Since he became president 10 years ago, thousands of Syrian Kurds left Syria and went to Europe or fled to Iraqi Kurdistan and now live in refugee …camps.

The Kurdish minority, estimated to be 10 percent of the Syrian population, is denied basic rights, including the right to learn Kurdish in schools or celebrate Kurdish festivals such as Newroz (Kurdish New Year).

Official repression of Kurds increased further after Syrian Kurds held large-scale demonstrations, some violent, throughout northern Syria in March 2004 to voice long-simmering grievances. Since then, security forces have dispersed Kurdish political and cultural gatherings, sometimes with lethal force, and have detained a number of leading Kurdish political activists, who they have referred to military courts or the SSSC for prosecution under charges of "inciting strife" or "weakening national sentiment."

Despite repeated promises by Bashar Assad, an estimated 300,000 stateless Kurds are still waiting for the Syrian government to solve their predicament by granting them citizenship. Most of these, or their descendants, had their Syrian citizenship stripped by the Syrian government after a census in 1962.

The severe repression suffered by the Syrian Kurds has its roots in the early period of Ba’ath rule in Syria. The Arab nationalist Ba’athists felt threatened by the presence of a large non-Arab national majority, and set about trying to remove it.

In 1962, a census undertaken in the area with the highest concentration of Kurds in Syria – al-Hasaka province – resulted in 120,000 to 150,000 Syrian Kurds being arbitrarily stripped of their citizenship. They and their descendants remain non-persons today. They are unable to travel outside the country, own property or work in the public sector. People in this category today number about 200,000, though no official statistics exist for them. They are known as ajanib (foreigners).

A large additional group of around 100,000 Kurds in Syria remain entirely undocumented and unregistered. This group, known as maktoumeen (muted), similarly live without citizenship or travel and employment rights.

Image: Kurdish political prisoners in Syria (2009)