Monday, April 04, 2005

Promising Developments - Kurds to get Citizenship

A number of new and promising developments have taken place in the last several days.

Syria has promised to withdraw all its forces from Lebanon by 30 April and will let a United Nations team verify the pullout.

UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara had told him "all Syrian troops, military assets and the intelligence apparatus will have been withdrawn fully and completely ... by 30 April 2005".

Speaking to Aljazeera by phone from Beirut, Lebanese opposition member of parliament Faris Buwayz said: "This step was expected and it has been heartily received in Lebanon.

"It will speed up the withdrawal and the measures required to transform Lebanon into an independent, sovereign and democratic state."
The president announced that the Regional Baath Party Congress would be held at the end of May or in early June. Many of the reformers here have gotten their hopes up again and believe that he will be introducing some important changes to the Baath constitution. Of course, we don’t yet know what they will be. Everyone is talking about it though. Here is what one of my Syrian readers wrote from Canada about what he is hearing:
In the last 4-5 days, we have gotten literally a flood of articles, quoting very high level sources about the VERY BIG changes that are coming in the next baath party conference. It has been practically confirmed that they are going to:

Empty all the prisons,

Allow private and free political daily newspapers and private tv stations,

Form the new political parties law,

They have also confirmed return of all syrian exiles (numbered in tens of thousands),

The return of passports to the kurds in the next few days....

Now you can say it's all talk, but it can't be because I have read confirmations of these things by literally about 30 different articles in the arab press from very high level sources top official said it was gonna be the biggest change syria has seen in last 50 years, and another said Bashar is going to lead a "jasmine revolution" (you know that's what damascus is known for).

It's almost impossible to contain the excitement I feel, especially as i'm about to graduate next year from university (i'm in canada) and i'm dreaming of coming back to syria to work one day.....and thus can't wait to see you post all the discussions you had with your contacts on the syrian coast as that would tell if i am getting 2 happy for nothing, or if there is substance behind what I am reading.

Although, I have heard some of these suggestions and there does seem to be a recent wave of excitement due to the announcement that the Party Congress is going to be held soon, there is still much skepticism among some reformers who are close to the situation. They say there are no signs that it will amount to much. Tonight all4syria will publish an editorial throwing cold water on the notion that much can be accomplished at the Congress because only 10% of the candidates can be new according to the voting regulations and everything is being rushed along. Others suggest that the President has some fairly aggressive reports already sitting on his desk and can push them though if he decides to. Perhaps the biggest news that seems verifiable is that:

300,000 Kurds are to get Syrian Citizenship
Ibrahim Hamidi wrote in al-Hayat (3 April 2005, p. 7) that Damascus is putting the “last touches on a law that will give citizenship to roughly 300,000 Kurds. Two days prior President Bashar announced a general pardon for the 312 Kurds who were taken into custody as a result of the “Qamishli events” of last April. Abdul Hamid Darwish, the head of the unlicensed Progressive Democratic Party, told al-Hayat that he was informed by an “important security official” that a decree announcing the restoration of citizenship to 300,000 Kurds was in its final stages. Although there are no exact statistics for the number of Kurds living in Syria without citizenship, it is believed that there are now 225,000 who had their citizenship revoked due to a 1962 law passed by President Nazim al-Qudsi the year before the Baath took power. Another 75,000 Kurds are believed to be resident in Syria with no official status at all. Most of these 300,000 are believed to be decedents of Turkish Kurds who fled into Syria following the brutal suppression of the Shaykh Said Naqashbandi revolt of 1925, the Shaykh Rida movement of 1933 and that of General Ihsan Basha in 1936.

The plan to finally give citizenship to all the Kurds follows announcements by President Bashar al-Asad to the effect that the “Kurdish nation is an elemental part of the Syrian fabric and history.” Bashar was also the first Syrian president to visit the Kurdish areas of Syria in the Jazira in many decades. I believe that President Husni Zaim, a Kurd, may have been the last Syrian president to visit in 1949, though I am not sure of this.

This move is part of a broader Syrian development plan for the Jazira, which is home to many of Syria’s poorest citizens. Al-Hayat states that two million Syrians or %12 of the country of 17 million are believed to live below the poverty line according to a new study, the highest concentration of whom are in the East. A recent report by the Ministry of Statistics put the level of poverty in Syria at less than 9%, but a courageous reporter writing in al-Tishriin created a national scandal out of these statistics, when she did the math and wrote that there was no way that such figures could be accurate. She asked the director of the office of statistics if she could see the data on which the 9% figure was based, and he told her that it was “none of her business.” She created a big fuss about this and about the office’s estimation that the average Syrian income is $220 a month, which everyone here knows is far above the reality. The average government employee doesn’t earn more than $170 a month.

