The Statement of Congressman Bob Filner
In front of the Cell of Atonement at Sheridan Circle
Thursday, October 11, 2001
219 days ago, I came to this site to associate my name with the cause of freedom and liberty in Turkey. 7 years, 7 months and 11 days later, freedom remains beyond the reach of the Kurdish parliamentarians, Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak. Last summer, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that they had been treated “unfairly” and that the Turkish court, which gave them a fifteen-year sentence, was not “independent”.
In the past 221 days, you have stood here in the snow and rain, in the cold and heat, in the light and dark to right a wrong by forgoing your own freedoms to effect that of the Kurdish parliamentarians’ with courage, resiliency and tenacity. You have done this in a gentle way, by a non-threatening method, through non-violence. The friends of liberty have been awed by your resolution. Those of tyranny have sought ways to daunt you from the noble task.
Reports in the Turkish press note that the Turkish Ambassador here has worked around the clock to revoke your permit by invoking the privileges of diplomatic relationship with us to avoid in the words of his spokesman, a “daily harassment” from you. Turkey may be an important ally; but it is not as important as the bill of rights. Freedom of speech is the bedrock of this country. No tie, diplomatic or any other kind, can part us from our inalienable rights.
Freedom, the new Turkish Ambassador Lagoglu here and his government in Ankara need to know, is the birthright and natural inclination of every human being. Denying it to the Kurds will only make Turkey a pariah state in the world. The Kurds will follow the path of freedom with the force of nature on their side. Those who try to stop them will only secure a place for themselves in their wake. That is no place for the Turks to be. This is the counsel our government should whisper into the ears of the Turkish representatives.
You have celebrated liberty, humanity’s greatest gift to its children, by its closest companion, vigilance. I am told that over 100 Kurds have interned themselves inside the “Cell of Atonement”. I am told that over 40 Americans have come here to do the same. I am told that close to 4000 people have visited this place in the past 7 months and 11 days. Your sacrifice has been immense. Its reward may not be immediate but will be great.
I have also been told that a Kurdish activist has engaged in a poll of his own by asking the taxi drivers of greater Washington, DC, area, if they knew of the vigil at the Sheridan Circle. Eight out of ten, apparently, have responded in the affirmative. Thousands of motorists, who take this major through-fare behind you, have also learned of your attachment to the cause of freedom. You have fought indifference with commitment. You have shown the world that a few can stand up tall and proud in front of power.
It has always been the story of our humanity to reject a new idea irrespective of its merits. The Kurdish quest for freedom is a good example of that. Your adversaries refuse to acknowledge you and have managed to get the world on their side. You have to outmaneuver them to engage the world in your plight. This vigil has aspired to do that. Because of it, people have talked about the Kurds. It is a matter of time that they will also respect you and accept you in their midst.
I am reminded of a quote by Victor Hugo who wrote that, “There is nothing more powerful in all the world than an idea whose time has come.” The love of freedom has enabled you to withstand the loneliness, the threats and the fumes of thousands of vehicles in this circle. This love will also carry you to the dawn of freedom. I hope that day is soon. I know it will come. Biji Kurd u Kurdistan.