Zaradesht Muhammad was born in 1969 in the city of Qamishli, which he describes as the city of peace and coexistence. It is inhabited by a mixture of Arabs, Kurds, Syriacs and Assyrians as well as some Armenians and Circassians.
In the early 1970s, Zaradesht moved with his family to the city of al-Hasakah due to his father’s work. He says that the city was in a difficult situation and even lacked access to electricity. However, his childhood was full of beautiful memories in the Tal Hajar neighborhood by the Jaghjagh river. He used to spend all his time swimming and playing with his friends.
Zaradesht says that his father gave him and his siblings Kurdish names that weren’t even popular in the Kurdish community at the time, which shows his father’s sense of nationalism. He had been one of the founders of the “Kurdish Democratic Youth Movement”, the first Syrian Kurdish organization, in 1957.
In the late 1980s, while Zaradesht was still in college, he joined the Kurdish Democratic Party, which was the most popular party in Kurdish circles at the time. “That period was very dynamic,” says Zaradesht. “The University of Aleppo was the hub for different parties. I was introduced to Arab parties other than the Syrian Communist Party, which was the only Arab party present in al-Hasakah. During that period, the Kurdish Workers’ Party was at the outset of its activity, and some of its leaders had moved to Syria. This led the party to compete with other Kurdish Syrian parties over the support of Kurdish youth in universities.”
In 1988, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria witnessed a split as a new leftist faction emerged under the leadership of Ismail Omar. “The breakaway faction proposed that we were Syrian Kurds and therefore the Kurdish movement must originate from a Syrian base,” says Zaradesht. “It also believed that our cause was national, and its solution must take into account the interests of Syrian Kurds and stay within the national Syrian context.”
They proposed a new understanding of the Kurdish cause amid public sympathy towards the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq under the leadership of Barzani. This had a great influence on the growth of Kurdish national awareness, as did the influence of the Kurdish Workers’ Party and Abdullah Öcalan’s Kurdish Project of a unified Kurdistan.
The new party, led by Ismail Omar in al-Hasakah, shared common ideas with the Kurdish Workers’ Party, which is also a breakaway faction of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria with supporters spread over Yafour area. The two parties joined forces to form an integrated base that included al-Hasakah and Afrin. Indeed, the meetings between the two parties culminated in the establishment of the Kurdish United Democratic Party, also under the leadership of Ismail Omar.
“Although aware of the parties’ activity, the Syrian government ignored it because of its preoccupation with the Muslim Brotherhood, especially after the 1982 bloodshed,” says Zaradesht. “As a result, the government didn’t want to widen the range of its confrontation and collision with the Kurds, who were peaceful in their movements.”
In 1922, the common leadership that included the Kurdish United Democratic Party and some breakaway factions of other Kurdish parties undertook a huge campaign, distributing posters in all Kurdish areas in Syria as well as main cities, such as Aleppo and Damascus. The posters included a statement denouncing the census of 1962 that had resulted in thousands of Kurds being deprived of Syrian citizenship.
In 1962, in the course of just 24 hours, the government conducted an arbitrary population census in al-Hasakah governorate. Only those who were at home had their entries recorded, while anyone not at home was stripped of their Syrian citizenship. As a result, around 120,000 Kurds were deprived of their citizenship,” says Zaradesht.
On the morning that followed the poster distribution, the security services were mobilized in conjunction with a wide campaign of arrests and raids, which doubled the momentum of the activity and increased people’s curiosity about the reason behind the security alert and what was really happening.
“The popular movements and the arrest campaign were a motivation to pursue discussions and meetings until the unified conference was announced in 1993, leading to the establishment of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party,” says Zaradesht.
The parties’ movement, activities and alliances continued throughout the 1990s and beyond with the aim of promoting the Kurdish-Syrian cause. Zaradesht says, “We met many prominent figures from artists to party activists to clergymen and others. We also participated in Damascus Spring meetings that resulted in the Damascus Declaration. Our goal was to raise the Kurdish issue within a national Syrian framework that included Kurds and non-Kurds.”
In 2003, Zaradesht was arrested along with 13 other political activists during a security raid on a lecture in the region of al-Aziziyah in Aleppo. The arrest lasted one day as the trial proceedings were to be done while they were free.
“250 lawyers from various governorates volunteered to defend us,” says Zaradesht. “Some active figures such as Michel Kilo and Aref Dalila attended the trial sessions along with young activists from the University of Aleppo who came to support us. This created huge interaction and sympathy towards us as we met and engaged in dialogue with the figures and activists after the trials.”
The trials lasted until 2004 when judgments of 6 months to 1 year of jail time were issued, followed by a presidential amnesty cancelling these judgments. According to Zaradesht, these movements accumulated to create a fertile ground for the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011. “The Syrian regime has always tried to separate any opposing activity that brings the Kurds together with other Syrian forces. However, we were able to remove the Kurdish cause from its narrow Kurdish framework and place it in a national framework that concerns all factions of the Syrian people.”