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2004 al-Qamishli riots
Date March 2004
Location Qamishli, Al-Hasakah Governorate, Syria
Outcome Syrian Army kills protestors
Thousands of Kurds flee to Iraqi Kurdistan
Deaths 30 - 100

The 2004 Qamishli uprising refers to the uprising by Syrian Kurds in the northeastern city of Qamishli in March 2004. The Kurds are the world's largest ethnic group still remaining without a country. The riots started during a chaotic football match, when some fans of the guest team (Arabs) started raising pictures of Saddam Hussein, an action that angered the fans of the host team (the Kurds). Both groups began throwing stones at each other, which soon developed to a political conflict as the Arab group raised pictures of Saddam Hussein while the Kurdish group raised the Flag of Kurdistan. The Ba'ath Party local office was burned down by Kurdish demonstrators, leading to the security forces reacting. The Syrian army responded quickly, deploying thousands of troops backed by tanks and helicopters, and launching a crack-down. Events climaxed when Kurds in Qamishli toppled a statue of Hafez al-Assad. At least 30 Kurds were killed as the security services re-took the city.[1] As a result of the crackdown, thousands of Syrian Kurds fled to Iraqi Kurdistan.


Qamishli is the largest town in Al-Hasakah Governorate and is located in northeast Syria. It is regarded as the Kurds and Assyrian community capital. It is also the center of the Syrian Kurdish struggle,[2] especially in the recent years. The reason why the Kurds were so upset over pictures showing Saddam Hussein was because Saddam Hussein, 5th president of Iraq, had targeted the Kurds for a longer period of time. The two dominant ethnicities in Iraq for a longer period of time has been the Arabs in the south and central Iraq, whilst the Kurds in the north and north-east Iraq. Hussein long viewed the Kurds as a long-time threat to Iraq’s survival, making the hatred and dismissal towards the Kurds one of his highest priorities.[3]

Along with Hussein hating them, the Kurds also felt opposition from the Syrian government because of past events, the most important one happening in 1962. In 1962 the government took a census and left out thousands of Kurds. This left them and their children without citizenship and denied them the right to obtain government jobs or to own property. This disregarded minority now consists of hundreds of thousands of Kurds, who now carry red identification cards that identify them as “foreigner.” Another move the government made which has fueled tensions was resettling thousands of Arabs from other parts of the country into along the border in Iran, Iraq and Turkey. They did this in order to build a buffer between Kurdish areas, which has furthered the hatred between the Kurds and Arabs.

After the violence, President Bashar al-Assad visited the region and called for a "national unity". Through this he allegedly hoped to cool tempers and supposedly pardoned 312 Kurds who were accused of participating in the massacre.[4]

The United States has for a longer period of time recognized Iraqi Kurdistan diplomatically which has led the Americans to invite the current Kurdish leader of Iraqi Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, to the White House and a meeting in Baghdad when the American president was in town. The visit from United States Vice President, Joe Biden, to the fourth largest city in Iraq, Erbil, also known as the Iraqi Kurdistan capital, helped strengthen their ally with them.[5] The United States started Operation Comfort and Operation Comfort II in an alleged attempt to defend Kurds fleeing their homes in Northern Iraq as a result of the Iraqi Gulf War. Iraqi Kurdistan and the United States has been allies for a longer period of time dating back to 1919 when the US supposedly successfully pushed for an independent country for the Kurds. Masoud Barzani is the current president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic party.[6] Jalal Talabani is the sixth and current president of Iraq, a leading Kurdish politician. He is the first non-Arab president of Iraq.[7] The protest occurred in 2004 and Jalal Talabani was elected president in 2005. The United States and Iraqi Kurdistan has not always been allies. The use of chemical weapons during the massacre by the Iraqi Government to Kurdish civilians in 1988; United States and United Nations chose to ignore it. When Saddam ordered the Republican Guards to conquer Erbil in 1996, the U.S, air force nothing to stop it.[8]

2004 eventsEdit

On 12 March 2004, a football match in Qamishli between a local Kurdish team and a Sunni Arab team from Deir ez-Zor in Syria's southeast sparked violent clashes between fans of the opposing sides which spilled into the streets of the city. The fans of the Arab team reportedly rode about town in a bus, insulting the Iraqi Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani and brandishing portraits of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, whose infamous Al-Anfal Campaign killed an estimated 182,000 Kurdish civilians in Iraq. In response, Kurdish fans supposedly proclaimed "We will sacrifice our lives for Bush", referring to US President George W. Bush, who invaded Iraq in 2003, deposing Saddam and triggering a bloody conflict that would drag on for years and claim hundreds of thousands of lives. Tensions between the groups came to a head, and the Deir ez-Zor Arab fans attacked the Kurdish fans with sticks, stones, and knives. Government security forces brought in to quell the riot fired into the crowd, killing six people, including three children—all of them were Kurds.[9]

The Ba'ath Party local office was burned down by the demonstrators, leading to the security forces reacting and killing more than 15 of the rioters and wound more than 100.[10] Officials in Qamishli alleged that some Kurdish parties were collaborating with "foreign forces" to supposedly annex some villages in the area to northern Iraq.[11][12][13] Events climaxed when Kurds in Qamishli toppled a statue of Hafez al-Assad. The Syrian army responded quickly, deploying thousands of troops backed by tanks and helicopters. At least 30 Kurds were killed as the security services re-took the city.[14]


Moqebleh (Moquoble) refugee campEdit

After the 2004 events in Qamishli, thousands of Kurds fled to the Kurdish Region of Iraq.[15] Local authorities there, the UNHCR and other UN agencies established the Moqebleh camp at a former Army base near Dohuk.

