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Musa Anter—His Life And Times

Ohio University

Athens, Ohio

Kani Xulam

November 30, 2012

 

Ever since Nuunja Almasude and Elizabeth Story invited me, back last May, to speak to you, I’ve probed the depths of my mind—which some of my friends will tell you doesn’t take a long time—to merit the much-appreciated honor you have kindly extended to me.

I’ll try not to waste your valuable time.

I’ll keep in mind that he who measures his words by the inch, but speaks by the yard—should be shown the door by the foot!

First, let me sincerely commend you for being Ohio’s first state university—founded in 1804, a year after Ohio became a state—and 68 years before the founding of Ohio State University, which many people may think of first when Ohio universities are mentioned.

But Ohio State is not first—you are!

And you are first by three score and eight years, as Abraham Lincoln might put it.

Come to think of it, Lincoln couldn’t put it that way—or any way.  He couldn’t even talk.

When Ohio University was opened, he had not yet been born—and would not be for another five years.

That’s right—you were already five years old when Abraham Lincoln was born.

By contrast, Ohio State, when Lincoln was born—still had another 63 years to go before its birth.

Speaking of your distinguished past, I discovered another eminent accolade for your laurel leafs.

You are the first university established in the old “Northwest Territory”—now the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin—and you are the ninth oldest public university in America.

You definitely have a historic name, in your city: Athens—which I assume was named for ancient Athens in Greece, one of the oldest cities in the world, continuously inhabited for some 7,000 years.

When we think of the Athens of old, we think of the famous philosophers—such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle—and that celebrated and noble physician, Hippocrates…as well as many other renowned figures: Pericles who shines brightly in the pages of Thucydides or Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes who speak to us directly through their surviving plays.

The Greeks gave us so much.

I should not neglect to mention perhaps the greatest orator of Athens, Demosthenes.

I’m told he sharpened his vocal chords by putting pebbles in his mouth and speaking against the roaring waves of the Mediterranean Sea.

By learning to speak clearly—even with stones in his mouth, amid the noise of the pounding waves—he became even better as he gradually removed the stones, one or two at a time.

Well, as you can already tell, I am no Demosthenes.

So I beg your indulgence if I clumsily sound like I still have some stones in my mouth…

To be sure, the stones are not physical, they may be ethereal and in some ways more debilitating than the proverbial pebbles of the celebrated Greek orator.

Let me try and explain what I mean.

Again, it was a Greek who knew the answer, but it took me the education of two universities to find it.

Imagine discovering that you are a lowly slave at a place of higher learning.

My epiphany emerged when a professor asked us to name the three most momentous events of 1776.

I was in America then, and we seemed to be in agreement that Jefferson’s beloved republic obviously qualified as one of the answers.

But there was stony silence as to the other two. Our good professor volunteered them: The Decline and Fall of Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon and The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.

A stateless person, I remember murmuring to myself, can a book really be as important as the independence of a state?

I had to read these books.  And I have.

And in Gibbon, I discovered something else, something unexpected, courtesy of Homer, the blind bard of Ancient Greece that froze me in my tracks:

I was only a half man, according to the author of Iliad and Odyssey. Yes, you heard me right: what you see is not the real me, but merely a mirage.

The real Kani, according to Homer, lost half of himself in captivity in Turkish misruled Kurdistan.

The real Kani is not allowed to speak or write in Kurdish the way you do in English.

The real Kani related to the blind bard when he said, “in the first day of his servitude the captive is deprived of one half of his [manhood].”

The real Kani wants to feel full again, man again:

Like the Poles in Poland and the Danes in Denmark.  And, yes, the real Kani would love nothing better than to help his people, the Kurds, be free and his country, Kurdistan, independent.

While in college, I learned something else about the Greeks.  They knew how to take a measure of man, his life, and his times, in a way that we have lost in our times.

They did it through something called funeral orations.  The solemnity of the event added to the drama.  The most distinguished citizen of the city-state was chosen for the mission.

