QAMISHLI, SYRIA – The civil war now engulfing Syria emerged from its people’s desire for political change. But the war is not universal: since the outbreak of protests in 2011 against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime – and long before – one group of Syrians, the Kurdish community, has consistently sought peaceful change and respect for the rights of all.
For Syria’s Kurds, the struggle against more than four decades of the Assad family’s Ba’athist dictatorship became particularly harsh after 2004, when security forces killed dozens of unarmed protesters in the northeastern town of Qamishli. This ignited the spark for democratic reform, and we were spurred on by the knowledge that our kinsmen had won political autonomy in northern Iraq and were creating a vibrant democracy.
When protests erupted across Syria in 2011, Kurds were at the forefront. Unfortunately, foreign fighters across the Arab and wider Muslim world soon joined the fray, some supporting the regime, and others backing the rebels. For the Kurds, the widening conflict meant that, in addition to fighting a brutal dictatorship, we were now confronted by Al Qaeda militants seeking to establish an Islamic emirate in the Middle East.
The Kurds have never sought to achieve democratic goals through violence. We wanted no part of a revolution that massacred children, drove families from their homes, and left millions destitute. We took up arms only to protect ourselves and our property from an immediate extreme Islamist threat that tolerated no dissent.