Syria's Kurds: History, Politics and Society

Syria's Kurds: History, Politics and Society

Syria's Kurds: History, Politics and Society

Syria's Kurds: History, Politics and Society


This book is a decisive contribution to the study of Kurdish history in Syria since the mandatory period (1920-1946) up to nowadays.

Avoiding an essentialist approach, Jordi Tejel provides fine, complex and sometimes paradoxical analysis about the articulation between tribal, local, regional, and national identities, on one hand, and the formation of a Kurdish minority awareness vis-a-vis the consolidation of Arab nationalism in Syria, on the other hand.

Using unpublished material, in particular concerning the Mandatory period (French records and Kurdish newspapers) and social movement theory, Tejel analyses the reasons of this "exception" within the Kurdish political sphere. In spite of the exclusion of Kurdishness from the public sphere, especially since 1963, Kurds of Syria have avoided a direct confrontation with the central power, most Kurds opting for a strategy of "dissimulation", cultivating internally the forms of identity that challenge the official ideology. The book explores the dynamics leading to the consolidation of Kurdish minority awareness in contemporary Syria; an ongoing process that could take the form of radicalization or even violence.


The Syrian Kurds are rarely featured in the media. This is also true of academic research dedicated to Syria, even research on the Kurdish question. Most works concentrate on the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Iraq, and to a lesser degree, Iran. This is not only true for a specific period. The Kurdish factor in Syria has also been a marginal issue in classic works about the French Mandate (Longrigg 1958; Khoury 1987) and the period of independence (Raymond 1980) in the Levant. The only exceptions are the works of Ismet Sharif Vanly, which are generally biased in favor of the Kurds (Vanly 1968, 1978, 1992).

It is only since the 1990s, as a result of the increasing importance of human rights issues in all countries of the world, that the first complete and detailed studies of the Syrian Kurds have emerged (Human Rights Watch 1991, 1996; McDowall 1998). These studies offer some essential chronological reference points, but, even more so, they put particular emphasis on the Kurdish status as a “minority” with respect to the Syrian legal framework. Above all, the riots in Qamishli in March 2004 encouraged the publication of a series of works (Montgomery 2005; Yildiz 2005) and articles (Gambill 2004: 1–4;Gauthier 2005: 97–114, 2006: 217–31; Lowe 2006: 1–7; Tejel 2006: 117–33, 2007b: 269– 76) on the Kurdish issue in Syria. Despite increasing interest in the Kurdish question in Syria, there remains a dearth of anthropological, historic, and political perspectives on the subject.

Many factors are responsible for these gaps in information. First, following contradictory logic, the Syrian Kurds were considered as either a group that could be easily assimilated into an Arab majority environment or a peripheral population which played only a marginal role in the evolution of contemporary Syria in contrast to other, more “compact minorities” (Hourani 1947) such as the Druzes and the Alawites. Also, the lack of a strong political movement had been considered proof that Kurdish “identity demands” were only a resort of the elite (notables and landowners) due to their loss of power in the face of the socioeconomic transformations of the country.

On another level, the field of Kurdish studies, which is still meager, has only become a reality since the 1980s and 1990s. From a more general perspective, the focus of historians and political scientists on the authoritative role of the state and the ruling family, Arab nationalism and the Arab–Israeli conflict, and the position . . .

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