The Kurds of Syria, in contrast to the Kurds of Iraq and Turkey, are little known in the West, but they have similarly strained relations with the state that governs them and face human rights abuses as a minority. The Syrian state’s repression of its Kurdish population, which thus far has not sought a separate state, may contribute to Kurdish claims for self-determination in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.

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Summary

  • Kurds in Syria have been denied basic social, cultural, and political rights, in many cases stemming from the Syrian state’s refusal to grant citizenship.
  • Kurdish political opposition in Syria is fractured. Though some join Kurds in other countries in calling for the emergence of a separate Kurdish state, many Kurds reject separatism and have generally been committed to peaceful democratic struggle.
  • Democratic reforms in Syria that improve the human rights situation for Kurds and non-Kurds could go a long way to alleviate the tension between the Kurds and the Syrian state.
  • The problems that Syrian Kurds face cannot be truly solved without an effort both to improve the human rights of Kurds throughout the region and to foster their political inclusion in their states of residency.
  • The United States and European Union should use any diplomatic tools at their disposal to promote appropriate reforms in Syria and the region.

About the Report

This report examines the relations between the Kurds and the Syrian state, traces the development of Kurdish political organization in Syria and the relationship between the Kurds and the Syrian prodemocracy movement, shows how the status of Syria’s Kurds has implications not only for stability within Syria but also for security throughout the region, and offers policy recommendations for the Syrian government and other international actors in the region.

Radwan Ziadeh, a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace from 2007–2008, is currently a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is the founder and director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies and has published widely on human rights and democratization in Syria and the region.

  • Read the Arabic version of this report

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