DAMASCUS (AFP) – President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday granted citizenship to Syria’s Kurds, the majority in the northeast who have been denied nationality for nearly half a century, said SANA state news agency.
“President Assad issued a decree granting Arab Syrian citizenship to people registered as foreigners in the (governorate of Hassake),” said the news agency.
The measure, which would benefit about 300,000 Kurds, comes a week after Assad tasked a committee with “resolving the problem of the 1962 census in the governorate of Hassake.”
In 1962, 20 percent Syria’s ethnic Kurdish population were deprived of Syrian citizenship following the controversial census, according to human rights groups.
The government at the time argued its decision was based on a 1945 wave of illegal immigration of Kurds from neighbouring countries, including Turkey, to Hassake, where they had “fraudulently” registered as Syrian citizens.
The citizenship problem has long poisoned relations between the government and Syria’s Kurds, who were banned from employment in the public sector as they are not citizens and yet cannot emigrate as they do not have Syrian passports.
Kurds in Syria’s northeast took to the streets last Friday for the first time since pro-reform protests erupted in mid-March, calling for the right to citizenship and “freedom as well,” Kurdish rights activist Radif Mustafa told AFP.