San Diego, California
July 29, 2000
Xusku birayen delal:
I want to start by thanking Kak Saman Shali, the organizer of the 13th Annual Kurdish National Congress (KNC) conference and Kak Fouad Darweesh, the President of KNC, for their kind invitation to address you on the plight of the Kurds. I am very sorry that my prior commitments prevent me from being with you here this morning. I send you my greetings from Washington, DC, and wish you success as you exchange ideas on the fate of our brothers and sisters from Digor to Khanaxin, from Qockiri to Kermanshah.
I am, to put it mildly, a bit at a loss to find words to address you about the news in Kurdistan — all of you are internet connected, sophisticated, fortunate and blessed with civil liberties that are the envy of many in the world. You get you news through e-mails. You see it on the web-sites. And if it is really bad, your network television broadcasts it live not just for you and me, but also the whole world that has come to associate the word Kurd with the bad news.
It is a lonely world out there. Heartless, hungry people are running the show. They have another name for us Kurds: easy prey. Our immediate neighbors openly hate us. The distant ones have been recruited to side with our adversaries. For now, and in the foreseeable future, don’t expect the sun to shine on Kurdistan. The unholy alliance of our enemies, coupled with the tacit support of major world powers, keeps the object of your dreams and my dream beyond our reach.
It has not always been this dark, though. The British historian Edward Gibbon, in his work “The Decline and Fall of Roman Empire”, speaks of a time when German princes sent their gift-bearing ambassadors to one of your ancestors, Saladin, to secure the freedom of the German prisoners of war who had surrendered to him at the end of the Second Crusade in the Middle East. The Italian poet Dante in his epic poem, “The Divine Comedy”, writes highly of the same man, at one time calling him the “great-hearted soul”. Last year, Time Magazine chose him as one of the greatest leaders of the 12th century.
But the 20th century has been especially cruel to us. We are not tolerated in our lands; we are treated with contempt in distant ones. What is most galling, though, is our inability to read or understand the world of other powers and dovetail our aspirations with their needs. We seem to think that we are beyond the training for the vocation called statecraft and that it is our misfortune or bad luck that we are so often cheated of our legitimate rights in international forays. A Kurdish proverb says it best, and to some degree sums up our predicament: “Niv hakim mariv ji can dike; niv male mariv ji iman dike.”
In other words, bad news, by default, has become our lot, and I would not be doing my job if I did not share with you some of my observations about it. Take this country, for example, a place you have adopted as your home. The Executive Branch of its government has an agency called the State Department. Approximately 5,000 people work there. Their task is to take care of America’s interests first. For them, there isn’t much difference between the Turks and the Kurds or the Arabs and the Persians. For them, these peoples happen to share a piece of land called the Middle East. They know that different peoples have overlapping aspirations and discordant interests. They look for bidders who will do their tasks. Of all the peoples in the region, we seem to understand them the least. They are better understood by our foes and recruited to block the sun from shining on our land.
In this month’s Foreign Policy Journal, a retired Foreign Service agent who did a four-year stint in Tehran writes about an encounter of his with a Kurd in Mahabad that holds some light to our predicament. In an article entitled, “Caviar and Kurds”, Henry Precht chronicles an event that is quite telling for this crowd and rather shocking even to the practitioners of cloak and dagger in the world. A man, “who was called Shah’s right hand or his brain or his backbone, but never his conscience,” spoke to me about a Kurd who was educated in America and now lives in Mahabad, he writes. He urged me to establish contacts with him and convey to him a brief message, “that he can be both a good Iranian citizen and promote the culture and well-being of the Kurdish people [at the same time].”
The Shah’s minister, Mr. Precht writes, told me that the Kurd, Hasan Mazuji, did not trust the Iranians and would not meet with them. I, he says, cleared my assignment with my boss and headed to Mahabad, to meet with Mr. Mazuji. I stayed at a certain hotel and told the manager that I was here to see Mr. Mazuji. Two days later, Mr. Mazuji showed up at my door. We spoke for about two hours. The topics ranged from Kurdish people’s aspirations for nationhood and what America can and can not do given the circumstances. We parted company to meet again.
Instead of meeting Mr. Mazuji again, Mr. Precht goes on to say: “From the balcony I watched Hasan climb into the ancient cab waiting out front. It circled the square and left. When it was gone, a dark Iranian Peykan car pulled away from the curb on Pahlavi Avenue, did a quick U-turn and went in the same direction.
