First Congressional Ehmede Xani Award
American Kurdish Information Network
April 2nd, 2000
I am honored to be chosen as the first recipient of the Congressional Ehmede Xani Award. It is a great honor for my name to be associated with that of Xani, quite possibly the greatest Kurdish poet of all time. During his time, Xani addressed some of the deepest yearnings of the Kurdish people and that of all human beings: freedom, liberty and self-determination. I have spent a great deal of my time in Congress fighting for these very rights for minority people all over the globe, especially the Kurds.
My wife, Kathryn Cameron Porter, first brought the plight of the Kurdish people to my attention. Kathryn has traveled many times to your homeland and met with Kurds from many regions. The Kurds represent the quintessential minority group, 30 million people with no homeland, whose rights are denied by every country in which you live.
Throughout my years in Congress I have worked to focus attention on the denial of Kurdish rights, both through the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and through my position on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. The Congressional Human Rights Caucus, which I co-Chair, has held a number of briefings on the plight of the Kurds, the human rights violations in Turkey and Iraq, and specifically the horrific slaughter of the Kurds by Saddam Hussein in Halabja in 1988. I have offered and passed amendments to cut and eliminate U.S. taxpayer funding of Turkey, money which, in the end, is used in Turkeyís oppression of the Kurds.
Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go in securing Kurdish rights. Your parliamentarians, Leyla Zana and others are still in jail in Turkey, your language is not recognized or even accepted by the Turkish government, and in Iraq, Saddam Hussein continues his campaign of starving so many of those living within his borders, including millions of Kurds.
Some small positive steps however have occurred recently, which is encouraging. Turkeyís recent dialog with Greece gives hope for some stability and peace in the region. And Turkeyís candidacy for the Europe Union can be used as leverage to ensure Turkeyís respecting international standards of human rights.
The Turkish government must now show a sign of good faith and begin to negotiate with the Kurds. So many years have passed and so many Kurdish lives have been lost. Turkey must be pressed by the United States and all of Europe to recognize the international laws governing human rights and to treat all of the people living within its borders with respect and fairness.
I apologize I am not with you to accept this award and to celebrate your New Year. Kathryn and I send our love and best wishes to all Kurds together with my sincere appreciation for this distinguished honor.