A Submission to the Independent Commission for International War Crimes Tribunal Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, New York
By Kani Xulam
July 31, 1999
The ancient Greeks would define a man who immersed himself solely in his own private affairs as an idiot. At the International Action Center, I know, you have made it your vocation to go above and beyond the call of duty not only to concern yourselves with the welfare of disenfranchised Americans but also raise your voice for the silenced masses and nations around the world. I commend you for that and come to you as a representative of a silenced and abused nation, the Kurds.
I have been asked to tell you how we are faring in Turkey. I have also been asked if I could comment on the role of the United States in our predicament. The short answer to both questions is a disappointing one: the successive Turkish governments in Ankara have subjected us, in the words of an American writer on the sale of arms to Turkey, to a policy of slow motion genocide. Since the beginning and the end of Cold War, the United States government has basically aided and abetted the Turkish government to succeed in this unholy task.
One may ask, what is it that we Kurds have done to earn such an enmity from the Turkish ruling classes? Another one could ask, why is it that the United States is fully supporting Ankara’s effort to wipe out the very existence of a people who have had no quarrels with neither Americans nor their representatives? Turkey’s best selling Kurdish writer, Yasar Kemal, notes that greed and racism, the twin cancers of humanity he calls them, are the nemeses of the Kurds. I agree with him.
To be sure, greed and racism have been with us for a long time and yet a vast majority of us who make up the human family enjoy the basic human rights one might say with impunity. In Turkey though, these proclivities, these cancers of humanity if you will, have assumed the sanctity of law and woe be to the Kurd who dares to challenge them. The origins of this lapse on the part of the Turkish government go back to the inception of the republic in 1923, its perpetuation today rests to a great extent on the shoulders of Turkey’s most important ally, the United States.
At the turn of the last century, when theocracy ruled the Middle East, the Kurds were a subject people, tolerated as children of God by the Ottoman and Persian Empires who shared their land and also shared with them the common religion of the region, Islam. Then the Armenians of the Middle East were branded as the enemies of the state and seen as the cancer cells that needed to be exterminated. The Ottoman Turks subjected this different nation with a different religion to a systematic genocide and 1.5 million Armenians were murdered while the rest sought refuge in places as far away as America.
Today, another specter, the specter of irrational nationalism people who observe the region call it, is haunting the Middle East and this time it is the Kurds who are viewed as illegals on their own land and forced to become the spectators/participants of their demise. In the Turkish constitution, there are no references to the Kurds, but under its jurisdiction live 15 to 20 million of my brothers and sisters. In this country, the phrase, the best Indian is a dead Indian was coined; last year, I got a letter from a Turkish man who said he follows our activities and noted that, not a surprise, “the best Kurd is a dead one.”
But just as Indians fought ferocious wars to prevail, we Kurds too have been fighting our adversaries for the same end. In 1984, in the words of the Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, the 29th Kurdish rebellion began and things have never been the same again. The Turkish dogma that the Kurds were mountain Turks has been crushed for good. Abdullah Ocalan and his cadres, acting as catalysts, have liberated the Kurds.
But of course the emancipation has cost the Kurds blood, treasure and the destruction of their environment. In the last 15 years, in Turkish Kurdistan alone, some 37,000 people, mostly Kurds, have lost their lives. Over 3,000 Kurdish villages have been destroyed. More than 3 million Kurds have become internal and external refugees. Turkey, a third world country, has enjoyed the support of the United States to wage a first class war on the Kurds.
Jeremy Bentham notes that “right”, as in human right in its intrinsic form, “is the child of law and from real laws come real rights.” Last year, the Washington Post ran a three part series titled, “Free of Oversight, U.S. Military Trains Foreign Troops”. It said, a little known 1991 law, Section 2011 of Title 10 of the U. S. code, has allowed the military to send special operations forces on overseas exercises on the condition that the primary purpose is to train U.S. soldiers. It added, as a result of this law, Pentagon has established ties with over 110 countries in the world.
Dana Priest, the author of the series, cited the trip of an American SEAL team to Turkey who were training the Turkish Mountain Commandos, to show the lack of concern on the part of civilian authority in this country over the misuse of U. S. forces and their skills. According to the declassified after-action report, the purpose of a 1997 trip was noted as, “to foster friendships and establish a good working relationship … to ascertain the future needs of the Turks …”
The report goes on to say, the SEALS “conducted a presentation on weapons, night vision, laser designation and sniper operations. We then allowed the Turks to operate all of the these systems. It was a very productive day.” It adds, “The Turks … admired the physical stamina and motivation of the SEAL element. We in turn were impressed with their capabilities and incredible endurance.”
What were these incredible capabilities of the Turkish commandos sharpened as they were by the members of the SEAL teams that according to the Washington Post may still be training these Turkish soldiers? A while back, the European newspaper, ran some of their photographed work in its front page, with a warning: pictures that will shock the world. Members of the same Turkish Mountain Commandos had posed for camera with the decapitated heads of the Kurdish guerrillas they had hunted in their war against the Kurds.
When the U. S. law went into effect, the lawmakers had hoped that its primary purpose would be to train the U. S. special forces. One has to wonder if the SEAL team was taken to the mountains of Kurdistan to do or witness some of the beheading of the Kurdish guerrillas. The after-action report is rather quiet on this issue, but does leave a caveat for the future SEAL teams who may be visiting Turkey: “Exchange tactics but be prepared to get no training value from the exercise.” Does that mean that the SEAL members should not learn or witness how to behead the Kurds? I don’t know. I do know, however, to train those who are beheading the Kurds is a crime against humanity. In other words, by these acts alone, the United States is in violation of international humanitarian law.
Last February, the New York Times ran a story quoting a senior administration official admitting to the U. S. role in the abduction of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan from Kenya to Turkey. Last September, on the other hand, Secretary of State Madeline Albright played host to the two Kurdish leaders from Iraqi Kurdistan at the State Department. For us Kurds, there are no differences among our oppressors. Just as Turkey is guilty of violating our rights, so are the butchers in Baghdad, the theocracy in Tehran and the autocracy in Damascus.
But apparently, Washington thinks differently. If we fight their ally, Turkey, we are no good, worse, we may be classified as dangerous international terrorists. But if we fight Iraq, for now a rogue state for Washington, then the top U. S. diplomat will invite us to the top floor of the State Department and tell us that we may feel at home in it, that is, till Saddam is alive and in power. No Madam Secretary, Department of State can never be a home for us; our home is on the mountains of Kurdistan. And we hope, one day, you will respect that and let us live on our mountains free of fear of genocide as we have done for thousands of years.
Turkey’s war on the Kurds is a crime against humanity. The United States support of Turkey puts Washington on the wrong side of some of our deepest yearnings to be treated with dignity. This exercise here for an International War Crimes Tribunal will serve, if nothing else, as a record of the wrongs endured by undesirable nations of the world. Today, we have managed to shed some light on some of the dark corners of the world. The war mongers and their comrade in arms, the hate mongers, have been exposed. As Goethe would have put it, this world needs more light, a little bit more light, and a little bit more light.