Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Hassakeh), with 21% of the rural population living on less than $2 a day. Such poverty is visible in terms of poor quality housing, service provision, high unemployment, and poor quality water sanitation supply systems.

The Syrian government has recognized the need to address the socio-economic situation in the Jazira region and has prioritized investment and development programs as part of its most recently released ‘5 year plan’. Yet while economic plans are an obvious necessity there seems little political will in the higher echelons of the Syrian regime to address the situation of the Kurds in the region. It is worth remembering that the Syrian-Kurdish population comprises an estimated 1.75m or 10% of the population, yet the decision in 1962 to strip many of a potential ‘5th column’ of their citizenship meant that today over 300,000 Kurds are denied full Syrian citizenship and the benefits that come with it.

In the lead up to this year's celebrations a number of incidents highlighted the continued restiveness of the Kurdish population. On March 12 a number of demonstrations took place in memory of the deaths of at least 25 Kurds in clashes following a football match in Qamishli. At the University of Damascus demonstrator’s were surrounded by security forces and had placards ripped from their hands, meanwhile a procession on its way to the parliament building was intercepted by security forces and in the ensuing scuffle, Kurdish opposition leader Riyad Sa’if was arrested.

On Nowruz itself the Kurdish towns in the NE were quiet as celebrations took place in the nearby countryside. Near Hassake (a predominantly Kurdish town in which a 2004 census identified a 24% rate of unemployment) huge swathes of land were covered in tents set up that morning under the watchful eyes of the government riot police. In Damascus a number of demonstrations went peacefully but in Aleppo events spiraled somewhat out of control after a fire truck that’s water cannon was turned on the crowd was subsequently set on fire, there has been no confirmation on the numbers of subsequent arrests made.

As diplomatic officials in Damascus have commented on, the current climate for Kurdish activists in Syria is an uncertainty as to the location of ‘red lines’ that they can push their protests to.

In discussions with a group of student activists the New Year expectations of the Kurds was outlined. The group made it clear that they are not seeking a violent confrontation with the state. The very geography and population distribution of the Kurds in Syria scattered between the indefensible plains of the NE and large populations in Damascus and Aleppo means that an armed insurrection, such as took place in Iraq is both unlikely and undesirable. The group rejected accusations that Kurdish political parties in Iraq are supplying Kurdish political parties in Syria with weapons and emphasized that they do not need American interference in what should be an internal issue.

Indeed the key demand of the Kurds is for Kurdish recognition within a Syrian national framework. They want the government to grant citizenship to the ‘ajanib’ (foreigners) – those Kurds who have been denied Syrian nationality. They also ask that Syria’s name be changed from the “Syrian Arab Republic” to the simpler and more ethnically neutral “Syrian Republic.” The Students insisted on the importance of Kurdish language rights and the incorporation of Kurdish history into the Syrian curriculum. As one student complained, “our school books describe the great Islamic warrior Salahaddin as an Arab and not a Kurd.”

Many Kurds feel that their room to maneuver and ability to express their demands have been severely constrained by the present political environment in Syria. Because of the authoritarian nature of the regime and its present policy of suppressing all forms of decent in the face of international pressure, Kurdish rights have gotten little but lip service from the government. Yet in the Northeast of the country widespread poverty and political dissatisfaction combine to ensure future trouble. As the situation in Iraq deteriorates pushing the country toward outright civil war and ever-greater political fragmentation, it will be difficult for the Syrian government to contain the unrest. The Kurdish issue may be forced to move beyond its present national constraints.


Kurdish unrest has spread throughout much of southern Turkey.
Officials said Kurdish insurgents have helped foment riots throughout southeastern Turkey over the last week. They said some of the organizers came from such neighbors as Iran, Iraq and Syria.

On Saturday, about 1,000 Kurds rampaged through the town of Kiziltepe near the Syrian border. Officials said the Kurds, many of them youngsters, torched two banks, a building used by the ruling Justice and Development Party and battled Turkish security forces.

One person was killed and another 10 were injured in Kiziltepe, officials said. So far, eight people have been killed in what officials termed the worst civil unrest in Turkey since the late 1970s. ANKARA [MENL] --


At 4/03/2006 02:59:00 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

This is actually a weak article (and I don't mean just its language, which could've used some editing).

The article leaves unsaid (as do you) that the campaign (which is much broader than attacks on the Norouz celebrations) is part of the regime's opposition policy, which I don't have time to elaborate on.

The regime's attack on Kurds extends well beyond the Norouz celebrations and the Qamishli commemorations (the reaction to which by the regime was openly sectarian, as they tried to isolate the Arabs away from the Kurds).

Your guest authors blithely wrote about how the regime has "recognized the need to address the socio-economic situation in the Jazira region...." The fact is that the regime has been doing house demolitions in Raqqa, as part of its harrassment campaign. Not only that, a previously unknown group (a la the regime-created Jund al-Sham) has suddenly appeared in the Jazira region spreading anti-Kurdish pamphlets. Kurdish students (even those traveling legally to Turkey and Iraq) are being harrassed and arrested. Writers in the region have been arrested on no charges. Made-up chages are being thrown around about "separatists" and "disseminating sectarian sentiments that weaken the nation" etc.

Furthermore, the regime's policy, as noted above, is to keep the Kurdish issue isolated from the rest of the opposition (which is why they killed Khaznawi to begin with). So Arab oppositionists who display solidarity with Kurds are arrested and harrassed.

The regime is "producing" its own opposition internally, pressuring the domestic opposition to follow specific red lines ("nationalism," no contact with the outside, no real coordination with the Kurds, no coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood), thereby rendering it scattered and utterly toothless.

At 4/03/2006 03:57:00 PM, Blogger ActiveListener said...

Amnesty International has just published a statement on Syria's new crackdown on government opponents, listing the latest arrests and sentences handed out.

It gives details of a number of recent cases that have not been publicised elsewhere.

At 4/03/2006 05:35:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


As you well know, Amnesty International has been publishing similar statements about Syria for as long as we can remember. I thought that Bashar made it clear that his priorities lie in security followed by economics and lastly by “other things”. Why do we continue to be surprised when the regime does not tolerate dissent? We should be surprised when they don’t crack down hard not when they do. It has always been a fight for survival. Nowadays, the stakes and dangers are higher than they have ever been. The regime’s response has been highly predictable and logical.

At 4/03/2006 08:40:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

How do we know that the Kurds in Syria who are seeking citizenship are not smuggled and immigrants from Turky or Iraq ,the kurds of Syria should understand that Syria is an Arab conutry and that all people living in Syria are Arabs from different ethnic and religous backround as are all people living in the United states of America are American from different ethnic and religous backgrouds ,Kurds in the Us who are cittizens call themselves American so do the Mexican American or at least they are expected to and they do not Ask the US to be called the united states without of America ,About Saladin,being an Arab of kurdish origin is somthing the Kurds should be proud of but he is known because of his leadership to the Arab armies that liberated the holly land and was raised in the Arab land and under the influance of the Arab Islamic civelization like in the US when people acheive they do not acheive because they are Arabs ,Chinese ,Korians ,Indians or Hebrews we all achieve because we are Americans and live under the american civelization,so Kurds should have Kurdish associations and private schools that teach Kurdish languege in addition to Arabic but like in the US nobody should have Syrian citizen if he can not speak Arabic ( i am not saying to write ),to rap it up Kurds should consider themselves Syrian from the Kurdish minority like other ethnic minorities in Syria with equal rights ,that is they can become leaders in Syria as did Saladin.

At 4/03/2006 10:04:00 PM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Norman, If I may intercede here to clear up a misapprehension. You compare nationality in the United States with that in the Syrian Arab Republic. The two nationalities are very different. Nationality in the US is based of geography and law. One acquires citizenship in two ways: either by being born on American soil or by immigration and pledging allegiance to the law of the land, which is based on the constitution. There is no legal relationship between ethnicity or race and American citizenship. There is no distinction between citizenship and nationality.

