By Kani Xulam
March 18, 1997
Dear Friends and fellow Kurds,
I want to thank Kathryn Cameron Porter for bringing us together here this evening. Kathryn is a friend of the Kurds. Hers is a voice for justice. She has a heart of gold. For those of us who are oppressed, she embodies beauty, truth and an abiding interest in the lot of those who are the victims of abuse and tyranny. As a Kurd, I am happy to have crossed paths with her. Of all our friends who have stood by us and shared our pain, Kathryn’s is the most emphatic. So it is only right that she is hosting this vigil to commemorate the death and destruction that descended upon Kurdistan in the Spring of 1988.
I am referring to the dead of Halapja. The men, the women, the children, and the elderly. They died inhaling Hydrogen cyanide. They dropped lifeless like the Autumn leaves. They did not have time to say things like, I love you, to their loved ones. They did not think of bidding a final farewell the way the terminally ill do in our lives. In the minutes that they had, they reached out to each other. They embraced one another. They dropped dead like this father and this daughter [in this picture.]
The Kurds of Kurdistan who were oblivious to one another for much of their history, detached from the rest of the world because of their geography saw their humanity subjected to chemical fumes which took the lives of five thousand of their compatriots. Seven thousand others were treated for respiratory complications in the hospitals of Iran. The butcher of Baghdad would later claim that he had every right to use his every weapon on the soil of Iraq.
His words did not mean much in the rest of the world. The signs in most of the capitals around the world read business as usual. The administration in the White House did nothing and, on some occasions, prevented those who wanted to do something. The Kurds did not matter. They were fated to share the destiny of the Armenians at the turn of the century and the Jews before and in the course of the Second World War. For the weak there are no tears. For the Kurds there was only pity.
To be sure, there were some courageous men and women, some I would call, the lovers of humanity who stood up to the unbridled oppression and denounced the inhumanity of that abominable creature who still resides in Baghdad. Senator Gore, Representative Porter, The First Lady of France Mitterand and our friend Kathryn, among others, condemned the act. They have earned a special place and an eternal domain in the hearts and minds of living Kurds. Their acts of compassion, their attempts to hold back the human soul from slipping into the abyss will be remembered by us, Kurds, for as long as we live.
After Saddam made himself unpopular by his invasion of Kuwait, there were other voices, among them that of Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck who expressed his willingness to see Saddam prosecuted in a court of law. The atrocities in Bosnia, others in Rwanda, the infighting among us Kurds for now have prevented the International Tribunal to summon him to the Hague. With the pending resolutions of food for oil at the United Nations and with the desire of some to still use Iraq against Iran as a buffer state, we may be waiting for a while before justice is done.
So, this gathering of Kurds and their friends is an act of reflection on the bonds of civility that hold us together as a civilization at the dawn of a new millennium that is about to start. The record from the Kurdish perspective is not good. Those who rule us, primarily Arabs, Turks and Iranians are armed to teeth but devoid of the laws that govern humanity. Their love of guns and authority supersedes their love of fairness and justice. Kurds are a nuisance, cockroaches if you will, only good as beasts of burden, as soldiers of fortune and as pawns to be used and abused and discarded in the great game called the politics of the Middle East.
Historian Edward Gibbon in his work on European civilizations notes a sigh of relief about the advancement in the military science in continental Europe. He states that Europe has left behind the danger of being overtaken by outsiders, the way Huns overran the place, for example. For the new barbarians to do the same, he says, they have to verse themselves in Physics and Mathematics and in the process they will also be versed in Music and Arts and this, he says, will tame them of their savagery. Once tamed, Gibbon says, these barbarians would settle down to share the fruits of the earth with their adversaries and lose interest in the idea of annihilating their adversaries.
These words were penned in the late 18th century. Much of what Gibbon said on this issue has stood the test of time. To be sure, Europe has been plunged into wars, not by outsiders as Gibbon predicted might happen, but rather from within. The thought of an alien culture overtaking Europe today remains, as it did in the days of Gibbon, a possibility that is remote.
The un-addressed part of his argument is what do you do when the so called advanced countries of the world, out of greed and total disregard for the laws of nations, export their deadly technology to the likes of Saddam whose infant-like world view matches that of Hitler. Saddam did not have the technology to kill the Kurds. He imported his toys of destruction the way we import cars from Japan and shoes from Italy. He was given tools to undo the Kurds and he has done a good job. Today, the government in Ankara, noting the indifference of the world towards the Kurds of Iraq, is doing what Saddam did to the Kurds of Turkey. In the Islamic Republic of Iran things are not much different.
So the victims may be the Kurds, the one-time residents of Halapja, but the problem is ours, as a generation and as a civilization, and it is that what kind of world we are going to leave behind for those who are just born or for the countless others yet to be born. As a Kurd, I was filled with a sense of nihilism like many of my compatriots around the world upon hearing the news that some 5,000 of my kind had died on a Spring day, a few days before Newroz. I cried for them, which is not that important, but I also cried for humanity, which I think we should all do from time to time.
(This speech was delivered at the Rayburn House Office Building in the United States Congress on March 18, 1997 by a representative of the American Kurdish Information Network)