I exist, said the Kurdish dragon
Kime ez? asked Cegerxwîn (1903 – 1984), a celebrated Kurdish poet. Who am I?
Nobody, the Syrian government answered, you do not exist.
In August 1962 the Syrian government ordered a census in the province of Hasakeh which was carried out in October 1962. The province is situated in the northern parts of Syria and mostly inhabited by Kurds seeing as this area is the western part of Kurdistan that was divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria as a consequence of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923.
The census was fatal for the Kurds as it resulted in 120.000 Kurds losing their Syrian citizenship and thus their rights. The number of stateless Kurds has according to Human Rights Watch since then only continued to grow to a number of 300.000 because children of the stateless, born and raised in Syria, have not been given citizenship either.
In April 2011 the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad said he would grant the Kurds citizenship. This did not cause much joy for two reasons. First, only registered Kurds would be given official identity papers while non-registered would remain stateless. Second, it was a poor way to keep the Kurds, who consitute 10 – 15 % of the Syrian population, from joining the anti-regime protests that had begun only weeks earlier.
You Deserved To Be Gassed!
They say the uprising started in Damascus, March 2011. To me, it began in Qamişlo on March 12, 2004. A report from KurdWatch described in a report what happened on that day.
A football match was to be played at the stadium in Qamişlo. The team al-Futuwah was an Arabic team from Deir ez Zor and the other team, al-Jihad, was from Qamişlo. According to the Danish Refugee Council quoted in the report, an eyewitness said that the supporters of al-Futuwah had not been checked by security before entering the stadium and that they brought weapon in the form of knives, sticks and stones with them.
A journalist sitting in the press box observed that the supporters of al-Futuwah prior to the game had kept shouting: “Fallujah, Fallujah!” after which they started attacking the other team’s supporters with the sticks and stones they had brought with them. According to the report, “Fallujah” was a way for the supporters of al-Futuwah to show their support to Saddam Hussein, one of the worst oppressors in the history of Kurds, who in 1988 ordered the gassing of the Kurdish town Halabja which killed more than 5.000 people and injured more than 10.000.
While the attack took place, three young men came to the press box and asked another journalist, who was to comment on the match on radio, if he would announce that three children had been killed during the attack. The news spread and people from the nearest towns came to the stadium in such large numbers that the journalist described the stadium as being besieged. But the death of the three children soon proved wrong and people both inside and outside the stadium grew calm.
The peace did not last long as people soon began to throw with rocks and the police, military and intelligence service arrived to the stadium.
The report remarks that the security made a mistake by shooting into the air and thus frightening people; they should have instead tried dissolving the growing angry crowd with other measures. The first mentioned journalist said according to the report that supporters of al-Futuwah called out to the Kurds: “Saddam Hussein treated you they way you deserve to be treated!”
Saddam Hussein treated you they way you deserve to be treated!
At this point the security people stepped in and split up the two groups. The Kurds were told to leave while al-Futuwah supporters remained inside the stadium.
According to eyewitnesses, the security consisting of the police, military and intelligence shot and even killed Kurds who protested al- Futuwah’s discriminating heckling by saying “Long live Kurdistan.” A witness said that security was being untruthful when it later claimed that the Kurds were shooting back: “Even the government have not stated this.”
9 people died on the 12th of March 2004. The Kurdish parties made an agreement with the government; if they were allowed to bury their murdered Kurds without the involvement of the police, they would make sure to keep the funeral procession under control. A journalist described the procession joined by tens of thousands of people as being quiet. Kurds waved the Kurdish flag, a few cried out in anger at Bashar al-Assad and others threw rocks at a statue of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, a man so feared and infamous that before, one did not even dare point their fingers at pictures of him. But other Kurds stopped them from throwing stones and the mourners continued walking towards the city hall.
At some point during the march one could hear shots from a military base nearby. Nothing happened and the procession continued. The journalist who had walked with the mourners left them to visit a lawyer whose office had a view over the square where the march had passed through. He was standing near the window when a car drove by. The car was open in the back and 7-8 men were sitting facing the square with their machine guns. They drove up to the few mourners at the back of the funeral procession and shot them. That day 23 people died.
The word about the killings spread and soon hell broke loose. People in the Kurdish towns set public buildings on fire while large demonstrations were held abroad in solidarity with the Kurds and support of the much anticipated uprising against al-Assad.
According to the report sources say that the Kurdish TV-channel ROJ TV, broadcasting from Denmark, was an important factor in mobilising the Kurds and gathering them at demonstrations in dimensions never seen before in West Kurdistan. The government’s crack down on the protests was brutal, and the Kurdish voice was once again brought to silence.
A Kurdish Dragon
Ketin xewê, ketin xewê, ketin xewa zilm û zorê, ketin xewa bindestiyê.
They have been lulled into a deep sleep by the oppressor, Cegerxwîn said about the Kurds.
In the time after the uprising no one dared say a word about al-Assad. Many families had either lost a son to death or to the security service who usually came early in the morning and took the young Kurdish men away. My cousin, who had only been out to buy bread on March 12, was brought home to his mom alive after one month in a jail in Damascus, tortured and with his teeth missing.
The grief of Kurds was deeper than the wells in their garden, it was a grief that paralysed the town and rest of West Kurdistan. Qamişlo was dead because its sons were dead. The Kurdish mothers tore their hair and ripped their clothes apart, the Kurdish fathers rocked back and forth with tears dripping down on the palms of their hands and the Kurdish sisters and brothers sat side by side, numb.
The windows of Qamişlo are barred. The bars are shaped as flowers, fountains and sunrises but it does not change the fact that the town is a prison. The question is how can these paralysed people tear off the window bars and demand freedom?
I was sitting in a living room in Qamişlo in January 2011, only weeks before the uprising in Syria began, and watching the people in Tunis overthrow Ben Ali. I once again asked my older Kurdish family members what this meant to them and what they would do. Nothing, they answered, never will we rise against al-Assad. I asked the young Kurds what they would do. They did not answer but I could see a fire in them I had never seen before.
Belê em in ejdehayê, ji xewa dili, siyar bûn niha, Cegerxwîn writes. The sleep of the Kurds will not last forever; the Kurdish people is a dragon that will awaken, ready to fight all injustice done to it.
The dragon is my generation, the dragon are the young men and women. Their sleep is not as deep as the sleep of their parents.
They are alive. They are Kurdistan.