Kurdish leader assassinated in Syria

The Kurdistan Bloggers Union notes the recent killing of Muhammad Mashouk al-Khaznawi, a Kurdish leader in Syria, providing this July 1 account of his death (refering to northern Syria as “West Kurdistan”):

A Kurdish Sunni Muslim cleric in Syria who was reported missing last month has died after being tortured, Kurdish party officials said Wednesday. Sheikh Mohammed Maashuq al-Khaznawi had not been heard from since May 10 and was believed to have been detained by Syrian police.

The cleric “was killed at the hands of Syrian authorities,” a spokesman for the Kurdish Yakiti party said a statement received by AFP in Beirut.

An official from the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria, Nazir Mustapha, told AFP that doctors in Damascus reported “traces of torture” on Khaznawi’s body.

The sheikh was widely popular in Syria and Kurdistan, and was known for teaching that Islam and democracy are compatible. News of his disappearance led to massive demonstrations in Syrian Kurdistan last month.

The Kurds in West-Kurdistan and Syria are fighting to have their language, culture and political rights recognised.

More news will follow later. Currently the Kurds are getting his body from Damascus.

A July 2 New York Times account takes note of growing tensions in Syrian Kurdistan, and how the tactics the Assad regime has employed there mirror those of Saddam Hussein in their intent if not their brutality:

Emboldened by their brethren in Iraq and inspired by Lebanon’s opposition movement, which helped force Syria out of that country, some advocates are even calling for Kurdish administration of Kurdish areas.

“There is a kind of anxiety and restlessness now,” said Hassan Salih, secretary general of the Yekiti Kurdish party based in Qamishli. “We are disappointed with all the unfulfilled promises.”

Tensions in this city of 150,000 reached new levels this month after the body of a prominent cleric, Sheik Muhammad Mashouk al-Khaznawi, was found halfway between here and Damascus. Days later, protesters calling for an international investigation of the sheik’s killing clashed with security forces, who beat women and fired at demonstrators, Kurdish politicians say.

One police officer was killed, a dozen protesters were wounded, dozens more remain in custody, and Kurdish businesses were looted, they say. A day after, Kurdish hopes were dashed when Syria’s governing Baath Party passed on calls to grant Kurds more rights and freedoms at its 10th Congress, ending the meeting with little more than platitudes, Mr. Salih said.

“Lebanon affected us a lot, and we learned from it that demonstrating can achieve many things without violence,” he said. After riots flared in Qamishli in 2004 after a brawl at a soccer match, he said, “the regime sought to frighten us, but the assassination of the sheik has made us rise up again.”

Syria’s 1.5 million Kurds are the country’s largest ethnic minority and historically its most downtrodden. Eschewing the Arab identity at the core of the Baath Party, the Kurds have become the most organized opposition to the embattled government.

But tensions have simmered since 1962, when a census taken by the government left out tens of thousands of Kurds, leaving them and their children – now hundreds of thousands in all – without citizenship and denying them the right to obtain government jobs or to own property. They now carry red identification cards identifying them as “foreigner.”

The government also resettled thousands of Arabs from other parts of the country into areas along the border to build a buffer with Kurdish areas in neighboring Iran, Iraq and Turkey, pitting Kurds against Arabs. A long-running drought has not helped, as many in the farming region, especially Arab sharecroppers, have seen their incomes and tolerance for one another plummet.

See also WW4 REPORT #s 97 & 88

See our last post on Syria.