Kurdish American Youth Organization
February 10, 2007
This is a Kurdish conference and I kind of feel funny to start my talk with a story from Germany. I do so to make a point. Imagine, for the sake of argument as it were, Adolf Hitler did not commit suicide in a bunker on April 30, 1945, but was captured alive just like someone we know in a spider hole. Imagine further that he was charged for crimes against humanity, to be sure, but was only prosecuted for the death of 340, and I underline the number 340, men, women, and children of Lidice, a Czech village. This was the place where two Czech resistance fighters had attacked Reinhard Heydrich, a high-ranking Nazi official, on May 27, 1942. A week later, Mr. Heydrich had gotten his one-way ticket to hell. An enraged Hitler had then ordered his replacement, Kurt Daluege, to “wade through blood” to find his killers. That is when it was decided that the town of Lidice, a bastion of resistance, should be erased from the map of Europe. The date was June 10, 1942. See if you could make a mental note of the day. And try to remember also that Adolf Hitler went to the gallows for Lidice, alone.
This, you might say, could not have taken place. It goes without saying that I would concur with you. But, then, how do we explain the hanging of Saddam Hussein on December 30, 2006 for the crime of killing 148 Shiites in Dujail. I wish this were the only thing that bugged me about the butcher of Baghdad. I also want to tell you about Lidice a bit more and can’t help but compare it to our crippled Halapja. Right after the Nazi destruction of the Czech village, a gentler world reacted to the news with extraordinary acts of kindness. Mothers outside of occupied Europe began naming their daughters after the village. Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, named one its hospitals after the parish. Coventry, a city in England, named one of its squares after the place. Neighborhoods in America, Mexico, Panama, and Brazil competed for the same honor. Resistance to fascism was personal, communal, and international. Much of the world was witnessing a certifiable servant of devil and spared no effort to fight its cohorts, honor its victims and bring about its total annihilation. It is not always the case, but the attackers were defeated in that fight. A semblance of peace, security, stability and order returned to Europe. Sayings like “Never Again” became popular not just in the mouths of surviving Jews, but also of Germans, the Japanese and the Italians. It was an auspicious time, some said for the foreseeable future, to be a human in the world. Or was it?
I wish I could stand before you today and say that my doctor has named his daughter after Halapja. Wouldn’t you like it as well, if I said there is a hospital named after our crippled city in Denver? Perhaps some of you will shed tears if I were to recount to you the story of how the Saudis have declared March 16, the day our loved ones were gassed with the blessings of the holy book of Islam, Quran, a national mourning day, and have opened an al-Anfal Museum in Mecca. Should I add some additional salt to our national wound by saying that the Egyptians have finally admitted to receiving Kurdish women, the spoils of war, as prostitutes to staff their brothels in Alexandria or serve as fifth or sixth wives of their filthy sheiks? I would be only stating the obvious if I went on with these imaginary recognitions of the wrongs we have endured in a room filled with your likes.
The world continuing to remain indifferent to our plight, I now want to come to the main topic of my lecture. I would like to tell you of a Kurdish student, Murat Aslan, from Turkish Kurdistan. Who here has heard of his name by the way? I can verbalize your silence for those who may be reading this lecture: none. Since we carry the name of a Kurd, let me be the first to say it, we are all criminals for being ignorant of his fate. It doesn’t matter if you were born here in peaceful Nashville or in the chemical fumes drenched Halapja. What matters is that you were born to a challenged people in these most challenging of times. Not since Apostle Peter took the teachings of Jesus to Rome, or Thomas Paine lit the fire of American Revolution in Philadelphia, or the students who stood up to the Chinese communists at the Tiananmen Square, has history offered a comparable noble undertaking to a group of people who have filled this room. The question that stares us in the face is a very simple one: will we rise to its challenge? First the story of Murat, then I would like to offer you a few speculations as to how we compare to other peoples who have righted their wrongs.
The story of Murat Aslan is a bit dated if you think yesterday’s newspaper is old news. But I subscribe to the maxim of David McCullough who once noted, “A book is brand new, if you have not read it.” At the heart of my tale lies the fate of a university student. He was born in Eruh, but grew up in Amed. In addition to Kurdish, he also spoke Turkish. On June 10, 1994, on the anniversary of the day Lidice was erased from the map of Europe, he went downtown to pay an electric bill. It would be his last “free” day in Kurdistan. At the time, some people furtively approached his parents and told them that they saw him being forced into a white car against his will. Izzettin Aslan, Murat’s father, went to the Turkish occupation forces for help. It was like asking a blind person for directions. None were offered. But what happened to Murat haunted the family. Every single one of them would have been happy if there had been some telltale signs of deliberate absence from home. None existed. Who were the kidnappers? What did they want from him? People who knew Murat spoke of his love of life, his interest in politics, and his good looks that were the talk of the neighborhood. But the times were not a happy one for the Kurds. Turkey had a Yale educated female Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, who often spoke of fire, brimstone and the Kurds in the same sentence. The Kurds, and especially the political ones, were the object of her searing animus. Could it be that she was partly responsible for his death? The answer came ten years later. The gory details constitute the rest of my lecture.
