The U.S. State Department issued a statement condemning the March 20th attack on the Kurdish Syrian population of the northeastern city of Qamishli by Syrian security forces. Three civilians were killed and at least five were reportedly injured when security troops fired on Kurds celebrating Nowruz.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the U.S. calls upon the Syrian government "to refrain from using violent measures to repress Kurdish civilians and to open a full, independent investigation of the incident."
A participant in the Nowruz celebration in Qamishli told VOA's Kurdish Service that Syrian authorities used lethal force to break up a peaceful holiday celebration:
"They [Syrian authorities] said there was a demonstration, but that is not true. We were dancing. We were circling the [ritual] fire. There were no slogans, no chanting, nothing. They [the Syrian authorities] were looking for an excuse to shoot and kill us."
"Syrian officials have to justify why security forces opened fire at a Kurdish celebration," said Joe Stork, Middle East Director of the independent human rights monitor, Human Rights Watch. "Those responsible for using unnecessary lethal force should be brought to justice," he said.
Ethnic Kurds make up about nine percent of Syria's more than eighteen million people. Following the 1962 census, approximately one-hundred-twenty thousand Syrian Kurds lost their citizenship, which the government has never restored. Non-governmental refugee organizations estimate the number of state-less Kurds in Syria today at about three-hundred thousand.
In its latest human rights report, the U.S. State Department says that throughout 2007, the Syrian government "discriminated against minorities, particularly the Kurds." Security services subjected Kurdish citizens to mass arrests throughout the year. Kurds are restricted in using and teaching the Kurdish language. According to the State Department report, during 2007, "the government prohibited all Kurdish language publications and arrested journalists who wrote in favor of greater Kurdish rights."
Like many other Syrian citizens, ethnic Kurds remain subject to arbitrary detention, torture, harsh prison conditions, the abridgement of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and the right to privacy.
U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Jonathan Farrar says Syria is one of a number of countries cited in the human rights report "in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers" and remain "the most systematic human rights violators."