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Interview with Marwan Othman

leader of the Kurdish party Yekiti

Friday 1 October 2004, by Chris Den Hond

Marwan Othman, aged 45, identifies himself as a Trotskyist and is one of the leaders of Yekiti, the second most influential party among Syrian Kurds. A poet, he has spent nearly four years in prison at various times for crimes of opinion. As a guest of the Pen Club International he was able to leave Syria to visit Paris and Brussels, although he intends to return to the country. He advocates an alliance with the Syrian left to democratize the regime and was present at the football match on March 25, 2004 which led to confrontations with the police which left dozens dead. His party supports the demand for the granting of basic rights to Syria’s two million Kurds and more autonomy in the framework of the Syrian state.

Can you talk about the situation of the Kurds in Syria?

For some years, the Syrian regime has been trying to Arabize Kurdish culture. The Kurds have no right to be taught in their own language. Our objective is that Syria should respect what it is, a mosaic of peoples. We demand that the Syrian state ends the banning of our language and our culture. We demand the kind of minority rights that exist in other countries. And, obviously, the liberation of all political prisoners. Out of a total of two million Kurds in Syria, around 250,000 have no papers and thus no Syrian nationality and no right to work in the public sector or buy land or a house. It is necessary then to give Syrian nationality to all these people. President Bashar al-Assad wants to stop the Kurds and the Arabs struggling together for the democratization of the Syrian regime. The Syrian state is afraid of the Kurds. We are politically well organized and representative while the Arab parties do not have as much popular support. President Bashar al-Assad fears above all a strategic alliance between Kurds and left Arabs. So he does all he can to deepen the division between the two peoples. On December 10, 2003 for example, Kurds and Arabs organized a demonstration together for the first time in Syria.

Why were you imprisoned and how did you get out of prison?

I went to prison after a demonstration in front of the Syrian parliament in December 2002, on the international day of human rights. We wanted to demonstrate for human rights in Syria. Our political party Yekiti (United) had decided to organize this demonstration to open a window in a country where fear reigns. But the government banned the demonstration and as usual me and my friends, who had organized the demonstration, were arrested and imprisoned. With these arrests the Syrian government wished to scare the Syrian people to stop them from doing what we did, but this didn’t work, because when we appeared before the court, there were twice as many people there as during the demonstration. And everybody got up when we came in. After a year and two months we were released following international pressure, notably from Amnesty International and the Pen Club International.

What do you and your party think about an eventual US intervention in Syria as in Iraq?

We are opposed, because if you look at recent events in the Middle East it is very clear that the US wishes to increase its domination. So we have organized demonstrations in front of the Syrian parliament to pressure the Syrian government to resolve the Kurdish problem and that of democracy in Syria. We told the president of the parliament that we did not want to be a Trojan horse for anybody. Syria is our country but the regime must consider us as Syrian citizens with the same rights as other citizens. We never want to serve as a tool for a foreign power. To prevent the Kurds or other oppressed Syrian citizens seeking a solution from the outside, the regime should grant us our legitimate rights. The US already has a special agenda for the Middle East, but this agenda can never coincide with the agenda of its peoples. One day the Americans must go. The Arabs and the Kurds are condemned to live together, like all peoples in the whole world, and thus our problems will not be settled by the Americans or other foreign forces.