This is not the case in Syria where citizenship and nationality are two distinct categories and legal states. Legally, there is no such thing as Syrian nationality, although there is Syrian citizenship. The only proper nationality in Syria is an Arab nationality. According to the constitution, Syria is a region of the Arab nation. The preamble to the constitution begins with the sentence: “The Arab nation managed to perform a great role in building human civilization when it was a unified nation.” Syria is only mentioned as a region of the Arab nation.

The first article in the constitution itself drives home this distinction. Syria is a state but not a nation. Moreover, the state is only temporary. Syria’s borders are only legitimate until the colonial divisions can be swept away in favor of a united Arab nation. The first article of the constitution reads:

(1) The Syrian Arab Republic is a democratic, popular, socialist, and sovereign state. No part of its territory can be ceded. Syria is a member of the Union of the Arab Republics.
(2) The Syrian Arab region is a part of the Arab homeland.
(3) The people in the Syrian Arab region are a part of the Arab nation. They work and struggle to achieve the Arab nation's comprehensive unity.

No Syrian nationality exists as does an American nationality. There is Syrian citizenship, to which 300,000 Kurds born on Syrian soil are denied. One out of every six Kurds born in Syria has been denied citizenship because his grandfather could not prove he was born on Syrian soil. This is an injustice no matter how one looks at it.

Kurds are caught in a difficult predicament because of the Arab spiritual and legal rejection of Syrian nationality. Kurds are permanently barred from belonging to the nation by their ethnicity and race just as Palestinian Muslims and Christians are barred from participating in the dominant nationality of the Israeli Jewish State. Five-sixths of Syria’s Kurds enjoy Syrian citizenship, but none can be Arabs. Asking a Kurd to be Arab is like asking me to be Arab. Even if I wanted to be, I could not.

The only permanent resolution to this question would be for Arabs to abandon their desire to cling to Arab nationality and accept a Syrian nationality. This will not happen for a long time to come, just as Jews will not give up their Jewish nationality in the name of being simply Israeli, equal to Muslim Israelis.

Most Kurdish parties ask that Syria become a nation so that Kurds can feel a part of the nationality and not merely enjoy the rights of citizenship. This is what the Kurds of Iraq demanded and got in the new Iraqi constitution. It infuriated Arabs across the Middle East. There is no easy solution to the problem of identity and nationality, but it is unfair to demand that Kurds become Arab, which is beyond even their powers of inventiveness and adaptibility.

Respectfully, Joshua

At 4/03/2006 11:12:00 PM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

josh is either do not understand the definition of arab or he is misinformed,I like to ask you, what is the definition of arab?,may I remind you that the syrian society is a mixture of different ethnic background, the jews claim that they came from Abraham, where did Abraham came from? did he not come from ur? southern Iraq, the heart of the arab world, my father trace his ancestry to family of the prophet Mohammad, my mother from northern part of Iran, some of my family considered Druze, and one of my great great grand mother was a jew, the point I am saying is that arab include kurd christians moslems jews, it is civilization not is a civilization deeply influenced by the great and wonderful islamic religion, and christian and jewish religeons, the place where arabic language is used, arabic nationality is a feeling that we are togather living in the holly area, so kurds are arab as much as christians and jews and moslems, we are the center of the human civilization, the original arabs are gone completely, we are mustaareboun, we acquired the habits language ideas of the original arab.the original arabs were in yemen they were tall white, blue eyes people, obviously came from the sea and reside in yemen,they mixed with the local people, but they ,completely,are gone,they were called arab ba-eda.we are arab can be arabic if you speak arabic and have the feeling of arab,and acquired their feeling and support, the spanish princes who were brought as slaves they converted to islam and mixed with the syrian are considered arab, families from yoguslavia now live in syria and are arab, so turkish families,also sharkas and armenians from russia, live in syria and they arab now.

At 4/03/2006 11:45:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

I agree with Norman. The Kurds should accept to be "Syrians" just like the Armenian Syrians who were also mostly refugees from Turkey.