Several years later the KRG moved all refugees, who arrived before 2005, to housing in a second camp, known as Qamishli. The camp consists of a modest housing development with dozens of concrete block houses and a mosque.

The original camp at the former Army citadel now contains about 300 people. Many of the homes are made of cement blocks, covered with plastic tarpaulins. Latrines and showers are in separate buildings down the street. Authorities provide electricity, water trucks and food rations.[16]

Kurds can leave the camp to work. As supposed refugees they can’t get government jobs, but are able work in the private sector, often as construction workers or drivers. The Kurds seem likely not to return to Syria until political conditions change.

2005 demonstrationsEdit

In June 2005, thousands of Kurds demonstrated in Qamishli to protest the assassination of Sheikh Khaznawi, a Kurdish cleric in Syria, resulting in the death of one policeman and injury to four Kurds.[17][18] In March 2008, according to Human Rights Watch,[19] Syrian security forces opened fire at Kurds who were celebrating the spring festival of Nowruz. The shooting killed three people.

2011 protests in QamishliEdit

With the eruption of the Syrian Civil War, the city of Qamishli became one of the protest arenas. On 12 March 2011, thousands of Syrian Kurds in Qamishli and al-Hasakah protested on the day of the Kurdish martyr, an annual event since 2004 al-Qamishli protests.[20][21][22]

2012 rebellionEdit

In 2012, armed elements among the Kurds launched Syrian Kurdish rebellion in north and north-western Syria, aiming against Syrian government forces.[23][24] In the second half of 2012, the rebellion also resulted in clashes between Kurdish soldiers and the militants of the Free Syrian Army, both striving towards control of the region.

See alsoEdit


  1. James Brandon (February 15, 2007). "The PKK and Syria's Kurds". Washington, DC 20036, USA: Terrorism Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation. p. Volume 5, Issue 3. 
  2. - The Kurds of Syria - An Insecure Stone in the Syrian Mosaic
  3. Head, Tom. "The War Crimes of Saddam Hussein". 
  4. Fattah, Hassan. "Kurds, Emboldened by Lebanon, Rise Up In Tense Syria". NY Times. 
  5. Osman, Hiwa. "US Relations With Iraqi Kurdistan". Rudaw. Retrieved September 8, 2010. 
  6. Unknown. "Masoud Barzani". Kurdistan Regional Government. Retrieved June 27, 2007. 
  7. Unknown. "Jalal Talabani". Kurish Aspect. 
  8. Unknown. "Iraq Report: December 8, 2000". Radio Free Europe. Retrieved December 8, 2000. 
  9. Tejel, p. 115
  10. Photos from the 2004 Kurdish riot in Al-Qamishli, Syria
  11. Aji, Albert; (Associated Press) (March 16, 2004). "Tension unabated after riots in Syria" (in Eng). The Boston Globe. 
  12. Rights group calls on Syria to investigate death of three Kurds in shooting - International Herald Tribune
  13. Syria: Address Grievances Underlying Kurdish Unrest, HRW, March 19, 2004.
  14. James Brandon (February 15, 2007). "The PKK and Syria's Kurds". Washington, DC 20036, USA: Terrorism Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation. p. Volume 5, Issue 3. 
  15. Video on YouTube
  16. Reese Erlich, “Syrian Kurds have long memories,” Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Oct. 21, 2011.
  17. Blanford, Nicholas (June 15, 2005). "A murder stirs Kurds in Syria". USA Today. 
  18. Fattah, Hassan M. (July 2, 2005). "Kurds, Emboldened by Lebanon, Rise Up in Tense Syria". The New York Times. 
  19. Syria: Investigate Killing of Kurds - Human Rights Watch
  20. Youtube. "مظاهرة في الجزيرة السورية 12 اذار 2011". Retrieved 12 March 2011. 
  21. Youtube. "حفلة تأبين شهداء إنتفاضة قامشلو". Retrieved 12 March 2011. 
  22. "الكورد السوريون يحييون ذكرى انتفاضتهم السابعة بايقاد الشموع اجلالاً و اكراماُ لارواح الشهداء". Retrieved 12 March 2011. 
  23. [1]
  24. "Hedging their Syrian bets". The Economist. August 4, 2012. 

Further readingEdit

  • Tejel, Jordi (2009). "The Qamishli revolt, 2004: the marker of a new era for Kurds in Syria". Syria's Kurds: History, Politics and Society. London: Routledge. pp. 108–132. ISBN 9780415424400. 

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