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“Syrian Citizenship Disappeared”

How the 1962 Census destroyed stateless Kurds’ lives and identities

by wael.m
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1. Executive Summary: The 5th of October 2018 marks the 56th anniversary of the special census in al-Hasakah province, northeastern Syria, which is largely populated with ethnic minorities having different religious affiliations, including Assyrians, Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Chechens and others.

Al-Hasakah was the only Syrian province in which the census was conducted, in application of Decree No. 93 of 23 August 1962 passed by the so-called "Separatist Movement", based on Decree No. 1 of 30 April 1962 and the ministerial decision, No. 106 of 23 August 1962. The now known “Al-Hasakah 1962 Census” decree states in its article 1:

«A general census is to be carried out in al-Hasakah province in one single day. The exact date will be more closely determined by an order from the Ministry of Planning, at the recommendation of the Interior Minister.»

STJ had access to inside information from official sources in the Personal Status Department of al-Hasakah, revealing that the number of the registered ajanib[1]/red card holders, reached 346 242 in early 2011. 326 489 of them managed to obtain Syrian nationality, while the rest, 19 753, are still stateless.

Regarding maktumeen[2], the same source denied the Syrian government's allegations on its lack of knowledge of their numbers, noting that the Personal Status Department of al-Hasakah used to rely on the records of the makhateer[3] during the previous decades, who were responsible of issuing identification certificates for the maktumeen.
The number of maktumeen, has reached more than 171 300 as of 2011, 50 400 of whom obtained Syrian nationality after resolving their legal status by becoming ajanib and then Syrian citizens. However, some 41 000 maktumeen were unable to rectify their legal status owing to problems encountered by the Personal Status Separtment during the registration process, and there are still less than 5 000 people who chose not to submit.

In total, the number of stateless Syrian Kurds between 1962-2011, has reached more than 517 000. The IDs that ajanib al-Hasakah received were marked with placing number 8 after the registration number: to read 8/xx.

Following the onset of peaceful protests in Syria, which demanded sweeping reforms in the country, Decree No. 49 was issued on 7 April 2011, and has been announced on the official website of The Syrian People's Council under the title "Granting Syrian Arab Nationality to those Registered as ajanib in al-Hasakah". The decree states:

Article 1: individuals who are registered as ajanib in the al-Hasakah province shall be granted Syrian nationality.[4]

Article 2: the Minister of the Interior shall issue the decisions containing the executive instructions to this decree.

Article 3: This decree shall enter into force on the day of its publication in the Official Journal.


Several months after the issuance of Decree No. 49 of 2011, a ministerial decree of nationalizing maktumeen was reported. The Personal Status Department employees, however, told submitters that it was not yet in effect, and they actually didn’t know which department would take it over.

Unlike citizens, Syrian Kurds, who were rendered stateless by the 1962 census, suffer deprivation of their most basic civil, political, social and economic rights. Some of them had a lifetime of statelessness, having no certificates proving their born nor death.

Like other Syrians, Kurds have been subjected to serious human rights violations during the past decades, but as an ethnic minority, they suffer identity-based discrimination, such as restrictions on the use of Kurdish language and on practicing Kurdish culture. In the view of many Kurds, the Kurdish issue goes further beyond than just claiming citizenship, as it seeks the Kurds’ national, political, cultural and social rights, which are safeguarded by the international human rights instruments.


2. Methodology of the report:

This report is the result of intense efforts STJ has conducted between the beginning of 2018 and August the same year. It relies on 54 statements and interviews, conducted by the organisation’s field researchers. 38 of them are face-to-face, while the 8 others were conducted via Internet with eyewitnesses and stateless people (both ajanib and maktumeen) in different geographical regions starting from Al-Malikiyah/Derek to Qamishli/Qamishlo via Amuda, Ad Darbasiyah, Ras al-Ayn/Sari Kani al-Hasakah city and others, as well as those deployed in a number of asylum countries such as Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan, Europe and others.

The report also drew on 8 testimonies and interviews from lawyers, researchers and specialists in the Kurdish and citizenship issues.

The drafters of this report have reviewed dozens of sources and references that have approached the subject since 1962 until today, quoting from 63 of them to benefit from and build upon the efforts made in this field.


3. Introduction:

Through this in-depth report, STJ seeks to document and list the reasons behind the special census of 1962, and to highlight the suffering of tens of thousands of people who have been stripped of their nationality as a result, especially the maktumeen, within Syria or in asylum. The report relates 49 years of statelessness, from 1962 to 2011, and the catastrophic consequences of it, by recounting stories of the 1962 census victims.

The census, that was conducted on 5 October 1962 in application of Decree No. 93 of 23 August 1962, was special to al-Hasakah province, northeastern Syria, and was the result of tumultuous political years in Syria.

On 30 January 1958, Syria’s president Shukri al-Quwatli’s visit to Cairo accompanied by the cabinet members, and on 1 February 1958, Sabri al-Asali, Syria’s Prime Minister, proclaimed the formation of the United Arab Republic, that would be headed by the elected Gamal Abdel Nasser[5].

The Interim Constitution of the Republic was promulgated on Wednesday, 5 March 1958. It stated:

“Nationality in the United Arab Republic is defined by law. Nationality in the United Arab Republic is enjoyed by all bearers of the Syrian or Egyptian nationalities; or who are entitled to it by laws or statutes in force in Syria or Egypt at the time this Constitution takes effect.”[6]

The Egyptian-Syrian union did not last long, however. It collapsed on 28 September 1961, by the “Supreme Arab Revolutionary Command of the Armed Forces”, which entrusted Maamun al-Kuzbari to form the new government, authorizing him to issue decrees on the nomination of ministers and the composition of the new cabinet, which was announced on 20 November 1961, about a week after the adoption of the country's interim constitution, headed by Izzat al-Nuss.  The parliament and the constitutional council held a second meeting on Thursday morning, 14 December 1961, under the chairmanship of Maamun al-Kuzbari to elect a President of the Republic out of the two candidates Khalid al-Azm and Nazim al-Kudsi, who won the presidency.

