In another concession to unprecedented waves of protest, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has ordered a decree to grant Syrian nationality to thousands of Kurds whose citizenship has been revoked in the early 1960s in a census.
Assad issued the order on state TV after meeting with Kurds in the northeastern city of Hasaka.
President Assad issued a decree granting Arab Syrian citizenship to people registered as foreigners in the [governorate of Hasaka], said the state-controlled news agency.
The measure will apply to about 300,000 Kurds. In the 1962, about 20 percent of the nation’s Kurds lost their citizenship due to a controversial census which claimed that many Kurds crossed illegally into Syria from Turkey.
In addition, the Kurdish New Year festival (Nowruz) will become a national holiday.
The government has also released 48 Kurdish prisoners who had been detained for more than a year in the eastern city of Raqqa.
The citizenship issue caused a deep wedge between the government and the Kurdish minority, many of whom could not work in the public sector, nor even leave the country because they had no Syrian passports.
The Kurds now account for about 10 percent of the Syrian population of 22.5-million, and have long complained about discrimination. Kurds are a non-Arab people closely related to the Iranians. They have no homeland and are scattered across Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria,
However, Habib Ibrahim, a prominent Kurdish activist, told Reuters that Kurds will continue to protest against Assad’s Baathist regime to wrest from democratic reforms.
Our cause is democracy for the whole of Syria. Citizenship is the right of every Syrian, he said. It is not a favor. It is not the right of anyone to grant, he said.
Ibrahim is head of the Democratic Unity Kurdish Party.
Kurds had not participated in the national wave of anti-government demonstrations until last week when rallies took place in Kurdish-dominated cities of Hasaka and Qamishli. Kurds reportedly chanted
Neither Arabic, nor Kurdish, we want a national unity,” suggesting they did not want the public to think they were agitating for a separate Kurdish state.
Ayman Abdel Nour, a Syrian writer and activist, told the New York Times that Assad is seeking to placate Kurds as well as conservative Muslims in order to prevent a bigger problem in the future.
“If the Islamists and the Kurds enter the demonstrations, the regime will lose control,” he said. “The president is trying to delay the big explosion.”