Buried Alive: Stateless Kurds in Syria

Lynch, M. & Ali, P. (2006). Buried alive: Stateless Kurds in Syria. Refugee International.


Stateless Kurds in Syria are virtually invisible people. Numbering about 300,000, this group is in a unique situation in relation to the larger Kurdish population. There are no exact figures for the number of Kurds in Syria because of the political implications of over- or underestimation, although it is generally believed that between 8 and 15 percent of the country’s population of 18 million is Kurdish. About half of them live in the northeast section of the country (Hassakeh and Jazeera) and in Afrin and northern Aleppo. The other half is dispersed throughout the urban centers of Damascus and Aleppo. In addition, large numbers of Syrian Kurds are living in Lebanon and throughout Europe.

As a whole, Kurds in Syria continue to face obstacles to securing their basic rights. The legacy of the state’s “Arabization” and nationalism campaigns of the 1960s and 70s, conducted with the objective of gaining control of all internal social spheres by restricting political and civil rights in the name of internal stability, continues to this day. Discriminatory regulations ban use of the Kurdish language Kermanji (including in conversation, publications, the names of children, and place names), cultural displays (such as playing Kurdish music), and the formation of Kurdish civil and political groups. The creation of a Kurdish autonomous zone in Iraq pushed the Kurdish issue to the forefront in Syria where stateless Kurds seek citizenship and recognition as a major group in the country.

The main obstacle to a solution of the nationality question is political. Over the years, the government has failed to recognize the size of the problem in order to preserve the domination of political and social life by the ruling party of the Al-Assad family and its allies, who represent theinterests of the Arab majority. The denial of citizenship is part of a broader effort to prevent any legal expression of Kurdish nationalism on Syrian soil. Some Syrian officials deny that any problem exists, maintaining that only a small number of families live without nationality. Only when the stateless Kurds in Syria have been fully nationalized and the broader issue of the Kurdish place in Syrian political, social, and economic life has been addressed can peace and security within Syria be realized.

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