Syria Kurds join protests calling for citizenship

Filed on April 1, 2011

DAMASCUS — Kurds in Syria’s northeast on Friday took to the streets for the first time since pro-reform protests erupted in mid-March, calling for the right to citizenship, an activist said.

“Several hundred people marched peacefully in the streets of Qamishli and Amuda after Friday (Muslim) prayers chanting ‘we don’t only want citizenship but freedom as well,’” Kurdish rights activist Radif Mustafa told AFP.

The protesters also chanted “God, Syria, Freedom.”

There were similar protests in Hassake where up to 200 people emerging before security forces dispersed them, he said.

Qamishli and the adjoining town of Amud are 700 kilometres (435 miles) northeast of Damascus near the border with Turkey, while Hassake is about 600 kilometres from the capital.

“It is the first time since the start of the dissent that protests are being held in this majority Kurdish region,” Mustafa said.

Friday’s rallies come a day after Syrian announced it would look into the plight of some 300,000 Kurds who have been denied Syrian nationality for close to half a century.

“President Bashar al-Assad has ordered the creation of a committee charged with resolving the problem of the 1962 census in the governorate of Hassake,” state-run news agency SANA reported on Thursday.

This committee “must complete its work before April 15 and President Assad will then issue an appropriate decree to resolve this problem,” SANA said.

The decision comes as part of a string of reforms launched by Assad’s government, which is facing a rising wave of dissent demanding major reforms.

In 1962, 20% of Syria’s ethnic Kurdish population were deprived of Syrian citizenship following a controversial census, according to human rights groups.

The government at the time argued its decision was based on a 1945 wave of illegal immigration of Kurds from neighboring countries, including Turkey, to Hassake, where they had “fraudulently” registered as Syrian citizens.

The citizenship problem has long poisoned relations between the government and Syria’s Kurds, who are banned from employment in the public sector as they are not citizens and yet cannot emigrate as they do not have Syrian passports.

There were also protests Friday in the flashpoint southern Syrian town of Daraa, which has emerged as the centre of dissent since demonstrations first broke out on March 15 in Damascus with protesters calling for the release of political prisoners.

The “Friday of Martyrs” protests were expected across Syria after weekly Muslim prayers for a third week in succession, spurred by a the popular yet anonymous Facebook group The Syrian Revolution 2011.

The group has called for rallies at all mosques after Friday prayers until their demands for “freedom” are met, demands which include the lifting of emergency law in place since the Baath party seized power in 1963.

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