They should protect their rich culture and language and history, but beyond that, one wonders how their demands can be satisfied without setting a precedent for all the other minorities in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq to ask for similar autonomy, if not more.

Not practical at all.
Besides, it seems the Assyrian Christians who share the same Kurdish areas in northers Iraq and Syria, are not happy with the way the Kurds are controlling those areas in a very non democratic way (during Iraqi elections for example).

Once you start dividing there is no end to it.

At 4/04/2006 12:01:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

And I just read Joshua's comment, so here is some more:

It really does not matter what terms we use, Syrian, Arab, nationality, citizenship ...etc. What counts is that both sides are disappointing; the Syrian government (and people) do not really care about the Kurds and their satisfaction levels except when the kurds start to show their ability to create major problems in the country. On the other hand, the kurds are not angels either; whenever they feel empowered, they have a long history of issues they would like to settle with the "Arabs" ... The solution is to make sure they have just enough power to not be ignored by the Syrians, but not too much power. Something tells me they will not act like Swedish democrats if they got what they really want... independence. The more powerful they are, the more independent they will want to be.

This is a problem that can be managed, not solved.

At 4/04/2006 12:22:00 AM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

Europe is full of equal problems, with citizenship, nationality and ethnics. Spanish citizens who are Basks do not in all aspects have a strong sense of Spanish nationality. Same with Hungarians in Romania or Austrians in Italy (South Tirol). Not even a regional autonomy does always solve all problems. Yugoslavia and Soviet Union were a good example how fast a national “unity” can brake in pieces even there ones was a rather strong sense of a united nation.

Arab countries are rather new and artificial creations. So it is rather natural that these new countries do not have a strong sense of own nation. Let us consider that 50 years from now Chinese military would divide USA in ten new countries. How long would it take before these new countries would have a strong sense of their individual nationality and they would end dreaming of old times and a greater “America”?

Not even USA nationality is carved in stone. Let us remember the Civil War, the faith of American Japanese during WW2 or the rather strange “situation” of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s president is US president, but people in Puerto Rico can’t vote for their president even they are US citizens.

At 4/04/2006 07:23:00 AM, Blogger George Ajjan said...

Josh, I would like to ask a question regarding the discrepancy between Syrian citizenship and Syrian nationality.

Which one entitles you to discounted rates at hotels in Syria? And which one forces you to pay higher exit taxes at Syrian borders?

I have an American passport with a very Syrian last name and face. This "asl" factor seems good enough to pay more when being Syrian means you pay more at the borders; but at the hotels, Syrian blood gets you nowhere in terms of the discount if you don't have Syrian citizenship and papers.

At 4/04/2006 07:50:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

The Iranian ambassador to Ankara urged Turkey, Iran and Syria to form a joint policy on the Kurdish issue, saying in an interview published this morning that if they didn’t, “the U.S. will carve pieces from us for a Kurdish state”. He further stated “Turkey, Iran and Syria need to form a joint policy on the Kurd and Iraq issues. If there is a void between Turkey, Iran and Syria on this subject, the U.S. will enter the void and fill the spaces. The U.S. will carve pieces out of us for a Kurdish state”.

I think most of the commentators here are making a critical mistake when they lump Kurds with Armenians as an example. Syria’s Baath allows Armenians to form their owns schools and publish their own newspapers. Armenians who choose to attend these schools get their instructions all in Armenian. Kurds to want to have their own similar schools are refused permission. Christian Assyrians face a similar fate when they apply to open their own school or publish their own newspapers in Aramaic.

Why the special treatment for Armenians?

It is because they are regarded as a “Qawmiya Muhajjarah”. They have no possible claim for a Syrian land. The Syrian Government has granted them the abovementioned special rights but it can always take them away and ask them to leave. They cannot do this with either the Kurds or the Assyrians for example. As a result, they will have to be extra vigilant about granting them rights that may be viewed as a launching pad to gain full independence and statehood over a land that they can claim as theirs.

At 4/04/2006 08:38:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...


You are way off the mark when it comes to the Armenians. You state things as if they are a fact and that's something you need to be careful with because I saw it also in other topics including the ones you posted on this blog.

