Investing in Peace Through Hunger and Cold
By Kani Xulam
Friday, November 28, 1997
Dear Friends and fellow Kurds,
Forty days ago today, six of us undertook a fast here in Washington to free a Kurdish woman, Leyla Zana, and to spark a discussion on the plight of the Kurds. We had prepared ourselves for the hunger, but the cold also tested our dedication. After the second week, our sufferings intensified and one by one, the original group of fasters parted. Today, on the last day of our vigil, we have one friend left. A few minutes ago marked the fortieth day of his fast. Personally, I am proud of Ferda and his commitment to the cause of peace and freedom for our people. I am reminded of a quote by Shakespeare: “Here is a man, take him all in all. You will not come upon his likes again.” Please join me in giving Ferda a round of applause.
Today, with some guarded optimism, we can report to you that our fast did have its intended effect on the policy makers in Washington. We also wanted to reach out the mainstream media. Although the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune did pay some homage to our fast, much of the rest of the mainstream media kept their distance from us. They failed to validate our nonviolent message for peace and freedom. They did a disservice to our people’s longing for peace and their people’s longing for the truth. It is unfortunate that Saddam and war sell better than Ferda and peace. Frankly, we are not disappointed. We are committed to our cause more than ever before.
Leyla Zana1s case was not unknown in Washington previous to the Fast for Peace, but it was not foremost on the minds of Members of the Congress and the Clinton Administration. Turkey is a formidable opponent, and many believed that confronting Ankara would be a grand gesture that would bear little or no fruit. We disagreed. We took it upon ourselves to convey to the lawmakers our conviction that Washington can make a difference. We operated on the principle that complacency, more than Turkish intransigence, will prolong Leyla Zana’s suffering and deny the Kurds the fruits of peace.
Since we first took our cause to the Capitol steps 40 days ago and moved here in the last 12 days, we have been encouraged by the outpouring of support. Thirty-two Members of the United States Congress visited us in the course of our fast. Five of them took our message of nonviolence to the House floor and addressed the nation via C-Span. To list all these wonderful individuals is just too many. In the interest of time, I would like to acknowledge a few: Congressman John E. Porter, Congressman Ben Gilman, Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse, Congresswoman Connie Morella, Congressman Esteban Torres, Congressman Bob Filner, and Congressman Ron Dellums. They honored us with their presence and with their words of support; we will never forget their friendship.
As some of you may know, 153 Members of Congress signed onto the Congressional letter urging President Clinton to raise Leyla Zana’s case with the Turkish authorities at the highest level and seek her immediate and unconditional release from the Turkish prison. On November 20, 1997, President Clinton wrote back to the lawmakers and promised to tackle the issue with Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz when he visits the White House on December 19, 1997. We hope their meeting will be a fruitful one and Leyla Zana’s release will follow that of Wei Jingsheng. The memory of the cold and hunger we suffered will certainly be a distant one then. We will be praying and hoping.
I would be doing something amiss at this time if I did not mention another Congressional letter that was sent to Secretary of State Albright by House International Committee Chairman Ben Gilman and the ranking Democrat of the same committee Lee Hamilton. Referring to our ongoing fast for the urgency of the situation, they asked the Secretary to make the case of Leyla Zana’s freedom a priority in her encounters with the Turkish officials. We were elated by their action and we thank them for their service.
In the course of our fast, we also received a call from John Shattuck, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Mr. Steve Coffey, his deputy was gracious enough to join us on the Capitol steps. On the twentieth day of our fast, Ambassador Bill Richardson took up our cause, met with us and discussed Leyla Zana’s situation. Mr. Richardson told us that our message had been heard and urged us to end our fast. We thanked him for his concern. One of our friends did stop his fast at the request of Mr. Richardson.
These past forty days have had their moments of poignancy and also those of hope. At the closing of each day for each fasting friend, we read aloud the name of a Kurdish or Turkish political prisoner who had been tortured to death in Turkish prisons between 1980 and 1994. We had the names of 420 political prisoners. We could only read 162 names. It was very difficult to read those names sometimes. Some were friends we had left behind who had met violent ends while they were still very young. Others were fathers, a few of them mothers and some had died of hunger strikes the way Bobby Sands starved himself to death in Ireland. Our list is part of a book called File of Torture. As you would expect, the book is banned in Turkey.
On the positive side, our American friends and the members of the Kurdish community brought us flowers, Gatorade, and most importantly, warmth as we got weaker and cold in the advanced stages of the fast. The staff of the Human Rights Alliance and that of our office, the American Kurdish Information Network, went above and beyond the call of duty to accommodate us with our increasing medical needs. I want to express my personal appreciation to Sister Pat Krommer, Linnaea Melcarek and Jennifer Carnahan.
Finally, I cannot thank enough my fellow fasters, first our American friends, Kathryn Cameron Porter and again Linnaea Melcarek and then the Kurds, Ferda Beyrikan, Amed Kozlu and Dara Rizgari. Together, we stood up, or laid down if you will, to tyranny, to injustice and to oppression. We did it to satiate our people’s longing for peace. We raised a milestone of goodwill in the long journey into the future of the Kurdish American relations. This time, the occupant of this house chose not to address us. Had he come, we would have told him with our weak voice that we wish to be embraced by Americans as friends, and not be the target of the bullets they provide to our misguided adversaries. Ours has been an investment in peace and we will not rest until we get our dividends. As always, we thank you for your interest in the Kurds.