Syria issues decree to grant historic citizenship to stateless Kurds and reaches out to the long repressed minority knowing that the Kurds can serve its knock-out blow. However, with the regime reeling, is it a case of too little too late?
If ever a regime was frantically trying to dampen fires before they rage, it is the Baathist Syrian state of Bashar al-Assad. However, a mixture of limited concessions and a conciliatory tone on the one hand and violent suppression of protests on the other hand, has only served to stoke the fires and the regime is choking under its smoke.
As the storms of change have gripped the Middle Eastern landscape in spectacular and unprecedented style, the next country under threat of been swept under the fierce revolutionary waves isSyria.
Growing Arab Syrian protests in recent weeks were met with violent resistance as dozens of protestors were brutally shot. This was only compounded further in recent days by a further public outcry, more deaths at the hand of security forces and more fanatic protests from Deraa, Latakia to Qamishli.
As we have seen withTunisia, Egypt and Libya, once the greater public lose fear and deem that they have nothing to lose, government reprisals do not deter people but ironically only add fuel to the fire.
Al-Assad is fully aware in the exponentially smaller world that any protests that snowball will put the regime squarely in the international eye and an incident in one part of the country will spread like wildfire throughout the rest.
As a result, al-Assad scrambled from outright defiance and violence at the outset to a more moderate and conciliatory tone, sacking a number of governors in places where the crackdown was worst as well his entire cabinet and vowing to push towards reform and listen to the demands of the protestors.
In the past weeks, he has tried to appease a cross spectrum of society from conservative Muslims to Arab minorities and the general public.
Above all, al-Assad is fully aware the greatest danger to his regime is the long disenfranchised and largely repressed Kurdish minority. If the Arab majority in the south had a qualm with the regime and complained with a lack of freedom or state control, just imagine how the long embittered Kurds must feel.
Although, the Kurds have been largely on the sidelines thus far as they diligently asses how the demonstrations unfold, al-Assad knows that they hold the real gearbox to the Syrian revolutionary machine.
If the Arab majority can bring the al-Assad government to its knees, the authorities know that the Kurdish minority can serve the knock-out blow.
The Kurds were weary of their protests been manipulated as ethnic or separatist demands, but voices of discontent finally grew as demonstrations ensued in Kurdish cities, with the Kurds firmly emphasising their brotherhood with the Arabs.
The government’s anxiety of not stoking Kurdish sentiments could be seen with the largely peaceful way Newroz celebrations were tolerated this year. This is in comparison to previous years where Newroz celebrations were synonymous with government reprisals, arrests and violent dispersal of crowds.
In a bold show of intent, al-Assad even met Kurdish leaders in Hasaka to hear their demands and even more remarkably issued a decree to finally grant citizenship to over 300,000 stateless Kurds. These Kurds were arbitrarily stripped of citizenship in a special census that was conducted in 1962. Such Kurds not only became the subject of systematic discrimination but were denied even the basic of human rights and left to languish in an invisible existence in poverty.
The Syrian Kurds have had a worse bargain than the current Arab protestors who complain of a lack of freedom, corruption, state dominance and unemployment. Although, on the surface these concessions by al-Assad may seem historic, the Kurds must not be fooled by such empty gestures of reconciliation.
Citizenship is a basic right of every human being as is access to education, healthcare and employment. However, for nearly half a century the stateless Kurds did not even have this. Any viewing of the granting of citizenship as a major concession is blind sighted. The Kurds that did have citizenship did not fair a great deal better under programs of cultural denial, repression and assimilation.
In the dawn of the new era, there is a growing Kurdish renaissance across the Middle Eastern plains. However, the Syrian Kurds have painfully languished behind.
WhileKurdistanmay have been cruelly and selfishly carved amongst imperial power and regional dictators, the Kurds in this day and age must not allow the borders amongst their ethnic brethren to be entrenched.
Kurdish disunity has long been a nationalist handicap, and even in the respective countries where Kurds reside there are often divisions and lack of a common consensus to drive Kurdish aspirations forward.
With the Kurdistan Region growing in stature, prosperity and strategic standing, it serves as the ideal platform to boost Kurdish nationalist aspirations elsewhere via political and diplomatic channels.
In the not so distant future, greater Kurdistan could well become multi-federal regions. This may be short of outright independence, but nevertheless unique and de facto reunion of all parts ofKurdistanas the borders they are divided by slowly erode.
The Kurds inSyriahold a strong set of cards and must not cave in to token gestures by the Syrian regime. After all, it is this same regime that deprived basic citizenship, denied Kurdish culture and forcibly relocated thousands of Kurds as part of their own systematic brand of Arabisation.
Real and meaningful reform is needed across Syrian but particularly in Syrian Kurdistan. The proposed lifting of the emergency law after almost 50 years is not an enhancement of freedom or reform, but much like the Kurdish citizenship decree only gives the very basic rights back to the people.
Out of the all countries currently reeling from instability in the public domain, the fall of the Syrian regime would be the greatest scalp of the revolutionary wave. Syria is in many ways at the fulcrum of all Middle Eastern affairs. It continues to have a hand in Lebanon and the prominence of Hezbollah, it still very much epitomises anti-Israeli sentiment in the region, has an influential hand with Hamas, it has close ties to Tehran and has been accused numerous times of fuelling insurgency in Iraq.
If the regime of al-Assad is toppled it will have far greater consequences than currently seen anywhere else.
Even the Turkish government, who has slowly becoming instrumental in the region in reminiscence of their Ottoman days, has a weary eye on developments. Turkish officials have whispered more than gentle words of advise in the ears of the al-Assad government and this may well have resulted in the increasing reforms on offer.
Foreign response to the protests and killings thus far has been muted and weak. As the UK, French, US and allied aircraft continue to pound Colonel Gaddafi forces inLibya, the pressing question is what becomes the criteria for foreign intervention?
If violent crackdowns on protestors grow even stronger than today inSyria, would this be any different thanLibya? No doubt that al-Assad judging by his failed quest to appease public sentiment does not want to find out.
He is undoubtedly under pressure in the background from the West,Turkeyand major Arab powers to abide by the demands of the protestors and dampen the voices of dissent.
Al-Assad has appointed Adel Safar, a reformist and former minister of agriculture, to form a new government and it waits to be seen how the Syrian protests unfold.
However, as the Kurds have seen, with the right pressure, lose of fear and mass media coverage, what people try to achieve in decades can be achieved in weeks.
With the Kurds holding such significant advantage, the time is ripe not to settle for second best but ensure real reforms are attained. The danger is that once the situation cools down, the Kurdish aspirations may well become hit once more.
As for the Kurds in Iraq, Kurdistan is already divided. For the sake of propelling and safeguarding Kurdish interests, real reforms must be implemented and opposition and ruling parties must ensure that Kurdish aspirations are not hit by further internal divisions, at a critical and historical juncture for the Kurdish people across theMiddle East.
First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Various Misc.