“Qawmiya Muhajjarah” applies not only on the Armenians but also the Sharkas and many others. This does NOT stipulate that the government can take away the nationality from an Armenian or anyone else for that matter. Actually it is almost impossible for a Syrian to be stripped of his or her nationality except for the sole exception of GRAND treason (note that its plain treason won't do it) and trust me I have taken the above mentioned from a lawyer its true.

The sticky issue with the Kurds has nothing to do with this special title, it is the special situation of the Kurds and Assyrians call for their own nation that poses a danger. while the sharkas and Armenians have never made such calls.

the Assyrians, at least in Syria, pose no threat to the government because of their small numbers but the kurds on the other hand have significant presence in 3 countries which inflates the size of the problem. but that does not change the core of the dilemma and that is that SOME of these communities would like a part of Syria for their own.


You need to have the Syrian passport or ID otherwise you wont get a discounts at hotels. the guys at border might be assuming that you have the syrian nationality as well but just hiding, since everyone of syrian origin is entitled to one. But im surprised you are paying more at the border because I enter and leave the country with my Dutch passport, and I don't pay a cent when I enter, only the exit fee when I leave.

At 4/04/2006 08:44:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


1- I never said that the Armenians were the only “Qawmiya Muhajjarah”. Of course I am aware that the Sharkas fall in the same category.
2- You totally miss the point here. Have you tried to ask an Assyrian to open a school or publish a newspaper in his own language? Can you tell me why Armenians are allowed to do so while neither the Assyrians nor the Kurds can?

At 4/04/2006 09:53:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Mr. Perfect,

You accuse me that I “state things as if they are a fact and that’s something” I “need to be careful with because” you “saw it also in other topics including the ones” I “posted on this blog”.

I guess no one can match your perfect record when it comes to posting “facts” Why don’t you go ahead and expose all the things that I ought to have been “careful” about before posting.

At 4/04/2006 11:05:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

off the Topic..

America Says It's Prepared To Listen to Syrian Muslim Brotherhood
By ELI LAKE Staff Reporter of the Sun
4 April 2006
The New York Sun
CAIRO, Egypt - America is open to widening its contacts among opponents of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad following the setting up of an alliance between a former Syrian vice president and the country's militant Muslim Brotherhood.

The leader of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood,Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni, met with and formed a pact with the former Syrian vice president, Abdul Halim Khaddam, at a little-noticed conference in Brussels on March 16 and 17. Mr. Khaddam last year began cooperating with the U.N. investigation into Syria's role in the assassination of Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

Last week the assistant secretary of state for near east affairs, David Welch, told Arab newspaper reporters that he was interested in what Mr. Khaddam has to say. Yesterday, a State Department spokesman, Gregg Sullivan, reiterated that view. "This political union is an internal Syrian political development. I would note that we are interested in hearing a wide array of views from Syrian opposition figures to gauge how we can best bring reform and democratization to Syria as well as a definitive change in Syrian behavior."

While those words are hardly an endorsement of the new alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the former vice president, they leave the door open to future contact with a coalition of opponents to the Assad regime that would include political parties in Syria that have historically been at odds with America.

Syria's Muslim Brotherhood is best known for its terrorist acts against the Assad regime in the early 1980s. The wave of terror prompted the current Syrian president's father, Hafez al-Assad to send his brother Rifaat al-Assad, to their stronghold in Hama, where his men slaughtered at least 20,000.

Mr. Khaddam would also be an unlikely American ally. In the spring of 2000, shortly after the ascendancy of Bashar al-Assad, he personally oversaw the arrests of Syrian intellectuals and liberals who had begun to take their first steps at criticizing the Baathist state.The American-based Reform Party of Syria accuses Mr. Khaddam of looting millions from the country.

The president of that party, Farid Ghadry, yesterday said he was deeply troubled by the development. "We want to start a new Syria and anyone who in the past has had a hand in corruption or killings must not be supported by the international community to resume their old habits in any government position," he said. "We will ask Congress to help pass such a law to protect the Syrian people and their future."

