Marriages between Arabs and Kurds transcend national and traditional boundaries

Special Henna night of Kurdish weddings in Syria - November 2023 (Enab Baladi)

Special Henna night of Kurdish weddings in Syria - November 2023 (Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Reham al-Sawadi

“There is no difference between an Arab and a non-Arab except in piety,” with this prophetic saying, Ayham Khalil began narrating his love story with a Kurdish girl from the same city (Qamishli) named Yerevan.

Al-Hasakah governorate is divided into four regions: al-Hasakah, Qamishli, Ras al-Ain (Sri Kanieh), and al-Malikiyah (Derik). The population numbered around 1.5 million before 2011, according to government statistics.

Arabs are a main component in the governorate, their presence concentrated in the city of al-Hasakah and its southern and eastern countryside following a purely tribal character, along with a lesser presence in the northern and western countryside.

Kurds are the second primary component in the Jazira region, with thousands of them spread across the northern, northeastern, and northwestern villages and towns.

Despite the shared region between Kurds and Arabs, the nature of tribal closeness, differences in nationalities, customs, and traditions, along with some historical conflicts, impose a relationship marred with tensions.

Ayham Khalil (33 years old) told Enab Baladi that marriage is a human bond not related to any sect, nationality, or race, expressing his love for Yerevan as a human being, beyond national differences.

Ayham met Yerevan through his aunt, who lived near Yerevan’s family, and he fell in love with her at first sight about two and a half years ago. While Ayham’s family supported the marriage, Yerevan’s family, especially her father, posed an obstacle to their union.

Her father’s refusal stemmed from a single reason: that Ayham is Arab, and his desire to marry his daughter to a Kurdish young man who shares their culture and customs. Meanwhile, Ayham does not see a “significant difference” in Kurdish and Arab customs and traditions.

Ayham got to know Yerevan’s brother, who is four years younger than him, and managed to get closer to the family, helping him convince the father. Four months ago, the engagement took place.

Families oppose

Rola al-Mohammed (33 years old), hailing from Deir Ezzor city, grew up in al-Hasakah after her family moved there due to her father’s job. She fell in love with a Kurdish young man from al-Hasakah, named Rakan.

Rola told Enab Baladi that she met Rakan during the baccalaureate exams (final high school exams), and a strong love relationship developed between them that continued even after they both entered different universities. Rakan studied at the Faculty of Sciences in al-Hasakah, while Rola studied at the Faculty of Economics in Deir Ezzor.

Both of them have dreamed of a future together since then. Rakan even began teaching Rola the Kurdish language to enable her to communicate with his family later. However, the girl was shocked when her family refused Rakan’s marriage proposal, despite the “strong” friendship between her mother and Rakan’s aunt, with her father citing her unfinished studies as the reason.

Rola’s family harbored fears about cultural differences and the social and economic disparity between the two families since Rakan came from a wealthy family. Additionally, the family was considering returning to Deir Ezzor, which would make Rola distant from them.

Rakan did not give up and proposed to Rola’s family a second time, only for her father to present a different excuse about specific family circumstances. Yet, Rakan’s insistence, bolstered by Rola’s “intense” insistence, did not waver.

On the other hand, the couple did not face any problems with Rakan’s family, who were more understanding of their decision.

Rola and Rakan married after a five-year-long love story, with the blessing of both families, and they have three children.

After marriage

Fatima Zahraa Bizid, a Kurdish girl from Aleppo, met her Arab husband from Palmyra in one of the organizations working in Gaziantep, Turkey, and their meeting culminated in marriage in 2018.

Both sides faced family rejections, and the presence of national sensitivities was clear, especially from her family’s side with its interconnected Kurdish tribal origins.

Fatima told Enab Baladi that her family’s refusal was due to her older brother marrying an Arab girl, and they did not want another marriage from a different nationality.

Although Fatima’s family later accepted their marriage and did not interfere in her married life, she constantly hears the remark, “Wish you had given her to a Kurd.”

As for her husband’s family, the refusal was clear, due to the “significant” difference in Kurdish and Arab customs and traditions, which even after six years of marriage, make her feel like a “stranger.”

Significant difference

Adapting to the culture of the other party’s family is one of the “biggest challenges” for Fatima, who finds that it is “literally different in everything,” even in cooking.

Due to these differences, unintended problems occur. For example, during the henna night, Fatima wore a traditional Kurdish dress, along with her family and guests from her side, while her husband’s family came unprepared for such an occasion in terms of attire or rituals.

Fatima then discovered that her husband’s family did not know what henna night is, creating sensitivity among them because she did not inform them about the nature and requirements of the custom.

Henna night is a celebration held for the bride at her family’s house, a day or a few days before the wedding night, where henna is applied to the bride’s hands and feet.

Fatima canceled having the wedding the Kurdish way to avoid additional sensitivities.

Even after years of marriage, she and her husband continue to be surprised by each other’s customs.

Conversely, Rola said that she did not face any unusual problems and overcame challenges thanks to the mutual acceptance of cultural diversity between the ethnicities, resulting from both families living in the same city.

Rola participates in her husband’s family celebrations, such as the Nowruz Festival, wearing traditional Kurdish clothes and participating in singing and dancing.

Cases that may end in failure

Firas Hamdo (55 years old) married a Kurdish woman in her forties after the death of his first wife due to health reasons, but their marriage did not last more than nine months.

Firas attributed the failure to what he termed “difficult understanding.” His wife was conservatively holding onto her Kurdish identity and language and did not assimilate into his family.

He told Enab Baladi that his wife would speak Kurdish within her family circle, ignoring his presence and not considering his lack of knowledge of the Kurdish language.

On the other hand, his wife found it difficult to integrate into his family during their weekly gatherings, leading to escalating problems between them and difficulty adapting, which ultimately led to their separation.

“To preserve freedom and dignity”

A group of Kurds and Arabs who spoke with Enab Baladi noted “significant” differences between the Syrian Kurds and Arabs, including “fundamental” social, environmental, and educational disparities, apart from each having their own distinctive lifestyle.

Kurds fear the non-recognition of Kurdish identity in the event of marriage, as well as the identity confusion that their children might experience. Thus, marrying within the same nationality is seen as a guarantee to “preserve freedom and dignity.”

Others, however, believe that marriage based on love, understanding, and respect can be positive, sustainable, and should not be obstructed by differences.

Previously speaking to Enab Baladi, the lawyer Khaled Ibrahim from Qamishli said that marriages between Kurds and Arabs and other minorities in the Syrian Jazira are rare, varying from one region to another and from one social case to another.

Ibrahim clarified that “marriages between Arabs and Kurds in the predominantly Kurdish northeastern region of Syria are fewer compared to Damascus and Aleppo, due to the convergence in work and profession as an integrated community.”

There are no official statistics on the number of Kurds in Syria. Some statistics indicate that they account for 9 or 10% of the population, while other statistics claim a lower percentage. They are concentrated in three areas along the Turkish border: northeast of Aleppo province, north of al-Hasakah province, and the city of Afrin.

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in al-Hasakah, Rita Ahmad, contributed to this report.


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