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The facts about the Al-Qamishli Uprising of 12 March 2004

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The facts about the Al-Qamishli Uprising of 12 March 2004

PostAuthor: Anthea » Wed Mar 13, 2019 11:21 am

Kurds in Syria remember
a dark period of oppression


Thousands of Kurdish and Arab fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are fighting side-by-side against militants of the Islamic State (ISIS) in their last pocket of resistance in Deir ez-Zor province, eastern Syria. However relations between these two ethnic groups have not always been rosy

A friendly football match today in the city of Qamishli, not far from the battlefield in al-Baghouz, was a reminder of a darker time 15 years ago when thousands of Kurds poured into streets of Qamishli to protest against the discriminatory policies of President Bashar al-Assad.

Unrest erupted in the city after a football match between Arab and Kurdish teams turned violent when Arab fans started displaying posters of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein who committed genocide against Iraqi Kurds. The Kurds responded by displaying the Flag of Kurdistan to the irritation of the other side. Riot police and security forces were quickly deployed to curb the clashes, killing at least 30 Kurds, wounding dozens more, and forcing thousands more to flee to the Kurdistan Region.

Unlike today where much international attention is given to the Syrian Kurds who are leading an international coalition against ISIS from the ground, in those days little attention was given to the plight of the Syrian Kurds.

The predominately-Kurdish city of Qamishli hosted the match between a local team, Kurdish-favored al-Jihad, and a visiting team from the city of Deir ez-Zor, Arab-favored al-Fatwa. Six people were killed and three died in stampedes after riot police moved into the stadium to curb the clashes, according to BBC.

Events escalated the day after when security forces opened fire on people taking part in the funerals of those killed in clashes the previous day. Anger among Kurds boiled over, who soon took to the streets of Qamishli and toppled the statute of Hafez al-Assad, father of the current Syrian president. They also threw the Syrian flag raised on government buildings to the ground.

Human Rights Watch reported at least 30 people were killed, more than 160 wounded in the clashes, and many were arrested and tried by military tribunals. The unrest then spread to Damascus and Aleppo. The magnitude of the riots by Kurds was unprecedented in the history of the country. Some even refer to it as the first Kurdish uprising in Syria. Years of persecution and mistreatment by the establishment has in recent years led to the splintering of parts of the country already ravaged by internal conflict and war with ISIS into cantons run by Kurds.

Over 8,000 SDF fighters both Arabs and Kurds have been killed fighting the Islamic State since 2014.

The Syrian Kurds in their self-administered region of Western Kurdistan remembered the events of 2004 today by bashing the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad. "On March 12, 2004, the Syrian Baath regime pursued its dirty politics against Kurdish people by committing the most heinous massacres,” said Nasrin Maami a member of Darbasya People’s Assembly in Western Kurdistan. “Its purpose was to create sedition between Syrian communities…more than 34 people were martyred and hundreds injured."

In today’s match aimed to bury the dark memories of the past, the Kurdish team from Qamishli won 4-1 against the team from Deir ez-Zor at the stadium which used to be named after Bassel al-Assad, the elder brother of Bashar al-Assad who died in a car crash in 1994.

The stadium has been named after the Kurds who died during the March 2004 riots: “The Martyrs of March 12.”

http://www.rudaw.net/english/middleeast/syria/120320192

These riots/demonstrations were the first time the Kurdish tribes united and Kurds viewed the following demonstrations as the start of Western Kurdistan's fight for an

Independent Western Kurdistan
Last edited by Anthea on Wed Mar 13, 2019 12:22 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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The facts about the Al-Qamishli Uprising of 12 March 2004

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Re: Kurds in Syria remember a dark period of oppression

PostAuthor: Anthea » Wed Mar 13, 2019 11:52 am

The Facts

The catalyst for the unrest was a soccer match between the al-Jihad team from al-Qamishli and al-Futuwah, the Arab team from Dayr az-Zawr. The match took place in al-Qamishli on March 12, 2004. While the international media generally spoke of an altercation between the fans of two soccer teams that had spun out of control, eyewitnesses, Kurdish Internet sites, and human rights organizations claimed the events had a political back-ground. Even here versions differed, although there was a consensus on several key points.

Firstly, security measures in the stadium were far less stringent than in comparable situations. However, it is still unclear whether fans of the team from Dayr az-Zawr, unlike those of the al-Qamishli team, were de-liberately allowed to enter the stadium without being searched and thus able to smuggle weapons in with them. There is a possibility that they were permitted to enter the stadium without a security check because of their early arrival in al-Qamishli.

Secondly, both groups of fans shouted political slo-gans, one in support of Saddam Hussein, and the other in favor of American President George W. Bush and Iraqi-Kurdish leaders Celal Talebanî und Mesud Bar-zanî. The sole element under dispute is the precise moment at which the event became politicized.

