Kurds of Syria 1962-2011: The Long Road from Census to Citizenship

2016-01-12    |   

Kurds of Syria 1962-2011: The Long Road from Census to Citizenship

On August 23, 1963, Republican Legislative Decree No. 93 was issued ordering that a census be carried out in the northeast Hasakah governorate, home to the highest concentration of Kurds in Syria. That is why the census was called the “Exceptional Census”, also currently known as the “Hasakah Census 1962”. It was conducted in the era of the President of the Republic Nazim al-Qudsi, and his Prime Minister Bashir al-Azma.

The decree included the following:

A general census is to be carried out in the Hasakah governorate in one single day. The exact date will be more closely determined by an order from the Ministry of Planning, at the recommendation of the Interior Minister; and

After the completion of the census in the Hasakah governorate, a supreme committee will be established by a presidential decree, at the recommendation of the Interior Minister to verify the results of the census. This committee will decide whether or not the results should be entered into the new civil status registers, and it will prepare the required directives for this task.

The main cons of this census is that it was based on ethnic discrimination against the Kurds to protect Arab nationalism rights, thus violating the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.[1] The stated motive was to protect the “Arab belt” to keep away the Kurds who were said to have come to Syria after the year 1945. The census was conducted on October 5, 1962 in Hasakah and resulted in the division of Kurds in Syria to 3 categories: Kurds enjoying the Syrian nationality; Kurds deprived of citizenship, registered in the official records as foreigners; and, Kurds deprived of citizenship, unregistered in the civil status official records and referred to as Maktoum al-Qayd, which is a Syrian administrative term that indicates the person is unregistered in the official records.

Under this census, some 120,000 Syrian Kurds were stripped of their Syrian nationality. As a result, they lost their property acquisition rights after they became stateless.

In a report issued in 2005, Amnesty International said that as a result of the natural increase of the population, the number of Kurds deprived of Syrian nationality in that year ranged between 200,000 and 360,000 persons.

The most prominent discriminatory results of this census are the following:

Depriving stateless citizens from all political, cultural, and social rights;

Banning the formation of Kurdish parties on the grounds that they are nationalist parties, and criminalizing their affiliates, despite the fact that the country was ruled by a nationalist party of another nationality;

Changing the names of Kurdish villages to Arabic names by successive Syrian governments, in an attempt to remove any reference to their Kurdish identity; and

Banning the establishment of schools teaching the Kurdish language, and criminalizing the act of speaking this language in official forums.

The problem of deprivation of nationality remained for about fifty years, from 1962 until 2011, when under the pressure of the popular uprising in March 2011, President Bashar al-Assad ordered the formation of three committees; one of which was tasked to study ways to solve the issue of the the exceptional 1962 census. After about 24 hours of meeting with the leaders of Kurdish clans and social figures in Damascus, the president issued Legislative Decree No. 49 of 2011, to grant those registered as foreigners in Hasakah the Syrian Arab citizenship. Although under Article 1, the decree redressed the status of this category of Kurds registered as foreigners in Hasakah records, it did not include the stateless Kurds who were unregistered, i.e., Maktoum al-Qayd. Furthermore, the executive instructions of the decree provided for the submission of  “all family members” applications in the name of the head of the family. This raises the issue of gender discrimination in depriving Syrian women of their right to pass on their nationality to their children.

In September 2013, during the weekly cabinet meeting, the Syrian Council of Ministers ratified a “draft law to exempt those who were granted the Syrian nationality -according to the provisions of  Legislative Decree No. 49 of 2011 on granting the Syrian nationality to the Kurds- from the 5-year period condition to acquire the citizenship, as the basis for the acquisition of rights or incurring of obligations, where it is required under applicable laws”.

Until today, the exact number of stateless Kurds and their families who have been granted the Syrian nationality is not yet known. According to Syrian parties, the ratio does not exceed 15-20% of stateless Kurds. This means that about 250,000 to 300,000 Syrian Kurds are still deprived of nationality.

The military conflict in Syria has hindered the completion of the process of citizenship granting to stateless Kurds. “A survey conducted in 2013 in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq concluded that nearly 10% of Syrian refugee Kurds are stateless, as many of whom were forced to flee from Syria before they could apply for citizenship, or because they did not have the right to apply for it because they were never registered with the Syrian authorities.” Moreover, some families were unable to afford the expenses of applying for citizenship to all their family members “because fees amounted to the equivalent of around US$70 per child”.[2]

During the conflict, a number of Syrian opponents were threatened that they would be decitizenized; however, no such case have been reported. Also, some Syrian embassies set major complications when renewing passports of opponents, men and women alike. This is a major violation of the rights of full citizenship.

We believe that a radical solution to the problem of discrimination in citizenship rights against Syrian Kurds would be to have a text in the Constitution that upholds the rights of all Syrians, women and men, in acquiring the Syrian nationality regardless of ethnicity, and to pass it on to their children; to have the constitution provide for the diversity and national riches in Syria; and, a diversity that constitutes the whole Syrian national identity. It is also crucial to issue a presidential or legislative decree that would grant the Syrian nationality ipso facto to all the unregistered maktoum al-Qayd Syrian Kurds and their families, who became stateless because of the 1962 census, and to form a special committee to grant them the identity papers that prove their nationality. In addition to the above, there must be a special program to compensate stateless Kurds who were deprived of the Syrian nationality for the discrimination they have suffered.

This article is an edited translation from Arabic.



[1]  Adopted and submitted for signature, ratification and accession by the General Assembly of the United Nations Resolution 2106, dated December 21, 1965. Entry into force was on January 4, 1969.
[2]  See: http://www.unhcr-arabic.org/print/52b7cc7d6.html

Share the article

Mapped through:

Articles, Inequalities, Discrimination and Marginalisation, Syria

For Your Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *