Syria's Kurds see better lot if Assad goes: activists

AMMAN Mon Sep 5, 2011 8:02pm EDT

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Syria's minority Kurds support the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad because it could usher in democracy but long-standing grievances have to be addressed in any post-Assad order, Kurdish activists said.

In a declaration issued on Monday at the conclusion of a conference in Stockholm to unify Kurdish efforts against Assad, the activists said they will strengthen backing for Kurdish protests against Assad, led by a younger generation of street leaders critical or elders in established Kurdish parties.

"The Kurdish people, as a part of Syria's diverse mosaic, are a main component of the revolt against the regime and it is in their full interest for the regime to fall," the statement said.

With Syria's one million Kurds concentrated in the oil- producing northeast, the Kurdish issue would loom large if Assad, who is struggling to contain a five-month uprising against his rule, was removed, with regional implications for Turkey, which also has a large Kurdish minorities, and Iraq, where Kurds have a large degree of autonomy.

Syria's overall population is around 20 million.

Pro-democracy protests have spread to Kurdish areas in Syria, but the authorities, mindful of a 2004 Kurdish uprising crushed by force, have not used the same level of deadly violence employed to crush protests elsewhere.

The two-day conference at the Swedish Parliament building, which drew 50 participants, was the first to bring a broad group of Kurdish activists since the uprising. Among the participants were Kurdish writer Massoud Akko, who fled Syria several years ago and now resides in Norway, and dissent Mohammad Sida, who lives in Sweden.

The statement said the removal of Assad and his ruling Baath Party could allow for a new political system that divulges power to the provinces and "free of racist and extremist ideology.. a nation where tolerance would prevail."

"The Syrian revolution will not be complete without a just solution to the Kurdish cause," the statement said, adding that any new constitution should recognize Kurdish as an official language and that Kurds have a right to seek compensation for "historic discrimination and persecution."

A month into the uprising in April, Assad sought to placate Syria's Kurds by issuing a decree to grant thousands of disenfranchised Kurds Syrian nationality and easing discrimination on the transfer of properties in Kurdish areas.

But activists and Kurdish politicians said little progress has been made on the ground, with only a fraction of the stateless Kurds becoming citizens and a multitude of other laws that still discriminate against Kurdish language and customs, as well as heavy secret police presence in Kurdish areas.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom)

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