Qamishli Kurds commemorate 2004 uprising

Twelve years ago on Sunday, nine people were killed when clashes erupted at a soccer match in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli between supporters of a local team and those of an Arab, Deir e-Zor based team.

The following day in 2004, marchers in a funeral procession for the victims chanted anti-Bashar al-Assad slogans, raised Kurdish flags, and threw stones at a statue of the late president, Hafez al-Assad, according to a December 2009 report by the Kurd Watch monitor.

In response, Syrian security forces opened fire, killing 23 people and sparking days of protests and rioting in northern Syria’s Kurdish regions (Al-Hasakah, Kobani, Afrin) as well as Kurdish-majority neighborhoods of Aleppo and Damascus.

By the time the dust settled, dozens of Kurds were dead, hundreds injured, thousands subdued, there would be no more mass anti-regime demonstrations in Syria until March 2011.

This past weekend, hundreds of residents of Qamishli, and other northeastern Kurdish towns took to the streets over the weekend to “honor those who lost their lives in the 2004 Qamishli uprising,” Jawan Tatar, a Qamishli-based Kurdish journalist who took part in the demonstrations tells Syria Direct’s Mohammed al-Haj Ali.

Participants in Saturday’s demonstration chanted anti-regime slogans and carried the tricolor flag of Kurdistan along with the Rojava (west Kurdistan) flag.

Q: What was the impact of the events in 2004 and the regime’s response?

The Qamishli uprising proved that the regime could no longer fail to recognize Kurdish identity; it paved the way for the Kurds to rise up alongside Syrians in 2011.

The uprising also proved that the Kurdish political movement had failed to deal with the Kurdish issue. It showed the superiority of the Kurdish public and the success of protests in drawing recognition for the Kurds from [Bashar al-Assad], the head of the Syrian regime.

 Demonstrators in Qamishli commemorate the 2004 uprising on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Kurdistan Home of Heroes.

Q: What was the purpose of these demonstrations? What sorts of slogans did you use?

There were a number of slogans, including: “We won’t forget you, March 12 martyrs.”

The demonstrations are a way to honor those who lost their lives in the 2004 Qamishli uprising.

Q: How many people demonstrated on Saturday? Who were they?

Around 2,000 people demonstrated. There were independent people, young people, members of the [Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD)-led] Self-Administration and its Sports and Youth entity.

They set off from Amouda street in Qamishli and headed towards the graveyard [where some of those killed in the unrest are buried].

There was also a candle-lighting on Friday, and a minute of silence at 11AM.

Q: What do the demonstrations signify for you?

The demonstrations are a way to commemorate the first Kurdish uprising in this century. They also carry calls for future revolutionary movements for change that is bound to come.

All the cities fell silent for one minute on Friday. It is a strange thing to experience the silence of a martyr, if only for a single minute. In the moment that a martyr loses his life, he gains a voice resonating for all time in the conscience of all Kurds. Candle-lighting is a way to show that the martyrs are the candles by whose light the map for a better future is drawn.

Q: What were Kurds calling for in the past and what are you calling for now?

That the repression be washed away, in addition to the fundamental demand for an independent state with its own laws, like all countries on the face of the earth.

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali, originally from Daraa, had completed his first year studying Broadcast Journalism at Damascus University before leaving Syria in August 2012.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.