The Statement of Kani Xulam
St. Cloud State University
St. Cloud, Minnesota
Thursday, October 23, 2003
This is my third time coming to your university and your fifth encounter with the Kurds — all, in a span of three years — and before I go any further, let me pay my dues, acknowledge my debt, and recognize a native daughter and three adopted professors of this kind and tolerant state for honoring, once more, a hapless Kurd with a hopeless cause, unwanted in this world not because we Kurds have done something horrible in it, but because the world has of late developed a grotesque appetite to devour the helpless and after crippling the Armenians, the Jews, the Tutsis and the Bosnians, is now engaged with the annihilation of the Kurds and Kurdistan. Four beautiful, courageous, and honorable voices on this campus have risen to their feet with truth on their tongues and hope in their hearts to stop this madness in its tracks and hatred in its source. Neither they nor we have succeeded so far. But our work goes on unabated and our faith remains intact. The world will have to either make room for the Kurds and Kurdistan or earn another infamy, this time on our watch, for allowing another genocide to take its course or take its horrendous toll on the Kurds. Your friends, who wish to see a world with the Kurds and Kurdistan in it, are Melanie Lahr, Semya Hakim, Jesse Benjamin and Tamrad Tademe. I am thankful of their dedication to our cause and ask that you join me in giving them a hearty round of applause.
Iraq is what brings us together here today, and let me just say it in plain English, I view it as an illegitimate state that was concocted in Europe and dropped on the Middle East against the wishes of the Kurds that make up a fifth of that unhappy country. That eighty year-old deformity has become a prison for millions of Kurds, a torture chamber especially for its youth, and a testing ground for the first time use of chemical weapons on the civilian Kurdish populations in the world. Today, arguably, that prison’s door as well as roof is blown away. Fresh air, fresh ideas, and plenty of your tax dollars are pouring in like rain. Of all peoples that make up that forsaken country, we, the Kurds, ought to be the happiest. We were, but not anymore. No, America has not abandoned Iraq and Saddam Hussein has not come out of his bunker to extirpate the Kurds. Yes, some in America do wish for a quick withdrawal of all GI’s from Iraq and many in the Middle East miss dearly one of their kinds who has gone missing since April 9, 2003. But something else, unsavory and ominous to say the least, is about to happen in Iraq, and America is its mastermind with a cost of $ 8.5 billion of your money to boot. On October 7, 2003, the Turks announced to the world — Pentagon had already worked out the details — that in a closed session of their parliament, — no Turkish parliamentarian dared to publicly be associated with the vote, — a resolution had passed to send 10.000 Turkish troops to Iraq. The cited reason was to relieve some GI’s from combat duty in Iraq. But those who know Turkey better did not have to take to the tealeaves to say that the Turks had another goal in mind and that was to undermine, not openly, but covertly, the Kurdish gains in that country. What is happening in Washington, DC? Where is the outrage among the talking heads both on the right and the left about this, once again, stupendous betrayal of an ally, the only one that welcomed the GI’s with sweets and flowers, the only one that shed its own blood to expedite the downfall of the regime in Baghdad, the only one that according to one GI, after a tour of duty in Kurdistan and Iraq, who confided to this activist in Washington, DC, “In Kurdistan, I felt right at home”?
Before I mull over these questions and share with you what I think is happening in Washington and Baghdad and by extension in Kurdistan and Turkey, let me digress a bit and relate to you a story about the day the Kurds and their American allies, yeah, there were those days when we fought like comrades and the blood of GI’s from these United States intermingled freely with that of the Kurdish fighters on the soil of Kurdistan, in the liberation of Kirkuk, a Kurdish city that Saddam Hussein had renamed it as Al-Tamim, on April 11, 2003. The next day, the Washington Post had on its front page, in the top section, the picture of a gigantic size statue of Mr. Hussein from Kirkuk with joyous Kurds perching on it like birds. It was an incredible scene. The photo alone made the paper a collector’s item. A strict student of daily routine, on that day, I let go of the ritual, and called patriotic Kurds in America and abroad, to savor the moment. No more Arab names for the Kurds and their villages, towns, and cities, I heard one Kurd confide in me merrily. Another one said, “I want to move back to the city of my youth and run for its post of mayoralty.” A third one noted, “I am registering to vote for President Bush”, the last Kurd had become an American citizen twenty years earlier, but had never bothered to vote. On my way to work, I found myself walking up and down the sidewalk before a vending machine, in front of my office, that sold the Washington Post. I could not get off my eyes of the photo. It felt like a rape victim witnessing the ravisher of her innocence dealt a long overdue hand of justice. Never had I felt such a cathartic moment.
