• Saturday, 28 May 2022

A New Syrian Identity For Kurds

A New Syrian Identity For Kurds

The assassinated Kurdish activist and opposition leader Mishaal Tamo stood for a new Syrian identity. Kurds in Syria suddenly feel more Syrian, whereas in the past they associated Syrian identity with Arabization and Arab chauvinism.

A few days ago I asked a Syrian opposition supporter if the Syrian Kurdish use of the Kurdish flag bothered him. To my surprise, he answered that it didn’t matter to him. The flag is part of their identity, and didn’t evoke sentiments like “Kurdish traitors” or “separatists.”

The same goes for Kurds who now proudly wave Syrian flags and shout slogans in Arabic. In fact, there is a mutual solidarity between the Arab opposition supporters and Kurds. After Tamo was killed, there were demonstrations in the Arab city of Homs, and many Syrian opposition supporters have called him a hero and a martyr.

During the 2004 uprising, Syrian Kurds were still very much against the Arabs and held many stereotypes about the bad character of Arabs. But in 2011 this changed and the Syrian identity became a source of pride.

One Kurd from Syria commented on one of my articles, saying, “If our rights and demands are met in Syria, we have no reason to think of breaking away from Syria, nor to pursue the empty nationalist claims that amount to (Kurdish) independence.”

Furthermore, he added that the Kurds insist on their Kurdishness as a kind of defiance to the Baathist emphasis on the Arabness of Syria and the Arab nation.

“If the Baath give up its meaningless jargon—which will never happen--I think we will give up our own 'unrealistic' aspirations,” of striving for independence.

There is also a feeling among Syrian Kurds that they have been used by Kurdish groups like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from other countries, and a sense that they did nothing for the Kurds in Syria. As a result there is less solidarity, or aspirations, for a “Greater Kurdistan.”

Tamo told Rudaw before his assassination earlier this month, that “Once a democratic state has been established, if the Syrians still turn to the Arabs, we will turn to Erbil and Diyarbakir.”

This indicates that Tamo wanted to support the opposition now, and sort things out later.

Some say Tamo was feared by the regime because he was a rare Kurdish leader who fought for the rights of all Syrians, not just Kurds, and therefore was also popular among Kurdish youth who didn’t want to follow the old-school Kurdish nationalist based slogans against Arabs. This might also explain PKK threats against him. As Dr. Jordi Tejel, professor at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, asserted, he was seen as a threat to their popularity in Syria.

One independent researcher told me that the local coordinating committees have recognized the important role the Kurds could now play in opposing the regime. There are actually deeper divisions now between the popular opposition (the young protesters on the streets) and the political opposition (including the Kurdish parties and established opposition figures).

This shows that the Syrian Kurdish youth are proud to be Kurds but would also be proud to be Syrians if treated equally, and if their cultural demands were addressed justly. This will be the question -- whether their rights will be respected by the Syrian opposition, or President Bashar al-Assad -- in the future. If things go wrong, this might make pan-Kurdish or regional Kurdish nationalism more attractive again. But the future of Syria is still unclear and I have my doubts about the Syrian opposition’s prospects for success.