The government generally permitted national and ethnic minorities to conduct traditional, religious, and cultural activities, although the Kurdish population--citizens and noncitizens--continued to face official and societal discrimination and repression. However, the government used less violence and arrested fewer Kurds than in previous years. Many activists and opposition groups claimed that the government's marked change in attitude toward the Kurds was an effort to manipulate sectarian tensions for propaganda purposes. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of suspicious Kurdish conscript deaths in the military, nor did government forces perpetrate violence during Kurdish festivals such as the New Year (Nowruz) celebrations.
Although the government contended there was no discrimination against the Kurdish population, it placed limits on the use and teaching of the Kurdish language. It also restricted the publication of books and other materials in Kurdish, Kurdish cultural expression, and at times the celebration of Kurdish festivals.
Authorities continued enforcement of an old ruling requiring that at least 60 percent of the words on signs in shops and restaurants be in Arabic. Officials reportedly sent patrols into commercial districts to threaten shop owners with closure if they refused to change the names of their stores into Arabic. Minority groups--especially Kurds, whom the government appeared to target specifically--regarded the step as a further attempt to undermine their cultural identity.
After the start of the March uprising, the government utilized its state-run television station to spread propaganda that the protesters were Sunni Islamists in an effort to scare minority groups into submission to the state.
Race, Racism and the Law
Vernellia R. Randall
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