The Statement of Kani Xulam at the American Hellenic Institute Sponsored Conference U.S. Relations with Turkey: The New Realities in the Post-Iraq War Era
Tuesday, July 8, 2003
Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2253
In his book, Lives, Plutarch relates the story of a soothsayer, in the life of Julius Caesar, who had bade the Roman hero, days before his assassination, to prepare for some great danger on the Ides of March. Caesar, like many of his contemporaries, apparently, gave in to the impression that he, at least publicly, believed in the augurs, for it ingratiated him with the populace, and it so happened that on the fifteenth of March, he run into the same fortune-teller, on his way to the Senate, and engaged him, half in jest, “the Ides of March are come.” The soothsayer, Plutarch writes, told Caesar calmly, “yes they are come, but they are not past.” By the time the day had past, Julius Caesar was no more, and the event, not extraordinary by the standards of his time, would later undermine the very foundation of the Roman republic that had, with some bumps, lasted some Eight hundred years, one of the longest in human history, as a form of representative government, that inspired the founders of this very Capitol, to emulate the example of Romulus, the founder of Rome, on these shores.
No soothsayer that I know of had ever predicted the first of March in the Turkish American relations as a momentous day, I guess I am not associating with the right kinds, but the event has the potential to subvert the odd relationship — to the detriment of Turkey, as the death of Caesar damaged the Roman republic — that came into existence between these two peoples at the dawn of the Cold War. I said odd, because the confluence of these two countries, if you were to ask people who were capable of looking into the future as well as the past, at the time as well as now, they would have told you that, the fundamentals are not there, the prospects can not be good, and the edifice, if it ever goes up, like in all human endeavors, will come down one day, but this one, would only take a bit of shake-up, and the collapse would provide its spectators some discomfort, to be sure, but a lot of entertainment. But those people were ignored. The exigencies of the Cold War were highlighted. An Oriental people with a despotic history and practice were groomed, — all the paint that all the ladies of pleasure had used all over the world would not have been enough for the task — as an ally of freedom, — you have to remember that this was done a mere ten years after an authority like Adolph Hitler had accused the Turks of the Armenian genocide — to stand against totalitarianism of the Soviet Union.
So when the Soviet Union had an implosion of sorts, the sine qua non of the relationship disappeared, and the present crop of Turkish and American representatives, who were caught unawares, and did not want to let go of their old habits and prejudices, who were consumed with here and now, said in unison almost, nothing has changed, that things can only move forward, and that they can only get better. But the silenced critics, who had urged America to take a longer view of things, have reemerged, and with the event of March 1, 2003 as wind in their sails, they are, again, reminding those who make policy at the Department of State and lately, Department of Defense, that these two peoples, Americans being the cousins of Europeans, have had, at least, a 550 year history going back to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and that during that long span of time, 500 years had passed in feud, the last 50 years in guarded and awkward friendship, and now, with the pressure of the bipolar world no more, things are bound to take a life of their own, — and for the better for those who have, especially, physically, been abused by the Turks — and it would behoove the United States to pursue a policy that reflected not just its interests, but also its values, a policy that, an American of good sense and good morals, could own with pride, speak of it with delight, and if questioned about it, defend it with reason, as we enter another trying time, witnessing the forces of freedom array themselves against those of authoritarianism in close combat, for hearts and minds, for life and death.
And so when the first major crisis of the post bipolar world raised its head that required the Turkish involvement, and as it become obvious that the United States would attack Iraq, with friends if possible, alone if needed, Turkey, the faithful ally, the darling of the misguided in the successive administrations at the White House, the role model of people who could not even stand being together in the same room, like the former president Bill Clinton and the former speaker Newt Gingrich, two people who did more to poison American body politics as their dearest has done with the politics of the Middle East, blinked. Anger was palpable in Washington, DC. Shock was the name for it in Turkey, especially among the ruling circles, which were tickled when Americans kept telling them that, they meant them too, in the new term, “new” Europeans, but they joined the Europeans, nevertheless, to the undisguised mortification of Rumsfeld, which doubled the pleasures of “old” as well as “new” Europeans, against the Americans.
Leaving aside the Turks who equate change with a trip to beauty parlor and the Europeans who are bemused with their new labels “old” as well as “new”, and taking up the event of March 1, 2003, from the Kurdish perspective, let me just be plain candid, it is an opportunity of a lifetime. We no longer are the slaves of the Turks. We are the natives, the children of the soil, albeit new found, in the Middle East, a people of thirty to forty million souls for those who, for now at least, have moved into Baghdad, and by extension, into a part of Kurdistan, and have made that forsaken place, the house of cards called Iraq, whether Americans like it or not, the 51st state of the Union. In the realignment of forces that is taking place right now, with some skill, luck and courage, what Jefferson, Franklin and Adams ably did in Paris against London for America, we could perhaps replicate in Washington against Ankara for Kurdistan. Let me hasten to add, not if but when that day comes, in our declaration of independence, we will not make a distinction between the children of God, the friends of humanity can take heart, equal rights will be bestowed on all the inhabitants of our homeland, including the children of our oppressors who may chose to live in our midst, since they were forced to spend their childhoods with our children.