The dearly departed was graciously measured for his deeds in a way that was richly expansive and detail-oriented, dramatically galvanizing the assembled crowd.

I want to try—and I emphasize the word try—something similar this afternoon.

I’m going to attempt such a Greek-style oration for a Kurdish man who was brutally murdered.

What was his alarming offense?

He got the silly idea of expanding the boundaries of freedom and liberty to all of God’s cherished children.

Worse yet, he told others about it!

He was a beloved man of letters, and his death enraged all freedom-loving Kurds.  Thousands rushed to the city of his death to pay him their last respects.

But the Turkish government did not want—and would not allow—a Kurdish patriot to be honored, since Kurdish patriotism is akin to Turkish treason.

Their gangster-like response was so unspeakably malicious—so outrageously hateful and incredibly shameful—that I doubt if you can even imagine it.

They viciously snatched his body from the hospital and cruelly dumped it in the dirt road of the village where he was born—as if he were a filthy bag of rotten potatoes.

That’s how the heartless Turks delivered their soulless funeral oration for this Kurdish patriot.

But let’s assume we can give him a heartfelt and soulful funeral oration that was his due, as free Greeks did in the golden age of Athens.

Imagine that I could majestically wave Merlin’s magic wand and whisk us in a time machine back to that serene Grecian era when Socrates walked leisurely in the magnificent shadow of Acropolis.

The most distinguished citizen of the Polis—for you non-Greeks, that’s city—would take to the podium and give a splendid oration pleasing to Plato and Cicero, perhaps, rivaling Mark Antony’s impressive eulogy for Julius Caesar.

In American terms, it might be reminiscent of Nathan Hale’s heroic regret on the gallows that he had but one life to give for his country.

The citizen’s eulogy might even gush with torrents of sublime eloquence that soared from the inspiring lips of Patrick Henry when he magnificently declared:

“Give me Liberty or Give me Death!”

I wish I could give you such a spell-binding oration.

Regrettably, I, a lowly Kurd, can not do it.

But I can tell you a story—a true story—that I hope you will clutch warmly to your heart and take home with you, to silently nurture with serious reflection.

I would be extremely grateful for your somber thought for this afternoon, tomorrow—and, God willing, for the rest of your lives…since we never know when the cold, grim hand of death may strike us…especially we Kurds.

My simple oration won’t be worthy of Pericles.  Nor will it resonate with the glory of Demosthenes.

But it will be honest and heartfelt, shouting with all the sincere conviction I have.

I hope to always blow the trumpet of freedom, as long and loud as I can, for all the Kurdish patriots who are fighting and dying for liberty in the blood-soaked mountains of Kurdistan.

“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound,” the apostle Paul reminds us in first Corinthians 14:8, “who shall prepare himself to the battle?”

I hope God gives me the courage and strength to perpetually give the daring trumpet for Kurdish freedom a certain sound—an imperishable sound—and that I am always prepared to battle for Kurdistan’s independence!

God help me, I can do no less.

I hope I can speak, not just this afternoon but always, not just for Kurds, but for all the oppressed people around the world.

Someone is always needed to stand up for all the poor, downtrodden souls who have been unfairly beaten, bruised and left to die along the highways and byways of injustice in our merciless globe.

Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”

Isaiah answered: “Here am I, Lord.  Send me.”

As my tormented compatriots are heroically fighting and dying in Kurdistan, I humbly say, like Isaiah:  “Here am I.”

My story is about a man named Musa Anter, also affectionately known as Apê Musa, who was brutally gunned down in Amed, the unofficial capital of Kurdistan, 20 years ago last September.

If I could be that ancient Greek orator, giving him his just due, I would say something like this:

Dear Apê Musa or in English, Uncle Moses:

We are gathered here to honor you.

That is not easy, because I feel like an impostor—swallowed by your giant shadow.

You boldly stood up for Kurdish rights when the terrorizing sword of Damocles hung ominously over anyone foolish enough to defend freedom. 