In March of 2004, two reporters of the Ulkede Ozgur Gundem interviewed a Kurdish turncoat, Abdulkadir Aygan, in Ankara, Turkey. What started as a casual talk turned into a long conversation that appeared in the pages of the daily from March 8 through March 15. In gruesome detail, the killer recounted the murder of 29 Kurdish activists. He implicated 31 Turkish officials, some of them as high as the provincial governors, the literal sidekicks of the Turkish prime minister in Kurdistan. Among the dead, there was the name of Murat Aslan. He had been, the eyewitnesses were correct, forced into a white car and taken to an outfit of the Turkish military called JITEM, which translates to something like, the Military Intelligence Service. There, he had undergone unspeakable tortures. Then, he was driven to the shore of a tributary of the Tigris River in the vicinity of Bezamir, a hamlet, in the province of Botan. Shot with a single bullet to his head, from the back, he was then doused with gasoline and burnt as if he were toxic waste. Unbeknownst to the turncoat and his murderer friends, a Kurdish shepherd was watching the whole chilling scene from afar. A few days later, he mustered enough courage to visit the site. All he saw were a pile of bones. He buried them on the spot and marked the place with a few white stones. Since no one knew of his name, word got out that he must have been a righteous one. The villagers of the area began visiting the place as a tomb of a favorite of God.
One man who was reading this particular newspaper avidly was the father of the murdered Kurdish student, Izzettin Aslan. He visited the hamlet of Bezamir and talked to the villagers about the possibility of finding an eyewitness to the death of his missing son. Sure enough, the shepherd who had witnessed the whole thing was still alive. He accompanied the brokenhearted father to the gravesite. The search of ten years had come to an end in the vicinity of Tigris River. If life had been normal, Murat would have stared at his father’s grave, a marked one back in Amed, but here he was, miles away from his home, staring at a plot of land that might still hold the remains of his boy. What could one do under these circumstances? I don’t know it for a fact, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he collapsed there and then. After the visit, he appealed to the Amed Bar Association for help. The lawyers’ organization put together a forensic team to exhume the body. Not six feet, but one foot into the ground, they unearthed the bones. The skull, as the turncoat and the shepherd had said, carried the scar of a single bullet hole. The DNA tests proved the link between him and his parents. Guli, the mother of the Kurdish student, told a Kurdish reporter, “We suffered a lot. It is an unbearable pain. For ten years, tears never stopped rolling down our eyes. We could never forget it. We want our right.”
What could conceivably be the “right” compensation for the cold-blooded murder of one’s son? If you are thinking of an apology from the killers or their bosses in the Turkish government, chase out the thought from your mind, none was put forward. On February 2, 2005, two years and eight days ago today, Amed Bar and the Human Rights Association of the city lodged a complaint with the Turkish government for the prosecution of 31 officials for ordering the death of Murat Aslan and his friends. Again, it was like asking a blind man for directions. To date, no one has been called to account for his or her crimes. Tansu Ciller, the ultimate architect of these killings, still travels to the United States as if you and I go to the Starbucks.
Awful as the situation may look, there is also a silver lining in it. Oppression always comes with its own built-in death clause. The task at hand is to rush it to its natural death. The tools we need are as much visible as they are invisible. Money and friends, as examples of the first, can help. But the invisibles ones, faith, diligence, self-denial, fearlessness and the crown jewel of them all, love, are the essential ingredients of liberating a people, as are eggs, cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, peppers and olive oil to making an omelet. Armed with these weapons, our oppressors will look for a place to hide instead of haunting us at will. Ours is the duty to bring these things to light. It is also our responsibility to make sure we adopt them in right proportions.
I began my talk with a fictional story from Germany; I would like to end it with a quote from Hegel, one of its philosophers, “Thought achieves more in the world than practice, for once the realm of imagination has been revolutionized, reality cannot resist.” This quote too belongs to the list of invisibles. Thank you and I look forward to your questions.