DAMASCUS, Syria, April 7 (UPI) -- President Bashar Assad decreed Thursday that Kurds living in northeastern Syria are now Syrian Arabs, government news agencies reported.
The move means that thousands of Kurds who lost Syrian citizenship and became stateless after a 1962 census are citizens, CNN reported. Assad, who has long promised to regularize their status, did so as protests are sweeping the country among both Arabs and Kurds.
Human Rights Watch estimates Kurds are about 10 percent of the Syrian population, making them the country's largest minority group. Most of the 1.7 million Kurds live in the Hasaka region.
"In 1962, an exceptional census stripped some 120,000 Syrian Kurds -- 20 percent of the Syrian Kurdish population -- of their Syrian citizenship. By many accounts, the special census was carried out in an arbitrary manner," Human Rights Watch reported in July. "Brothers from the same family, born in the same Syrian village, were classified differently. Fathers became foreigners while their sons remained citizens. The number of stateless Kurds grew with time as descendants of those who lost citizenship in 1962 multiplied; as a result, their number is now estimated at 300,000."