Kurds were like dead men walking—clanging their cruel chains like Jacob Marley’s Christmas-eve ghost before Ebenezer Scrooge. 

Kurdistan was declared illegal about one hundred years ago—when the unsinkable Titanic plunged to its death in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.

Our fathers were treated like shackled slaves, ordered to assume the identities of our masters—forced to uproot our Kurdish heritage—destroying it root and branch.

It became fashionable to say, cringing in fear, that we were Turks or Persians or Arabs. 

Slavery was proclaimed to be stylish—even declared the apotheosis (to borrow from the Greeks again) of advancement. 

But, thank God, you didn’t buy any of it, Uncle Moses. 

You were born a Kurd and no one was going to make you deny that fundamental fact.

You saw through their clever words and called them out as the destroyers of cultures that they were.

The more violently they ganged up on you, the more heroically you fought back. 

Your courageous life reminds me of Emperor Aurelian’s one-liner, “The gods have decreed that my life should be a perpetual warfare.” 

Yours was, Uncle Moses.  You not only saved the lives of many Kurds—but exquisitely inspired them to stay the grueling course.

For that noble effort, we gratefully salute you. 

You were born during the turbulent years of the hideous Armenian Genocide—when Ottoman Turks butchered a million or more feeble souls.

You had no choice, of course, of when you came.

But God works in mysterious ways.

I am convinced that you were put here to stand boldly against these godless cruelties. 

Suffering became your middle name, but you kept faith.  Like the needle to the pole, you never wavered.

Your mom named you Seyh Musa, after a sultan, known for his liberality and love of learning. 

She wanted you to tread in his footsteps.

Reading introduced you to justice, which compelled you to look into Kurdish rights.

All your days and nights were dedicated to the Kurds and Kurdistan.

You wanted the Kurdish voice respected and accepted. 

Bigots were incensed by your supposed impertinence.  In your teens, they branded you as a person of interest—a scandalous scar you gallantly carried to your grave.

One more thing about your Kurdish name: Kurds love to shorten names. 

So your two-word name, Seyh Musa, was fused into one word, Seyhmuz, and later simply Muso.  When your mom registered you at school, the Turks put you down as Musa, a derivative of Moses. 

Some Kurds who knew you well teased you as our rod-less Moses. 

Sadly, like the Jewish prophet, you never entered the Promised Land.  We lost you at Canaan’s edge.  But like Moses, you held onto the sacred trust with both hands.

Armies did not scare you; you had something stronger than them: truth and justice.

Lord Palmerston had seen it before you when he had observed:

“Opinions are stronger than armies—if they are founded in truth and justice, they will…prevail against the bayonets of infantry, the fire of artillery, and the charges of cavalry.”

Truth and justice were always your constant, unfailing lodestars.

Unfortunately, they also painted perilous bulls-eye targets on your back.

The Turkish bigots finally ambushed you at age 75. 

They murdered you, but your glorious martyrdom, at least, left us one bit of good news:

You died, as you always wanted, on the job—with your boots on.

Now we are trying desperately to fill your gigantic, seven-league boots.

Ancient philosophers and religion tell us that souls are deathless, so let me tell you something that you never knew when you were alive. 

Remember, your mom always warned you: “Son, never trust a word of a Turk or an Arab.” 

But what she didn’t know—could never imagine—was that the Turks would deceitfully recruit a Kurd to kill you. 

In her days, Kurds never thought of collaborating with their enemies. 

Now some do. 

The Greeks knew it all along, as Aeschylus expressed it so graphically and poetically in his Libyan fable.

It told of an eagle, who after being shot with an arrow, looked at the features of the shaft and said:

“With our own feathers, not by others’ hands,

Are we now smitten?”

Turkey, for example, has invested 450 billion dollars in its latest war against the Kurds—a scandalous amount considering the immoral ways it has been put to use:

Using the lure of big money to entice thousands of poor and vulnerable Kurds to take up arms against their fellow Kurds and kinsmen.

Transferring untold millions to the bloated coffers of primarily American arms merchants—fortifying its Kurdish-killing arsenals with the state-of-the-art technology.

