The Statement of Congressman Bob Filner
Lafayette Park, Washington, DC March 21, 1999

The sun is out in Kurdistan.

I want to start by thanking the organizers of this rally, the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN), the Kurdish National Congress (KNC) and the Nonviolence International (NI) for inviting me to address you on the 2609th occasion of your new year, Newroz. I know for you, your new year is a day that has come to symbolize resistance to tyranny for you, the Persians and the other indigenous peoples of the Middle East. On this day, as the legend would have it, 2608 years ago, Kawa, a Kurdish iron smith, put an end to the brutality of the Assyrian king Dehak and heralded a new and just beginning for the peoples of the Middle East. Today we need another new beginning for the peoples of the Middle East. Newroz Pirozbe! [Happy Newroz]

Today we are gathered here to observe the spirit of the day and to also take notice of the new challenges that face the Kurds. As you all know, King Dehak and his brutality may be a relic of the past, but we have a slew of new oppressors competing for brutality over the heads of the Kurds. Just last month, the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan was tricked into leaving his sanctuary at the Greek Embassy in Nairobi and then forcibly abducted to Turkey. A universally honored tradition of offering asylum to political figures, as old as the time of prophets, was violated in broad daylight and with the exception of your own personal anguish not an official murmur was heard around the world. A man who spoke of peace and reconciliation for the Kurds with their neighbors is now in custody. But you have outlasted oppression before and you will do so again.

Some of you may have heard, it was less than two weeks ago that President Clinton expressed his regrets for the United States government’s role in Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, saying that Washington “was wrong” to have supported the Guatemalan security forces in their oppression of the native Mayans. It was a belated admission, one that we hope will be timely for the other countries that receive our support and abuse their subjects. The chief one, of course, being Turkey, the third largest recipient of our foreign aid.

For years now, as you all know, an equally brutal war is raging in the mountains of Kurdistan. To date, thousands of Kurds have perished in acts too similar to what has happened to the indigenous Mayans of Guatemala. For years, successive U.S. governments have supported Turkey with military aid and financial support. Ankara, in turn, has waged an undeclared war in the lands of the Kurds. You are all too familiar with the casualty figures. 37.000 people have died. Almost 3.500 Kurdish villages have been destroyed. Over 3 million Kurds have lost their homes. And just like in Guatemala, our government has supported the wrong side in the war. President Clinton, my friend, should stop supporting Turkey and start helping the Kurds who are fighting for their freedom and liberty.

My friend, President Clinton, should say as I do today: You are Kurds. Your country is Kurdistan. You have a right to self determination.

We have all been following the journey of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan from one continent to the other and from one state to the next in search of a place from which he wanted to raise the Kurdish issue to a new level of international awareness and understanding. I welcomed his statement in Rome that he wanted to renounce political violence provided Turkey did the same for the cause of peace and reconciliation. His desire to appear before an International tribunal in the Hague was a sincere offer to help end the cycle of violence. The world should have his attempts to change the debate on the Kurdish Question from war to peace and from confrontation to dialog. But, instead, an alliance of secret service forces (sadly including those from my own government) were more diligent at their work than the politicians of world capitals and the judges at the world court. That is a sad, sad comment on our own history.

We know, as you know, that Mr. Ocalan cannot get a fair trial in Turkey today. The Turkish constitution makes no reference to Kurdish existence and its laws punish any Kurdish dissent. So far, scores of European politicians and six Nobel laureates have expressed their reservations about the fairness of Turkish courts. They have signed onto an appeal to urge for an international tribunal to try Mr. Ocalan. I join them in this effort — and urge our government to do the same. I thank you for your solidarity with Mr. Ocalan and call on you to press on our government to urge justice for Ocalan and peace for Kurdistan.

In his book, After such Knowledge, What Forgiveness: My Encounters with Kurdistan, Jonathan Randall makes a reference to an age old saying: “The Kurds’ lot is one of a thousand hopes, thousand revolts, thousand sighs, and a thousand tears.” Today, is one where you must feel the weight of this saying in your hearts because it seems to be a time of a thousand sighs and a thousand tears. But I have no doubt that in these sighs are embedded a thousand new hopes. Biji Kurd u Kurdistan. [Long live Kurds and Kurdistan. Thank you.

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