The Statement of Kani Xulam at Kay Spiritual Life Center
American University
December 10, 1997

I want to thank Patrick Pierce of Kay Spiritual Life Center for inviting me to this gathering. I am happy to be here and to offer you a few of my thoughts on the subject of our discussion, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Let me note at the very beginning that I am not an expert on the document. I have, however, made some references to its articles from time to time about the plight of my people, the Kurds. So my connection with the document is real and I am grateful that such a document exists, although I would have liked it to be a binding document as opposed to being the non-binding one that it is.

About 52 years ago, a group of what I would call visionaries sat down to chart a course for our battered human family that had just survived a war. Among them there were familiar people to this audience, such as the representative of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt. And there were others representing other nations equally committed to the ideals of a better world.

What these framers put together and later had the nations of the world ratify on December 10, 1948, has now been dubbed as the Magna Carta of our human family. These lovers of humanity wanted to commit their respective governments and the other members of the United Nations to guaranteeing the most basic of the human rights to all regardless of race, religion, or nationality.

Today, two generations later, there is a gap between the promise and the performance. The Kurds, the Timorese, the Burmese, the Chechens, and the Hutus and Tutsis are the living examples of the hallowness of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An indifference bordering on callousness separates you from us and the powerful from the powerless.

A question may be in order here. Someone may ask, why are we cheating ourselves, or better yet, why do we tell the weaker peoples of the world that we care about them, write such lofty documents such as the Universal Declarations of Human Rights, but go about doing nothing to alleviate their suffering, or worse yet, help their oppressors to increase their misery?

As a Kurd, as a member of one of the weakest peoples on the earth, I don’t really have an answer to the question. I hope some of you may want consider sharing with us some of your thoughts on this topic. On my part, I can only share with you my observations and I ask for your indulgence.

We live in a very wild or an undomesticated world if you will. The ties of friendship that connect you to me and me to the rest of the world are rather shallow. Those ties totally disappear when the language we speak isn’t the same and when our looks vary a bit. Diversity enriches is a good phrase for the kids. In international politics, it is the strong versus the weak. Greed and racism resonate better than equality and the rule of law.

How else can one explain the lot of the Kurds in the Middle East, or, for that matter, in the world? I came to this world as a Kurd but my identity card reads that I am a Turk. History tells me that I belong to an indigenous people, the Kurds, the natives of the Near East, but our neighbors who have taken control of our lands are insisting that we submit to their “superior” cultures and willingly disappear from the earth.

At this time, I would like to throw some figures at you to let you picture the reality of the Kurds. In Turkey, there are fifteen to twenty million Kurds, but they exist only in name. The Turkish constitution makes no reference to them. Successive Turkish governments have made it their job to eradicate the very existence of the Kurds. Do you want examples: the Kurdish language is banned.

In Iraq, a country you are more familiar with, has as its policy, a dead Kurd is better than a live one. The Butcher of Baghdad has erased villages, towns, and cities from the geography of Kurdistan the way a professor erases mistakes from the blackboard. On March 18, 1988, his forces did not shy away from dropping chemical bombs on the Kurdish city of Halapja, an event that resulted in the deaths of about 5,000 Kurds.

In Iran and in the rest of the Near East, the Kurds, lacking a home, a government of their own, and the protection of the powerful patrons of the world, are treated as second class citizens, viewed as beasts of burden and used as cannon fodder in the ongoing wars of the region against the other powers in the region, or better yet against other Kurds.

When I was a kid, Turkey felt the need to invade the island of Cyprus, supposedly to protect the Turkish minority there. What struck me as unusual was the list of dead that were flown back which were mostly of the Kurds. If we are good enough to do the fighting for the Turks, why aren’t we good enough to have a place of our own in the most sacred covenant in the land, the Turkish constitution?

Historians tell us that the head of Nazi secret service, Heinrich Himmler, used to say, “When I hear the word culture, I reach out to my revolver.” That mind-set plunged the world into a war and the generation of the framers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights paid a heavy price for it. Today, Kurds are murdered for daring to say they wish to remain Kurds.

Who can tell me in which of the two countries the United Nations has established ad hoc International Criminal Courts to judge war crimes? Neither Turkey nor Iraq are on the list. Too many Arab countries are protecting Saddam Hussein to account for his crimes against humanity. Too many NATO countries think of Turkey more than the Kurds. And the international community is not in a rush to call on Iran to stand trial lest it be accused of practicing double standards.

So the ugly politics goes on. The suffering of the Kurds continues. On a more hopeful note, your presence here to honor the occasion when the human spirit soared and to hear us talk about the enduring dreams for liberty and freedom for all in the world is the most meaningful part of this gathering. Again, I thank you for coming here and urge you to cherish the world, our spaceship, with understanding, caring, and respect.

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