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The Invisible People By: Sherkoh Abbas and Robert B. Sklaroff
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 18, 2008


The major remaining obstacle to Iraq’s achieving political and military surcease is Iranian-backed Muqtada al-Sadr, and the major obstacle to Israeli-Arab peacemaking is Syrian-backed terrorism.  The Iranian octopus funds unrest throughout the Middle East, and Syrian tentacles have strangled Democracy from Lebanon to Gaza to Iraq’s al-Anbar Province to the Sudan.

But Syria’s hegemony is also inward-directed, targeting its largest ethnic minority, the Kurds.  Lacking representation in this Ba’athist regime, Kurdistan of Syria (it’s capital is Qamishlo) needs international support to replicate Iraq’s success in meshing tripartite ethnicity (Shi’ite, Sunni, Kurd), itself mirroring the inherent strength of America’s “melting pot” legacy.

Thus, the next move in this geopolitical chess game must focus upon optimizing legitimate Kurdish interests in Syria—not withstanding the Turkish-PKK conflict—for it promises incremental isolation of Iran’s mullahs.  (NATO forces in Afghanistan must combat al-Qaeda’s Pakistani sanctuaries on Iran’s eastern border is vital, but tangential to the focus of this piece.)

The Bulletin has published two essays addressing Syria’s status as the lynchpin of Middle East strife by one of the authors of this piece (Dr. Sklaroff).  One discussed how President al-Assad’s inner-circle had been implicated by the UN in the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, and continued to be complicit in an accumulating list of deaths of and injuries to Lebanese legislators and journalists (6/12/2006).  The other lamented actions that legitimized al-Assad’s anti-Americanism (2/21/2007).  Both proposed taking urgent actions against this renegade regime, updated herein.

Happy New Year?

On their New Year (Newroz), March 12, 2004, a full-scale Kurdish uprising began in Syria, clamoring for limited autonomy.  President Bashar Assad’s “ethnic cleansing” repression yielded 85 killed, hundreds injured, and five thousand arrested.  Since then, detainees have been tortured.

On March 20, 2008, this spring festival celebration was marred by clashes between security forces and Kurds; three Kurds were killed and dozens were wounded.  Syria, having deployed 10,000 security forces, intelligence services, police, armed Ba’ath loyalist, military forces (five different terror groups) to all cities in the northern Kurdish-dominated region, accuses the Kurds—20% of its population—of treason and alliances with Americans and Israelis.

According to Refugees International, this unrest stems from a 1962 census, which stripped Kurds of their citizenship rights.  Even if Kurds proved Syrian-residence dating from Ottoman Empire or the French mandate, or if they had served in the military, they still lost their nationality.  Since then, even if they met requirements for (re)gaining citizenship (five-year residency, Arabic-speaking, non-criminal, legally-competent, physically-fit, etc.), they were unable to acquire recognition.  As a result, Arabs were resettled on confiscated land in the northeast region—rich in natural resources—to buffer Syrian and Turkish Kurds.

The Invisible People

This “Arabization policy” has resulted in rendering its 300,000 Kurds “stateless foreigners” (ajanib in Arabic) and subject to oppression.  Syria’s Constitution affords no protection for Kurds—or, indeed, for any other minorities—and they have been rendered “non-citizens” and thereby deprived of basic rights to obtain basic social services. 

They cannot own property, vote, be publicly employed, travel freely within the country, obtain passports, or even practice certain professions (such as medicine or teaching).  Couples are deemed “single” and, thus, cannot share a hotel room or register their children.  These 100,000 children of unrecognized marriages (maktoumeen) are denied access to education, food subsidies and healthcare and, thus, are forced to work…aspiring to menial careers of cotton-picking, cigarette-selling and shoe-shining. 

Some Kurds have attempted to be smuggled abroad, after which time they have sought refugee status.  Their plight—particularly after the March, 2004 uprising—prompted supportive actions from international organizations such as the European Union and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees; they cited unresolved violations of Article 3 of the Syrian Nationality Act.

