Syria: ‘The Kurds must receive the same rights as everyone else’

Syrian Kurds protest in 2011


Samir Nashar (b. 1945) is chairman of the Secretariat General and spokesman for ‘The Damascus Declaration for National Democratic Change’, which was founded in October 2005 in Damascus. Nashar is a merchant and lives in Aleppo. In a conversation with KURDWATCH, he sketches approaches to solving the Kurdish question in Syria.

KurdWatch: Mr. Nashar, the Damascus Declaration envisions a ‘fair, democratic’ solution to the Kurdish question. What does that mean?

Samir Nashar: For those of us in the Damascus Declaration, the Kurdish question in Syria is a national question that must be solved on a national scale in a new, democratic, multifaceted, and civil state. Like all other Arab, Assyrian, Aramaic, or Circassian citizens, the Kurds are also Syrian citizens. We believe that democracy can bring solutions to all national problems. We further believe that equal civil rights for all Syrians and equality before the law (will) ensure the solution to all of our problems.

KurdWatch: What do you mean when you talk about civil rights?

Samir Nashar: By that I mean that all citizens have the same rights and duties. There are no first or second class citizens. All citizens must be treated equally by the law, as, for example, in Germany, France, or the United States of America.

KurdWatch: Which rights should the Kurds receive in the new Syria that they don’t have today?

Samir Nashar: Today there are many Kurds who do not have Syrian citizenship. There are many government positions that are not accessible for Kurds. The policy currently practiced in the Kurdish regions is discriminatory. The Kurds have the right to their own culture, tradition, and language, and to their own universities. We in the Damascus Declaration have agreed with the Kurdish parties who are members to the declaration that all these problems must be solved on the basis of the unity of the Syrian territory and people. Ultimately we are all Syrians.

KurdWatch: That would also mean that the Kurdish language could be taught as an official second language and be officially spoken in the Kurdish regions?

Samir Nashar: Yes, of course. All these problems can be brought to the table and discussed in the new Syria. As long as it doesn’t violate the unity of Syria, everything can be discussed and put into practice. A democratic climate is necessary for that. Discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or ethnicity can no longer be tolerated. It isn’t tolerated in any modern, civil state that claims to be democratic and multifaceted. We in the Damascus Declaration are searching for solutions that will satisfy all sides, whether Kurdish, Arab, or Assyrian. We are only afraid of extremists, regardless of which side they are on. It is not acceptable for a Kurdish citizen to say that he is not a Syrian. It is equally unacceptable for an Arab or an Assyrian to say that he is not first and foremost a Syrian.

KurdWatch: The most important Kurdish demand is the constitutional recognition of the Kurds as a second ethnicity in Syria. Will this be possible?

Samir Nashar: That I can’t say. I myself have no time for nationalism, not even Arab nationalism. I would like the Kurdish nationalist and Arab nationalists to be on the same level. Some Arab groups are afraid that the recognition of the Kurds as a second ethnicity might lead the Kurds to demand secession from Syria, self-determination, or self government in the future. We are one family, and we must solve the problems of this family together, freely and without pressure.

KurdWatch: How will the consequences of the Arabization projects be dealt with, for example, those of the ‘Arab Belt’, within the framework of which many Kurds were dispossessed and expelled?

Samir Nashar: To be honest, I don’t have detailed information on the effects of the Arabization projects in the Kurdish regions. But fundamentally I believe that everyone who was dispossessed has the right to reclaim his possessions. Dispossession may not be legitimized after the fact. Compensation is only a solution if the person who has been dispossessed agrees to it.

KurdWatch: Syria is centrally governed. The provinces do not have extensive authority. Will this also be a model for the time after Bashar al‑Assad?

Samir Nashar: The strong centralization that accompanies a pronounced bureaucracy is unsuitable, primarily for administrative reasons. The local authorities in the individual provinces need greater powers. The local authorities can assess the needs of the province better than the central authority can. The centrally governed state has proved to hinder the internal development of the country.

KurdWatch: How would you assess the Kurdish parties’ participation in the nationwide dissident protests and demonstrations?

Samir Nashar: We accuse the Kurdish parties of not effectively participating in the Syrian revolution. We greatly value the Syrian national spirit of the Kurdish youth, who do not orient themselves based on the stance of the Kurdish parties. Their strong participation in the Syrian revolution is very praiseworthy. Unfortunately, however, we have ascertained that many Kurdish parties have hardly participated in the Syrian revolution at all, whether in the Kurdish regions or in Aleppo, where many Kurds live. It seems that these parties continue to bet on a dialogue with the regime. This stance will certainly have consequences after the fall of the regime.



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