Tensions are increasing in Syria. Despite the efficiency of its internal security services, President al-Assad’s Ba’ath regime faces growing dissent from the Kurds. Although they have been successfully silenced during decades, a series of events recently attracted the attention of the outside world to their fate.
There was the case of the thirty-three Kurdish demonstrators who occupied the Syrian embassy in Brussels in 2005; then there was the spectacular odyssey of the one hundred and twenty-three Syrian Kurds who landed in Corsica on November 22, 2010, and the controversy following their handling by the French Government. There has also been the month-long protest held in front of Cyprus’ interior ministry by one hundred and fifty or so refugees to obtain status, and a hunger strike in front of the Danish Parliament in October by Kurds fearing deportation. Their different experiences – from court hearings to trials, from detention centres to shelters, the botched legal actions from authorities or the evacuations by anti-riot police – come as profound reflections of the repression they endure in their own country.
During the last five years or so, the increasing marginalization of Kurds seems to have become a matter of national security in the eyes of the Syrian regime. The emergence of an autonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq is seen with anxiety by the neighbouring countries, themselves entangled in conflicts with their own Kurdish populations, and Syria feels threatened by a risk of contagion.
“Things definitely worsened after 2003,” confirms M. al-Youssef, an exiled member of the Syrian Kurd Unity Party (PYKS). “The Kurds and their political parties are now accused of being separatists, and so this makes them the prime target of the Arab nationalim at the core of Ba’ath ideology.” The Qamishli massacre in 2004, the countless reports of arbitrary arrests and brutalities perpetrated by the internal security patrols in the Kurdish provinces, are many examples of an increased repression.
Are we witnessing a new repressive campaign aimed at the Kurds, along the lines of the 1962 “special census,” or the building of the “Arab belt” along the Turkish border? Some new dispositions have been adopted recently. The Presidential Decree no.49, passed on the November 10, 2008, places the al-Hasakah province, where most of the Kurds are living, under military rule. To buy or sell a property, a license must now be obtained from the military security directorate and the political activities department.
According to Kurd opposition representatives and human rights activists, the procedure is not applied in the Arab provinces, and has been designed exclusively for the Kurdish areas. It not only prevents Kurds from establishing themselves in their native province, but also prevents any kind of investment and development. The economic breakdown so engineered pushes Kurds to leave the province, were they are replaced by Arab colonialists. They will find themselves isolated in Arab-populated parts of Syria, where their identity will be progressively dissolved.
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