After a while I thought people might think something was wrong with me for staring at a vending machine for so long, so I gave one last look at the paper, and headed to my office. On the way, I had another notion, this time, that one day the same would happen in Turkish Kurdistan, and then, the northern Kurds would perch like birds on the gigantic statues of Mr. Ataturk, the original monster that introduced the virus of racism into the body politics of the Middle East — we have so many of them, some even on mountain slopes, that everyone would be guaranteed a space. In the office, coming face to face with a framed editorial of the New York Times hanging on the wall titled, “Torturing Children in Turkey”, I was jolted back into the ugly world that I knew better once more. I got this creepy feeling that the joy of the moment, because it was earned primarily with the blood of American GI’s, would not last long. President Bush’s grand statements like, “America was a slave-owning society that became a servant of freedom”, hardly moved me, even though I was surprised to find that some Kurds had already named their babies Cheney and others Bush. Had they asked me, I would have said, stick with your own heroes, don’t go with the live ones, the proportion of humans who stay the course of honesty and integrity is smaller than the proportion of humans who change sides. If they had dug deeper, I would have told them, a mouse had a better chance of giving birth to a camel than America doing the bidding of freedom. I would have continued, if America does what it says it wants to do, turn Iraq into a Germany with the rule of law as its foundation, then, it would not force us, the Kurds, to be part of an Arab state, the way the Poles were never asked to be a part of the German one. But that would have amounted to pouring some ice-cold water on their joy, people who had endured Saddam Hussein not through documentaries, but live, people who wanted to believe, desperately I might add, that there were at least some good, decent, and honest advocates of humanity left in this world, who could actually be Americans as well.
No such luck is in store for the Kurds and Kurdistan. For months now, I have been reading and watching the national as well as international debate about the nonexistence of the much-touted Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Critics after critics, people of sterling qualities, both on the right and the left, have stepped forward to declare that the Bush administration pursued a mirage when it said that Saddam Hussein possessed these deadly concoctions. These talking heads, credentialed as they are with some of the best schools around the world, have hardly bothered to visit the desolation called Iraqi Kurdistan, and see with their own naked eyes the blight that was rained on the Kurds in and around Halapja for 18 months. Like doctors who diagnose their patients with telephonic conversations, these half-good guardians of our public morality, to be polite, are clueless about the devastation that visited the Kurds. Saddam Hussein who did not joke when he said, whatever appears above my signature, is the law, not only gassed the Kurds but blessed his operation with a dictate from Islam, Al-Anfal, and half a million surviving Kurds to-date have not even gotten a nod from those who wish, now, to give the butcher of Baghdad the benefit of doubt. The question the survivors wish to ask the skeptics is a short and a poignant one. Can one unlearn something that one has learnt? These, especially, American critics should not second-guess the Kurds; they should consider themselves lucky that Saddam Hussein spared their own loved ones, and the jury is still out about the whereabouts of his poisonous concoctions.
There is on other thing that has been glossed over even by the progressive circles, which needs to be aired, if we want to make sense of what is happening in Iraq. The domination of one race over the other, that of the Arabs over the Kurds, hardly a subject of the debate that preceded the war, was through, methodological and absolute. Iraq was an Arab state and the Kurds, well, not even its subjects. Physical abuse, molestation is a kind word here, bound a slave population to what passed as central government in Baghdad, and the wealth of the Kurds, the oil under their soil, and the water above it, sealed their fate with what you would in the West call, “lebensraum”, but the diabolical ruler of Iraq was more creative than Adolf Hitler and usurped the word, Al-Anfal, from the holy book of Islam, the Quran, with the same goal in mind. The Kurds were declared infidels and Kurdistan was to be cleared of its Kurdish children to make room for the Arab believers from the south. Not a murmur was heard around the world. No one bothered to see, hear, or feel our pain. Just as the same happened to the Armenians to our north and in our midst, Jews in Europe, the Tutsis in Rwanda, and the Bosnians in their own homes. Then something called 9/11 knocked on your door. Fear, a companion of the Kurds for too long, became your stalker as well.
So when Uncle Sam put Iraq on its radar screen for regime change, we Kurds were at least sure of one thing, America would defeat the butcher of Baghdad, and take the possession of our oil as well, but the upshot would also free us from the existential threat that was staring us in the face. Now that the GI’s are in Iraqi Kurdistan, how are they faring with us? Before I answer the question, let me pose one of my own, has any one in this room ever been physically tortured? Since you haven’t, and we, the Kurds, have, oh, by the way, count your blessings, perhaps after this lecture, consider going down on your knees to pray God for throwing your lot to a safer place on this earth. Going back to GI’s in Kurdistan, seeing them patrol our streets, asking us for our identification cards, or saying things like, “the Kurds do not use deodorant”, or “they only smile with guns in their hands”, feels, but since October 7, 2003, I use the word felt, to be honest with you, the next best thing to total liberation. I realize that I may be breaking ranks with some of the patriots of the Middle East here, people who are quick to denounce the American intervention in Iraq, but hardly move their pens or tongues to condemn their thugs who saw the Kurds fit for the use of chemical and biological weapons. If we Kurds have to make a choice between Arabs stealing our oil and inflicting physical torture on us versus Americans confiscating the same oil and subjecting us to some tasteless snobbery, I can’t say I speak for all the Kurds, but I sure would opt for the latter. That was before October 7, 2003. That day, I stopped talking about the virtues of American intervention in Iraq, and by extension in southern Kurdistan. I resigned myself for a new chapter of atrocities, underwritten by the United States, executed by the new mercenaries of the Middle East, the Turks.