Thirdly, a false radio report about the death of three children played a significant role in the escalation of the situation.3Finally, security forces reacted to the riots with unusual harshness — perhaps under instructions, perhaps overtaxed. Tear gas and water guns had been used in similar situations, but not live ammunition.

A journalist present in the stadium described the events as follows:

The fans from Dayr az-Zawr have caused problems this year no matter which city or stadium in Syria they were in. Again and again there were brawls with the home team. Buses were attacked, and cars and street signs were destroyed. The problem was that they arrived at the stadium too early. They weren’t sitting where the fans of the guest team were supposed to be. They are supposed to sit away from the home team fans. This time only four or five policemen sat between the fans of the two teams.

When the players of the al-Futuwah and al-Jihad teams took to the field to warm up, the al-Futuwah fans shouted Falluja, Falluja, [an Iraqi city considered a stronghold of Saddam Hussein supporters]. One player was from Falluja. The al-Futuwah fans shouted this in Damascus, in Aleppo, and in Latakia as well. No matter where they were, they shouted Falluja.

We don’t know what happened — all of a sudden we saw al-Futuwah fans attacking al-Jihad fans with sticks and stones. Then we heard that three children had died. Three young people from our area came to the journalist who was broadcast-ing the soccer match live over the radio and told him to announce that three children had died. The announcement led many people from the city and the surrounding towns, even from Tirbesipî and ʿAmudah, to come to the stadium.

From the window of the press box we saw that there were crowds all around the stadium. It was practically besieged. We soon learned that the announcement wasn’t true, that no children had died. People had been injured by stones but no one had died at that point. The situation in the stadium calmed down a bit then. The match was actually supposed to begin. The problem was that stones were now being thrown into the stadium by the crowd outside as well as from the stadium at the crowd outside.

The police, the military, and the intelligence service came from all over. The security forces made a mistake. They could have brought things under control with water guns. Instead they began to shoot into the air. The shots frightened people. More and more stones were thrown. It was then that al-Futuwah fans began to insult the Kurds. They yelled, Saddam did the right thing with you and insulted Mesud and Talebanî.

Some people say there were even video clips of them holding up pictures of Saddam Hussein. I myself didn’t see that. Then the al-Jihad fans were maneuvered out of the stadium. The fans from Dayr az-Zawr were protected by the police in the center of the stadium. Outside, security forces began to shoot into the crowd. It has never been established to what extent this can be traced back to a command given by the governor of al-Hasakah.

According to an eyewitness, the security forces allowed the situation to escalate:

At two different places on my way home, I witnessed how the security forces shot at people. One of these places was in the city center. People crossing the street were fired upon. There were young people yelling slogans such as: Long live Kurdistan, and the security forces attacked them.

Our car was almost hit too. I myself saw that some of the dead and wounded had been hit in the back. [....] There was no reason to shoot at people. The security forces claim that the Kurds shot at them. This is completely unfounded. Not even the government has made this claim.

The next day, March 13, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in al-Qamishlo to bury the dead from the night before — a total of nine people. All of the Kurdish parties had agreed on the funeral march. The march itself developed into violent skirmishes: I was present at the demonstration on Saturday. It was disciplined at first.

There was an agreement the night before between the government and the Kurdish parties. The government promised that the Kurds could hold their funeral in peace and that they would back off. In return, the Kurds were to abstain from rioting. And at first this actually worked. I was there from the beginning.

The parade began at the Qasimo Mosque. Some of the Kurds praised President Bush as Bavê Azad [father of freedom], insulted the President [Bashar al-Assad], and hoisted the Kurdish flag. This can all be seen on videos. When we reached Sabaʿ-Baharat Square, demonstrators threw stones at the statue of Hafiz al-Assad, and some Kurds placed themselves in front of the statue.

From afar, from the base of the military security agency, we heard shots for the first time. But they shot into the air. The Kurds prevented the people throwing stones from getting closer to the statue. We then kept walking until we reached the back of al-Qamishli’s city hall. Up to this point, everything was fine. The military and security people were no-where to be seen, not a single person. They left us alone.

Then I went to visit a lawyer friend of mine whose office is near the city hall. The people kept walking. Less than fifteen minutes later a car drove by. The back of the car was open. There were seven or eight people in it. They all were carrying machine guns, their upper bodies were bare and some of them wore headbands. Up until then I had only seen machine guns like the ones they carry in the movies. Like Rambo.

There were only a few people in the square when the car drove past. The demonstration had already moved on. The car drove at full speed past these people and the passengers began to fire at them. They shot at everyone regardless. We could see this from the window. They began to shoot before reaching the demonstration and then they shot at the demonstrators. According to Kurdish estimates, twenty-three people died that day.

During the unrest, demonstrators attacked numerous public buildings. In al-Qamishli, the customs office, the animal feed storage building, and the payment offices for electricity and water were set on fire. Security forces thwarted an attempt to burn down the public grain storage building. Demonstrators also damaged or destroyed the main railway station, several schools, cafés, and private cars.

