Kurdish fighters of the FSA are seen on a tank captured from the Syrian army north of Aleppo. Photo: AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Before the anti-regime Syrian uprising began more than two years ago and plunged the country into civil war, close to one million Kurds used to live in the capital, Damascus.
After a failed 2004 uprising in Syria’s northern Kurdish regions and a government crackdown that followed, most of the Kurds in Damascus were forced there in search of livelihoods.
Now, their numbers in the capital are dwindling, as Kurds flee a war that has already killed an estimated 70,000 nationwide, about 6,000 of them in the last month alone. Damascus has been hardest hit by the fighting between opposition forces under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Kurds in Damascus are living in very poor conditions. There is no income, and most markets are closed. Many people have no choice but to leave the city for a safer place,” said Rozheen Mustafa, who was born in Damascus but was forced to seek refuge in the city of Efrin.
Rasheed Muhammed, who for 15 years has lived in Zorava -- which together with Kurdan are the capital’s two Kurdish neighborhoods – says that he fears for his family’s survival.
“The security and economic situation in Damascus keeps getting worse, and Kurds living here are going through very difficult times,” said Mohammad. He said that many fellow Kurds had already fled to the Kurdish areas of the north, which have retained relative calm despite the war waging all around.
Like hordes of refugees who have already gone cross-border, or languish in miserable frontier camps for the chance to emigrate, Muhammad wants to sell his household goods and move to Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. There, the economy is booming, and the autonomous government has granted sanctuary to large numbers of Syrian Kurds.
“If I stay, my kids will starve to death,” Muhammad said.
But he, and many like him, face a new problem: Syria’s Kurdish Supreme Council (KSC) recently announced it is banning any further emigration of Syrian Kurds to Iraqi Kurdistan “under any conditions.”
The KSC, a coalition of several Kurdish political parties in Syria, said it was imposing the ban because of “the danger of such a mass emigration on our areas in Syria.”
It added that its armed Popular Protection Units (YPG), which control the border areas, will start to implement the council’s decision immediately.
The largest Syrian Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which controls the YPG fighters and has open links to Turkey’s militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), has been accused by the main opposition of suspicious ties to the Damascus regime, and of mistreating refugees trying to flee the violence.