April 24, 1999
I want to start by thanking the members of the Commemoration Committee for putting together this program to observe the 84th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. I am grateful to Vahe Habeshian for including us, the Kurds, on the agenda. I also want to acknowledge your representatives in Washington, DC, Elizabeth Chouldjian, Aram Hamparian and Chris Hekimian. You should be proud to have such able and dedicated servants working for you at the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). Once they were fellow lobbyists, now we are friends.
Before I go any further, I want to bow before the memory of the Armenians who were slaughtered in cold blood at the order of the Ottoman Turks around the turn of century. For my part, as a Kurd, I must profess that my grandmother used to tell me of Kurds who took part in that orgy of gore. As a student of history, I have learned that accepting responsibility for one’s misdeeds goes a long way to heal the wounds of one’s victims. We were wrong to commit those crimes. We were wrong to do the bidding of your adversaries who are now our own oppressors. The good will that existed between our peoples for centuries was forsaken by us in those haunted years. We hope you will find it in your hearts to forgive us and to help us put an end to that ugly chapter that was forced on us by Enver Pasha and this thugs.
Humanity in the course of its long residence on earth has contracted many ills and among those racism is the most threatening of all. The specter that haunted you in 1890s and later in 1910s has risen its ugly head again in Europe, Asia, Africa and now again in the Middle East. Most of the states of the world are standing by to let the strong nations target the weaker ones. The laws of humanity or those of decency are conveniently forgotten. That was the lesson Hitler wanted his generals to remember as he was commanding them to undo the Jews, the Slavs and the Gypsies. Variations of that very lesson are now thought to the Turkish officers. The aim is the same: to deny existence to groups of peoples because of their race or religion. The words, never again, were uttered too late for your people; they have had no meaning for ours.
The recent events in Serbia have brought this issue to light anew. The Albanians of Kosovo are being uprooted en masse. The winds of intolerance are blowing hard again. This time a world organization called NATO has taken it upon itself to do good. President Clinton has vowed to stop ethnic cleansing. Operation Allied Force has geared itself to protect the weaker party, the Kosovars. Turkey, of all countries, is helping. We are, of course, flabbergasted to hear of Ankara’s new role in the Balkans. We know too well the history of Ottoman Turks who supported the Muslim Albanians to uproot the Serbs from their ancestral homeland. Then Europe was divided, NATO did not exist, and no one else bothered to undo the wrongs of the Ottomans. The wrongs became a fact. The land is still home to some of the most sacred Serbian Churches and Monasteries, but their congregations are gone. Now, the Muslim Albanians form the majority. A delicate situation is at hand. The only sane way out is for history and reality to come to a just understanding and accommodation. Turkey doesn’t help.
Something else strikes us as odd about Turkey’s new found mission in the Balkans. The Turkish state is engaged in a war of its own with its Kurdish minority since 1984. Atrocities known all too well by this audience have been committed against the Kurds and they leave the crimes of Mr. Milosevic in the shade. Entire regions have been declared free fire zones. Forests have beenburnt. Highlands are now forbidden zones for nomadic Kurds. Turkish Kurdistan once home to some 18 million live stock, now can only feed four million. The human toll, though nowhere close to what your people endured in those dark years, is nevertheless great. To date, 37,000 people have died. Over 3,432 Kurdish villages have been destroyed. More than 3 million Kurds have become refugees.
This is perhaps the price we pay for living as Kurds in an indifferent and calculating world. Some have blamed our geography for our misfortunes. Others point their fingers at our choice of adversaries, the Turks, the Arabs and the Persians. Like any oppressed people, we have our own shortcomings. All these factors have contributed to our suffering. The support our adversaries receive from their so- called friends has been the most troubling. Made- in-the-West weapons have caused us more pain than the raw hatred of all our adversaries combined. The tanks, helicopters, and fighter planes are the main source of our misery and captivity. The more we fight our adversaries, the more we know that theirs is a war whose gains are directly proportionate to their access to the weapons made available beyond the borders of Turkey. Ankara would sue for peace if America did not support it with guns. The source of its belligerence is not its barbaric past but its strategic connection with the merchants of death.
In his seminal work, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in 1776, Edward Gibbon, reflecting on the fortune and misfortune of European nations, takes a deep sigh of relief to note that Europe is safe from the invasions of outside forces because of the advances made in military science. With a cogency that was a hallmark of his writing style, he notes that for the barbarians to do same, they must be versed in Physics and Mathematics. Those who study these sciences in depth will also have their brushes with Music and Art, the fields that, Gibbon says, tame the savagery of their students. Once tamed, Gibbon notes, these transformed people would settle down to share the fruits of the earth with their adversaries rather than subject themselves or their foes to the follies of war.
But Gibbon’s point of view does not address some troubling questions that have surfaced after his times. What does one do when the so called Mathematics and Music lover produces deadly weapons that are sold to the hare-brained imbeciles in places like Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Then you have savages filled with hatred ready to wage wars of extermination against weaker peoples with these lethal toys. Turkey, a third world country, can wage a first class war on the Kurds because of its unlimited access to these weapons. Saddam Hussein does not know the difference between Biology and Chemistry, but his troops know how to make concoctions that can rain instant death on the Kurds. Gibbon to a certain extent is right; Europe is relatively safe, but for how long? In a century we call ours, Armenians, Jews, Tutsis and now Kurds lie dead in alarming numbers. This, speaks volumes for our lack of humanity. It also points to our perilous journey ahead.