Subsequent to that, Prime Minister Izzat al-Nuss tendered his resignation on 22 December 1961, and Maarouf al-Dawalibi was commissioned to establish the ministry in which he appointed Jalal al-Saied as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture, Rashad Barmada as Minister of Defense and Education, Ahmed Qunbur as Minister of the Interior, and Mustafa al-Zarqa as Minister of Justice and Religious Affairs.

On 28 March 1962, Abd al-Karim al-Nahlawi staged another coup, assuming the presidency as a result, under a decree issued by the then Chief of the General Staff of the Army and the Armed Forces, while President Nazim al-Kudsi and other politicians were arrested. Some then military sectors headed by the Brigadier General Bader al-A’asar, the commander of the central region in Homs, opposed those actions, which led to the surrender of some officers, the escape of those who staged the coup, and the transfer of others to the courts. Nazim al-Kudsi was released on 13 April 1962, and returned to the Presidential palace to begin a second mandate.


On 16 April 1962, Nazim al-Kudsi signed a decree approving the resignation of Prime Minister Maarouf al-Dawalibi and another decree in which he appointed Bashir al-Azma at the head of the new government, where Rashid Humaidan was appointed Minister of Justice and Religious Affairs, and Abdel Halim kaddour as Minister of Interior. Kaddour resigned afterwards and was replaced by Rashad Baramda. The government would soon be reshuffled and the post of Minister of the Interior given to Aziz Abdul Karim.[7]

Along with the political storms, Syria was also hit with natural storms and hurricanes.  On 18 and 19 April 1962, torrential rains coming from Turkey and some Syrian areas affected al-Qahtaniyah, formerly Qubour al-Bid town in Qamishi/Qamishlo, and left about 20 victims and 10 missing. It also washed away more than 100 houses, cracked some 50 others and displaced thousands of people, many of whom were housed in schools and tents[8]


The census was conducted in application of Decree No. 93 of 23 August 1962, which was actually passed by the so-called "Separatist Movement", based on Decree No. 1 of 30 April 1962 and the ministerial decision, No. 106 of 23 August 1962.[9] The now known as “Al-Hasakah 1962 Census” decree, states in its article 1:

A general census is to be carried out in al-Hasakah province in one single day. The exact date will be more closely determined by an order from the Ministry of Planning, at the recommendation of the Interior Minister.[10]


The census resulted in disastrous consequences for people who have been stripped indefinitely of Syrian citizenship along with their descendants. The overwhelming proportion of those were Syrian Kurds, which make this issue one of the most complex issues that successive Syrian governments have failed to deal with, or to lift the injustice befallen those affected.[11]

In order not to lose their Syrian citizenship, Kurds had to prove residency in Syrian territory since 1945, at least. The extremely short time frame for the census – one day – set by the government wasn’t enough for people to prepare the required documents or even to understand what was going on.[12]


You may read the whole report (56 pages) as PDF format by clicking here.



[1] Sing. ajnabi/ajnabiyah, literally »foreigners« i.e. stateless. unregistered stateless people.

[2] Sing. maktum/maktumah, i.e., unregistered stateless people.

[3] Sing. Mukhtar, i.e. the head of the neighborhood.

[4] Ajanib means foreigner in Arabic

[5]  Hashim Othman, The Modern History of Syria (Beirut-Lebanon: Riad El-Rayyes Books), 303 and 305.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Hashim Othman, The Modern History of Syria (Beirut-Lebanon: Riad El-Rayyes Books), 299 to 371.

[8]  Ibid., 359.

[9] On 13 September 1962, Bashir al-Azma’s government issued a new constitution before it resigned four days later, on 17 September 1962. Khalid al-Azm formed the new government, in which Asa’ad al-Kourani was the Minister of Justice and Religious Affairs, and Aziz Abdulkareem the Minister of the Interior.

The separation was finalised with the 8 March 1963 coup, helped by the military organization established in Egypt during the United Arab Republic, composed of officers Muhammad Omran, Salah Jadid, Hafez al-Assad, Ahmed al-Meer and Abd al-Karim al-Jundi.

The census was therefore conducted in the midst of political instability, and its effects are still vivid today.

[10]  The decree was in retaliation for the Kurds’ support of the 11 September 1961 revolution in Iraqi Kurdistan leaded by Mustafa Barzani, according to some sources; to mention only: Riyad Feili, “Decree No. 93 of 1962 in Syria and his counterpart in Iraq are two sides of the same coin”, The Civilized Dialogue, issue, 2023, 30 August 2007. (last visit: 6 August 2018). http://www.ahewar.org/debat/show.art.asp?aid=107492

[11] During the work on this report, STJ field researcher was able to get two testimonies from stateless Syrian Arabs in Ras al-Ayn/Sari Kani city, who did not received citizenship despite submitting their papers as Maktumeen, which indicated that there are Arabs who are still not registered in the Syrian official records. There are also some stateless Syriac families and Bedouins who were spread away from the centers of cities, as some sources confirmed to STJ.

[12] Syria: Group Denial, “Repression of Kurdish Political and Cultural Rights in Syria”, Human Rights Watch, 26 November 2009. https://www.hrw.org/report/2009/11/26/group-denial/repression-kurdish-political-and-cultural-rights-syria . (last visit: 10 August 2018)

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