The development plan for the Jazira will be announced officially during the Turkish President’s visit to Syria on the 13th and 14th of April this month. The Turks have agreed to release an additional 90 square meters of water a second from the Tigris River for Syrian and Iraqi use in irrigation. Turkey, Syria and Iraq are planning to pump some 60 million dollars a year into the Kurdish region where their three countries meet, according to Hamidi’s article. This new plan is an attempt to stabilize the region, raise the average income level, and comes in response to the anxieties Syria and Turkey share about eventual Kurdish independence in Iraq.

Many Syrians, particularly ethnic minorities are hoping that this new development signals that the Baath party Congress will move toward weakening the Pan-Arab identity of Syria, which is the official stand of both the Party and national constitutions. The hope is that a new Syrian identity will be allowed to emerge that better reflects the interests of the country and the sentiments of many of its citizens. It may also help Syria adopt a "Syrian for Syrians," or Syrian first strategy of focusing on internal development.

Asad also stated in his meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Kharazi that they both supported Lebanon having its elections help on time in May, according to Ibrahim Hamidi in al-Hayat (3 April 2005, p.2.)

The Syrian ambassador in Washington, Imad Moustapha, recently said all Lebanese political prisoners in Syrian jails will be released. It was a surprising announcement: since December of 2000 both Syria and the Syrian-backed Lebanese government have denied there are any Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails. The ambassador's announcement gave renewed hope to hundreds of Lebanese families who have tried for as long as 15 years to secure the release of their loved ones.

Meanwhile, in Washington government officials and neocons are speaking tougher than ever about change in Syria.

Liz Cheney, the US Vice President's daughter(thanks to Rami Khoury for correcting an earlier mistake in claiming she is the VP's wife.), said that Washington was looking for ways to broadly encourage freedom and democracy in Syria. She met with Farid al-Ghadry of the Syrian Reform Party last week.

Charles Krauthammer's recent opinion piece in the Washington Post takes the cake though:
Syria and the New Axis of Evil

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, April 1, 2005; Page A27

Say what you will about Bashar Assad, dictator of Syria and perhaps the dimmest eye doctor ever produced by British medical schools, but subtle he is not....

Syria made its intentions unmistakable when Assad sent his prime minister to Tehran to declare an alliance with Iran when world pressure began to build on Damascus after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

All this regional mischief-making is critical because we are at the dawn of an Arab Spring -- the first bloom of democracy in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine and throughout the greater Middle East -- and its emerging mortal enemy is a new axis of evil whose fulcrum is Syria. The axis stretches from Iran, the other remaining terror state in the region, to Syria to the local terror groups -- Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- that are bent on destabilizing Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and destroying both Lebanese independence and the current Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement.

Iran is the senior partner of this axis of evil. Syria is the crucial middle party allowing a non-Arab state to reach into the heart of the Middle East. For example, Hezbollah receives its weapons from Iran, shipped through Syria. And Iranian Revolutionary Guards are stationed today in the Bekaa Valley, under Syrian protection....

Today the immediate objective of this Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas-Islamic Jihad axis is to destabilize Syria's neighbors (Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Authority) and sabotage any Arab-Israeli peace. Its strategic aim is to quash the Arab Spring, which, if not stopped, will isolate, surround and seriously imperil these remaining centers of terrorism and radicalism.

How, then, to defeat it? Iran is too large, oil-rich and entrenched to be confronted directly. The terror groups are too shadowy. But Syria is different. Being a state, it has an address. The identity and location of its leadership, military installations and other fixed assets are known. Unlike Iran, however, it has no oil of any significance. It is poor. And the regime is weak, despised not only for its corruption and incompetence but also because of its extremely narrow ethnic base. Assad and his gang are almost exclusively from the Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot considered heretical by many Muslims and representing about 10 percent of the Syrian population.

Syria is the prize. It is vulnerable and critical, the geographic center of the axis, the transshipment point for weapons, and the territorial haven for Iranian and regional terrorists.