In remarks to the Saudi-owned Web site Efal, Mr. Ghadry was more specif ic, saying he would push for a clause in new legislation to aid the Syrian opposition that would make any parties that include members of the old regime implicated in corruption or crimes against the Syrian people, ineligible for such aid.

Mr. Ghadry's party sent a delegation to Brussels last month to meet with Mr. Khaddam about his new plans for the opposition and was largely spurned. "We met with him to see what he could do for us.We did not go there to support him," a member of the delegation, Abdul Latif Al-Monaeir, said yesterday. "He is a retaliatory person. I saw him in a closed vision. He did not want to open his mind. He closed the door, he established the meeting and gave the message: We don't want to make the opposition open to anyone."

Nonetheless, the new alliance, according to some analysts, represents a significant shift for an opposition that has been fractured and in hiding due to crackdowns by the Damascus regime.

"Khaddam and Bayanouni are probably the two strongest pillars of the opposition. Khaddam has discredited the regime by defecting and working with the U.N. investigation. And it is widely assumed that the Syria's Muslim Brotherhood represents the strongest Sunni grassroots opposition inside Syria," a research analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies,Tony Badran, said yesterday.

However, Mr. Badran stressed that no good statistics or information exists on membership of the brotherhood or any political organization in Syria besides the Baath Party.

A Syrian author, Taher Ibrahim, last week in al-Sharq al-Araby described the alliance between Messrs. Khaddam and Bayanouni as "the alliance between the strongest of the weak on the Syrian scene, because there are no strong parties in the opposition."

At 4/04/2006 11:45:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4/04/2006 11:48:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Ihsani2 and IC, you both realize the issue here; Kurds are asking Syria for the impossible ... to help them become more Kurdish and less Syrian. My point about hte Armenians was exactly what you pointed out, that if the Kurds were convincing in their love for Syria, then the government has no problem granting them the same freedoms they granted the Armenians. But the fact is, Kurds really prefer to be part of Kurdistan instead. Their new majority in the Jazeereh region in north eastern Syria (used to be mostly christian till the 1960) makes it too tempting for them to see the practicality of cutting that small piece off and joining it to the Iraqi Kurdistan at least.

Yes, Kurds in Damascus are probably more Syrian that Kurds in Qamishli, but it is all about the probablities in their heads. If they feel it is possible, they will want it.

I got this one by email yesterday, don't know if it is true:

من يمعن النظر في دولة بشار الأسد لايجد فيها عرباً عاربة ولا عرباً مستعربة ، بل يجد مايلي :
- رئيس مجلس الشعب : محمود الأبرش : شيشاني
- رئيس الحكومة : ناجي العطري : تركماني
- الأمين القطري المساعد : سعيد بخيتان : نَوَري ، وقد دَحَشت عائلته نفسها في إحدى العشائر البدوية منذ عقود عديدة لكن أهل تلك العشيرة يعتبرونه دخيلاً عليهم وينظرون إلى أصله النَوَري القرباطي .
- وزير الدفاع : حسن تركماني : تركماني
- وزير الداخلية : بسام عبد المجيد : شركسي

At 4/04/2006 12:52:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...


I thought i answered your question but maybe i was not clear even though Alex already said it.

The problem with the Kurds and, to a smaller degree, the Assyrians is that they have more interest in the creation of their own nation than to remain part of syria. so if the government would supply them both with their own schools and privileges such as the ones given to the armenians then the two would use it to advance their own dreams of independence = a slice of syria. and that, as bad as you might view the guys in damascus, is unacceptable to them and most of the syrian public. i am not trying to lay out my point of view, just the governments reasoning and justification.

It could be argued that the problem (of the Kurdish dream) was intensified by the governments suppression of their rights but that’s not to say that its not inherently a Kurdish ideology and would have remained an issure even if they had been granted their full rights. I would also highly doubt that any "democratic" nation would support a minority's struggle in its independence of its own country. Some examples would be Northern Ireland and the Basque region in Spain just to name a few. Even though neither should be compared to the Kurdish issue since I see, at least in the Irish issue, much more legitimacy.