Within a short period of time rumors had spread that a massacre was taking place in al-Qamishli, and on the same day solidarity rallies and demonstrations were held in other Kurdish cities, as well as in those with a large Kurdish population. Major damage also occurred in these cities; government institutions in particular were destroyed.

In ʿAmudah, the bank, the cultural center, the city hall, a police station, a building belonging to the Baʿth party, and the courthouse were all set on fire. Military vehicles were destroyed by fire and several statues damaged.

Ac-cording to one eyewitness, an employee of the military draft office was able to save the building from destruction by confronting the angry masses shouting Long live Kurdistan.
Skirmishes took place in al-Hasakah between demonstrators and security forces.

During demonstrations in al-Malikiyah (Dêrik), several public buildings were attacked and some set on fire. Among them were the office of the Baʿth party, the city hall, the (at this point empty) police station, a public fertilizer storage building, and a public cultural and educational center. Demonstrators also toppled a statue of former president Hafiz al-Assad.

A civilian registration office in ʿAyn al-ʿArab (Kobanî) was set on fire and demonstrators attempted to free prisoners from local jails.16Roughly one thousand people demonstrated in Raʾs alʿAyn (Serê Kaniyê), government institutions were at-tacked and police cars set on fire. In al-Qahtaniyah (Tirbesipî), an elementary school was burned down. Several thousand Kurdish students gathered in Damascus and Aleppo for solidarity rallies.

A demonstration march to Omayyad Square in Damascus resulted in violent skirmishes when security forces attacked students; the students responded by throwing stones. Security forces violently disbanded a further demonstration in the Wadi al-Mushariʿ quarter of Damascus. In the ensuing riots, car tires were set on fire, and shops and other properties destroyed.

On March 14, thousands of Kurds took to the streets in ʿAfrin and ʿAyn al-ʿArab (Kobanî) resulting in some instances in massive clashes with security forces. In ʿAyn al-ʿArab a school and a police station were set on fire;

On March 16, Syrian security forces in ʿAfrin opened fire when young people were about to publicly commemorate the victims of the poison gas attack on the Iraqi-Kurdish city of Halabja in 1988.

According to one of our interviewees, television — in this case the PKK station, Roj TV — played a decisive role in mobilizing Kurds outside of al-Qamishli in 2004: Here in al-Qamishli the affair was actually over by March 15. But then the government started making arrests.

Most of the people were taken from their apartments. Television played a role in mobilization. Partly it agitated people, sometimes it spread the truth and occasionally also untruth. It brought the people outside of al-Qamishli into an uproar.

Throughout the unrest, Kurdish businesses in al-Ha-sakah and al-Qamishli were looted. According to some reports security forces tolerated this to an extent, and some members of the security forces were said to have participated in the burning of public buildings.

There is conflicting information on the question of whether the government armed Arab tribes to support its suppression of the unrest. Regardless of whether Arab groups participated in the suppression of the unrest or were exploited by Syrian security forces, it would be a mistake to interpret the conflict as primarily one between Kurds and Arabs.

On March 15, talks took place between representatives of the Kurdish parties and of the Assyrian population of al-Qamishli, as well as Arab tribal leaders. During these talks the Kurds stressed that there was no ethnic character to the conflict. Instead, it was the result of the Baʿth policies on Kurds in Syria.

On March 16, representatives of the Kurdish parties and Arab (human-rights) organizations signed a joint appeal demanding a resolution to the conflict and an end to the unrest in al-Qamishli. Moreover, Christians and Arabs took part in the funeral march, at least when the protests began in al-Qamishli on March 13.

At this point in time, the demonstrations began to take on an explicitly Kurdish-national character, reflected in the pro-Kurdish slogans, the carrying of Kurdish flags, and the violence against symbols of state rule (Syrian flags, government buildings and institutions).

Even today the number of dead, injured, and arrested is not entirely clear. There is no doubt that some of the figures released during and shortly after the unrest were, in retrospect, too high. We have a list with the names of thirty-two people who died during the unrest. It has been established that approximately two thousand people were arrested, although the basis for this figure is unclear. As no organization has an overview of the arrests, it is possible that this figure is based primarily on projections and estimates. The same is true for the number of injured.

Despite the fact that there are no reliable statistics available, it is undisputed that mass demonstrations such as those held by the Kurdish population in Syria in 2004 were unparalleled. Equally unusual was the brutality with which the Syrian security forces acted. This is reflected in the high number of dead, injured and arrested — some of them children, the routine use of torture, and the stationing of additional soldiers in the Jazirah. But why did this escalation of violence occur precisely in March 2004?

The Causes

Link to the remainder of this excellent report:

http://kurdwatch.org/pdf/kurdwatch_qamischli_en.pdf
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