The insidious trafficking in human misery is paying off handsomely in Kurdish blood.

Last December, American-leased drones killed 34 innocent Kurdish villagers—19 of whom were children.

It pains me to ask this, but do you think President Obama really cares about these heart-rending calamities?

I mean no disrespect, of course, but sometimes, it’s hard to tell.

I would like to believe that he does—at least more than the Turks do.

Some of you may have volunteered for his campaign and may even have access to his personal email.

You might want to shoot him an email with your impressions of American weapons being used to kill Kurds.

You could also point out that a society that killed my Uncle Moses for promoting freedom is no different than the society that killed your beloved Uncle Tom, beaten to death for gallantly refusing to betray the whereabouts of two escaped slaves.

I spoke of deathless souls.  Now let me move on to deathless men and women. 

While researching the civil rights movement of black Americans in the 1960s, I looked for lessons to advance Kurdish freedom. 

I saw a cartoon about Dr. King’s murder in 1968.  A Chicago Sun-Times artist drew a picture of him beside Gandhi in heaven. 

The caption had Gandhi saying: “The odd thing about assassins, Dr. King, is that they think they have killed you.”

Gandhi was right. Dr. King did become immortal. 

So did you, Uncle Moses, 24 years later, on a September evening in 1992, when your consecrated presence graced the balconies of heaven with the world’s immortals.

I wonder who welcomed you into heaven?

Knowing your love of literature, I hope it was Mark Twain or John Steinbeck.

Mark Twain said something that unintentionally crisscrossed with your ill-fated assassination:

“The only distinctly criminal class in America,” the eminent humorist said, “is Congress.”

Twain was, of course, speaking tongue-in-cheek—as he so often did, such as when he said:

“Suppose you were an idiot.  And suppose you were a member of Congress.  But I repeat myself.”

All joking aside, it is deadly serious in Turkey—where a member of that truly criminal ruling class treacherously recruited your murderous assassin.

But your tragic death has spawned a remarkable resurrection—a cherished silver lining for all Kurdish patriots:  your books now grace their library shelves.

When I pick up one, I think of another renowned resurrection: “he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”  John 11:25

Yes, you still live—Uncle Moses—through your wonderful books! 

And when the lands of our fathers and mothers become ours again, our teens will study you the way Americans do Mark Twain.

Let me, at this time, read a moving passage from your memoirs.  It summarizes 89 years of abuse in the hands of Turks and Turkey like nothing ever has.

“It is a custom in medical science to do biopsies for the sake of curing patients.  Think of me as someone who was taken from the Kurds as a sampling.

“Pathologists work on tissue and issue their reports accordingly.  But the clueless [Turkish] authorities that worked on me had already declared me as carcinogenic. 

“Forty years later, I was declared safe—not malignant.  In the meantime, my life and body had been wasted because of their experiments.  My memoirs are an account of these trials and tribulations.”

Although you spent 11 years behind bars and countless hours in unjust courtrooms, your judgment that you were found “not malignant” was premature.  

You were tricked into believing that. 

Your mom failed to warn you about the cunning Turks, who hired a treacherous Kurd to kill you.

You could never have imagined that, with your charitable assessments of our implacable foes. 

Maybe you should have paid closer attention to the biblical parable of the tares and the wheat, and how, like oil and water, they don’t mix, because they are so profoundly different.

One is good and healthy.

The other is evil and harmful.

The wicked tares are separated and burned—according to the Bible—while the trustworthy wheat is put in the barn.

Don’t misjudge my use of that analogy.  I’m not advocating burning all Turkish tares—even those who murder us.

But I will say this, Uncle Moses, now that you are safely in the heavenly barn—I hope at least that evil tare who killed you will taste the scorching flames of hellfire.

While you remained on earth, despite the enormous limitations you suffered, you never ceased to expand the boundaries of freedom and liberty. 

I am enormously awed by your courageous record.  Any occasional critique is not directed at you personally, but meant to educate the young. 