If Syria can be flipped, the axis is broken. Iran will not be able to communicate directly with the local terrorists. They will be further weakened by the loss of their Syrian sponsor and protector. Prospects for true Lebanese independence and Arab-Israeli peace will improve dramatically.

As Iraq, in fits and starts, begins finding its way to self-rule, the center of gravity of the Bush Doctrine and the American democratization project shifts to Lebanon/Syria. The rapid evacuation and collapse of the Syrian position in Lebanon is crucial not just because of what it will do for Lebanon but because of the weakening effect it will have on the Assad dictatorship.

We need, therefore, to be relentless in insisting on a full (and as humiliating as possible) evacuation of Syria from Lebanon, followed by a campaign of economic, political and military pressure on the Assad regime. We must push now and push hard.


At 4/04/2005 06:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, Liz Cheney is now an expert on international and middle-eastern affairs.
Well, please read her Memoirs, as summarized by "politically incorrect" (Mahre):
-Chapter one: I am the VP's daughter.
-Chapter two: I love pussy.
-The end.

At 4/04/2005 07:36:00 AM, Anonymous Ghassan said...

First, please refrain from using language that does not belong to the blog! Although, I believe that each should be free to express his/her opinion, we should not waste our time reading these statements!
Second, I am surprised too of the announcement that more Lebanese prisoners will be released from Syrian jails! Several Lebanese indicated that they have family members jailed in Syria but not a lot of people are willing to talk about it (before the assassination of R. Hariri). Is there an organization in Syria that keeps track of Syrians jailed in Syria for political reasons? I heard that one person was jailed for being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood although he is Christian! He told me that, not a hearsay!

At 4/04/2005 01:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You are too optimistic about reforms in Syria.

I hope that I am wrong.

At 4/05/2005 02:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey josh
its "syrian" in canada...
u gotta check out this article in al-bayan newspaper where they interview abdullah dardari (top reformer)whose got some really interesting stuff to say...the link is at:
He basically ends the interview with the following words (i'm translating):
"Finally, I would like to point out, without necessarily pre-empting matters, that syria will witness a new direction on a fundamental level this coming summer)".
Remember Dardari is the guy who signed that (elections law) contract about 5 days ago with the United Nations, thus it's probably the case that a lot of the changes that will be coming will be of HIS OWN PERSONAL PLANNING, and thus his words seem to carry weight...and in the interview that I've linked up above, it's pretty clear that he's in charge of the direction of the syrian economy even more than Nabras Fadel...and in the article it's also clear that he's got direct contact with the president any time he the way is his signing that election law legislation couple of days ago with the UN in any way related to your post several weeks ago about your meeting the guy who set up the that law? especially given that u have it on your site that some of your family members are deeply involved with the UN...

At 4/05/2005 02:22:00 PM, Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Thank you, France. Well done. Oh, and who listens to the "cabbage" pounder, anyway?

At 4/05/2005 03:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So syria are going to release all prisoners and allow freedom of speech? Dont be too exited about that, we have had freedom of speech in lebanon for ages, yet that doesn't seem to stop the mafia that populates our "democratic gouvernement" from making hallucinating amounts of money by corrupting vital gouvernement organisms, and "privatizing" gouvernement institutions to themselves.
What a mess...

At 4/05/2005 10:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Professor Josh,

If you haven't already noticed, not too many of your contributors are saying anything to dispute Mr. Krauthammer. Could it be he's right?

At 4/05/2005 11:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why the regime persist to ignore the syrian people fundemental rights ????
The kurdish injustice is part of the problems,there are more than 15 000 from the best sons of this country missing ,may be jailed or may be killed.

At 4/05/2005 11:55:00 PM, Anonymous marie said...

Does one comment a madman? Just let him rant.
He does not deserve a comment.

At 4/06/2005 03:50:00 AM, Blogger Brian H said...

Of course Krauthammer is right. But Bashar is going to go all out to deflect and defray the day of reckoning. But he's in mortal danger either way.

At 4/06/2005 09:11:00 AM, Anonymous Warren said...


Once again, are Uncle Rifa'at and the Muslim Brotherhood in cahoots? They both have made announcements/press releases from Nicosia in the last couple of days. Or is this just a co-incidence, reflecting the fact that, after the post 1990 status quo in Lebanon, Nicosia is, by default, sort of the Geneva of the Middle East, a safe haven for political outs? But Nicosia IS a relatively small place, and I'm sure that if Uncle Rifa'at and the Islamic Brotherhood are both there, they are at least aware of each other's presence, even if they aren't speaking to each other.


