Kurdish people have suffered under the Syrian Ba'ath regime for decades. They have been victims of a judicial system that sought to protect the rights of Arabs, while neglecting Kurdish people. Kurds in Syria were unable to register themselves with Kurdish names, to speak Kurdish or even have citizenship in the past. Some concessions have been made since the 1990s but discrimination both on a societal and governmental level has continued. I spoke to UK's representative of Kurdistan Democracy Party Syria in London. Heyam Aqil is from Qamişlo and is a Kurdish rights activist.
Heyam Aqil outside the Syrian embassy in London. Photo: Hejar Moustafa published with permission.
Aqil told me "The protection of Kurds' rights in the post-Assad era depends on how responsive the Syrian opposition is to our demands". She believes the Kurdish issue in Syria can't be sidelined because it is imperative that the Kurdish national council, and Syrian national council understand that all ethnic groups, and minorities must be secured constitutional rights. Aqil pointed out to Southern Kurdistan, and their inability to resolve Kirkuk's territorial dispute 10 years after the fall of Saddam Hussein as a reminder that Syria's Kurdish issue must not be ignored within a new constitution.
The Kurdish National Council was formed in 2011, and acts as an umbrella for all Kurdish organisations within Syria. Aqil believes KNC is representative of more than 80% of the Kurdish population in Syria. The KNC demands include the following:
- Constitutional recognition of Kurdish people living within their historical land
- Recognition of Kurdish national identity
- Politically decentralised government
- Secular parliamentarian and pluralistic government
- Nullification of discriminatory laws against Kurdish people and other minorities
- Compensation for Kurds who have suffered because of discriminatory laws
- Right of self-determination within Syria's territorial unity
The Syrian opposition after months of negotiations initially agreed to constitutional recognition of Kurdish people, and Kurdish national identity, nullification and lifting of discriminatory laws that have put Kurdish people at an disadvantage, and finding a suitable solution to compensate those who have suffered. However, the Syrian opposition did not accept Kurdish people's right to self-determination or a politically decentralised government.
On Tuesday, Kurdish opposition walked out of a meeting between the Syrian opposition groups, saying their views were not being heard or demands met. "If we don't reach an agreement now, these issues will be more complicated after the regime," Abdulhakim Basar, of the Kurdish National Council, told Reuters.
Aqil expressed grave concern over the situation of Kurdish people, and their future. She said, "Our morale will not be lessened by those who wish to deprive us of our rights, and we are determined to get our rights protected in a new Syria without the Ba'ath regime". She tweeted during the Kurdish national council's walkout in Istanbul:
Syrian opposition groups agree to sign "National Pact" on new #Syria without mentioning a single word of the existence of Kurdish People!!
Syria's opp made sure to include the solution to the Palestinian issue in the final stmt in the press conference, but not the Kurdish one.