Syrian Kurdish Politicians Slowly Lean Towards Stronger Stance Against Assad
In Germany on July 3rd, the formation of the Syrian Kurdish Parties Front: European Representation was announced after two days of talks between representatives of eleven Syrian Kurdish political parties. The Kurdish Front’s self-defined mission is to seek “democratic” solutions to the issues facing Syria’s Kurds. Although the Front’s first statement condemned the violent crackdown and urged Assad to stop the bloodshed and release political prisoners, it did not explicitly call on Assad to step down.
The formation of the European Kurdish Parties Front is within the context of some Kurdish parties within Syria already condemning the violence , with a few even calling on the President to step down. In early June, three of the twelve Kurdish political parties within Syria officially backed the protesters, and on June 16th, the Kurdish Democratic Union formally stated that after decades of demanding reform from the Syrian government, “it’s time for Assad to go.” A new opposition council, the National Union of the Forces for Democratic Change was announced in Damascus at the end of June, and includes the participation of five Kurdish political parties.
Why doesn’t the established Kurdish opposition lead the call for Assad to step down? Kurds have long made up some of the most persistent opposition to Assad, demanding increased Kurdish rights including citizenship rights and protesting unfair arrests and the killing of civilians. In 2004, protests spread throughout Syrian Kurdistan after a football match turned sour. About twenty Kurds were killed during the protests afterward, and scores injured and arrested. In the context of the Iraq war and anti-American/pro-Saddam sentiment, the aftermath of the protests was considerably brutal and Kurds suffered from increased repression afterwards.
Amidst this unwillingness, Bashar al-Assad deliberately wooed the Kurdish population in the beginning of the 2011 protests by offering a token amount of Kurds citizenship rights, and attempting to meet with Kurdish officials. Mainstream Kurdish opinion was unwilling to completely back protesters with unestablished political demands and tactics, even against such a repressive regime. Thus, actions such as the formation of the Kurdish Parties Front and public statements against Assad from Syrian Kurdish officials represents a huge shift towards the protesters as the mood of the country changes.
However, Kurdish youth in many Kurdish cities and neighborhoods have been consistently engaging in mass Friday protests since very early on, even without explicit backing from Kurdish officials. This last Friday’s protests, the “Friday of Departure” saw an escalation of protests not just across Syria but particularly across Kurdish regions. Qamişlo (ar. Al-Qamishly) saw protests in the range of 15,000- 20,000 people.