At 4/04/2006 01:33:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

The issue, therefore, is which of these minorities can claim a slice of the country. The Syrian Government will not make it easier for these groups to teach their language or form their own schools. Syria is not an exception in doing so. Turkey does the same with the Kurds as they can (and do) dream of forming their own state one day. The Armenians, on the other hand, do not necessarily feel more Syrian than the Kurds. They are, instead, totally aware that they have no claims to any land in the country. They are a classic “muhajjareen” who are in Syria following the atrocities they faced in Turkey during WWI. I am not blaming Syria for fearing a Kurdish movement to separate and form their own state. The Iraq example is indeed an important precedent to watch as the Iranian Ambassador has urged the three nations this morning. It is, therefore, not hard to understand why the Syrian Government views the Kurds with suspicion. But, what are we to make of the Kurds and their predicament? Their majority carries no citizenship. They cannot teach their language. They cannot publish their newspapers. They live in mostly unauthorized dwellings, which can be taken away or demolished anytime. The Baath party in essence asks them to forget about their language and culture and instead decide to become “Real Arab”. Again, they do this to prevent them from ever dreaming of asking for a slice of the country. Were the Kurds to be an import to our region from Norway and were they to have zero claims to historical land in present Syria, I would submit to you that they would have been treated very differently. It is not a coincidence that the “imported” Armenians are indeed granted a special treatment, which is not afforded to the more “Domestic Qawmiyat”

At 4/04/2006 02:02:00 PM, Blogger George Ajjan said...


Thanks for you advice although I was joking in my question really.

When I arrive to Syria, without fail they write "asl souri" over the entry stamp after a long, frustrating discussion given the level of my arabic skills. This is not good enough for the hotels, as you note, however at the Jordanian border it cost me. At the airport though last time, the difference in the exit tax was huge and I made a big fuss, ultimately he got tired of me and let me go for the tourist rate.

Despite these frustrations, there has been progress in Syria. During my first visit in 1998, the words "khadmat al-askaria" were being thrown around...

At 4/04/2006 02:39:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

George, in your case they should stamp "asl Halabi" ... I wonder if that changes your tax and hotel rates, up or down.

Back to the kurds ... the problem is bigger than Syria. It is a problem of digitizing continuously variable things ... straight-line borders do not always contain a homogenious group of people within them. The fact is, at Syria's borders (like many other borders) the country does not make complete sense anymore ... kurds prefer ot be in Kurdistan, Abu Kamal residents are more Iraqi than Syrians. Similarly, across the border in Lebanon, many Lebanese would be happier to be part of Syria (especially a more solid and successfully reformed Syria). One wonders if our Arab value "borders are sacred" continues to be reasonable and wise.

And I hope my friend Anton Efendi will pass that small Lenbanon remark above as a semi-joke.

At 4/04/2006 02:59:00 PM, Blogger George Ajjan said...


For your edification, the trick to lower rates in Aleppo is to use the magic words "karabij" and especially "memounia".

Say "memounia" and the Aleppians gush all over you!


At 4/04/2006 03:17:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

This is a very emotional subject for many of us Syrian, We are discussing and touching the sectarian lines within the WATAN. This kind of discussion is not going to be a fair but it can be useful in all means. It will bring frustration and painful feeling to some Syrian peoples.
For me personally, I will never allow a divided Syria around a sectarian lines, but willing to allow the teaching of their language outside the public schools, publish their own culture and civil newspapers and any other deemed not to harm the country unity. Any Kurdish movement for separation, should not be tolerated.
Israel will not allow it for Iraq. Read below

Disintegration of Iraq would pose multiple problems for Israel
Asher Susser
852 words
4 April 2006
Daily Star
Beirut -- The possible fragmentation of Iraq is a most unwelcome prospect from the Israeli point of view. Some observers, locked in perceptions of a bygone era, might still think otherwise. In the 1960s and 1970s, when Israel was deeply involved in conflict with core Middle Eastern states - Egypt, Syria and Jordan - it was extremely apprehensive about possible Iraqi wartime military assistance to its Arab enemies. Israel consequently developed a particularly friendly relationship with the non-Arab periphery of the region, particularly Iran, and actively pursued a covert relationship with the Kurds in Iraq in support of their secessionist struggle against the central government in Baghdad. Israel's interests have, however, radically changed since then, as have the concepts of core and periphery in the Middle East.

