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Kurd teachers debate war under Assad gaze

(AFP)
Filed on November 25, 2012

DERIK (Syria) Residents and militias in Derik have removed almost all the ubiquitous presidential portraits from official buildings since the regime made its exit from the Kurdish town in northeast Syria.

They have also taken down a statue in the town centre of President Bashar Al Assad’s late father and predecessor Hafez Al Assad over the past week.

But one place the two leaders still look down from their official portraits is on the wall of the headmaster’s office in the town’s secondary school.

“We don’t have any problem with these pictures,” says English teacher Suzanne, 27.

“Assad is our president. I hope he’ll stay, but I don’t think so,” she adds resignedly.

Before the revolt, “I could do whatever I wanted, I could travel wherever I wanted and now I can’t because of terrorists,” she says, using the standard regime term for rebels fighting to unseat Assad.

The teachers have removed Assad’s portraits from classrooms so as not to be seen as regime collaborators, but have left up the ones in headmaster Adnan’s office, where they sit on couches at break time and chat. They allow journalists in on their discussions on the anti-regime revolt but ask to be identified only by first name and refuse to have their pictures taken.

“I don’t like Assad at all,” counters Khaled, 34, who teaches the Islamic studies. “I’m against killing and I support the Kurdish language, democracy and freedom.”

Syria’s Kurds, who number over two million and are concentrated in the north and northeast, are fiercely nationalistic but their language has been officially banned under Assad. Celebrations of the regime’s departure from Derik earlier this month included speeches in Kurdish and Kurdish music blaring out in the town centre.

Computer science teacher Shahinaz, 43, says: “We are doing well without Assad here. We want to learn our Kurdish language, but we don’t like” rebels either.

“We don’t want other people to teach us freedom. We don’t want anyone from the outside, we can take our freedom ourselves,” she adds, as others nod in agreement. “I would like the government to change, but peacefully, without killing.”

Adnan takes a neutral stance. “Both sides are killing people and so we are not safe with either,” the headmaster says of the regime and rebels in the conflict that monitors say has so far killed more than 40,000 people since March 2011.

Around 90 per cent of the school’s students are Muslim Kurds, with Muslim and Christian Arabs making up the other 10 per cent, according to the staff.

The school began giving Kurdish language lessons for the first time ever about a month ago, as the regime started to loosen its grip on the region. All students attend these classes, the teachers say. “We need a good president (when Assad departs). I don’t care what religion they are,” says Khaled.

The regime has departed relatively peacefully from Kurdish areas in the north, and rebels have accused the Kurds of making agreements with Assad’s forces to cover their departure.

Tensions flared last week with clashes between rebel fighters and Kurdish militiamen in the Turkish-Syrian border town of Ras Al Ain.

The main Kurdish militia, aligned with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), is the People’s Defence Units (YPG), which was involved in the liberation of Derik.

The teachers head out of Adnan’s office to give their next classes. “The pictures will come down,” Adnan says. “Not now, but eventually.”





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