“Around five the next morning I awoke to a woman’s scream. Down on the square, I saw five or six people standing around a body hanging above their heads from one of the lampposts. Others were running up. One was carrying a ladder.
“I put my pants and rushed down the stairs to join them. It was Hasan, his horribly bent neck clearly broken. A large sheet of paper was pinned to his shirt. Scrawled in bold black Persian was, ‘Death to Traitors — Cut the Foreign Hand.'”
What are the lessons of tragedies of this type for the Kurds? Why did Mr. Mazuji, who avoided Iranians at any cost, decide to meet with any American who showed up in Mahabad? Mr. Precht himself admits that he was used to deceive the hapless Kurd to his death. Last year, we saw another replay of this very game, this time on CNN, when the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, trusting many who he hardly knew, was abducted from his sanctuary in Nairobi, Kenya and delivered to the hands of the Turkish authorities in Ankara. Will there be an end to these debacles?
The fact that Mr. Ocalan still has his neck intact is due in part to the publicity that his case received. If the Turks had it their way, he would have been thrown into the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Turkey. Today, Mr. Ocalan is kept on an island prison called Imrali in the Sea of Marmara. Sometimes, he is allowed to see his lawyers for an hour per week. Sometimes his brother Muhamed is given the same privilege for the same time period. Their meetings are always conducted in the presence of Turkish officers.
As to his health conditions, to begin with, the light in Mr. Ocalan’s cell has never been turned off according to his lawyers. Two months ago, he complained that the damp island weather was taxing his body. Since nothing was done, he is now saying that he is forcing himself to stay healthy. His lawyers tell the world that he has become an avid reader and now and then recommends books to his fighters and followers. His latest recommendation is a book by historian, Paul Kennedy, “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers”.
It is a common observation that even the creatures of wild lose their spirit in confinement. No one knows how long Mr. Ocalan’s constitution will bear his conditions. If history is any guide, the Turks, who have hanged a sitting prime minister and according to some murdered another president for the sake statecraft in the living memory, will not have mercy on their avowed number one enemy. In last year’s earthquake, a Turkish journalist suggested that he should have been murdered and the earthquake should have been blamed for it. If a reporter of a “respected” newspaper in Turkey is calling for such a “solution”, imagine what an average Turk is thinking of him.
Mr. Ocalan, despite his captivity, has succeeded in keeping his authority over his fighters. The Kurdish wound, in Turkish Kurdistan, thanks to him, has stopped bleeding and there are some signs of recovery is in the horizon. But despite the break in the fighting, the Middle East remains virulently anti-Kurdish in its sentiments. Turkey’s bid to be a member of European Union holds the best promise of easing of tensions between the Turks and the Kurds. As for the true peace and justice, they remain distant goals for us Kurds in the Middle East.
This is the world that we have inherited from our fathers and mothers. We either change ourselves to change it for our children or we risk the prospects having our kids repeat the same follies all over again. There is no short cut into the realm called statehood. It is an investment that calls for the best and the brightest. Ours is the responsibility to step forward en masse and push for the dawn of freedom. The race does not belong to the swift but to those who keep on running. Nothing on earth can stop the desire of a people for freedom and liberty.
At the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN), we continue to struggle in ways that we hope to make a difference in our people’s lot for the good. A project that is plodding onward as we speak is our work on House Resolution 461 in the United States Congress. In case some of you have not heard about it, it calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak from prison as well as the lifting of the ban on the Kurdish language and culture.
We have been in touch with some of you and have urged you to adopt our resolution as your resolution and speak with your representatives to adopt it as theirs. So far, we have had the support of 67 representatives and we need the support 151 others to have the chance of passing this first ever Kurdish resolution in the United States Congress. Please help us reach the magic number 218, which will mean more than half the members of the United States Congress are standing with us as we expand the boundaries of freedom for our people.
There is an awesome responsibility that goes with being free. We must help our brothers and sisters who are still in captivity. It is the noblest challenge a generation can undertake and ours is the one that is burdened with this duty. Mehmet Hayri Durmus, the Kurdish activist who began his hunger strike on July 14, 1982 in the infamous Diyarbakir Military Prison and died 55 days later had told his surviving friends that his epitaph should read: “I am still indebted to Kurdistan.” Sleep well Mr. Durmus. You did not die in vain. Your debt of freedom is now ours. We will not rest till liberty is a right of all Kurds.