Besides, as Catherine the Great said: “I praise loudly. I condemn softly.” 

One of my “softies” is about your use of the words, “malignant tumor,” the accusation that the Turks leveled at you throughout your life.

Did you ever read late Susan Sontag? 

Her tart tongue knew how to define the destroyers of humanity. 

Had she been a Kurd, she would have said of our most implacable foe: “Turkey is the frightening cancer of Kurds.”  

The difference between you and her is that you grew up in captivity and felt compelled to defend yourself. She grew up in freedom and used her liberty to offend those who flaunted such godless and lawless contempt for our common humanity. 

In your memoirs, you talked glowingly of Bedirxans who were exiled to Crete for fighting the Ottomans in the 1840s. 

In the interest of full disclosure, the Bedirxans, although known as patriots in Kurdish history, actually did some things that were—well, less than splendid. 

Crete, at that time, although essentially Greek, was occupied by the Ottoman Turks.  In 1850s, the natives rose up against the Turkish tyranny.

Our Kurds—in hopes of ending their exile—sided with the Turks and crushed the Greek rebellion.

That was a big mistake.

The cause of freedom, to put it in a university context, is not some fleeting infatuation, some momentary high school crush, or some short-lived delight to giggle over at the soda fountain and then forget about.

No-sir-ree!  The universal, worldwide and never-ending cause of freedom—if it is to survive and flourish—must be an undying passion that burns with unquenchable fire in the heart and soul of its true disciples.

That means noncooperation with the despots always and forever.

Your craving for freedom, Uncle Moses, triggered many brushes with the law.

Time does not permit me to go into all of them, but one of the worst was when you were held in solitary confinement for 195 days at a prison in Istanbul. 

For five months, you were not allowed to shower.

Sunlight never entered your cell. 

Food was scarce.  Lice were not. 

Open sewage flowed freely nearby.

I’m sure maggots were never far away.

Death danced in the air, brazenly hovering at your forsaken door.

Death actually stepped through the door of Emin Batu, a third-year law school student, who before he died, coughing and choking on his own blood, feebly scribbled on his cell wall, with his own blood:

“Instead of being a rose in a prison, I would rather be a thorn in freedom.” 

I salute you, Uncle Moses, for being a constant thorn for freedom in the side of injustice, which included, at a later date, a merciless beating that cracked your head open, nearly blinding you and ruining your hearing during another imprisonment.

But that suffering is all past now, as I conclude your well-deserved eulogy.

Uncle Moses, you clearly stand out—like the huge antlers of a giant stag standing on a rocky knoll against the setting sun—gleaming as a towering lover of truth and stalwart fighter for justice. 

One piece of good news: 

The Kurdish turncoat who murdered you is now behind bars. Another turncoat gave him away. 

The bad news is that Turkey still remains our most implacable foe.

Its new leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, still thinks he can force Kurds to turn into Turks—forsaking our beloved motherland through brutal terror and intimidation.

Our armed struggle goes on, but I am happy to report that our children have started to pronounce names like Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King.  10,000 Kurdish political prisoners went on a hunger strike some two months ago, some this month, which ended on November 17. 

Although they did not accomplish their stated goals, at least not yet, the respected strikers displayed such admirable self-sacrifice and inspiring fearlessness that it clearly rattled the Turkish bigots.

I’m convinced that final victory for the Kurds lies through the path of nonviolence, as Gandhi and Dr. King showed us.  And I feel like we may be on the cusp of this strategic change.

I began with ancient Athens and its heroes. 

I’ll end with Sparta and one of its kings.

Lycurgus was his name and to him belongs one of the most celebrated careers in antiquity.  His warriors adorn the pages of history.  His times were marked with intellectual pursuits more than physical exercises. 

In his reign, there is a tale about Spartans getting their slaves drunk in front of their children.  They wanted their kids to see how excessive drinking would make fools of them, in hopes that they would avoid drunkenness. 

Slavery, my friends, is far more deadly than being drunk.

