By Kani Xulam
March 8, 1997
Historians tell us that when some of the persecuted Jews of Europe fled for the relative safety of America in the late 1930s, in ship loads, they were turned back. Many of these Jews were sent to gas chambers once they returned to the continent. That generation of Jews was fated to suffer because anti-Semitism, both in its overt as well as in its covert form, had reached its zenith. The story of Anne Frank is the most celebrated case of that lapse into the abyss; the life of Elie Weisel is a living testimony to the event of those dark years.
Today, in the mountains of Kurdistan, a similar phenomenon is unfolding relative to the Kurds. In April and July of 1994, some 15,000 Kurds of Turkey sought refuge in northern Iraq. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, recognized them as refugees in September of 1994. They were given shelter and protection at Atrush camp, in the security zone created in the aftermath of the Gulf War.
The UNHCR, the only institution with a mandate to care for the persecuted and the destitute, on December 15, 1996, made its last food and kerosene deliveries to the camp and told the hapless Kurds, from then on, they were on their own. On December 1, 1996, the UNHCR staff had also informed the camp residents that, if they wanted to, they could be repatriated to Turkey on their own free will. The harbingers of this bad news were attacked by angry Kurds and their vehicles were stoned.
15,000 Kurds withstood their ground for more than eleven weeks. Nothing had changed in Turkey to assure them safety. If anything, Ankara had destroyed more Kurdish villages since their hasty flight. Fellow Kurds, in Turkey proper, were facing hunger and disease in shanty towns on the outskirts of large Turkish cities as refugees. The Turkish Human Rights Foundation, in its most recent report, notes the destruction of 3,134 Kurdish villages and the uprooting of more than three million Kurds as a consequence of the Turkish war against the Kurds.
On March 4, 1997, some of these sojourners from Atrush camp moved out. Harsh winter had taken its toll on them. According to Reuters wire report, about 1,700 of them left their camp not for Turkey, as the Turks and the UNHCR wanted, but rather for Saddam Hussein, the architect of Halapja, the butcher of Baghdad, the archenemy of Iraqi Kurds.
Why did the UNHCR stop protecting the Kurds? Why would the same agency allow itself to do the work of the Turks? The United Nations Committee on Torture, another agency of the United Nations, uses the term 3systematic2 when it describes the incidence of torture in Turkey. Why is it, when Iraq abuses its Kurds, we recognize the danger and, when Turkey does the same, we think it is business as usual?
As these lines are written, no one knows how the authorities in Baghdad will react to this news of Turkish Kurds knocking on their doors. To be sure, unlike America, which forced the unwanted Jews of Europe to return to their terrifying realities, the regime in Iraq may want to 3welcome2 these Kurds of Turkey to prove the hollowness of the United Nations1 agency which so openly is wishing to placate the Turks.
Kurds will not have peace in their homeland as long as they are the lackeys of Ankara, Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus. The UNHCR has allowed itself to be a tool for hire and available for Ankara. Washington has decided to be impervious to the humanity of the Kurds. Uncle Sam has allowed himself to underwrite the Turkish war in Kurdistan.
The end of the war brought some freedom to the Jews of Europe. Will it take another major war to deliver freedom to the Kurds? The United Nations must remain true to its charter and protect the persecuted. Forcing the Kurds to make a choice between Ankara and Baghdad is not a choice at all and unworthy of an agency that has a mandate to help those in need.