Israel has made its peace with key players of the Arab core, Egypt and Jordan. It maintains an uneasy modus vivendi with Syria and low-intensity conflict with the Palestinians. The balance of power between Israel and its Arab neighbors has shifted markedly in Israel's favor. Generally, in the last two decades or so, the Arabs have been considerably weakened, with former regional powers having lost their hegemonic status. Egypt no longer wields the regional clout it once enjoyed. Syria under President Bashar Assad is but a shadow of its former self. It has been forced out of Lebanon and is substantially isolated. Iraq has been crushed by the American invasion, and Saudi Arabia, even with oil prices going through the roof, is not as wealthy as it once was. Moreover, the kingdom is suffering from domestic terrorism, and has had a somewhat less intimate relationship with the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001.

In the eastern part of the Arab world, where the Syrian and the Iraqi Baath regimes once vied for supremacy, there is now an Arab leadership void. The power vacuum is being filled by an expanding Iran, the likes of which the region has never witnessed in the modern era. Determined to obtain a nuclear capability, Iran is presently also buoyed by an unprecedented sense of Shiite ascendancy. Iraq has become the first Shiite-dominated Arab state, the Shiites are on the rise in Lebanon, and Jordan's King Abdullah was, therefore, pretty much on the mark in his anxious reference in late 2004 to the emergent "Shiite crescent" of influence.

Under these circumstances, the former Sunni Arab core is becoming a political periphery relative to the new core, which has moved eastwards to Iran. As the U.S. sinks deeper into the Iraqi morass, so Iran treats the West with ever increasing defiance and an obvious sense of impunity and self-assurance. Saddam's Iraq was once the Arab bulwark in the east, but its removal has opened the floodgates for Iranian regional ascendancy, for which nothing positive can be said from an Israeli standpoint.

If the weakening of Iraq and the potential for its disintegration have brought the region thus far, the country's actual dismemberment into three statelets - one Kurdish in the north, one Sunni in the center, and one Shiite in the south - could have disastrous consequences for the region, especially for Israel and its regional allies, Turkey and Jordan.

As is well known, the Turks are wary of the potentially destabilizing impact of a Kurdish state. A weak Sunni Iraqi state, sandwiched between the Kurds and the Shiites and denied Iraq's oil wealth, could become an insufferable burden on the neighbors, especially Jordan, to which many Iraqis may emigrate. This would bring even greater pressure to bear on Jordan's economy and infrastructure, already straining under the burden of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have taken refuge in the kingdom.

The Shiite statelet in the south would be far more dependent on Iran than on a more powerful, united (albeit federative and Shiite-dominated) Arab-Kurdish Iraqi state, and thus a far more likely candidate to serve as a subservient and subversive cat's paw of the ayatollahs in Tehran.

The disintegration of Iraq along sectarian lines would be the first such development of its kind in the Arab state system since its creation in the 1920s. Others could follow, like Lebanon and Syria, leading to sectarian shifts of power to the Shiites in Lebanon and, in Syria, to fundamentalist Sunnis bent on unseating the Alawites who dispossessed them a generation ago. The Iranians and Hizbullah, Hamas and their Syrian counterparts in the Muslim Brotherhood would all stand to benefit from the new disorder, in which Israel, Jordan and Turkey would be equally hard-pressed to cope with the negative fallout of Iraq's demise.

Considering the alternatives, none appears more appealing than the restoration of the integrity of an independent, unoccupied, Arab-Kurdish Iraqi state, which would probably be more inclined to restrain Iranian influence than an occupied and fragmented Iraq.

Asher Susser is director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. This commentary first appeared at,

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