DAMASCUS: Kurds within Syria are beginning to demand increasing recognition in the face of the autonomy enjoyed by Kurds within Iraq. Kurds number about 1.5 million in a Syrian population of 17 million.
A total of 20 million Kurds are scattered across several countries. Turkey has about half the Kurd population, Iraq about five million, and the rest are distributed within Iran and Syria.
New Kurdish demands in Syria include citizenship for up to 200,000 Kurds living within the country. They are also demanding the right to register their land, and for the Kurdish language to be recognized.
Turkey too has accepted several Kurdish demands, including recognition for Kurdish language. Syrian officials fear the new demands could lead to a push for Kurd autonomy or even to Kurds breaking away to join an Iraqi Kurdistan.
Kurdish unrest following a football match in March in Qameshli 680km north-east of Damascus left about 30 people dead and more than 100 injured. The Syrian government's concerns are reinforced by the fact that Kurds live in the area that is the source of most oil and gas resources.
The area, a fertile plain between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, is known locally as Al Jazeera, or The Island. The Syrian government has moved to contain Kurdish unrest by ordering all unlicensed parties to stop political activities or face a ban, according to a statement by a human rights activist obtained by IPS.
The Syrian government has not officially announced the ban. "The regional leadership of the (ruling Baath) party has taken a decision to ban all political, cultural and media activities, and to prosecute those who do not heed this," human rights activist and lawyer Anwar al-Buni said in a statement.
"This decision impacts on all political parties and associations in Syria," he said. "In the absence of a law governing political activity, it is up to the security services to set the political agenda in Syria."
Buni said Kurdish leaders Faud Aliko, Aziz Daoud and Saleh Kado have been summoned by the secret police and informed of the new orders. Daoud, secretary-general of the Kurdish Progressive Democratic Party said the ban would not deter Kurdish groups.
"The Kurdish political parties are patriotic movements," Daoud said in a statement. "They will not halt their political activities." The tightening of control on Kurds is a part of increasing control on opposition political groups. This includes members of the National Progressive Front, which has been a part of a seven-party ruling coalition.
President Bashar Assad sent out several reformist signals since taking over as president from his father Hafez Assad who died in 2000 after 30 years of autocratic rule since taking power in a military coup.
Bashar Assad granted amnesty to more than a thousand political prisoners.. Political meetings known as salons flourished. Civil rights activists and liberal lawmakers gather at these salons to demand more freedom and democracy, and to criticize corruption and nepotism.
But a crackdown on reformists last year has curbed many of these activities. Syria is inching along the path of economic reforms but hopes for political reform have been effectively quashed.
The ruling clique seems in no mood to allow the extent of political reform demanded by the opposition. The government is emphatic in stifling new demands being made by Kurd groups.
The crackdown underlines the struggle for control in Syria between a well-entrenched old guard and a new generation of reformers. "There was a lot of hope before the crackdown," a liberal activist says. "But the way they came down on these groups has left the country depressed." -Dawn/The Inter Press News Service.