Let me first express my heartfelt gratitude to Munawar Laghari of Save Our Sindh (SOS) coalition here in Washington for taking up the cause of forced disappearances around the globe.
It highlights his splendid humanity towards our unfortunate brothers and sisters.
It underscores his dedicated desire to stop the disgraceful practice of kidnapping dissidents by identifying and shaming the states that practice it.
His personal story bears the cruel scars of his noble mission. I hope he will expand on it during his address.
It is entirely fitting that the man who has been injured by evil wants to eradicate it.
We should all emulate his example. This world desperately needs more kindness and gentleness.
Munawar reminds me of this quote of Bertolt Brecht:
“There are men who fight one day and they are good.
There are others who struggle one year and they are better.
There are still others who struggle for many years and they are very very good.
But there are those who struggle all their lives,
those are the indispensable ones.”
Munawar, you are definitely one of the indispensable ones!
You faithfully breathe life in the observation of Dr. King, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again!”
Please join me in thanking Munawar for hosting us this afternoon.
I am here to raise my voice for a vanished Kurdish journalist.
Ferhat Tepe was his name.
He was born on May 21, 1974.
We don’t know when he was murdered—only that he disappeared on July 28, 1993.
In his 19 years on our dangerous world, he was a guardian angel of children, says his sister, now a mom.
Flying was the ambition of his life. Exploring the world was a close second. He loved French fries and he loved a good game of chess.
He learned one foreign language, Turkish, but the Turks—instead of appreciating it—killed him.
He grew up with three siblings, both parents and many relatives in Bitlis, Kurdistan, Turkey.
I said Kurdistan and Turkey in one sentence; they are technically two countries, the way France and Germany are, for example.
But Kurdistan, unlike France, is not free.
Half of it is part of Turkey—not by choice, but by brute force.
Turks established their state 95 years ago last month.
They invited us to be their partners against European imperialists and promised us equality for our loyalty.
The partnership gave Turks what we today call Turkey—but our Kurdish loyalty earned us forced submission through the brutality of the Turkish army.
Ataturk was the original racist who put Turkey on the permanent warpath. He practiced Turkish supremacy and his children are still holding onto the same bigoted path.
The small-minded Turkish dictator banned the Kurdish language, renamed the Kurdish cities and prohibited the words Kurds and Kurdistan from public use.
Outnumbered and outgunned, we were forced to do his bidding out of unavoidable necessity.
After his passing, with a little nudging from the United States, his successors took baby steps towards representative democracy and multi-party system.
A “democratic” Turkey meant political space for the Kurds and we tested the new experiment to demand equality in the courts, schools and public space.
For example: Turkish language was legal in Turkey; Kurdish was not. We wanted Kurdish to be legal and respected throughout the country.
Unlike South Africa, the Turks were not a minority in Turkey and they outrageously used the tyranny of majority to block our herculean efforts at progress.
Some Kurds lost hope in the stillborn “Turkish democracy” and took up arms to free Kurdistan the way the Vietnamese had freed themselves from France and America.
Ferhat Tepe and his family witnessed these ominous developments in the 80s and the 90s.
His father, Ishak Tepe, joined the fledgling pro-Kurdish Democracy Party in Bitlis, and got himself elected as its representative for the city.
Ferhat, his precocious son, followed suit. He joined the staff of Ozgur Gundem, a Kurdish daily, to cover Turkey’s dirty war on the Kurds and Kurdistan.
He was in love with his pen, his camera and his tape recorder, says a book that chronicles his life.
But some hated him for airing the dirty laundry of the Turkish government.
One of them was a Brigadier General Korkmaz Tagma. He didn’t like the coverage of the journalist Ferhat Tepe.
The Tepes, the father and the son, not suspecting anything untoward, kept up with their thankless task of transforming Turkey for the good.
But Brigadier Tagma and his security forces were not interested in a transformed Turkey with Kurdish rights.
They recruited Kurdish villagers to fight Kurdish guerrillas and if they refused, burned their villages and turned them into abject refugees.
They also targeted Kurdish intellectuals and began either killing them outright or kidnapping them at will.
On July 28, 1993, 25 years ago last month, Ferhat Tepe, became one of their victims.
His father, his mother, his three siblings never knew what hit them.
A sleepless night gave birth to an anxious dawn.
At six o’clock on the morning of July 29, family’s phone rang.
A voice, eerily resembling that of Brigadier General Korkmaz Tagma, says father Tepe, acknowledged the kidnapping and made four demands if the family wanted to see their son.
➢ Mr. Ishak Tepe must resign from his post as chair of Democracy Party in Bitlis and close its doors.
➢ The Kurdish rebel group PKK must release four French tourists that they were holding as hostages.
➢ The family must come up with a billion liras in ransom money within a week.
➢ This exchange must remain secret if the family wanted to see their son alive.
Father Ishak Tepe visited the authorities in Bitlis after the phone call and hoped against hope that they would help him find his son.
No one did.
They all became, says Mr. Tepe: “blind, deaf and mute.”
I wish I could say Mr. Tepe’s predicament was an aberration in Turkey.
But it’s not: 792 families have reported missing loved ones, says the Turkish Human Rights Association.
Since May 27, 1995, they have been gathering in the center of Istanbul, in front of Galata Saray High School, on most Saturdays, to protest the government’s collusion or indifference towards the death of their loved ones.
Last Saturday marked their 700th gathering.
They wanted to know where the remains of their loved ones were, they wanted the killers of their loved ones to account for their dastardly crimes and they wanted their government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.
Instead, the police attacked them.
Some 70 people were hauled off to prison.
They think they can intimidate these protestors, also known as Saturday Mothers, by tear gas, truncheons and iron bars.
But they can’t.
A mother who has lost her loved one to government brutality will not surrender to her pain.
And she cannot be intimidated by threats, neither should we.
I will end with a quote from Ugur Mumcu, a Turkish journalist, who was assassinated by a car bomb in 1993, the same year Ferhat Tepe was kidnapped.
A plaque commemorating his struggle epitomizes humanity’s age-old conflict against injustice, and our epic struggle for emancipation of Kurds and liberation of Kurdistan.
It reads in part:
“I am an anti-imperialist…I stand for freedom and human rights. I am against terrorism. I am an enemy of fanatics, thieves, opportunists and exploiters.”
As if expecting his murder, it goes on,
“Then shoot me, tear me to pieces. Every part of my body will bring into existence new ones who will even outdo me.”
This act of honoring Ferhat Tepe and his friends, today, is already outdoing the work of their killers who wanted to bury them forever.
I bow before Ferhat Tepe’s memory and repeat what our brothers and sisters say in Latin America whey they honor a fallen friend: Presente.
Kani Xulam @AKINinfo
This address was delivered at the National Press Club of Washington, DC on August 30, 2018 to honor the day that honors the memory of forced disappearances. You can also watch its video on YouTube or Facebook.