Leyla Zana and the Kurds
By Kani Xulam
August 23, 1997
Dear Friends and Fellow Kurds,
Xusku birayen delal
I want to thank Congressman Bob Filner and the members of his staff, Cecelia Prewett and Willie Blair for honoring us with their presence tonight. I also would like to acknowledge the esteemed guests who have traveled from afar to be with us this evening. I would like to especially mention Aris Anognos, our friend in the hour of need and as solid as the rock of Gibraltar for coming to our event. Please join me in welcoming these friends for their friendship with the Kurdish nation and let us all give them a round of hearty applause.
There are some other people in this audience who deserve our acknowledgement for having gone beyond and above the call of duty to put together tonight’s event.The Kurdish community leaders who have called you and me deserve our gratitude. They are, Alan Zangana, Aram Hamesalh, Beth Badrhan, Sayf Badrhan, Gavan Azboy, Nyma Ardalan, Tony Cheikosman and Mike Cheikosman. Please join me in giving them and their families a round of applause as well.
We are gathered here to remember a Kurdish woman, Leyla Zana, who now languishes in a Turkish jail. Ours is the duty to pay homage to her struggle for our own freedom and dignity. We wish to recognize her and do our share to set her free. The people of Kurdistan gave her a mandate to represent them in the only parliament that was allowed to her. The government of Turkey chose to silence her and now wants to contain her in a jail cell.
Congressman Filner will address you on who is Leyla Zana and what she represents for the enduring Kurdish hopes for basic human rights. I wish to tell you a little bit about our campaign to free her from the Turkish prison at the American Kurdish Information Network, in Washington, DC.
As you know, Leyla Zana was arrested on March 5, 1994, and later convicted of treason on December 8, 1994. Ever since, we have adopted her case as our own. We have done so to correct a stupendous wrong. Ours has been the goal to tell the Americans of her plight and have their representatives side with us as we seek to free her from the Turkish prison.
Those of us who have adopted this country as a second home and have lived here for a while know that Americans are a fair people. They would like to see the world at peace with itself and ruled by governments that respect and accept the will of the peoples.
When Leyla Zana was sent to the jail, the government of Turkey, in effect, told us, the Kurds, that it had no respect for our will. We took it on ourselves to let the world know that behind the facade known as the Turkish republic, stood fascism that classified peoples not in terms of their intrinsic worth but in terms of their racial origins.
It was then that we conceived the idea of a book that we hoped would hold a mirror to the story of Leyla Zana. We wanted the image in the mirror also to reveal the ordeal of the Kurds and Kurdistan. We began to collect the material on the subject. We consulted another human rights organization, the Human Rights Alliance, to help us edit the material and ensure that our product would be viewed as objective and fair. The result was a manuscript that was 202 pages long.
This book, Free Leyla Zana!, is a product of three months of hard work of many individuals. We are grateful to a Kurdish scholar who would like to remain anonymous for some of his translating job. We also are grateful to a Kurdish family for underwriting more than half the printing cost. We only have words of gratitude to our American friends who stood by us as we took our first steps into the world of book printing. We are very happy about the end result. And thank you Muhamed Salih and Newzat, the two Kurds at La Mesa Printing Center who did an excellent job of the printing the final product. These men deserve my eternal gratitude for their cooperation with us. I urge you to purchase your own copy and acquaint yourself with the story of Leyla Zana.
Once our book was complete, we approached our friends in the United States Congress and asked them to undertake an effort to help free Leyla Zana. On May 6, 1997, four members of the United States Congress, Elizabeth Furse of Oregon, John Porter of Illinois, Estaban Torres of California and Frank Wolf of Virginia sent out a Dear Colleague letter to the House members urging them to join them in asking President Clinton to seek Leyla Zana’s immediate and unconditional release from prison.
To date, 112 other members of the United States Congress have agreed to sign this letter. This campaign of collecting the signatures will go on till the end of September. Sometime then or shortly after, we will be holding a press conference and officially send the letter to
President Clinton. It is our hope that the President of the United States will pay attention to this letter and raise Layla’s case at the highest levels with the Turkish authorities.
Of course, we can not rest with the delivery of a letter to President Clinton. We need to plan other activities to keep the hope of freedom alive for Leyla Zana and the struggle for basic human rights enduring for our people. To that end, we have two events planned for the fall.
The first is a reception with the Nobel Peace Laureate, Professor Elie Wiesel; the second is a fast to atone for the sins of nation-states for allowing the war of genocide to rage in Kurdistan.
As you may know, Professor Elie Wiesel is a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. He penned his ordeal in a small book called Night for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. He has since written many other books. The weak, the destitute, the oppressed figure prominently in his volumes. We asked him to lend us his voice for Leyla Zana. He responded by saying that he was overly committed for the summer but that he would be happy to help us in the fall.
So we have asked him to honor us with his presence for a reception in honor of Leyla Zana. We are very happy that he has accepted our invitation. His is a voice that resonates with the Americans. He is revered because he speaks the truth. You and I, the living Kurds, who know Halapja and Anfal, know that the world has shut its ears to our pain. We need people like Elie to tell the world of our suffering. We will invite you to come to our fall event and we look forward to seeing at our night.
Also in the fall, we are planning a fast to atone for the sins of the nation-states for allowing wars to devastate Kurdistan. In Turkish Kurdistan alone, four million Kurds have become destitute refugees. Once the proud Kurdish families have now been reduced to begging for their daily bread. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the diabolical Saddam Hussein have committed a genocide. He has done so with the blessings of the world and to this day no one has dared to ask him to account for his crimes. Anfal and Halapja will live so long as there are Kurds in the world. This generation of the Kurds will not rest until Saddam is tried for crimes against the Kurdish nation.
Through our fast, in Washington, DC, we wish to accomplish three things.
First, we wish to express our solidarity with the four million Kurdish villagers who have been condemned to a life of famine in the shantytowns of Kurdistan. They are the weakest among us and deserve our support the most. We want them to be able to go back to their villages and regain their livelihoods.
Second, we wish to condemn the indifference of the nation-states who have remained spectators to the ongoing slaughter of the Kurdish nation in the hands of the some of the most brutal regimes in the world. Through our fast, we would like to urge the nations of the world to help us change the debate on the Kurdish question from war to peace, from violence to nonviolence and from confrontation to dialogue.
Third, we would like to see a representative of the United States government make a public statement on the plight of Leyla Zana. Such a gesture, we feel, coming from the most powerful country on earth, will speak of this country’s commitment for the most basic human rights.
If your health and time permits, we strongly urge you to take part in our fast. This is your chance to do something good for our common cause. The Kurdish generations that came before us fought hard against great odds to persevere to these days. We must do our share to finish their work, to secure our rights, so that we too could walk tall among the nations of the world.
Thank you and Biji Kurdistan!