As a result, al-Assad asserted new legislation was being drafted to resolve the arbitrariness of the 1962 census…but none has emerged.  Instead, in late 2007, he distributed identification cards to 20,000 Druze in the Golan Heights (who had not accepted Israeli citizenship) to show that they “belong to the Syrian motherland.”  Clearly, political priorities had again trumped justice. 

As recently as this past summer, the Human Rights Committee—the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its State parties—again called upon Syria to “protect and promote the rights of non-citizen Kurds.”

Yet, Syria claims Kurds, emboldened by the success of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, engage in insurrection with help from foreigners.  Kurds’ counter-claim is that they merely seek democracy, implementation of a form of federalism that will afford them justified rights.

It is ironic, also, that the 40 million Kurds are non-Arab, predominantly-Sunni Muslims, inhabiting a mountainous region spanning northwest Iran, northeast Iraq, east Turkey, northeast Syria, and a small community in Armenia.  Despite being co-religionists, they have become inveigled in Syria’s support of the (Islamic radicals vs. Judeo-Christian) Clash of Civilizations.

Maturing Iraqi Flexibility

Iraq provides a model for how to resolve the tug-of-war between nationalism and regionalism.

The Iraqi Constitution allows for its eighteen provinces to elect to congeal their resources to join into cooperative territories.  It might even be possible to apply the Kurdish Peshmerga model (dating from the 1920’s) when authorizing local (Sunni/Shi’ite) militias to police their own neighborhoods, to relate with indigenous populations with which they harbor cultural linkages. 

This would be akin to America’s state-level National Guards that coexist under the auspices of the national military (controlled by a representative central government).  It would not undermine the Iraqi army’s efforts to protect borders (as has increasingly been achieved along its Syrian frontier) and to defeat out-of-control private brigades (e.g., the Mahdi Army).

All the while, quasi-autonomous Kurdistan serves as a homeland to which Kurds living abroad emigrate and pay visits, just as Israel interrelates with (and enriches) Jews living in the Diaspora.  Similarly, other countries could be encouraged (gently or more forcibly) to allow their peoples to mesh a countrywide sense of patriotism with a local sense of pride. 

America’s Role

Because the nations comprising the Middle East were arbitrarily created after World War I—following defeat of the Ottoman Empire—unrest among definable sub-groups constantly threatens their stability.  America must help them to evolve from dictatorship to democracy, from autocracy to freedom, from militarism to free-market economies, from suppression of human rights to the creation of city-states that can flourish in this new millennium.  This modernization effort must include legitimizing nationalistic urges, for resolving such chronic conflict would enhance creation of a durable peace in this volatile region.  One excellent example of a democratic and free-market region is the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.

While staying-the-course of achieving geopolitical goals that have animated the Bush Doctrine (formulated after 9-11 to fight Islamo-Fascism), America can help them to tack towards belated recognition of the need to grant subpopulations a degree of autonomy and self-actualization, affording them the ability to vent pent-up frustrations and to honor legitimate aspirations.

As the United States envisions a diminution of involvement within Iraq, engendered has been a country that respects women’s rights and human rights.  Just as Iraq recognizes the right of self-determination for definable nationalities, America will do well to empower whole populations elsewhere that nurture traditions that transcend artificial boundaries.

Syria serves as a useful target for the ongoing struggle to liberate peoples such as the Kurds, for their freedom will necessarily undermine despots who aspire to impose Sharia Law locally and internationally.  Sultanates and Islamic Republics that accommodate minorities are just fine; worldwide caliphates under Dhimmi are not. 

Finally, Free World leaders need to answer the following question:  Why there are 22 Arab states, but not a single Kurdish state?


Sherkoh Abbas is President of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria; he may be contacted at sherkoh@gmail.com. Dr. Sklaroff is a hematologist, oncologist, and internist. He may be contacted at rsklaroff@comcast.net.


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