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Street protests let Arabs and Kurds find common ground

Regular peaceful demonstrations are held in Ruken El Deen, a neighbourhood in north Damascus with a significant Kurdish population, and Kurd activists use it as a base from which to take part in protests in nearby Barzeh and Qudsaya.

DAMASCUS // While political wrangling plagues efforts to unify Syria's Kurdish and Arab opposition at a leadership level, on the streets of Damascus Kurdish activists are heavily involved in the uprising alongside other Syrians.

Regular peaceful demonstrations are held in Ruken El Deen, a neighbourhood in north Damascus with a significant Kurdish population, and Kurd activists use it as a base from which to take part in protests in nearby Barzeh and Qudsaya.

Rallies involving up to 400 Kurds and Arabs typically last no more than 15 minutes, the time it takes for security forces to arrive.

In some parts of Ruken El Deen, a large suburb built into the foothills of Qassiun mountain, Free Syrian Army fighters now stand guard at some demonstrations allowing them to last for longer but most remain unprotected, Kurd activists said.

"We've raised the Kurdish flag at demonstrations in Damascus and although some people had reservations at first, they are very supportive now," said a young Kurdish dissident from the area. "I know there are [Arab-Kurd] divisions at a political level but at the street level there are not those problems, we are all working together."

An older Kurdish opposition figure said street activism was breaking down barriers between Kurds and Arabs that had been built up during decades of Baath party rule elevating Arabs above other identities.

"I remember standing in opposition meetings years ago and I'd say I was a Kurd and the others would say: 'No, there are only Arabs in this room, including you'," he said.

"Now there are Local Coordination Committees with Arabs and Kurds working hand in hand, there is a new culture of acceptance emerging."

The largest protest in Ruken El Deen took place on May 20, last year, a day activists nationwide named Azadi Friday - using the Kurdish word for freedom.

"There were 2,000 or more involved in the Azadi protests and we've had larger numbers at funerals. There have been days where there are no security forces in the area and everything has been closed for a strike," said a Kurdish activist.

However, Kurdish protesters admit they are struggling to get more of their community involved - a consequence they said of the high-level opposition disagreements and increasing levels of violence.

"I was at a meeting recently and I was talking about protests and some of the young Kurdish people there were surprised, they said: 'You're still protesting, why bother with that anymore?'" said another Kurdish activist.

A Kurdish medic, who has treated wounded dissidents and civilians in Damascus and Homs, said the uprising would produce a new, better Syria.

"The crisis, the protests and all of the difficulties have brought Arabs and Kurds closer together," he said. "There will be room in the new Syria for all of us, for the Kurds, for the Arabs, for the liberals and the Salafis. We can coexist if we respect one another's differences and rights."

 

psands@thenational.ae