Arab Spring

Kurds Face Uncertain Fate in Post-Assad Syria

Ethnic tensions already abound

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The quarrel began when a young Arab called Mohammad drove up to a Kurdish checkpoint. The Kurdish fighters manning it beat him up. Bruised, angry and humiliated, Mohammad gathered up a group of armed friends. There was a shootout; Mohammad, his brother and three others were killed. Three Kurds also died. Both sides agreed a truce. As part of the deal the Kurds abandoned the mountaintop checkpoint in the village of Qastal, seven miles from the town of Azaz in northern Syria, and retreated down the road.

The violent clashes last month are indicative of the tensions that have surfaced in the wake of Syria's uprising. The Kurds are the third biggest group in Syria's delicate ethnic mosaic: 3 million in a country of 23 million. Long discriminated against by successive Arab regimes in Damascus, and often denied citizenship, they are now staking a claim to self-determination. It's unclear, however, whether their lot will be any better in a post-revolutionary Syria with President Bashar al-Assad gone.