Revisiting the Erasure of Kurdish Identity in Syria: Growing up as a Kurd in the country was a scarring experience for children that included the denial of one’s own name (Ronahi Hasan, December 20, 2023, New/Lines)

The Kurdish people, estimated at 45 million by the Kurdish Institute of Paris, have never recognized what they consider the artificial boundaries that divide them across four nation-states — Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey — and have struggled to form an independent state of their own since the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916.

Under this agreement, western Kurdistan was definitively separated from northern Kurdistan and became part of the newly formed state of Syria. These changes made Kurds in Syria the largest non-Arab ethnicity. The Kurds hoped for a degree of freedom and coexistence in modern Syria. What came instead was the opposite: Successive Syrian governments, under the direction of the Baath Party, have continued their cruel treatment of the Kurds.

Kurds have a distinct culture, language (Kurdish) with many dialects, and history. We have a rich cultural heritage, with unique traditions in music, dance, clothing and cuisine. While the majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims, there are also Kurdish communities that practice Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Yarsanism, Yazidism, Alevism and Judaism.

Kurdish society places a high value on hospitality, honor and tribal ties, and extended families often live in close-knit communities. The Kurds have a complex history marked by periods of autonomy and resistance against various ruling powers.

The Kurdish problem stands as one of the most intractable and enduring conflicts in the Middle East, perhaps even in the world. Kurds remain politically, culturally and economically ghettoized within the boundaries of Turkey, Iran, Syria and, until recently, Iraq. While the Kurds in Iraq have achieved far-reaching self-rule in the Kurdistan Region, whose autonomy was written into Iraq’s constitution in the post-Saddam Hussein era, even Kurds in Iraq still face an uncertain future, as issues like the future status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories remain unresolved.

“Li ser xeta” and “le bin xeta” are two Kurdish phrases rooted in our minds. Kurds in Syria call the Kurdish regions in Turkey “li ser xeta,” which means above the line; that is, north of the Syria-Turkey border. By the same token, we call the Kurdish areas in Syria “le bin xeta,” meaning below the line. We grew up using these two phrases to protect our sense of belonging and to reject what we consider the artificial lines that divide our land.

The most important fact about the Israel/Palestine conflict is that it is not distinct.