Drunk people get over their temporary affliction.

Slaves do not.

Their chains remain!

Those ancient Greek slaves who went to bed drunk…they woke up sober.

When modern Kurds go to bed, drunk or sober, they still wake up bound with their maddening chains of slavery.

I hope my presence here has made it abundantly clear that I don’t want you to try becoming a Kurd.

But you don’t have to actually become a Kurd to join our struggle for Kurdish freedom.

Many of your Ohio ancestors who were not black eagerly joined the young anti-slavery movement to help eliminate the dark scourge of black slavery from America’s past.

They gallantly formed the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in 1835. 

They fearlessly risked prosecution and personal harm by opening secret stops on the Underground Railroad, which aided runaway slaves.

Within a year, the society had mushroomed from 20 chapters to 120, with some 10,000 members throughout the state. 

Its founders were mainly from nearby Oberlin College, which in 1835 became the first American college to regularly admit black students, something almost unheard of in those days.

It would not be unheard of today, however, if a group of students here at Ohio university—blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, everyone—showed the same boldness of your Ohio forebears and formed a new Kurdish Freedom Society, working to free the enslaved Kurds. 

That would be music to my ears—a splendid Beethoven symphony proclaiming humanity’s undying struggle against tyranny. 

You could help do for the Kurds today what your glorious Ohio ancestors did in magnificently removing the shameful, dignity-stripping manacles from black American slaves of the past.

We need all the help we can get.

As things stand, our godless and lawless neighbors have no plans to change our status from servitude to freedom.  Most people who are not enslaved don’t understand the evils of slavery—or the overwhelming preciousness of what they do have: freedom! 

I hope you are not one of them. 

I hope tyrants enrage you the way they enraged Patrick Henry. 

If they do, I will leave Athens, Ohio, happy. 

I will leave joyful, believing that my children and grandchildren will one day visit here, and read a plaque that might say something like this:

“On this spot in 2012, Ohio university students formed the first ever Ohio Kurdish Freedom Society, dedicated to freeing Kurdish people from their cruel masters, Turks, Persians and Arabs.”

Pardon me if I seem pushy.

But as the blind bard of ancient Greece said, “Humility is not good if you are needy.”

Neither can beggars be choosy.

We are thankful for anything you graciously give us.

Help us in any way you can.

Down with the piccolo—up with the trumpet!

I would love to hear you blow the inspiring trumpet of freedom with your powerful pens and your talented tongues.

We Kurds will be eternally grateful if you could extend to us, in the hallowed words of your blessed founding fathers, in their historic declaration of independence: your fortunes and your sacred honor.

But, let me hasten to add, we’ll be content with only a small part of your fortune—and all the sacred honor you wish to give. 

With your help, we can make the world safe for the likes of Uncle Moses, or as we say it in Kurdish, Apê Musa.

And let’s do all we possibly can to make it uncomfortable for those who wallow in bigotry.

With your help—with your brilliant young minds, coupled with your dedicated energy and your infinite zeal—working for us, not even the demons at the gates of hell can prevail against us.

To help you decide, I’ll leave you with this stirring inscription on the tomb of Christopher Chapman, in Westminster Abbey, bearing the date of 1680:

What I gave, I have,

What I spent, I had,

What I left, I lost

–By not giving it!

May god help us all to give!

We should not give until it hurts.

We should give until it feels good!

With God’s help, and yours—which I fervently pray you will give us, in whatever large or small way you can—the tormented Kurds will one day emerge triumphantly from the dismal darkness of slavery.

With your generous help, the suffering Kurds will finally walk in the bright sunshine of freedom.

As saint Francis of Assisi so beautifully reminded us: “it is in giving that we receive.”

By giving your time and energy, we can all march forward together—into that radiant tomorrow of freedom.

Like your better tomorrow of 1776.

Like your better tomorrow that ended slavery.

Like your better tomorrow that ushered in civil rights for all Americans.

Like the better tomorrow that we Kurds still anxiously wait for—and with your help will one day achieve!

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