Perhaps an admission on my part is in order now since I have left the door ajar for the accusation that I may be for the long term stationing of the American troops in Iraq. Earlier in the month, I found myself in a panel discussion at the University of Maryland with a group of student activists who adamantly believed and fervently stated that the American troops should not shed their blood for oil and that the GI’s have no business defending the interests of private companies like Halliburton and Bechtel. I said it then and I want to go on record now, no truly free and able peoples should or would tolerate the troops of other peoples in their streets be they Americans in Baghdad, Japanese in San Francisco, Jews in Palestine or Turks in Kurdistan. But America’s withdrawal from Iraq, now, would amount to a chaos the likes of which are difficult to imagine. Unlike Germany and Japan, the Iraqi army did not surrender to the Americans. The Iraqi soldiers, who were inculcated to worship and die for Saddam Hussein, — “with our blood, with our flesh, we are with you O Saddam” went your run of the mill greeting for the ruler in Baghdad, — simply vanished into the population with all their guns and ammunition. A vacuum would bring them back to the scene with a vengeance to wipe out the % 80 percent of the population that tolerates and collaborates with the Americans. The Bush Administration for all its arrogance, thank God, is not considering such an option. But then this activist was startled to hear some of America’s top diplomats such as Richard Holbrooke make a case in a public forum that nothing is wrong with having American troops patrol the streets of Baghdad for “years and years” to come. That would be a mistake. It would only stoke the fires of those who wish to set the Islamic East and the Christian West on a collusion course. Your country should never contribute to such an effort.
Wittingly or unwittingly, the White House is dangerously moving in that direction, and the Turks, whose only claim to fame is their unbridled brutality throughout the region, could only add to your troubles in the Middle East. For that reason alone, this half cooked scheme of Pentagon to have 10.000 Turkish troops in Iraq has 10.000 wrongs attached to it and with the exception some of the Turkish journalists who have trouble differentiating their professional duties from their jingoistic feelings, and a few of their deranged friends abroad who unashamedly prostitute themselves for their “beloved” Turkey, the way shallow minds used to do the same with Adolf Hitler, no one has spoken in favor of it. Let me state the obvious, the Kurds, save a few turncoats, oppose it. Sure, the word is already out, some of the Arabs in the Interim Governing Council who can purchased with the price of a dinner, who when it comes to the Kurds see eye to eye with Saddam Hussein philosophically but want themselves to be the rulers of Iraq, who speak highly of the Turkish way of oppressing the Kurds as a “new” and “better” model for the Iraqis, who call people like Wolfowitz, Jefferson, — go ahead, drop your lower jaw here, I was not kidding — who in turn dangles the genocide committing Turkey as a model for Iraq as well as the rest of the Islamic world have complained about the “pesky” Kurds as the only ones that oppose the intervention of the Turkish troops in Iraq. Senior Bush had a problem with the vision thing. The junior seems to have a problem with the detail. Iraq and the Middle East will continue to be a problem for America not because the children of the Middle East are out of their minds or retards, but left to the tender mercies of harem cultivating Osama Bin Laden types or palace loving Saddam Hussein wannabe likes or racism trumpeting Kemal Ataturk and his children sorts, they will eat each other alive, some in this country would consider such an eventuality a success, but the trouble is they won’t go down alone and will not ask for your permission to take some of you along.
Perhaps it is still not to late for someone at the Department of State or Department of Defense to check out an old book from the dusty shelves of George Washington University’s Gelman Library called, Anabasis, by Xenophon. This hardly used book chronicles a 2404 year-old story by some 10,400 mercenary Greek forces that engaged in a regime change of sorts in Persia that controlled the present day Iraq where the decisive battles took place. The effort failed, for Cyrus, the banker and throne pretender who undertook the expedition with a cost of 10.000 of his Persian gold coins, was killed. The Greeks stranded and surrounded were asked to surrender. They told their interlocutors that they meant no harm to the new King and requested a safe return home aided if possible alone if necessary. Through ploys that passed as international diplomacy, the unsuspecting Greek generals were ambushed and killed in the course of a friendly meeting with the Persians. The headless army was given one last chance to capitulate. Trusting their weapons and courage alone, the Greeks chose Xenophon as their leading general and undertook a retreat across Kurdistan to Trabzon, a coastal city on the shores of the Black Sea, for the voyage home by boats. Seven days in Kurdistan, Xenophon wrote, his fighters suffered more anxieties and casualties from the arrows of hardy and independence addicted Kurds than all their other losses with the Persians. If I were an American, I would pay heed to Xenophon’s experience and wouldn’t exchange the friendship of Kurds, the natives, with those of Turks, the outsiders. The book has other gems, truth, political wisdom, and sense, all so glaringly missing in the pronouncements of those who are presently guiding America and by extension the Middle East. May our children be capable of what we lack clearly, the above-cited virtues and their lodestar, love, the only force that could put us on the course of light, freedom, peace and justice.