At 4/06/2005 09:27:00 AM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Uncle Rifaat has been cleaned up for a long time. He still has a small band of loyal followers here, but they are a very small band. His music doesn't play well here.

Krauthammer, on the other hand, has his loyal followers and many of them are in the government, so it pays to listen to what he says even if you disagree.

Thanks for the Dardari article. People have been telling me he is telling everyone there are going to be dramatic changes. My only concern is that he is spinning to make it so and is not really sure whether he has the ability to make it so. Few are speaking the way he is.

One parliamentary member just dropped a bomb by writing an open letter published in all4syria demanding that real democracy be instituted! We will see how that is received. Courageous?

At 4/06/2005 10:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many had responded to Charles Krauthammer directly , and this is what i responded in aletter to the Washington post directly:

Charles, say what you will about Sharon, but a man of peace he is not .

In your article, Syria and the New Axis of evil, you have demonstrated that the easiest way to destroy Iran being the " senior axis of evil is by "flipping Syria and the axis will be broken...

That is one scenario, however world problems wont be solved . My solution is more simplistic , America's client state, Israel is the problem .The only just solution for American and the people of this world is, eliminating people like yourself whom have unlimited hatred to everything relating to Arab and Muslims .

You and your ilk should never forget that Jews have historically thrived under Muslim rule:

When Muslims freed Jerusalem in 638 C.E. from Roman colonial rule, Caliph Omar granted Jews free access to Jerusalem for the first time in over 600 years. They had been exiled in 70 C.E. and forbidden to enter the city by Titus, the Roman conqueror, who later became Emperor of Rome.

Similarly, when invading Crusader armies from Europe sacked Jerusalem in 1099 and massacred its inhabitants, Jews were again, for the third time in their history, barred from Jerusalem. It wasn't until Saladin defeated the European invaders a century later that Jerusalem was reopened for Jews, the second time that a Muslim leader had done this.

When the fall of Grenada in 1492 signaled the end of Muslim rule in Andalusia, the conquerors, Isabella and Ferdinand, embarked on a genocidal campaign against Muslims and Jews. It was in the Muslim lands of Maghreb (currently: Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia), Eastern Europe and Asia Minor that the Jews sought refuge.

Jews lived voluntarily and in harmony under Muslim rule in many lands right up to the creation of Israel in the mid 20th century.

I truly will like to understand, why do you hate us so much ?


At 4/06/2005 11:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles Krauthammer is right in one respect; Syria would be the easiest target for a military campaign. He submits to the idea that Iran would be too costly to attack and disarming Hizbullah would be near impossible without attacking and destroying Lebanon. However, the argument that the immediate objective of the alliance between all the parties mentioned is to destabilize Syria’s neighbors and sabotage any Arab-Israeli peace is defective. There is no Palestinian leader who will sign on to a peace deal that does not include Jerusalem and which does not address the right of return satisfactorily and there is no Israeli leader who will sign a deal that addresses both issues. i.e. there is no chance for peace in that arena and you do not need Syria, Iran, Hizbullah and the Palestinian factions to undermine a non-existent prospect. Then Mr. Krauthammer goes on to say that the Strategic objective of the alliance is to quash the Arab spring, ummmm, the alliance has been in place long before the US entered Iraq and its strategic objectives have probably been in place long before W became president.

He goes on to argue that the regime is despised because, among other things, it is controlled by Alawites. This is an obsession that seems to prop up anytime anyone is writing about reasons to attack or isolate Syria and it is these same people who ignore that unless you are an ultra-radical Syrian Muslim, chances are you could not care less about the religious orientation of the people who govern you. What the overwhelming majority of people care about, and this is true in all nations, is economic prosperity. The fact is that the average person has no real political inclination and his/her main worry is how to provide for the family. The better economic times produce higher job rating for US presidents and they will for Syrian presidents. This could be the main reason why the US will not support government sponsored reform in Syria.

Mr. Krauthammer is a conservative journalist who shares in the conservative agenda. He writes what he needs, mixing conjectures with facts, to support his agenda. This is the same person who in an earlier article on Syria wrote

“In Iraq, America demonstrated the capacity, extraordinary and historically unique, to destroy a regime while leaving the country intact”.

now, if Iraq was left intact then I have no idea what this guy is looking at.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home