Photos: The road to Hasakeh. Syrian road folklore: tea and Mercedes 1298. The bazaar at Qamishli.
The van from ¨Al Forat Petroleun Co.¨saw me, pressed the brakes, turned around and approached me on the wrong track: a clear example of how traffic in the Middle East works. Three Sirian oil ingeneers were driving the van and... surprise! a man from Colombia, whose sorrows turned up as he confused the next town Mayeedin for Medellin. When we were in town the usual happened: a local english speaking man offered to host me and called his brothers and uncles to stare at the foreigner, and asked him what he thought about Bush. When the foreigner explained his dislike for the latter, everybody raised their thumbs and cheered. In these lands Bush being evil seems to be a universal truth for townmen, donkeys and desert scorpions alike. Up to now, I thought that this could be called anti-imperialism. Soon, I was to figure out that this concept was too broad: as their hate focuses on North America and Israel, Syrians do not seem to worry about the abuses committed inside their own frontiers against other minorities. I am referring to the Kurds, those lazy Indoeuropean people that settled between the Eufrates and the Tigris, instead of walking towards the Mediterranean as their arian peers. Nowadays, there are 40 millons Kurds living in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Irak. They are the biggest stateless ethnic group on earth, not to talk about their basic rights. As I am travelling north from Deir ez Zor, the Syrian Political police seems to be increasing its worry about my presence. The traditional dislike for witnesses...
As these lands are so near Irak, no tourists get here. However, nothing can stop me from entering the area with my backback on my shoulder and a valid visa on my passport. Nevertheless, I am stopped and questioned approximately 3 times in each town. These encounters with Syrian cops can be short as pit-stop, ceremonious with eight officers staring at my passport as if it had fallen from the sky, and always funny: in Margadeh, the officers didn’t stop using their argilleh (water pipe) even when asking for my personal information, with the expected result of being entered on the books as Mr. Mar del Plata (that's my home town) from Villarino (you guessed, that's my name). Another officer, about to collapse for smoking, asked from a corner wich gate I had used to enter Siria. What do I answer to this one?
When I got to Hasakeh, 100 km. north from Deir ez Zor, I bought a limonade and allowed people to approach me. This time I recognized the features of these people: they were Kurds. One man assured that his nephew could speak english well, soon all his family was greeting me. Nazim, my new friend, is a professional history teacher…this would be his profession if he wasn’t one of the three hundred thousand Kurds that can’t work as professional for not having the right documents.
In an attempt to maintain low statistics in comparison to reality, the government do not recognize citizenship to 15% of Kurds. Having to sweat to the bones in his workshop while his title hangs on the wall is only one of the so many humilliations that Nizam has to suffer daily: law also states that he has to be ashamed of his language.
It is almost imposible to avoid the use of Kurd in the streets in areas where this group sometimes covers 90% of the population, but there is a prison sentence if Kurdish is used in official areas. Press, radio, and television in Kurdish are prohibited. The same with poetry and drama. Finally, and most worringly, teaching in this language is also banned. So, a Kurdish teacher has to talk to his 40 Kurdish students in Arabic. I found it terrifying that, beyond the objective damage to Kurds’ proud and hopes, this law banns a whole conception of the universe, that is, a language. ( Maaloula town, instead, is promoted as one of the last towns where Aramean is spoken, Christ’s language. But, of course, Arameans are just a handful and do not live next to oil resources).
While poeple in West Belfast can at least show their colorful Irish flag and call streets and shops using gaelic names, the Kurds from the north of Syria are a ghost nation that can only watch kurd programmes coming from Iraqi channels through satelite TV. In Irak, after the new federal Constitution, the Kurds have won the right to own their own autonomous region. It is not strange that the (low) voice in the streets argues that only an American intervention could change things. (I remind them that there are videos showing Saddam helicopters shooting Kurd soldiers while american F-16 flew over the scene with the order of ¨not to alter the regional balance of power). In Turkey Kurds situation might get better. Not as an example of humanity, but because Turkey, as a prostitute choosing his best costume, tries to like the European Community in order to become one of it’s members some day.
I got to the frontier with Turkey and Irak, where the Tigris runs pacific and out of this world., where the Syrian cops drink mate and watch a Chuck Norris movie. As a prolonged stay might be a problem for my Kurdish friend, he commends me to his relatives. I never stay under the same roof for more than two nights, so I visit the region from cousin to cousin. This is life in a land where globalization means that one person has the right to own a 7710 Nokia but not the right to speak his own language, and where a Yahoo account is more readily available than an ID. I was on the most remote corner of the Syrian Arab Republic, the way back was not going to be uneventful...