Syria’s largest minority is the Kurds, and their case is the most curious. Unlike the Alawites and Christians who have done well under the Assads, the Kurds have been brutally repressed. Kurdish areas in the northeast and northwest are among Syria’s poorest (although resource rich) and, since the 1950s, successive Syrian regimes have denied citizenship documents to hundreds of thousands of Kurds, saying they are migrants from Turkey.
In 2004, Kurds in the western Syrian city of Qamishli staged their own uprising against the regime, tearing down billboards and statues of the current president and his late father. The uprising was put down with characteristic Assad ruthlessness.
But today, Syria’s Kurdish militias are fighting anti-regime Islamic radicals who have been attacking Kurdish villages. The Syrian government is largely absent from the Kurdish area, and in July, the Kurds proclaimed their own autonomous region. They are now focused on making that autonomy a reality, securing their region’s borders against Sunni rebels, establishing a Kurdish language curriculum in schools, changing license plates and setting up a Kurdish administration.
The Syrian opposition has not even tried to win the support of the country’s minorities. There is no program, or even meaningful discussion, of how a post-Assad regime might protect Syria’s Alawites from retribution.