Nations will always engage in plans to expand their capabilities, to reject equals, to make use of the junior members and live with memories of favors fulfilled, and wrongs suffered, no different than the way we lead our lives as individuals in our own lives. It is a cardinal rule of politics to reward good behavior and to punish the wrong doer, real or perceived, sometimes openly, if you are strong like the United States, or clandestinely, if you are weak like Turkey. The Turkish American relationship, never a strong one, has now entered a slippery zone, and both parties act and react with caution, vigilance, and prudence. A few of the most recent Turkish headlines, always heavy on color and also on drama, tell it all, for those who were used to plaudits between these two capitals. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld visited Incirlik, an American base in Turkey, but met not with his counterpart. His counterpart, Turkish Defense Minister, Vecdi Gonul, visited America, and again, the Turkish press noted, — the American one did not even cover it, or at least I missed it — Rummy would not meet with Minister Gonul. President Bush broke with the tradition and sent not a message to the Turkish Day parade in New York. We Kurds don’t do Kurdish Day parades, but if we had one, I had a vision of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, representing President Bush at it, and reading two statements, one at the beginning and the other at the end.
Speaking of visions, if March 1, 2003 had happened let’s say on March 1, 1998, the Americans who openly sided with the Turks in their war against the Kurds might have not bothered with the request of the Turks to apprehend the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan on February 15, 1999, in Nairobi, Kenya, as a boon of friendship. The graffiti that used to be on the walls of Athens’s public buildings, “the peace of Aegean lies on the Mountains of Kurdistan” might have still been there now. The Turks, who will not let go of their molestation of the Kurds, would not have now engaged in their insolent, cruel, rude and perfidious “repentance laws” for the Kurdish fighters on Zagros Mountains, uttered by no other than a Kurdish turncoat, the Turks must cherish and love the scene, the Interior Minister, Abdulkadir Aksu, who unashamedly calls himself a Turk with a heavy Kurdish accent, imagine Malcolm X calling himself a White, or Arafat calling himself a Jew, and wants 15 to 20 million Kurds, in the Turkish occupied Kurdistan, to do the same. But no turncoat, no setbacks, no amount of make up, and certainly no collaboration by slave Kurds can stop the struggle of the free ones to secure the blessings of freedom and liberty to the sacred soil of Kurdistan.
I would be lying to you if I told you that the situation of the Kurds on the ground, as we speak, is good. We occupy a tract of land as large as Texas, but the Turks, the Arabs and the Persians have the title deed to it. They won’t let us count ourselves, speak our language, raise our own flag, issue our own coin or legal tender, or call ourselves Kurds. They hate us, and are hated by us in turn. If we are brave, they are licensed to kill us like the beasts of prey. If we are slaves, they ride us like the beasts of burden. Honesty is a dangerous quality for a Kurd. If you lie, and say, you are a Turk, or an Arab, or a Persian, you are allowed to become their prime ministers; and to this day, I have not figured out why they would want to choose Kurdish liars as their heads of states. Honor, they especially detest, for it could mean, Kurdish patriotism, which is a dirty expression in the occupied Kurdistan, akin to the words, Jewish rights, in Nazi Germany, or advocacy on behalf of Abolitionists in the South before the Civil War, in this country. On our lands, furl the flags of Turks, Arabs, and the Persians. In our schools, submission to the master race is thought as a form of civilization. When Saddam Hussein was around, “he was in the heart of every Kurd”, went the dictate, and we had no choice but to recite it for him. The children of Ataturk, who have the imagination of poets or should I say painters, without a doubt, have outstripped the brute in Baghdad, and have our children recite, gems like, “Atam, sen kalk, ben yatam!”, which translates to something like, “Ataturk, rise up from your death, let me die in your place!”
Abused as such, we have never stopped fighting for our freedom. Lighting the fire of liberation on our mountaintops from time to time, we have always called on our brave youth to do the bidding of liberty so that their children would not say, “our fathers submitted to slavery” or their wives to say, “we gave birth to children with weak knees.” Although success has been the lot of our enemies so far, and the sophisticated weaponry of the Occidental as well as Eastern powers have been used to tip the scale against us, our staying power has outlasted the enemies of freedom before, and we are determined to survive them again. Amed, Zilan, Dersim, Mahabad, Sine, Halapja, Qala Diza, Sirnak, and Lice, the citadels of Kurdish honor and resistance, may not mean a lot to the uninitiated, but for us Kurds, in Kurdistan and abroad, each place is a sacred testament to the undying Kurdish spirit, and combined, they constitute a smoldering and smoking volcano burning quietly, yet ready, at the first opportunity, to baptize its children again, as befitting the children of fire, and to repel the enemies of our very name for freedom, for liberty, and for Kurdistan.
Looking at the globe over, in the midst of light that prevails in much of the world relative to other peoples who enjoy their right of self-determination, unmolested, a thick darkness of medieval proportions rests heavily on Kurdistan. Under it, freedom is the declared enemy and bounty is offered for its extirpation. Hope has been shackled and imprisoned; and others now determine our very will. The Turks may be pleased with this admission, but it is meant to sting the Kurds and provoke the friends of freedom all the world over to rise up to its aid. Barbarism uncurbed is a danger not just to the Kurds, but also to free peoples all over the world. Civilization, the daughter of liberty, cannot bloom and blossom, will not remain safe, if ravishers go unpunished, and continue, in broad daylight, with their horrendous commerce of fear, hatred, and unbridled bigotry. The Kurds must work hard, pray too, hope as well, and cultivate friends for the deliverance of Kurdistan and its children. One million of us who are now abroad, secure under the laws of nations, free to engage in politics, can fulfill this prayer of ours as well as of our compatriots with diligence, self-denial, courage and faith. The fulfilled prayers will not just bless Kurdistan with freedom, but also uphold the will of God for a safe passage for its Kurdish children on our troubled earth.