Our Kurds of Syria: A Forbidden People

The roughly 1.7 million Kurds in Syria have been systematically denied their basic human rights for many years. In 1973, around 300 villages were confiscated and the land taken from around 100,000 Kurds and handed over to Arab farmers, with the names of Kurdish villages being changed into Arabic names.

Both the Kurdish language and celebrations of Kurdish culture such as folk dances have been banned, and Kurds active in politics and others who have called for democratic reform have been given long terms of imprisonment, along with lawyers who have tried to defend them. In 2008 there were reported to be 150 Kurds held as political prisoners in Syria, and the situation worsened in 2009 and at least nine prominent Kurdish political leaders were detained.

Emergency rule has been in force in Syria since 1963 and no political parties are licensed. A Kurdish blogger was sentenced to three years in jail because of the comments posted on his forum. Others jailed include human rights activist and lawyers. Human Rights watch report numerous cases of ill-treatment and torture by the security agencies. According to the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Human Rights Report in 2009 there were 19 cases of Kurds who died during military service, the evidence pointing to death by torture or shooting.

Law 93 in 1962 led to around 120,000 Kurds being stripped of their Syrian nationality, and the number of these ‘stateless Kurds’ in Syria is now thought to have grown to around 400,000. They cannot move house, own land or businesses, are banned from many jobs, have no passports or other travel documents and their access to medical treatment is restricted.

Syrian security forces opened fire on Kurds celebrating the Kurdish New Year (Newroz) in March this year after the organisers refused to take down Kurdish flags and pictures of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned in Turkey. At least one man was killed and others were wounded.

Unlike Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Iran, Kurds in Syria have never formed an armed separatist movement in Syria but have simply demanded basic human rights in the country.

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