A Kurdish Response to the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust
By Kani Xulam and Biseng Amed
February 9, 2000
In organizing the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz last month, Prime Minister Persson of Sweden and other sponsors sought not only to remember an historical event but “to highlight and discuss such values as compassion, democracy and the equal value of all human beings using the Holocaust as a starting point.”
Furthermore, the purpose of this international event was “to give the participating countries an opportunity to manifest their will to combat racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic and other conflicts.”
Given these laudable purposes of such importance at the opening of a new century and millennium, we are puzzled and troubled by some striking omissions in the list of delegations invited to attend this Forum.
Specifically, we are troubled by the apparent absence of any delegates representing the Republic of Armenia, the yet-unrecognized Nation of Kurdistan, or Indigenous Nations from several continents of the world where the “racism” this Forum was designed to combat has manifested itself in especially devastating and still often unacknowledged forms.
We feel that the inclusion of the Republic of Turkey in this conference, coupled with the absence of Armenian representatives, is especially inappropriate in view of Turkey’s continued denial of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, whose 85th anniversary will be commemorated on 24 April 2000. This case of 20th-century genocide, involving the murder by the Young Turk regime of 1.5 million people, has a special relevance to the European Holocaust of 1939-1945.
In August of 1939, only weeks before attacking Poland with genocidal intent, Hitler asked his senior officers and advisors: “Who still speaks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?” He argued that the moral issues raised by such an act of mass murder were unimportant to a world which “believes only in success,” and that Germany could likewise proceed with impunity to exterminate the Jews, Poles, and other “inferior” races.
However, as Hitler was coming to power in the Germany of 1933, a Jewish writer understood the lessons and moral imperatives of history. In the fateful spring of that year, Franz Werfel published “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh”, an historical novel based on the true story of a group of Armenian villagers in the region of Musa Dagh, or the Mountain of Moses. Faced with impending deportation orders meaning death in the Syrian desert or outright slaughter along the way, the people took refuge on Musa Dagh and organized a desperate armed resistance which in fact held off the Turkish Army until French and British ships happened upon the scene and rescued them.
For Werfel, well aware of the unfolding calamity of Hitlerism for Germany and Europe, published his book not only as a tribute to the Armenian survivors such as the children he had met in a carpet factory in Damascus, but as a warning to the Jewish people of the ordeal they might soon themselves face.
Werfel once remarked that the Armenians of his book, while uniquely representing their own people and history, can also stand for the Jewish people. Is not the point of this Holocaust Forum precisely to promote such a recognition of human unity and solidarity? Why, then, was the Turkish government represented, but not the Republic of Armenia or some appropriate non-governmental organization giving voice to the Armenian people whose genocide Turkey still denies?
Another leading theme of this Forum declares: “We must never take democracy for granted.” In the region of Asia Minor and the Middle East, no one can speak to this theme more eloquently than the people of Kurdistan, a Nation of 40 million people yet without its own country. Again, we find it regrettable that a Turkish government known to the European Union and the world as a persecutor of the Kurds was given a voice, but not the Kurdish people themselves.
One most apt delegate and presenter from Northern or Turkish Kurdistan would have been Mehdi Zana, who was duly elected as Mayor of the principal city of Amed (or Diyarbakir) in 1978, but was arrested only 12 days after the brutal Turkish military coup of 12 September 1980. A target of repression both as a champion of democracy and as a Kurd, he was not only imprisoned for over a decade but subjected to severe torture, while many of his fellow prisoners were tortured to death.
We find it moving that Elie Weisel, the Chairman of this Holocaust Forum, wrote a preface to Mehdi Zana’s book “Prison No 5: Eleven Years in Turkish Jails”. As a survivor of torture and an internationally acclaimed advocate of the struggle for democracy in Kurdistan and elsewhere by nonviolent means, Mehdi Zana might have contributed a unique perspective to an appreciation of the Shoah of 1939-1945 and its meaning for those who today still must face torture or murder in order to affirm the most basic human values.
In Northern Kurdistan, the “Nacht und Nebel” (“Night and Fog”) disappearances of Holocaust Europe repeat themselves in the disappearances and “mystery killings” carried out or sponsored by the Turkish government. According to the Human Rights Association of Turkey, least 1964 such killings and disappearances have occurred in the last decade. The Saturday Mothers of Istanbul, who demonstrated publicly to demand an accounting of their missing loved ones until prohibited from doing so by Turkish authorities, might have also eloquently represented the basic human values for which the Holocaust Forum stands.
The people of Southern or Iraqi Kurdistan, also, might have been represented by a delegate with a unique perspective on the experience of hatred and genocide: Timor Abdullah Ahmed. At the age of 12, Timor and his family were deported to the deserts of Southern Iraq to be shot as part of the Ba’athist regime’s notorious “Al Anfal” genocide campaign of 1987-1989 ordered by Saddam Hussein.
Like the Jewish and other victims of the “Special Killing Groups” operating in Eastern Europe during the Shoah, and especially in its earlier phases, many Kurds including Timor and his mother in 1988 were selected for death by mass shootings. Led into a burial pit along with his mother by soldiers, Timor was grazed a bullet, and ran up to the soldier who had shot him. This soldier was ordered to place him back in the pit, and did; Timor was grazed by another bullet, and pretended to be dead until the soldiers left. He then ran into the desert and walked for perhaps two hours until he reached a Bedouin village where — like the “righteous gentiles” during the Shoah — a family gave him refuge and had him taken to another Bedouin family in the Arab town of Samawa where his wounds were treated and he found shelter for two years. In 1990, he finally was able to return to Kurdistan.
We find regrettable the absence from the Holocaust Forum of delegates not only from the Armenian and Kurdish Nations, but also from the many Indigenous Nations of other continents, ranging from the Maori of Aoterra (New Zealand) to the Mayas of Mexico and Central America and the Haudenosaunee or Six Nations whose sovereign lands are now located within the borders of Canada and the United States. These survivors of physical and cultural genocide might have also lent their “voices of the voiceless” to a truly inclusive appreciation of the Shoah and its lessons for today’s world.
Please let us emphasize that we call not for the exclusion from this and future conferences of Turkey or any other state, but for the inclusion also of delegates from the Armenian, Kurdish, and other oppressed Nations whose subjection to “ethnic cleansing” and genocide is still ignored or denied by an “international community” which makes “business as usual” its first priority.
In 1933, Franz Werfel understood that what could be done to the Armenians in 1915 could also be done to the Jews. In the year 2000, it is imperative that the world not only learn this lesson in theory but apply it in practice. In its declaration that “We must never take democracy for granted,” this Holocaust Forum has stated a theme which we hope will be reflected in more representation and participation at future Holocaust education events for Armenian, Kurdish, and Indigenous “voices of the voiceless.”