By Kani Xulam
March 31, 1998
[The International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program at American University gave its annual Capital Area Peacemakers Awards on March 31, 1998. Kani Xulam was among those who were honored.]
I want to thank the members of the Community Action and Social Justice group for thinking of me as worthy of a Capital Area Peacemaker Award. I am touched by the gesture and frankly a bit blushed. True, the longing for peace in me and the people I represent in this town is more than real. And I would like to think that the work that I do appeals to the peaceful nature of our adversaries. But there are other Kurds who sing the song of peace. They do so surrounded as they are with the war mongers who constantly beat on the drums of war. I call these Kurds the true peacemakers and myself their students. Like the students who are awarding me tonight, I would like to honor one such individual, Leyla Zana, and accept the award on her behalf for world’s 30 million Kurds.
As I address you here tonight, Leyla Zana is entering the fifth year of her fifteen year sentence in a prison in Ankara, Turkey. Last year, 153 members of the United States Congress wrote a letter to President Clinton urging him to raise Leyla Zana’s case with the Turkish authorities and seek her immediate and unconditional release from prison. Also in 1997, Amnesty International adopted her as a Prisoner of Conscience. In 1996, she was awarded the 1995 Sakharov Freedom Award by a unanimous vote of the European Parliament. In 1994, she was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for speeches she had made in the United States Congress, in the European parliaments, and in Turkey calling for an end to the Turkish war in Kurdistan. In 1991, she had been the first Kurdish woman elected to the Turkish parliament.
But the dates and the figures, though helpful to some degree, do not tell the full story of the woman who has come to symbolize of our enduring dream for peace. Recently, because of a 40 day fast in front of United States Congress by four Kurds, two Americans — and here I would like also acknowledge Sapna Chatpar (will you please stand up) for fasting with us for one week while attending classes at AU. It meant a lot to us Sapna; and I will always remember your selfless act towards Leyla — and the Congressional effort that sought her freedom that proceeded it, the Turkish government entertained the idea of releasing Leyla Zana for “health reasons”. She declined the offer, noting that she was in good “health”, said that she would not accept the token offer of freedom for her while thousands of others like her remained in prison. She called on the Turkish government to stop its dirty war against the Kurds and urged it to engage in a dialogue with the Kurds. Prison, she said, was a small price to pay for the cause of peace in Kurdistan.
So, it is with trepidation that I accept the honor of having contributed to the cause of peace as a student of one such peacemaker, Leyla Zana. In doing so, I urge you to join us in giving a helping hand to the cause peace in Kurdistan. To that end, our office has undertaken an effort to nominate Leyla Zana for the Nobel Peace prize.
The Kurds need peace as much as we all need air and water. People like Leyla Zana have been to the promised land called peace and wish to share its fruit with the Kurds in Kurdistan. You could help us make that hope a reality for the Kurds. You could do this and more for a people in need and for a world that could always use more peace than war. Too many among us have been afflicted with a malady called indifference when it comes to peace. This is the time for the peace lovers to close ranks to push forward for the good. I invite you to do no less for Leyla Zana and the Kurds. I urge you to take a look at our home page, www.kurdistan.org, or see us outside at AKIN table to learn a little more about our journey towards peace in Kurdistan. Thank you.